How To Campervan Around New Zealand
We learned so much from the good folks at Trip Advidor and attribute much of the success of our trip to them. So, in keeping with the spirit of what they do for all of us, here is a trip report of our travels in OCTOBER AND NOVEMBER 2009 in the hopes it may inspire someone else.
The following is one couple’s take on how to have a great trip. This is by no means the final word, it’s simply what worked for us, and worked well. Modify to your heart’s content and mind’s requirement; or ignore it all and send us something better. Note: we talk more about the how to’s of the campervan part than the what to do in the country part because if you get the campervan part right, you are going to have an AWESOME time discovering the country part for yourselves.
Table of Contents
1. Synopsis of trip
2. Deciding on Where to Go
3. Where to Get Info
4. How to Plan
5. What to Take
6. Living in a Campervan
7. On the Road
8. Our Itinerary
12. Bottom Line
Part 1: Synopsis
What a great trip we had! From the northern tip at Cape Reinga to as far south as Te Anau and Milford Sound. From the west coasts to the east coasts and back on both islands. A tad over 5 weeks from the end of October till the end of November, in a campervan, about 5400 kms (almost 3350 miles).
It's a widespread and well-supported industry, the camping, with lots of very nice campsites and facilities for campers and most in strikingly beautiful places. In Holiday Parks they have showers and laundries, full kitchens and bbqs, TV and internet rooms.
Hiking (I mean tramping) is also a major focus of the whole country. Trails (I mean tracks) from one end of the country to the other and back again; we did a couple of short ones, like hours, rather than days. The thing is they have every option, for every level.
We had all kinds of weather from rain and clouds, to sun to snow, and almost always windy. Since they have a hole in the ozone there, our faces got tan even with the clouds, SPF 30, and hats. All the school kids wear uniforms with a broad-brimmed hat included.
We saw cows, sheep and the cutest lambs, deer (as in venison), honeybees and lots of vineyards. And wild turkeys, peacocks, quail and ducks, and even a herd of wild horses. They have a problem with possums, ferrets, rats, and stoats, which we also saw a lot of tho not alive -- think squished in the road. Also saw fur seals, and the largest gannet colony in maybe the world. And Dusky Dolphins (with a white stripe on their sides) and Hector's Dolphins (which are the smallest dolphin) and killer whales (the largest dolphin) -- like swimming next to the boat for an hour! Nope, didn't see a kiwi (except in a rehab facility), but did see one of their other endangered flightless birds: the weka. Also saw the rascally keas, which look like a big parrot and like to eat the rubber on your windshield wipers and around your windows. Beautiful beaches and sounds, thick pristine and planted forests, lots of green hills, raggy coastlines, big Kauri trees, awesome glaciers and snow-capped mountains, spectacular scenery, and lots of preserves, like scenic preserves, wildlife preserves, coastal preserves, historical preserves, raspberry preserves…….
All roads outside the main cities are two-lanes with lots of one-lane bridges. The traffic seemed to be made up equally of campervans, semis, tour buses, and normal car traffic. Most of the roads were windy, and many were steep and narrow, tho totally doable, and they changed names at each curve -- very challenging for us navigators as well as drivers (tho being a lefty, he did quite well with the left side of the road stuff).
Most houses had flowers (roses and rhododendrons, mostly) at their entrance, and lots of wild yellow, white, pink, and purple lupines in the fields and hills, plus yellow gorse everywhere. Just so you don't think it's totally idyllic, they do have mosquitoes and sandflies. Tho maybe it was the time of year we were there, or the wind, or the places we visited, or how we dressed, but they really didn't bother us too much. One helpful docent at the visitor center in Haast told us that sandflies were so ornery that we could rub whiskey on our exposed skin then rub on some sand and when they landed they’d get drunk and stone each other.
