Our Journey to the Pokemon Capital of NZ - OR - How to survive 20 hours in a car with children...

Sunday, March 5, 2017

I made a promise to someone who believes in me a whole bunch.

I promised to weave creativity back into my life.

For a while it felt as if I had knocked the switch on my brain from 'normal' to 'demo'. I was capable of limited features - Get up. Survive. Go to bed. Repeat - additional extras (namely anything requiring energy or effort) were out of the question.

The effort behind a blog post can be intense - there's photos to edit, words to write, links to be lunk - but a promise is a promise.

And so.

Here's a story about that time I drove from Auckland to Dunedin. Just me...my six year old...my three year old and my eight week old.

It was a trip.

(For the record - none of the photos below have been edited, other than to add my "frames" to them...I figured it was better to get them up than to fuss about).


In celebration of his 65th birthday, my Dad decided to ride the Otago Rail Trail. He rallied quite a crowd but due to the timing (8 weeks after I had given birth) originally we were unable to go.

Losing someone you love has a way of forcing you to examine what's important in your life, and if my Gran taught me anything it was about the importance of a decent adventure. I've always loved being on the road. Perhaps it's in the blood?

I remember her telling me "Your Papa (my Grandfather) used to say "We're off for a drive Isobel. Pack your toothbrush we might stop the night."

After she passed I decided to hell with it. If my Dad wanted to celebrate his 65th birthday in Dunedin then so did I. I weighed up my options and before you could say "what the hell are you thinking?!" (any many, MANY people did), the trip was planned, accommodation booked, people mover (barf) loaded and we set off for the South.


If every day turned out like this one I swear everyone would travel long distance by car. The kids were nothing short of a dream.

In an attempt to keep the costs down I packed our food. With my trusted Chilly Bin (this is what we New Zealander's call an Esky or Cooler) riding shot gun I was packing lunches, treats and juice boxes that I threw over my shoulder at the troops any time things got a trifle rowdy.

While commendable this did pose a significant problem. Ordinarily when traveling long haul my journey would be broken up with food stops at local eateries. In my attempt to save cash I needed to avoid such places.

With an 8 week old in need of regular feeds and the older two lasting (at a push) 2 - 3 hours seated I needed a plan to meet many needs. As such the unintended, and much welcomed consequence was I got to explore parts of New Zealand I have never been to in my travels thus far, and the New Zealander's who live there.

In Gordonton we stopped at Hukanui Park, ate breakfast as dawn broke and met a lovely farmer who was out walking his retired farm dog.

The kids had a blast sliding around on the concrete at the Skate Park in Turangi despite a perfectly good park right next door (because you know...whatever).

In Foxton we happened upon an incredible riverside Playground and Reserve with some gorgeous old buildings. We enjoyed it so much I briefly considered changing our plans and stopping there the night. Have you ever been to the GIANT windmill in Foxton? Even worth a drive by if you're too lazy to get out of the car.

Arriving at the Wellington Top 10 Holiday Park came as a welcome relief to everyone. The incredible camp manager set us up in a two bedroom cabin right next to the playground. The kids lost their minds over the inflatable trampoline...I am at a loss for how else to describe it? They played into the evening with a German family who had spent 4 months traveling New Zealand with their two young children. When it came time for bed they crashed out, which was just as well because it gave me time to binge watched Cake Boss and read the dailymail...it's the little things.


  • I bought packets of Smarties and Lollipops then made up small plastic treat bags (1 x smarties + 2 x lollipops). I wish I could bribe my kids with micro-greens and carrot sticks as much as the next parent, but the reality is that if these little chestnuts buy you even so much as 30 minutes of good behaviour and 20 minutes silence so be it. 


I was proud of many things on Day Two. 

Firstly we made it to and on the Ferry without losing anyone (or anyone losing IT). Secondly our Bluebridge Ferry crossing occurred on the most picturesque of Cook Straight Days. For the record not all crossings are made equal, as we discovered on the homeward leg. 

I had been concerned about the prospect of entertaining two small children throughout the 3 hour crossing. I needn't have worried. Bluebridge's family room with it's in cruise entertainment meant that there was only around 1 hour unaccounted for. This is easily whiled away exploring the outter decks, what kid doesn't want to climb up and down steep stairs a million times... o_O

After a brief stop in charming Blenheim we continued along the coast. The kids loved Seal spotting, while I drank in the scenery. 

