Is a family holiday overseas for $3500 still possible?
For the footloose and fancy-free, it's relatively easy to travel overseas on the cheap.
Use a flight search engine to find out when it's cheapest to fly to your desired destination, get a sweet deal on accommodation on a hotel or private short-term rental site, book your leave and Bob's your uncle.
If you're a family of four, things can be a bit - actually a lot - more challenging.
And it's not just because you have extra people in tow. Airlines and accommodation providers know you're likely to have to travel in the school holidays and jack up the prices accordingly. So how do you get good value when there's so much demand for flights and accommodation?
We set ourselves as low a budget as we dared - $3500 for a five-night holiday for two adults and two children in the April school holidays - to see what can be done if you're determined to get out of Aotearoa without breaking the bank.
Fiji is among the best value destinations for families travelling outside the school holidays. House of Travel, for one, has some excellent deals allowing kids aged 11 and under to fly, stay - and in some cases eat - for free from just over $1000 per adult in family-share accommodation.
During the school holidays, only a few of these deals apply and none include flights, meaning they all blow our budget.
Searches on Expedia and Kayak for flights and accommodation packages from Auckland uncovered several options.
The cheapest was a stay at the Blue Light Village hotel in Nadi, not everyone's idea of a Pacific Island paradise but there's a decent beach and a busy tourist shopping and eating area at Denarau Marina, where you can also catch boats to the Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands. Flights and five nights at the hotel on Kayak, which gives it three stars, comes in at $3171, a saving, according to the site, of 16 per cent.
Close to Wailoaloa Beach, which is pretty good for sunbathing and beach cricket if not swimming, the hotel features an outdoor pool, restaurant, cafe, bar/lounge and laundry facilities. There are no reviews on Kayak or Expedia, but it gets 2.5 out of five stars on TripAdvisor based on two reviews. One reviewer noted that the rooms are clean, the staff friendly and helpful, the breakfast cheap and it's just a five-minute walk to the town centre. The other complained that they were overcharged by $5, there were cockroaches and ants in the room and that the remotes for the aircon were missing.
If that puts you off, you could stay in the four-star Pearl South Pacific Resort for an extra $155.80 on Expedia. Situated on one of the longest white sand beaches in Fiji halfway between Nadi and Suva, the resort features a swimming pool, 18-hole golf course, spa and several restaurants and bars. Not sure about you, but that sounds like $155.80 well spent. Please note though, that there are other options on both sites.
The standard double room at the Pearl has two double beds, an ensuite bathroom, balcony with garden views, an LCD TV, fridge and coffee maker. For an extra $11.02 per night you get breakfast.
Activities include snorkelling, kayaking and beach volleyball and - for more money - white water rafting, game fishing, jet skiing, ziplining, surfing, diving and swimming with sharks. If you'd like the kids to get a dose of culture with their sun, sand and surf, take them to a show at the Arts Village and Cultural Centre just five minutes up the road.
A downside to staying at a resort though is that you can spend a lot eating out, so it's worth researching what's available if you book flights and accommodation separately.
Skyscanner is one of the best flight aggregators out there and our search turned up flights for four from Auckland to Nadi for $2813, flying Air New Zealand and Qantas. That leaves $687 for accommodation and there are a decent number of places within budget on the likes of Expedia, Kayak, Booking.com, Wotif and Airbnb.
From Wellington, the cheapest flights totalled $3067, leaving you $433 for accommodation. Flights from Christchurch were $3112, leaving just $388.
The two-bedroom "No Worries" apartment in Pacific Harbour, the so-called adventure capital of Fiji, for example, costs $450 for five nights on Airbnb. Reviews are excellent, with one recent guest saying "we do not have enough superlatives to adequately describe our time" there. The traditional Fijian decor, "lovely garden" and "eight-minute walk through beautiful tree-lined streets" to the Arts Village and white sand beach were among the many features that made a positive impression.
There are places that suit the Wellington and Christchurch budgets too. Uciwai Surfers Paradise Fiji, $121 for five nights on Airbnb, in Rendezvous Beach, close to the world-famous Cloud Break and a great location for snorkelling, diving and fishing as well as surfing. It's about an hour from Nadi and 30 minutes from Natadola beach, which the owners claim is one of Fiji's most beautiful. The one-bedroom apartment has a kitchen and there's a restaurant next door which one reviewer said has great food. You most likely won't be able to afford to hire a car, which would cost about $350 for five nights, but youll be able to afford a taxi there and back and there's a bus from and to Nadi three times a day between Monday and Saturday. Bad luck if it's Sunday or a public holiday.
