New Zealand family holidays are the stuff dreams - and great memories - are made of. Our writers reminisce on favourite holidays of days gone by.
The 4-5 hour drive up to Ahipara from Auckland is one that I remember and have had great memories of visiting as a kid and into my teens. I hope to make it a tradition as I get older - the chance to escape the city and head to a place that has a sense of sweeping spirituality about it; and an untouched, rugged beauty too. One of my favourite things to do on the drive up was to keep a tally of all the Ratana churches we passed along the way.
There are vivid memories of the 4x4 tracks and feeling like I was on some space expedition on the moon while riding on quad bikes; along with the golden potato fritters and fresh snapper from Bidz takeaways that we always looked forward to after a day of swimming. Sometimes I'd get my pencils out and sketch the landscape. My first time atop a horse was as a spotty teen along Ninety-Mile beach, riding past the crashing waves at Shipwreck Bay, breathing in the air, and realising at that moment how happy and free I felt. If there was ever a moment I wanted to badly re-visit in recent weeks — it was this.
Charteris Bay was just a 45min drive from Christchurch in our big old yellow van, the affordable, sensible vehicle of choice for a family of seven in the late 80s.
The beach at Charteris Bay never rates in the top 10 beaches in Canterbury. It's a locals' beach — small and secluded. Driving past, you wouldn't even know it existed, as you first must scramble down dozens of dodgy steps carved into the earth, snaking around giant eucalyptus trees.
The beach has shells instead of sand, which toughened the soles of our feet. It's tidal, so if you timed it wrong you'd be walking on mudflats rather than swimming. But it's the beach of my most joyful childhood memories. Every day brought a new sibling challenge to see how many swims we could squeeze into one long summer day. We'd sunbathe for hours on the boatshed ramps. And we had a canoe. A bright orange canoe that became the staple of every family holiday snap through the summers of the 80s and 90s. It wasn't a perfect beach. If it was a house, I'd call it "rustic". But as a child, it was the only place I ever wanted to be.
When you grow up in a beach town, there isn't much need to go away on family holidays. After all, with sand, surf and (what felt like year-round) sun right on the doorstep, what more could you want?
I left Mt Maunganui almost 20 years ago — packing my bags before my 18th birthday. Of all the people to grow up in New Zealand's Summer Bay, it was well and truly wasted on me; sand was the worst. The sun had me in hiding (freckles and that ozone layer really didn't mix). If I never saw another beach, it'd be too soon.
And then I grew up. While I got married and made a life for myself in Auckland, one-by-one, those family members who had also left the Mount, returned to its pull, only this time they brought nieces and nephews with them — and of course, there were the parents I suddenly appreciated. Even an aunt switched Melbourne for the Tauranga tides.
So my favourite family holidays are the ones happening now. The ones where we throw the dog in the car on a Friday night, chuck on a podcast, and head over the Kaimai Ranges to go home where we do very little, except cuddle those nieces and nephews (and parents), lick a Copenhagen Cone (if you haven't tried one, you simply must) and yes, even brush the sand from our toes, because beach life is actually quite nice, thank you very much.
My favourite family holiday is always my most recent. Part of the reason for that is my poor memory, but mostly I think it's because each passing year of my children's development makes it more likely I'll get five minutes alone with a book before someone yells at me that they want to play a horsey game.
Our last holiday was to Kerikeri, where we stayed in an astonishing Airbnb with an outdoor spa, indoor games room and kitchen that opened along its full length to an outdoor bench and dining area. The enormous lawn flowed down to a swimmable stream set among walkable bush. There was no need to leave the house, so we didn't.
On our second day there, sitting outside in the warm morning sun with coffee and a scone, surrounded by the people I love most in the world, I was filled with contentment at the realisation I was one step closer to never again having a holiday like this one, where one child is lying on the ground screaming because another has just stolen her drink bottle.
Our annual camping trip was a mission. We weren't one of those families that had all the gear. We weren't really campers, but every summer our parents rounded us up from running barefoot and wild on the farm, and took us to run barefoot and wild at the beach. They'd borrow a neighbour's old caravan, load it up and every spare inch of space in the old station wagon with supplies — tents, tarpaulins, the old table and chairs from the shearer's cottage, a spade to dig the long drop, lamps from the wool shed, a leg of ham, weeks of mum's baking — and we'd head north.
Winding, winding, winding — or so it felt from the back seat where me, my two sisters and our friends were squeezed in bare brown leg to bare brown leg, singing, arguing, giggling annoyingly — along metal roads until we landed in a large, rough paddock at Matapouri. Again, it belonged to friends. The grass was brown and crisp dry under foot as we'd stumble out of the car and sprint the few hundred metres over the grassy dunes to be blinded by the sparkling blue water and swooshing sound of the beckoning waves. Before setting up camp, before lunch, before anything ... we'd dive into the water. Ah, the joy. That first beach swim of summer that washed away the sweat, dust, and sticky icecream fingers of the journey and enveloped us in the cleansing, exhilarating arms of holiday freedom, and filled us with anticipation for all the adventures that lay ahead.
When I was little, my family would go to the same place for our holidays every year. Te Puru, a small town on the Coromandel coast, where we'd hire the same bach every summer. We'd sleep in the same beds, and play the same board games that were stacked on top of the wardrobes.
