October 05, 2015

Destination New Zealand: some tips

Jeremy Rebboh in Panoramio

I've had the chance to, finally, travel to New Zealand, after a long time wishing for it to happen. So when I realized I was going to fulfill one of my biggest dreams in life... I had to decide where to go, what to see, what to do, and how much time I could spend in there (sometimes you have to limit yourself). So, after a really good trip, I wanted to share my choices, experiences and thoughts, hoping they can be helpful for someone else. And here I start with a bit of a general introduction and some tips!

New Zealand? From LOTR?

As a short intro, you need to know that New Zealand (hereinafter NZ) is in the southern hemisphere and is one of the first countries to see the sun, so... you will have to just change all your biological and psicological rythms to get used to that :) But don't worry, it's fun! Let's continue: the capital is Wellington, but the biggest city is Auckland, both in the north island. The biggest city from the south island is Christchurch, where there was a huge earthquake in 2011... and they are still recovering from it. New Zealanders speak a really nice English, they also have Māori, from the Māori people, and they all like to be called Kiwi, so... if you want the fruit, you have to say kiwifruit. What else? Oh yeah, they are still under the "rule" of Queen Elizabeth II although they became independent in 1947, more or less. By the way, they want to change their national flag and they are having a referendum in a few days to decide on that. Final things: their currency is the New Zealand Dollar (NZD), they drive on the left (!) and their international calling code is the +64 (0064).

Where is it?

When everyone starts planning a trip, in this case to NZ, the first thing they do is to look for a map of the country, you know, to see how it is, how big, where exactly it is located, what's the capital, and all this stuff. And, of course, you find this:


And then you say: OH, COOL! IT'S SMALL! I mean, you see Australia, right!? We can do that in no time! WRONG! Australia is HUGE, but so is NZ !!! :D

So the first thing I want to tell you is that NZ is a big country and you need a lot of time to visit it. Australia has a lot of desert in the central part and maybe you can skip that, but there is nothing to skip in NZ, nothing! Maybe the cities, but nothing else! :P So, you need time, lots of it! As an example, I only visited the south island, and I spent 12 days on the north part (north of Christchurch) and used 8 days to visit the most important places of the southern part (I will write a post about that).

When to go?

Okay. That's a big issue here. I thought the best time to go there would be in summer, THEIR summer, so from December to April more or less. I bet it's really nice at that time, the weather is awesome (because it will be warm and even hot) but there will also be LOTS of people. And when I say lots... is too much people. It turns out that NZ is one of the preferred destinations in Asia (I mean, I get it) and they go there in thousands. Buses everywhere, tours, groups of people and cameras and guides... So, I recommend to go there in winter, or the end of winter, if you can, from July to September, more or less. I was there in August. Reasons? All these:

  • Even if it's a little bit cold sometimes, it is really nice (snow, ice, white, freshness...)
  • There is no one, literally no one, on the road. And all hostels and hotels are almost empty. Vacancy signs everywhere.
  • You won't have to queue anywhere, you will be able to improvise, and will enjoy places... alone. Just you and nature.
  • But if you want to party, just go to the party places, they are always full of people.
  • It's cheaper. You know, low season prices and all.
  • It's very humid in some places, so, better cold-humid than hot-humid and dead.
  • Wildlife! Seals, whales, penguins, sealions,... they are there too. And it's the best time to watch baby seals :)
  • You can do all your winter sports, in case you like them, but you can also hike around.
  • Of course, no beach and no sunbathing... but bleh, not necessary ^^
  • I don't know what else, I've said a lot already!

So my recommendation is WINTER! Also, I want to say that NZ is not a super cold country, so nothing like Sweden or Canada. Even if it's winter, it is warm-ish, so it's not packed of snow everywhere, all the time. But it can be in summer too, ofc! In fact, I would go back in summer, to get the best of both experiences. At first I was sad that I had to go there in winter, but seriously, I couldn't be more happier right now. It was the best decision.

Wanaka in summer and winter

How to get there?

One of the first things you have to solve when you are travelling that far away -let's be realistic, I was travelling from Barcelona to Christchurch, which is almost its antipode, more or less- is how to get there. Of course you are taking a plane, but... which one? Which stops are you taking? Do you want to stop somewhere and take advantage of the opportunity of visiting another country? Is it cheaper? Well, I definitely recommend studying all the available options and stopping where you want, since it may be cheaper and funnier. If you have the time, of course. I know of other Europeans who stopped and visited Singapur for some days, I myself stopped in Brisbane on my way back, for instance. In my case, stopping was cheaper and allowed me to take a shorter flight from Australia to Spain. You can see the difference of being able to choose when and how to fly... or not.