There's cheaper accommodation still - a couple of homestays in the Yasawa islands for $84 for the five nights. At least one, the Ocean View Garden homestay, will arrange a boat to get you there. One recent guest, who stayed with her partner and children aged 7 and 9 years old, said they had a great experience. "The family is very kind and helpful... Paula cooked us a lot of delicious Fijian food. Bill took us on some day trips (shark snorkelling, fishing, church service, kava ceremony with the chief and to a beautiful beach). Our children had a lot of fun with the kids from the village."
Travel agencies such as Flight Centre and House of Travel have some great package deals to this popular family destination during term time, but you won't find anything for under $3500 in the holidays.
Searching Expedia for packages from Auckland, we found a few deals at budget motels and hotels, plus one at the 4.5 star Mercure Gold Coast Resort for $3355.22 for flights and five nights for a family of four. A 30-minute drive from Coolangatta Airport and an hour from Brisbane Airport, the resort features two outdoor pools and a spa but is a bit of a drive (or bus ride) to the beach - about seven kilometres to Broadbeach and nine to Surfers Paradise.
If being by the beach is non negotiable, you might prefer Novotel Surfers Paradise, just 150 metres from the iconic surf beach and about a 20-minute drive to the star attraction of the area for many: the theme parks. Flights and five nights at the four-star hotel - which features an outdoor pool, tennis court and games room - will set you back $3346.19 for the lot of you.
Skyscanner didn't turn up any suitable flights from Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch to Coolangatta within budget. The cheapest fare for four, at $2609 from Auckland, included a 10-hour trip home - not ideal when you're travelling with children. A better option would be to fly into Brisbane and get an airport transfer to the Gold Coast. We found flights with China Airlines from Auckland for $2294, while return transfers start from $120 (again for the four of you), leaving $1086 for accommodation. Flights from Wellington with Virgin totalled $3096, leaving $404 for accommodation, while flights from Christchurch with Qantas were $2569, leaving $931.
There are options within budget on the usual booking sites, with Airbnb having some particularly good options, most of which allow you to self cater.
We found a contemporary looking one-bedroom apartment 100 metres from Surfers Paradise' iconic stretch of sand for $1040 for five nights which, adding the cost of flights, would bring the total if you're travelling from Auckland to $3454. Located on level 28, it has stellar city and sea views and guests have access to hotel facilities in the building, which include an outdoor heated swimming pool, spa, steam room, sauna and rooftop terrace. The 36 reviews are overwhelmingly positive, with many commenting on the "amazing"/"wonderful"/"breathtaking views" and easy access to beaches, restaurants and shops.
In Broadbeach, a simple but clean and tidy looking two-bedroom apartment across the road from the beach was going for $738. The owner recommends checking out the "beautiful beaches framed by lazy parks home to weekend markets and weekday yoga classes" and wandering down Broadbeach Mall, "peppered with roving street artists and framed by al fresco dining whose tentacles seem to keep spreading in all directions". There are no reviews as yet.
If you're travelling from Wellington, your options are very limited. There are some great looking places within budget in the hinterland, but they will be difficult to access without a car - and you can't afford that. An alternative is to stay in a private room in someone's home. You can have two rooms of your own in a home near Burleigh Beach, close to public transport, for $364. Guests can use the kitchen, lounge and outdoor pool and is has good reviews from families who stayed with small children.
If you're looking for a more low key break, the Sunshine Coast - its 100km of perfect golden surf beaches interspersed with everything from casually chic (and pricey) beach resorts to scruffy surf meccas, could be your place. But again, you'll have to hunt for deals outside the school holidays.
A stay in the three-star Sleepy Lagoon Motel in tranquil Tin Can Bay will set you back $3167.85 for flights and accommodation on Expedia if you're travelling from Auckland.
The air-conditioned cabins each have a balcony with garden views, kitchenette, bathroom and TV and there are barbies in the backyard. There are some decent fish and chip joints in town and a pub next door with a restaurant, bar and games room if you need a night or few off.
Located near the southern end of UNESCO-listed Fraser island, Tin Can Bay adjoins the Great Sandy Marine Park which - home to turtles, rare Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins and more than 140 bird species - is paradise for mini David Attenboroughs. The daily dolphin feeding at Norman Point is just a three minute drive away, while the Fraser Island departure point and well-named Rainbow Beach can be reached in half an hour.
When we checked Skyscanner, there were no suitable flights from Auckland to the Sunshine Coast Airport within budget so, as with the Gold Coast, you're best to fly into Brisbane if you're booking your own. Again, you can either catch a shuttle bus to your accommodation or hire a car.
