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.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Returning around the world, transit at LAX

We stayed one extra night in the van because the hotel we planed to stay at in Christchurch (The Grand Chancellor) was severely damaged in the earthquake and may have to be pulled down before it collapses. Wilderness charged us very slightly more for the extra day than the same average day rate we had paid for the previous two months – that’s business!

Excluding the flight time from Christchurch to Auckland, our trip coming back (continuing east across the International Date Line via Los Angeles) was a short 24 hrs 40 minutes by comparison with that on the way out (25 hours 10 mins !)

Jumbo at LAX

Sam – this is the plane we flew back from New Zealand on – what sort of plane is it?

Because of the effect of the International Date Line we arrived in Los Angeles for the transit stop before we left Auckland on the same day and effectively had Wednesday twice.

Transit in Los Angeles is a totally different experience to transit in Hong Kong. Even though we are on a through flight and landed there simply to refuel and have no wish to enter the USA, not only do we have to have successfully applied for an ESTA, we then have to go through the usual unwelcoming and suspicious process of being fingerprinted and photographed by Border Control (we handed the immigration officer our large orange transit pass labelled quite clearly “this passenger is in transit” and we were then asked “what is the purpose of your visit to the USA today?” – what did he think we were doing there I wonder). Having passed these tests however, there is no intention however of allowing us to mix with other air-side passengers who will also have been x-rayed and searched, some of whom will also be on your plane. We are then herded into a “secure transit facility” for

Secure 2 

about two hours before being escorted back onto the same plane. This “facility” is a large room with chairs, a toilet and

Secure 1

a few freebies (drinks, crisps etc). The whole process seems to be totally pointless and does the US Authorities no credit. This transit experience is one to be endured rather than experienced (or in the case of Singapore – enjoyed).

We do however consider ourselves fortunate that we were not transiting between international flights, because there is no through checking of luggage if you go through LAX and change planes there, you have to do immigration, then collect your luggage, do customs, then check it in again then proceed through transit although in this case, you are allowed out to mix with other transit passengers.

If you are on a through plane and want to properly go airside, visit the shops, buy some food or whatever, you have to formally enter the USA through immigration, collect your bags, do customs, go land-side, re check-in, go back through security and then get airside (by which time your plane will have left). So of course, no one does this.

Eventually we got back to Heathrow (having watched many films), somewhat jet lagged and cold (it is 2c as compared with the 25c we left behind).

And so, a couple of hours short of exactly two months after leaving home, we open the front door and start the strange process of becoming used to living in something which does not move, has more than one room, does not require dump tank emptying ……… and is dark and cold! England is of course just approaching Spring so nights are long, the weather is often miserable etc etc. But there is little rain compared to parts of New Zealand!

We are quite tired now, it has been a very full-on two months. Everyday we were doing something or going somewhere or both and therefore a few days of peace and quiet will be welcome.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Hanmer Springs and back to Christchurch

South Island to Christchurch

A two minutes silence took place today across New Zealand at 12.51 – exactly one week after the quake

Half Mast Flags

struck the death toll is heading for 240. We arrived at our final campsite for this holiday in Hanmer Springs in time to participate in the two minutes silence. There are quite a number of people here who have left Christchurch because of the quake and the local school population has soared as a consequence.

The road to Hanmer Springs passes through an area called “The Alpine Triangle” (New Zealand does like to ensure that every area has a tourist name and almost every road is on a trail). As usual, the very windy and up and down route goes through a spectacular range of mountains and fields and valleys and gorges and all of the scenic things which New Zealand does best.


Autumn yellows are beginning to become appear in this area and some leaves have even fallen off some of the trees – perhaps good that we are going home tomorrow at the start of Autumn and arrive (theoretically) into the start of an English spring.

Sheep Herdiing

We have to navigate our way through sheep herding and

Deer Herding

also deer herding – they had to construct a corridor for the deer to cross the road because they are far more nervy than sheep.

Near Hanmer Falls is the Waiau Bridge – quite a spectacular

Waiau Bridge

bridge over a high gorge leading to a nice valley   

Waiau Valley

The bridge is however one of the numerous Bungy Jumping spots in New Zealand and we watch someone throw themselves over

Bungy Person

Bungy Person

Bungy Person

the edge and finally be hauled in by a boat in the river below.

Boat Hauling In  

As Hanmer Falls is our last night in New Zealand, we celebrate by eating out, a rare thing on this holiday since we have been far more self sufficient in this van than previously.

On our final morning, it is raining cats and dogs which is a bit of a pity because we hoped the rain would hold off until we had got to Christchurch. So the final dump etc takes place in the pouring rain, but true to form for New Zealand, the weather rapidly picks up and within 30 minutes of leaving, we are in the sun with rainbows and it remains hot

Rainbow over Hanmer Springs

but very windy for the rest of the day.

The earthquake is never far from our minds and as we approach the airport near to which we have to return Eppy, we see signs of earthquake damage. Initially, it is the odd wall fallen down or a bit of damage, but close to the airport, there are numerous buildings which have been reduced to large piles of rubble and churches in particular seem to have been hit. Particularly poignant is one church which has lost its spire and bell tower – the spire is standing perfectly upright almost as if it had been placed there and the tower has been reduced to rubble. It is not a moment for a photograph. We can also see large dust clouds over the city blown into the air by the very windy day.

This may just be a sign at the Wilderness office welcoming us back but it is also an indication of the effects of the earthquake

Welcome Back

There is no water in this part of Christchurch and hence the old names on the board are rubbed out rather than washed out and vans go out with the water in the tanks which they have when they come in.

Eppy handed over (she goes out again tomorrow), we

Eppy and Pat

head for the airport for a long wait. Originally we had planned to sightsee, then we had thought of going to the Antarctic Centre near the airport but none of these are possible so it is a long wait for our flight to Auckland at the airport.

The airport is showing some signs of damage with ceilings down in places, the odd cracked beam and cracked plaster and the staff

Airport Damage 2 Airport Damage 1

here seem very concerned that we might be leaving because of the quake – a number of times we have been asked to come back in about 6 months when everything will be sorted out. I think however it will take more than 6 months to get Christchurch back onto its feet and functioning properly again. As we take off for the short flight to Auckland, you can see the darkness of the CBD area out of the window, contrasting with lights in other areas.