Wanaka, New Zealand

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Husband – Lake Wanaka
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Lake Wanaka
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My bambina & me – Lake Wanaka

Wanaka is a small town in the Central Otago region of New Zealand on the Southern Lakes. Wanaka is a holiday resort town that fluxes with the stream of year round visitors, but the permanent population is just over 7000. Wanaka is full of charm and beautiful scenery. Wanaka is located an approximate 1 hour drive from Queenstown, and has often been compared to Queenstown with some even calling it “Queenstown’s sister”. We enjoyed our time in Wanaka with our 18 month old, and found it has a very different feel from Queenstown that we fell in love with. It is very charming, and a perfect setting for a family holiday! We also found Wanaka to be less expensive than Queenstown which is always a plus!

Travel: Wanaka is located an approximate 1 hour drive from Queenstown via the Cardrona Road. Wanaka is also a gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park located only 54 minutes to the park via State Highway 6. There are also some bus options that will carry you from Christchurch which is an appx 5 hour drive away.

Hotel: There are plenty of hotels, inns, hostels, and bed and breakfast options in Wanaka. We chose to rent a house via bookabach.co.nz, NZ’s equivalent of homeaway or airbnb, and it was lovely. We highly recommend bookabach. We had an entire balcony that overlooked Lake Wanaka, and we were close enough to walk to town!

Activities:

The Lake: Lake Wanaka is crystal clear, and amazingly beautiful. There are so many activities to participate in. You can swim, wade, kayak, paddle boat, fish, raft, jetboat, sail, waterski or wakeboard. Our toddler enjoyed wading in the water, and collecting rocks as the water is so clear you can see all the way to the bottom and see tons of rocks! There are also tons of ducks which is a great recipe for a toddler adventure.You can also rent kayak’s, boats, etc right on the lake front from Lakeland Wanaka.

Biking: You can also rent bikes from Lakeland Wanaka right on the lakefront. There are lots of bike trails, bikes parks, or road cycling available. You can even do heli biking for a more challenging ride. I have found the best source of info on biking in Wanaka can be found here! 

The Dinosaur Park: The Dinosaur Park is amazing, and was our daughter’s favorite attraction in Wanaka. We visited this park daily. It is right in the center of town, directly on the beach, and full of lots of fun activities including the famous dinosaur slide! This is a must stop with kiddies in tow. We were able to sit and take in the awesome views, picnic, wade in the water, etc while our little one played at the park and chased ducks! My suggestion is to get fish & chips take aways wrapped in newspaper from Wana Takeaways, and picnic beachside. You will see lots of other people doing the same!

Wanaka Lavender Farm:  Our daughter loved running through the rows of lavender, sitting on the purple tractor, seeing the farm animals, and eating lavender ice cream! This is a beautiful farm, and a great place to visit. We also partook of the lavender ice cream as well as tea, and it was simply divine! The little shop also has fantastic lavender products / souvenirs! Link to their website here!

Hiking: There are lots of family friendly hikes in/around Wanaka. The visitor’s center told us the Mount Iron Walk was a good walk for kids and would allow us to see sprawling views of Lake Wanaka, but we ran out of time to complete this hike. This is a full comprehensive guide of all of the hiking/walking options in Wanaka.

Lone Lake Wanaka Tree: We really enjoyed hiking around the beach to the Lake Wanaka Tree with our daughter. It was an easy beach walk around to the south end of the lake to see this feat of nature. There are no signs or placards that will point you in the right direction so make sure to just keep walking, and you will find it around the side of the lake. The tree sits just off shore from the public beach access, and is framed by the Southern Alps.

Lake Wanaka
The Lone Wanaka Tree, Lake Wanaka

Roy’s Peak Hike: Besides our trek up to Machu Picchu and The Great Wall, this is the most awe inspiring view I have ever had the privilege of seeing! And this def takes the cake for a natural landscape! This hike is NOT TODDLER/KID FRIENDLY. I try to tailor my recommendations to only kid friendly activities, but this view is so stunning I thought it needed mentioning. We left our daughter with my parents while we embarked on this hike. They took her to the dinosaur park, Patagonia Chocolates, and lots of other fun activities around town while we were gone! If you have an older child who is physically fit you can make the determination as to whether to take them along. The hike will take you appx 5-6 hours depending on your level of fitness. It took us about 6.5 hours as we stopped several times on the ascent. You climb appx 1500 meters straight up a mountain thru private farmland. There are sheep grazing alongside the hiking path, and can sometimes block your path. This is an exposed track. There is no shield from the sun, heat, rain, wind, etc. When we hiked, the sun was blazing. The burn time in New Zealand is appx 12 minutes so I required lots of sunscreen, layers of clothes, and an umbrella! I am very fair skinned. My husband fared better since he is not! Also, there are only bathrooms at the beginning/end of the trail so plan ahead for this. You will need to carry lots of water, provisions, clothes, etc as the temperature changes drastically throughout the day and as you ascend. On the descent, it is worth noting that you will be utilizing your knees very frequently as you are walking down a mountain the entire way down. I have relatively good knees, and they were extremely sore following this hike. It is also noteworthy to state that I am not a hiker. I am not extremely fit. I was working out regularly before this trip, but I was by no means an “athletic” individual so this may be WAY easier for someone else!

