Saturday, 5 March 2011

So how did we do? and reflections

There is this great website which details “101 Must-Do Kiwi Experiences” as chosen by New Zealanders ( so I thought we would check which of them we have done during the past two months (a little traveller's liberty has been taken by me in reaching the judgment)

Abel Tasman National Park yes
Ahipara and Shipwreck Bay no
Akaroa and Banks Peninsula no
Animal & Crazy Kelly Tarlton no
Aoraki Mount Cook yes
Arrowtown yes
Arthur's Pass yes
Auckland Gulf Islands no
Auckland Volcanoes no
Auckland War Memorial yes
Auckland's West Coast no
Bay of Islands yes
Be A-mazed! no
Beehive and Parliament Building yes
Buller Gorge yes
Camping Country yes
Canterbury Plains Hot Air Balloon Ride no
Cape Kidnappers no
Cape Palliser no
Cape Reinga no
Castlepoint no
Central Otago Curling yes
Christchurch City yes
Coastal Kaikoura yes
Coromandel Township yes
Cross-country skiing no
Devonport and North Head no
Doubtful Sound yes
Dunedin City yes
Eastland yes
Farewell Spit yes
Fine Wine Hawke’s Bay yes
Fiordland National Park yes
Fox and Franz Josef Glacier yes
Glenorchy and Dart River no
Golf in an Alpine Amphitheatre no
Hanmer Springs Christchurch yes
Hokianga yes
Hollyford Valley yes
Hot Water Beach yes
Hundertwasser Toilets Kawakawa yes
Kapiti Island no
Karangahake Gorge no
Kicking the Autumn leaves no
Lake Matheson yes
Lake Taupo's Top Water Attractions no
Lake Tekapo yes
Lake Waikaremoana yes
Marlborough Sounds yes
Marlborough Wine Trail yes
Mitre Peak & Milford Sound yes
Moeraki Boulders yes
Mount Maunganui: Mauao no
Mount Taranaki no
Mount Tarawera Rotorewa yes
New Chums Beach Coromandel yes
New Plymouth's coastal waters no
NZ Rugby Museum no
Orakei Korako no
Otago Peninsula yes
Otago Rail Experience no
Port Waikato no
Punakaiki yes
Queenstown Adventure no
Raglan no
Rere Rock Slide no
Rotorua Geothermal yes
Rotorua Luge, Skyrides no
Rotorua Rafting no
Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe no
Seafood City no
SkyJump & Sky Tower yes
South Westland yes
Southern Scenic Route yes
Spa and well-being destination yes
Stewart Island no
Stonehenge Aotearoa no
Takaka Hill yes
Taranaki Gardens no
Te Mata Peak no
Te Papa yes
The Blue Pools of Haast yes
The Bridge to Nowhere Manawatu-Wanganui yes
The Forgotten World Highway yes
The Interislander Experience yes
The Pinnacles yes
The Queen Charlotte Track no
Tongariro Alpine Crossing no
TSS Earnslaw no
Tutukaka / The Poor Knights... yes
Ulva Island no
Wainui Beach no
Waipoua Forest yes
Waitangi Treaty Grounds yes
Waitomo Caves no
Wellington Writers' Walk yes
Whakarewarewa yes   
Whanganui National Park yes
White Island no
Winter Mountain Fun no

We did / visited / saw over half of them which I suppose is not bad for a two month tour which did not set out to tick off a list.

In terms of what it cost us, we spent more than planned on “doing things” such as walking glaciers, boat trips, diving etc. Putting to one side the cost of getting here and van hire, the two months cost us around $10,000 with 35% of that spent on doing things, 10% on fuel and the balance almost equally split between food / drink (we drank a lot of wine!) and accommodation.

Everyone we met from the UK agrees with us that New Zealand is quite expensive (not helped by the strength of the kiwi dollar) but we decided that we were unlikely to get a second chance to do something so it was do it now or never. We got a better exchange rate when using our credit card (we use a Halifax Clarity or Post Office Mastercard because they do not charge an exchange rate commission) to buy things and used currency exchanged cash (poorer rate) only when we had to. We never took up the option of paying in UK£ when it was occasionally offered on our credit card because we know it costs you a lot more (at least 5%).

Food was more expensive that in the UK, camp sites were reasonably cheap (and in general of a much better quality than in Australia) and diesel also was much cheaper at about half the UK cost and Lead Free at about 80% of the current cost in the UK.

Comparing food costs with the UK, the table below shows the prices we paid at supermarkets in NZ and that charged in our local Tesco upon our return.

NZ $ £ at $2.14=£1 UK$ Tesco UK :NZ %
800g bread loaf 4.59 2.14 1.10 51%
Muesli 4.39 2.05 1.49 73%
Nachos 3.49 1.63 1.98 121%
300g fresh ravioli 5.59 2.61 1.65 63%
Tuna 180g 2.45 1.14 1.35 118%
Ibuprofen 1.99 0.93 0.42 45%
Paracetamol 20 1.49 0.70 0.25 36%
Corned Beef 340g 5.89 2.75 2.48 90%
Milk 2 litre 3.66 1.71 1.25 73%
1.5l Cranberry 4.99 2.33 1.28 55%
Apples Braeburn 1kg 3.99 1.86 1.47 79%
Red Pepper 2.49 1.16 0.80 69%
Total $45.01 =$21.03 £15.52 74%

Of course prices vary a lot around both countries (and here are measured as of March 2011) but for me, “the shopping basket” comparison reaches an obvious conclusion even though you could argue that you can get it cheaper at your shop and these prices do not take into account “special offers”.

