Only once you actually go on holiday with a toddler can you appreciate just how tough going on holiday with a toddler is.
It can be really, really tough and make you long for the simple days of holidaying with an infant.
But recently - before the new COVID-19 outbreak in Auckland hit - I discovered that the Matakana / Leigh area makes for an ideal holiday destination for Auckland-based families with toddlers.
It's not too far away but also not too close, it's a gorgeous part of the country and there's plenty to do - but is also great for when you want there to be nothing to do.
There are plenty of great, affordable places to stay in the region on Airbnb. Given the money we're saving on international travel this year, it might make sense to splash out a bit and get something larger and more comfortable than you normally would.
I stayed with my wife and one-year-old child as a guest of Airbnb at a place entitled The Peak - a contemporary architecturally-designed house with great views and six acres to chill out on.
It had an outdoor spa, large indoor bath and a wood burner in the middle of the house to keep us warm on what turned out to be a relentlessly rainy winter weekend.
As well as marvelling at the design of the place, there was an impressive amount of great art filling it too. Our little one had plenty of toys to play with, loads of space to play in and with a few minor rearrangements the whole place was safe for him to play in.
The spa was just so lovely, even in poor weather, with spectacular views to drink in while soaking in beautifully hot, bubbling water.
The place was ideal - a quiet, faraway-feeling place with everything we needed to be relaxed and entertained. But it wasn't too faraway.
The drive time of between 60 and 90 minutes is perfect for a holiday with a toddler - if you time it right, they'll sleep the whole way. Also in a worst case scenario, if someone has to drive back home to pick up something left behind in the rush to leave, it's not too excruciating.
Going with Airbnb was a much better option than staying in a hotel or bed and breakfast. Basically, there's no other people around which means you have total privacy and are never worried about your child disturbing anyone - or anyone disturbing your child.
And it's just such a gorgeous area. It feels like part of the Coromandel rather than the Auckland region.
There are plenty of wineries and restaurants in the area to visit, but to be honest the house was just so comfortable we didn't end up dining out much at all. Getting takeout from local restaurant the Leigh Sawmill and enjoying it with a bottle of wine the hosts kindly left us was perfect.
But we did head out for a few activities with the little one and - keeping in mind it was mid-winter and the beach wasn't an option - these were the best:
- Ti Point Reptile Park
Apparently New Zealand's only reptile specialist zoo, this is a cool place to check out a whole bunch of lizards and bigger reptiles, too. If you think your children will delight in seeing alligators, tuataras, iguanas, bearded dragons and so on, this place is unmissable. The only place I've ever enjoyed gazing upon a tuatara while a tui sang overhead in a pohutukawa. Its very, very '90s website gives you an idea of the laid-back, mum-and-dad-business-run vibe there.
- Matakana Country Park
Here the kids can enjoy a ride-on miniature train, exotic animals and wacky playground, while the parents can have a lovely drink and explore a few craft shops and an art gallery. There's some great food on offer and a surprising amount available to do: pony rides, bike hire, even a relaxing massage. It's all spread over a large area with a modern, refined feel and plenty of parking. Our one-year-old really loved feeding the Muscovy ducks.
- Goat Island Marine Discovery Centre
Of course, in the summer months you definitely want to check out the Goat Island marine reserve, but this place is great for when it's too chilly for ocean adventures. There are a lot of learning tools that are better suited for kids older than toddlers, but the real little ones will be entertained by the interactive displays, too. They might be a bit scared when staff pull live crayfish out of the water with their bare hands though.
All in all, a holiday away from our Auckland home with a toddler to the Matakana / Leigh area was just ideal.
It's a beautiful, relaxing region with loads to do and everything you need. It feels like you've really gone somewhere and escaped the big city but it's an easy, short drive away.
We came back feeling refreshed, treated and so much better than when we left.
Once Aucklanders are again allowed to safely, I can't wait to head back.
Daniel and his family stayed at The Peak as guests of Airbnb.