B.C ( before children ) I loved road tripping with my then boyfriend ( now husband ). We would throw ourselves in the car with reckless abandon with some drinks, a bag of chips and a mix tape and go explore. Fast forward a few years and two kids and the packing takes a while longer, the snacks are more extensive and the mix tape is an audio book. Oh my how times have changed.
Over the years we have explored extensively with our kids including almost monthly trips to Rotorua ( a 3 hour trip that can be up to 4 hours depending on traffic ) and 3 weeks round the South Island and for the most part our kids are good at sitting in the car. In fact, we just drove 5 hours to Napier and actually described the trip as enjoyable and yes the kids were in the car with us.
Like any part of adventuring and exploring with kids it takes training and that starts when they are young. So no matter how young your kids they are always ready to discover the joys of roadtripping. To make sure it’s a pleasant experience for everyone I have put together my top tips for road tripping with littlies and not so littlies;
If your kids are still having a nap during the day then this is a great time to travel, or travel in the evening.
Pack lots of little snacks and water. Nothing seems to make children as hungry as sitting in the car.
While we are on food – always have a container ready for food that comes up as quickly as it goes down. I have a container in the front of the car with ‘car essentials’ in; wipes, hand sanitiser, sun screen and the second a kid mentions feeling queasy I up-end that container and hand it over.
Old MacDonald had a farm can have a lot of choruses when you have some miles to cover. And kids are never too old to sing – it’s just the songs that change as they grow up and we can pass many a happy mile singing along with the radio.
Play games: With slightly older children I spy is always a winner as is I went to the moon and I took ( if you aren’t familiar with I went this game – go round the car with each person taking something to the moon in alphabetical order and remembering all the things before them). Good for the parent’s grey matter as well.
Let the kids take a few toys in the car. My children always take their soft toys and can happily pass the time play acting with the toys.
Tell stories. Often as we are travelling somewhere with the kids, my husband and I will have already been there ( albeit in another life time ) but it’s fun to relieve the memories and the kids really like hearing that we had a life before they came along. Even if its somewhere we go all the time ( like Rotorua ) we can tell many a story about all the different friends who have come away with us or the different mountain bike rides we have done.
If you get worn out telling stories then of course you can leave the story telling to the professionals and pick up some audio books ( from the library or you can download ). Of course for young children the Ear drops audio books are great as not only is it passing the time its educational.
Some people say lots of frequent stops for kids but we always tried to drive for 2-3 hours before stopping and it has got our kids used to sitting in the car. Now they are older, toilet stops aside we can drive for 3 hours easily with no stops.
And yes there is always a screen that could entertain your child but then they would be missing all the amazing sights out the window. As a last resort we use some screen time but I really think we are doing our children a favour in the long term by teaching them to sit quietly, be mindful and enjoy the world around them.
We live in an amazing country, just made for road trips. With a bit of planning you can enjoy the journey with your kids.
Now you have the road tripping sorted are you ready to start exploring and adventuring with your kids. Check out some of our adventures;
When I first rode the Timber Trail 4 years ago I fell in love with the history of the area and the most stunning native bush I have ever had the pleasure to cycle through. I never thought I would one day be riding the trail with my 9 and 12 year old…but of course we all know that’s not where the story starts, its all about the planning.
The Timber Trail is an 82km ride ( or walk ) in the Pureora forest,
about one hour south of Te Kuiti, between Taumaranui and Taupo, lets just say in the middle of nowhere or if you want more detailed directions you could refer to the Department of Conservation website or a detailed google map.
We had been doing lots of mountain biking with our kids and noticed that they were able to ride longer distances especially since they were both now on adult sized bikes with 27.5″ wheels. So we thought let’s get out of the mountain bike parks and onto the trails. My husband and I have ridden quite a few of the NZ Cycle Trails and the Timber trail would have to be one of my favourites, plus it’s a relatively easy grade ( 2 & 3 ) for kids and well built trail with a good surface and drainage.
And here is where the planning kicked in; we started riding every weekend. If we weren’t in the mountain bike parks we were riding the streets of Auckland, and after we did a long ride one day we got the kids on their bikes the next day so they could get used to the feeling of a sore butt on the seat and getting their muscles moving again. Turns out they had youth on their side and didn’t mention any sore muscles at all but I am still pleased we did the training as we had lots of fun exploring new rides around Auckland and any excuse to hit the mountain bike trails is all good.
