Family Travel: Sea Life Sunshine Coast Aquarium

Visiting aquariums is our thing, it’s what we do when we travel and we absolutely LOVE it.  Both of the boys have always been a tad obsessed with all things ‘ocean’, an interest Dave and I can wholeheartedly get behind.

When we confirmed our (very) last minute trip to the Sunshine Coast, a visit to Mooloolaba and its famous Sea Life Aquarium was top of our must-do list.  Ethan saw it featured on a TV doco years ago (which we all watched on repeat hundred of times!) and had been super keen to visit ever since.

Our first full day in Cotton Tree was a drizzly Sunday morning, perfect for a lazy, unrushed visit to Sea Life.

The drive took 10 minutes and at 9ish, we were able to find a carpark easily, though I can imagine this would get more and more difficult throughout the day.

We had a behind the scenes experience booked in at 11.30am so set about following the kids around, exploring the many stunning exhibits on offer.

New Zealand's Top Travel Lifestyle Blog Home Decor Sunshine Coast Aquarium
Tidal Touchpool at Sea Life Sunshine Coast

The one we came back to again and again, was actually the very first you come across upon entry. Nixon absolutely loved the Tidal Touchpool. It was so engaging for him, I think he discovered a new fish or starfish to observe, and yes, touch, each time he led us back there.

We were so surprised by how quiet it was in the morning, we were really able to take our time and move around at our own pace.

New Zealand's Top Travel Lifestyle Blog Home Decor Sunshine Coast Aquarium
Freshwater Streams Zone

A family fave was the Freshwater Streams zone. Seeing the giant Barramundi and Australian Lungfish, species we don’t have in New Zealand, was awesome, they are huge fish!

We also loved the Ocean Tunnel.  The Grey Nurse sharks are the biggest we’ve ever seen, even bigger when we got to see them from the surface on our Behind the Scenes Tour.

New Zealand's Top Travel Lifestyle Blog Home Decor Sunshine Coast Aquarium
New Zealand's Top Travel Lifestyle Blog Home Decor Sunshine Coast Aquarium

This tour was an absolute treat.  We have never upgraded our entry tickets to include any experiences before so this one was so engaging for all of us but especially for our two young boys, one of whom has always aspired to be a marine biologist.  I’m not sure why but I’d always assumed that the thick tunnel walls in aquariums magnified the size of the creatures on the other side – turns out the opposite is true!  Being able to observe the inhabitants of the Ocean Tunnel from above and hear their stories made for such a memorable experience, both of the boys gave our guide their full attention throughout the tour which also included the turtle rehabilitation area – great environmental message for everyone here.

We are so stoked to have been able to tick Sea Life Aquarium Sunshine Coast off of our travel bucket list.  It’s such a perfect family excursion and provided a really interesting morning for both of our boys, even with their 8.5 year age gap which can sometimes be a tough ask!

Thanks for having us guys!

New Zealand's Top Travel Lifestyle Blog Home Decor Sunshine Coast Aquarium

Travelling with Kids? 5 Tips for a Stress-Free Holiday

New Zealand's Top Travel Lifestyle Blog Home Decor Travel InsuranceSome people are obsessed with shoes, some with working out, hipster coffee or mastering their winged eyeliner.  I’m a sneaker-wearing, Nespresso-drinking, tinted moisturiser kind-of-girl who’s allergic to the gym, hence, my passion is slightly more far-flung and requires a little more planning than simply co-ordinating my active wear.

I absolutely LIVE for travelling with my family.  And by family, I mean hubby and the kids.  Our ongoing partnership with Jetstar over the past couple of years has meant we have been able to keep our Wanderlust at bay with frequent trips exploring New Zealand and further afield to Australia, Bali and Japan.

As we’re flying 5 times in the next 9 months (eek!!!), I need to get organised.  That means getting itineraries locked and loaded and life-admin such as travel insurance sorted with minimum hassle and expense.  It also means revisiting our family travel hacks and implementing everything we learnt on our last BIG trip, which was to Japan in January. 

Travel insurance – done deal.  This year we are using Holiday Rescue Travel Insurance.  They are new, they are different and their benefits for us as a family are soooo good.  Kids 17 and under are covered for free, and medical services (fingers crossed we won’t be needing them but hello Nixon on skis lol) are provided by the best of the best, as opposed to the cheapest bidder which is whom other travel insurance providers tend to use.  Check out this Q&A from Holiday Rescue for more info – travel insurance in everyday, easy to understand language = amazing!

