New Zealand has been top of my bucket list for many years but it wasn’t until I’d retired that I had sufficient time to properly see the country, in my case nearly eight weeks. It took a lot of planning as there is so much to see.
In this travel blog I have shared how I travelled between my favourite places and given recommendations on where to go if you’re planning your trip of a lifetime.
Plan ahead and book an experience
New Zealand is spread out with stunning scenery (Lord of the Rings was filmed here) with sea, mountains, lakes, national parks in close reach and it has scintillating cities and quirky towns. The people are friendly and there is food to suit all tastes and some excellent wines and craft beers. The rule of thumb is, spend one-third of time in North Island and two-thirds in South Island.
Before I left, I asked friends for their top five places to visit so, armed with them, I went to an ABTA agent for more advice. The agent booked flights during a sale (bringing the price down and allowing me a seat upgrade) and sourced a 22 day escorted tour encompassing nearly all of the highlights. The tour proved to be a great choice – 14 of us covered 4,900 km across both islands with excellent explanations from our leader/driver about the country and its people.
Following the tour, I travelled independently to see more of New Zealand and met some of my many cousins (my grandfather came from New Zealand). The roads are mainly good with highways having regular passing places; car hire ranges from the international companies to New Zealand based ones; it’s also possible to rent a mobile home.
There are only three rail routes: Auckland to Wellington, Picton to Christchurch (which isn’t operating until 2019 due earthquake damage) and Christchurch to Greymouth (the scenic TranzAlpine Express which comes highly recommended by those who have done it). The nationwide bus service offers an extensive network; I recommend travelling in the gold seats as they are more comfortable for a long distance journey. There is also a good internal flight network with high competition leading to reasonable prices.
Accommodation varies from hotels to backpackers hostels and spacious motels always with laundry facilities so no need to take too many clothes with you. Many places also offered kitchen facilities - very helpful as the supermarkets are well stocked and New Zealand isn’t cheap to eat out all the time. Currently the NZ dollar/ GBP sterling exchange rate isn’t favourable so you won’t get as much for your money. You could rent a holiday cottage (known as a bach) for a day or two, a week or longer.
Don’t go without visiting…
My favourite things to do were overnighting on a cruise to Doubtful Sound and taking the Dart River jetboat wilderness tour at Glenorchy near Queenstown. I also enjoyed visiting Mount Cook; the Abel Tasman National Park; Farewell Spit and taking the ferry to friendly Stewart Island in the far south that has wonderful bird life including the elusive kiwi.
Mount Cook on South Island
Then there’s the Otago Peninsula, home to the yellow eyed and little blue penguins. I’d definitely recommend pre-booking long-distance walks (known as tramps) and excursions particularly in peak season. Then there is the wine tasting in the main areas of Hawkes Bay, Marlborough/Blenheim and Central Otago!
Yellow eyed penguins on the Otago Peninsula
My favourite town experiences were the Te Papa Museum in Wellington with its incredible Gallipoli exhibition, and Napier with its Art Deco buildings. Lots of the towns had public gardens with native New Zealand flowers and trees.
Pack for all weather
New Zealand is essentially an outdoor country and it is a wonderful one too. However, it’s possible to experience all four seasons in one day.Whilst it can be hot in the sun, it will undoubtedly rain so take waterproofs and layers of clothing. And there are no snakes or deadly spiders in New Zealand either!
Find out more about ABTA's 2018 Travel Trends report by visiting: abta.com/traveltrends2018