At the time we were there (end of 2009), bagels were hard to find in the grocery stores, but white bread is everywhere (I was thrown for a loop there), and lots of meat pies. Couldn't buy turkey (they only have it at Christmas), but I could get minced (ground) lamb, which is what I used to make spaghetti sauce. And, of course, great wine.....AND great coffee. The coffee was all made in espresso machines, even at the local gas station. You had to search to find "filtered" coffee....which we didn't do. I was surprised at the high cost and low availability of fresh fish; beef, and lamb of course, were plentiful.
Everyone told us the people are nice, but besides being true, there aren’t that many of them. People were not crowded on top of each other as we are used to. The small towns and villages, the space between homes, the agriculture, the open spaces, the general lack of billboards, clutter and litter -- it was refreshing and addictive.
So, which island is better? The North or the South? HA! You don’t think I’ll get into THAT argument, do you? We could not imagine only doing one. It was a great first trip!
We also have notes on deciding where to go, where to get information, how we planned our trip, what to take, living in a campervan, being on the road, and our own itinerary. If you are interested, read on. In any case, THANKS TA DEs!
Part 2: Deciding on Where to Go
First, answer these 4 questions, and not to worry, there are no wrong answers, tho blank answers aren’t going to help you much. Your answers will become important in Part 4: How to Plan.
1. What’s the objective; why do you want to go
Sure you could say “to have fun”, but what’s fun mean to you? For us the objective was, using a campervan, to see as much of the country as we could and second to scope out places for a future trip when we could take more time. Other objectives could be fishing, or tramping, or extreme sports, maybe culture and history, wineries, romance, sightseeing and scenery, or of course a combo.
2. How long will the trip be
3. How much money is allocated
4. What are your preferences and tolerances. What do you like? Do you prefer B&B’s and upscale restaurants, are you more comfortable with cities or countryside, do you like to drive, do you like tours or being independent, can you imagine living in a camper, blah, blah, blah. What do they say? Know thyself. T'is true.
PS hopefully at this point your answers to these 4 questions includes the word “camp” somewhere in it, or the rest of this report is going to be a bit boring.
This Part was easy…… Part 3 is where to get information about places to go, things to do, where to sleep…….
Part 3: Where to Get Info
One word of caution on this topic – beware of TMI burnout! The internet is LOADED with information so one could get totally overwhelmed with it all. I know this for a fact. The sources we decided were most helpful were:
1. The New Zealand forum on Tripadvisor.com
2. Jasons travel site at http://www.jasons.co.nz
3. The Department of Conservation site at http://www.doc.govt.nz
4. New Zealand’s tourism site at www.aatravel.co.nz
5. Ron Laughlin’s site at http://www.ronlaughlin.net
6. Fodor’s New Zealand travel book
7. The Lonely Planet travel book for New Zealand
And once in the country we used I-sites (visitors centers)
We took the Lonely Planet and Fodor’s books with us as well as multiple pages we printed out from the internet sites.
Here are some sites we found useful for information specifically on campgrounds and campervans:
On to Part 4, planning the trip……..
Part 4: How to Plan
I’m a list maker. But there is something to be said about my niece’s approach to traveling – just land and go where inspiration takes you. I argue that she will potentially miss a lot and the trip will be stressful what with the constant decisions she will need to make about that inspiration (where to stay, where to eat, what to do, how to get there….) Planning ahead relieves so much of that on-site stress and helps ensure you see and do the best things with the time and money you have available. Only fair to my niece tho, that the itinerary must not be so rigid as to preclude being able to take advantage of what you learn as you go. There is definitely a place for spontaneity and fluidity (as she puts it).
One note at this point, the time of year you are going also impacts your “fluidity”. In the NZ summer months you will need advance reservations, and in the winter months some roads are closed, so you will obviously need to know where you will be when and how you are going to get there ahead of time. We modified our own tentative itinerary as our trip progressed.
OK, basically do the research and make lists to suit you. Here are the 4 lists we found useful for our own planning:
1. Things that need to be done before you leave
Example entries include: stop the mail and newspaper, arrange for house/pet sitting, clean out the refrigerator, pay bills ahead, check on insurance, buy hiking shoes, and so forth.
