PotW – Ohakune Carrot Adventure Park

Ohakune, Ruapehu District

I remember when all that was here was literally a giant carrot. And you had to cross a bridge to get to it – my first family photo here Dad only just made it in with the camera on timer!
Now, it’s a massive playspace, with multiple areas to explore, and more in development. There are swings, spinners, climbing ropes, and a pretend car. There is a slightly inappropriate anthropomorphic parsnip (when you see it you’ll know what I mean).
In the winter, this park gets pretty good sunshine. In the summer, there are a couple of BBQ areas available for use, so you could potentially spend the bulk of your day here quite happily.
Plenty of parking, good walkway access to town, and public toilets in the carpark all add up to a pretty sweet spot to stop and play. On a clear day, the views up to Ruapehu are a sweet added bonus
I suspect we’ll be here far more often than I could ever want to, since we travel through Ohakune routinely in winter.

PotW – Huntleigh Park Play Area

Silverstream Road, Crofton Downs, Wellington

One of our locals, this is a super simple play area, with a couple of swings, some climbing frames and a decent slide. Partly fenced, mostly on the stream side, there are also short walking tracks from the far corner of the open field near the play centre, and a dog exercise area alongside.
An added bonus is that native Tui and Kaka are often sighted around the area, and there are known Kaka nesting boxes in the reserve across the stream.
Parking is usually pretty good, but can be tight during play centre sessions.

 

Playground of the Week

Yay!

I’m finally back writing some new posts (and have a whole string of places we’ve been in the last 15months to write up)!

To start the ball rolling, I’m here to introduce a new feature – Playground of the Week (PotW). Every Sunday, I’ll be bringing you a short snippet (and a couple of photos) about a playground we’ve visited as a family – what features it has in terms of picnic facilities, bathrooms, parking, shade and play equipment. Why we love it (or not, maybe).

If you know of a New Zealand playground you’d love to see featured, let me know in the comments – my first half dozen are lined up, ready to launch!

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Wanaka, 2017

What Worked in 2018?

We had a super busy travel year in 2018. We started the year in Christchurch, travelling home via Hanmer and Blenheim. Then Amelia walked the Tongariro Circuit with a friend in February before Mark headed off to Outward Bound for three weeks in March. April saw us on a nearly 3-week-long road trip in the upper North Island, then we hung out in the city in June, and whipped up to the club ski lodge in July a03-07-2018nd August. Amelia also travelled solo for the first time, to Milford Sound, before heading to P!nk in Auckland in September and then Dunedin in October. Our family also went to see relatives at their farm in October, and finally made it back to the bach later that month. We wrapped up the year camping in Hastings.

Something that worked for us this year was sticking with what we knew as a way to expand where we were. We spent a lot of time in group holiday houses that manage to feel familiar because they are all laid out the same, and used them as a base for exploring the wider area. They also keep the cost of travel well down, as they are cheap, and provide full kitchen facilities.

We did something different this year and took an extra child away with us for some of our holiday. In April, we picked up my niece as we passed through Auckland and kept her with us while we did the Coromandel and Bay of Plenty. Mr5 loved having Ms9 along with us and we sincerely appreciated the additional peace and quiet we got with them playing together. Worth04-09-2018 every penny we paid for extra accommodation!

For our second year running, we did a number of new things – and went to a large number of new places. We went jetboating as a family together in January, visited the Far North together, Amelia snorkelled in the ocean for the first time in the Coromandel in April. Amelia also travelled solo for the first time, which she loved (uh-oh). We finished the year on the hydroslides at splash planet – while Mark and Amelia had done a water park before, this was a first for Mr5 and he loved it!

Repeated experiences were a bit more rare this year. We did have two weekends at the club ski lodge, but only one weekend at the bach, as it was undergoing renovations all year. And we wrapped up the year camping, which we’ve now done three times.

