All the packing tips you will ever need

Do your attempts at packing look like this? Is the thought of packing enough to put you off going away? Determined not to let the thought of packing get in the away of our family going away ( a lot! ) I have put together the ultimate list of packing tips.

Buy some plastic crates to pack food – Ok so I was very slow on the uptake here. Some of my friends have been using them for years and when we got some I could see why. No more squashed food on arrival, husband likes the way they fit in the car, if the place you are staying doesn’t have enough cupboard space the crates can be stacked in the kitchen. Get different coloured ones so you can pack different things in different ones ( if we are making lunch out and about on a travel day I put the things I want into a specific colour so we can find it easily ). If you don’t want to buy crates, you could always get some empty boxes from the supermarket.

Chilly bin – buy the best quality chilly bin that you can. We spent years using the old-style chilly bin and they do an OK job but recently we invested in a ‘fishermans chilly bin’ and we reckon we have made the money back on what it cost us, with savings in food going off. The ice lasts so much longer and also less ice-melt means everything in the bottom doesn’t get soggy.

Buy sleeping bags for the kids – again I was very slow on the uptake here. Hate to think of the time we have spent making beds when we have gone away and it was only when we were going away in our camper for 3 weeks and faced making up beds every few days that I thought to get sleeping bags. Added bonus…kids don’t get cold with blankets falling off. Unless you are planning to go camping in winter they don’t have to be expensive ones.

Packing list – so this might be an obvious one but I have a list, especially useful when the kids were young and there was a lot more to remember and I had a lot less ability to think. I have a different list depending on where we are going; camping, bach, mountain biking etc.

Leave toilet bag packed – OK so I have quite a lot of sh*t in my toilet bag but there is nothing worse than being away and not having the medication you need or forgetting your sunscreen. I have almost everything I need in my toilet bag and just use things out of there when I am at home or buy two lots of things ( e.g. eye drops, deodorant ) and leave one lot packed.

Leave medication packed ( pamol, kids cough mixture, vicks, sunscreen, insect repellent etc ) – my kids don’t get sick very much but there is nothing worse than being away and having an unwell child and no access to a pharmacy.

Leave some kids activities packed – depending on where you are going the kids might not have the same things to play with at home (i.e. no internet connection ) so we leave activity books, cards, small games, white boards and markers packed in a bag ready to go. Its in the lounge if they want to play with things at home too.

Get the kids to pack for themselves – give them a list if necessary. Just tell them to pack for number of days away. Then they do most of it and you can add a few bits and pieces.

Grocery shopping – I like to do the grocery shopping the night before we go ( or maybe two nights before we go ).  Then I just pack it into crates in the garage and it’s good to go. Saves double handling unpacking half the food into the house.

Food – Have a ‘set menu’ that you cook every time you go away. e.g. If we are going to Rotorua mountain biking ( we go about once a month ) we have homemade hamburgers on the first night, shared dinner with our friends the second night etc.

Buy a single story house – we go downstairs to our garage and it sure does keep us fit when packing the car.

Pack in stages – just like with the groceries I start getting things out the day before and then as I go down the stairs during the day take a load of stuff with me.

If you have a small car consider buying a roof box – my husband loves trademe and got a good deal for a roof box and the roof racks you need to fit it. A great gain in space and makes the car more comfortable if its not crammed.

Find a husband that can fit a lot of stuff in to the car – OK so this might not be possible but I am so lucky that my husband is so good at packing the car. In fact its an art form! Lucky he is so good coz you know that saying about everything but the kitchen sink, well they were talking about me!

Climbing a volcano

I have lived in Auckland all my life and travelled around the country climbing up hill and down dale, and all the while one of the coolest adventures sat right there in the middle of our stunning harbour. Rangitoto Island is New Zealand’s youngest volcano and only emerged from the sea 600 years ago – thankfully it’s now dormant.

Looking out at Rangitoto Island from the many beaches around central Auckland is one of my favourite views of all time but it wasn’t till my 4 year old decided he wanted to climb it for his 5th birthday that I considered changing the perspective of the view.