2. Things to take with you
This list included entries such as: passports and tix, cameras, vitamins and prescriptions, insect repellant and sunblock, books to read, electric plug converter, things you might want in the campervan, specific clothes and personal stuff (see our own list in Part 5).
3. Things you need to get or do once you get to your destination
Example entries include: Phone card or cell phone, groceries for the first couple of days, particular information from the airport I-site, use the ATM
4. Plan of the Day
Here, as they say, is where the rubber hits the road
A. Given the parameters we came up with in “Part 1: Deciding on Where to Go” and in going through all the sources mentioned in “Part 2: Where to Get Info”, we’d jot down places to go, things to do, restaurants, must-see stuff, all those things that caught our eyes and imaginations. Then we tacked up a large map of both islands and marked those places. That gave us the first outline of an itinerary.
B. At that point, we decided, based on a lot of recommendations, and a lot of good reasons, to limit our driving to no more than 4 hours a day.
By using googlemaps.com, I found the distance and time between places we’d highlighted on our map. Finding spots along the path that were 4 hours or less from each other gave us the second draft of an itinerary which was substantially less than our original because we simply didn’t have the time to get to every place or do every thing we originally jotted down.
I know this sounds fairly simplistic, and, in retrospect, it may have been but it was also very time consuming, especially given that the names of places were so hard to remember (were we going to Orewa or Orere? Was that Keri Keri or Kari Kari? And how do you remember a name you can’t pronounce? You say Whangarei is pronounced with an “F”??)
C. Then we began filling in our Plan of the Day, which had 4 entries per “stop”. This changed a lot during this planning phase but when we were done (read out of time) we printed it out and took it with us in a 3-ring notebook that we referred to constantly. There were some times we had it wrong but had enough info with us to be able to make an informed decision about an alternative. Sometimes we stayed longer or shorter or went to a different place but knew we could because of how it fit in with the rest of the plan.
So here’s what our Plan of the Day contained:
1) Day and date (e.g. Day1 - October 23, Fri)
2) Route (e.g. 103 kms, 2.5 hrs Tutukaka to Russell along the scenic coast then ferry to Paihia)
3) In Route things to see, do, places to eat or shop: (e.g. between Kerikeri and Ahipara, eat at Mongonui Fish Company)
4) Destination for night: where to stay, recommended places to eat, things to do such as shopping or tours (e.g. In Mt. Maunganui stay at the Holiday Park and ask for beachfront, eat at Zeytin, hike to top of Mount)
OK, the hard part is done…..now what are you going to pack? On to Part 5.
Part 5: What to Take
My standard outfit, every day, was levis, a T-shirt (usually long-sleeved) under a wind-resistant hiking shirt (with roll-up sleeves) under a fleece vest and/or jacket, hiking shoes and wool sox, and rainproof jacket when needed (which it was). And a not-so-glamorous but functional neck scarf. I bought a glamorous one there made of, what else, merino wool and possum fur. It got warm enough at the end of trip to dump the fleece and fur. And of course a hat.
His outfit was similar: levis, T-shirt, nice sweatshirt, rain jacket when needed, hiking shoes and wool sox, and always a ball cap.
For what it’s worth, here is our basic list. And no, we didn’t need everything we took.
