New Zealand With A Baby: Hiking And Campervan Living

new zealand with a baby

Travelling New Zealand with a baby is something many would only ever dream of, but Beth and her husband Ollie made their dream a reality when they took off to explore New Zealand in a campervan with a one year old. The couple have always been keen travellers, trekkers and thrill seekers.  Together they have visited over 25 countries, trekking, sailing and snowboarding their way around the world.  

Now they’ve embarked on one of the greatest adventures of all-becoming parents to now one year old Edie-and they’re excited to show her all the world has to offer.  In the first few months of Edie’s life she visited South Africa on a hiking trip and Italy for a wedding, and then her latest big adventure-New Zealand.

We got the low down from Beth on how she made travelling to New Zealand with a baby a reality, and she’s shared some brilliant tips for if you’re planning on doing the same!

New Zealand with a baby – Hiking and campervan living.
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Hi Beth!  So tell us a bit about why you decided to take this trip to New Zealand with a one year old!

I was at the end of my year long maternity leave, so we thought it was a good opportunity to use the extended time off work to have a long holiday! Ollie managed to take unpaid leave, as his company valued him wanting to spend some time with his daughter. We’ve always enjoyed travelling and didn’t intend to stop once we had kids – she might not remember it, but I’m a firm believer that experiences shape lives even at such a young age.

a toddler checking out the views of new zealand from a plane
Checking out the views

Give us a little run down of your itinerary, and what the trip involved.

We flew into North Island first and rented a car there.  We spent the first month exploring Auckland, Bay of Islands, Coromandel, Rotorua, Napier and Raglan.  We were renting rooms and apartments from Air Bnb, and moving every couple of days. This part of the trip was similar to what we did in South Africa, when Edie was four months old, so we knew what it all entailed and knew it was more than manageable.

For the next part of the trip we flew to the South Island (Christchurch) for a full round trip for 4 weeks in a campervan.  We visited Christchurch, Queenstown, Milford Sound, West Coast, Nelson and Abel Tasman, Marlborough sounds, Blenheim and Kaikoura.  We were less sure of what it would be like to be travelling and living full time in a campervan with a baby, but lots of people live in campervans full time, so we knew it was possible (and we love a good challenge!)

a girl looking out over views of new zealand with her one year old asleep in a campervan
The view from our front yard

Why did you choose New Zealand for this adventure?

We wanted to go somewhere we couldn’t explore in just a couple of weeks, as there will be plenty of time for that in years to come. It was summer in the Southern Hemisphere when we intended to go, and we’ve always been drawn to the sort of epic scenery you get in New Zealand. 

Lots of people assume that we chose to go here because travelling New Zealand with a baby is seen as a little less ‘intimidating’ than travelling to other countries-for example, countries that don’t speak English, or places that have wildly different climates.  I have to say that this wasn’t really a consideration for us, we chose New Zealand because it’s always been high up on our ‘bucket list’. Now that I’ve been, I would definitely recommend New Zealand as a good option for people wanting a ‘child friendly’ travel destination.  They are very well set up for children over there, with lots of safe outdoor spaces and play parks!

new zealand glaciers
Travelling New Zealand with a baby has been worth it!

Was there anything specific you needed to plan before you went travelling in New Zealand with a baby?

Edie got a passport at 6 weeks old, as we had already booked flights for her to Italy before she was born (!) and we were planning a shorter trip to South Africa when she was just 4 months old. We made sure we researched the road rules for car seats etc. in NZ and just hired everything we needed to pick up out there.  That was all pretty easy to do over the internet. 

The one thing we did buy was a portable travel cot. It’s a great tent style cot, packing down to a small backpack and only weighing 3Kg – much more transportable than your normal solid travel cot.  This was essential for us, and we’ll get a lot more use out of it in the months to come! The added, unexpected benefit was that it also fitted into the top of our campervan!

We did bring a very small selection of toys for the plane and car journeys, but kids love every non-toy they can get their hands on so she barely touched the things we did bring!  If you’re planning on travelling New Zealand with a baby I would just bring a few entertaining items, like some sort of erasable drawing pad, a toy for the journeys, and some kid friendly music (find out of your campervan has a CD player or bluetooth connection as this was a real life saver on the longer journeys!)

Hiking new zealand with a baby strapped into a baby carrier
Hiking New Zealand with a little baby weight!

How did driving a campervan around New Zealand with a baby work for you?  Do you have any tips for our readers?

We got a campervan with a car seat in the middle of us up front, so we could keep an eye on her and she could be entertained if needed. This worked really well for us.  Ollie did most of the driving, simply because I’m a wimp in anything but a tiny car! That left me to do lots of games and singing but after a year on maternity leave I’m quite used to it. 

Our camper was a small Toyota Hiace, only a double bed across the bottom and a single up top. Luckily, we managed to secure the travel tent into the top section allowing Edie to go to bed before us and leaving us some space to clear up dinner/shelter from the rain or cold when needed in the evening.  Most evenings we could sit outside the campervan and enjoy the view (and a cold beer) before bed! 

I would say it’s important to have the option of a little space inside for you as a couple while your baby is sleeping, as the weather isn’t reliable and not having the option to be inside and awake would have been hard! We could only drive for a couple of hours each day over her nap time, as otherwise she was itching to get out and explore!  This was actually great for us, as we may have been tempted to drive long distances if she wasn’t with us, and we would have missed out on some really lovely stops along the way.  Her energy actually forced us to explore even more!

a man and baby in new zealand looking out at a lake view
Sharing the views

It’s hard to imagine going from a house to a campervan. What were the main differences to living in a house, and what was it like to live in a campervan with a one year old? 