5 Tips for Stress-Free Travelling with Kids

  1. Avoid airport stress:  Departing the house, airport arrival and check-in is a stress-minefield when you’ve got kids AND luggage in tow (which inevitably means a shit tonne more luggage than you ever imagined could possibly fit in your car!).  Allow an extra 25 minutes to leave the house, kids move as slow as molasses, slower when they know a situation is time sensitive.  Park at or near the airport if at all possible.  There are heaps of inexpensive, open-air park ‘n ride options which mean you won’t be relying on someone else to get you to the airport on time – cue reciprocal airport-drop-off-obligations :::::shudder::::::  Invest in a little hanging luggage scale to take with you ($10 from Kmart) and you’ll easily avoid the trauma of rearranging your families dirty undies on the floor at the check-in counter.  Double check VISA requirements and passport expiry dates.  I’m going to leave that one there as I’m still recovering from the fiscal shock of needing 2 emergency passports before we left for Bali last year!
  2. Transit times matter:  Scoring cheap flights are epic and often necessary when you’re planning a holiday with your entire tribe, but, sometimes the real price is paid via long layovers and extra stops.  If you’re particularly keen on your kids losing their marbles, keep them in a transit lounge for 5+ hours – works every time!
    New Zealand's Top Travel Lifestyle Blog Home Decor Travel Insurance
  3. Go easy on the itinerary:  After 14 days of travelling in Japan with only ONE day unscheduled, I realised that ‘more’ is not always best when your travelling with your kids.  As adults, we can fuel our adventures day after day with coffee and adrenalin and wind down at night with a herbal tea (or glass of wine!), but kids simply crash and when they’re away from all that’s familiar they crash hard!  Alternate your Big Adventure Days with low-key, relaxed time spent exploring or simply being together as a family somewhere new.
    New Zealand's Top Travel Lifestyle Blog Home Decor Travel Insurance
  4. Mealtimes are KEY:  Don’t skip them, keep dinner times early and don’t disregard how grounding that 3-meal-a-day routine can be for little people who are out of their comfort zone.  It’s super easy to want to make each meal an ‘occasion’ when your travelling, but sometimes a takeaway pizza eaten on the floor of a hotel room with a family movie playing can be exactly what the doctor ordered for holiday-makers of all ages.  Pressure to behave in a restaurant may be the straw that breaks the camels back for Littles at the end of full-on day abroad.
    New Zealand's Top Travel Lifestyle Blog Home Decor Travel Insurance
  5. Accommodation options are endless – choose wisely.  Gone are the days when cramming the family into one quad-share hotel room was the best/only option.  In my family, we don’t need a whole lot of space, but everyone needs their OWN space.  Renting apartments, villas and townhouses have proven cheaper and much more convenient whenever we travel with the boys.  Access to kitchen and laundry facilities cuts down on life-admin, allows us to travel lighter and means we can whip up eggs and toast for brekkie on those 5 am mornings when ONLY eggs and toast will do for Master 4!
    New Zealand's Top Travel Lifestyle Blog Home Decor Travel Insurance

This post was sponsored by Holiday Rescue Travel Insurance and I’d LOVE to keep it updated with more tips around reducing stress when travelling with kids so please leave me a comment below with your ideas and experiences!

Family Travel Japan: Nara and the Great Buddha

Nara was added to my Japan To-Do list pretty early on as I felt it was an easy combo of culture, religion and cool stuff for the boys, ie lots of roaming deer lol.  Oh and this place is ancient!

The boys and I were on our own (which is always slightly terrifying for me at the moment because…..Nixon!).  Dave was working so we packed up and headed south on the train.  One little local line (¥150 ea) and then we were free-riding on the JR trains with our passes.  Ethan and I make a good team whilst navigating train stations so we managed to complete the 3 transfer trip with no problems.

You don’t have to walk far from the station to experience the cuteness, and often aggressiveness of the Nara Park deer, 50m from the train station they are out of the pavement, harassing punters for deer crackers!  In the Shinto religion, deer are considered messengers of the gods and there’s over 1000 of them roaming the giant park.  Purchase the little crackers from the vendors with green umbrellas for ¥150, break them in half and have fun.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Nara Park New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Nara Park New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Nara Park New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Nara Park

After Fun with Deer, we wandered for a bit as there was a small lake nearby and my fish-mad boys needed to see if there were fish to peruse.  

Nara Park is so, so big guys.  I was super stoked we had the stroller as the walk from the station to Todai-ji, the Buddhist temple housing the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Daibutso was quite a hike.  But, on the way, we (accidentally) found the Yoshikien Garden.  A beautiful moss garden divided into 3 separate areas.  With free entry for foreigners we were in like flynn and the boys really, really enjoyed exploring this deserted but stunning corner of the park.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Nara Park New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Nara Park

Nix didn’t want to leave but I eventually coaxed him out of the garden and we headed to our final destination within the park, Todai-ji, which was, until 1998, the worlds largest wooden building.  The scale of this complex is so huge it boggled our minds.  Watching the boys soak up the history and craftsmanship in world heritage sites such as this is what our trip was all about for me.  Hopefully, they remember how these sights made them feel about their place in the world – I’m probably reaching here a bit with Nixon I realise lol.  The Daibutsu statue, the flanking Bodhisattvas and the two wooden guardians protecting him are so beautiful you simply won’t want or be able to rush through the building.

Entry was around ¥600 each for Ethan and I, approx $7.50NZD and totally worth every cent.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Nara Park New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Nara Park New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Nara Park New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Nara Park

Like other large stations in Japan, there are some great shopping and restaurants to experience in Nara before you board your train.  Though on this day, Nix was so beat, we sat down in McDonald’s for the ONLY western takeaway meal we would eat for the entire two weeks!  That’s not a bad track record, plus, I really wanted to eat an egg burger lol.

You could definitely spend a whole day exploring Nara Park and see so much more than we did, my boys can’t be pushed for speed when they are doing lots of walking – and neither should they when it’s of the sightseeing variety.

Don’t miss Nara, it’s fun, low key, relaxed (providing there’s no festival on at the temples) and you can explore at your own pace.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Nara Park

Fly Jetstar to Japan like we did > www.jetstar.co.nz

Family Travel Japan: Tokyo > Kyoto on the JR Shinkansen Bullet Train

Lord have mercy bullet trains are freaking amazing.  Pure Japanese innovation and technology designed to increase the efficiency of people moving between Japan’s two biggest cities.  Of course, the Shinkansen trains now run the full length of the country and with the amazing Japan Rail pass you are free to use Shinkansen at will.

mummy-blog-new-zealand-blogger-mommy-travelblog-family-Japan-Tokyo-KyotoWhen we planned our multi-stop itinerary; Tokyo > Kyoto (with day trips to Nara, Osaka, Hiroshima) > Nagano > Tokyo, it was obvious that investing in the JR pass was the way to go, and after our first foray from Tokyo to Kyoto, I’m totally hooked!