As the weekend approached the excitement built, as did the planning, and lists were written and packing was checked twice. As we were riding in Winter we had a few more layers to pack but on the positive side we were staying at the Timber trail lodge which was very cozy and all of our main meals were catered for so there was way less food to take away which was a bonus.
We arrived at the lodge about 6pm on a Friday and the kids loved the drive in from Te Kuiti along the country roads through sheep-country. The sun was setting, the rabbits headed for home jumping across the gravel road in front of us, the temperature plummeted, the fog started forming in the paddocks, and we even got to drive behind a mob of sheep being moved along the road by a farmer and his dogs. The lodge was a great sight nestled in the bush, cozy and warm and it felt like being welcomed into an old friend’s house. An old friend that cooks you an amazing dinner & dessert, does the dishes and tidies your room in the morning!
Saturday morning dawned clear and a little chilly 4 degrees but that’s what we packed all the layers for. We set off from the Lodge at 9am with one of the shuttle companies. It was like catching up with another old friend as the driver has shuttled us twice before. Well it would have been like catching up with an old friend if my son didn’t get himself in the front seat and chat away to her for the 40 minute drive through the forest.
After a few photos and putting on a few more layers we hit the trail. I am always blown away by the beauty of the forest and this time was even more amazing as it’s the best weather we have had riding the trail. The last of the fog clearing only added to the mystical beauty of the area. The other bonus was that riding at a child’s pace I got to enjoy the scenery much more and I finally got to read all the information sign boards and fully absorb my surroundings as we cruised along the trails.
The first 15km are a steady uphill which if you have read my blog on riding it the first time I found a bit of a challenge, but a different mindset, riding at a child’s pace and a whole lot of track maintenance made it seem like a different trail. While the start of the track used to be quite muddy with lots of tree roots, it’s now a lovely gravel trail which made the gradual incline much easier to tackle. The highest point you climb to is 980m so it sure is an alpine environment. Its always good to have the high point in the bag fairly early on in a ride.
The first suspension bridge is at about 22km and its great to have something to look forward to even if you can’t quite bring yourself to ride over them while your children can. And while this swing bridge seems massive, it’s not the biggest on the trail – that’s early on day 2. Again, it was great to have the time to appreciate the views from the bridge and the engineering feat of building the bridge itself before heading for the lodge…well, just another 18km so a few more bridges and a lot more native bush.
The second half of the trail on Day One is more undulating with slightly more technical ( but nothing more than a moderate grade 3 ) downhills. It sure feels good to tick off the km’s a bit quicker going down and there is a km marker every km which is a really good idea.
It was a welcome sight to see the Timber Trail Lodge right on the cycle path and we made it on to the deck in time to see the sun setting over the hills across the valley.
Again, the hospitality at the lodge was amazing and they whipped up yummy pizzas as a post ride snack before serving us another amazing dinner.
We all slept soundly that night and it was a slower start to the day than the first day, but no-one complained about sore muscles which was a good start. And lets face it you cant really complain if your kids are running round like they didn’t just ride 40km the day before. It was hard to leave the comfort and warmth of the lodge but lovely to just whizz down the hill onto the trail to start.
Day 2 starts on a steady climb up through regenerating forest to the longest and highest suspension bridge on the trail at 141m across and 53m above the river. And yes the children rode straight over it and no I didn’t.
The trail then climbs to the start of the historic tramway at the Terminus clearing and the history of the trail really kicks in. The kids had a great time at one stop finding old railway ‘spikes’ that were lying around in the grass. A lot of information boards have been dotted along the trail including the tale of the brothers who lived in a rotten tree trunk after their cousin evicted them from the cottage when he bought his bride home. You can still see one of the beds in the hollowed out tree trunk.
This part of the trail also passes through lots of tramway cuttings through banks which makes for quite a different riding experience as the bush creates a canopy above you and it gets quite dark.
This part of the trail was quite muddy when we rode it, but with good balance most of the mud puddles were rideable although we did have to push our bikes through a couple.
