In the 19th century those who took holidays often did not venture far. For example, Wellington public servant Herbert Spackman and his wife Daisy took their summer holidays at the local seaside suburb of Karaka Bay in February 1899. Time constraints and cost prevented many people from taking holidays far from home. There were also travel difficulties: the rail network was still incomplete, and coach travel along rough roads was slow, uncomfortable and often hair-raising.
Some early holidaymakers who attempted ambitious journeys wrote books about the hardships they encountered. When Albert Allom took a holiday trip to the Waikato region in the early 1870s he complained about the numerous swamps, passable only by fascines (logs laid down to make a road). In one place the logs actually floated under his horse’s hooves.
Attitudes to holidays changed in the 1920s. That decade, motor car ownership escalated and roads improved. This gave people the freedom to travel greater distances and to more isolated beauty spots. By 1927 one in eight families owned a car.
Recognising the threat to its profitability posed by the car, and faced by declining passenger numbers, the Railways Department set up the New Zealand Railways Publicity Branch (NZRPB) in 1927. It began a series of campaigns to persuade people to travel by rail on family holidays, not just during the usual summer break but in winter, during school holidays, and for day trips and long weekends. The NZRPB created brochures, information booklets and striking posters, and between 1926 and 1940 it published the Railways Magazine to get the message across.
From 1927 family concession tickets were introduced, and later a ‘through booking’ service including coach and ferry connections to take the hassle out of organising a long trip. In the 1930s the Railways Department cooperated with local councils and chambers of commerce to promote some holiday destinations, and also had package deals with hotels, such as Brents Hotel in Rotorua and the White Star Hotel in Queenstown. While total numbers of rail passengers declined during the 1920s and 1930s, sales of excursion tickets surged as a result of these campaigns.
Excitement, heat and the winding metalled roads that it was necessary to drive along on the way to isolated holiday spots could all contribute to carsickness for the passengers. Many people who went on holiday by car in the 20th century remember the unscheduled stops at the side of the road for children to throw up. This problem diminished as cars became more comfortable and roads smoother.
Post-war holiday boom
In the late 1940s, after wartime petrol and travel restrictions were lifted, the numbers of New Zealanders visiting local holiday resorts increased significantly. Moderately priced package tours during non-peak times, promoted by the Tourist Department, contributed to this trend.
Rail travel peaked in the early 1950s and domestic air travel opened new vistas for some. However, the car was soon the preferred means of travel for family holidays because of the freedom and flexibility that it offered.