April 2024

New Zealand Wrap-up


IMGP4735Despite the less-than-stellar weather and many nights huddled in Happy Diwali wishing that we were leaving for Australia’s hotter weather sooner, we only have fond memories of New Zealand. It’s such a diverse place, in terms of geography, with the subtropical Bay of Islands and volcanic areas of Rotorua on the North Island, to the beautiful mountains and Fjords in the South Island. It’s really tough for anyone visiting to not be constantly entertained and have a great visit. And despite its slightly less technological feel, in many ways, that’s an endearing quality, to be able to escape to a somewhat simpler time and let you get away from the always-on life we’ve become accustomed to. In that same respect, the people of New Zealand are generally amongst the nicest I’ve met, always very friendly, happy, and accomodating, harkening back to a more innocent age.

New Zealand
Food 10
Beer/Wine 9
People 10
Weather 4
Cost of Living 4
Quality of Sights and Activities 10
Overall 8

From the outset, we said that New Zealand “feels like Canada in the 70’s”, although obviously we have no ideas what that means. But the slower pace, the ability to free camp anywhere like you used to in Jasper, the behind-the-times technology and the lax attitude of the people all contribute to this feeling.

Lessons Learned

Having spent a month in New Zealand, for anyone following in our footsteps, we’ve got a few tips on how to “do it right”.

1. Take 6 weeks to 2 months

Because we had Happy Diwali and had pretty much ultimate freedom, we were able to see almost everything we wanted to see on both islands, and we’re leaving New Zealand with few regrets. It’s not too often you can say that you’ve literally driven an entire country, but I think we can safely say we have. However, there were a few key things that we missed and a few places we wish we had spent more time, so 4 weeks was definitely not enough to do what we did satisfactorily. I think that if you wanted to see everything, 6 weeks to 2 months would be more appropriate.

One of the things we missed, mostly because we didn’t research it properly and drove right past it, was Abel Tasman. Apparently there were some gorgeous views, great hiking and kayaking that we missed. Other people we met thought this place definitely deserved some attention, so we missed that. Other things we would have liked to have seen were Cape Reinga (the farthest Northern point in New Zealand), Lake Taupo, Napier (the big wine-growing region), Mt. Cook (the tallest and most popular mountain in NZ), Invercargill and Stewart Island (the southern-most point in NZ and one of the most southern cities in the world), the Catlins, and we would have loved to spend more time in the Coromandel peninsula (where Hot Water Beach was located).

One of the only times I'll be OK with pouring rain, in Milford Sound.  Did we mention you have to drive through 2km of mountain to get there (and it took 17 years to build that tunnel)?

One of the only times I'll be OK with pouring rain, in Milford Sound. Did we mention you have to drive through 2km of mountain to get there (and it took 17 years to build that tunnel)?

We’d also spend more time in Milford Sound, and possibly do the 4-day Milford Sound Track. At least in this area, it’s actually better in the rain and it rains 300 days a year, so you can’t complain about the weather. Apparently this is one of the best hikes in the world, walking along Fjords and staying in huts along the way.

2. Go in January/February.

December in NZ is a lot like June in Edmonton – it can be really nice, but you also can get some crappy weather. Better to go in the heat of summer, when you’re almost guaranteed to have nicer weather.

3. Rent a car

While we loved Happy Diwali and the freedom she afforded us, we think that there’s a better and cheaper way to travel NZ. We didn’t know this before we came, but NZ is littered with Holiday Parks, which are just like upscale campgrounds, and most of them have things called “self-contained units”, which are sometimes stationary camper trailers, sometimes little huts, but they all have a bed and a sink, and rent for about $60 per night.

So here’s the logic – HD cost us about $80/night, plus about $30 for a holiday park campsite, making our accomodation expenses about $110/night. Theoretically, you can “free camp” in a lot of places in NZ, just by parking at a beach or on the side of the road, and if I was 20, poor, and not travelling with a woman who has the bladder smaller than a pea, I’d probably have free camped a lot more. But I’m not. Also, there are really cheap Department of Conservation sites you can camp in, which for the most part just have an outhouse as facilities, and these are $8 or so. So even if you went the cheap route, our expenses are still $90/day.