We normally do the ‘standard’ kids birthday party with family and friends but since this was celebrating my son’s 5th birthday we decided to invite the family along with us. My in-laws thought we were mad ( not the first time ), ‘won’t it be dangerous taking a 5 year old to Rangitoto’… ( only if it starts erupting! ) Anyhow they eventually came round and eight of us set out on our Rangitoto Island adventure on a sunny May day.

We caught the train into town so we didn’t have to worry about parking, and who doesn’t love an adventure that starts off with a train trip. There are no cafes on the island so we had a quick coffee stop before we jumped on the ferry.

I always love being on the water and it’s a great view back to the city from the ferry, with the added bonus of the skipper giving a commentary on points of interest. Of course we couldn’t hear a lot of it over my son’s excitement.

From the minute you step on to the island you realise it’s quite different to anywhere else you have been. The exposed volcanic rock made it feel like we were on the moon – not that I have ever been on the moon – but what I imagine the moon would look like.

There are many different walks on Rangitoto. We did the Summit Walk which was a relatively easy ( bearing in mind we had a just-turned-5 year old and 70 year olds walking with us ) one hour climb to the top where the views of the Hauraki Gulf are stunning. As no birthday celebration is complete without a toast to the birthday boy we had beer and bubbles with our picnic lunch while we enjoyed the view.

On the way back to the ferry we did the side track to the lava caves and my Aunt introduced us to the torch apps on our phones. It was nice to get off the main track and scramble a little bit. This side trip takes about 1/2 to 3/4 of an hour though so allow for this in your walking times if you can. It’s well worth it and the kids loved it.

Then we get a nice rest on the ferry back to the city after a great day of adventuring right on our back door step. Also a great way to celebrate a birthday and share an adventure with family young and old.

Top tips

There is no shop or café on Rangitoto Island so be sure to take enough food and water for the day.

Wear footwear that can cope with rugged lava/scoria terrain.

Don’t miss your ferry, as there is no accommodation on the island and I hear chartered boat trips can be expensive.

Time saving tip #1

Let’s talk socks, yes socks, not adventuring, not baking…socks, because while I would rather be adventuring or baking or doing anything else other than domestic duties sometimes you just have to sort socks!

My husband and I exercise quite a lot and that involves socks, and don’t even get me started on the number of socks the kids seem to have in the wash.  I won’t even consider buying kids school socks unless they have the size printed on the bottom to make matching pairs quicker.

And if I ended up in the garage putting my running shoes on with my husband’s running socks one more time I think I was going to scream, wait… I think I did scream. My solution to that problem was to sew coloured thread on the toe of the sock. OK I’ll be honest I got my Mum to sew the thread on, but even if you have to do it yourself I think it would be worth getting out the needle and thread.

Of course if you can’t bring yourself to break out the sewing kit, coloured sports socks could change your world. How did I not know these existed…it makes perfect sense…of course all sports socks don’t have to be white and now mine are pink. It’s so easy to match up the socks, and I never end up with the wrong socks as I am rushing out of the house for a walk.

And one final note on socks and all things laundry related…don’t forget the smallest resource in your family – your kids! Yes they might moan and complain but sorting socks is a great job for kids.

Now back to adventuring and baking!

Karangahake Gorge Walks

I have always enjoyed the drive through the Karangahake Gorge. It’s a stunning landscape with a gorgeous river and majestic mountains. And it always looks like it has stories/secrets to be told. When we were planning a family holiday to Waihi Beach I was excited that the Karangahake Gorge Walks were going to be one of the first walks we did as a two child family.

There are two main walks in the Gorge; the Windows Walk and Rail Tunnel Loop. We started off on the Windows walk as it isn’t pushchair friendly and we thought we would do the walk that our 4 year old could do while she still had lots of energy. She has always enjoyed walking and in fact when she was young if you asked her what she wanted to do she would say ‘go for walk’. The trail is a good level for a young child to achieve and is interesting with the old mining tunnels and railway. Our son had only just started walking ( that day in fact ) so he was in the backpack.