As a destination, New Zealand has some amazing scenery. The South Island is certainly the better of the two but you cannot dismiss the North Island – it has some remarkable areas as well.

Having two months at our disposal, we spent about 35% of at touring the north island. On reflection, a few extra days on the North Island would have been useful because we missed out a lot of the middle west and south west and we could have missed out a few sites in the South Island to compensate or done things a bit quicker.

Driving here is hard work because although the roads are in good condition, there are some taxing hills to go up and down with bends whose curve seems unreal. For this reason, you cannot always easily travel long distances in a day (although we met people who were doing so) – that was not an issue for us because we had two months but if you were trying to do both islands in a couple of weeks, it could become one.

We covered about 7500 kms in the two months which was less than our pre-departure worst case estimation.

North Island to Wellington South Island to Christchurch

Our actual route map shows that we visited a tremendous amount of this beautiful country. For those wanting a copy of the itinerary, it was:

Day 1 Leave UK
Day 3 Arrive Auckland
Day 5 Orewa
Day 6 Tutukaka
Day 8 Russell
Day 10 Rawene
Day 11 Matakohe
Day 12 Coromandel
Day 13 Hahei
Day 15 Rotorua
Day 16 Te Araroa
Day 17 Mahia Beach
Day 18 Napier
Day 20 Motutere Bay
Day 21 Stratford
Day 22 Wellington
Day 24 Nelson
Day 25 Farewell Spit
Day 27 Murchison
Day 28 Westport
Day 29 Greymouth
Day 30 Franz Josef
Day 32 Haast
Day 33 Wanaka
Day 35 Te Anau
Day 37 Milford Sound
Day 39 Te Anau
Day 41 Invercargill
Day 43 Catlins
Day 45 Dunedin
Day 46 Otago Peninsula
Day 47


Day 48 Ranfurly
Day 49 Cromwell
Day 50 Mount Cook
Day 51 Methven
Day 52 Arthurs Pass
Day 54 Blenheim
Day 55 Kaikoura
Day 58 Hanmer Falls
Day 59 Christchurch
Day 60 UK

Some days we did not travel far at all, it was a great luxury to be able to stop and look at most things we passed along the route – both planned and unplanned.

Our van performed well and certainly was comfortable. We got the impression from other travellers that it was a better van than theirs – they would complain about things in their van and we had almost nothing to complain about with ours. The key issues for them were that their vans were not well equipped and not very comfortable at the back.

Average fuel consumption was about 9.7 kms to the litre and we noticed that the worst figures (around 8.75) came when we were in the mountains – not really a surprise there. We used 9 kms to the litre as a planning guide when considering fuel and could manage around 800 kms on a full tank (not that we ever tried).

The van is well suited to camping in the wild and can support you easily for around three days (it really depends on how much you wash etc). In some of the remoter places, we really did feel totally self sufficient. We had no difficulty on the dirt roads (i.e. the unpaved roads which are quite common once you get off the main roads anywhere in the country), they were certainly a bit bumpy in places but you have to adjust your driving style and speed to fit the road. We had a very good set of tyres with deep tread which was reassuring.

Once we had started the trip, we did not have much contact with Wilderness because there was no need to. Certainly their product (the van, the website, the advice) was well worth the slightly extra money it probably cost to hire through them. If we were doing it again, we would consider taking out campervan insurance with a third party insurance company rather than with them (because it is considerably cheaper) and we would probably buy our ferry tickets direct when we knew when we wanted to cross – there did not seem to be any capacity problems on the ferries when we were there even at the peak of the season. If you join the Top10 club for $40, you also get a 10% discount on the ferries which pays for almost half of the Top10 membership fee as well as 10% off camp site fees and Kiwi Club membership for a 10% discount at their sites is $20.

The weather was much wetter than we had planned on. About half of the time it was dry and sunny, one third it was dry and cloudy and the balance was wet or very wet or very very very wet! We found that New Zealand weather changes very fast during the day and distances of even a hundred kms can also make quite a difference in the weather. The weather forecasts on TV were usually quite accurate although sometimes a little difficult to follow (around 1850 is the time they appear on the main news channel).

One of the most useful things we bought with us was our SatNav – this is a standard UK TomTom onto which we downloaded a NZ map before we left. It was a boon when determining travel times and finding the actual location of addresses we were going to (such as attractions, parks or camp sites). It was also very good at giving us a feel for the shape of the road around the corner when we were driving very bendy and challenging sections.

Air New Zealand were very good compared to other long distance airlines we have travelled with and the airports (other than LAX)  were easy to get through. We were not hit badly by jet lag, perhaps because we used Melatonin for the first time as an aid.

What didn’t we like? Sand flies were a great nuisance but they were not as bad as we thought they would be! Being vegetarian made food difficult on some occasions.

What was the best bit? There are too many for there to be one best bit but Doubtful Sound and the Bay of Islands would be high on the list. Personally, seeing Yellow Eyed Penguins feed at Curio Bay was a major major highlight as was snorkelling with a pod of over 400 dolphins off Kaikoura.

So that is all for this trip blog, reviews of many places we stayed at have been put into Trip Advisor for other travellers to read / use.

Later this year we are going to Pompeii for a week’s lecture tour (just booked it) and maybe a week of diving in the Maldives …………. life never stops for a busy traveller and blogs will follow.

Our next road trip may be the USA in the summer 2012, we have in mind Route 66, Route 101 (West Coast Highway) and then back through the Rockies (although we also want to drive Canada and Argentina sometime).

We hope you have enjoyed reading this blog trip, we certainly have enjoyed doing all of the things which featured in it.

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