In the past when I decided to travel I could leave as fast as my fingers could book a plane ticket. All I needed was a small bag with essentials, my passport and a credit card. It was easy and unencumbered. These days the story is very different. It still starts with a woman who wants to travel but now I am the mum of a toddler. This is not a negative but it changes how you travel.
My two and a half year old daughter, Miss R, is a strong believer in the word mine, though she likes to share anything you have. She is possibly Peppa Pig’s number one fan, successfully imitating a British accent now and again, she devours raw carrots, running is for fun, and Miss R is very sure she is a girl.
As part of my Mum’s 65th birthday celebration I arranged a trip to Rings Beach, located near the northern tip on the east side of the Coromandel peninsula. A straight drive from where we live in Opotiki would have us pushing our feet into the sand in four and a half hours. Not a short drive but worth every minute to experience the pristine beauty of an area that is surrounded by a large scenic reserve.
A drive of this length with a preschooler is unlikely to be completed in one go. And so I am learning that to ‘toddler travel’ I have to adapt. The new style of travel I’m embracing is called ‘slow down Mama’. It is a challenge. Prior to parenthood, life had been at pace. Toddlers don’t recognise time, as in hours, minutes and seconds but they do understand time spent. Time spent understanding, teaching, listening and playing together.
The day of departure arrives and Miss R is up at 5am. Her brain is in gear and toddler talk is gushing. Listening to her chat I mentally plan what to pack and what needs to be done to get on the road. Her thoughts are whether her toy baby can come, whether she can watch Peppa Pig (sigh), if she can play with her play-dough and that she is hungry.
Travel to our destination is an all day event. Unlike my trips B.C. (before child) preparedness is required for toddler adventures. Even for a short distance off the beaten track, away from everyday conveniences – not to mention doctors – you have to plan.
I try not to dwell on the medical side too much because it could actually panic me, however a small first-aid kit is a must; toddlers are nothing if not accident-prone. With their adventurous spirit and often innocence of repercussions, life is approached with an exuberance that’s splendid and unnerving at the same time.
With the car loaded, six bags (including food) and a pram, the only thing left is to wrangle Miss R into her car seat. Distraction proves successful and we are on the road. First stop Katikati for brunch and to pick up Nan.
On the road I am driver and entertainment. So we start with The Wheels on the Bus, the movements compulsory; tricky while driving. Mercifully Miss R likes being in the car. She is happy playing with her toys, talking and singing, and an hour in she falls asleep. From here I revel in a well-earned silence, arriving at The Long Table Café, where Nan is waiting.
Normally I drive straight passed this picturesque café. I’m ecstatic that a toddler stop is required; I like this slow-down concept already. The atmosphere is welcoming to all, with a tree house for the kiddies. The food is sumptuous; a vision of beauty, and Mama’s milk (coffee) is a fine pour. We spend time eating, playing and, closer to departure, negotiating with Miss R about continued car travel – the selling point being sandcastles at our next stop.
The road to Rings is meandering, as with most of the Coromandel. We make a short stop in Whitianga for a toddler bladder and fresh food essentials. Waving goodbye to Whitianga Bay we head over the hill, passing Kuaotunu, and arriving in time for wave splashing and the first sandcastles of the weekend. The water is cool but you can feel the spring warmth weaving its tentacles through the current. The deserted beach fills me with calm and makes the effort of getting here worthwhile.
Rings beach is quintessential New Zealand. It’s the perfect place to slow down, enjoy the basics and breathe the salt-filled air. There are some permanent residents here but most houses are baches. The area never feels over-populated. It reminds me of my childhood at Papamoa beach. I feel fortunate that places like this still exist and I can share them with my family.
With the tide rising and the sun setting we cross the single road that leads in and out of Rings to our holiday home. Dinner preparations underway, Miss R surprises us by taking a liking to blue cheese and, choosing this over her favourite pasta, sausages and green beans. As the night draws in we hear the waves gently polishing the sand, creating a peaceful ambiance. Miss R is high on holiday excitement and her bedtime ritual takes much longer than usual. I nearly give up and go to sleep with her then the magic moment happens…tiredness overcomes happiness. With a soft snore she is in dreamland.
Nan and I get some adult time inclusive of a La Vie spritzer, a small holiday indulgence. We relax into the mid-September evening. The air is chilly, unpolluted by city light and conversation flows freely without the distraction of a TV. Holiday mode settles over us.
Morning dawns and Miss R is ready for sandcastles. We breakfast and head to the beach, littered only with footprints of early morning walkers. Shell collecting, digging and sandcastle building ensues. Once I reach sandcastle overload we pack up our buckets and head for coffee and a fluffy.
A short drive from Rings beach is the laidback village of Kuaotunu. Central to the village is Luke’s Kitchen, a hub for locals and tourists. Luke’s cooks some of the best woodfire pizza I’ve eaten and top it off with organic coffee, sumptuous cabinet food and a view that sums up the Coromandel’s splendour.
After lunch we cross to the park, swing from the tree rope and run endlessly. I experience some of the youthful exuberance that comes so easily to Miss R, reminding myself of my acronym KISM (Keep It Simple Mama), I soak in these delicious moments.
Holidaying with a toddler is relentless and there are limitations. I still haven’t managed to complete the Matarangi bluff track, an easy two-hour walk providing views over Matarangi, Rings beach and Kuaotunu. What toddler cares about views?
These trips may not be too far flung international places and I may not experience the same exhilaration, but I am introducing Miss R to the excitement of travel. A small trip gives me a break from the everyday humdrum of a SAHM (Stay At Home Mum) and stretches Miss R’s capabilities. It teaches her how to adapt to new experiences and environments. Lastly, but by no means least, I feel rested. The daily routine hasn’t changed but sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery. This area provides that in spades – even if they are sandcastle digging ones.