We probably promised our kids the downhill too early and it didn’t actually start till about 24km but most of the ride through the middle is relatively flat. And of course once you reach the downhill you also come across the Ongarue Spiral which is an engineering marvel with two bridges and a tunnel.
From there it really is downhill all the way to the carpark, when I rode this without kids it was one of those downhills that is so long and you are going so fast that your legs are crying out for mercy. This time, like the rest of the trail, it was cycled at a gentler speed.
As we arrived in the carpark the sun was again setting over the hills as we celebrated our family achievement and started planning our next cycling adventure.
Unfortunately, there isn’t one official Timber Trail website linking to shuttle and accommodation providers as yet ( the NZ Cycle Trail does have shuttle and accommodation providers but you need to be an official partner to be listed and not many organisations seem to have opted in ) but a little bit of googling does bring up shuttle and accommodation options.
Only you know your kids ability and fitness. Our kids were pretty fit already and able to ride 20km consistently in a mountain bike park on grade 3 trails including lots of up hills. They gained this fitness over a few years. To get them used to riding longer distances we did a couple of 40km rides around Auckland and then got them back on their bikes the next day for a shorter rode. We also did more back to back riding in mountain bike parks, so they were riding 18-20km two days in a row.
Take lots of food ( we took sandwiches, chocolate, muesli bars, Up & Go, fruit and had food left over but better to be safe than sorry ).
Plan to hit the trails as early as possible but not too early in winter or there might still be frost on the trails. In saying hit the trails early, we didnt start till about 10am each day ( which did mean it had warmed up a bit ) and finished about 4pm. We did ride close to the shortest day of the year and I imagine there would have only been another hour of daylight left at best.
It was 5 degrees at 10am on the Saturday and quite chilly in the forest so bring a lot of layers. My kids don’t seem to get cold but I have realised that I do, especially after I stop and when I am going downhill as there is a cold wind. The trail is quite exposed so if its raining you are going to get wet!
While we didn’t use it, we rode with a rope and an old inner tube to use as a home-made bike bungee if little legs got tired.
Riding with kids in trailers
While I haven’t ridden the trail with a bike trailer, I had been asked about it before I rode this time, so as we rode we looked at the trail from the angle of a child in a bike trailer.
A few parts of the trail do have bollards to stop motor bikes and quad bikes so some lifting of a bike trailer would be involved. All the suspension bridges were about 1.2m wide.
When I first rode the trails a couple of years ago the first day of riding was quite muddy with big puddles that could have been challenging to navigate with a trailer but when we rode recently the first day has had a lot of maintenance done and even after a lot of rain was in great condition. It was the second day that had a lot of mud and puddles, all do-able but be prepared to get muddy.
In hindsight, it seems a bit strange that I am writing about the place we go the most after writing about lots of other places we have only visited once. Yes we go to Rotorua a lot, but I thought that I didn’t have much to share as we mostly go mountain biking and the tips on that would pretty much be; go to Redwoods, get on bike, ride. Then I was talking to someone in the weekend who was going to Rotorua and they asked me what we enjoy doing there and it turns out I had quite a lot to say.
Firstly, if you are considering going to Rotorua, what are you doing reading this, go and book your accommodation now. We have been going to Rotorua for about five years now and cant believe how popular it has become. There are so many events held there now, along with the awesome mountain biking, that at times we can find it hard to get accommodation.
Rotorua has accommodation to suit everyone so just check out your favourite accommodation search engine. So now you have your accommodation booked what are you going to do when you get there? Of course we would put mountain biking at the top of the list. You don’t have to be a gun mountain biker, the Redwood forest has something for everyone and it was the first place our son rode when he was 5. There are even younger kids out there on the trails, so if they can do it so can your kids. If you don’t have a bike they hire them at the forest. To check out the easy tracks head for Waipa Mill Rd, talk to the friendly guys at the pro shop and grab a map. The best thing is, if you have your own gear its free to ride here although you can donate to the Rotorua Trails Trust so they can keep delivering awesome trails for us. If you are more into riding downhills than going up then you might want to buy a shuttle pass and head for the bus stop at the bottom of Hill road. You can link tracks together and ride downhill for over an hour, it is so worth it.