There are numerous accommodation options on all the big booking sites for between $100 and $150 a night, which would keep you within budget if you're travelling from Auckland or Christchurch.
One recently renovated two-bedroom apartment in newly hip Caloundra, $764 for five nights on Airbnb, is a five-minute walk to Kings Beach with its ocean pool and gentle beach break with protected swimming areas. Feast on beer-battered barramundi with hand-cut chips at Bulcock Beach where warm paddling pools form in the sand at low tide; keep an eye out for dolphins on the 25km Caloundra Coastal Walk, explore the marine park by kayak or standup paddleboard, hit the mountain bike trails in the hinterland, or take a trip to Australia Zoo.
As with the Gold Coast, options are limited if your travelling from Wellington. Again you have more options if you stay in a private home. Two rooms in a Queenslander-style home in Cooroy, not far from Noosa, total $339 for five nights on Airbnb.
The cheapest options in Sydney tend to be either way out west or in inner-city suburbs not entirely suited to kids but, once again, Expedia and Kayak came through with some good options.
A stay at 2.5-star Manly Beach House, just a short walk from the suburb's broad surf beach and cute wee coves, came in at $2802.34 on Expedia from Auckland. Family rooms are light, bright and have access to a shared bathroom - you'll need to pay an extra $13.96 a night for an ensuite. There are no kitchen facilities but there's a common area where you can grab a tea or coffee, watch a movie or chat with fellow travellers, and barbecues in the backyard.
For a similar price - $2870.45 - you could get a three-star apartment in the seaside suburb of South Coogee. The three-bedroom apartment has a well-equipped kitchen and separate lounge and dining area and isn't far from Coogee, Maroubra and Clovelly beaches. There's limited public transport in the area though so if you're not renting a car, Manly, with its easy access to the city via ferry, could be a better bet.
Kayak has flight and accommodation packages for similar prices, including the three-star Waldorf Randwick Serviced Apartments for $3523. Close to Centennial Park and within easy access of the CBD and eastern suburbs and beaches, the property features an indoor and outdoor pool and spa.
Booking flights and accommodation separately gives even you more options.
A Skyscanner search found flights from Auckland with Jetstar for $1614, leaving you $1886 for accommodation. Flights from Wellington totalled from $3287, leaving too little for accommodation, while flights from Christchurch came to $1891, leaving $1609.
With $377.20 a night at your disposal if you're travelling from Auckland, you can get some pretty sweet digs on Airbnb, including a "penthouse pad" in The Rocks, an apartment in exclusive Potts Point with panoramic views and a stylish apartment just two minutes walk from Bondi.
We like the look of Wombat Hollow, a heritage two-bedroom apartment in hip Surry Hills for $1654. There's loads to do within walking distance - the suburb and its environs are renowned for their cafes, restaurants, bars, boutiques, museums and galleries - and the CBD, Circular Quay and beaches are easily accessible by public transport.
If you'd prefer to be by the beach, there's a two-bedroom apartment in Bronte for $973, which is also within Christchurch travellers' budget. With its beautiful surf beach, oceanside-pools and parks, quality cafes and the coastal walk that runs to Bondi in one direction and Coogee in the other, it's an ideal base for a cosmopolitan seaside holiday.
You won't be able to stay in a beachside hotel or resort in Samoa during the holidays for under $3500 but if you're prepared to stay in modest lodgings in the capital of Apia you can do it.
A stay at Samoa Sport Lodge, which has a rating of 3.9 out of 5 on Expedia, comes in at $3343 on that site from Auckland. For that, you get an air-conditioned one-bedroom apartment with a private bathroom, fridge, balcony or patio with mountain views and access to the communal kitchen.
Apia doesn't have much in the way of beaches, but it does have an excellent cultural centre, markets, an eclectic selection of restaurants and some interesting historic sights. The Papaseea Sliding Rocks are among the cool natural attractions nearby and everything else on the compact island of Upolu is within easy driving distance.
Flights on Skyscanner from Auckland to Apia start from $2966 with Samoa Airways, leaving you with just $534 for accommodation. That's not a huge issue in Samoa though: There are multiple options on the usual booking sites. Gabrielle's Fale, $533 for five nights on Airbnb, is set amid tropical rainforest in the hills of Tiavi, but just 10 minutes' drive from Siumu Beach.
If you're really looking to get back to basics, you can get a beach bungalow in Tafitoala for $167. Swim and snorkel at the white-sand beach for nada or ask the owners about their island and cultural tours and eco adventures.
Flights from both Wellington and Christchurch to Apia totalled more than $3500.
Are you looking to take the family away in April? Where are you going? Share your tips, tricks and advice with other readers in the comments.