_____ duffle bags as our luggage and daypacks for….uh, day use.
_____ airline tix, campervan confirmation
_____ journal, pen
_____ tour books, notes
_____ reading books
_____ phones, chargers
_____ ipod, charger, speakers, headphones (should have taken CDs to play while driving)
_____ cameras, batteries
_____ electric plug converter
_____ flashlight, headlamps, batteries
_____ pocket knife
_____ magic marker
_____ reading glasses, sunglasses
_____ pillow cases
_____ personal stuff, like shampoo, lotion, deo……
_____ vitamins, prescriptions
_____ seasick pills
_____ first aid kit
_____ baby wipes (very useful in a camper!)
_____ insect repellant, benadryl
_____ eye glass fix-it kit
_____ duct tape
_____ wash cloths
_____ beach towels
_____ wine opener (which we didn’t need as the bottles had screwcaps)
_____ measuring cup
_____ line, clothes pins
_____ bungee cords
_____ hats (sun, hiking, rain, ball caps)
_____ hiking pants
_____ hiking shirts
_____ nice shirt/blouse
_____ pull over sweater
_____ T-shirts/tank tops
_____ flannel/long-sleeved shirts
_____ flip flops/sandals
_____ hiking shoes
_____ silk thermals
_____ rain gear
_____ fleece jacket
_____ bathing suit
_____ swim shirt
_____ sweats/sweat shirt
OK, you’re ready. Now…..what’s life like living in a campervan? See Part 6 for some hints.
Part 6: Living in a Campervan
You better like each other. It’s small. All the campervans there are small, no big rigs like you see in the U.S. But they also have everything you need and are a totally wonderful way to see the country. Ours was perfect.
1. Choosing a campervan
We talked to a travel agent at our local auto club who said they used Maui Motorhome Rentals when putting together a trip for their clients. So, even tho there are a lot of good companies to rent from, that was good enough for us and we went with Maui. We used their website to pick the model best for us: the SMALLEST with TOILET and shower that would comfortably sleep two and had as much STORAGE as we could get. These are very important things. The most often expressed “complaint” we heard on the road from other campers was lack of storage. We opted for a toilet and shower to give us the ability to freedom camp should we want, but mostly having a toilet is a HUGE convenience, no matter how old you are. We ended up using the showers at the campgrounds more than the one in the van.
One note: on the Maui site they showed a floorplan for the model that we liked, and eventually booked, but when we got to the agency they gave us an older version of the same model that had a different, and unacceptable, floorplan. It took us an extra day to get what we originally ordered. But I have to say, they treated us VERY well the whole time we were getting things straightened out.
TA has a lot of excellent advice on picking a good company and van, and those to avoid, which I won’t reiterate here. Simply search on campervan companies. The Rankers site mentioned above also has some good reviews of campervan companies.
Make sure you are comfortable with the level of insurance you have. Before we left home we checked with our own insurance company and the credit card company we used to rent the van to see if they provided additional insurance, which they usually do for rental vehicles. Nope, not for a van and not for more than 30 days. So we had to buy some and opted for the premium package from Maui rather than their “basic insurance” which had a NZ $7000 deductible! Our insurance package referred to “excess” which we learned meant “deductible”. The premium package was rather expensive, but not to the tune of $7000.
I also checked with our medical insurance to see if we were covered overseas, we were, and what we had to do should we need medical attention, we didn’t.
3. Extra things you will need
Check the list of items that are provided with your van and take or buy things not provided that you will want like some of the things you might have noticed on the “Part 5: What to Take” list, e.g. Ziplocks and flyswatter – both very useful, tho not together. We used a bungee cord strung across the back of the van for a clothes drying line while driving. We also asked for an additional duvet (comforter) and needed it for many chilly nights. I went to a Warehouse store and bought a large pasta pot and new pillows. Used the pillows even tho two were provided but could have gotten away with only the pans provided. I was pleasantly surprised that the pans, dishes and glasses were all clean and in good condition.
Would recommend checking the items in the van against the list that should be in the van before leaving the lot. We spent the first 2 weeks without a toaster (so used the toasters in those wonderful fully-equipped campground kitchens). We took a separate laundry bag (a trash bag would work as well) and kept it stuffed in the closet till we could do laundry, usually once a week. Interestingly, most people opt for drying their clothes on clotheslines in the fresh air instead of using dryers. All the campgrounds we were in provided both clotheslines and dryers. Laundry was usually NZ$2/load but some was as high as NZ$4/load and one place was NZ$1. You need your own detergent. Plastic grocery bags made good trash can liners and recyclable holders.
