New Zealand's flag should have been
green, blue and white. Green for the incredible foliage
covering the country, blue for the gorgeous freshwater lakes,
rivers, and ocean and white for the snow-capped mountains.
It is a very colourful place and in many ways reminds us of the
countryside in parts of Canada. It is also a fairly small
country which makes it quite easy to cover in a short amount of
time. The country
consists of two major islands; the North
island which is home to the largest city Auckland and the capital
Wellington, and the South island which is home to a mere quarter
of the population and boasts some incredible mountain scenery and
the cities of Christchurch and Queenstown.
The Kiwis, as they are
known, are wonderful people - fun, friendly, and fanatical about
sports. They also seem very practical and easy going.
One interesting aspect of Kiwi culture is their passion for
traveling - you meet very few who have never left the country,
but at the same time we met Kiwis from the North island who had
never been to the South even through they had traveled
Things to Know
This is not a good
country if you like driving fast. There are speed cameras
and cops everywhere and the fines are very high. One Kiwi
guy we met had his car impounded for a month for speeding much
faster than the posted limit.
Where to Stay
Like most countries, there is a wide range of accommodation
available and the quality can vary greatly. One thing we
did find is that there seems to be a lot of unscrupulous
proprietors running so called budget "Backpacker" hostels and
charging way too much. In Hokatika, a small town in the
south island, the Jade Garden backpackers was charging eighty
dollars for a disgusting double room while the hotel down the
street was charging ten dollars less for a proper, clean hotel
room! The lady at the hotel told us that the backpacker
hostels have doubled and even tripled their prices during the
past few years. So be wary of these places and don't take
the first place you see if it seems to be poor value.
Where to Eat
were not overly impressed with the restaurant food in New
Zealand. It was definitely not horrible but was not
fantastic either. We had one or two delicious meals but
the rest were ordinary, even when you were paying quite a lot of
money. The restaurant prices were not overly expensive,
but they were far from cheap, especially when compared with
Canada. An entree in a mid range restaurant will almost
always be over NZ $20. New Zealand has many restaurants
that are BYO so that saves on the bill at the end of the night,
but you need to check with the restaurant first on their BYO
also found that the grocery prices were quite high, especially for
basic things like bread, milk, fruit and veggies. Of course,
prices are always relative to the place you are from, and we find
that travelers we meet from Britain find New Zealand extremely
cheap. So maybe we're just tightwads!
Things to See and Do
The only limit to the things to see and do is the amount of time
you have. In five weeks we were able to take in both
islands, though we did not spend a great deal of time in any one
location, with the exception of Christchurch where we were
staying with our friends Johnny and Caroline. It was
enough time to get a good feel for what New Zealand has to offer
and to scope out some lovely places where you could easily spend
a week or two on vacation. We flew into Auckland, spent a
few days on the peninsula north of there, then flew to
Christchurch where we spent almost two weeks. In that time
we did a whirlwind trip to Queenstown and up the west coast then
back across on a Harley Davidson Softail Classic, an amazing
trip! From there we did a re-location on a rental car from
Christchurch to Picton, which was free of charge. We then
spent a few days in Nelson then took the ferry across to the
North island where we spend some time in Wellington then drove
up to Auckland via Palmerston North, Tapau, Rotarua, and the
Coromandal peninsula east of Auckland. Here are a few of
the things we particularly liked along the way.
Bay of Islands Overnight Trip on "The Rock"
The Bay of Islands is a sailor's paradise and only a few hours
drive north of Auckland, near the town of Paihia. We took
a 24 hour trip on a boat called "The Rock" which used to be a
car ferry but has been converted into an incredible floating
party houseboat. During this time we did pellet gun target
shooting, sunset snapper fishing, played snooker, had a campfire
on the boat, midnight snorkeling
with the phosphorescent
plankton, trail hiking, abseiling, mussel diving, surfing behind
"The Rock" on yellow bananas, sea kayaking, more fishing, a
water balloon fight, beach soccer and even watching dolphins
swim right beside the boat! It was one of the most amazing
day trips we have ever taken and is definitely a must-do when
you are in New Zealand.
Hot Springs in
There is a lovely village a couple hours drive north east of
Christchurch where we spent a wonderful weekend with our
friends. They rented a full house for $90/night and we had
a very relaxing time visiting the hot springs, golfing, and
having coffee at the quaint cafes. The view from the town
is extraordinary as it is surrounded by mountains.
Queenstown and the Remarkables
We spent only one night in Queenstown but wished we could have
spent much longer. The town is surrounded by a mountain
range called The Remarkables and the name is very fitting.
It is a very touristy town, but the scenery makes up for it.
This is also the headquarters for adventure sports in New
Zealand - if you can't find your thrills here then you may as
well give up looking.
One of the main points to cross from west to east on the South
Island is Arthur's Pass and the drive is unbelievable!
There is also a train which runs through here which we didn't
take but must be amazing. You seem to be surrounded by
mountains the whole time as you weave around tight corners, pass
through grassy plains, and cross rivers on one lane bridges.
Just east of
Auckland there is a small peninsula called the Coromandel.
There are several towns along the coast that are worth a visit and
others that are not even worth a pee break. Our first worthwhile
stop was Tauranga. The fact that is is not a tourist town
that is what appealed to us most. It has a nice harbour area
and a decent downtown with many shops and restaurants.
Our next stop along the coast was Whangamata. Arriving in
this town was like arriving in Daytona Beach during spring
break. Teenagers everywhere with souped up cars and loud
music. We aren't old but we sure felt old in this place.
We only stayed for lunch, but we got the feeling that this built
for tourists town is just that....and the prices reflect it.
One hour at an internet cafe was $10, as opposed to the usual $3
rate. Apparently the attraction
to this particular town is
the open surf beach, which was absolutely covered in bodies when
we looked. We ate fast and got the hell out of there!!
Keeping on the
coast, our next stop was Hot Water Beach. This place doesn't
have a proper town, but does have a small shop and some camp
sites. The allure of this place, is that at low tide, there
are areas of the beach that produce hot springs, so you can dig a
hole and sit in it and eventually it will fill with hot water.
Unfortunately we were there at very high tide and we weren't
willing to wait the 10 hours to see low tide, so we'll take their
word for it.
Our final stop on
the Coromandel was Whitianga and it was by far the best.
Whitianga is a small beach town which caters to families because
of its sheltered and safe beach. There is a main street
which is covered in shops, motels and restaurants. If you
follow this main road around the beach there is also a variety of
beach front restaurants, which offer reasonably priced meals.
There is a river that flows inland from the bay and makes part of
this area inaccessible except by ferry. A return ferry ride
across the river is $2 and takes 3 minutes. The destination
is well worth a visit. There are many walking paths and
lookouts as well as some beautiful hidden little beaches.
While we were there we stayed at Anne's Haven Bed and Breakfast.
Anne and Bob share their home with their guests and I must say we
have never felt more welcome in a stranger's home. Anne is
very artistic and makes pottery and also paints. She has a
small gallery in the back garden and I only wished we could have
purchased a few more of her beautiful pieces but unfortunately,
backpacks only allow for one small memento. Anne's rates are
a great value at $65 for a double which includes a full breakfast.