The West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island —Three Traveling Families Sharing One Epic Roadtrip New Zealand / Travel

Have I mentioned how much more kids learn when they are exploring the world with their friends?

For example, what might be “just another hike” morphs into an exciting adventure with new playmates.

“Boring” car drives suddenly shift gears as kids learn the valuable art of car swapping, so they can score a seat next to their friend. Party in the back seat anyone?

Playing on the grass at the campground transforms into a gratifying gymnastics skills training session, as one child practices her teaching skills, while the other learns a new technique to boost her progress.

Kids tend to stretch their comfort zones and be inspired in the presence of other children whose company they enjoy. Pretty ideal conditions for learning I’d say!


But let’s not stop there; I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the same seems to hold true for adults.

There is some special magic that happens when traveling families join forces and explore, especially when everyone plays together as well as this group does. As Albert Einstein said, “Play is the highest form of research.”

Rotorua Lake and Maruia Falls

To start off, we caravanned with our friends to Rotorua Lake, near Nelson. There were armies of sandflies, but the scenery was breathtaking, and Aysia and I found a sweet little wooded path to walk along together.

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There were some beautiful swans and ducks on the lake as well. I especially liked the sleek black swans with the red beaks and long, graceful necks. Brandon braved the sandflies and was rewarded with an amazing photo of a swan with its wings spread out in front of the beautiful backdrop of mountains.


The Kings added to the fun by putting their new kayak onto the lake for the kids to take turns using. Incidentally, this lake is also the setting of a famous New Zealand love story, in case you’d like to read about it.


We drove to Maruia Falls next, where we lucked out with the opportunity of seeing two skilled kayakers going down the waterfall; talk about perfect timing! Please see Brandon’s video at the bottom of this post for that particular bit of excitement.

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En route to our holiday park in Westport, we stopped to take lots of photos, and the kids had a fun time on the playground once we arrived.

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Pancake Rocks and Beaches

We tried to get the timing of our visit to Pancake Rocks to align with the spectacular blowhole phenomenon which happens during a combination of high tide and a westerly wind. Unfortunately, the winds weren’t quite strong enough on our particular visit, but we still enjoyed the views and walkways.

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Afterward we did a photoshoot along the coast, during which we made an impromptu stop to play at a beach we encountered along the way. There were lots of small, beautiful rocks underfoot as well as many big rocks to climb on.

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We stayed for a long time, with many of the children becoming soaking wet from playing a cat and mouse game with the waves.


I added lots of beautiful beach rocks to my collection on this day. I know, a full-time traveling minimalist like myself has no business collecting rocks; I just can’t help it every now and again.


We drove a bit further and found some cool caves along the beach to play in, before driving to the Pancake Cafe for lunch and then to the MotuKiekie Beach Walk. We were racing against high tide, since we didn’t want to run out of beach and get stranded, but it was so amazingly picturesque. Afterward we drove to our next holiday park in Hokitika.

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Hokitika Gorge and Glow Worms

Hokitika Gorge was first on our agenda the following day. It had been raining, so the plants were brilliantly green with mist hanging in the air all around us. The water, surrounding landscape, and cliffs were absolutely breathtaking, and we enjoyed taking some nice group and family portraits.

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Afterward we feasted on mushroom burgers and sausages grilled up by our friend Keith, along with a delicious salad to share. Before bedtime we walked to the riverbank nearby to see glow worms!

Fox Glacier

We checked into a holiday park near Fox Glacier the next day, before hurrying off to see the glacier itself. We were awed and inspired by the unreal blue color of the water near the entrance of the canyon.

The beautiful hue comes as a result of the fine powder produced from rocks grinding together underneath the glacier as it moves. This powder flows through the rivers to the lakes and is suspended in the water, where it absorbs and scatters light in such a way to create the amazing milky turquoise appearance.


We went past the signs warning of danger and destruction because we’re rebellious like that, AND we had an experienced glacier expert with us, our friend Jared.


We were rewarded with an incredible rainbow over the mouth of the glacier canyon, along with the mist, rain, majestic mountain peaks, huge boulders, abundant waterfalls, and beautiful rivers.

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To our credit, we decided to heed the second set of warning signs further ahead. We were pleased to be able to see a relatively close view of the glacier from that point, even though we couldn’t actually walk on it.