4. Staying organized
This is a must in such a small area, so the very first thing is putting everything away, and then putting it back when you’re done with it, and that means luggage too. But wait, there is NO room for luggage…….so we took duffle bags and they worked out great.
The 3 best reasons I can think of for staying organized is
a. so you can move around without having to step over stuff,
b. so things don’t go flying around when you are driving, and
c. with stuff put away there is less left in sight, which minimizes sticky fingers (aka thieves).
Besides, it just feels better to have things neat (Mom would be proud).
These were great. Conveniently located, some in the most beautiful areas, and all clean and well kept. As noted in “Part 1: Synopsis, camping is a major industry there and well done. All the holiday parks (as campgrounds are called) we stayed in had showers and bathrooms, fully-equipped kitchens including bbqs. They also had laundries, TV rooms, and most had computers and/or wi-fi (for a small fee). We joined the Top 10 Holiday Parks group which gave us some nice discounts on camping and the ferry, and at some restaurants and activities. We mostly stayed in “regular” Holiday Parks, those not necessarily in the Top 10 (which is really like 50). The other campground organization you can join is Kiwi Holiday Parks which also offers a discount at their member parks. You can join via the internet ahead of time and get nice maps and campground lists mailed to you, or simply do so at your first campground. To be truthful, we didn’t see much difference in a regular, Top 10 or Kiwi, they all made the grade (read totally acceptable). In any case, we recommend you look for the Qualmark rating (a level of quality standard they passed) at any campground you are considering. We paid from NZ$25 to NZ$40 per night, mostly in the mid-NZ$30s.
Other great campgrounds are provided by the Department of Conservation and so are called DOC parks. They are usually but not always more primitive, generally without hook ups. And most often in beautiful out-of-the-way places. It is the ONLY campground at Mt. Cook and was our favorite. It cost all of NZ$12.
One other interesting camping organization you can join is Native Parks which allows you to camp on private properties. Look it up at http://www.nativeparks.co.nz/
We did not “freedom camp” mostly because we never needed to. Think about it, you’ve been driving for a couple of hours, you’re tired, it’s time to stop. WHERE? Sure you can just pull over to the side of the road and set up camp, but 1. is it the best place you should be sleeping (think safety as well as aesthetics) and 2. are you even allowed to. In many areas freedom camping is prohibited, so you’d best know your rules and regs before setting up. Besides, for a lot of very good reasons, it basically irritates the locals. We would recommend against it unless you know what you’re doing and are respectful of the opportunity.
You will see in Part 8 our itinerary and all the places we stayed. But as long as we are talking about campgrounds, our favorites were:
Ahipara Kiwi HP (some nice DOC sites around here we will use next time)
Bailys Beach HP
Lake Outlet HP (Wanaka)
Akaroa Top 10
Peketa Beach HP
The others we stayed in were quite acceptable, but usually just a "spot for the night" on our way to the next place, or convenient for what we wanted to do there.
OK, you got your plan, the stuff you’re taking, and you have an idea about living in a campervan, so let’s get on the road in Part 7.
Part 7: On the Road
1. Most important: For us foreigners, remember DRIVE ON THE LEFT. Driver: stay centered (closest to center of the road). Turns: wide right, tight left. Navigator: help driver remember all this without raising your voice. You should also know that campervans can be a tad slower than normal traffic which means you need to watch for traffic behind you and pull over at the best opportunity to let them pass by, it will be very appreciated.
2. Almost all roads are 2 lanes. Many are windy, steep, narrow but as already said, totally doable. Lots of one-lane bridges. Makes it interesting when you encounter a bicycle race using up one lane (which we did several times). Must stay aware of wide vehicles (lots of logging trucks in the north and tour buses in the south) in the oncoming lanes, and sometimes, but thankfully not often, those wide rigs cut the tight corners – into your lane.
All the roads we were on were in good condition, which means lots of usually small construction projects to keep them that way.