Roys Peak Summit
View from the Top!

Wanaka Golf: My husband played this course, and loved it. He is an avid golfer, and said this course was great to play and the views were beautiful yet distracting 🙂 You can hire a cart, and take your kids along for the ride! Our daughter loves going golfing with dada!

Amigos Mexican Grill: We really enjoyed this restaurant right in the center of town on Ardmore. It was very kid friendly. They have mariachi hats that my daughter loved, and also have hoola hoops on the lawn street side to be enjoyed.And get the Churros con Chocolate! Amazing!

Patagonia Chocolates: I have the same entry for this place under Queenstown as it is worth mentioning twice, and visiting multiple times. I am a huge fan. This place is amazing for adults and children alike. My favorite is the spicy hot chocolate, and my daughter loved the chocolate croissants. This is a must stop. They also serve ice cream and loads of other treats. My recommendation is picking up a treat before going to enjoy it lake side!

Puzzling World: A bizarre, fun filled alternate reality! Fun for the whole family! Visit their website here!

Make sure to save some time to visit the Hekwick Street Boutiques which are lovely. We found some of our favorite souvenirs in Wanaka!

Its also important to note we visited Wanaka in November. During the winter months, Wanaka is an amazing place to view the southern lights as well as ski and participate in winter activities! Cardrona Ski Park is loved by families!

And if you have time, tack on some time in Queenstown. Check out my guide to family fun here!

Flying with a Toddler

Travelling with a lap baby

Rocketing thru the sky appx 39,000 feet from land while trapped in a metal can with a bunch of strangers and your toddler is something that can be quite fearsome! Before we had our daughter, I had been on countless flights all over the world from China to Peru, but even still I was a nervous wreck about our first flight with our daughter in tow. I did so much research and planning leading up to our first flight to New York. Would she scream because of her ears hurting? Would she throw up? As she got a bit older then I worried about potty training disasters mid flight, jet lag, and the list goes on and on.

Our first flight wasn’t too bad. We traveled to New York, and had one lay over. The total fly time was about 6 hours. Our second trip was definitely a marathon. We flew to New Zealand, and had a fly time of appx 18 hours/ travel time of appx 24 hours. After NZ, our subsequent trips felt like a walk in the park! 🙂

Here are some tested tips that have worked for us, and I only hope they can help you enjoy your travels with your bambino!

At the Airport: Children do not need identification when flying with parents in the domestic USA (this is still so strange to me). Children will NEED identification when flying with anyone internationally.

You are allowed to check a stroller and/or car seat with most airlines free of charge, and they do not count toward your baggage allowance. When we opt to check our car seat, we always put it inside a huge laundry bag and write our name/details on the outside of the laundry bag. I always choose to utilize my stroller in the airport, and then tag it free of charge at the gate.

At security, most of the time small babies/ toddlers are allowed to keep their shoes on during screening. There is usually a family/express lane for screening with children. We never allow our daughter to go into the 3D imaging. We always opt for the step thru metal detector or a pat down. Different airports are different with their requirements, but most of the time I was allowed to carry my daughter thru the metal detector with her strapped in my baby carrier. A few times, they asked I remove her and a few other times she was asked to walk thru the detector by herself.

You are allowed an allowance of liquids when travelling with baby/ tots. You are allowed formula, juice, medicines, etc. I used to always utilize this allowance when my daughter was younger, and they do a hand swab test as well as some additional screening on the liquid items.

Playgrounds in airport: Most airports have children play areas so take a look at whichever airport you will be in! For example, in Dallas they have 5 play areas for children. There is one in each terminal except for E. During our last flight thru Dallas, we visited the junior fliers playground area in concourse C. There is a 33 foot dinosaur skeleton in the Atlanta airport located in the Atrium. In Orlando there is an entire aquarium in the food court. Last time I was in the Boston airport in terminal C, I noticed the Kidport interactive playground created by the Children’s Museum of Boston. This is a great way for children to burn off energy before boarding a flight!

Lap Baby versus Seat: Under the age of 2 years old, a baby can fly free of charge as a lap baby meaning you hold them in your lap for the duration of the flight. We have done this, but we have also chosen to buy a seat as well. From our experience, if your child is under 18 months old and the total flight time is 6 hours max or under this can be done. That’s our personal maximum. The benefits to booking your tot as a lap baby is obviously it is free, they do not have to occupy their own seat during take off and landing (this is a plus as if the baby falls asleep on you, you do not have to wake them up and strap them in to their own seat for take off / landing), and if there is an available seat on the airplane then your tot can occupy it at no cost. Also of note, if your child is small enough at the time of travel you can also book a bassinet for use for your lap baby at no additional cost on most airlines (more on this below). The benefits of buying your tot a seat is that they have their own seat/ space (especially important for long haul), having their own seat means you could also bring their car seat for use if you wanted, they get a checked baggage and carry on allowance, and they get a kid friendly meal on board. We have only ever flown coach by the way. If you are in first class on a long haul, you may could get away with always flying with a lap baby if under 2!

