7 September 2018, by Tan Li Lin

New Zealand Special: 4 Places In 3 Weeks With My 2-Year-Old

It’s 10pm and 10 degrees Celsius here where the 3 of us – Ronald, Lia and myself – are staying, about a hour’s drive from Rotorua, New Zealand. We’re in the middle of nowhere and apart from the deafening silence of the farmlands that surround us is the occasional mooing from nearby cows.


Baby it’s cold outside, so let’s play iPad games by the fire.

We’ve been here in NZ’s North Island for 16 days, and have a week to go before heading home to Singapore. If you’ve been following my recent Japan blog, you’d know that Ron and I are experimenting with a more nomadic family lifestyle starting this year.

We did 3 weeks in Japan in March, and now another 3 weeks in New Zealand. We learnt a lot from the Japan trip. Whilst Sakura season and food was unforgettable, we did more touristy things than we had wanted. This was partially due to the excruciatingly small apartments I couldn’t put up in for 24 hours with an inexhaustible toddler. This time round, we wanted to take it slower, so we planned for a week in an area, found accommodation we could base ourselves out of to experience the lifestyle.

In this blog entry, I’ll share my general itinerary and our trip costs, with highlights on what Lia enjoyed, or what we enjoyed with Lia – our little 23 months old cheeky, smart-mouthed and somewhat independent (aka has an attitude) toddler.

Week 1: Auckland >> Tauranga

Te Miro (right off Cambridge), 2 nights: We drove out of Auckland right after we landed for 2 hours to our first Airbnb farm cottage accommodation. It was really just a pit-stop. Driving more than 2 hours with a toddler is a stressful thought.

Highlights: The Hobbiton Movie Set tour! A pilgrimage you have to make if you enjoyed the movie series. Really cute (permanent) set up of Hobbiton, which makes for fantastic family photos (Lia never looked so at home anywhere else). The tour comes with a drink from The Green Dragon bar. You get to choose from an Ale, Cider or a Ginger Beer of their very own recipe. It was delish. It was fun. It was cute. Very well-organised and very child-friendly. 


@Hobbiton, a well-spent half day. At $80/adult, it can be quite a pinch, but we found it a worth-it experience.


Kids are the perfect props against these cute backdrops.

Whakatane, 2 nights: Our only splurge this trip – Glamping in a yurt, in the middle of…….wait for it…

Highlights: an AVOCADO orchard, WHILE Avos are in season! I went crazy when the owner said I could pick and eat what I could find off the ground. I was out hunting every morning and afternoon. It’s just so fun and Lia would come along with me on walks through the orchard and play with what she could find.

It was a perfect start to attempting a #slowlife. Ron and I also had pizza baking adventures with a wood-fire oven, and the 3 of us soaked in a hot tub underneath a star-filled, milky-way sky. What was truly priceless was the stunned look on Lia’s face when she first saw the sheer number of stars. Wow. Even kids get it.


The main yurt which actually sleeps 4 adults, was a value-for-money option given it provided several unique experiences like Avocado picking, Jacuzzi under the stars, and baking your very own wood-oven pizza!


Avocados await you when you awake. Fresh and sweet, it was so fun hunting the ripe ones down – even Lia got in on the action!

Ohope, 5 nights: Stayed with a family with 2 young boys and a dog, in their house with tons of toys and fun stuff like cars and trampolines.

Highlights: Immersing Lia into a ‘family’ setting where she grew fond of another Mom, learnt to play with boys (took her a while – they were crawling and climbing on her and carrying her around) and grew comfortable with a dog. Amazing public playground and beach access just 1 minute from the house. It was a perfect ‘live-in-NZ’ experience!


New Zealand = great opportunities to learn about Animals. Lia took to the goat after a while and liked to pat it; refused to go near the hog though.


It was fun with living with these 2 rascals – they even turned Lia into one. Look.


Fun by the very very wide beach!

Week 2: Tauranga >> Rotorua

Rotorua, 6 nights: Specifically, 1 hour away from Rotorua in Galatea, in a farmland cottage, in the middle of the countryside. Thank goodness there were toys here too, and a few farm animals next door to hang out with.

Highlights: Lia loved all the thermal action, specifically, the hot pools. She’d happily soak with us and make comments like, “my knees are hot” and “ahh nice and warm”. She got used to the idea of different pools, so after a while would command us to “change to THAT pool”. She was particularly drawn to a green pool (due to minerals) at the Wai-o-Tapu thermal park.

Rotorua has a large indoor playground she spent 2 hours in while I enjoyed my river rafting adventures, and the skyline Gondola and Luge ride down the mountain. Tons of activities to keep her intrigued with, including passing by Mummy cows and Daddy cows and baby cows and PoPo cows and…. the list goes on (had to keep her occupied on longer car rides). Lots of nature and park walks that we all enjoyed.


The really awesome mud bath, which kids under 2.5yo arn’t allowed into, so Lia sat on the side and kicked around.


Dipping her toes into a natural hot spring.


In winter, these hot baths were EVERYTHING.


Did a weekend trip to a ski resort, where Lia loved her snowman but other than that, cried the whole of the time up in the snow.

Week 3: Rotorua >> Auckland

Our next 2 days will be spent at Cambridge, where we’d check out the Waitomo glowworm caves, and the last 5 nights in Auckland which features many volcano parks and day-trips to experience.

Traveling with a toddler is doable when you proactively manage their moods. A key point I’ll repeat from my other blogs is that kids can get more nervous and temperamental in a foreign land, so lots of comfort toys/food/habits and distractions help regulate this, together with tons of patience, compassion and empathy. I observed how this travel exposure has nudged Lia to make developmental strides in the areas of:

  • Tasting new food and experimenting with new or specific flavors (salt, pepper, lemon)
  • Motor-skills… from all the awesome outdoor playgrounds and walks on various surfaces
  • Independence in making her own decisions, entertaining herself, and learning to cope in new living environments
  • Language, because she realised her needs need to be heard to be comfortable; from all that excess talking and singing and conversations that go on in long car rides, and from new things she picks up
  • Interaction! New and different people, more kids, different accents, and copying how Ron and I interact

Luge-d 3 times down the mountain and eventually took to the speed and insisted on holding the handle bars.

We’re getting better at adapting to living with each other and a growing little person in a foreign country, with even more hats we need to wear than when we do back home. It’s fun, crazy, unforgettable, challenging and perhaps most importantly… meaningful.


This blue spring was so clear and mesmerizing, even Lia couldn’t stop staring into it. Toddlers know more than we credit them to understand about the world around them.

All in all for 3 weeks, 2 adults + 1 toddler, our trip expenses came up to $5,300.

This included:

  • accommodation (roughly at a budget of $70/night, with 1 splurge on our Glamping Yurt @$300+/night)
  • car rental (roughly $20/day) & petrol; we didn’t take any public transport
  • food (we cooked most meals, except 4 days in Auckland where we ate out for lunch & dinner)
  • activities (e.g. Hobbiton, white-water rafting, cable-car, luge rides, thermal parks, ski resort etc.)
  • Souvenirs (close to $500 worth of Manuka honey and mud soaps!)
  • Lia’s air ticket (under 2yo) at roughly $800 for biz class

It does not include airfare as we claimed miles for 2 adults. There was a recent SQ promotion for SG > Auckland at $800/pax, which in my opinion is a great bargain, so if that was included, the estimated budget would be $7k.

Lin Tan is an Entrepreneur and an Executive Coach who dedicated herself to others and her career, until family changed all that. Follow her blog on www.ilovechildren.sg and journey with her as ‘life after 30′ opened up a completely new chapter.


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