Monday, 27 June 2016

New Zealand's North Island: Verdant, Sub-Tropical Northland and Geothermal Rotorua

It's easy to dismiss New Zealand as a destination too far away, unless you're a seasoned backpacker, a committed adventure-seeker, or Lord of The Rings enthusiast. However there is far more draw to this wonderfully unspoiled and lush green land than the more obvious possibilities, and long haul flights really aren't a big deal. Back-to-back episodes of anything from Scrubs to The Simpsons - whats the problem?! 


New Zealand's Luschious North Island

New zealand forest north island
For a start, the extremely low population means an unbelievably relaxed and friendly feel, and also the distinct possibility of having a picture-perfect sandy beach all to yourself, especially due to the varied and extensive coastline. If it's a back-to-nature, relaxing holiday you're after, New Zealand certainly delivers.


Culture


The Maori culture and tradition in New Zealand is generally well-respected and you won't find a race-divide in this country like you might in Australia for example. The Maori rituals and traditions are fascinating to locals and visitors alike.

Kiwis are friendly, sunny personalities and the nation's passion for nature and the great outdoors is extremely catching. There is a want-for-nothing attitude and you won't find many Kiwis lavishly decorating the outside of their homes for curb-appeal, or worrying too long about the street-cred of their latest smartphone. I am quickly brought back down to earth every time!


Food and Drink


New. Zealand. Lamb. That's all, thanks for reading!

No seriously, it's delicious but there's so much more on offer too. In heavily touristed areas the food and restaurants are mainly American-style burger bars and the like, but there are unusual things to try too. E.g. paua shellfish is a native and local delicacy, and the New Zealand wine is not to be missed of course, but don't limit yourself to just those famed Marlboroughs: Tohu is a delicious alternative example of a far lesser-known wine.


Places to Visit: Landscapes, Beaches, Towns etc.



Geothermal Rotorua



Rotorua geothermal pool green and yellow


Rotorua itself does show the polished, mainstream touristed side to New Zealand, however the geothermal activity of the area is fascinating no matter how well-known or well-trodden, and nothing seems too commercialised within the actual parks other than there possibly being more cameras than people... it is a great activity/attraction for children as it involves so many of the senses (the sound of those mud bubbles is quite something, not to mention the smell)!

Wai-o-tapu is home to a wonderful range of bubbling geothermal pools and steaming craters. It was my favourite simply because of this colour palatte. In fact, one of the large pools closely resembles an artist's palatte, with the colours in the water streaking and blending into one another. Wai-o-tapu is large with varied walking trails, and is just South of Rotorua - around half an hour in the car. Don't miss the bubbling mud lake nearby on the loop road, just on the way back towards Rotorua.

Hell's Gate is a fascinating mud park complete with a mud volcano, mud spa, and mud bathing opportunities! My feet have never felt so soft than after dipping them into the silky mud of this strange and exciting place.


Georthermal mud pool


Just North of Rotorua, another stunning natural attraction is very worth visiting. The shockingly powerful Huka falls is one noisy place, and the unspoiled setting very beautiful.


Whangarei


New-Zealand's population and infrastructure is dramatically less developed the further North you go, and although it is quickly becoming modernised, don't even think about coming 'shopping' here for any items less necessary than fishing or diving gear in some places! That said, there are some of the nicest and most genuine tasteful sovenirs available in quite a good choice of gift shops. Paua shell jewellery is abundant and inexpensive but very pretty.


Beaches of the Whangerei area

Ruakaka Beach


Mountain and sea new zealand
Whangerei Heads 


Whangarei's position on the East of Northland's coast, jutting in and out, affords stunning scenery with many varied beautiful bays and beaches. The Whangerei Heads rise up over the beaches to the very East, and can be seen in the distance on wide sweeping rural beaches such as Ruakaka, and in close proximiy at beaches like the popular and glamourous Parua Bay. For the most generous stretches of sand with plain views of the wide open ocean, head to stunning Ocean Beach.

It is hard to get your head around the space and solitude available on some of the beaches in Northland. It is blissful. Also I was certainly glad of it when I tried my hand at surfing and got beaten up by the waves (I was unharmed)!

The Tutukaka coast and Whananaki have some of the most picturesque and deserted beaches in New Zealand. Whananaki is home to a fantastic camp site at Motutara farm, and a selection of holiday homes right on the ocean nearby. Some camping spots are booked well in advance at Motutara so get in there quickly but do not allow this popularity conjure up images of tent jungles, cans of beer, and rows upon rows of sweaty sunbathers; It is very much the opposite.