Other things to do in Rotorua are;
The Gondola and Luge – slightly pricey but then I tend to think any activity that costs money is pricey. On a sunny days the views from the top of the gondola are pretty stunning and there is lots to look at from the top even if you don’t do the luge. Younger children can go on the luge with an adult which makes your luge tickets go further. Also the younger kids get to experience the thrill in relative safety if they may not want to ride it by themselves.
Fairy Springs – again I think its slightly pricey but when we went we spent about 4 hours there so on an hourly rate its probably pretty cheap. They have great trout viewing pools and an awesome native bird aviary. Go when the birds are about to be fed and they are getting excited. The tui love to show off their flying skills and dive bomb the visitors. The other attraction is the Big Splash boat ride which includes a waterfall and you guessed it a BIG SPLASH.
Te Puia / Pohutu geyser– we have driven past the geysers at Te Puia many times on the way to mountain biking but it was only when we had a home stay student that we thought we should check it out. Bubbling mud, geysers, trails through native bush, a cultural show – this place has it all. We were a little put off by the entrance price but were delighted to find that New Zealanders get a domestic discount ( the first time we have come across that ) I think even at full price it would have been good value for money. Again we spent about 4 hours here – those geysers sure are mesmerising and the Kiwi even came out to play in the Kiwi house.
Okere Falls – about 20 minutes out of Rotorua on the highway to Tauranga. Okere Falls is a great place to spot rafters and kayakers go over the grade 4 waterfall and many other rapids. There is a great track down the side of the cliff to see all the action from water leveI. Its also a delightful walk through native bush beside the Kaituna River.
Tarawera Trail – there are lots of walks in the area, in fact many people enjoy walking through the Redwood forest. Personally, I think why walk when you can mountain bike. One walk that you can’t mountain bike is the Tarawera Trail. Its 15km-20km one way depending on where you park and unless you want to walk the track back to the start then it does involve a water taxi. You can either get dropped off at Hot Water Beach and walk back or walk to Hot Water Beach and taxi or walk back. We chose to taxi first so we didn’t have to worry about rushing / running for the water taxi. It’s a stunning walk through gorgeous native bush around the Lake. There is an amazing hot pool down a side trail which is great to soak the feet in, or go for a swim like our kids did. Hot water beach is at the start/end of the track and this is where a hot spring trickles out of the rock and flows into the lake. Another great place for a soak. There is a popular camp very close by which kind of spoils the ambiance but its still an amazing natural place.
Waikete Pools – a little way out of town on the road to Taupo but well worth the drive. A great range of size and temperatures of pools with something to suit everyone.
Kerosene Creek – if you are looking for a natural experience of thermal water then check out Kerosene Creek. About a 20 minute drive out of Rotorua heading towards Taupo. Aim for Rainbow Mountain and follow the signs to Kerosene Creek which is just past the Rainbow mountain carpark. Once you have parked and got to the creek keep walking downstream as the water cascades over a waterfall into a dammed up pool. The hot water creates quite a warm micro-climate as its sheltered underneath tall trees. Very beautiful in the afternoon sun. The path to the creek can be very muddy after rain.
And if you like riding on concrete paths you can ride out to Kerosense Creek on the Te Ara Ahi trail.
Once you have been to Rotorua you will want to go again and again – now I had better go book my accommodation.
We have been camping at Tawharanui for about 15 years now and still haven’t done all the walks. Probably because when we get there we tend to go into major relaxation mode and just move between the campground and the beach. OK that makes us sounds more lazy than I would like – we do run out to the end of the peninsular andjumping around in the surf is a great workout. There are lots of tracks to run here ( usually we are camping in a group so the kids stay at the camp with friends ) and my husband and I run together but more recently we have camped by ourselves and of course we still wanted to run ( coz that’s what we do ) so we take the kids mountain bikes and all had an awesome time doing a 10km loop round the peninsula enjoying stunning views from every angle while on Takahe watch. Yes that’s right Takahe were recently introduced to the park and while we didn’t see them this time we saw 3 last time we were there. Even if you don’t see the Takahe the bird song in the bush is amazing and we ticked a few more birds off our bird spottinglist, Saddleback this time.