I chose to wear my baby in her sling in my lap when she flew as a lap baby. With that being said, of the 14 flights I did this on almost all had nothing to say about it. However, 2 of the flights did state I could not have my daughter in the carrier strapped to me for take off and landing. They stated this was because if it was an emergency situation, they would not be able to easily evacuate her. I thought it would be much easier with her being strapped to me since I could bolt from the plane with my hands free should anything happen, but I chose not to argue with the flight attendants. My number one motto, “Don’t argue with the flight attendants”. They are there to make your flight safe and enjoyable. Try at all cost to operate within their directions if possible. The only time I have ever spoken up and questioned the flight attendant was when my 18 month old was asleep on me. We had purchased her a seat for the flight, but she was still young enough to be counted as a lap baby. She had fallen asleep on me, and the flight attendant wanted me to wake her up and strap her into her own seat for landing. Seeing as how she had just fallen asleep, and for the mercy of the other passengers I did not want to wake her so I told the flight attendant she was young enough to be a lap baby, and even though I had purchased her a ticket she could still be held as lap baby for landing due to her age. The flight attendant checked with the other attendant, and they both agreed this was ok as long as the seat belt was fastened underneath the carrier and not on top of it. The seat belt extender then went around the carrier/baby. (Not all planes have seat belt extenders either. I have found they are all different domestically/ internationally/ airline specific so just follow directions) So definitely speak up if it is a legitimate concern, but always do so respectfully. I have seen my full share of people screaming on planes, and I will NEVER be that person.

Book the Bassinet: If your child is under the weight limit and small enough, then BOOK YOUR BASSINET for international travel. These bassinets attach to the bulkhead walls, and allows your baby to sleep without you holding them! You must book your seats in the bulkhead rows, and reserve your bassinet in advance. They are subject to availability so definitely call as early as possible to reserve. Each airline has different weight restrictions/ capacity. I have found that United Airlines has the largest bassinets of the airlines I have traveled. Big enough to hold up to 22 LBS / 2 years of age. British Airlines and Emirates also have reportedly big bassinets. I have found this website to be the most comprehensive guide to airline bassinets!

Kid Friendly Meal: If you purchase a ticket for your tot, you can pre-order a kid friendly meal. This must be done in advance so they can stock the plane. They deliver the kid meals before the meal service begins which is great so that you can help your tot eat before your meal is delivered. So far my daughter has enjoyed spaghetti, a cheeseburger meal, and a sandwich meal cut in the shape of a butterfly along with all of the sides as well.

Little Ears: Ear pressure can be quite painful for babies/toddlers. When our daughter was still young, and used her pacifier we found this did the trick with clearing her ears. When the pacifier wasn’t an option anymore, we found that lollipops and fruit chews work wonders! They also make baby child ear planes that can be inserted to regulate pressure. We have purchased these, but have not used them to date.

Flight Wings: Especially for your child’s first flight, be sure to request their flight wings, and request a chance to visit the cockpit and to meet the pilot. Our daughter really enjoyed this on our first flight, and made her very excited. The captain’s wings and the flight attendant’s wings are different as well as different from each airline so you can start a collection over time.

My daughter's first pair of flight wings from Delta

Board the Plane LAST: It always amazes me that people are clamoring for a chance to board the plane first for a long haul flight. I don’t want to be on the plane longer than I have to be!!! I understand that if you need overhead space this may be a valid reason for boarding the plane first, but realistically on a long haul flight there is enough overhead bin storage available. Especially with a child in tow, my suggestion is to board the plane last. Allow them to run and play in the airport then board the plane, strap in, and fly. I usually send my husband on ahead of us. He will store the luggage and wipe down our entire sitting area (seats, tray tables, arm rests, windows, etc) with antibacterial wipes. (There really are so many germs, and I desperately don’t want my tot getting sick heading into vacation). Then we board, and I have our daughter’s activities ready in her personal backpack stored under her seat. If you are travelling alone with a tot, it is rightly understandable you would need more time to get situated with all of your stuff and a baby so definitely don’t board last and feel flustered, but there is no reason to board first either!

On the Plane: We always seek to get our daughter involved in any upcoming trip. She has her own suitcase and carry on backpack which I think is VERY important! We discuss her “special” activities that will be in her backpack that she can only access when we are on the plane! What to PACK:

1.) Number ONE thing to NEVER forget to pack: A change of clothes for both BABY AND YOU. Better yet, on long haul pack a few changes just in case. You don’t want the off chance of your tot getting sick, vomiting on you, and being stuck without a change of clothes.

2.) Ear planes, Pacifiers, Lollipops, Fruit Chews: As already mentioned, pack something to assist with ear pressure.

3.) Medicine: As already mentioned, airport security makes an allowance for travelling with children’s medicine. Have the medicines you need or may need packed and on hand just in case.

4.) Antibacterial Wipes/ Baby Wipes: Every mom knows you need these! A lot of these!

5.) Diapers / Pull ups/ Underwear: Bring more than enough!!! They do have changing tables in certain bathrooms on the plane, but they are SMALL! I suggest organizing like I do. I always pack 3-4 diapers in a gallon zip lock bag with a small thing of wipes, powder, and a change of clothes JIC. I usually have 4 of these zip locks so that I can just grab one and go. Everything is in there! The loud suction of the toilet flushing on a plane also scares my child! So I always allow her outside then flush! Just an idea because the tears and trauma were fierce the first time I did this with her inside!