We came back soaked to the bone and quite cold, but what can I say, sometimes everything just comes together to create a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenal experience!


Matheson Lake and Lake Hawea

After a good night’s sleep, we enjoyed a long, leisurely walk around Matheson Lake. The peaceful, still water appeared black, and created perfect reflections of the mountains (such as Mount Cook and Mount Tasman), glaciers, and plants in the surrounding nature.

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We also enjoyed seeing the many blue, orange, and white mushrooms along the trail.


Afterward we drove to Wanaka, taking copious photos throughout the drive, especially of the spectacular scenery surrounding Lake Hawea.

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Upon checking into our new holiday park, I quickly made a pasta dinner with garlic bread and broccoli for my family. For myself, I made a garlic bread sardine sandwich with brie, dark leafy greens, and green olives. Of course no one else in my family wanted to touch it, but for some reason it was exactly what I was craving. Yum!

Puzzling World and Te Anau

The next morning we had a refreshing sleep-in and an oatmeal breakfast with some delectable blackcurrant vanilla yogurt, bananas, and kiwi.

In the afternoon, we gave our brains a work-out with the many entertaining optical illusions at Puzzling World.


There was also a cafe on-site offering hot savory pies at $1 each around closing time, so we appreciated an easy, inexpensive dinner before we left!

The next day we drove a couple of hours to Te Anau where we stayed at the Distinction Luxmore Hotel for two nights. Upon our arrival, we ventured across the street to play at a park then walked around the lake and town a bit.


Later, as everyone was about to crawl into bed, the fire alarm in the building went off, so we all had to wait outside in the cold until the fire trucks came to investigate. It turned out that a bathtub flooded and the water leaked through the floor, causing a short in the fire alarm wiring.


Lake Marian Falls, Milford Sound, and The Chasm

We started out the next day at a quick and easy hike along the Lake Marian Falls Track where we saw a mesmerizing series of powerful waterfalls in an enchanting setting.

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Next up was our highly anticipated cruise on Milford Sound, which we learned is actually a fjord. Fjords are carved by glaciers and sounds are shaped by rivers.

It was such an emotional experience seeing the beauty of the area, even from the shore, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather.

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We booked with Mitre Cruises and enjoyed a small boat with space for 70 people, which had plenty of extra room, since it was only filled to about half capacity.

We marveled at the incredibly tall mountains rising up from the water with their sharp jagged cliffs and cascading waterfalls.

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Before calling it a day, we drove to The Chasm Walk, where we saw unique shapes in the rocks, which had been carved by thousands of years of powerful waterfalls flowing through them.

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Holiday Celebrations

The next thing we knew, we found ourselves sharing an airbnb with the Kings in Lake Hayes Estate, while the Lybberts stayed nearby in Arrowtown.

The kids had fun blowing up some balloons we bought at the grocery store in preparation for Ella’s birthday celebration, which we’d be having at our house that night, along with an Easter celebration since it was Easter the next day.

We decorated hard-boiled eggs with everyone, before using them for an egg hunt in the backyard, and then mixed them into a sauce of butter, flour, and milk with salt and pepper which we served over toast for dinner. How’s that for efficient?

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I cherished an opportunity to hold adorable 9 month old Dawson while his parents were busy with the food prep.


Earlier that day, I also made a large quantity of salad to go along with the meal, which included dark leafy greens, tomatoes, and cucumbers in an avocado garlic dressing.

For dessert we had pavlova for Ella’s birthday, along with chocolate and mint chocolate chip ice cream.


One of Ella’s birthday gifts was a new card game which we also had fun playing together that night.

We did a family Easter basket the next morning, complete with a trail of clues to find it.

At this point, after many days of road tripping together, we said goodbye-for-now to our friends and headed out to Lake Tekapo.


Our plan was to see Mt. Cook, but unfortunately it was too cloudy to see much while we were in the area. That’s the trick with New Zealand, when you see things in the right conditions they’re spectacular, but if not, you may end up missing a fair bit.

Hanmer Springs

The next day we drove to Hanmer Springs to spend a night and luxuriate in the hot springs which felt amazing, especially after all our days of driving and stiff muscles.

The pizza restaurant we went to for dinner is also where Brandon had quite a heated run-in with the cashier about credit card signature requirements. He doesn’t like to sign his credit card for security reasons and has his photo on the card instead. Smart, right?

