It’s a very curious sensation arriving in the New Forest from the M27. One moment we’re trundling along a noisy motorway.

A split second later and we’re enveloped by forest. Within minutes we’re pony-spotting (very easy, as there are about 3,000 around here) and on the lookout for deer (just a little more difficult).

Sophie, my daughter, is bouncing around with excitement, cooing over the ponies that are not all as cute and friendly as they appear. There are notices everywhere warning that they bite.

An open-top New Forest Tour bus whisks us off to some of the forest’s attractions. There’s Beaulieu, home to the National Motor Museum, and Exbury Gardens, where Sophie has great fun perched in the front seat of a buggy as our chauffeur whizzes us along winding paths under the tree canopy.

We’re transported through the Summer Lane Garden and Sunflower Garden by steam train. Halfway round the driver gets off, swaps his cap for a heavy white suit and full-head visor. He has to tend to his bees. We eat our picnic by one of the ponds, watched by koi carp, which, we’re told, will “eat anything”. In the long grass, we can see where deer have been sleeping.

At Beaulieu, we board a replica 1912 London bus. It’s a bit of a bone-shaker. A smooth monorail glides us through the enormous hangars of the motor museum. Feeding time doesn’t go smoothly at Longdown Activity Farm – but that’s the fun of it. Sophie sits on a haystack alongside other children armed with baby bottles of milk.

The gates open and dozens of tiny goats suddenly charge in. The adult goats are just as crazy. At least they’re behind barriers. Just as well, for when Sophie’s dad bends his head a goat starts munching on his hat.

The New Forest National Park is not all trees and heaths, but beaches and marinas, quays and cliffs, too. At Lepe Country Park, near Exbury, there are stunning views over the Solent. At Barton on Sea we go on a fossil-finding expedition.

At Lymington, we try our hand at crabbing. It’s also a perfect area for camping. There’s a huge choice of sites, some in heathland clearings, others among oak trees or in ancient beech woods. Site managers tell campers not to keep food in tents as ponies have learned how to unfasten zips. Much to Sophie’s amusement, it’s difficult to avoid the ponies.

In Burley, they’re wandering up and down the streets. At last we spot fallow deer at Bolderwood. They’re certainly not shy creatures. They’re used to being fed by one of the rangers. Bolderwood is a popular place for a picnic.

A large, flat grassy area has been fenced off to keep the ponies from interrupting lunch. There are logs dotted about to hold disposable barbecues. I make a mental note to return, armed with some of the local produce, though not perhaps with New Forest venison.