So, until this point, we had not made one wrong move on the trains.  Which is seriously impressive if you’ve ever tried to negotiate Tokyo or Shibuya station with 3 massive pieces of luggage, a teenager and NIXON.  But oh yes, arrogance comes before a fall and we made the grand JR Pass faux pas of getting on the blacklisted Nozomi Shinkansen as we flew out of Tokyo Station:::::::gasp:::::::

Ethan was mortified as we searched for our seats (which were taken by legit Nozomi passengers) thundering the aisles with 60+ kgs of luggage and NIXON, only to have our mistake discovered by a friendly European businessman (very Christian Gray), who looked at our tickets and pronounced our fate:  you’re on the wrong train.

No major problem, we were supposed to be on the Hikari, so we just hopped off at the next station and re-embarked a couple of minutes later when our actual Shinkansen arrived.

So, big differences between the local lines and riding on Shinkansen;

  1. There are reserved seats.  It’s roomy, comfortable and there are power outlets to charge you shizz!
  2. You can eat and drink on Shinkansen which is a big no-no on local trains.  There is always a full complement of restaurants and convenience stores at Shin stations plus the wee shops on the platform are super cheap and have delicious sushi, bento boxes and sandwiches as well as beer, wine and cocktails.  So charge it!
  3. You get everywhere you want to go super fast.  Obviously.  But you pay for that for sure.  For example, tomorrow’s trip from Kyoto to Nagano costs ¥13,000 which is around $161 NZD each.  Considering we rode the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto, Kyoto to Osaka, Hiroshima, Nagano and then Nagano to Tokyo, as well as all of the local trains we rode every day in each stop, the $579 pp for the Japan Rail Pass was a GREAT investment.
  4. With a JR pass you have to do all bookings and transfer through all gates manually, you can’t use the ticket machines (this applies to local lines as well as Shinkansen).  Your JR pass allows you to reserve seats on the bullet trains, which is awesome, but, if the reserved section is full, don’t be afraid to take a gamble and jump in an unreserved car.  We did this rather than waiting on the way back from Hiroshima to Kyoto and it was totally worth it.  Seats the whole way and no waiting!
  5. DON’T ride the Kodama unless you have to.  It stops at every station and sometimes is subject to long waits at the platform.

When we arrived in Kyoto, we realised (surprisingly!) that we weren’t in Tokyo anymore!!  The local train network was not as fancy, easily signposted or as comprehensive as we had become used to and we quickly hopped on a JR train heading in the wrong direction.  Off/on, backtrack we eventually arrived at the right station, (not JR arghhh) and set about trying to find our AirBnB.

The street it was on had no house numbers and we had no image of what the property looked like.  Did I mention it was raining?  Eventually a schoolgirl walked by and I showed her the address on my phone.  It turned out we were standing right in front of the place the whole time.

Kid status:  great!  The boys are super good on the trains as we allow them their iPads so they watch Netflix play their games for the duration and we make sure they have heaps to eat lol.  

So, our Kyoto arrival was a little fraught, but we made it and settled in for the next 5, busy, days.

mummy-blog-new-zealand-blogger-mommy-travelblog-family-Japan-Tokyo-Kyoto

Family Travel Japan: Day 3, Ueno Park

After declaring it an anime-shopping-free day, we decided to make the most of the beautiful weather in Tokyo so headed for Ueno Park.  In Cherry Blossom season, this is one of the spots to be in Tokyo, however, as we are visiting in winter I was willing to take a gamble and have a wander.  Home to many museums and Ueno Zoo, 3 temples and one shrine, Ueno Park is a beautiful place to wile away the hours.  

I was actually really stressed out on Tuesday when we visited.  Nix has been really, really hard work so far on this trip and he’s sucking the life out of me, so it was with great delight that I saw a freaking peony garden, IN FULL BLOOM no less, entry fee ¥600 ($7.40NZD).  Dave saw that and was like, go ahead babe, I’ll hang with the boys.

Hallelujah.

mummy-blog-new-zealand-blogger-mommy-travelblog-family-Japan-Tokyo-Shibuya mummy-blog-new-zealand-blogger-mommy-travelblog-family-Japan-Tokyo-Shibuya mummy-blog-new-zealand-blogger-mommy-travelblog-family-Japan-Tokyo-Shibuya

One thing to remember about travelling with kids is that it can be quite tricky to steal a little quiet time.  Dave and I find that we are so tired each night, we usually go to bed right after the boys so there’s not a lot of alone time to regroup.  Ergo, a wander through some Japanese peony gardens was exactly what the doctor ordered.

