My New Zealand Family Vacation

Mt Maunganui
It’s been 17 years since my family visited New Zealand. My kids were all under 6 years old so they don’t remember much about their previous visit. So I decided it was time for them to rekindle relationships with their uncles, aunts and cousins as well as get to know their Father’s birthplace. We decided to visit during New Zealand’s winter as it was the only time all our family was free (US summer holidays). Fortunately the temperature only goes down to zero at night but increases to 60 F during the day.

Watch the short video below to see what we experienced:

Our flight began with a 6 hour trip from the Dulles Airport to San Francisco then a 12 hour flight from San Francisco to Auckland New Zealand. Fortunately it began with a late night dinner around 1 AM. I slept for 6 hours, watched 2 movies and had breakfast before the plane landed.

The first week we rented a house at Ohope Beach, Whakatane where my sister and her husband run a bull farm of over 200 bulls, 200 sheep and 30 goats.


Every morning my son Daniel and I would get up early and run along the beach to take advantage of the beautiful scenery and fresh salt air.


My kids enjoyed helping my brother-in-law move and feed his cattle, try their hand at shooting a rifle and riding the tractor. Most of the first week we explored trails that wind around the rocks and hills of Ohope Beach (one of the safest beaches in NZ according to my sister)offering spectacular views of the rocky shoreline.


If you want to experience geysers, boiling hot mud and steam coming out of the ground go to Rotorua. The entire area sits on top of a geo-thermal underground. Be smells of rotten eggs because of the sulfuric gases constantly being expelled into the air. After being there for several hours you don’t smell it anymore because you get used to it. One of the top locations to visit is Hell’s Gate. It offers spectacular views of boiling water falls, bubbling hot mud, geysers plus you can finish your walk by soaking your tired feet in a hot mud bath.

Hell's Gate

Another “must-see” in Rotorua is the Redwood Forest. It contains giant redwood trees, emerald blue ponds and great trails which are divided into hiking trails, mountain biking trails and horse trails. You could easily spend all day hiking.

redwood forest

The second week we headed up North to birth place. Unfortunately we experienced the full brunt of winter weather…gale force winds and torrential downpours. We took advantage of the rainy weather by staying in a comfortable motel unit where we watched the FIFA World Cup soccer games and enjoyed each others company.

One day we visited Circa Marine where one of my childhood friends owns a luxury boat building business which he began in 1972. He now has 85 employees and builds 110 meter luxury boats that he sells to overseas clients in Japan, etc…very impressive.

Circa marine

One another rainy day we headed out to Whangarei Heads…a place where my family vacationed a lot during my childhood. My son Daniel and I hiked to the top of Mount Manaia. I thought it would take a whole day however according to the locals it only takes 45 minutes. It took us only 40 minutes going up and 30 minutes down as we ran most of the way. Unfortunately the view wasn’t great from the top (due to inclement weather) but the walk through the forest was spectacular and unforgettable.
Mt Manaia

Afterwards we visited Whangarei Falls which was roaring due to the constant rain over the last few days. A trail that took us through the forest to the bottom of the falls was well worth the hike.

whangarei falls
We left Whangarei for Auckland where we stayed at a friends place who works for Air New Zealand (highly recommended). We took a trip into downtown to watch the Hydrofoil ferry boats that take passengers from one side of the Auckland Harbor into downtown Auckland. One of the most prominent landmarks in downtown Auckland was the tall spear (apparently you can bungee jump off it for a couple hundred bucks per person). One notable feature of the pedestrian crossings in Auckland Cityis is that you can also cross diagonally (unlike in the USA which only allows you to cross one street at a time).

AucklandAuckland Ferry

When visiting Auckland, you have to take a trip up Mt Eden. Fortunately you can drive all the way to the top. It provides panoramic views of Auckland City. At the top you can look down into the crater of an extinct volcano. Several other hills in the same area are left overs of a once active volcano era.

Mt Eden Auckland

For the last week we stayed a few days in Kati Kati (near Tauranga). During our stay we visited a Gold Mine, hiked Karangahaki Gorge, swam in geo-thermal hot pools, hiked Mt Maunganui and also hiked up Papamoa Hills just outside Te Puke.

The Gold Mine at Waihi Beach is the largest one in New Zealand. Another is situated in Reefton which I heard is closing down soon. Apparently they can only mine a few ounces of gold out of every 100 tons of rock. When the mine closes they intend to make it into a lake. It will take 6 days to fill it with water.

Gold Mine

Karangahaki Gorge winds through the mountains before you get to Waihi. It includes fantastic views of the river that winds through the gorge. Hikes include the railway batteries and “windows of the world” which is the best because you walk through a series of tunnels carved out rocks and cross bridges suspended over rushing rivers.

Karangahaki Gorge

Throughout the Tauranga-Rotorua area are geothermal hot pools. You can find them within a a few miles of each other. After our hike through Karangakaki Gorge we soothed our aching muscles at the Athenery Hot Pools near Waihi Beach for only $5 a person. The beauty of these pools is that they contain no chlorine. The water is renewed every day from natural underground water.

Both my brothers took us for a hike around and to the top of Mt Maunganui…a favorite vacation spot for local New Zealanders and tourists in the summer. It includes a mountain at the end of a white sanded beach that often generates perfect surf…a favorite place for local surfers.
Mt Maunganui
Mt maunganui

The last day we hiked up the Papamoa Hills just outside Te Puke. The beauty of this hike is that you continually encounter sheep grazing naturally on the side of the trails. The top gives you a fantastic view of the Te Puke, Mount Maunganui, Tauranga area.

Papamoa Hills

Even though our New Zealand vacation cost a fortune, it was well worth it as it enabled my family to connect with all the relatives (and make new Facebook friends). My kids connected with their cousins and I reconnected with my siblings and their spouses.

Next time we do the trip we’ll definitely go during the summer to take advantage of the longer daylight hours (winter daylight is only from 7am – 5pm) and enjoy swimming the beautiful beaches. We would also include a visit to the South Island which contains even more spectacular scenery.

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