We checked into the Kaikoura Cottages Motel, a haven for families - our hosts couldn't have been more accomodating, the grounds perfect for kids, and the view was to die for. 

Our trip was one week pre-earthquake. Knowing what was to come I would have planned extra days here because Kaikoura is simply incredible and I understand the seabed has moved dramatically since these pictures were taken. 

  • Before we leave I give each kid a bucket (I use the rubbery plastic ones with handles that cost $5 from the warehouse) and get them to pack it with toys / books or whatever they choose. This is then  jammed  carefully placed by them. Entertainment. At arms length! The bucket is multi-purpose. If their drink bottle leaks the bucket stops it going EVERYWHERE. If they're car sick...tip out the toys and presto...sick bucket. When you arrive at your destination they're easy to grab and set up inside to distract small people while you unload the rest of the car. Because let's be honest. When you travel with children you pretty much pack everything except your soul. 


This was a day of driving and scenery. After a brief stop at the Amberley Domain we took the Inland Scenic Highway along the foot of the Alps stopping at Geraldine to visit friends. 

It's very hard not to envy people who escape Auckland, I was sorely tempted after spending the afternoon in their company. 

But it was onwards to Fairlie - a little town perhaps best known for it's bakery

We checked into a family room at the Pinewood Motel, a very quaint motel on the outskirts of the town. I had such high hopes for this night. Tekapo is an International Dark Sky Reserve. My head was full of stars. No one told the weather...

  • I read a blog once that said if you pack nothing else, take a blanket. It was good advice. Traveling with little kids is amazing, but a big ask. It's unsettling to be away from home, especially as Dad couldn't join us (Scott had just changed jobs and had to settle for travel by FaceTime proxy). Each time we arrived at a new place I would take out the blanket and drape it over the couch. At some point I would find two little bodies snuggled up beneath it watching TV. It's the little things that make the difference.  


The day started with pies at the famous Fairlie Bakehouse (Pork Belly Pie...get in my belly), and improved from there. 

Few places in the world have the ability to steal your breath and your heart like Lake Tekapo. We arrived at The Church of the Good Shepherd with about 5 other tourist buses. Julia then announced she needed to poo, much to the amusement of at least 4 of those buses. So what began as a hunt for a loo turned landed us a short detour around the lake where there was absolutely no one at all. 

Cue obligatory stone throwing. 

Even Mount Cook came out to great us. 

We arrived in Alexandra late that evening at a house that would be our base for the next three days. It's always good to travel - but sometimes it's nice to rest too. 

  • Before we left I made Will an activity book of our trip. Each day had four pages - The first was four things to look out for based around landmarks we would see (e.g. Mountains up to the Sky, A church made of stone, A seal, A lake like an ocean, Giant Fruit...etc), On the second page I wrote a few facts about the area we would see (e.g Lord of the Rings was filmed in New Zealand...), the third had a place for him to draw a picture and write a story about the day which he could take back and show his class and the fourth was left blank for photos. I wasn't sure if he would enjoy it. He LOVED it. Once he had found all four landmarks I had to do quick thinking making up others. If anyone is interested I'll share pictures of the book - with any luck it's something he'll keep for many years to come.  


Thank goodness for home base.

We spent time exploring historic town of Clyde, the Clyde Dam and Alexandra. In the evening we headed out to Wedderburn and met up with our family contingent who had completed their second day on the Rail Trail. 

Along the way we visited Ophir - worth the 5 minute detour from the main road. Which couldn't look more like a postcard had you ironed it flat and slipped it through the letterbox. 

On the way back we detoured (I'm using that term loosely it was a 25km detour) via St. Bathans...The trick to traveling with kids is to have no expectations. zero. The upside is that in between the constant whinging, tantrums, mediation and toilet stops (because as soon as you pull away from the first stop the other one will need to go. This is inevitable) you will be rewarded with moments like these. The you take that turn off. When no one else wants to get out of the car for photos. When you get to stand and marvel at nature in all its raw beauty. 

  • Full disclosure. I bribed my 6 year old with the prospect of visiting the "Pokemon Capital of New Zealand" after a stuff.co.nz news story I had read. While I may harbour a love affair with Central Otago I am conscious that my son may not share my affections. Add Pokemon Go and hey-presto. Suddenly he's only to happy to wander around rural townships with me for hours on end. My point here - pick your battles and compromise. Maybe one day they'll share your love of Hydra-Dams (Mum and Dad this is directed solely at you), for now you may have to settle for a running commentary on the Magnemite they have just captured. Take it.  

