Feb 7, 2009
|Nick had a good idea of the route we were going to take before we left - but how long we would stay in each place depended on how much we liked it (obviously) and how our schedule was. Three months sounds like enough time to explore NZ, but we left without going north of Auckland and without getting down to the very south of the South Island.
The only fixed parameters we had were with the campervan which we picked up in Auckland on 19 September and dropped off in Christchurch on 7 November.
We got our campervan from United Campervans, and overall we would recommend them. We choose an older vehicle from their Alpha range and went for the 4 berth because we were concerned about not having enough space in the 2 berth. I also wasn't keen on the prospect of making and unmaking the bed everyday in the smaller van!
The 4 berth had plenty of living and storage space and nearly everything we needed to live comfortably was included with the van. The over-the-cab bed was very comfortable, but pretty challenging to get in and out of. With hindsight we think that we would have been comfortable enough in the 2 berth - even for the seven weeks we were traveling, although the bed making thing would bug me and the constant opening and closing of the side doors on those vans drove us to despair when they camped next to us!!
The plumbing was a bit of a disappointment, and perhaps a reason to go for a newer van in the future. We had lots of issues trying to get water from the kitchen sink to empty, and when it did empty it inclined to come up through the plug hole in the 'bathroom' - yuk!
The 'bathroom' included a shower which we never used, and with hindsight consider redundant. There's something just not right about showering in the toilet and there wasn't enough water pressure to encourage us that the shower would be worth taking.
We took our bikes and the majority of our equipment (panniers, camping gear, etc.) with us from the UK (we were able to do this without any extra baggage charges because we flew via USA rather than the Far East - this gets you double the weight allowance and allowed us to check our bikes (in specialist 'bike bags') as normal luggage). With hindsight this was definitely a good thing because there was not an abundance of bike shops - well anywhere in New Zealand really. Camping equipment was more easy to come by, but we would probably have had to spend several days getting everything sorted if we hadn't brought it with us.
It was great to have the bikes with us when we were in the campervan because it meant we could go on trips on them. Given that lots of key sights are at the end of gravel roads, and hire vehicles are not insured to go on any gravel roads (although many people did), it meant that many key sights were officially unaccessible. We were able to park up the camper and head out on our bikes. It also gave us the opportunity to get fit for the second half of the trip!
Overall we preferred the South Island to the North Island, although the Tongariro Crossing on the NI was the highlight of the holiday for me.
Other highlights were:
the Coromandel Peninsula
Abel Tasman National Park
the valley drive to Milford Sound (and not at all scary to drive as everyone says)
hiking around Mount Cook
riding the Queen Charlotte Track
cycling through gorgeous (cannot emphasise enough) countryside.
We loved the towns of Mount Maunganui, Wanaka, Queenstown, Rotarua (I didn't find it too smelly), Kaikoura and the small township of Havelock North (near Hastings).
On the negative side there was certainly nothing that ruined our holiday, but a few things were unpleasant surprises. The first thing that surprised us was the poor state of the roads. Traveling in a campervan and on bikes we were not often interested in overtaking maneuvers so the fact that nearly all of the roads are single carriageway was not an issue for us. However the surfaces were sometimes dangerously potholed or disintegrating. Several times we had to slam on the brakes in the campervan. Generally speaking the more habitants in an area, the better the roads.
Another thing that was very surprising was the amount of broken glass on the roads. We didn't notice this in the camper, but on the bikes you couldn't avoid it. Every single mile we cycled there were broken bottles. Fortunately as the road surface was generally very rough at the edges so lots of the glass dropped down into the grooves, but we had to constantly watch the tarmac in front of us so that we could avoid the bigger bits. We consider ourselves very lucky not to have gotten any punctures (we did have puncture-proof tyres on).
There was a huge amount of rubbish along the roadways, which was disappointing and very surprising.
Mind you, I think it is worth mentioning that we were impressed with the number of cycle lanes available. Even on the poorest of roads there was, more often than not, either an official cycle lane, or enough of a 'hard shoulder' to keep us safe when we were cycling. People often asked us if we were scared for our safety cycling along the New Zealand roads and there were only very few occasions when we were. Generally the other drivers would pull out and give plenty of room if there was no oncoming traffic. Generally traffic was pretty light anyway, by British standards anyway. Highways 1 and 2 were busier (logging trucks especially) but there was plenty of room for us.
In general the whole country was much windier than we were expecting. This was obviously more of an issue on bikes and in a tent but we had some pretty scary nights in the camper too. When we were cycling, we met about 30 other cyclists and every one of them was heading North to South because of the prevailing wind. Going the way we went was very, very hard work!
Apart from the wind, we were very happy with the weather overall. We think we picked a good time to travel. The early part was quite chilly at times, but on the other hand we were not expecting such lovely summer weather by December. To spend the best part of 20 days cycling and only get wet on one of them seems very lucky! It would have been nice to stay on and enjoy the summer weather a bit more (given the miserable one that had just passed in UK) but the summer season (starting at Christmas) gets so very busy, I don't think we would have enjoyed the camping so much with all the extra people!!
We took a small laptop (Asus) with us which was great to have, but Wifi coverage was often hard to come by and internet access usually very slow by British standards.
There weren't many places that we visited that we regretted doing so, although a few that we certainly wouldn't go back to - this included the East Cape of the North Island and all the major cities - Christchurch was especially disappointing, but neither Wellington or Auckland particularly impressed us.
A kiwi said to us that New Zealand was stuck somewhere between 'western civilisation' and third world, and there were times when that did seem a very apt description. We had been expecting New Zealand to be more westernised. In contrast however, we did not feel very strong Maori culture in most parts of the country, and that surprised us too.
It doesn't feel right to 'moan' about anything really, because as I said, nothing came close to ruining the trip for us and part of the purpose of the trip was to 'discover' what New Zealand was really like. We loved every moment of that experience, would recommend a trip to anyone and would definitely go back if we got the chance.