Caping beach new zealand



Whangerei Town basin


The 'town basin' is the area of Whangerei by the harbour. It is a very pleasant little part of town with an array of lovely gift shops and cafes having made an appearance in recent years right beside the quay. The delightful harbour certainly bought me more time to lust over various handmade local trinkets in the gift shops as it kept Richard entertained with his people watching and boat-watching.


Whangerei Falls

Waterfalls


These beautiful falls and the surrounding walks in the jurassic-park-like bush which also link with further parks and walkways, are wonderful places within the North area of the town to appreciate some nature. These graceful falls can be seen from above and below, and are very easily accessed.


Pahia & Bay of Islands


North of Whagerei is the stunning collection of islands known as the Bay of Islands. Boat trips can be expensive and popular so book in advance if you don't want to be disappointed like we were! There are various options including big day tours and short trips across the water to the old town of Russell - the old capital of the country.

Paihia is a popular little place and well worth a visit especially for the bustling atmosphere and great variety of unusual gift shops. The nearby Pahia lookout is a 30 minute walk up in the bush (worth it just for the unique smell of the vegetation), and allows great views of the bay of islands - the best you will get from the mainland anyway. We even managed to get the pram up there!


Kerikeri & The Marsden Estate


This pretty little town is home to New Zealand's oldest trading post (1819), and although New Zealand is not the destination for medieval history, this has a little more recent history of its own.

Don't miss out on the Marsden Estate winery for food and wine. We ate here for lunch and the relaxed yet classy atmosphere is something hard to find elsewhere.

The food choices are unusual and delicious, and there are great choices of renowned wine from their estate to pair with your food. My choice of rose was just so tasty - a lovely fresh wine with notes of strawberry... as if I know what I'm talking about!

Our walk in the grounds and vineyards afterwards was also very enjoyable, with the gardens full of tropical and colourful specimens to take lots of photos of our baby daughter with, until she grabbed a huge Hawaii-type flower and got pollen all over herself - bring on the babywipes!


The Far North


The far North is pretty much what it sounds like. It is the least developed and most sparse area but naturally that means it is one of the most rugged. 90 Mile Beach is a long stretch of sand (no, its not actually 90 miles) with sand dunes and great sand boarding possible, as well as off-roading (keep to the wet sand)!


Waipoua Forest


To the West of Whangerei we visited the Waipoua forest, with its ancient giant Kauri trees - which once blanketed most of the land. Tanemahuta is the name of the sacred and famous giant tree which is well worth seeing, as well as its other enormous friends in the forest. Stick to the walkways! Tramping around can threaten these ancient trees due to the disturbance of some type of spore which is deadly to them.

New Zealand is a clean, safe and beautiful country and the treasures of the lushious green North Island always leave me with a gaping hole every time I leave! 


Thursday, 3 March 2016

Tips & Useful information for Travelling with a Baby

Holidays, Vacations, and Travel with a Baby

Travel with a baby doesn't have to be difficult. Sure, you'll have all the typical comments like the sceptical 'good luck' and the 'rather it was you than me.' But you have to remember - you're doing this because you want to, and if you're happy and relaxed, your baby will be. The only difference is that you're not at home in the same environment. (Oh and perhaps the time difference but more about that later).

Sterilising

Bottles need to be sterile for giving milk, as milk is a bacteria haven! This is easily done on the go using Milton tablets - available at most superstores. Any airtight container will do. We have one that's just big enough for all bottles, and we split the tablets in half as they are designed for a container twice as big (easily done as they are pre-scored). The water with the tablet dissolved in it can be used for 24 hours - rinsed bottles can be added and removed interchangeably.

Milk and feeds on Flights

Ultimately any decision is down to the security scanning person themselves, but passengers with babies are ordinarily be allowed to take on pre-prepared, unopened milk feeds, and even sterilised water to make the feeds up. Check with your airline, but we generally found security staff extremely helpful and reasonable. Also on most good scheduled airlines, milk is available if you need more unexpectedly.

If you're breastfeeding this is an enormous asset on an aeroplane. Not only will baby be reassured and cosy next to you when the pressure changes, her ears will cope far better with this if feeding whilst taking off and landing, as the sucking will help equalise the pressure. Baby can also be bottle fed for similar benefits.

Feeding and swallowing makes all the difference and our baby daughter didn't scream once when journeying to or from New Zealand from the UK.  

