My husband and I traveled frequently before we had our daughter, but now things require a bit more planning. We run on toddler time, embrace the chaos, are more conscious of our budget, and work to reduce our carbon footprint while still pursuing our passions.
Our family recently spent a month in New Zealand with a toddler. We chose New Zealand because my uncle had a special connection to this land. His stories sparked a desire in me to see firsthand all I had heard about.
We went to New Zealand right before our daughter’s second birthday. For our trip, we wanted to visit as many national parks in New Zealand as we could. So for our New Zealand vacation renting a campervan or RV for a road trip with our toddler seemed like the perfect idea.
While our New Zealand itinerary with a toddler involved visiting both the North and South Islands, you’ll find all our recommendations for visiting the North Island with a toddler in this article.
We are excited to share every detail of our New Zealand family holiday so your family can experience the best of what these islands have to offer. While we had a month traveling New Zealand with a toddler, just know that you don’t need a month to have an amazing trip!
Getting to New Zealand from the USA
Getting to New Zealand was a cumulative 18 hours of travel broken up into about a 6 hour and 9 hour flights with the layover making up the rest. We definitely needed all the tips for flying with a toddler.
We flew Hawaiian Airlines out of Portland, Oregon; had a short layover in Oahu, Hawaii, and then continued on to Auckland, New Zealand.
For entertaining our toddler on the plane, we were armed with new books, finger puppets, art supplies, and our last resort of a trusty tablet downloaded with seasons of Dora. We didn’t want to pack too many airplane toys for our toddler but still wanted ways to keep her busy.
We fretted unnecessarily because our daughter slept nearly the whole time. She was a super star and we only had one melt down when we got on the first plane. Trusting in her and us to get through whatever came our way was all we could do.
We believe in asking for help, not forgiveness, from fellow travelers. I had a generous stranger help me get my shoes back on at security, asked a flight attendant to play peek a boo with my daughter while we ate; just little things to make it all come together. I have always found people more than happy to help.
Arriving in New Zealand with a Baby
It is important you prepare for biosecurity, as New Zealand has one of the most strict biosecurity departments in the world. They use cute working beagles who sniff out banned items with an instant $400 fine for anything not declared. A guard explained by being diligent to keep invasive pests (especially hand foot & mouth disease) out; they can build back decimated populations.
One smuggled cat named Tibbles released on one of the islands caused the extinction of an entire species of flightless song birds single-handedly. On the flip side, the native black robin had FOUR birds left before extinction. Now there is over 250 of them!
So scrub all your hiking gear, bottom of your boots, clean everything! There can be no mud on jackets, and no fresh food of any kind (includes sandwiches, breads, nuts, meat/dairy, fruit, vegetables, etc).
Getting Around New Zealand with a Toddler
From the airport, we took a taxi to our hotel for convenience. In the cities, if we pulled up the price of an Uber; the taxis agreed to match the price. Read more on taking an Uber with a toddler.
After leaving the city, we traveled New Zealand with our rented RV. We got our RV from Kiwi Motorhomes. A local, family run business who took excellent care of us from start to finish.
Our RV came with a car seat, movies, full kitchen, toilet & shower. You want to plan your route and campsites before you get here. Many people on a budget use a campervan relocation service; this is often free and can include free gas, ferry tickets, and other perks.
We used Rankers NZ App to map and find the highest rated campsites along the way, including all the best freedom camping spots.
Make sure to also map out where you’re going to dump waste, including grey water, refill, charge. Leave no trace is a must as this fragile eco system needs to be protected by everyone.
They drive on the left side of the road, so keep in mind you may have an adjustment period. The roads are often narrow and windy as you get out of the cities. Plan for the drives to take longer than the GPS says.
We stocked up on food and needed supplies at the supermarket to load our RV with all sorts of meal options. You can drink the water from all the refillable sites right from your camper, so don’t bother purchasing bottled water.
What to Pack for New Zealand with a Toddler
1. Travel Car Seat
We traveled with a collapsible car seat that folds down to briefcase size and had as a carryon. It worked perfect for every taxi we took and we could set it up in any vehicle in a few minutes.
2. Hiking Backpack Carrier
For this trip we knew we would want our hiking backpack child carrier.
Flying with our hiking carrier was easy. We brought it through security and checked it at the gate just like a stroller. Once you get to New Zealand, they hand it back to you when you exit the plane.
While November is spring in New Zealand, so there’s less crowds and more afforable flights but also more unpredictable weather. We brought many layers for our toddler and prepared for all types of elements.
4. Satellite Phone
We also carry a satellite phone for peace of mind in case of emergencies.
5. Lightweight Umbrella
A lightweight umbrella was a life saver on multiple occasions to protect our kiddo from the sun more than the rain.
Best Places to Visit on North Island New Zealand with a Toddler
We loved having the RV to explore New Zealand with a toddler. It allowed us to move around at our own pace and always have a familiar place to be each night. Here’s how we spent our time on the North Island for our New Zealand road trip with a toddler.
Auckland with a Toddler
We spent 4 days in Auckland before we picked up our RV to explore New Zealand by campervan with a toddler.
Staying in an Airbnb in Auckland was a great way to give our daughter time to settle in. We found having more space, laundry, and a kitchen makes life much easier when traveling with toddlers.