Each of us adults had some time away without Mr5, but not together. Marks big trip to Outward Bound was pretty epic, and Amelia adored her short trips to Milford Sound, Auckland, and Dunedin. The goal for 2019 is to squeeze in at least one adult-only weekend.04-24-2018

Mr5 took 4 flights and 3 ferry sailings this year. The hardest flight was definitely the one home from Christchurch in early December, which was at bedtime. Thankfully he’d had a good meal in the Koru lounge and the flight ran to time. We also opted to start parking our car at the new parking building at the airport, despite the extra cost, when we had early departures or late arrivals. Sanity saving!

Our year opened in a holiday rental and closed in a camp ground. We abandoned plans for a friends and their kids mid-winter Christmas weekend at the bach because renovations weren’t complete. Other than that, our only trip we cancelled was turning back half way 07-28-2018to Paua Hut when Mr5 and Amelia went without Mark.

Our biggest drama of the year was Mark breaking his collarbone while away up the skifield. Amelia and Mr5 were preparing to head to the farm for a few days when we got the call. Thankfully Jared was driving south with Ms9 at the time, and managed to detour to collect him. Extra thankfully, it wasn’t massively expensive to add a car and second passenger to Amelia’s existing ferry booking for the next morning.

This year we definitely proved that having other kids with us makes travelling with Mr5 easier. While he was generally good on our 2 weeks in the far north, he was also far more needy of our attention than he was while we were in the Coromandel and Bay of Plenty. With this in mind, we’ve got a friend and her two boys joining us in the Abel Tasman in April, and hopefully another friends kid joining us on S12-31-2018tewart Island in October.

Our plans for 2019 are looking pretty epic again. Mark got a free entry to a week long conference in Melbourne over his birthday, so Mr5 and Amelia will head over to join him for a long weekend. April and October school holidays will see us hitting up some Great Walks as a family, August we’ve got Jared and Ms10 joining us in Queenstown for a bit of skiing, and we’ll wrap up the year at the ski lodge, all going to plan.

Wellington Stay-Cation

Must Do
1. Walk – everywhere. If the weather is nice, walk along the waterfront, visit the underground market or Te Papa. Ramble up Cuba Street. Stop at a café or bar along the way for something to eat or drink
2. Night Market – We had dinner at a restaurant, but we also then walked through the Night Market on lower Cuba St as we headed back to our hotel. The lights, smells, giftware, and atmosphere were awesome, even on a cold night
3. Relax – Wellington is a great city to take things slow in. Te Papa or the Wellington Museum are both great for exploring (and even more so when you don’t have a kid in tow, so can actually read the information panels). Take some time to unwind in the hotel pool – or if there isn’t on, head to Freyberg and treat yourself to a soak in their spa.
4. Waterfront Markets – fresh produce, and Wellingtons famous food trucks. Whats not to like?


Eat
We made the mistake of not making a booking for Saturday dinner around 6:30, and spent an hour trying to find somewhere that had offerings I could eat, and would seat us. We wound up having dinner at the Bangalore Polo Club, nabbing a bar leaner and stools. Simple food done well at a really reasonable cost, we’d totally consider going again.
Sunday morning we headed to an old favourite of Joes Garage. The potato hash with eggs didn’t disappoint, but the hollandaise was a bit sickly rich for my tastes. The caramel thickshake was a meal on its own.
Stay
We opted for the Comfort Hotel on Cuba Street, booked through the Entertainment Book. We got a really excellent rate, the staff were friendly, we got extra towels when we went to the pool. The room was comfortable and clean. Our only complaint was that the rooms are single glazed, and Cuba St is not a quiet place on a Saturday night / Sunday morning, so I didn’t sleep well. Take earplugs if you’re a light-ish sleeper like me.

All the way around: Tongariro Northern Circuit

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The planning for this trip was completely overshadowed by the planning for walking the Milford Track, it was so straightforward that our only disappointment was when Ange decided she couldn’t make it. The trip also snuck up on us, being so close to the start of the year. Marion and I got back to work and suddenly realised all we had done was book our huts.

We picked dates based solely on the fact there was capacity to create a 4 day weekend by taking a Monday off work. This meant when we had a super long day 3 walking, we didn’t then have to drive straight home.