As soon as we arrived, we'd fall into the same routines. Mum would prepare lunch, Dad was on dinner. My brother was on washing up, and I was in charge of drying. I remember putting away the discoloured ivory-handled butter knives into a flower paper-lined kitchen drawer that got stuck every time, and rattled as you slammed it shut.
We'd collect pipi off the beach and Dad would turn them into fritters. Mum would open a big bag of salt-and-vinegar crisps every day — a huge treat — and sometimes the kids would be given a weak shandy made from a splosh of the lager that my parents allowed themselves at lunchtime. We'd buy second-hand comics from the store in Thames, then sell them back the following week in return for new ones. We'd go on family walks up Te Puru stream, still one of my favourite places to visit.
Day in, day out, for three weeks every summer.
Years ago I aspired to taking my son to Chicago, to Pompeii, to the Galapagos Islands, to London where he was born. But my own childhood experience suggests that there is adventure to be had in the smallest of journeys, and the happiest memories can come from family and familiarity.
My memory doesn't have to stretch back too far to recall a family holiday that was as close to perfect as you are ever going to get. Last summer my husband's sister was visiting from Canada with her family and so we all set off — grandparents too — for a week at Ōhope beach. The bach was rustic, but roomy and so close to the beach you could taste the salt on your lips when relaxing on the deck. If you have ever been to Ōhope you know how beautiful the beach is. The sand is soft, the waves are a good size, not too rough for kids, but not small either.
We had bought the kids bodyboards for Christmas, but in typical 6-year-old style they lost interest immediately, so the parents took to the boards with gusto. I had never body-boarded before and my brother-in-law patiently gave me pointers and cheered me on when I finally caught a wave. On our second to last day on the beach my sister-in-law suggested we dig for pipis, something they had done as a family when they were young, so we all pitched in, even the littlest ones and ended up with a huge bucket, which we enjoyed with butter and lemon the next day. Those pipis were magic, not just because they were tasty, but rather it felt like a right of passage, as though I had been invited to join a family memory. Sure, there were moments, like when our toddler fell on concrete and grazed his face or when our 6-year-old realised a homemade battering ram versus a glass door doesn't end well but, that's life, right?
"Go not by the most common road but the smaller paths", said Pythagoras. The smaller path however, is not necessarily the shorter or easier, as we discover on the Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast Cycle Trail. We five — two adults, three children then aged between 10 and 12 — cycle 90km over two days — about six hours each day — starting in the Northland town of Kaikohe and ending, eventually, in Horeke in Hokianga. Our spirits are high, the track is groomed, and I feel about 7 years old again on my brand new bike. We each choose a set of wheels from the excellent hire shop. "Head that way for Opua," says Rob, turning back to the hire shop and waving his hand in a vague way that could be interpreted as either north, east, west or south. But we soon discover that while the road may be long, it's easy to follow and it's almost impossible to get lost. We fly past forest and farmland and are blissfully alone for miles. At Otira, we bring out the scroggin and marvel at the swing bridge and waterfall. Two hours later, we make it to Kawakawa for lunch and on to Opua.
Day two is the final leg to Horeke. You simply must go to the pub there, a colleague had told me before we left. So with that buoying prospect in mind we set off after breakfast. This leg is desperately beautiful. We weave through forest, alongside a river and farmland, arriving in Horeke at about 3pm. Euphoria overwhelms any weariness and so does cold tap beer and lemonade at the Horeke Pub. This is a fantastic family adventure. Cycling is like having a pan shot of the world you are in. The people, the small towns, the lime milkshakes, and the landscape.
Much to my partner's eternal annoyance I'm quite a fan of the "staycation" — the moderately witty name given to keeping your ass at home while everyone else buggers off around the country. Because I'll let you in on New Zealand's real best-kept secret: when all the Aucklanders flock out of Auckland on long weekends or over summer, the City of Sails is an incredibly great place to be.
There's a handful of wildly different beaches situated under an hour away; from the crashing surf of Piha and Mangawhai out west, to the golden sands of the family friendly, inner-city east coast beaches such as Mission Bay or Orakei. I really like Pt Chev beach because when the pōhutukawas are in bloom it's incredibly pretty, there's a big playground for the kids to further exhaust themselves and it's right next door to Mt Albert where I live. From downtown there's a ferry that shoots across the water to the beachside village of Devonport on the North Shore, a great adventure and day out for the kids.
If beaches aren't your bag, then it's easy to go bush. Again, you can get to any number of incredibly scenic walking or tramping spots in under an hour. No matter your skill or fitness level there's a densely green track waiting for you somewhere in Auckland.
With minimal traffic clogging the streets it's easy to visit attractions like Butterfly Creek, which has recently expanded to include a whole lot of accurately sized dinosaurs and very real, very large crocs. There's great coffee everywhere, parks galore, shopping precincts and new food joints opening all the time, no matter which price point you're looking at.
And best of all, the accommodation is always sorted. Although your decision to explore and enjoy the wonders of your own backyard instead of venturing further afield may mean that for you at least, it's on the couch.
For more New Zealand holiday inspiration, go to newzealand.com/dosomethingnew