Rocky & Sarah's Travel Diary
Maori AOTEAROA, an island nation in the South Pacific. A remote land, it lies more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometres) southeast of Australia, its nearest neighbour. The country comprises two main islands--the North and South islands--and a number of small islands, some of them hundreds of miles from the main group. New Zealand is about 1,000 miles long (north-south) and about 280 miles across at its widest point. The land area is approximately 100,000 square miles (268,000 square kilometres)--slightly smaller than the state of Colorado and a little larger than the United Kingdom. About two-thirds of the land is economically useful, the remainder being mountainous. Because of its numerous harbours and fjords, the country has an extremely long coastline relative to its area. The capital city is Wellington, and the largest urban area is Auckland, both located on the North Island.
Canadian Consulate: 9th Floor, Jetset Centre, 48 Emily Place, Auckland tel.309 3690
Maps courtesy of www.theodora.com/maps used with permission.
The final destination of the trip was New Zealand. We had a fabulous time there. The country is one big beautiful postcard and some of the photos do not give it justice. If you go, definately bring lots of film. Or a digital camera. We flew to the South Island first, rented a car and drove all the way down to Milford Sound, then up the west coast. We drove straight up the centre of the North Island all the way to the Bay of Islands, north of Auckland.
There are just a ton of these in New Zealand as well. The New Zealand Hostelling International and Nomads Sites have information on hostels. It doesn't sound too complicated to find the right accomodation.
TRANSPORTATION BETWEEN CITIES
BUSThere are a number of bus companies that operate in New Zealand and can generally get you just about anywhere you want to go. The major players are InterCity, Mt. Cook Landline, Newmans, and White Star. There are a number of discount passes available that involve unlimited travel for X days, etc. These passes can vary between $400NZD to $800NZD and validity is anywhere between a few days to a few months. Some of these passes offer a discount to students or anyone with a recognizable backpacker card (VIP, YHA, ISIC, etc.).
Another method is the Backpacker Bus. The most notable one (and as far as I know the most popular) is Kiwi Experience. The deal is that you can hop on and hop off these buses at your convenience for some independent travel and then jump on the next one. Note: I have heard mixed reviews about this from different people. Some have said it's a great time and really worth it. Others have said that they ended up with a lot of problems and had to pay extra because of certain restrictions.
Other backpacker bus lines include: Flying Kiwi, Magic Bus, Awesome Tours, Southern Explorer, and West Coast Express. These fares vary quite a bit depending on the package that you choose. The tickets are valid for a certain length of time as well.
AIRAnsett New Zealand and Air New Zealand offer discounts of up to 50% on standby flights if you hold a valid ISIC card and I believe you can get them with an HI (Hostelling international) card too but check the site for confirmation. There are also airpasses available but you should contact a local travel agent for more details. There are maps that have sectors and you pay a certain fair for a certain number of sectors, etc.
TRAINThere are only a few major routes in New Zealand which makes train travel one of the fastest ways to get around. The trains themselves are clean and modern and are generally cheaper that the same route taken by bus. There are also a number of discounts available and the best thing to do is check with NZ Rail or a trave agent for more info. Discounts for YHA (and the like) cardholders is around 30% and students get 20%.
AUTOMOBILEThe Kiwis drive on the left hand side just like the Brits. As far as I'm concerned they're ALL backwards (But what do I know, I'm just a silly Canuck). There are a number of rental agencies and the major ones are Avis, Budget and Hertz. They are in most major towns and the general rule is unlimited km's. Costs vary from $40 to $120. There are a number of SPECIAL DEALS available from some operators. For example, a lower rate if you rent for 4 days or more. A number of operators want cars shifted from one city to another (ie Wellington to Auckland, Christchurch to Picton) because most people travel in the opposite direction. In that case you can get a cheaper rate or even the rental for free and all you have to do is pay for gas and insurance. Backpacker cards give you a discount! There is also the possibility of "second-hand" car hire; but you usually get what you pay for.
Always remember to check the restrictions and km rates before signing because it is not unheard of to end up paying a fortune after you've been quoted a rock bottom deal.
If you plan to stay awhile then buying a car is also an option. There are a few companies in Auckland and Wellington that go on the buy-back principle. In a nutshell this is a promise of the company that sold you the car to buy it back after you're done with it minus a few things like mileage and so on. I think the going rate is about 50% but don't quote me on it. Hostel bulletin boards also have a number of cars for sale by people leaving the country.
The moral of the story is: Shop around and compare prices and decide what kind of transportation is the best for you. For us I think it will be rental car.