Our recommendation is to rent a car, and stay at these holiday park self-contained units. You can rent a small car for about $20/day, plus $60 for the unit, so you’re looking at $80/day. Combine that with gas (HD drank gas like a camel), and you’re way ahead. Not only that, but you don’t have to eat, sleep, and drive in your own filth for a month. And to make it even cheaper, bring a tent, and occasionally you can use the Department of Conservation campgrounds or even free camp, and alternate with the holiday parks. And if you’re like us and want to do some overnight hiking, bringing your tent would help do the hikes.

4. Bring warm clothes and camping gear

As I mentioned before, NZ is littered with places to camp, and everybody does it. On Christmas day, it seemed everybody just took the RV to the old campground, started drinking at 9 am and had a picnic. So camping is the way to see NZ, as it’s just fitting in with the culture.

And even though it’s supposed to be warm (or that was our preconception), as we found out, it’s not. On Dec. 20, supposedly one of the longest and therefore warmest days of the year, it got down to 4°C overnight. It may have been a long stroke of bad luck, but we wore our one warm outfit probably 50% of the time, and it got really gross and tiresome.

Our Top 10

  1. Hot water beach

  2. The top of Mt. Roy

    The top of Mt. Roy

    This place is probably pretty cool normally, but just the way we discovered the hot baths was so random and a great experience for us.

  3. Skydiving

  4. Yeah you can do this a lot of other places in the world, but it was still awesome. And how often can you do it surrounded by mountains called the Remarkables?

  5. Milford Sound

  6. The sight of colossal, completely vertical rockfaces covered almost completely in waterfalls was incredible. This was one of the few times in my life I think I’ll be perfectly OK with pouring rain.

  7. Bay of Islands

  8. Sledging in Wanaka

  9. Getting tossed down a level-3 river with just a flutter-board was pretty cool.

  10. Glow worm caves in Waitomo
  11. Having the lights turned out and being in complete darkness 50m below ground, when your eyes adjust enough to allow the glow worms to light your way, that was a surreal experience.

    The little penguin scampering up Sandfly Beach

    The little penguin scampering up Sandfly Beach

  12. Sandfly Bay
  13. Like Hot Water Beach, this was more of a great experience for us. In the span of half an hour, we were chased by a sea lion, which led to being dive-bombed by weird birds, and then seeing two rare, endangered penguins scamper up the beach in front of us was just wild.

  14. Rotorua
  15. I don’t think there are many cities that are built inside an old volcanic crater, and even less where hot baths and geysers are so prevalent they aren’t even a tourist attraction. This place was really cool.

  16. Hiking the Tongariro Crossing
  17. While probably one of the most boring hikes I’ve done because I couldn’t see 20 ft in front of me, I’m pretty sure this would have been one of the best if the weather had cooperated.

    Dolphins gracing our presence in the Bay of Islands.

    Dolphins gracing our presence in the Bay of Islands.

  18. Hiking Mt. Roy
  19. This one was a challenge, but the views made up for it.

  20. Bonus: The Bungy Canyon Swing
  21. While Kenna wasn’t impressed with this, I really enjoyed it. It was definitely overpriced, and because of that I probably wouldn’t go again, but ignoring the money, it was one of the better memories I’ll have of NZ.

Food and Beer

The food in NZ was excellent. While we didn’t eat out in restaurants hadly at all, we’re judging this score on the quality of groceries. On way too many mornings, we walked to the store to visit the bakery and grab another delicious pastry for breakfast, and our lunches were too often composed of a delicious and unhealthy pizza bun. But they were tasty.

Mm Beer... especially good in NZ.

Mm Beer... especially good in NZ.

The beer was also very impressive, the best of any country I’ve visited except Germany. There were very few international brands available (Heineken and Corona were really the only ones I recognized), which meant a great opportunity for microbrews to flourish, and flourish they did. From what I saw there were three major brands – Speights, Monteith’s, and Mac’s. Like Big Rock in Alberta, they all have a full gammut of beers, from the light pilsners down to the reds and stouts, and boy were they delicious. Kenna was even a beer fan here, her favorite being a slightly fruity Monteith’s Radler (anybody know if radler is type of beer or unique to NZ?) I must admit, the Radler was pretty close to besting a Black Dog Snakebite, or even a Crown Float. I mostly stuck to the Monteith’s Black, almost like a Guiness, but sweeter and thinner. I shall miss the beer here, we just can’t compete with it in Canada (and let’s not even mention the terrible American beer).

Overall, we figure NZ is a solid 8. This is, of course, the first rating on the patented KS scale, with many more countries to come, so we’ll see how NZ compares then. But NZ was a solid visit, we’d return again in a heartbeat.

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