We took our time exploring the park grounds, finally heading down a hill to Shinobazu Pond and the Bentendo Temple.  This was such a great spot to wile away the sunny winter afternoon.  The temple stands in the middle of the pond so there was lots for the boys to explore and look at, delicious food vendors (we enjoyed chicken katsu and crab skewers), as well as a lovely spot to sit and enjoy a cold Asahi.

mummy-blog-new-zealand-blogger-mommy-travelblog-family-Japan-Tokyo-Shibuya mummy-blog-new-zealand-blogger-mommy-travelblog-family-Japan-Tokyo-Shibuya mummy-blog-new-zealand-blogger-mommy-travelblog-family-Japan-Tokyo-Shibuya

mummy-blog-new-zealand-blogger-mommy-travelblog-family-Japan-Tokyo-Shibuya

As it was our last night in Tokyo we couldn’t resist the urge to head back to Shibuya and see the crossing in all of its after work, neon glory.  I seriously LOVE this place, the energy is amazing but at the same time mellow and fun.  Such a strange juxtaposition.  We wandered and found the statue of Hachiko, the gorgeously loyal dog who would wait at the train station every day for his master Ueno to return, even after his passing, #heartmelt!  We also saw a full Mario Cart tour stopped at the lights at Shibuya Crossing.  This was something Dave and I really wanted to do but you need to hold an international drivers license so make sure you grab one of those in New Zealand before you leave home.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Shibuya

mummy-blog-new-zealand-blogger-mommy-travelblog-family-Japan-Tokyo-Shibuya mummy-blog-new-zealand-blogger-mommy-travelblog-family-Japan-Tokyo-Shibuya

For only the second time (gasp), I popped into a shop I wanted to look in – Zara was having a huge sale so naturally I had a quick browse and nabbed four t shirts for $28 NZD!  Everything in a size L is always on sale here, it’s the one time I’ve genuinely been stoked about my size lol.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Shibuya

One thing we are definitely missing is fruit and vegetables.  The meat, seafood and carb situation is plentiful and awesome but we love our fresh produce so we stopped to pick up some dinner from the mind-blowing Tokyu Food Show at Shibuya Station.  I don’t even know where to start here.  Think, every type of uber-fresh seafood and meat in a small format market, complete with butchers, fishmongers preparing your purchase, but, in a fancy metropolitan supermarket.  It was crazy packed, frenetic but so, so amazing.  There was a whole ‘restaurant’ section in the market where you could find anything under the sun so Ethan picked out some sushi and gyoza while Nix wanted (more) chicken katzu and some potato wedges.  Dave and I ate some crazy omelette-y meat/rice combo from a teeny restaurant around the corner from our house.  Full tummies = happy Jacks.

So, a different kind of day here, and one just as enjoyable.  The parks here are beautiful and so worth exploring.  It’s super easy when travelling to get in the trap of ‘paying’ for your experiences in a country, but you just don’t have to at all.  Let yourself wander unscheduled and you may start to finally find that ‘I’m on holiday feeling’.

mummy-blog-new-zealand-blogger-mommy-travelblog-family-Japan-Tokyo-Shibuya

Family Travel Japan: Day 2, Ikebukuro

In my fast and loose ‘Mind Itinerary’, I had pencilled in Monday for a trip to Sea Disney in Tokyo.  However, after one day on the ground, what we really wanted to do was simply see and experience more of Tokyo.

So, we ditched Disney and saved hundreds of dollars.  The kids did not care and Dave and I were infinitely happier!

We began everyday in Tokyo with a visit to the most amaze bakery about 20 paces from our front door.  I had NO idea that bakeries were a thing here, and my god, everything that comes out of Japanese ovens is fit for the gods I tell you!  The Arteria Bakery was divine, the best pastries, breads, curry buns, melonpam, blueberry and apple pies………we tried it all.  Yes.  We.  Did.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro

Dave had to work, so the kids and I headed off on foot, navigating the 30-minute walk to Ikebukuro where the boys were super excited to experience J-World, an anime theme park featuring Dragon Ball Z – off course.  I find Google Maps a bit dodgy at home in NZ, but here the app works perfectly.  We were navigated through gorgeous, quiet wee residential streets and alleys, just as spic ‘n span as the rest of Tokyo, and made it to Sunshine City in Ikebukuro in no time.  I’ve realised on this trip the beauty of having no car!  Exploring on foot is such a pleasure here and gives a real sense of what life is actually like here in Tokyo.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro

We had unwittingly stumbled upon a kids-go-free day at J-world so we were off to a great start.  Ethan loved this place, Nixon enjoyed it even with only a cursory knowledge of anime, however, give it a miss if you or the kids are not fans as it will all go right over your head as there is no English translation or context.  That said, the boys were happy so I was super happy!  

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro

Sunshine City is a HUGE mall, it was a struggle to navigate but we found the restaurant level and I braved ordering food without Dave for the first time.  The kid’s option was easily identifiable by the Hello Kitty plate and was so perfect for Nix.  It came with a giant tempura shrimp, about 10 fries, a small hamburger patty and some rice, dessert and orange juice.  Literally ALL of Nixon’s favourite foods, neatly separated how he likes it.  The dessert was a strange custard that he wasn’t a fan of, but aside from that 10/10.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro

I had a good look at the menu before ordering and noticed that there were two prices; one for the individual item and one for the ‘set’ which included rice and miso soup.  As Ethan is not a fan of miso and the rice servings are huge, we ordered one set and one individual item and saved around 200¥!

After a quick visit to the Pokemon shop (soooo cute!) we headed upstairs to the Sunshine City Aquarium located on the roof of the mall.  We absolutely LOVED this place.  Skip the sea lions and penguins and head for the aquarium tanks.  There were so many fish, reptiles and amphibians here that we had never seen before it was amazing for my animal-mad boys.  A leopard shark, huge sunfish, giant spider crabs, poisonous frogs and so much more.  It def got us pumped for the big aquarium visit to come in Osaka.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro

Whilst in Ikebukuro we headed straight to the heart of this shopping mecca and soaked it all in.  There was a girl on the street with an owl advertising the ‘Owl Cafe’ nearby, there was an 8 story department store dedicated to DIY and basically, home and lifestyle called Tokyu Hands.  I could have spent hours in here but I was with 3 boys so time was limited lol.  Ethan was granted his final Dragon Ball Z shopping mission and found a figure he wanted in the giant Animate store.  He was happy and I was happy the search was over.