Brandon also feels a natural compulsion to help educate those who insist on enforcing rules without thinking about whether they make sense. As you might imagine, sometimes there is push back with this approach.

For example, this particular cashier didn’t take to it well at all, in fact, she felt like she needed to put him in his place. She began giving him a-talking-to about how it technically wasn’t even good enough for him to show her the signature from his driver’s license, because it wasn’t issued in New Zealand, but she would “be nice” and accept the credit card anyway. Well, alrighty then! See how sometimes the smallest things can turn into rather explosive situations?

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I will miss the amazing view from our vacation rental in Nelson for the remainder of my days, those swirling patterns and beautifully intermixing shades of blue in the water. Same with the oysters, I will greatly miss those too. And the wine; have I mentioned the Riverstone, pinot gris, with fresh flavors of spicy pear and crisp apple? That’s another good one.

Not to mention the licorice, Gellicious Gelato, savory pies, real fruit ice cream, Pic’s Peanut Butter, amazing dairy, meat, and produce. And, of course, family harp lessons with Annemieke.

However, as we know, the main attraction in New Zealand is the amazing abundance of easily accessible, jaw-dropping natural beauty it has to offer.

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I guess that’s the dark side of experiencing such appreciated things in far away places: the potential fondnesses that develop, which in some cases are very difficult to satiate after your departure.

The truly amazing thing is, there’s always more to love in life, not only through experiencing the new and novel, but through going deeper into our appreciation of the nuances and beauty in the seemingly ordinary and familiar.

Would you believe it? We’ve come to the end! But take heart, we share even more details about our worldschooling adventures in New Zealand in an upcoming bonus post. You’ll love this one! Please be sure to catch our final New Zealand installment — A Scrumptious Hibernation in Nelson, New Zealand.

Brandon’s videos for this series just keep getting better and better. This new one will make your heart sing!

What do you miss from the far away places you’ve visited? Alternatively, what do you love about where you are right now? Please share with us in the comments.

Jennifer loves to breathe, read, write, travel, learn, sing, dance, eat, and practice mindfulness. She is currently residing in Ubud, Bali, and loves exploring new places with her family.


  1. Oh Wow! Breathtaking and inspiring. Love seeing the latest of what you and your family are doing. Thank you, Brandon and Jennifer, for sharing your life adventures with me. You’ve outdone yourself. I shared with my friends on social media. :-)

  2. Epic roadtrip and epic post! I’m so glad we could have this experience with our friends in such an amazing place. I feel like I was in a state of almost constant awe during this road trip. Thank you for helping create a record of these beautiful memories.

    As for what I miss in our travels, lately I’ve been missing the solitude we experienced during our first month in Barcelona. And what I’m loving about where we’re at now (Victoria, BC) is a nice office with a dual monitor setup. I don’t think I’ve had that once since we started traveling!

    • Thank you, Brandon! I absolutely love your amazing photos and videos!! These were certainly spectacular places to visit and I know our experience was even more amazing thanks to being in the company of such wonderful friends.

      I agree, the solitude can also feel so wonderful at times, especially when there are lots of projects we are excited about working on. So glad you’ve been able to have such a cool office set-up these past few weeks too!

  3. Marilyn Lybbert Says: August 3, 2016 at 6:01 am

    Thank you so much for the beautiful pictures and amazing video. It’s been so much fun to watch all of your adventures in New Zealand. You have all had such a great time in your explorations. I especially love watching my grandchildren having so much fun exploring New Zealand and having a great time with your children. Thank you!
    Marilyn Lybbert (Jared’s mother)

  4. Irene Curtis Says: August 5, 2016 at 2:54 am

    Thanks Jen for another outstanding post. Just loved EVERYTHING about it.

  5. Kia ora!
    You have captured my spectacular home just beautifully!
    The photos, the video and the words are all magnificent. Most of all, you seem to have captured the essence of it all: that people are what make this world and this life, so wonderful.
    I’m so glad you loved it here.
    Haere ra. Come back soon. :-)

  6. Beautiful post, and lovely video! I loved the “queue the dramatic Lord of the Rings music”…hahaaa! Such fantastic memories, and your videos make me wish I had taken more videos! (May I get a copy for the archives?!) It helps preserve the kids’ ages and personality so much better than photos!!

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