As travelers, we’ve begun to rate our backpacking experience in each country by answering the question, “Do we want to come back?”
To answer this question, we seem to use an algorithm involving access of sites, balance of nature and culture, attitude of locals and cost
This was our second trip to New Zealand, which speaks loudly for a country that is just the size of Colorado. Even after a month of packing in all of the adventures we could, we ultimately stated, “We will STILL return.” If you plan to visit NZ, you may find some useful tips among our experiences. Here’s what we did differently the second time around, what we loved, and why we’ll always return to New Zealand.
1. It’s small.
To us, this means it’s navigable. Because we like to get a taste of everything a country offers, the beach is just as appealing as the mountains; the cities are just as interesting as the countryside. Travelers can see and do a lot in just one month! But beware, you’ll probably end up returning to do the things you missed.
Our tip: Download the PDF file of New Zealand’s Lonely Planet on your smart phone or computer. You’ll be able to pinpoint all of your destinations and because wifi is hard to find in NZ, this file will enable you to reference tips without Internet.
2. Campervans rule the road!
We saw more RVs and converted vans than regular cars. This is the ultimate way to travel in NZ and it’s oh-so-fun! The country is set up for campervans, offering hot shower kiosks in tourist areas and providing maps of low-cost Department of Conservation camp sites. There is just something unique about parking under the clear, starry sky, popping the trunk, and cooking a gourmet lamb feast among mountains and rivers. Thanks to Jason’s mad meat cooking skills, this occurred frequently! On many occasions we sipped New Zealand wine with the meal and finished off with Whittaker’s dark chocolate, Mother Nature as our dinner guest. Then we pulled out our van’s bed, nestled under our duvets and drifted off until we heard birds chirping in the morning. Off to the next destination, we were rejuvenated for the upcoming hike/ paddle/ bike /whateveritmaybe!
Our tip: One hint we love to share with all travelers is to fly into the South Island and work your way north. There are many camper and car relocation deals available from Christchurch on the South Island to Auckland on the North Island, because most people fly into Auckland and leave their campers in Christchurch. Companies need people (like you!) to relocate the vehicles back to the North at no cost! Check out Standby Cars’ website for relocation deals.
And guess what? They have offers in Australia, Canada and the USA too!
3. It’s not too pricey.
The conversion rate was $1 US to $1.25 NZ. Because the Euro and Australian dollar were both more powerful than the US dollar, Jason and I appreciated having a slight advantage even though we were still in a first world country. Although gasoline is expensive for a campervan, this is your hotel, restaurant and transportation, so it ends up making sense.
Our tip: Open a free Charles Schwab checking account before you leave home. No ATM fees or international charges apply so this will keep your expenses low!
4. New Zealand is a natural wonderland. Diverse climates and landforms are packed into New Zealand’s two islands. Every visit to NZ introduces us to another species of plant or animal. Glow worms, (yes, that’s right — they aren’t just the light-up plush toy), gorse (a thick, wicked shrub imported from England), and the weka and kea birds (both curious things) were part of our discoveries.
We did some AMAZING treks which are considered “Great Walks” in NZ. My favorite was Copland, which lead us to “Welcome Flat” with natural hot springs! After a 6-hour climb to a rustic cabin in the mountains, we changed into suits and scurried down the hill to the healing waters. Of course, this being our third hike in NZ, we had learned to bring goon (bagged wine- pretty good quality for BAGGED WINE). So, yes, we sipped red wine while soaking our tired feet. Luxury for the hiker!
Another memorable outdoor experience took place in Abel Tasman, where we rented a 2-person kayak from the very well-organized MSK, a leader in sea kayak trips and rentals. By day, we paddled along white sandy beaches and by evening we slept in our tent to the sound of the waves.
Finally, we’d recommend the Kepler Trek, a hike that starts with the first night at the most beautiful cabin, the Luxmore Hut. This cozy, fireplace- heated cabin overlooks Lake Te Anau and The Murchison Mountains and sleeps 54 travelers in high season. (We were 2 of 14 in December.)
Our tip: Visit the DOC website for treks and book in advance, especially during Jan.-Apr. There are so many great hikes that you may have to return for more!
5. The adventure capital exists here.
If you are a thrill-seeker, visit Queenstown! Located on New Zealand’s South Island, this town is surrounded by The Southern Alps and blessed with gorgeous Lake Wakatipu. Visiting once is sure to make you consider a long-term move. Nearby, tourists can choose to try the world’s first bungee jump, the highest bungee jump in the Southern Hemisphere, speed boating through canyons, or sky diving with an amazing view, to name a few. Because Jason’s dad told us to do something “adventurous” with our wedding gift from he and his wife, we decided this was the place! After much hemming and hawing, the adrenaline kicked in and we chose to sky dive with Skydive Paradise, who promised to give us the best view of the region! They delivered!
See our video here!
Not only is Queenstown adventurous with outdoor activities, but also with its offering of great food and beer. Check out Dux Delux Brewery (my fav beer was the Ginger Tom) and eat at the famous FergBurger! Other international options abound with Korean food, Italian (Winnie’s Pizza!) and Japanese sushi joints.
Our tip: Check BookMe for last minute adventure deals without the commission fee from most companies. We received 75% off our cruise through Milford Sound.
6. The Kiwi way of life is appealing. We volunteered with a couple, Alison and Noz, whom we met through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic farms). In return for helping in their garden and trails, we stayed with them in their beautiful home in Picton, at the very top of the South Island. We ate fresh foods, tasted dried fruit granola made by Noz, and learned about their political Green Party, all the while overlooking The Marlborough Sound from above. (Does this area sound familiar, wine lovers?!) Our hosts’ lifestyle was so peaceful and healthy, and we got this feeling from most locals we met along the way. We got the feel that to many Kiwis, life was not based as much on appearances as it was on natural beauty in all things. This included not-too-perfect looking, organic, fresh food at farmers’ markets; compact homes built with local, sustainable products; and functional clothing for all outdoor activities. Our last night in New Zealand was spent with dear friends, Katha and Daniel, who have relocated to Dinsdale, NZ from Germany. Katha is a talented photographer and Daniel is an engineer. They explain the Kiwi way of life best.
Coming with a German background to Kiwiland, we love how relaxed everybody is. Compared to Europe, this country is so different in terms of landscape, culture, history and open-mindedness. I think the later comes from tolerance and accepting one another, being a young immigration country. Kiwis are relaxed and not so stressed out about things. You are accepted and you can do what you like: live your dream as a photographer and that is fine! No judgment or discrimination. Some of the cultural differences can be challenging – which we like – but friends with great personality help you through and you come out with a smile on the other end. –Katha Borszik