The neighbourhoods between Ikebukuro and our accommodation were so pleasant we opted to walk the 30 minutes home again and pick up some don bowls for dinner on the way home.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro

I know no-one will believe this but, the only shopping I’ve done for myself is a $5 floppy felt hat on clearance from Uniqlo!!!  Shock horror I know.  Not even ANY sneakers!

There are 12 more days though.

Day 2 = AWESOME.

Fly Jetstar to Japan like we did > www.jetstar.co.nz

Family Travel Japan: Day 1, Tokyo

Lord.  Japan is far, far away from Auckland, New Zealand.  

And I mean far.

But that is what makes it so amazing.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo

After two great Jetstar Flights (thanks Jason for the attention you gave the boys on the long Gold Coast – Narita leg!), we landed on Saturday night at 6.30pm at Narita Airport.  It felt heaps later of course as it was fully dark (mid-winter) and we’d been awake for like, days by that point lol.  This is where my planning came into full effect.  There are 3 terminals at Narita Airport and we flew into #3.  There is no train station there so we really enjoyed our walk to terminal 2.  I’m not joking either, despite how awesome the Jetstar crew were, after 8 hours on a full plane with a kid with Hirschsprung’s the fresh air and being able to stretch our legs was luxury.

The walk between terminal 3 and 2 is just over half a km, there is a shuttle bus you can take if you cbf walking.

I had pre-purchased our Japan Rail passes in Auckland from www.traveljapan.co.nz (who were totally awesome, I highly recommend dealing with them).  This was quite an investment, $1737 NZD for 3 adult passes (under 6’s ride free) but we are travelling extensively within Tokyo, using the Shinkansen (bullet train to Kyoto), day trips to Osaka, Nara, Hiroshima, ferry to Miyajima, then north to Nagano and back to Tokyo via Shinkansen so it’s absolutely worth the money.  JR passes are exclusively for foreigners so you are issued with a voucher in NZ and have to exchange this for your actual JR pass upon arrival in Japan.  

The JR information centre is on the station level in Terminal 2 at Narita and located in a great spot right by a 7-11 for snacks, a Foreign Exchange kiosk and a Pocket WiFi rental shop.  I picked up our passes, Dave rented our WiFi gadget ($99 for 2 weeks, unlimited data and up to 10 devices!) and we settled down to a cold Asahi while we waited for the Narita Express into Tokyo.

Like Auckland Airport, Narita is a good haul out of the main city, almost an hour into Tokyo Station where the train split, literally.  The first 6 cars went on one line and the rest went through to Shibuya Station which is where we transferred to Ikebukuro.  This was probably the trickiest part of our commute as we had to use a local line to get to our AirBnB, which meant we had to buy tickets and generally figure things out as the line is owned by a company other than JR.  Super cheap though, $1.70 per ride and probably even cheaper if we buy multi-trip passes which we will over the next couple of days.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo

Booking our accommodation was by far the most difficult part of planning our trip to Japan.  The cities are so huge, I had to figure out which parts were quiet and suitable for a family, what we could afford, where homes were in relation to the trains and our to-do list.  I would have spent at least 5 hours researching each of the 3 properties I ended up booking.   

Here’s where we are staying in Ikebukuro > https://www.airbnb.co.nz/rooms/10222084 and it’s absolutely perfect, bigger than it looks, sparkling clean and about 50 steps from the train station.  We arrived at around 11.30pm on Saturday night, the neighbourhood was silent with no one around, despite a couple of sake bars on the street.  It felt so safe.  After picking up some pastries for breakfast from the bakery on the way to the train station this morning we were utterly convinced that this property and it’s location are an absolute win for us.  If you like a sleep in the trains might bother you as they start running from around 6am I think, but Nix is such an early riser this doesn’t bother us at all.

Day 1 – Tokyo

The most difficult part of trip planning is scheduling in your itinerary in my opinion.  So I really try not to do too much of that.  Speaking frankly, kids hate being rushed around from here to there, trying to meet trains/deadlines/expectations so, we just don’t travel like that.  I have ‘region goals’ I’d like to hit while we are in Japan, but little else cemented in.  You get a better feel for what you want to do more of, see, once you’re on the ground I reckon.

So today we rose early, headed out at 9am after some cuddles and showers, hit the local bakery for the MOST amazing croissants, apple pies and cream cheese and blueberry pastries and hopped on the Tobu Toju line back to Shibuya Station.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo

We coffee’d at Starbucks and found the incredible Shibuya Crossing, probably quite quiet as it was Sunday morning lol but still totally awesome.  What we noticed immediately was that Japanese locals walk like they are driving ie they stay in their lane!  Big contrast to our family where the boys are constantly running, backtracking, stopping in the middle of the footpath………we are very conspicuously the square pegs here!

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo

So we did a little shopping, not much to be honest and just had a really great time wandering around.  At lunchtime, we charged a local eatery which, as it turns out specialized in pork Sta Don bowls.  Dave nailed the kiosk ordering system and we had a delicious meal of fried rice, gyoza and the pork/rice bowls.  I’m not a huge pork fan but the meat was shaved and thin it looked like bacon but was brown rather than pink.  We were quite proud of ourselves after that!