So, to find flight combinations, etc. you have to look for "multi-city" flights (next to the round-trip or one-way options), and there you can choose what you want to do. I had problems to buy the flight on  the internet, so I ended up buying it through a travel agency. Anyway, either you can buy it yourself or not, it's a way to find out what's your best option. And then you do whatever you want to really purchase it.

Websites and most common airlines to NZ: Kayak, e-dreams, ebookers, Sky ScannerLast Minute, Singapore AirlinesQantas, Emirates, and Etihad, for example. Around NZ you also have Air New Zealand or Virgin Australia, for example.


Now that I mentioned Air New Zealand, I'm going to be a good girl and show you something I hope will lighten your day! Only for this, you HAVE to fly with them! That's the one I saw in the plane, but they have moooore!


How to move around?

There are buses, trains, planes and bikes, but the best way to move around is, definitely, by car. As I said, the best part of NZ is the countryside, the mountains, rivers, cliffs, sea, vineyards, wildlife, skiing, hiking... so you need to get to a lot of places that are completely isolated. You can get to the most common places by public transport, but then you will be limited and will end up super angry. In terms of hitch-hiking... it is doable, you can try it, but I bet it's a lot easier in summer than in winter. Let's recall that there's no one in winter. You can wait forever until a car comes by... if it even stops. And the rain, and the wind, and the cold... It's your choice, but I wouldn't do it. And the thing is that renting a car it's not expensive at all. I mean, if you have the money to get to NZ, you "can rent a car" ;)

Some companies and links!

Some advice: to rent a car you need a driver's license they can read, so it has to be in english (a translation is okay). They accepted european licenses too, but I'm not sure if this is for all companies! And, again, they drive on the left hand side of the road!

Where to sleep?

It depends on the season. If it's summer, I think campsites and campers are the best choice. Hostels too, but they will be more expensive for sure, even though, hostels in NZ are a bit cheaper than western Europe. Hostelwise, they have thousands of them, and there are a lot of motels too. Then you also have the hotels... and then you can always try Airbnb or look for a sofa in Couchsurfing. Regarding the hostels, an international student card may make your stay cheaper, and also there's this hostel-card membership, depending on the accommodation network you are using, that will give you some discounts too.

          

Some links:
Extra info: in hostels you can find shared-rooms and dorms, but also double and triple rooms with or without (shared) toilet, and sometimes they also give you breakfast for free, but it's not usual. In campsites, you can bring your own tent but you can also rent small cabins (just the room) or even apartments. In here, toilets, kitchen, and showers are usually shared and in the middle of the campsite, so you have to go outdoors. Motel rooms usually have their own kitchen and bathroom, but I guess it will also depend on what you book!

Connectivity

Depending on the time you plan to stay in NZ, I would recommend you to buy a pre-paid SIM card for your "free" phone, so you have internet all the time (mostly). It's useful when you have to improvise something, or if you are lost, or if you are travelling with a lot of people. There are a lot of places without coverage (you know, in the middle of the mountains, national parks, etc.), but it's useful anyway. It's also cheaper to call to a NZ number from a NZ number, in case you need to book stuff or talk to people in NZ. And you can message your family "for free" without having to care what time it is. Ah, and it's your personal GPS too. Consider it!

Some mobile networks: Spark, 2degrees Mobile, Vodafone (they usually have a store in the airport).

Anything else?

Two very useful websites that you can use for everything you may need are the website from the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the website 100% Pure New Zealand, both from the New Zealand government.

              

In the DOC website, you can find a lot of information on the national parks, walk tracks, ecological story of the country, what they are doing in terms of biodiversity conservation, etc. The 100% Pure New Zealand is a total tourism website, but also a useful tool. Check them! I also recommend going to the DOC offices (almost in every city) to check the weather forecast, ask for maps and walk track recommendations before starting any hike. Safety measures in the outdoors are very important and they know what they are talking about!

PS. A very important tip (VIT): there are clean toilets everywhere, so you can relax and enjoy :)


Nat