Now I’m not much of a bird watcher but there is an impressive list of birds to be found in the regional park. We found that when we camp by ourselves we are more motivated to explore so did more bird watching and ticked another walk of the list. The Maori Bay coastal walk starts and finishes at the Lagoon carpark near the park entrance, and can be walked in either direction. We walked around the coast first after checking the tide times very carefully. We had a near disaster ( stranding ) on a coastal walk earlier in the year – lets just say children were carried on shoulders and my husband got quite wet.
At the start of this walk ( heading north around the coast ) there is a tide chart to avoid any tide disasters. While the main North facing beaches at Tawharanui are known for their glistening white sand, the Kawau Island side of the peninsula is rocky so be prepared to rock hop for about 1 hour. The views out to Kawau Island are of course stunning with lots of bird life to enjoy (shags and gannets ) and the rock pools were teaming with sea life to make the walk fun for everyone. Its a very peaceful walk with no other people around. When you get to Maori Bay ( a little hard to know exactly which bay it is ) there is an exit track up a cliff pathway which joins back onto the main trail network. We didn’t think the sign for the track was very easy to see so keep your eyes peeled for the stairs. It was then an easy 35 minute walk back through the bush where our Takehe watch could continue and of course we got to do some more bird spotting.
We are lucky enough to have a great friend who enjoys cycling more than we do, if that’s possible. So hot on the heels of the success of the Timber Trail ride he sent out an email about the Motu Trail…. ‘150km cycle trail through mountainous back country’ – first thoughts…I am busy that weekend…or at least that’s what I should have said!
I am not much for looking at the topographical maps or the finer detail ( don’t worry if any finer detail is needed in the blogs I get my husband to add it coz that’s his thing ) So anyhow the Timber Trail ride we had done previously was 90km by the time we added in the side trails to get to our accommodation, so 150km didn’t sound like too much more. It’s starting to sound like I am not very good at maths either. I think what it boils down to is I like a challenge and this sure sounded like a challenge. Cue some long mountain bike rides and even rides around the city cycle paths to get some time on the saddle.
The trail starts off from Opotiki along the Dunes trail which is an easy 10km along a gravel path beside the beach…so 10km down and stunning views to boot. The rest of the day is riding the Motu Rd to reach Matawai about 70km away, mostly on gravel 4WD road and almost all uphill. We climbed to a high point of 750m and it can get cold at this elevation, even snow, so be prepared. Yes the country side is gorgeous but I realised on this trail that I don’t really enjoy riding so much gravel road.
It was with much joy that we reached the top of the mountain range and headed down the final valley into Matawai, although the joy was a little diminished when I realised we had to get back up to the top of the range the next day to the start of the Pakihi Track. We all collapsed on the footpath outside the Matawai pub and sent the fittest among us ( well, they were the only ones able to move ) into the pub for drinks and chips.
In fact the highlight of day one of this ride was staying in the Matawai Pub which is packed to the gunnels with local history and had a fabulous hostess. She looked after us very well and we all had local grown beef steaks for dinner. I won’t go on about this too much as we recently found out that the pub is no longer open for guests.
My other highlight was the fact that the people who shuttled our gear from Opotiki to Matawai could also shuttle us to the top of the range the next morning ( for a small fee ) on day two. I have seen the Pakihi Track marketed as the best downhill in NZ… yes its definitely a downhill, a long downhill with rather steep drop offs on one side and a steep bank on the other so you are essentially riding on a ledge with lots of fallen rocks on it which does kind of interrupt the flow.
This is rugged country and the rock surface is very hard, lets call it a challenge for someone who doesn’t really like heights, but I did it and I was super proud of myself. Along the way we passed a Search and Rescue team who were walking the track to get familiar with it and practise rescues (hopefully that never happens).
Finally there was just the 10km ride along the flats back into Opotiki with a head wind ( seriously not fun ) to round out our 150km adventure ( well 150km minus the shuttle to the top of the range on day two, so lets say 130km )
Am I pleased I did it – yes! Would I do it again – no!
The road can also be ridden as a 90km loop in one day. Check out NZ Cycle trails for more details.
Sharing family fun & adventures from the kitchen to the great outdoors