The first time we walked the Windows Walk it was a loop and we got right around without having to carry the 4 year old.

The name of the Windows Walk comes from the holes that were cut in the sides of the tunnels to shovel out rock into the river in the gold mining days. In parts you are walking on the old railway used to move the rock/gold around and there are lots of interesting ruins to see along the way. As well as marvel about how hard the mining work must have been so long ago.

We have subsequently done this walk 3 more times with friends and homestays and everyone loves this walk. The last time we walked it we went further down one of the side tunnels and one of the kids asked what the ‘bits of fluff’ hanging from the top of the tunnel were. We wondered if they were glow worms so turned off our torches (or torch apps on our phones) and to our delight discovered that they were in fact glow worms. I had always thought you had to be quiet to see glow worms but there is nothing quiet about my son so they must be tough glow worms.

Unfortunately the last 2 times we have done this walk, we haven’t been able to do the full loop as there has been a slip on the track after you cross the bridge over the main river. The Department of Conservation has closed the track so you have to return the same way you came.  It’s a shame as this was a lovely part of the walk. You can also no longer explore further on the right hand side of the river where there was a side track to a powerstation cavern excavated out of the mountain and DOC have also closed this track so it must be unsafe.

After returning to the carpark and getting out the pushchair for the 4 year old we set out to do the Rail Tunnel Loop. This walk is quite different to the Windows Walk as you follow quite close to the main river in the gorge on the opposite side to the road. I always love the sound of running water, if I can hear it over the sound of my son chattering, and love walking so close to the river.

The next part of the walk goes through a 1km long tunnel. Its interesting being able to see a tiny dot of light at the end of the tunnel and walking slowly towards it. And its also surprising how long it takes to walk 1km in the relative dark.

This tunnel section of the trail has since been opened up to cyclists as part of the Thames to Waihi ride and it’s even more interesting to be walking in the relative dark with cyclists going past.

You then cross over the highway via an overbridge and walk back along the river to the carpark. This walk is very achievable with a pushchair and a great day out with the kids. The cafe at the carpark is also a nice treat for all once finished.

Other things to do in the area:

Visit the Waiha Museum

Visit the Martha Mine in Waihia

Take a trip on the Goldfields Historic railway

Cycle the Hauraki Rail Trail


Xmas slice

When I discovered these super cute Xmas holly baking decorations20161123_101317 a couple of years ago I thought they would look adorable on the cream cheese icing of my Citrus Slice. I also changed the recipe a bit to make it more Xmasy. It’s great to have on hand to take to Xmas functions and looks cute in a Xmas box with some fudge as a gift.



200g butter

395g sweetened condensed milk

2 packets of 250g round wine biscuits, finely crushed

1 1/2 cups desiccated coconut

1 packet mixed peel

1 lemon, finely grated zest

1 orange, finely grated zest

( I don’t always use the lemon and/or orange as I think the mixed peel gives enough flavour )

1/2 cup chopped cranberries

1/2 cup toasted chopped pistachios


50g cream cheese ( not light )

50g butter

1 lemon, finely grated. Optional: to make it a little more Xmasy I leave out the lemon and add Wilton brandy flavour.

1½ cups icing sugar


Grease and line the base of a 30cm x 25cm slice tin

Melt butter and add the sweetened condensed milk stirring to combine.

Add the remaining ingredients for the base and mix to combine.

Press the base into the slice tin.

To make the icing, soften the cream cheese a little and then add butter and continue to soften. Beat together. Add the lemon zest ( or brandy flavour ) and icing sugar to get the desired consistency. Spread over the base and refrigerate.

I cut into 3cm x 3cm pieces (and yes I use a ruler to measure it! ) and then put the holly on.


Top tip

In NZ, I got my Wilton Xmas Holly from Milly’s Kitchen. They do online sales but I can’t see these listed so if you can’t make it to Milly’s you could try ringing and see if they can do phone sales.

Look Sharp also stock Wilton cake decorating goods so you could have a look there.

Sharing family fun & adventures from the kitchen to the great outdoors