5.) Activities: The dollar store or the Target value section are my favorite for filling up on small inexpensive toys/activities for flights. I usually pack 1 new toy for each hour of travel time. (Travel time / not just fly time). I then wrap a few of the new toys in wrapping paper so that it makes it extra special. Unwrapping the present then becomes an entire activity, and takes up more time which is the goal on a flight!

Stickers are a big hit for our daughter especially the cling ones. She puts these all over the window, tray table, etc and they just peel right off with no trace. We also bought a cheap little photo album and before each trip I fill it with pictures she has not seen before. Pictures of her family, friends, places, etc. This is a great entertainment! Finger puppets are a hit, small dolls/toys, invisible or water paint books are fantastic! As well as a Rubik’s cube (even small children that don’t understand the concept like these) One great tip I picked up when I was researching our first flight, was to pack kids snacks in a clear plastic small tackle box. It keeps them assorted and contained. I also think a pair of children’s ear phones are a must. We bought these in the tiger motif, and have loved them. There are lots of different animals to choose from. Our tot gets very excited about watching movies with her “special” ear phones on. The ones we chose are here!

And I ALWAYS, ALWAYS have an ace up my sleeve just in case of a meltdown. I always buy one or two toys that I know will be beloved and coveted. I hold onto these, and pull them out when the going gets tough. There was one instance I can remember. My daughter was so tired. We were 5 hours into a 13 hour flight, and all the lights on the plane had been turned off, etc. I had just gotten her to sleep, and BAM the lady sitting directly behind us decides to turn on her light to read. This immediately woke my baby up, and she began crying and crying and crying. I immediately pulled my ace out. For her it was a new mermaid doll. She immediately stopped crying long enough for me to get out of the seat with her and the new doll. I then went and stood in the back with her in the carrier and swayed her back to sleep. Upon returning to the seat, I built a fort. I took a blanket and my scarf and draped it over the seat and pinned it back with my safety pin. The blanket / scarf kept the light out. It shielded her even in the morning when the lights were back on and breakfast was being served, she still slept. That leads to my last tip:

I always bring a scarf and a safety pin. A scarf can be used for so many different things: A scarf, a blanket, hide and seek, to build a fort as per above. 🙂 And a safety pin is an amazing little contraption that has come in so handy in so many different situations. Just pack it, it can’t hurt!

 

Safe Travels!

Yosemite, CA

Yosemite

Having been to Yellowstone twice, I did not do research on Yosemite as I thought since both were National Parks that they would somehow be similar. I was wrong, and never have I been more disappointed in my lack of trip preparation. I love both parks, and while they do have some similarities they are also vastly different.

Yellowstone seems to have the upper hand when it comes to wildlife, thermal springs, and more easily accessible 2 lane paved roads making travel in Yellowstone more efficient. Yosemite seems to have more hiking trails and varied terrain. Yosemite is also home to the famed sequoia trees. Both parks boast gorgeous landscapes, but Yosemite, only in my opinion, is more majestic and truly a marvel to behold. Yosemite is full of natural, rugged terrain that is awe inspiring. It seemed around every turn there was another postcard view waiting. Yosemite is big (roughly the size of Rhode Island), but it is still smaller and more compact than Yellowstone. Yosemite 1190 square miles appx compared to Yellowstone appx 3,468 square miles.

I traveled to Yosemite in October with my 2.5 year old. We only spent 2 days in Yosemite which is not enough time!!! We loved Yosemite so much that my husband and I are already planning a trip back with our daughter to Yosemite, hopefully within a year, to stay at least a week in a camper van!!! What an adventure that will be!

Entrance to Yosemite is $30 per car. A yearly Yosemite visitor’s pass is $60 which is a great deal if you plan on visiting the park more than once or for longer than the 7 days allowed in the $30 entrance fee. Info can be found here: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/fees.htm

Travel: The closest airport is Fresno, and the drive will take you an appx 1.25 hours to the South Entrance. Public transit is also available from Fresno airport via Yosemite Area Regional Transit System (YARTS). From San Francisco the drive will take you appx 2.5 hours to the Big Oak Flat Entrance. We actually traveled via car from Lake Tahoe, and the drive took us appx 2.5 hours via the Tioga Pass to the Eastern Entrance. However, the Tioga Pass is closed during various times of the year as the road is not safe so this will need to be checked prior to route planning. You can call the National Park’s service for a daily update about road conditions at 209-372-0200. From the Eastern Entrance, we had to drive 2 hours to the Valley Floor where the more popular sites are, but we did stop at several stops along the way.

Logistics: The roads in/out of Yosemite are very windy. The Tioga pass was especially curvy. We were, after all, driving across a mountain. My daughter and I suffered from car sickness, and had to pull over several times on the side of the cliffs to allow ourselves to re-calibrate. This increased our travel time. Yosemite has a network of one lane roads which can be problematic if you pass your destination so keep this in mind, and mark your map beforehand.

