With no kiwis in San Diego, my mission was clear. Get us to New Zealand. Thank goodness for the now beloved Spark Reward Card from Capital One and my husband’s business at the time that allowed for lots and lots of points to accumulate. We are not a family that can just decide to fly off to New Zealand in search of elusive birds. Such a huge trip would take time…time to plan and time to save up. So we saved and waited, waited and saved. For over a year I researched and planned, created itineraries, scrapped them and created more. I finally got the help of Rick Stone, AKA Mr. Australia (he’s not limited to Australia so don’t be fooled by the name), to whom I am extremely grateful, for advice and better pricing. 

The first questions were the logistics – a cruise, a land tour or a self-directed trip? North or South Island? How long and what sights? And where or where was the best place to visit the star of the show…the kiwi bird (having such a focus helped narrow where to visit when looking at a whole country and 14 days)? 

Some questions were easy. My little family isn’t really the “tour” type. We like excursions and activities, but not full-fledged full-time tours. We like cruises but wanted to be more in control of our time and destinations on this particular trip. Lots of people do Australia and New Zealand together, making NZ the shorter, quicker choice. But if possible I prefer to take a deep-dive into a place rather than bob on the surface. And I highly recommend diving into New Zealand. We didn’t have the time or budget to spend a month or longer, and I wanted the best possible shot at good weather. We’d have to go over winter break from school. Well, our winter break and New Zealand’s summer break. Two weeks on the ground, which meant 16 days, plus a night in LA before take-off. A 13 hour flight, each way. It felt exciting and a bit daunting. I loved every minute of planning. 

Once I had a gameplan (about three itineraries and several months later), tweaked and made better by Mr. Australia, reservations were put in motion by Rick and a few by me. I also used the travel agency Rick suggested to make my airline reservations. 

(I will do multiple blogs outlining our itinerary, suggestions and have-tos)

Included in our plans were a couple opportunities to see a kiwi bird, of course. New Zealand makes great effort to protect the current population and grow the little furry creature out of threat. There are conservation centers and zoos as well as forests where there are protected. Keep in mind, kiwi birds are flightless, so that is in your favor when looking for one. BUT, they are also nocturnal. So the best chance to see one in the wild is at night on a tour. There are places like Stewart’s Island, which is said to be a wonderful scouting area for the kiwi, even through midday. Being a little harder to get to and requiring more time, a trip to Stewart’s Island didn’t fit into our overall itinerary. If and when we return, it will be on the list! 

And honestly, I couldn’t take a risk a kiwi wouldn’t be seen – I needed guarantees! So, I opted for an easier option: The Kiwi Encounter at Rainbow Springs in Rotorua. Here they take kiwi eggs from the wild, keep them safe through hatching and then raise the chicks until they are about 1kg, and return them to the wild. Seemed good and safe. We’d see a kiwi! 

We were going to be in NZ for Christmas and I wanted to be near the beach for it. So I found a  town in the Bay of Plenty called Whakatane (Fha ka taa nee), near Ohope beach.

Again, I’m not sure why I landed on this spot – I believe the beach in Ohope had been well rated and Whakatane was close and I found a nice AirBnB. I also discovered a tour in Whakatane I thought my husband would like – a trip to White Island, a volcano off the coast, which I’ll describe in my next post.  **Please note – this was written before the volcano on White Island off Whakatane erupted. We did the exact tour others were on during the tragedy. My heart goes out to all. I know many have suffered and I am so so very sorry. It is a beautiful town, which I highly recommend visiting…in a beautiful country, with beautiful people.**

I chose Whakatane for the beach and the volcano. To be honest, though White Island does appear on suggested sites, it isn’t a town often noted. But it looked like a nice place to spend Christmas. And it was after the reservations and plans were made that a gift fell in my lap and I found the key to our entire trip: the Whakatane Kiwi Trust.

Somewhere in my searching for kiwis it popped up, and I was shocked to discover it right there in a small beachside town we already planned to visit. The Kiwi Trust does much work in the Ohope Scenic Reserve, tracking and protecting kiwis returned to the wild. I had no idea what I was hoping for, but upon finding the Trust I searched for a contact and sent an email, telling them about my kiwi-loving son and asking if there were any experiential opportunities he might take part in. 

I have no idea what forces came together, what karma I encountered, but I will forever be grateful to the Whakatane Kiwi Trust and an incredible woman named Bridget. I was shocked when I received an email from Bridget, a director for the Trust, saying there might be an opportunity for Caleb. 

A few logistical emails later, along with several months of waiting and an extremely difficult time keeping it all secret from Caleb, we arrived in Whakatane, spent Christmas Day on Ohope Beach, and awoke on December 26th to tell Caleb about his truest gift (other than the one of being IN NEW ZEALAND!).