Showers were few and far between!! We did stop at a few holiday parks during the month we were travelling New Zealand in a campervan, to have a hot shower and enjoy general luxuries, but they weren’t our favourite places as they are full of people and usually not particularly scenic! Sometimes free or remote camping spots just aren’t an option though, especially near to larger towns.

The camper itself was really tiny. We did have regrets at the start when we picked it up…how are we going to survive a whole month in here?! But we did, and it wasn’t bad at all. We’re not ones for staying still so we were outside all day anyway. We did get cabin fever slightly during a few days of torrential rain, when all our things were wet and there was nowhere to hang anything and we were stuck inside. But we just went out anyway, and played a lot of “hide and seek” with Edie’s Teddy bear around the tiny space!  

Having a baby with you when you’re travelling forces you to stay active and creative.  If it were just us, we may have stayed in moaning about the bad weather. Edie doesn’t have time for moaning, and doesn’t really know the difference between rain or shine.  It’s all a playground to her!

a campervan with a baby inside in new zealand
Our home

What were the highlights of travelling around New Zealand with a baby?

Edie loved all the parks. NZ really has some excellent play areas, even in the tiniest towns! The UK should take note. We tried to incorporate a park trip or two most days, especially if we wanted to go for a walk with her in the backpack – it’s all about compromise. 

We loved the scenery. The highlight was probably Abel Tasman National Park and the Marlborough sounds. Because we had the campervan we could get up into the really remote areas, and spent a few nights watching sunsets across the sounds from outside our campervan, or pack rafting across the water to explore all the nooks and crannies at dusk. It felt amazing to be so far away from the rest of civilisation (Edie had no idea, of course!)

Pack rafting in new zealand with a baby
Pack rafting in New Zealand with a baby

What were your main worries before the trip and how did they work out?

Sleep was a big concern – Edie has never been a good sleeper so we worried that upheaval of her whole routine would make things even worse. She was much better than we’d imagined and napped on walks or in the car, then just came down with us in the night when she wouldn’t sleep. Kids are very adaptable. Having exciting things to do and see every day makes sleep deprivation easy anyway!

Of course we were worried about other things like the plane journey to some extent, but I knew whatever hit us would only be temporary!

Did you have to make any compromises compared to travelling as a couple?

Yes, of course, but the compromises were more than worth it. We limited travel time in the car and timed it to fit in around Edie’s naps to make it less boring for her. The same with hikes – she was happy enough in the backpack for a couple of hours but we couldn’t do the multi day hikes that we would have before (also carrying 15kg up mountains is tough work!) We just scheduled play stops, snacks etc and she walked whenever she could.  

But saying that, you can still make anything work really, and if we had been keen to do longer hikes we would have just planned for it and made it work.  We both did a skydive one day! We just planned it so that we went up one after the other, swapping Edie over as one returned. It was nice to be able to watch the other one jump and land that way too! As I said before, sometimes being forced to change the way you would normally do things actually makes your trip better.     

We had to change the way we did some things

You went hiking with edie. What was that like?

As I mentioned, she’s quite good in the backpack, so we managed several hours on many days. I think it helped that we got her used to travelling that way from a pretty early age, as both Ollie and I love walking so much.  These shorter trips were different to the multi day hikes we’ve done pre-baby, but this was still plenty to see some epic scenery. We could really get away from it all. Unfortunately she learnt to walk just before we left, so was a bit more keen to practice!  But then we can’t complain, we were bound to pass on our energy to her!

Hiking with a baby in new zealand
Hiking with a baby in New Zealand

Is there any advice you would give to new mums and dads wanting to travel New Zealand with a baby?

I would say to take things as they come and not worry too much. We accepted the 28hr flight would be hard work, and we were knackered of course (we would have been without a baby!).  Not having unrealistic expectations over the couple of months we were away made everything much easier. And kids really do adapt much better than adults – all they need is you at the end of the day!

If our readers wanted to do the same, how much would you recommend they budget?

Depending on your level of luxury you can do things on a fairly tight budget (<£2500 a month for three people). I’m not sure everyone would be happy with a porta potty and no shower for a month though! Obviously accommodation and activities for 2 months will never be cheap, and NZ is a pricey option, with haul long flights and higher food costs than the UK. Campervans are also a fairly expensive option (which is partly why we ended up with such a tiny one!) Our three weeks hiring a car/staying in air bnbs was a bit cheaper but we felt the van was completely worth it for the freedom you get. 

Tell us a little about how Edie found her adventure around New Zealand!

Edie is very sociable, so she loved meeting new people (and their animals!) in all the places we stayed. She waved and said “Hiya” to everyone we passed on walks! Her language came on immensely whilst we were away, and we put that down partly to spending all our time with her, talking about what we could see and where we were going.

We felt we spent a lot more time connecting with her rather than rushing about daily life at home, and created more memories than many months previously (I also now have over 100 photos a day to sort through!)

a baby in new zealand talking to the birds
Chatting to the birds

Where is your next adventure?!

We’re both back at work now, so are scaling back on adventuring this year!

We do plan to spend a couple of weeks exploring Scotland in the spring, where we’ll do lots of walking and camping, and will no doubt throw in a few last minute city breaks to Europe too!

A big thanks to Beth for providing this insight into what it’s like to travel around New Zealand with a baby, and the ins and outs of living in a campervan for a month with a one year old! It really does sound like the trip of a lifetime, though from the sounds of it we’re sure you and Edie will have a lot more of those in the years to come! What a lucky little girl she is!

Further Reading

For more baby friendly travel destinations check out our travel guides for Europe and the USA. We also have some great ideas for homeschooling your kids while you travel.

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