Our route included a crossing of the bulk of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This was the best maintained segment of the circuit by a long shot (although WaihohonP1030408u to Whakapapa was not far behind in terms of track quality and was a million times more peaceful). The rest of the track was in average to challenging condition, and I suspect doesn’t see a lot of maintenance, which is an absolute shame for a great walk.

The huts were actually kind of rubbish for what they were. Mangatepopo was ok size-wise for sleeping 20 people, although the gas fire in the middle of the room made things feel cramped when everyone was cooking dinner. Oturere was smaller but had an extra 7 beds. In bad weather with a full hut it would have been miserable. We had lovely people and good weather, thankfully, which made the hut survivable, but I would honestly recommend skipping Oturere and booking Waihohonu as your second night. It would make for a fairly long and challenging day, but Waihohonu is a much nicer hut and actually worth your $35/night.

OIMG_3465ur weather was perfect. Well, we had perfect timing in terms of when we hit bad weather. It cleared not long after we started the track on Saturday afternoon, was stunningly clear and perfect tramping weather all day Sunday from our 3:30am start to go over the Crossing, and then clouded in and rained again on Monday as we headed back to Whakapapa. We got back with no actively wet gear, and enjoyed views forever going across the tops.

I always forget something while tramping, and this time I hit two – my filters for my camera (no point carrying the remote shutter cable and filter holders with no filters), and the wooden spoon for dinners. Whoops. I also carried my 2.4kg tripod for 3 days in order for it to be used for a sum total of about 5 photos. Admittedly, a lot P1030431of that was due to the lack of filters – you can’t take long exposures in daylight conditions without a decent filter.

I had my second pair of new boots in as many trips for this tramp, and these ones were AMAZING. I got blisters on the undersides of my little toes in the last couple of hours of Mondays walk solely because the rain saturated my socks and I didn’t have a second pair for walking in. Otherwise, I didn’t have a single issue with them. Bliss.

Along the track we met some lovely people – a big group from all over who regularly adventure together, a group of three ladies from Auckland, a couple training for the Inca Trail. P1030469We also met a couple of not-so-lovely people, including the dude flying his drone over Red Crater at sunrise, ruining what was otherwise a silent morning, and the people who walked in to Mangatepopo Hut solely to get drunk (along with the DoC warden who did nothing to dissuade them).

The best part of the track was the early morning on the top of Red Crater. Worth the 3am alarm clock for sure. The worst part of the trip was hitting the wall just shy of the Tama Lakes turn-off on our way back to Whakapapa, and having to push through it.

The total cost per person of this trip was approximately $180, including food and petrol. We travelled by private car, shared food for dinners, and stayed at the WTMC Lodge at Whakapapa for the night before we headed home.

Summer Holiday in Christchurch

The drive to Christchurch was an experience in itself. The Kaikoura Coast Road had only re-opened the day before we drove south, so we took the opportunity to see the incredible, amazing works that had been undertaken by the dedicated crew over the year and a bit since the Kaikoura Earthquake.

We arrived at Marks parents house after dinner, nicely in time to put Mr4 to bed. After chilling out together the next morning, we headed into the city for gelato and a walk in Hagley Park, culminating in Mr4 having a swim in his undies in the paddling pool at the playground.

The hardest moment of the trip was handing Mr4 over to Marks parents, who he was staying with while Mark and I travelled on to Queenstown and the Milford Track. Returning back and seeing his excitement at our return was an awesome moment.

We splurged on day passes on the Tram for Marks family – it was our Christmas present to them, and a great way to ensure the kids all got to spend some time together. Yes, at times, using the tram was significantly slower than we could have walked, but the kids were entranced by the trams, so that was an absolute win.

We saved money by staying in a Marram group holiday house. We could have saved more by staying with Marks parents, but we decided that everyones sanity would be better served by staying down the road instead. Having a full holiday house meant we could cook and eat at home easily, which is our preference when travelling.

We did two big day trips – which I’ve written up separately – to Arthurs Pass, and Hanmer Springs. Both were awesome, and come highly recommended.

