Here are some insights if you ever want to go to New Zealand. These are my bullet point personal thoughts if you want to plan your trip to this beautiful country.
- Go in spring. All the pictures you see in the travel brochures are taken in spring (fall in North America). It’s NOT peak travel season for tourists and locals and you get plenty of breathing room to take it all in.
- If you like hikes, plan for them. The most popular routes on the South Island are day-long or multi-day trips. I wanted to see as much of South Island as I could by hiking, but I found few options given my time frame. Some short hikes can be found right here.
- Drive carefully. There are loads of signs everywhere saying New Zealand roads are different and they’re right. Even if you are confident driving on the left hand side of the road, don’t be an idiot. There are lots of unique driving situations in New Zealand due to the terrain and climate and it’s takes longer than you think to get places.
- Things are expensive. You’ve probably heard New Zealand is expensive, but how about $2.13 per litre of gas expensive? Or $4.50 for a regular coffee expensive? This is not the place to forget to bring shampoo or bug spray unless you find a remorseful Pak’nSave. Budgeting can be challenging, and you have to plan ahead at the grocery store to stay on track.
- Taste the wine, eat the cheese. New Zealand is known for Sauvignon Blanc, and their cheese is delicious. Spend some time in the aisles looking at what the locals pick out if you’re feeling lost, or better yet get to the source and drive to the wineries directly.
- The hospitality is outstanding. New Zealanders, or Kiwis, are some of the friendliest people you’ll have the pleasure to meet. Be prepared for a quick chat if you can find one and you’ll be glad for it.
I was lucky enough to travel around New Zealand for fifteen days. The first week I traveled solo and focused the majority of my time on the South Island. I chose the South Island because I heard the views were incredible and it was less populated than the north. Given my time frame I wasn’t able to see a lot of the things on the traditional “must do” list, but I had some memorable experiences nonetheless.
I did a lot of driving in New Zealand. I would recommend driving as to fully immerse yourself in the landscape (spotted: beautiful mountains and me, in my old, dirty Toyota Yaris). Plus, driving turned out to be half the fun as I listened to some new podcasts (My Favourite Murder is genius!). I saw loads of rented cars on my journey as well as campers and caravans. If driving isn’t for you, there are loads of buses and tour operators driving everywhere you go for every conceivable outing.
Actually, I found there were too many tour operators. On my drive to Milford Sound, there were no fewer than five buses shepherding tourists from place to place. I understand the environmental benefit for all these people taking buses, which is immense. However, hopscotching between all the buses at every lookout was a nightmare and reduced the experience to being in line at a museum. It was dreadful. In particular, the Mirror Lakes were especially disappointing as the ‘mirror’ had been reduced to a swamp. For a genuine mirror lake experience, see any Canadian lake in fall, spring, summer, or even early winter. (Or just go to New Zealand in spring, see my first bullet point.) I’d also feel for any local having to huff down the road to get milk and getting stuck behind one of these convoys.
For a genuine mirror lake experience, see any Canadian lake in fall, spring, summer, or even early winter.
Another point, I found the number of tourists disconcerting. New Zealand seems to agree, and starting this year will begin charging $35 (NZ) per visitor entering the country. This tax is designed to curb the strain on existing infrastructure and to offset the costs of rubbish disposal and environmental degradation (Walls, 2018.). Tourism is big in New Zealand. Visitors roughly double the 4.8 million Kiwis each year, and Kiwis are grappling with how to address the growing ‘tourist’ problem.
I felt this strain. I found most people I met were from overseas and I was unlikely to hear a born and bred New Zealander unless I tuned in to AM radio. All the hostels I stayed at had signs about recycling and reducing waste with very few or small rubbish bins. Most telling, there was a squad of local volunteers picking up trash at Mount Cook, and they were busy.
In terms of culture, some key signs were telling. The organic section is gigantic compared to ours. Coffee tastes delicious. Nobody blinks an eye if you’re decked out entirely in the North Face or Kathmandu apparel. There is an entire government department devoted exclusively to hikes and tramping weather updates. Road signs tell drivers to “Take Care”. Still more signs are written in Māori, no English available. And the sheep, hundreds of hundreds of sheep. There are supposedly five sheep to every Kiwi. If sheep could vote, sheep would hold the majority rule in New Zealand. Currency would be reduced to grass (unlike summer in Australia, where currency is icy poles). Most importantly, I found every New Zealander I did eventually meet was polite, friendly, and generally chatty. I imagine it’s hard to find something to stress about in a small, beautiful island in the middle of the Pacific.
On my solo venture, I started in Queenstown. I drove to Glenorchy, Arrowtown, and to Milford Sound. I stopped in Aoraki Mount Cook, traveling through Cardrona, Wannaka, Lindi’s pass, and Twizel. I walked the Hooker Valley Trail (which was too crowded in my opinion) and enjoyed a beautiful night full of stars. I drove to Lake Takepo and stayed in Geraldine. My last few days were in Christchurch, where I walked the CBD and took the gondola to perch over Lyttleton.
I flew from Christchurch to Auckland on the North Island to meet my parents. I’ll be writing about my adventures with them in my next post, so be sure to come back and hear more about their adventures cruising for jade jewellery, walking through old train tunnels, and trying Gewürztraminer for the first time.
Walls, J. (2018). Government sets tourist tax at $35 per visitor. NZ Herald: New Zealand. URL: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12132687