Hotel: We chose to stay at The Yosemite Valley Lodge directly across from Yosemite Falls. The property was very family friend as is convenient right in the middle of the Valley. It has a cafeteria style restaurant on site, and a dining room with a proper menu. I found the options in the cafeteria to be very good and enjoyable. Someone travelling with us also ate in the dining room, and raved about the salmon. For breakfast they also have a simple self serve express lane in the dining room with barista made coffees in addition to the full selection in the cafeteria. The shuttle also picks up/ drops off at this hotel.

Activities:

Little Cub Program: You can buy the handbook at the visitor’s center, and it encourages kids to complete the activities to earn a button as a little cub!

Junior Ranger’s Program: Geared towards children ages 7-13, you can be pinned as a junior ranger. You can purchase the handbook at a visitor’s center. Your child must complete the book, collect a bag of trash, and choose one of the seminars they offer to attend. I saw some kids really engaged in this endeavor, and serious about that pin!

Tenaya Lake: Near the eastern entrance of Yosemite on Tioga Road is Yosemite’s largest natural lake, Tenaya Lake. Due to its location appx 1.5 hours from the Valley Floor, we found this lake/area to be much less populated. The lake is absolutely stunning, and our daughter enjoyed climbing on lots of the rocks present. We also enjoyed a picnic here. There are 2 picnic areas available, but we chose to picnic on the rocks! This lake is easy to get to as well with a tot in tow as it is steps off the main road. You can also kayak and swim in this lake! The water is crystal clear! This was my favorite stop in Yosemite!

Tenaya Lake, Yosemite

Sentintel Meadows: We enjoyed watching the sun set here in the meadow. My daughter also found it amazingly fun to run up and down the wooden foot paths. You can see a great views of Yosemite Falls and Half Dome! This meadow was close to our hotel which made it a convenient stopping point for burning off energy before heading into the hotel!

Sentinel/Cooks Meadow, Yosemite

Yosemite Falls: The largest waterfall in North America! A must see in Yosemite! And luckily for us, right across from our hotel. We found this hike to be easy. The entire path is paved, and we pushed the stroller the entire way. My daughter also walked for a good portion. We spent a good amount of time in this spot. Children will need constant supervision as the rocks present are very slippery. With help from my father, my daughter was able to climb to the bottom of the rocks and play in the stream and rocks for at least an hour!

Bridal Veil Falls: The stunning waterfall that you see in all of the tunnel view photos! This was an easy hike for the 2 year old and took appx 30 minutes round trip with her. We did not take the stroller. And the leaves were all falling while we were there in October, and this was the biggest hit. She collected tons of leaves and carried them with her to the falls! She kept proclaiming “beautiful” looking up at the waterfall!

 

Mirror Lake Hike: Due to my lack of research beforehand, this ended up being a bit of a challenging hike for us. I did not realize that there is a completely paved road that you can hike all the way to Mirror Lake which is stroller accessible. Instead, I ended up taking the stroller and daughter on the wooded hiking path, and abandoning the stroller appx 1/2 way in. My father, being gracious and benevolent, went back for the stroller and crossed the woods to bring the stroller to me on the paved pathway. So many people passed us trying to yank that stroller up rocks and rugged terrain. Now realizing the paved road runs parallel to the wooded trail makes me realize they thought us crazy.  This hike took us way longer than needed, but it states the full round trip hike can be completed in 1 hour. Mirror Lake was low during our visit since it was fall. The lake has the highest water level in spring after all of the snow melts! The reflections on Mirror Lake though were still beautiful, and we could see the full reflections of the cliffs.

Mirror Lake, Yosemite

Swinging Bridge Yosemite Valley: This is a great easy hike across the bridge, and down to the Merced River. This is a great spot for picnicking, swimming, or wading. There is also lots of room to run. This attraction was also close to our hotel which was a perk. The bridge doesn’t actually swing though. In order to visit an actual swinging bridge in Yosemite, you would need to go to the Wawona Swinging Bridge.

Valley Visitor Center: Beware! This is quite a long walk from the parking lot! I was ill prepared for this, and did not bring the stroller. Bring your stroller if you have tots! Otherwise the visitor center is nice with a great history display. My daughter actually loved this area and spent a great deal of time climbing under the rocks and looking at all the exhibits. There is also an Indian village in the back and museum to view that is free. You can also collect your official US Parks “Yosemite” Passport stamp here!

Also of note: you can rent bikes during select times of the year at the Yosemite Valley Lodge with bike trailers! In the winter there is ice skating at Half Dome Village! We also found the Half Dome Village Gift and Grocery to be great. We were able to get lots of groceries and souvenirs including snow globes in this store!

We covered a lot of ground for 2 days in Yosemite with a 2 year old, but we also missed SO MUCH. Next go around, a definite on our list is Tunnel View. Since we entered via Tioga Pass, we missed this iconic view. Also next time, we will not miss the Sequoias! Please offer up your favorite activities with kids in Yosemite as I would love to include them in our next camper van trip!

2 ADDITIONAL TIPS: BEARS ARE A LEGITIMATE CONCERN. Pay attention to all of the warnings and information. They told us to remove even scented chap stick from our vehicles while staying at the lodge. They have videos playing of bears breaking into cars!