Our most disappointing experience would have to be Orana Park. The park looks and feels tired, but is still achingly expensive. Never mind the fact that it rained torrents on us (unforecast), we realised just how spoilt we are with our local zoo by visiting.

We lived local and visited Westburn Bike Park a couple of times. It’s a really neat wee reserve, with a playground and a bike “town”. Probably some of our favourite local times were spent on our bikes in the park.

The very last thing we did before we left was a local road trip – we went up into the Port Hills, over to Lyttleton, out to New Brighton Pier, and back via the CBD. Driving through the empty residential red zone was surreal.

Short Break: Hanmer Springs

P1030222The first thing we did when we arrived was chill out in the shade of the trees on the main road for some lunch. That was, after we found a car park – the new day park was amazingly empty, considering how full the parks on the main road were.

This was a splurge overnighter. Short notice accommodation (this was meant to be a day trip in our original planning), the hot pools, and jet boating. Overall, it was totally worth it, we had a great time.

Our accommodation was claustrophobic – a small cottage split in two, with beds for 5 in our half. It required a minimum two night stay (we snuck in between two bookings), and figuring out how to get in wasn’t clearly signposted. The kitchen bench was little to no use, good thing we weren’t doing much cooking. But it was amazingly located – less than 200m from the pools. Fantastic.

We did the tourist thing and hit the hot pools. We shelled out for a P1030242day-return pass, and went back after dinner (an excellent plan, as it was too hot to go to bed until way late). Sadly, the pools have removed their old option of “all day” and “multi day” passes – now you can get a single entry, one return in a day, or one return the next day. The hydroslides also have conflicting rules about entry, with one having a height restriction and the other an age restriction. Basically, don’t bother unless your child is at least 5 AND 1.2m. Despite just meeting the height rule, the counter wouldn’t sell us a hydroslide band for a pre-schooler.

Our absolute favourite activity was the jet boat ride we picked up cheap from Grab One. AMAZING. We had an absolutely fabulous time with Amuri Jet. Even at full price, the rides from both local jet boat operators were cheaper than those available in Queenstown. We paid less than $100 for the three of us, and spent a solid 40 minutes on the river, with our hilarious and knowledgeable guide. As an added bonus, while we had to pay for our pre-schooler, there are no height restrictions on Amuri Jet (Unlike shotover, at $300 for three of us for 25 minutes, which would include Mr4.5 being free, but risking having to leave him behind on the day because he’s under 1.2m)P1030282

The last thing we did before we headed off was grab lunch at the Monteiths Brewery Bar. We should have just gone to the café at Hanmer Jet, next door to Amuri Jet. The service was slow, the food was good but not great, and going all the way back into town, finding parking, getting back out of town etc delayed our departure by a chunk of time, which made for a rather late arrival in Blenheim that night.

Day Trip: Arthurs Pass

Driving inland from Christchurch takes you through a wide range of scenery, and offers some great opportunities to connect with nature. We had planned for ages to do a day trip to Arthurs Pass while on holiday in Christchurch, and the weather made for perfect conditions, as we left the one cold day of our holiday behind on the coast, enjoying cool but pleasant weather instead.

As we were nearing Klondyke Corner, we all of a sudden came across the TranzAlpine train, right at a point where its track was immediately next to the road. This was a massive treat for train-mad Mr4.5, who was most upset when the train then vanished off into the distance. We beat the train into Arthurs Pass itself, so parked near the train station and walked up to the bridge across the Bealey River, where the tracks vanish into the Otira Tunnel, to watch the train leave town again.

After a quick pop up the hill to the lookout for Avalanche Creek Falls, we stopped briefly at the store and café, where we found the only kea we saw on the entire trip. Significant powers of persuasion were required to get Mr4.5 to join us as we wandered through the village and walked up to the Devils Punchbowl falls. Although, he did get excited once in the bush, and powered off ahead of me.