We had to get used to the way the roads were named – we would be on the same road and notice it changed names multiple times, at least on the maps, and it was hard to find road signs. The name wasn’t always easy to find, like at intersections, only the road turning off was labeled, guess they figured you already knew what road you were on. Often we’d go miles before coming to something that told us we were indeed on the right track, and sometimes we weren’t.
We only had one toll road, out of Auckland. It cost NZ$2 but was a little inconvenient as we had to drive into the “comfort station”, find the pay kiosk, stand in line and finally pay the toll. I believe you can also pay via phone or internet. They have cameras – they track.
The map we found invaluable was the Travellers Road Atlas by Kiwimaps, we got the compact version. It was even better than the one we got from our auto club. We saw many other travelers with it too. It’s heavy paper in a spiral book, very convenient for sitting on the navigator’s lap.
We had many locals as well as other tourists tell us “LOCK YOUR CAR”. Seems like breaking into vehicles is also an industry there. They said look for broken glass where you are parking, a sure sign of hooligans. We saw a lot, especially in the north, but never had a problem.
5. Grocery stores and Farmers Markets
Mostly we used Woolworth, Foodtown, or Countdown. They issued a discount card for groceries at any of the three and we could use their receipts for discounts on gas. Just ask for the card when you stop the first time at any of them. Pak-n-Save was probably the cheapest but had the least selection. We also liked New World and could use their receipt for a gas discount. We stopped at Farmers Markets whenever we found one. Got the best mussel fritters at the market in Thames.
We used our credit card for most purchases, and got cash with our debit card from ATMs.
We tried taking an unlocked cell with us and buying a NZ sim card, but no joy. We could use our regular cell phones but it cost $2.29/minute, for voice or text, so we didn’t. Suggest you research your best option with your own company and looking it up on TA as there are a lot of posts on this topic. Or get a phone card. All the campgrounds we stayed in had some form of wi-fi, most with a small fee. Some worked great, others, well, you know how technology can be sometimes.
Oftentimes we were on the road early and would have liked to have stopped for breakfast but found many restaurants don’t open before 9 AM. So our options: take the time to fix and clean up breakfast before leaving, have something simple before taking off (we took Starbucks instant coffee and Bora Bora snack bars, which was perfect), or eat an early lunch. It worked.
We mostly cooked our own food in the campervan. The refrigerator/freezer was adequate. For dinners we did a lot of pasta, rotisserie chicken from the market, omelets, cheese/meat/crackers, soup and sandwiches, and salads.
And we did eat out at some great restaurants – good food and casual atmosphere (remember we were in levis). Most places asked you to submit your order at the counter, get a number and find a table. They would bring you your food. We didn’t tip, tho it was hard for us not too.
We used bottled water for drinking and cooking, campervan water for dish washing and other non-food things.
Maori is the language of the indigenous people of New Zealand and is one of NZ’s official languages. It is used widely and often, so to understand it a bit was very helpful, like knowing how to pronounce a city name when asking for directions without insulting someone or coming off as a total tourist. There are a lot of internet sites which give an overview as well as in the back of most travel books. For instance, checkout nzhistory.net.nz/culture/…100-maori-words.
We booked ours, with the Top 10 Discount, at the Wellington I-Site the day before. Very helpful people at those I-Sites. Finding the ferry was quite easy, the I-Site people gave us a map and directions. You leave your vehicle once on the ferry; all passengers go up to the top decks where they have a great cafeteria, with fresh baked scones, movies, bar and lounge, observation decks and lots of windows and comfortable places to sit. We saw a lot of regulars having their breakfast. You can’t go back to your vehicle once the ferry is underway, so take what you will need for with you for the several hour trip. There are 2 ferry companies, we chose the one that was convenient for us in schedule and location and gave us our Top 10 discount. We heard good things about both companies. The crossing itself is considered a scenic tour, and it is.
Coming up, Part 8 – our own itinerary.