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo

Ethan had done some research and wanted to visit a store called Mandrake which was 4 floors underground in Shibuya.  Specializing in all things Japanese anime, this is a collectors paradise.  We saw one Pokemon card with a $1550 NZD price tag!  E is on the hunt for Dragon Ball Z merch while we are here so this was a perfect starting point.  

Always walking, we headed away from Shibuya and found ourselves gawking at the uber-trendy fashion hub that is Cat Street, Harajuku.  Our destination was actually Kiddyland which was just around the corner, a large toy store dedicated entirely to character toys.  Think Miffy, Hello Kitty, Star Wars, Marvel, Pokemon, Peanuts, Trolls………super fun, very cute, also very crowded and hot.

Everyone was slightly frazzled after Kiddyland so we stopped for a snack (and cocktail hour!) before diving into Takeshita Street which was seriously amazing.  A mix of huge international stores and small independent market-style shops, wandering along as night fell, stopping for crepes and enjoying people watching – this is Harajuku after all – was so, so fun.  The crowd is INTENSE, however, but Japanese people are so incredibly lovely, quiet, well mannered and patient, even with my nutty family, you never really felt affected by the masses of people.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo

After that, we were well and truly done for the day so we hit the trains and headed back home.  We had realised throughout the day that Nix was not going to be able to hang with the amount of walking we’ll be doing on this trip, so Dave found a Babies ‘R Us and set off again to bring home an umbrella stroller and some dinner.  The footpaths here are clean as a whistle, super flat and perfectly maintained so pushing the stroller is no problem and everyone seems to be accommodating regarding leaving the stroller to enter stores and restaurants.

Day 1 was so awesome!  Everything has fallen into place and we are just in LOVE with Japan, so excited for what the rest of the trip will bring.

Family Travel: 5 Ways to Make Travelling with Kids Amazing

AdvertisementIf the idea of traveling with your kids is enough to induce a cold sweat, or the thought of spending 4 hours (or more!) on a plane with both your toddler AND the general public warrants a stiff drink, then read on friends.

Traveling with your kids, whatever their ages, is a great privilege and luxury afforded to few.  If you have the opportunity to get out there and adventure with your family then what are you waiting for?!  The rewards and benefits of forgetting your daily routine or even just ‘transplanting’ it somewhere warm and sunny for a few days can be a liberating experience for parents and kids alike.

Right now I’m mentally prepping and researching for a family trip to the Gold Coast next month, so, I’d thought I’d share a few tips we’ve learned over the past 12 years as we’ve traveled with the boys.

Getting ready to travel, even for a short while can be super exciting but also incredibly draining.  Get a head start on your planning, figure out what the ‘Travel Deal-Breakers’ are for your family (quiet accommodation, short transit times, kitchen facilities, proximity to Zara………..) and make it happen. 

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Travelling with Kids
Queenstown Gondola 2017

5 Ways to Make Travelling with Kids Amazing

    1. Food – Pack as much as you can!  It’s a brave parent that leaves their home without snacks and drinks packed for their little ones.  It’s a crazy parent that leaves the country (or city!) without doing the same.  When we traveled to Rarotonga two years ago I did meal planning for the entire 10 days and packed a suitcase full of snacks and meal starters.  Why?  Kiwi staples can be expensive on the islands and food is NOT one of our family’s Travel Deal-Breakers – we would rather save money on eating out and spend it on local experiences.
      My boys are ready to eat 24-7.  Having to constantly stop and search out food in unfamiliar locales is both costly and time-consuming.  Rolling with pre-packed snacks and drinks leaves more time for fun and also provides some home comfort for little ones in an unfamiliar place.
      Hungry kids are not happy kids.  End of story.
    2. Itinerary – Think before you book.  My boys travel well first thing in the morning, and by first thing I mean, we’re on a plane or on the road at 8 am.  If we’re heading to a NZ destination this gives us a whole day to get our bearings and start with the fun!  I’m also really cautious about how much I try and cram into a trip.  Dave and I can seriously smash out some touristing but it’s unreasonable to expect kids to go go go, all in the name of ticking boxes in your Lonely Planet guide.  We plan on one activity per day (unless we have a driver), anything else is a bonus.
      Mummy Blog new Zealand TRavel rarotonga Family
      Rarotonga, 2015
    3. Accommodation – Here’s where your Travel Deal-Breakers are super important.  If you’re looking for a ‘lay around the pool-max out the Kids Club-never leave the resort holiday’, you’re going to be looking for a premium hotel that you’ll love spending time at.  If getting your kids to sleep easily/early is a priority, look for options away from the main drag and off the pub-crawl route.  If you’re only there to lay your head, save some cash and book an economy option.
      How can you tell what a place is really like when you’re making a reservation online?  Easy.
      Read.  The.  Reviews.  All of them lol.  I’m looking at accommodation right now in the Goldie and there are hundreds of reviews on each of the properties I’m considering on Booking.com.  Take your fellow travellers advice under consideration, after all, they’ve been there, done it!  Warning – there are over 1.2 million properties to choose from on Booking.com so don’t leave choosing your accommodation until the last minute lol.New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Travelling with Kids
    4. Transport – Little legs move slowly, don’t rush your kids through their travel experience.  Consider your accommodation location carefully and plan your transport options accordingly.  If kids have to walk for ages, they’ll be tired and cranky before you even arrive at the day’s activity.  Take your stroller!  We have a trusty umbrella stroller that cost all of $30, has been all over New Zealand and to Australia and Bali and it’s worth its weight in gold.  It doesn’t incur any extra luggage charge and makes Nixie’s life much more comfortable when we’re rushing from here to there.  On last months trip to Queenstown, we took his balance bike instead and this was amazing.  He even rode it 5kms along a trail to see the Franz Josef glacier!  (We stayed here while in Franz Josef and it was perfect for families). 
    5. First Aid – Be prepared.  If you’re traveling to warm climates use the space you’ll have in your luggage (after packing minimal bulky clothes) to go nuts at the pharmacy.  Little cuts, scrapes, and grazes or excessive sun can quickly ruin a family holiday.  Pack more insect repellant and sunscreen than you think.  Pack 3B Action Cream, chafe can be a killer when you’re doing heaps of walking and you’re hot and sweaty.  On a trip to Tonga, Ethan pretty much lived in his board shorts, however, his little thighs were rubbed raw by the end of the trip from so much time at the beach and in the sand.  Take antiseptic cream with you, take Pamol and Phenergan for bug bites and allergic reactions.  The medicine we had to purchase for Nix in Bali was flavored differently and proved a mission to get into him.  Prepare like you’re Florence Nightengale for all child-related contingencies lol.

