Slightly nervous I closed the trunk of the car. Clothes for us, clothes for Maria, 20 bibs, a box full of nappies, wipes, stroller, blankets, food for us, food for Maria, toys – traveling with a baby is not easy, so traveling light was out of the question.
We had been on a road trip with Maria before and it had gone very well, but nevertheless I felt a bit tensed for the 4.5 hours’ drive up north to our summer holiday destination Paihia.
One of the most touristic towns in the country and gateway to the Bay of Islands, Paihia was nearly the only town in the region that had accommodation available when we decided on our last-minute plan. Picture an azure-colored sea, sandy beaches, subtropical islands and an abundance of long sunny days and you get the idea.
However, to get there, we had to drive quite a bit in the scorching sun. Four and a half hours according to Google means at least six hours for us. And so we left on a Wednesday morning at 10, mentally prepared to face potential traffic jams around Auckland, endure the fierce Kiwi sun and withstand the inevitable urge to nap, all the while keeping Maria entertained and making sure she would be able to stretch her legs every hour or two.
Easy-going as she is, all my worries turned out to be in vain: Maria was a very happy baby along the way, sleeping when she was tired, playing and laughing when she was up, and happily crawling during the breaks we took. We ate our lunch on a lively beach just north of Auckland and continued our way to Paihia, where we arrived in the late afternoon.
The three full days we spent in Paihia we mainly enjoyed the beach and sea. Even Maria took a dip, a first for her, and to our delight she enjoyed it a lot and did not mind the cold and salty water at all.
Another thing she enjoyed (and we as well) was the refreshing ice cream we had almost daily. Mango was her (and my) favorite. If I hadn’t stopped her she would have eaten my entire ice cream!
Both highlight and nadir of the holiday was a boat trip to explore the magical Bay of Islands and hopefully spot some wildlife, including dolphins, orcas and whales. My sister and her partner had done the same excursion when they visited us in May last year but had been so unlucky to spot no dolphins at all. As a compensation they had received free tickets to do the tour again. As their time in New Zealand was limited, they had not been able to use the vouchers and instead given them to us. We were glad to go on the trip for free!
However, our smile faded when the captain announced that there was a two to three meter swell in the ocean that afternoon. The sea would be particularly rough around the Hole in the Rock, an iconic island with – you guessed it – a hole in the rock and one of the main tourist draws. Ahmed had been seasick before and feared the worst.
As the harbor vanished, the sea got rougher and rougher. Ahmed moved to the back of the boat – a tip from a crew member – but that did not solve the nausea he felt coming up. I took care of Maria while also feeling slightly nauseated, although I normally do not experience motion sickness. The only one enjoying the ride was Maria, chatting and smiling with the other passengers.
The worst part of the trip was the stint at the Hole of the Rock. While the other passengers happily snapped their way, we were sitting quietly at the back of the boat. The relief came when we disembarked at Otehei Bay, an idyllic bay on Urupukapuka Island. A refreshing drink and light food platter eased even Ahmeds stomach. To make things even better, a group of dolphins appeared right in front of the boat as we headed back to Paihia. Willingly, they demonstrated us their stunts, as if aware they had to make up for not showing themselves to my sister eight months earlier.
But the excitement of the boat trip, pleasantly warm sea, soft sandy beaches and mouthwatering ice cream were just icing on the cake. What made this short holiday truly worth going was Maria’s smile day after day. Although she could not take her day-time naps in a cot, she kept surprisingly well and slept in the car or the stroller, something she does not always do easily. A downside, however, was that we stayed in a one-room motel. The result was that either Maria had to sleep late at night or we had to sleep early. The compromise was a bedtime of 9:30-10:00 p.m. Next time we would definitely check the accommodation details and ensure it has two bedrooms or a separate living room area.