General Tips and Suggestions:
1) To fly into New Zealand, you will have to show proof that you have outgoing transport out of New Zealand at the time that you check-in for your flight, or else they will not let you check into your flight!
2) As U.S. citizens, we did not need a visa to enter New Zealand.
3) You can purchase SIM cards and phone plans for your phone in the airport. There is a kiosk right by the duty free store, on your way to baggage claim, or there are also two other kiosks right before you leave the airport. They have specific traveler plans which are reasonably priced.
4) Consider arranging a personalized itinerary from an authentic kiwi, Ferg Blakiston, at http://www.visitsouthisland.nz/ for any South Island travels. He had great advice on where to go, how to get there, what to see, where to eat, and, of course, where to get the best cup of coffee!
5) For discounts on activities, check out the website: www.bookme.co.nz
6) An alternative website for lodging is www.bookabach.co.nz. Similar to AirBnB but specific to NZ. Regardless of where you book, double check that they include linens! We found that many rentals either did not provide rentals, or else charged astronomical fees for the use of linens.
Highlights from Christchurch:
- Willowbank Wildlife Reserve: An interesting animal park that includes a variety of animals both domestic and exotic. You can purchase food at the front desk to feed the birds, wallabies, and even eels! There is a farm area where younger children can pay $2 to ride a donkey. Even saw two kiwis in the kiwi house!
- Canterbury Museum: This is a great museum and should not be missed. It’s very well done and covers a broad range of topics from the Victorian History of Christchurch to Fred and Myrtle’s Paua Shell House. If you are there in December, you can search for hidden Santa Clause’s throughout the museum. The kids had great fun with this. Entrance to the museum is free, aside from one small optional area which charges a small fee to enter.
- Margaret Mahy Family Playground – This is a great place to blow off some extra energy. This playground has amazingly cool play structures and even a spray park area to cool off during warm days. It is considered a “measured risk” playground which means that there are some really adventurous elements.
Oamaru and around
- Steampunk HQ Museum – This was a quirky little museum and the town itself seems to have embraced the Steampunk genre. According to Wikipedia, Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery.[ The museum had a lot of interactive pieces of art including a large organ that the kids could play on and several large vehicle art pieces that could be climbed in and on.
- Steampunk themed playground – This is down by the marina and is a super cool playground. There is a large, kid-sized hamster wheel that can be operated by several children working together.
- Moeraki Boulders - Cool, round, rock formations that are fun to climb on. These are best seen at low tide. When you head to the beach, go straight to access the car park and then stroll about 10 minutes up the beach to the boulders. Do not take the left hand turn and head to the cafe unless you feel to lazy to walk the 10 minutes and don’t mind parting with some cash as the cafe charges a fee to access the beach by their stairs.
- Shag Point – When you enter, there is a car park on your left but if you continue straight past that first car park, you find another one further up the road. There is a small, flat walk out to the point where you can find lots and lots of New Zealand fur seals lounging about and some interesting limestone cliffs. We saw over 50 fur seals when we were there. Remember to give them space as they are large animals that can spook.
- Cadbury Factory – this factory in Dunedin is set to close in early 2018, but they plan to expand the Cadbury World experience so a tour should still be possible, regardless of if you make it there before the actual factory closes. The tour was a highlight for our children, but I honestly found it to be rushed and crowded. They did give us lots of samples of delicious chocolate, which is one reason that I think our children loved the tour. Keep in mind when you park, that one side of the road has a parking limit of 1 hour and the other side of the road has a parking limit of 4 hours! You will need more than 1 hour for the tour so be sure to park on the 4 hour side of the road.
- Dunedin Railway Station. Still runs actual train trips. Beautiful building. Free to enter and wander about.
- Baldwin Street. This is the steepest residential street in the world. Definitely worth a stop and a challenging walk up to the very top. Keep your eyes out for oversized Jaffa candies. The Cadbury Chocolate company races 25,000 of these classic candy treats (in larger than normal size with numbers glued to them) down Baldwin Street each year for charity. Many get stuck in bushes and cracks on their trip South.
- Tunnel Beach and Sandfly Bay. OK, so I must admit that we didn’t make it to either of these places, but our friends who live in Dunedin highly recommended both. We had planned to visit both of them, but never made it. On our list for next time!