So, you can take all of this into consideration, but the most important thing to remember when traveling with kids is to just be open to changes of plan and expect everything to move a wee bit slower than you might prefer.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Travelling with Kids
Tonga, 2008

I find that our willingness to pull the kids out of school to travel gives us more options in pricing then trying to book trips exclusively in the school holidays.  Many people disagree with us, but I firmly believe that there is not one thing that Ethan will learn in Year 8 that compares to walking the cliff tops at an ancient temple in Uluwatu.  Travel is life!New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Travelling with Kids

Tauranga, 2017

Family Travel Blog: 48 Hours in Tauranga

Earlier this month I was stoked to have been invited to compete in the first-ever Choice Hotels #ChoiceNZTravelgrammer2017 competition against 10 other NZ based Instagram Influencers.  We were despatched to 10 stunning and varied locations around NZ with the goal to ‘do the regions proud’ and snap up a social media storm across Instagram. 

Cool right?! 

I hadn’t spent any time in The Bay of Plenty since my misspent youth – one of those summers at The Mount…………I’m sure a few of you can relate? Needless to say, I was super excited to head south and check out the sights of Tauranga with Ethan – I’d decided I needed a teammate and who better than my 12 year old son.

48 Hours in Tauranga

Accommodation

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Travelblog Tauranga

We stayed at the perfectly located Comfort Inn Academy and we loved it.  We had a big, roomy suite (with an equally generous bathroom), crazy-good wifi, a lovely pool and spa, immaculate grounds and really, really fabulous hosts.  Tauranga’s attractions span the city from beach (Mt Maunganui 14mins) to bush (McLaren Falls 14min), so a central location will help you maximise your time in this beautiful, coastal destination.

Family Friendly Activities in Tauranga

  1. Visit the Mt Hot Pools for a swim
  2. Climb Mt Maunganui.  This is a must do, the views are stunning and it’s a great workout.  Ethan (12) did really well and I saw lots of younger kids having fun on the trail.
    New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Travelblog Tauranga
  3. Enjoy an amazing ice cream from Copenhagen Cones, located at the base of The Mount
  4. Have fish ‘n chips on the wharf at Bobby’s Fresh Fish Market.  BEST fish ‘n chips ever and I’ve eaten my way around NZ’s fried food establishments lol.
    New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Travelblog Tauranga
  5. Book an Evening Glow Worm Kayak Tour with the awesome crew at Waimarino Kayak Tours.  I can’t even describe how magical this night was.  I felt so fortunate to be out on Lake McLaren, experiencing the peace and tranquillity of night paddling with Ethan.  It was really special……..and the glowworm caverns were fabulous!  This, in my opinion, is the absolute BEST way to see glowworms in NZ.  Plus, there’s wine and cheese lakeside at sunset!!!!
    New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Travelblog TaurangaNew Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Travelblog Tauranga
  6. Visit the Paradox Inside street art exhibition at The Tauranga Art Gallery (showing until June 2017).  Get along to this if you can, featuring the largest collection of works by Banksy and other world-renowned artists in the southern hemisphere.
    New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Travelblog Tauranga New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Travelblog Tauranga
  7. Do some bombs at McLaren Falls!  Ethan and I spent hours here.  This is a seriously stunning spot where kids and adults alike can explore, swim, relax and take in some amazing New Zealand scenery.
    New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Travelblog Tauranga

Win with Choice Hotels NZ!

You can win your own NZ mini-break with Choice Hotels!  Follow them on Instagram (check them out here) before the 18th of April and go in the draw to win one of two short breaks at any Choice Hotel location in New Zealand.

Good luck and happy travels!

 

Family Travel – Hamilton, Balloons Over Waikato

This weekend away in March was amazing!  We ditched Auckland and had an epic three-day family adventure in Hamilton.  Our itinerary was co-ordinated by Hamilton & Waikato tourism and was so good I’ve decided to share it step by step in case anyone wants full details on how to max out three days with your kids, in a super-fun city just 127km from Auckland, NZ.

Day 1

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Hamilton Museum

We left Auckland around midday on Friday and had a great drive south to arrive in Hamilton at 2 pm.  

