Saturday, 1 January 2011

Planning a trip to New Zealand

Part of the fun of travelling is planning the trip (although I would also have to say that some of the best trips are often arranged at the last minute and hardly planned at all). The Internet has revolutionised travel planning. In the old days you had to rely on whatever information you could glean from guide books and tourist offices and hence you often just set out and played it by ear as the trip went along. Whilst this always worked (there was no other option), you never knew what you missed and were perhaps less educated about your destination than is possible today.

The trick is to achieve a balance between sufficient planning to ensure the trip goes smoothly and you see all that you want to see and all that you should see and insufficient planning so that you have time to respond to the unexpected things that turn up - both good and bad.

Any trip can be broken down into the following elements:

  • how to get there and back
  • travelling  around – method and route
  • deciding what is worth seeing (and what is not)
  • what to pack
For our two month trip to New Zealand, consideration of Air Passenger Reviews led us to choose to fly there with Air New Zealand since not only did they offer the shortest duration direct flights with only one refuelling stop, they also got the best passenger reviews – if you are going to sit in economy on a plane for 24 hours, you want to be as comfortable as possible. They also offered the opportunity to fly around the world which is something that will be nice to remember (when we are old) that we did when we were young! They are not the cheapest airline but reviews of the cheaper airlines showed why they were cheap.

We have decided to travel in a slightly more comfortable campervan than we had in Australia last year – this time one with a toilet, shower and an indoor cooker! There are numerous campervan hire companies to choose from in most countries around the world. When we were in Australia, we chose Apollo – they were ok and the van was reliable but for a three month hire we expected a slightly newer van in better condition than we got. Also, even though we had made our booking months in advance, when we turned up at their office, the van had not been cleaned or serviced from its previous hire and we had to hang around all morning whilst they sorted it out (of course we got no reduction in the rental charge for this). Also mid trip, the van needed a routine service and although this was carried out by them, none of the minor but annoying faults which had developed in the van were dealt with. We expected better and felt somewhat let down.

Reading reviews and blogs led us towards Wilderness Motorhomes whose internet reviews are better than the other main players (Maui, Britz, Kea, Apollo  etc) – time will tell and will be detailed here. Within their website is all sorts of useful information and one has the feeling that they may be trying to give you a great holiday and that you are less of a number than you are with the larger companies. Certainly our dealings with them so far have been above average and when rental prices on their website reduced, twice they have had no hesitation in agreeing to pass on the reduction to us. Interestingly, this has had the effect of reducing their charges to below that of a number of their rivals. This is very welcome since when we started planning this trip, the exchange rate was $2.40 to the £ and it is now hovering around $2 i.e. costs for us have risen by 20%.

Everyone we have spoken to who has been to New Zealand advises more time on South Island than North. So we have determined a draft route and schedule which visits most of the main sites but leaves plenty of spare time to stay extra days somewhere or go to a place not on the route etc. The theory is that we will be on the North Island for 3 weeks and the South Island for 5 weeks

Our method of planning the route is to research routes other travellers have followed (Google Blog Search is very good for this); read some guide books and then create a rough route. We then note those places they enjoyed and those they did not; and add in those places we know we want to see. Then overnight stops are roughly chosen and researched on trip advisor – a few camp sites usually fall to the wayside when they get universally bad reviews. We always try to have spare days in the plan – so for South Island for example, we know we will be there 5 weeks but have only about 3 weeks travelling mapped out. Having spare days means you can change direction if you hear of a “must see” which is not on your route or stay over for a few more days if you like a place.

So the proposed route around the North Island is:

Plan for North Island showing route

with particular highlights of diving just after we arrive, some walking through forests, Napier which is said to have some wonderful Art Deco buildings then through and down the centre.

And that for the South Island is:

Plan for South Island showing route 

with particular highlights of Farewell Spit; then the West Coast and Frans Josef Glacier; diving in Milford Sound, the Catlins in the deep south and then back up through the CentreAlong the way there will be some wild camping in remote areas (we are hoping for as good a view of the Milky Way as we had last year in the Bungles) as well as some DOC campsites.

We also have a couple of optional “might like to see” route additions ready for close to the end of our trip at Christchurch in case we have a little time left over.  The total distance is a minimum of 6200 kms but we expect by the end, we will have covered around 9000 kms.

We find that this sort of planning – not rigid but not totally non existent enables us to see the best of a country without being driven by a schedule.

Packing is the easy bit, we have lists of clothes and gadgets, both essential and non-essential which can be adapted to suit any weight allowance, climate and trip duration. When packing, we try to divide similar items between the cases so that if a bag gets lost on the way out, we do not loose all our socks or shirts etc which would happen if they were in one bag. We also have lists of what is in each bag so if one gets lost or delayed (as has happened a few times) we know what we have to replace. Anything really essential (all medicines) or valuable (electronics, cameras, laptop etc) goes in hand luggage. New Zealand takes bio-security very seriously and this means that all of our outdoor and diving gear will need to be packed into one bag for examination as we go through Bio-Security Control at Auckland.

We also have a check list of those things we must do before we leave the house – perhaps a bit nerdish but if you are 10,000 miles from home and you suddenly remember that you did not turn the water off and it is freezing back home, there is not much you can do about it other than pray for no burst pipes.

All of our key documents (passports, insurance, prescriptions, dive cards, credit cards etc) have been scanned and are stored on the web so that we can access copies if needed.

So in theory, we depart with everything sorted out, the worst eventualities covered and the best encouraged!

Of all of the countries we have been to, New Zealand has perhaps the largest amount of information available on the web, most in high quality web sites. They are certainly making good use of technology to welcome visitors. We have also found that they will post local area guides to you free of charge – a most useful and welcoming service.


  1. Hi Pat and Paul

    Just dropping you a line to thank you so much for your fabulous New Zealand blog, which I found from a link on the Wilderness site. Your blog, together with the usual travel books and websites has really helped our planning process in deciding our route, and also giving some valuable practical advise as it will be our first time in a campervan. We have just made our booking through Wilderness for a total of 49 days on the road from Auckland to Christchurch starting February 2015 and are looking forward to it already!

    I have since seen your US blog ... we were also there last autumn, planning 7 National Parks in 26 days and didn’t see one ... our tale is here

    Best wishes for your travels in 2014

  2. We are very pleased you found the blog useful. We found Wilderness a very good company and were pleased we hired from them - not the cheapest but the extra was well worth it.

    A great pity that the National Shutdown ruined your trip - the national parks are superb. I look forward to reading about your NZ trip - we are off to India again next month to do Polio Vaccination for Rotary.