Spinoff Parents editor Emily Writes took her family to Nelson care of the Interislander Kaitaki. She writes about what it’s really like for families on board.
We were somewhere around Torea Bay, on the edge of Waikawa, when the screaming began to take hold.
The baby had a sore tum and had been wriggling and complaining and usually I’d have left the area already to avoid any dramas from people who can’t handle kids crying. But this time I looked around and realised I was surrounded by people with kids. A mum across from me gave a sympathetic smile. A dad smirked and pointed to his child who was face down on the floor.
My husband and I exchanged glances. I know what my husband was thinking: “I hope I get home in time to watch Elimination Chamber pay-per-view”. But in the interests of telling this story I’m going to suggest he was mirroring my thoughts which had been on a loop since we began our trip three days before in Wellington: “Thank all of the gods that we are on a ship right now and not a goddamn plane.”
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The morning of our trip started with me getting up far earlier than I needed to. My husband reminded me that the beauty of sailing to your destination rather than flying is that you just chuck all your shit in the car. And he’d done this the night before. My only job was to make sure we didn’t forget the kids or our toothbrushes. We left the house at 7.15am and were on the Kaitaki by 8 am. It was so easy. Sometimes I’ve considered flying with children to be worse than childbirth so to not have to leave the car or wait in a queue felt unbelievable.
Driving into the belly of the beast was a huge thrill for the kids and the whole process of getting the car on and getting out took about 20 minutes. We then discovered the greatest thing ever: the Kaitaki has an indoor playground. And not just any indoor playground – an indoor playground with a coffee shop and only one exit. As I’ve said on Facebook: exits matter at indoor playgrounds. You need one with only one, two at a push. Perfect would be none – you just drop them in from the top and they can’t ever get out.
Not only was there only one exit, there were power points and jacks so you could work or look at Jason Momoa’s Instagram while lightly supervising your sprogs. It was heaven.
After an hour playing we took the kids upstairs to check out the view and the rest of the ship. There are two cinemas on board; they were showing The Greatest Showman and the latest Star Wars on the trip over and Three Billboards outside of Ebbing, Missouri and Darkest Hour on the way back.
Importantly, there’s a bar. They serve gin. And beer. And wine. And nachos. On the morning cruise they had a buffet breakfast. The Kaitaki has the Ocean View restaurant, Hector’s Café, and the Local Heroes Sports Bar (with Sky Sports). The kids begged me for rainbow jelly and I figured I’d get them one cup each since they were on holiday. They didn’t eat it but did enjoy spilling it all over themselves.
The great thing about the ship is that there are nice quiet child-free areas (without being explicitly child-free) which makes the rest of the ship feel really family friendly. There are four nurseries with cots and change-tables in them; these were great for quiet nappy changes. There are cabins too, if being stuck in a small room with your children appeals to you.
Before we knew it the trip was over; three and a half hours zooms past with so much to do. And we were off the ship and on the road to Nelson faster than you can say “Stop yelling at each other – this is a family trip and you’re going to enjoy it”.
Nelson is a stunner of a place. We were total tourists and went to everything. My five-year-old’s favourite was the WOW Museum. He wanted to wear every outfit. The cars were boring I thought but my husband loved them. We went to Natureland where I saw a morepork and my son asked me what a goat was.
We went swimming at Tahuna Beach and shopping at the Nelson Markets. And we capped off our trip with a day-long cruise around the Abel Tasman National Park. At Kaiteriteri my oldest informed me that all seagulls are girls. I asked why and he looked at me like I was the biggest idiot ever. “Muuuuhmm c’mon their names are sea gals.”
We had the best meal of our lives at The Anchor at Nelson port and were very sad to leave after our weekend. Even if staying in a studio with two kids under five almost gave us a nervous breakdown.
Nelson is definitely my favourite place in New Zealand; it was the easiest holiday ever for us. Being able to take our car was fantastic, especially on the last day when we just hiffed everything in the back instead of packing properly. Somehow whenever we travel we come back overweight for our checked luggage. It was so good not to have to bother with checking in.
Our trip back was just as easy as the trip over. I’d suggest arriving right on check in rather than before – we arrived early and parked in the queue when really we should have just used the time to wander Picton. But it was raining and cold and we were tired and the kids had spent the two hour drive from Nelson playing eye spy which was just “Eye spy wid my liddle eyes somefink begin with road.” “A road?” “YES!”
Once the gates opened we were on the ship within minutes and this time we spent the entire time in the playground area. Eddie made friends who he spent the whole time playing with. Ham the baby screamed and wailed because he had a sore tummy from eating nothing but plain bread rolls for three days. But all of the other parents were lovely and we chatted away while watching our kids play. It was the most relaxed I’ve ever been while travelling. I wandered up top with Hammy asleep in the carrier. The scenery was beautiful and I got quite misty-eyed at how lucky I was to have my babies with me experiencing something so lovely and special. I hope they’ll remember this trip forever.
But even if they don’t, they should have another chance because we are definitely keen to do the trip again. I don’t think I could ever fly south with kids now. Even if it’s a 45 minute trip, if your child exists someone is going to give you stink eye about it. And while kids aren’t discounted on most fares when they fly, family discounts automatically apply to bookings on the Interislander. Under two-year-olds travel free and child fares apply to anyone under 17. Once your child is 15 you can just put them on the Interislander on their own and leave them in the South Island (maybe).
And no I didn’t see dolphins, because I was mostly on level two. But I don’t really like dolphins. They seem like they have many secrets. Deadly ones. And now people are teaching them to talk which I think is a very bad idea.
My tips for travelling on the Interislander with kids
- Stick them in the playground
- Drink gin
- Free wifi
- Lightly parent
This content was brought to you by the Interislander. The Interislander Cook Strait ferry is an easy way to travel between the North and South Island. Sit back, relax and enjoy the great facilities on board as well as the spectacular views of the Marlborough Sounds. So go on, find time to hop on board.