After check-in at the Sudima Hotel, we walked across the street to the Waikato Museum.  Let me tell you, Friday afternoon is the time to visit if you want a really peaceful, quiet experience.  We spent almost a full hour just in the Exscite exhibit.  Every activity is a kid magnet.  The boys ran around in a frenzy at first, touching on every station within the first 15 minutes.  They calmed down a little after that, took their time and really took it all in.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Hamilton Museum

After visiting Milk Matters, For Us They Fell, Te Winika, Beyond the Cordon and the Bob Marley exhibit (all awesome), we left the museum and headed a couple of blocks along Victoria St to Bowl & Social.  Situated in Sky City, we were totally unprepared for how cool a bowling alley could be!

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Hamilton Bowling

We bowled one game with the boys (Even Nix loved it at 3.5yo) and enjoyed a really great meal overlooking the river.  This is hipster heaven, but equally perfect for a family fun date or birthday party – there were three parties in action while we were there!

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Hamilton Bowling New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Hamilton Bowling Pizza

Part of the Balloons over Waikato calendar is the City Burn and Markets.  The boys were a bit shattered so I left them with Dave and walked the single block to Garden Place in the city.  What a fun family event!  There were food vendors, market stalls, live music and of course the choreographed basket burn set to a really cool soundtrack.  I loved this, it was quick and awesome and makes a fairly early night for the kids.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Hamilton

Day 2 – Super busy AWESOME day!

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Hamilton Sanctuary Mountain

We enjoyed breakfast at the hotel and loaded up for the drive south (54min) to Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari.  We had no idea what to expect, but if you LOVE getting your family out in the New Zealand native forest like we do, then this is a must-do on your next visit to the Waikato.  

Surrounded by the world’s longest pest-proof fence, Sanctuary Mountain’s ancient forest offers a sanctuary for populations of many of our most endangered species – from birds to bats, frogs to reptiles, tuatara to giant weta.

We spent the morning on an amazing tour along one of the many trails and just soaked in the abundant native wildlife that is being so well protected here.  Major highlights were seeing many Kaka plus Ethan and I did a solo mission to a freshwater pool and were wowed by the biggest Kura we have ever seen!

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Hamilton Sanctuary Mountain

Tip: Don’t be off-put by less-than-perfect weather.  We visited on a rainy, gloomy morning but the thick forest canopy did an excellent job of keeping us dry and happy.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Hamilton Waitomo

Next on the itinerary was a trip to the famed Waitomo Glowworm caves.  After an easy 47-minute drive south-west of Sanctuary Mountain, we were sitting down for lunch at Waitomo Homestead.  Delicious cafe food, well-priced and a convenient spot to refuel before you begin your cave adventure.  

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Hamilton WaitomoThe Waitomo Glowworm Caves are an NZ institution.  I first remember visiting with my parents when I was a little girl and loved bringing my own boys back here to experience the beauty of the underground caves and magical, twinkling glowworms.  This is a beautifully run operation and something special but, as a kiwi, I couldn’t put my finger on what was missing and have only just figured it out as I sit here in Ubud completely surrounded by Balinese culture.  It is a completely sterile operation, almost devoid of any Maori/NZ culture or history – it could conceivably be picked up and plonked anywhere in the world.  I’m not sure international visitors would pick up on this but it seemed really odd to me.
New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Hamilton Waitomo

 The rain began to fall as we headed back to Hamilton and we were fading a little.  We were seriously considering skipping the weekend’s main event, the Balloons Over Waikato Zuru Night Glow.  Instead, we hardened up, charged it and were rewarded by the rain clearing and the most fabulous family night out in a long time.  Held at the University of Waikato, this is an event worth travelling for.  The food vendors provided ample choice (we chose some fab burritos), the music from The Jordan Luck Band was incredible, the hot air balloon light show set to an awesome soundtrack kept even Nixon in raptures and the fireworks finale was simply outstanding.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Hamilton New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Hamilton New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Hamilton

Put the Night Glow Event on your family calendar for 2018.  It’s a seriously good night that I expect to become an annual tradition in our family. 

Day 4

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Hamilton

We delayed the inevitable drive back to Auckland for as long as possible with our first visit to the famed Hamilton Gardens.  Over the past few years I’ve been coveting pictures of the many varied landscapes within the gardens so was super keen to explore with the kids.

The space here is incredible, there are tourist buses aplenty (and rightly so) but you can easily find a spot to yourself and lay out a blanket and wile away an hour or two with a picnic.

Which is exactly what we did – after 2 separate plays at the beautiful Hamilton Gardens Destination Playground.  Both boys, big and small, had such a wicked time here.  Just like the wider gardens I feel like you may spot something new to do here every time you visit.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Hamilton New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Hamilton

Phone ahead and let the professionals at The Hamilton Garden Cafe take care of lunch.  We picked up our laden basket and blankets and settled down to the most delicious lunch under a tree in the Rose Garden.  The food was ah-mazing, not exaggerating one bit.  I dream of another picnic like this one lol

What a weekend Hamilton/Waikato!  We enjoyed some incredible activities and visited some beautiful spots but we also saw twice as many things that are now on our to-do list for our next long weekend.

Our Accommodation

We stayed the weekend at Sudima Hotel in Hamilton City.  We had a huge 2 bedroom suite with, pretty much a full kitchen, 2 large bedrooms and a balcony – a perfect, kid-friendly hotel right on ‘the strip’ in Hamilton and surrounded by amazing restaurants and things to do. 

Tip – the street side room can be a bit noisy at night so pop the kids in the interior room and bring some earplugs if you’re a light sleeper like me.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Hamilton New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Hamilton