Auckland International Airport
The Airbus (tel. 09/275-9396) leaves the international terminal every 20 minutes between 6:20 AM and 8:20 PM. The fixed route between the airport and the Downtown Airline Terminal, on the corner of Quay Street and Albert Road, includes a stop at the railway station and, on request, at any bus stop, hotel, or motel along the way. Returning from the city, the bus leaves the Downtown Airline Terminal at 20-minute intervals between 6:20 AM and 9 PM. Tickets: NZ$9.
Johnston's Shuttle Link (tel. 09/275-1234) operates a minibus service
between the airport and any address in the city center. The cost is
NZ$14 for a single traveler, NZ$10 per person for two traveling
together. The service meets all incoming flights.
New Zealand Information Links
NZ seems to be the forgotten little brother of Australia but there is
specific info that you can find that does not mention Australia.
TRANSPORTATION in AUCKLAND
Reportedly the city is fairly spread out and getting around can be slightly difficult. The tentative plan is to try to locate hostels that have bikes for rent and working around the city that way. Car rentals are another option but too expensive for city touring.
Auckland's public bus system, the Yellow Bus Company, operates Monday-Saturday 6 AM-11:30 PM, Sunday 9 AM-5 PM. The main terminal for public buses is the Municipal Transport Station, between Commerce Street and Britomart Place near the Central Post Office. The bus network is divided into zones; fares are calculated according to the number of zones traveled. For travel within the inner city, the fare is 50 cents for adults. BusAbout passes, which allow unlimited travel on all buses after 9 AM daily, are available from bus drivers for NZ$8.40. For timetables, bus routes, fares, and lost property, stop by the Bus Place (Hobson and Victoria Sts.), open weekdays 8:15-5, or call Buz A Bus (tel. 09/366-6400), open Monday-Saturday 7-7.
Published every Thursday, Auckland Tourist Times is a free newspaper
with the latest information on tours, exhibitions, and shopping. The paper
is available from hotels and from the Visitor Information Centre.
To put it simply here is a list of things to see, do, smell, touch and eat.
Tramping: The Kiwi equivalent to backpacking in Canada, and also known as bushwalking. Basically it involves hiking and camping in established cabins along a number of trails. The Department of Conservation sells permits (generally less than $5 a night). You can buy equipment or bring your own. The most popular walks are the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, the Routeburn, the Milford, the Tongariro Northern Circuit, the Kepler, and Lake Waikaremoana. The DOC can point you in the direction of lesser known tracks. Contact the DOC at each park or in Auckland at: 366 2166, or the main office 307 1465.
Bay of Islands: North of Auckland, some of the best coastal scenery in NZ. Also sport fishing, sea kayaking, great beaches, ancient forests, and swimming with dolphins. Dolphin Discoveries tel.403 7350 (smaller groups), and Fullers (larger groups) run trips and the success rate is usually so good that they offer guarantees. Another bonus is that these tours run all year round while a similar outfit in Kaikoura (South Island) shuts down in the winter. We went on 2 trips while up there but never had the opportunity to swim with them. Just seeing them in the wild is a big enough thrill.
Waipoua Kauri Forest and 90 Mile Beach - A forest sanctuary of monstrous Kauri trees. Cabins in the middle of the park can be booked through the DOC (tel.439 0605), while the beach (which is really 60 miles) is cool. These Kauri's are just huge! It's a beautiful walk to go see some of them.
Caving in Waitomo - Glowworms, abseiling, rock climbing, black water rafting, etc. Complete and utter craziness and well worth it. Note the Lost World Adventure. Museum of Caves Information Centre, Main Street (PO Box 12), Waitomo tel.07/878-7640. Abseiling is WAY easier than climbing. Be prepared to get wet.
Thermal Unrest - Where else but in and around Rotorua. For Visitor information: Tourism Rotorua Visitor Information Centre, 67 Fenton St. at the corner of Haupapa St. tel.07/348-5179. Thermalair is a free publication listing current events. Tourist information is also available at the AA Travel Centre, 59 Amohau St. tel.07/348-3069. BEWARE: The smell of sulphur is not the newest fragrance from Calvin Klein.
Taupo - The centre of NZ's volcanic activity. Taupo is the main resort town located on Lake Taupo. There are a number of exciting things to do around here like skydiving, horseback riding, and bungy jumping. Don't forget the usual thermal pools and spas, and Tongariro National Park is known for a number of very fine walks. A great place to stop on the way to the park is Tokaanu. Take a timeout and check out The Craters of the Moon thermal area (run by the DOC and thus cheap and fairly untouristed). The Taupo Information Centre is on Tongariro St. near the corner of Heu Heu st. tel.378 9000. The National Park Headquarters for Tongariro is in Whakapapa tel.07/892-3729. Check out some of the photos.