BATHROOMS AND HIKING WITH A TODDLER: As any parent knows, a potty trained toddler may need to potty in the middle of a drive around a cliff or during a hike where there are no facilities. My absolute favorite contraption is my toddler’s portable potty with bag liners by “Potette Plus”. It has made our life so much easier. The potty folds up small enough to fit in a purse or backpack. The liners are absorbent and easy to throw away. Do yourself a favor, and buy this potty. This is by no means a paid endorsement, I really just love this travel potty that much! The things that excite a mom!  🙂 http://potette.com/how-it-works/

 

Mirror Lake Hike, Yosemite

Virginia City, Nevada

 

 

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Virginia City V & T Gold Hill Train

We visited Virginia City with our 2 1/2 year old in October (or as she calls it Jimminnie City), and it was a fantastic day with our little one! With 2 million visitors a year, Virginia City is the United State’s largest National Historic Landmark. Most remember Virginia City from the iconic film series “Bonanza.”  Virginia City was founded in 1859 with the discovery of the Comstock Lode which produced over 400 million (equivalent to billions today) in silver and gold. Mark Twain got his start here as a reporter for the newspaper. San Francisco was built from Comstock silver, and this city helped finance the Civil War. To say this city is steeped in rich American history is an understatement, this city IS US History. The town is built into the side of a mountain with wooden sidewalks, sprawling views, and an underground network of tunnels and shafts remaining from this authentic Wild West Town during the mining glory days! This town is a must see, and a great destination with children!

Travel: Virginia City is located in Western Nevada, and can accessed via car or train. From Reno, the drive is appx 40 mins. From Lake Tahoe, the drive will take you appx 1 hour. Carson City is an appx 30 minute drive, or can be accessed via the train from May thru October via the V & T (Virginia and Truckee) Railroad. http://www.vtrailway.com This train ride takes you along the original route thru old towns, tunnels, mines, and alongside beautiful scenery. This is a 3.5 hour trip with a stop over in Virginia City available on Fridays – Sundays from May thru October. The best time to visit with kiddies in tow really is from May – October as after this period many attractions close due to the weather.

Hotel: We chose to visit Virginia City as a day trip from Lake Tahoe. However, if you wish to spend more time in the area there are a few local inns/ hotels to choose from. A great list of accommodations can be found here: http://visitvirginiacitynv.com/lodging-dining-aamp-entertainment/virginia-city-hotels-a-motels.html

Activities:

Comstock Train: This is a steam powered train with century old, wooden open air and closed passenger cars that operates from May thru October. You can take a 35 minute/ 4 mile roundtrip ride from the original V & T 1870’s depot located on “F” Street to Gold Hill. As many as 45 trains a day used to depart from Virginia City for Gold Hill. Today, 7 trains run daily on the hour between 10:30 am – 4:00 pm. The tour is fully narrated (and quite funny) and will take you thru old tunnels and Comstock mines and mills. This is a beautiful ride, and our 2 year old daughter loved the train. This is a great adventure for old and young children alike. There is also a cute little general store beside the train departure where we bought ice cream! The price is $12 per person, and children under 5 are free. ($5 for children 5-12 yrs.)

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Barrels O Candy: A candy store filled with huge barrels of old fashioned candies, ice cream and a truffles and nut bar. What’s not to love? Our 2 year old daughter enjoyed getting her basket, and filling it with a few candies from all of the different barrels. This is a great shop to visit! There is so much candy in this store it is amazing. Some of these candies I never even knew existed!

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Bernadine the Donkey: Outside the Virginia City Antique Mall was Bernadine the donkey and her owner, “Stinky”. Our daughter enjoyed meeting Bernadine, and feeding Bernadine carrots which we donated funds for! 🙂

Virginia City Mining Company: Pan for Gold!!! Allow your kids to find their own fortune. Located in the center of town next to the Territorial Enterprise Building (seasonal) you can pan for gold.

Dancin Crystals Mining Company: This is a neat little shop on “C” Street where you can pan for precious gems.

Virginia City Antique Mall – This is a great store full of treasures. They sell mystery goodie bags for $1 which was a big hit with our 2 year old.

Fourth Ward School: Located on “C” Street, this is an iconic historical landmark. This school was ahead of its time with indoor plumbing and heating, and was home to 1000 students. You can visit the vintage classrooms, and ring the school bell!

Territorial Enterprise Building: Mark Twain got his start by working as a reporter for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper in Virginia City from 1862 – 1864. It was during this time that Samuel Clemens began to use the penmanship name, Mark Twain which he had dreamt up from his previous work on river boats where he would mark twain when measuring 2 fathoms. There isn’t much to see at the Enterprise Building, but it is still standing in the center of Virginia City. You can view Twain’s old desk, and view the commemorative placards street side.

 

Miner’s Park: Located on “E” Street this little park is cute with picnic tables and a playground to enjoy!

Chollar Mine: Older children will certainly enjoy the Chollar Mine tour. Chollar Mine is one of the original Comstock mines. The tour takes about 30 mins. The tunnel is narrow and low, and you will experience total darkness once they extinguish the light so prepare younger kids for this beforehand.

Ponderosa Mine Tour: Another mine tour located in the back of the Ponderosa Saloon. Guided 25 minute tour of the Best & Belcher Mine.

Old Time Photos: If you want old timey western photos which would certainly be a kick for kids then visit this store on “C” Street.