For the record - THIS wall below was my favourite discovery of the entire trip...those colours, those Poppies...swoon.


Give me a person who has travelled to Queenstown and I'll give you a thousand pictures like the below. It's really not that hard. If you have a camera, and hands, you can take photos like these. That's the magic of Queenstown. 

Because the kids are still young I didn't want to spend money on trips they wouldn't remember. One of the few activities we did was the Skyline Gondola. We rode it to the top for a picnic, then explored the town on foot before heading out to Waipiata to join the Cullen Group once more. 

  • Shout out to the Waipiata Country Hotel where we enjoyed a delicious meal. This is one off the beaten track that is definitely worth the journey. 
  • A special mention must also go to She Bikes He Bikes who my parents booked through. Their customer service and trail knowledge were phenomenal. Nothing was too much effort. We're hoping to ride later on in the year and will certainly be using their services once more. 


Having a base when travelling with kids makes a huge difference, so it was sad to say farewell to our home away from home. 

It was time to begin the final leg of our trip - destination Dunedin. 

Our first stop was the small town of Ranfurly, a place with so much charm you half expect the townsfolk to break out in to synchronised song. The historic train station makes for a decent photo opportunity. 

With limited cell phone reception I had no way of knowing when our group would arrive at the end of the trail. So armed only with the knowledge they would be there "by 2pm", it was on to Middlemarch. 

As we journeyed the landscape became increasingly rugged, as if stones were crawling out of the earth to get warm. The trail shadows the road along this section, so the kids and I kept busy trying to spot the group but to no avail. 

We arrived in Middlemarch and seeing they were yet to arrive decided to quickly check out the end of the trail. No sooner had I pulled up at the end of the trail than I spied a dark moving mass in the distance. The mass waved. As fate would have it I arrived just in time to see the group over the finish line. 

Leaving the kids in the care of my parents I then headed for Dunedin to collect my brother from the airport. The rest of the group would join us after their trip on the Taieri Gorge Railway. After several days with three kids, having only Gabby was a dream.  

James landed safely, and on time (Jetstar I'm looking at you) and before we knew it we were checking into the Kingsgate Hotel.

Dunedin. DUNEDIN. We had made it. 

It was high time for a drink. 

Happy Birthday Grumps! xoxox

Ironically I have no photos for this part of the trip other than on my phone, which is probably just as well. While it was all golden sunshine when we arrived, no sooner had my sister arrived off the train than the clouds rolled in and down came the rain. 

You'll just have to use your imagination, or better yet, go visit Dunedin for yourself. 

  • Keep a journal. The details fade. If you can stomach the commitment (write only a few lines even if it's in the note function of your phone, or instagram) I promise it will be worth it!


And just like after 1,432 kilometres, our journey came to an end and it was time to head home. 

After saying farewell to our companions, we set off at a leisurely pace (see the Moeraki Boulders below). We were booked on to the Saturday afternoon ferry and had planned to stop in Christchurch for the night. 


A text from the Ferry service advising us our crossing had been cancelled accelerated everything. What followed was nearly 20 hours of solid driving. There was a particularly colourful moment in Taupo which my brother and I still laugh about to this day, still we will count our blessings. We travelled along the coastal highway - through Kaikoura, Blenheim and Picton the day before the earthquake struck. 

On Sunday 13th November we pulled in to our home. Exhausted. Travel Fatigued. Still better off than when we left. 

Although I was in no hurry to get back in a car with my children, I can say that I would absolutely do the entire trip again in one crazy, rush of blood to the head, heart beat. 

For anyone considering doing something similar I salute you, and I hope you've found something here that has made your trip just that little bit more enjoyable. 

Happy driving



NB: The opinions expressed in this blog post are my own. I did not receive any compensation for the accommodation or services visited / used throughout this trip.

It's good to be back. 


  1. Awesome Jacqui - lovely to see your gorgeous photos and read your beautiful words <3
    Keep creating xo

    1. I've been thinking about you lately! I believe I'm going to have to book some time down country to really get those creative juices flowing ;)

  2. Awesome blog, Jac! Keep writing, you're great at it xx

    1. See I want you to do another 12 month adventure so I can live vicariously through you once more...for the record if I was choosing between holing up in a Church or a Casino I feel its fairly obvious which way things would swing.

  3. Well done you what a great record. Particularly liked the postcard quip, actually LOL

    1. When you make someone laugh - #winning :)


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