Stopping for lunch on the way back down from the falls, not realising until we were back at the main road that there were a second set of falls only 15 minutes on from the first bridge (do both if you are there, they each don’t take much time), we walked back through the village to collect the car, heading up to the Otira look out to see if we could see more kea (again, none to be seen – odd and sad, this has always been a spot I’ve seen them before). Stopping back in at the café to join the exceedingly slow-moving queue for an ice-cream, we chilled there for a bit before heading east back towards the coast again.

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A VERY brief stop to see the Moa at the Bealey Hotel, and off we went again.

On the way out, we had promised that if the weather was nice on the way home we could stop at Castle Hill to explore the massive boulders along the side of the road. The weather was nice – felt cool as we stepped out of the car, but the cool didn’t last. This was easily the best part  of the day for everyone – the rocks were incredible. We didn’t do much climbing, but we did do some clambering. Next time we head that way, if the weather is nice, we would totally stop again, and get further out the back of the area.

2017 in Review

Things that worked for us this year included expanding our variety. We stayed in campgrounds, motels, and holiday rentals. We stayed put and rested, or we were out and about every day. Having figured out that Mr4 needed insoles made a huge difference to how active he was willing to be. We started getting Mr4 involved in some of our trip planning and decision making while away.

With a couple of big trips late in the year, we ran countdown calendars on our pantry door, so Mr4 could cross each day off. It reduced stress from him about how far away trips were (I mean, 15 minutes is “a long time” and an hour is “really soon”. So, no surprise he couldn’t grasp that 4 days away is quite a while).

We have a long list of “first time” experiences this year – from our first time riding a ski chairlift, through to first skiing lessons and our first time leaving Mr4 at ski kindy – he’s not normally great with new situations full of strange people, but somehow, SkiKindy worked its magic and he was ecstatic to be there from the first moment he arrived. We also left Mr4 overnight with Marks family for the first time, which went really well.

We also repeated a lot of well-known experiences, including weekends at Castlepoint and the club ski lodge, along with visits to Toy Library and expeditions to local playgrounds and museums. Add in repeating some experiences from the past, like Puzzling World and the luge at Queenstown, and it feels like we had a good balance this year.

The year included two trips away for just the adults – a long weekend in Sydney for Vivid, and walking the Milford Track.

Mr4 took six flights and three ferry sailings this year. We made good use of our access to the Koru lounge, especially when returning from Queenstown and Auckland. Our flights were at all different times of day, and apart from the flight home from Auckland in November, when our bedtime-ish flight ran late, all passed smoothly. Thankfully, Mr4 will happily occupy himself for about an hour with a Kia Ora magazine.

We still struggle a little with roadies – getting to the ski lodge and Castlepoint for example. It still takes us over 6 hours to get to the lodge, because of the need to stop regularly. Its also still not uncommon for Mr4 to fall asleep on longer road trips, and then be awake until very late in the night since he doesn’t usually nap anymore otherwise.

Our year opened at a campground, and will close in a holiday rental. We only cancelled two trips – one to the skifield right on opening weekend when the weather forecast was average and the main reason for going was astrophotography, and another overnight bike-packing trip when no-one else was available to join us and the weather was just too hot to want to tow Mr4 uphill for 10km carrying overnight gear as well.

The main thing we’d go back and change is to have worked harder at being better organised in regards to having others come places with us – especially for camping trips. While we loved the family time at Mistletoe Bay, there is no denying it would have been even more awesome were there at least one other family with us to help occupy Mr4.

Looking back, its clear that we were all at our most relaxed, connected, and happy when we were away on holiday together, especially on our long trip to Queenstown and Wanaka. If we could find a way to quit work and still afford to live, we would give serious consideration to delaying Mr4’s start in school and spending a year travelling. But, we’ve got something like that planned for a few years time, so it will have to wait.

Our plans for next year include a massive family holiday between Mr4’s 5th birthday and him starting school, of about 4 weeks, mostly in the Far North and Coromandel areas, along with the start of a new tradition – taking the whole October holidays off for an adventure. In 2018 we’ll be doing a week at a family members farm in Marlborough, and then head off to the Abel Tasman. In future years, we’re planning a return to Stewart Island, and the Otago Rail Trail.