Comstock Adventure Pass: Of note, is the Comstock Adventure Pass which can be purchased from May – October. This pass allows you to enjoy several local attractions at a discounted price. This pass can be purchased at the Visitor Center on “C” Street. The “Silver and Gold Adventure Pass” includes V & T Truckee Railroad, Virginia City Trolley Tour, and Ponderosa Mine Tour. The “Wild West Adventure Pass” includes the Wild West Comedy Show, Comstock Gold Mill, and Shooting Gallery. There are several other pass options including a combination of various attractions.

Virginia City Jerky Co: This place really is just very good. They make homemade jerky in house, and serve up tasty BBQ. We had the pulled pork and mac & cheese which was fantastic! I ended up eating my toddler’s mac & cheese because it was really that good. I also purchased all types of jerky for tasting, and it was great. The spicy chili jerky was very hot! Be advised they DO NOT serve fries. This is mentioned about 10 times inside the restaurant on their signage! 🙂 Obviously many have asked which I find very humorous. 🙂

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Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Matauri Bay, New Zealand

Kauri Cliffs, New Zealand

About 3-4 hours north of Auckland on the very top of the North Island of New Zealand you will find the Bay of Islands. The Bay of Islands is comprised of 144 subtropical islands. The scenery is stunning, but completely different than the more frequently photographed South Island landscapes. While my husband and I lived in New Zealand on working holiday visas, we made Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands home. We have since been back to visit twice, and took our 18 month old daughter last November. The Bay of Islands holds sentimental value for us, and in our minds a trip to New Zealand would not be complete without visiting this beautiful section of the country. Below are our favorite towns, sites, and foods to experience in the northland.

Travel: The Bay of Islands is accessible from Auckland via car hire, plane, public bus transport, or full day tours with companies like intercity and greatsites. By car, the trip will take appx 3-4 hours if you choose the shorter route via Highway 1, but you will be required to pay a toll. The toll is $2.30 for cars, and can be paid online or on the phone as the toll is electronic. However, we always choose to pay our toll at the gas stations near the toll so we are done with it. They charge a fee of $1.20. Or you can choose to travel via the Twin Coast Discovery Route which is a longer drive, but more scenic. We personally always choose to travel via Highway 1 as the drive is still beautiful, and we are eager to make it to the Bay of Islands. If you choose to fly then the flight is a short 35 minute flight to the Kerikeri airport.

Hotel: We have always chosen to make our base in Kerikeri which is the largest town in the Northland; however, the town of Paihia would also be a lovely setting. There are many lovely hotels and bed & breakfast options in Kerikeri which you should explore. We love Wharepuke Subtropical Gardens which is 5 acres of award winning gardens with small little cottages scattered throughout, an art gallery and sculpture park, and an award winning restaurant on site. (More on this later). http://www.accommodation-bay-of-islands.co.nz/

Logistics: A bit of driving over a couple of days is needed to explore The Bay of Islands so we recommend hiring a car.

Activities:

Kerikeri: As mentioned, Kerikeri is the largest town in the Northland. Kerikeri was the site of the first mission settlement in New Zealand, and has some of the oldest buildings in the country. Kerikeri has been previously voted as New Zealand’s top small town, and you often hear the tourist slogan “Its so nice, they named it twice” This town is full of charm and is the perfect gateway for exploring The Bay of Islands. Must sees in Kerikeri:

Stone Store & Kemp House: Located at the end of the main street in town on the inlet you will find 2 of the most historic buildings in NZ. The Stone house is the oldest stone structure in NZ, and the Kemp House or Mission House is the oldest wooden structure in NZ. The stone store now houses a gift shop which is full of old treasures and unique items. This is a great place to visit for kids as there is lots of outdoor space to run around, and there are tons of ducks on the property/inlet.

Rainbow Falls: A favorite of our daughters. There is a lovely hike from the base of the Stone Store you can choose to hike to Rainbow Falls which we have done, but with kiddies in tow I suggest going to the car park which is located right next to the falls. You can view the falls from the upper decking, but I also recommend making the 10 minute hike down to the base. This is an easy hike for children as long as they are supervised and very enjoyable. You can choose to swim if the weather permits and hike around the back of the falls.

Rainbow Falls, New Zealand

Rewa’s Village: A replica of a Maori fishing village. http://rewasvillage.co.nz/ Also located near the Stone Store on the basin/inlet.

Bay of Island’s Farmer’s Market: Every Sunday in Kerikeri from 8:30 am – noon you can visit this amazing farmer’s market. There are stalls of wonderful food, crafts, produce, music, etc. The market is a must visit if you are in town on Sunday, and located at the Hobson car park across from Makana Confections which is a must visit as well for their amazing treats!

Bay of Islands Honey Shop: Home of NZ’s biggest bee hive. This place is really cool. The store has amazing honey related items, and I highly suggest buying NZ famed Manuka honey. I am a big fan. Also, the kids can see the iconic buzzy bee (one of the most famous NZ toys)A as they sell these in store, and have a huge replica outside. http://www.boihoneyshop.co.nz/

Restaurants Around Town: This is my no means a comprehensive list as there are really SO many good places to eat in Kerikeri. However, these are just a few recommendations, and some of our favorites:

Food @ Wharepuke: Located at The Wharepuke Subtropical Gardens in an old American Army barracks is the café/ restaurant owned by chef Colin Ashton, Food. I had the privilege of working at this café when we lived in New Zealand, and I visit every time we are in New Zealand. I actually dream of Colin’s award winning kaffir lime panna cotta. Colin has won accolades in New Zealand, and also used to be the personal chef for some pretty big celebrities back in the day. His food is amazing! His dishes are European thai inspired, and the setting is gorgeous.

