Holidays were easier pre-kids, but Jared Savage finds the Sunshine Coast is a great way to recharge the batteries
My wife and I were DINKS, the last time we travelled.
Double Income NO KIDS.
Camel rides in the Middle East. Ski trips in Poland. Cruising the Mediterranean. Sailing the clear, clear waters of Croatia.
So many glorious, carefree days as my wife and I ended our OE in England and drifted east across Europe for weeks on end.
That was five years ago. It may as well have been a lifetime ago.
On returning to our home in Auckland, we knuckled down and concentrated on our careers.
Bought a bigger house. With a bigger mortgage. Had a baby. Then with Number 2 on the way, still juggling our jobs, escaped the Auckland rat-race for Tauranga.
The memories of brunch in Barcelona, or trekking the Cinque Terre, faded fast.
And while we dreamed of travelling overseas again, a trip to the dairy with young kids can quickly turn into a nightmare.
This year, however, life got easier; most because our youngest finally started sleeping through the night.
My wife went back to work, and with more cash coming in, a long-awaited trip to visit her sister in Australia no longer seemed out of reach.
And, if we're being open and transparent, our change in circumstances coincided with a far more appealing destination.
My in-laws and their kids were in Alice Springs - not without its attractions: Uluru anyone? - but uprooted themselves to the Sunshine Coast this year.
Catching up with the cuzzies was now just a cheap direct 3 hour flight to Maroochydoore, not halfway across the world's smallest continent.
Sun and surf in the middle of another dreary Kiwi winter? Sunshine Coast here we come!
Of course, we were no longer DINKS.
Military precision was needed to ensure, with two littlies in tow, we checked into Auckland International Airport by 7am.
The plan was to set the alarm for 3.30am and whisk the kids from their comfy beds into car-seats.
With the SUV already packed, they'd nod off within 5 minutes of leaving home.
A peaceful journey up State Highway 2, with little or no traffic, they'd wake up just in time for breakfast in the departure lounge.
Simple. Well, that was the plan anyway.
We had only pulled out of the driveway, literally, when Mr 4 spewed everywhere.
Never wanting to miss out on anything, Ms 1 joined in.
Some might argue it was better to clean up the mess at home in Tauranga, than on the road.
Which is true; except both children doubled down either side of the Karangahake Gorge.
We weren't even halfway to Auckland and the plan, with military precision, had gone out the window (if only everything else had).
The dreadful realisation we had yet to even navigate the check-in, let alone the flight, with two crook kids slowly dawned on us.
Did we need to cancel to avoid risking contagion for the other passengers? What's the protocol in this situation?
We pulled into Auckland International Airport at daybreak, and as the sun rose, so did everyone's spirits.
There is something wonderful about the joy in a child's face at experiencing something for the first time.
For weeks, possibly months, Mr 4's insisted on reading Richard Scarry's A Day at the Airport in anticipation of our holiday
While checking-in was a mundane task for the adults, Mr 4 was living and breathing his favourite book.
His excitement was a timely reminder there would be many 'firsts' on this holiday.
To not sweat the small stuff, but enjoy the little moments.
Thankfully, breakfast in the airport passed without the children bringing it back up, or during the flight itself.
Even so, I could feel my blood pressure come back down to normal as we descended into Maroochydore.
Tropical trees, blue skies, and temperatures in the mid-20s beckoned behind the tarmac.
We made it.
The Sunshine Coast is a string of coastal settlements in southern Queensland, about an hour's drive from Brisbane, stretching across roughly 65km of beaches and headlands.
In some respects Sunny Coast, as the locals call it, was like our home in the Bay of Plenty.
Traditionally a magnet for retirees drawn by the warmer climate - including New Zealanders who fly over in the winter months - younger families are now flocking there in droves.
There are more jobs, and with growing employment, more houses. Hundreds and hundreds of homes - as well as new schools and a new hospital - being built in new subdivisions.
So new, in fact, we couldn't find my sister-in-law's house on Google maps; the streets don't exist in cyberspace yet.
There is nothing quite like arguing over driving directions, so after a quick cuddle with the cousins, it was a relief to reach our destination 12 hours after leaving home.
We were staying nearby in Caloundra, about 25 minutes south of the airport, one of the many beachside settlements dotted along the coast.
It was the perfect holiday spot for a young family.
Tired and grumpy kids (or even mums and dads) don't always want to be strapped into a car, so for a couple of days, we just explored our new neighbourhood by foot.
Caloundra is a headland with a different beach around every corner, plenty of playgrounds (always covered in shade), as well as vibrant cafe culture.
All linked together by a boardwalk, where the sea was never out of sight.
Everything was within walking - or scooter distance for Mr 4 - which meant we enjoy what Caloundra had to offer, but still get back to the resort in time for the little one's sleep.
We were staying at the Oaks Oasis Resort ; definitely a sanctuary for young families.
The Water Park - a shallow pool with a waterslide playground plonked in the middle - was a hit with kids and parents alike.
They had a blast splashing around, while we cooled our heels with a drink in hand.
With an 18-hole mini golf course, giant jumping pillow, trampolines and tennis court, Oaks Oasis is the epitome of "family friendly".
After a few days recharging the batteries, it was time to go further than where our feet could talk us.
Noosa, Maroochydore and Mooloolaba all offer more than just white sand and sea views.
Although there is a smug satisfaction from lying on the beach in the knowledge the temperature in New Zealand won't reach these heights for another three or four months.
There's plenty of fine wining and dining, as well as shopping, to keep you entertained.
Sea Life in Mooloolaba is the Sunshine Coast's answer to Kelly Tarlton's, an underwater aquarium well worth a visit, especially if the weather takes an uncharacteristic turn for the worse.
In particular, the live seal shows - scheduled at regular intervals throughout the day - are worth timing your visit to watch.
For those tired of the sun, sand and surf, or just want a change of scene, head inland to rainforest of the Hinterland, punctured by the famed Glass House Mountains.
But for animal-obsessed children, or parents living vicariously through them, no trip to the Sunshine Coast is complete without visiting Australia Zoo.
Perhaps better known as the life's work of Steve 'the Crocodile Hunter' Irwin, the zoo - and its cast of colourful creatures - is back on television this year for the first time since his untimely death in 2006.
While his children Bindi and Bob have grown up, and into, his boots as the faces of Australia Zoo, Steve Irwin's personality - and passion for conservation - are still at the heart of everything they do.
There is every Aussie creature you can think of - the entire cast of Wombat Stew - as well as an impressive African safari field.
But, crikey, the true stars are the crocs. There is a daily show at the Crocoseum (Crocodile Coliseum, geddit), where thousands of visitors can watch trainers interact with the dangerous reptiles.
In their natural habitat, crocs use murky water to camouflage themselves from prey.
A dream of Steve Irwin's to help educate the public, the Crocoseum uses a system of channels and gates so the water in the ponds is clear.
This allows visitors to see how crocs move and behave in the wild and it's quite incredible to see the giant crocs swim through the water without a ripple; invisible in a serene billabong.
The climax of the show is when one of the crocodiles leaps vertically out of the water, using its tail as a spring, to snatch a chicken dangling in the hands of the nervous trainer.
"What do you think of that mate?" I ask Mr 4, sitting in my lap.
He was asleep. Never work with animals or children.
Qantas flies daily from Auckland to Brisbane.
Oaks Oasis, in Caloundra, is great for families.