NZ#6 - Travel Tips

So you are thinking of travels in New Zealand?

Several friends have told us that they are considering a trip to New Zealand. We have written about the holiday parks here so we will not re-cover that part, but would like to offer some other information. All prices mentioned have been translated to US$ at the current exchange rate. Even if you are not contemplating a trip to this part of the world, you might enjoy some of the photos.

We still feel that a small car was the best (translated cheapest) way for us to travel. We have been told that car insurance is not mandatory at all here. The government (translates NZ citizen taxes) covers the cost of treatment for any accidents incurred here in New Zealand whether you are a citizen or a visitor. Insurance is not cheap. We paid $160 for six months of third party. Most visitors opt to rent a car or to rent a van. The rental price for cars is about $30/day and vans from $90 to $150/day. There are numerous companies that rent out vans. You can find them on the web, we’re sure. We even saw one van that was equipped for wheel chair access.

If a van is equipped with a portable toilet system, they will have a special license allowing them to stop overnight at any authorized spot. The cities have public toilets and many also have public pay-showers. There are a few areas that are posted as “No overnight parking”; however, it is much easier to simply pull off the road into a picnic area or a scenic overlook and spend the night than it is in the USA.

You will need to decide whether to see just North or South Island or take the ferry between to maximize your trip. The time for the ferry trip is 3.5 hours. The cost is $72 one way for an average sized car. Each person is charged $26. “If the weather is good” the ferry trip can be a delight, particularly on the South Island end where you travel for an hour through the Marlborough Sound. You did notice that we cautioned…”if the weather is good”. We have heard some pretty awful stories about the weather being rough in the Straits. The Craigs used that cautionary phrase a lot when helping us to outline our trip for South Island. When the sun shined it was glorious. When the clouds crowded down on our heads it was not fun.

With the exception of some areas right around the large cities, the roads are just two lanes. Keep in mind that driving is done on the left side of the road here. The secondary roads are quite narrow in places and the roads are very curvy. We felt that the smaller car was easier to manage for this reason, but those folks driving vans seemed not to mind. There are roads that are still unpaved. The effort of taking an unpaved road usually led us to the most beautiful sites, however. Eating out in New Zealand is an average of $5-6. Lunch averages $7-10 and dinner from $10-$16. At the same time you can find fish and chips nearly everywhere. For $4.50 to $7 you can fill two stomachs! We still think that the best way to travel is with your own chosen food whether you are driving a rental car or a van.

The main entertainment for us was seeing the country, trekking, wandering the beaches or rocks and getting to meet the people. The larger cities all have museums that ask only for contributions. These museums can help to give you a good insight into the culture and history of NZ. We particularly enjoyed the Antarctic Room in the Christchurch museum.

One trip that we did pay for was at Manapouri and we felt that it gave us excellent value for the money. Fjordland covers the southern third of the west coast of SI. This is a huge area of wilderness. The best-known part of Fjordland is Milford Sound. We opted to go on the Doubtful Sound Tour. It starts with an hour’s ride across the breadth of Lake Manapouri. At the end is the West Arm Power Station: a truly amazing feat of engineering and construction! In the 1960’s a hydro-electric power plant was built at the end of the lake. Unlike other hydro power stations, West Arm does not have a high dam. It uses the natural 480’ height difference between Lake Manapouri and the sea at Deep Cove, an arm of Doubtful Sound. Water for the turbines is drawn through the intake structure at West Arm and into seven penstocks (large pipes). It then drops to the power station over 650’ below the ground, and is discharged from the turbines into a common outlet chamber and then on to Deep Cove through two 6-mile long tailrace tunnels. The 850 megawatt capacity is then transported across country to Invercargill on the South Coast where 90% of it is used by an Australian aluminum smelter.

The tour takes you from the boat trip onto busses to travel down a winding 2 km long tunnel inside the mountain to reach the power plant. Here the story really begins to unfold about the difficulties and the successes of this effort. Some of the tourists went on from the power plant to visit Doubtful Sound itself. They returned to marvel at the few moments when the boat’s engines were turned off and they experienced true and total silence.

We went only for the power plant visit, but were entertained afterwards with a bus trip up the mountain to Wilmot Pass where we could look down on Doubtful Sound. (See Photo #1) Our cost for the 4.5 hours of entertainment was $36/person. The cost of the whole trip including Doubtful Sound was $120. We would HIGHLY recommend this trip to anyone.

The last two photos were taken at Kaikoura on the NE corner of SI. This was our last stop before leaving SI. Throughout the trip Jane had searched many beaches for some Paua (pronounced Pow-A) shells and had been assured by several people that she would find them in Kaikoura. We went to a part of the beach about 12 kilometers south of the city where Sander dropped Jane off to wander and look. Those hours were a real highlight for her. She found some paua holding to rocks at low tide. It was lucky that there were many discarded shells to be found amongst the rocks, because the live ones held on to the rocks with great tenacity. Photo #2 shows a panorama of the area south of the city where we climbed around on the rocks. Photo #3 shows the “catch”!

A final word of advice: Should you come to NZ and decide you would like to buy property here and, perhaps, take residency; be advised that residency is impossible for us senior folks. We don’t know the actual age limit but suspect that it is the mid 50’s. Young people are usually welcome especially if they have skills in certain needed fields, especially the medical fields. It seemed tempting to us!

We hope that we have not rambled on too much and that you have a better idea for life and the countryside here in New Zealand. Please feel free to send your questions if you have any.

It may be a while before we send another group message. We plan to leave for the French province of New Caledonia sometime in early June. We are still taking our mail through the address: **** or the hotmail address if you have difficulty with the ham radio address.