Browse Auckland Vacation Rentals
Best things to do with Toddlers in Auckland
Auckland has a fun city center with endless things for kids. Kids love skiing at Snowplanet (an indoor snow center), the planetarium, and the botanical gardens.
Our daughter loved the Auckland War Memorial Museum where they had everything from dinosaurs and birds to interactive exhibits for native culture to a cool volcano exhibit; plus a great gift shop. There is a small park outside the museum perfect for a picnic once you’re ready to unleash your kiddos for some fresh air.
While the Odyssey Sensory Maze is cool; I would recommend this for older kids only. It is pitch black in spots and was not one of the best things to do in Auckland with a toddler.
Hiking up Mount Eden has some of the best views in the city. If we had more time we would have explored Tiritiri Island.
Where to eat in Auckland with a Toddler
All the restaurants were wonderful but we highly recommend checking out Harbor Eats Food Court. It is an indoor center with food stalls and lots of seating; it is an easy place to spread out and get a wide variety of food quickly for tired littles. They had changing tables, cute stores, fun sculptures nearby, and everything you need.
Rotorua with a Toddler
Once we picked up our campervan, our first stop was Rotorua, just under 3 hours from Auckland.
We only spent a few hours in Rotorua to see some of the geothermal activity with mud pools and geysers. This area is rich in culture and deserves more time than we had to give.
We then went 2 hours to Waitomo Caves to see the glowworms. There is an empty parking lot that allows RV parking and has a great inclusive playground across the street from the ticket building. The boat tours sell out, so book ahead of time, as this is the most toddler friendly option. You can also do a walking tour through the caves that accommodates small children.
Tongariro National Park with a Toddler
Early the next morning we drove 2 hours to Tongariro National Park.
We had emailed our camping site ahead of time to schedule shuttle transportation for the Tongoriro Alpine Crossing: a famed 13 mile hike said to be one of the most breathtaking trails on the planet. They had us answer additional questions to ensure we were fully prepared with our toddler and gave us a “must carry” hiking list.
We took the 4 am shuttle to catch sunrise and get through some miles with Samar asleep in the hiking backpack carrier. We were going to spend 4 nights here, but got blasted with weather and decided to leave.
Raumati Beach with a Toddler
We moved on to Raumati Beach for free, ocean side, and near-empty camping along a golden sparkling coast (3 hours from Tongoriro). A restaurant with a kid’s menu is situated right behind the campground.
We stayed at Raumati Beach for 3 days playing and relaxing at the beach, then drove 40 minutes to Wellington.
Wellington with a Toddler
Wellington is a fun, coastal, kid friendly city with endless options.
Our favorite place to visit in Wellington with a toddler was the Zealandia Eco Sanctuary with over 40 rare protected native species.
It was fun to have a map and be in search of birds and reptiles while hiking the lush trails. There’s a great range of flat, paved, stroller & wheelchair accessible trails, as well as miles of hiking paths with elevation gain. We did a mix of everything and spent a whole day here.
We had a picnic down by the water where the resident takahes like to hangout when they’re not nesting. You can do night safaris with older kids to spot the elusive Kiwi. They have a fantastic gift shop and restaurant with changing tables and clean bathrooms.
Another highlight was Aunty Mena’s restaurant, a long-established family owned award winning place. There is fun art on the walls and they accommodated us with everything we needed for our toddler even though they were so busy.
For getting around Wellington with our toddler, we took taxis throughout the city with our collapsible car seat and left our RV parked every time we explored the bigger cities.
We drove 15 minutes along a beautiful coastline outside of Wellington and camped at Owhiro Bay. This gorgeous and free camping spot right on the coast is perfect for exploring, climbing rocks, and exploring tide pools at low tide.
From Wellington, we moved on to the South Island of New Zealand. We took the Interislander ferry which we bought tickets for ahead of time online. We drove right onto the ferry and relaxed on the top deck at a window booth next to the cafe for most of the 4 hour ride.
The staff handed out crayons and coloring/activity books. They have a small kid’s play room on the ferry with fun sensory toys.
Get ready to go out on the deck for the last hour of the ferry ride, this is when you see the gorgeous island chains and scenic part of the cruise. The ferry docks in Picton, the gateway to the southern island.
Final Tips on New Zealand’s North Island with a Toddler
An RV or campervan is ideal for exploring New Zealand with toddlers and we highly recommend it.
There are endless spectacular areas in the North Island we did not get to; many of which are great for anyone visiting New Zealand with kids. Coastal cities north of Auckland, such as Kerikeri offering spectacular waterfalls and coastal views, can be underrated and overlooked despite their beauty.
While our journey continued south, many people who visit stay on the North Island only. You can loop back to Auckland or fly home from Wellington.
As for planning your time in New Zealand, be prepared for everything to open late and close early on both islands. The culture values family & nature and runs on a distinct Kiwi time.
Join us on part two of our New Zealand adventure for the South Island.
This article was written by Sara
Both Sara and her husband are occupational therapists, astrophotographers, and vegans who practice Buddhism. They have traveled to over 45 countries together. When they got pregnant, they wanted to ensure this passion for exploration, language, culture, and our global community could continue. They love documenting their experiences with their toddler as they truly unfold, including the tough moments.