ew Zealand 2010
January 10 - March 27, 2010
As usual our trip to New Zeland came about as much through happenstance as planning. It's true that Jan had long been wanting to come back to New Zealand — we had spent two weeks driving around the North Island in 1983 during our time living and working in Hong Kong. She had expected that we would see New Zealand after one or the other of our Aussie trips, but family weddings and a trip to South Africa interfered with those plans. When trying to decide what to do to celebrate her 60th birthday, a recent trip to NZ by one of her closest friends brought New Zealand back to mind and that's when chance took a hand. On Craig's List we found a couple in Christchurch who wanted to rent their house while they went to the US on a sabbatical. We only wanted the house for the second half of their trip and so it didn't look promising. However, the gods smiled on us and in the end we got their agreement, booked our tickets and here we were November 2010 flying into New Zealand.
Itinerary and Logistics
We had planned our trip in two parts. First, a relaxed couple of months renting the house in Christchurch followed by another couple of months to drive around the South Island and get to know it. On our only other trip to New Zealand made during a round the world trip from and to Hong Kong in 1983, we had limited ourselves to the North Island and so didn't plan to spend much time there this time.
The map on this page shows our route. We did the South Island in three sort of equal segments: Christchurch to Dunedin; Dunedin to Milford Sound; and Milford Sound to Picton. We took the car ferry from Picton to Wellington, where we spent a week with our friend Virginia from Hong Kong days, and then drove from Wellington up the west coast of the North Island to Raglan, and finally to Auckland, where we sold the van. All in all we covered xxxx kilometers on the South Island in xxx days. In many places where we stayed two or three days, we wished we could have spent weeks. Even with our mental-health days off, we always wished we had more time just to sit and absorb the wonderful landscapes and the amazingly healthy clean air and water. If you want clean, fresh air, come to New Zealand: it's the cleanest and the freshest you could ever wish to breathe.
Deciding to drive around New Zealand was an easy choice for us. We were used to driving on the left, having done a lot of it in the UK and Australia among other places. Lots of visitors have a hard time, though, witness the big arrows painted on the roadway showing traffic direction at every major intersection. We had ruled out bicycling around the island because of lack of physical condition. We ruled out long-distance buses because of lack of flexibility and the inability to get to some of the places we wanted to visit by bus. And finally, we ruled out renting, which is quite cheap for long-term rentals in NZ, in favour of serendipity and in the belief that we would get more for our money.
The car we bought was a 1992 Nissan Serena van. A previous owner had added a plywood platform to the rear of the van such that with the passenger seats rotated 180 degrees, and covered with a removable piece of plywood (that did double duty as a table), and the whole covered with the foam mattress provided you could sleep quite comfortably. There was room under the bed for cooking and camping equipment and room under the seats at the front for our bags, so everything fit.
We had been impressed on our previous visit to NZ in 1984 by the number of one-lane bridges and wondered if they would all have disappeared. No worries: they were everywhere. Often they would be over just a small stream or culvert, but the amount of traffic didn't warrant any more. That also explains why driving here is fairly stress-free but also why foreigners can often end up on the wrong side of the road: there often aren't any other cars to imitate. While staying in Christchurch, we met someone who told us that in NZ the farther off the beaten track you get, the better it gets. We agree, even though we didn't do any off-road driving or any trekking, but we talked to lots of folks who did and they endorsed the advice we had been given.
Perhaps our greatest disappointment on our trip around the South Island, was that we couldn't do any long distance hiking. There are lots of "tracks" in New Zealand that take two, three, or even five days to walk end to end. The most famous is the Milford Track, of course, but there are many more. We took a short day hike, for example, on the Keppler Track and found it a lovely trail, very well-maintained and would have loved to walk all of it. But Gerry's knee was still not a hundered percent and he was being very cautious.