New Zealand Road Trip – Part 1

The Planning – Months in the Making 

(This is part of a multi part series – to see the previous entry, click here!)

When I take a trip I do have the habit of working out as many details as I can so I can be sure that there aren’t any unpleasant surprises. Planning for New Zealand was very much the same, as this was somewhere I knew had a lot to offer and more than likely I was going to have limited time.

Also, because I was in school for the entire time leading up to the vacation I was holding onto this as my light at the end of the tunnel.

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Awesome, but not as great as New Zealand…

The timeframe was rather fixed and the budget was lean but with room for expansion. I had four weeks off, one of which I wanted spread out as a kind of buffer to decompress from school and then after getting back from travelling. Some of the time was going to be spent in Sydney and in the Outback at Uluru, which when that was planned out, left me with eight days to spend in New Zealand. Was this enough? Was I making a mistake by trying to cram too much in?

I stopped into the nearest travel agent and discussed the various points of the trip. He suggested to us (I should say at this point that I was travelling with a buddy), that not only was a New Zealand holiday like that possible but he did one very similar just last year at exactly the same time. He suggested instead of renting a car and trying to do the hostel thing that we should rent a campervan and just park at the campsites every night, of which there were an abundance.

This all sounded great but I was concerned there wouldn’t be enough time to see it all, to which he brought over the resident kiwi (he said he had to talk slower when she was around – gotta love the Aussie/New Zealand rivalry) and she said if you only have a week, definitely stick to the South Island as they’re roughly the same size but the South has ¼ of the population and much more rugged. Well she had us sold!

All in all, the trip was going to cost us $600 AUS each and include our campervan and return flights – uhh…. That’s amazing. It was a diesel van as well and because diesel wasn’t taxed in New Zealand, it was great for the long hauls and wasn’t even that much to fill. Sadly, we spent as much in Sydney for four days as we did in our entire time in New Zealand – and while I really loved Sydney, it just couldn’t hold a candle to NZ.

Our humble chariot

Our humble chariot

With the dates figured out, the fees paid and a guidebook firmly in hand, we started to map out how we wanted our trip to look. There were some things that were just off the table, like big hikes or anything too outdoorsy because it was the middle of winter and who knows what the weather would be like the day we got in. The travel agent told us just to drive the entire island and that would be enough… so we charted out a route that would take us out of Christchurch, through the mountains, along the coast to the south and then back up in six days (first day for getting in, last day for getting out).

It was ambitious, hectic and oh so nerve wracking as neither of us had taken a road trip in a foreign country let alone driven a campervan. We had a solid itinerary mapped out that mostly consisted of driving, stopping to stare and driving some more until the sun went down. We knew the margin for error was slim – if a blizzard hit or our vehicle broke down it would cause major problems that we maybe didn’t have room to accommodate. But we weren’t concerned – it was going to be an awesome trip!

What could possibly go wrong?

New Zealand Road Trip – Preface

Was I Ever That Young?

A long time ago, when I was a wee lad of seven or eight years old, I had a classmate who went to New Zealand with his family for a few weeks. Little did I know years later I would find myself there as well (that being said, I really had no idea I would do half the things I would come to do), especially when at that time I wasn’t really clear on where New Zealand was.

New Zealand? It just sounds made up.

New_Zealand_relief_mapI was familiar with Australia from the stories my mom and I used to read together before bed and movies – all the crazy animals, place names, that funny looking building by the water –  but New Zealand was something else entirely. Supposedly it was close by Australia. Maybe it was kind of like Australia but slightly different, like Canada and the USA. Interesting.

Years went by and I learned a bit more about geography, enough so that I knew where New Zealand was on a map but not it’s remarkable history or how very different it is from Australia – not to mention how far away the two really are from each other. To say it was on my list of travel destinations would have been generous as the typical places rounded out the list first – like Italy and Paris. New Zealand would be cool to visit if I got the chance but with it being as far away as it was and I being a lad of very little money, it just never seemed like a possibility.

Then two things happened in my life.

The first was watching Peter Jackson’s 12-hour long New Zealand promotional video, aka The Lord of the Rings. After that, everyone and their cousin had dreams to visit this far away land and have their own Middle Earth adventure. The second thing that happened, which ultimately made such a trip not only possible but insane to pass up, was my decision to study in Australia. While I was now aware that you couldn’t see one from another, I did know that I would probably never be closer to New Zealand than this again in my life.

LOTR

Even though I was that close, I still had reservations about visiting it, namely that taking the three hour flight would likely be more expensive than travelling within Australia itself. I later found out that being stationed in Australia opened up many deals that squashed my fears and made me realize it wasn’t a matter of if I was going to visit New Zealand but when.

And so began the planning…

Why Winter is Great for Travel

Every year as the weather warms up people jump at the chance to get out there and see the world – and why shouldn’t they? If you’ve been stuck inside for what feels like an eternity, getting outside and shaking up the routine can give you a new lease on life. Summer is the time for road trips, barbecues, beach parties, concerts and everything else in between – what isn’t too love?

The only problem is, everyone has the same great idea.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the summer as much as anyone, but after travelling to a few dozen locales during peak season and going through the same habit year after year, I’m ready to try something different. This is why I’m advocating winter as a travel season – and here’s why:

Fewer Crowds

One of the biggest reasons travelling anywhere is irritating is the sheer number of others who are also doing the same thing. As I mentioned before, peak season is that way for a reason and you have to expect that it’s going to be a bit nuts if you travel somewhere in the height of summer. Winter on the other hand, doesn’t have as many travellers. Maybe it’s because of the hazardous weather or maybe it’s because of the various holidays that mar being away from home, but you can be sure others won’t be doing the same things you are!

Hot Food is Amazing

Eating out on a patio is great, but enjoying a hearty warm meal in the cozy indoors is hard to beat too. A lot of destinations have great winter festivals centred around such food as chilli or roast meat because it’s best enjoyed when the temperatures plummet.

Deals to be Had

Most deals for travel come in the off season because there doesn’t need to be an incentive to travel during peak season. Places like New Zealand have great road trip potential through their flight and camper van packages that are far cheaper in the winter than in the summer. Resorts are about the only place that does get a lot of business in the winter, but even they offer deals in the winter months!

It’s Summer Somewhere!

The beauty of living on this planet with it’s tilt and wobble is the seasons we enjoy – meaning it’s never the same everywhere on the planet. If you live in the northern hemisphere and it’s summer, you can get away to a winter locale by visiting the south. Likewise, if it’s winter and you want a summer getaway, just head to the opposite side of the globe. Peak season isn’t universal everywhere as every region has their own set of holidays and favoured activities, giving you no shortage of great travel options.