Part 8: Our Itinerary
For the record, I do not recommend doing this……unless you answered the questions in “Part 1: Deciding on Where to Go” EXACTLY as we did. And even then, this is a WAY ambitious schedule. I would suggest more time in a couple of places, definitely. Remember, our objective was to see as much as possible. In the time we had. And we did. This worked for us, and yes, we were exhausted, but happy!
1/2. October 23/24 ((Fri/Sat): Auckland to Pakiri
3. October 25 (Sun) Pakiri to Tutukaka
4. October 26 (Mon) Tutukaka to KeriKeri and the Bay of Islands
5/6. October 27/28 (Tue/Wed) KeriKeri to Ahipra; from Ahipara take Coach trip to Cape Reinga
7. October 29 (Thu) Ahipara to Waipoua Forest
8. October 30 (Fri) Waipoua Forest to Orewa
9. October 31 (Sat) Orewa to Kuaotuna
10. November 1 (Sun) Kuaotunu to Mt. Maunganui
11. November 2 (Mon) Mt. Maunganui to Rotorua
12. November 3 (Tue) Rotorua to Gisborne
13/14. November 4/5 (Wed/Thu) Gisborne to Clifton Beach
15. November 6 (Fri) Clifton Beach to Wellington
16. November 7 (Sat) Wellington to Picton via ferry
17. November 8 (Sun) Picton to Abel Tasman
18. November 9 (Mon) Abel Tasman to Westport
19. November 10 (Tue) Westport to Hokitika
20/21. November 11/12 (Wed/Thu) Hokitika to Fox Glacier via Franz Joseph Glacier
22. November 13 (Fri) Fox Glacier to Wanaka
23/24. November 14/15 (Sat/Sun) Wanaka to Te Anau; coach trip to Milford Sound
25. November 16 (Mon) Te Anau to Queenstown
26. November 17 (Tue) Queenstown to Mt. Cook National Park
27. November 18 (Wed) Mt. Cook to Geraldine
28/29. November 19/20 (Thu/Fri) Geraldine to Akaroa
30. November 21 (Sat) Akaroa to Kaikoura
31/32. November 22/23 (Sun/Mon) Kaikoura to Peketa Beach
33/34. November 24/25 (Tue/Wed) Peketa Beach to Christchurch; TranzAlpine Train
35. November 26 (Thu) Turn in campervan in Christchurch
36. November 27 (Fri) Fly from Christchurch to Auckland and Auckland to home
Part 9: Highlights
Here are some highlights, places and things we particularly liked, that sort of follows the itinerary in Part 8:
- Villa Maria winery in Auckland
- Orcas and feeding birds on the Perfect Day snorkel excursion out of Tutukaka
- Breakfast at Helene Gallery between Tutukaka and Russell
- Views around the Bay of Islands
- The Sand Safari bus tour along Ninety Mile Beach to Cape Reinga and Gumdigger Park
- Coffee, manuka honey, wine
- The Kauri walks
- Seafood chowder at The Funky Fish in Bayls Beach
- Pacific Coast Highway
- Friendly locals
- Drive from Orere thru Miranda
- Smoked salmon from Coromandel Smoking Company
- Our riverside spot at Kauotuna campground
- The sound of birds
- The views as we drove around Coromandel Peninsula
- Mt. Maunganui “wake up call” (aka sheep right behind the campervan)
- The tour (but not the dinner) at Te Puia in Rotorua
- The gorge between Opotiki and Matawai
- The RED roses planted at the heads of vineyard rows
- Clifton Beach campground and the tractor ride to see the gannets
- The Rimutaka Pass into Wellington
- Ferry ride
- Mail Run boat around Charlotte Sound
- The road between Picton and Havelock
- Hike from Abel Tasman visitors center
- Buller Gorge
- Coast just north of Panukaiki Rocks
- Truman Track
- Panukaiki Rocks
- Hikes to Franz and Fox Glaciers
- Best salmon eggs benedict ever at Neva Café in Fox
- Jackson’s Bay
- Drive between Haast and Wanaka
- Lake Outlet Holiday Park outside Wanaka Lakes
- River and gorge just before Queenstown
- The Top 10 Milford Sound coach/boat trip from Te Anau – in the awesome waterfall making rain
- Beer at outside café on harbor in Queenstown
- Wild lupine
- Everything at Mt. Cook
- Picnic by turquoise colored Lake Tekapo
- Kaikoura walk
- Fur seal colonies along the coast north of Kaikoura
- Peketa Holiday Park bay full of dolphins
- The Botanic Gardens in Christchurch
So, was it expensive? No. And the value we got was priceless. Check out what we spent in Part 10.