Marsden Estate: Kerikeri was the first place in New Zealand where grape vines were planted by Samuel Marsden. There are several local vineyards you can visit in Kerikeri, but our favorite is Marsden. This is a lovely place to visit for lunch, and sit on the patio. They also offer tastings. http://www.marsdenestate.co.nz/

Café Jerusalem: Hands down one of my favorite gyros. Its a small place located in the center of town, but fast and great for kids!

Rusty Tractor Café & Trading Store: A cute little café with a playground for kids!

Kerikeri Bakehouse: You must stop here for breakfast, and they have a play area for kids!

Fishbone Café: We love the coffees here! They also make great waffles!

Paihia: Located about 30 minutes from Kerikeri is coastal town of Paihia. This town is beautiful, and would also make a great base for your stay in the Bay of Islands. I also love shopping in Paihia, and find the best souvenirs in this town! Here are our top recommendations for adventures in Paihia:

Hole in the Rock Cruise: The Hole in the Rock or as the Maori call it Motu Kōkako is a 60 foot hole in the island at sea level that you can boat thru if the waters are calm enough to allow. There are many companies to choose from for your hole in the rock cruise, and you will find huts in town with all of the booking information and schedules. If you choose to book ahead of time via the internet, all of the tours have websites. We have only done The Fullers GreatSights Tour, and it was fantastic. We recommend the Hole in the Rock Cruise appx 3 hours (and you can add an island stop over) or the full day cream trip. We saw tons of dolphins on our cruise! https://www.dolphincruises.co.nz/bay-of-islands-cruises

Waitangi Treaty Grounds: Located in Paihia are the Waitangi Treaty Grounds where the Waitangi Treaty was signed making this site one of huge historical significance. The Waitangi Treaty established British rule in New Zealand, and was signed by Maori chiefs and the British Crown. The treaty gave Maori people the ownership of their lands, and provided British rights to the Maori people. You can visit the grounds during the day for tours, etc and for part of the year you can also visit for a Maori Hangi & concert. http://www.waitangi.org.nz/

Beach: The kids will love the beach in Paihia, and you should enjoy all of the activities beach side. We recommend a fish & chips picnic. We love Tai Bay Takeaways which is beach side. They wrap your order up in paper, and you can head to the beach!

Paihia Farmer’s Market: Paihia also hosts a weekly farmer’s market every Thursday from 2 pm until dusk at the village green.

Russell: Russell was the first European settlement in New Zealand, and is now a cute seaside town full of cafes, shops, and strolling seaside walks. A passenger ferry runs daily from Pahia to Russell or there is also a car ferry from Opua. We took the ferry over to Russell for lunch, and then did the Flagstaff Hill Hike. The hike is uphill and can be a bit much with tots so recommend stroller or baby carrier, but the view at the top is 360 degrees of the Bay of Islands and well worth the effort. You can also drive, but we did not have a car since we took the passenger ferry across.

90 Mile Beach & Cape Reinga: We visited these attractions independently via car hire, but I recommend going via an operated tour from Paihia. Appx 3 hours away from Paihia. Cape Reinga is where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet, and it makes quite a crash. This is the end of the road in the Northland, and the most northern accessible point of NZ. The views are beautiful. We sand boarded the dunes of 90 mile beach, and it was alot of fun. It is a hike up the dunes for a ride down. If you book thru an organized tour, they will supply the sand boards. Also, on your organized tour they should supply lunch, and a stop off at the Kauri Museum to see the iconic NZ Kauri trees! Older kids would love this adventure! https://www.newzealand.com/int/cape-reinga/

Matauri Bay: Some of the best landscapes of the Northland can be seen from driving to Matauri Bay in my opinion. The drive is appx 35 minutes from Kerikeri around winding roads, and you will take in stunning views. You can drive to the Matauri Bay Holiday Park for swimming, surfing, and camping. This is a beautiful beach to spend time at and picnic. http://www.matauribayholidaypark.co.nz/ Kauri Cliffs Golf Resort is also located in Matauri Bay, and is a fantastic property if you have the chance to visit. You can golf, visit the spa, or enjoy lunch on site. https://www.robertsonlodges.com/the-lodges/kauri-cliffs

Ngawha Springs: Located appx 40 mins from Kerikeri are the Ngawha Springs near Kaikohe. These are geothermal springs that are built into the ground. This is not a fancy spa establishment, but if it is hot mud pools you are after then this is a great place to visit. As you drive closer to the hot pools, you will start to smell the aroma immediately. I think it smells much like rotten eggs. My advice would be to not wear your best swimsuit as it is hard to get the odor out following your dip, but these pools are all natural and highly therapeutic. The entry fee is $4NZD and kids are free. http://www.ngawhasprings.co.nz

Enjoy the Bay of Islands!