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The Gift of Family Travel

Elizabeth Hansen explains why time with loved ones is the greatest gift of all

Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson chose the setting of Hobbiton from an aerial tour
Image Credits Hobbiton: Photography by Sara Orme, Hobbiton; Sydney Bridge climb: Photo courtesy of Destination NSW; Sandboarding: Photo courtesy of Tony Hawk, Aulani: Photo courtesy of Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa;All other Photography courtesy of ADAMS / HANSEN Stock Photos

We live at the other end of the state, but my husband and I stay connected to the members of our family up north  through our mutual love of travel. Over the years, we’ve journeyed around the globe together and, in the process, built lifelong memories and a durable bond. Away from our usual routines, we have time to play, enjoy meaningful conversations, and discover new cultures. This travel bonus is just as true if your children are young and still living at home. A shared experience in new surroundings is a great way to refresh a relationship.


It’s my home-away-from-home so I may be prejudiced, but I’m pretty sure New Zealand is one of the best destinations for family travel. On the North Island, the 14-acre Hobbiton movie set was used for making The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit trilogy, and tours are offered daily. The set is located on a farm in the beautiful Waikato district and not far from a series of fascinating caves where the interiors are lit by tiny glowworms. The Waitomo Caves are the best known, but my personal favorites are the non-touristy Spellbound Caves in the same area. 

<i>Lord of the Rings</i> director Peter Jackson chose the setting of Hobbiton from an aerial tour
Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson chose the setting of Hobbiton from an aerial tour

Depending on the ages of your children, they might also want to pet and bottle feed a lamb. Our granddaughter (now a teen) still remembers meeting sweet Cooee when we stayed at the lovely Karetu Downs Farmstay in the Waipara Gorge north of Christchurch. The Manse, in Hawkes Bay, is another beautiful place to stay with pet lambs and other animals near the house.

Karetu Downs Farmstay is a great place to make friends
Karetu Downs Farmstay is a great place to make friends

Hiking is a prime pastime for locals and visitors throughout New Zealand. The Queen Charlotte Track and the Abel Tasman Coastal Track at the top of the South Island are popular with families. Also on the South Island, the Routeburn, Hollyford, Milford, Heaphy, and several others are more challenging. It’s also fun to swim with dolphins off the coast of Kaikoura. On the West Coast of the South Island, our family of five snuggled into a helicopter that flew up to and landed on the Tasman Glacier. After we deplaned, a friendly snowball fight ensued that ended with some of us damp and all of us happy. 

Across the Tasman Sea, Australia is another great place for multi-gen bonding. Of course, everyone wants to see kangaroos, which is easy since there are more than 50 million of them in the country. Roos hop along country roads, graze on golf courses, and can sometimes be spotted on the beach and in vineyards. In Sydney, Toronga Zoo has all of Australia’s native animals on display, but it’s way more fun to see them in a natural setting.

I never tire of looking at the beautiful Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the hardiest members of your family might want to climb up and check out the view. It’s a popular guided activity (though not for the faint-hearted), and a bonding experience that will be talked about for many years.

The Sydney Bridge Climb offers spectacular harbor views
The Sydney Bridge Climb offers spectacular harbor views

Likewise, experienced surfers will want to grab a board and head to the waves. Torquay, in the state of Victoria, is the surf capital of the country, but Bondi Beach in Sydney and Byron Bay further north are also great spots.

More Fun in the Middle East

Dubai may not be on your bucket list, but we were surprised at the number of family-friendly things to do. Wild Wadi is a great water park close to the pricey Burj Al Arab. And what visitor doesn’t want to see the indoor ski “resort” at the Mall of the Emirates, one of the largest shopping malls in the world? Outside of the city at Al Maha Desert Resort, we rode camels into the desert, learned about falconry, and did some dune bashing. Fun fact: Sandboarding in the Middle East was popularized by San Diego’s own Tony Hawk.  

Closer to Home

Hawaii’s laid-back culture makes it a natural spot for bonding. You’ll win extra points with the small fry in your family if you stay at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa on Oahu. Likewise, surfing kin will love watching big wave surfers on the North Shore in the winter months. Also on Oahu, the Polynesian Cultural Center provides a great intro to the South Pacific.

Regardless of where you go, shared travels create priceless memories. I remember trips I took with my parents when I was a child and journeys with my siblings when I was a bit older. I also remember the joy of treating my mother to her first cruise and the satisfaction of sharing London with our daughter and granddaughter last summer. 

Travel isn’t just fun — it’s a unique gift that brings happiness to both the giver and receiver.


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