Prams and Pushchairs

Depending on where you are going and what you are doing, a pram with proper tyres rather than little wheels is a Godsend. We have been able to take our little one in a variety of ambitious places including very sandy beaches, narrow bumpy paths in the bush, and up and down lots of steps at national parks.

Most airlines will allow you to take the pram at no extra cost if you are paying for a child's ticket. They usually allow you to use it until you board the plane, and stow it for you in the hold when you're at the gate.

Baby Carriers

The option to 'wear' your baby is priceless. Especially in confined places, places with lots of steps, or places where you need your arms free from pushing a pram. We opted for a soft cross-over sling-type carrier with my large raincoat wrapped around both myself and baby for rainy days. The soft carriers take up hardly any space and are easy to put on and take off at your leisure.     

Sleeping

Travel cots - again priceless. Most hotels will have them and set them up if they know in advance the age of your child. We haven't needed to take one with us yet but we do have a Mamas and Papas one which folds up small and sets up in just 3 steps. Great for road trips. Not the best for taking on a plane - use a hotel one in this case or buy one when you arrive.

If you're changing baby's routine and sleeping in different places and at different times, it is essential to keep routines that don't change. For example always having a bedtime story, and a certain song or tune before bed. We use 'Tranquil turtle' - it projects soft watery reflections on the ceiling with a gentle tune and switches of by itself after 20 minutes. Perfect. Also we go around the room whispering goodnight to items in the room so bubba knows it's quiet time, and also so she knows she is somewhere different and therefore she is less likely to wake up in the night wondering where she and everyone else is. So far she has not refused to go to sleep on holiday once, or woken up with a fright.

Time Difference / Jet Lag

A baby with jet lag is not a fun thing, it has to be said. However the general advice below should keep restlessness to a minimum. We did exactly this when we took her to New Zealand (12 hour time difference) and found that she stopped waking at night within 3-4 days, and even when she did, she usually went straight back down without fussing.
  • Allow them to sleep when they are tired regardless of the time of day
  • Keep bedtime signals and routines consistent and obvious
  • Don't talk to them or do any 'daytime' things when it is supposed to be night time once you've arrived
  • If they are active and awake in the middle of the night after a feed, allow this and keep the room dark and quiet as normal. Then they eventually nod off they will realise it is night time

On the Go

A changing bag with lots of pockets and a changing mat is essential - just have everything in one bag, it is far easier. We have changed bubba in so many places, and the back of the car is not abnormal. However if you're changing your baby in places which could be unclean such as a counter-top of a public toilet (or worse, the floor), the changing mat, baby wipes, and antibacterial gel are all extremely useful.  

Don't over-do the toys. We take 3-4 little toys and 2-3 little books, just rotating them so she doesn't get bored. Babies don't need constant stimulation and it is healthy for them to occupy themselves and pay attention to their environment as well as play with interactive toys. I typically choose one toy with a rattle or noise, one with a tactile touchy-feely element, and one which is shiny or lights up. This ensures you can stimulate the senses in a variety of ways.

Comfort and Safety

If you're flying for longer than a few hours it is really handy to have an airline baby bassinet (which attaches at the front to the wall and usually has a safety strip or belt across the top). These are available if you pay for your baby's ticket and don't just have her on your lap (around £90 but it varies). The bassinet is just in front of you, so your seat will be at the front - therefore lots of legroom is an added bonus! Babies are not allowed in these for take-off, landing and turbulence though of course. Make sure you use the safety belt at all times in case of unexpected turbulence. Babies don't weigh a lot and can easily lift into the air which is extremely dangerous, never risk it.

Road trips with babies are very feasible, just bear in mind that you need to stop and give the baby a break from the car seat every 2-3 hours, otherwise it is not good for the spine. Ideally don't travel more than 3 hours a day, or at least factor in long breaks and stops where the baby can lie flat. It is easy to stop and relax in Europe, especially France where the many 'Aires' include places to eat, picnic benches, play areas, babychange, and are generally very well-equipped.   

Health-wise, a common issue for children and babies can be temperatures. Carry some baby paracetamol (such as Calpol) with a measuring syringe just in case. These take up almost no room and in the case of a fever of any kind this will be very useful, and also put your mind at rest.

There is advice not to slather your baby in suncream, due to active ingredients. Best advice is to just keep baby in the shade, use a sunhat, and if you're using suncream, put it on exposed areas. Little shady canopies can be made by tying white muslin cloths to prams, chairs etc. 

If you are unsure on any of this information please check with the relevant websites/authorities. Although I endeavour to ensure this information is correct and up to date, I cannot be held liable for any incorrect information (such as the info regarding sterilising bottles).