Part 10: Cost
Remember, these figures were accurate at the end of 2009. Apply the appropriate inflation and here you go. We got the Maui Spirit 2 T/S (which stands for toilet/shower) campervan. It cost us approximately NZ$200/day which included the van, one-way drop off fee (picked up in Auckland, dropped off in Christchurch), diesel surcharge, outside table and chairs, credit card fees, gas for the stove and water heater, and the max insurance. The max insurance was pricey at about NZ$55/day, but it sure gave us peace of mind, and we didn't have any other insurance from our own home policy or credit cards. And we did have a small issue with the fresh water holding tank that someone previous to us had done but neither Maui nor we caught it before we took off -- but it was totally covered. We felt it was well worth it, good van, good company. We were happy with it and comfortable.
Holiday Parks were an average of NZ$32/night. DOC campgrounds around NZ$12. One-way ferry crossing was NZ$275 (we used our Top 10 card for a 10% discount). We paid an average of NZ$1.09/liter for diesel using discount coupons where we could; and we got an average of 9 kms/liter. Our tours and a few souvenirs came to about NZ$1400 (like the coach ride to Cape Reinga, the tractor ride to see the gannets, Milford Sound bus/boat, TranzAlpine train plus a couple of others -- all well worth the price!) Then factor in the cost of internet/phone if you will be using either. We stayed in a hotel by the airport the last night for NZ$125. And of course your food, whether groceries or restaurants. And wine :-)
Well, that’s it folks save for a comment about out flight and the bottom line in Parts 11 and 12.
Part 11: Flight
Our trip report would not be complete without a word about our flight: miserable. Except for the good fare and a great ticket agent in Auckland, it was miserable.
We are normal sized people and the seats were so close together we could not sit straight in our seats, our legs wouldn’t fit. And when the seats in front of us were reclined, they were literally in our faces. We could not use a laptop as they would not fit on the drop down tray if the seats ahead were reclined. Meals could not be served until all seats were returned to their original upright positions because there was no room for the meal tray on the drop down table.
At no time could we reach our carry ons under the seat in front of us, let alone being able to reach down to take off/put on our shoes. And to get out for a bathroom run required everyone in front of us to put their seats up, which was real fun during the 12-ish hours especially when people were trying to sleep.
Not to mention not being able to move around in your seat for those 12 hours. Forget about what they tell you regarding getting up to prevent deep vein thrombosis. It was claustrophobic and uncomfortable. It was a Qantas flight.
The second issue was that we could not use them to fly back from Christchurch to Auckland at the end of the trip because they used JetStar for that leg and they would NOT allow more than one bag per person, even if we paid more. We each had 2, regular sized and under 50 lbs duffle bags. We booked that leg with Air New Zealand who charged us NZ$15 each for the extra bags, no problems.
Upcoming in Part 12 is one more prod to rent that campervan and take off!
Part 12: Bottom line
Using a campervan was easy and awesome, it gave us exposure to places we would never have seen from a hotel, like waking one morning to the baaing and bleating from the pasture next door, feeling the warmth from the golden sunrise in the chilly morning air and seeing the rising steam from the small river in front of our door with the resident cormorant fishing for breakfast and the camp ducks quacking at our feet, and stillness. (Ok, my English teacher would have had a heart attack at that sentence, but you get the idea). A beautiful country, a GREAT trip! Would highly recommend it. Thanks TA for helping.