Raukawa Falls is on the way to Wanganui from Tongariro. This route is reportedly one of the most beautiful on the North Island. Wanganui Visitors Information Centre is at 101 Guyton St., Wanganui tel.345-3286. A popular exercise is canoeing on the Wanganui River. The DOC office for the Wanganui National Park is located on the corner of Ingestre and St Hill Sts. tel.345-2402
Wellington - Tourist Information: Civic Square, Wakefield
Street, tel.04/801-4000. Free publications to get include the monthly
What's On, and the Wellington Great Time Guide. The Capital Times is free
as well. For some strange reason, budget accomodation is easier to
find during the weekend rather than during the week. SPECIAL NOTE: This
city requires planned sightseeing because of it's hilly terrain.
Wineries - No trip to NZ would be complete without tasting some of their local vintages. One such place is Blenheim, south of Picton on South Island. Pick up the Wine Trail Guide from the Blenheim Information Centre first. Main Street, tel.03/578-9904. We didn't get a chance to sample. If anyone has had a chance, please let us know how it was!
Marlborough Sounds (Picton) and Nelson - Two small little communities that need to be explored because they are quite often overlooked by a number of people who leave the ferry and drive south. Picton Information Centre, Aucland street near the ferry terminal. tel.573-8838; Nelson Information Centre, corner of Trafalgar and Halifax Sts. tel.03/548-2304. All we saw was the view from the ferry. It looks quite beautiful. Check the photos.
Abel Tasman Park and Golden Bay - The DOC is located on King Edward Street, PO Box 97, Motueka tel.03/528-9117. The Golden Bay route affords some of the best scenery available on NZ's coast. Abel Tasman is absolutely beautiful. You can sea kayak, walk, or take a water taxi to some of the most incredible scenary around. Check the photos.
Todd's Valley Farm - Essentially free room and board in exchange for daily farm and domestic work averaging four or more hours a day. Dick Roberts is the owner and invites people out who are interested in ecology and conservation. People are encouraged to apply if they can stay a minimum of two weeks. Contact Todd's Valley Farm, c/o G.R. Roberts, RD1, Nelson tel. and fax 03/545-0553
Hokitika - FREE OUTDOOR GLOWWORMS! Neat-o.
The Glaciers - The Fox and Franz Josef Townships are fairly close together. This is the time to make the choice of a lifetime; spend the big bucks or go home with the little babies. Go big or go home (and home is really far away). Skiplanes, helicopters and god-knows what else take you up and land on the glacier. Costs are over $140 NZD. Visitor Centres in both townships provide important information. In Franz Josef, tel.03/752-0796 and in Fox, tel.03/751-0807. We tried to do the heli-hiking but were rained out. Apparently this is not a huge surprise to the locals. It rains a lot here. But we still managed a few photos.
Te Anau, Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound - In short, a definite stopping point although accomodation is extremely tight between December and February. Booking well in advance is recommended. Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre, Lakefront Drive, PO Box 29, Te Anau tel.03/249-7921. THere are a number of popular walks here and extremely beautiful and mysterious. The Milford Wanderer is a cruise boat that overnights on the water for $118NZD including dinner and breakfast. Milford is amazing. Take the time to come out here. Check the photos.
Mount Cook - Mount Cook Village is known for it's alpine beauty and remoteness. Mt.Cook National Park contains the Tasman Glacier, the longest known outside of arctic regions. You can skiplane here as well. Information can be found at the DOC Visitor Information Centre, tel.03/435-1818. Accomodation is scarce but luckily there is a YHA Hostel there. Wanaka is another option and just as good although similarly, accomodation can be scarce.
The photos were moved to the photo album.
March 8, 2000. TORONTO, CANADA.
Well at least the destination is right for one of us. I'm back in Canada but Rocky has the luxury of being in Melbourne now in the warmer climates. Our last day in New Zealand was great, we did some walks in the Kauri forest and saw some just magnificent trees - absolutely huge! It was really great. The flights home weren't all that great but I made it alive which puts an end to my journey unfortunately. I've started work now - amazing how real life begins again so quickly. Hope everyone has enjoyed reading about our travels and maybe if we're lucky Rocky will do some updates on the rest of his experiences in Australia (but I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for it). I know he'll be doing some work on the page to improve it so keep watching and I'm sure we'll find other stuff to write about at some point!!! The End.
February 25, 2000. PAIHIA, BAY OF ISLANDS, NEW ZEALAND.
A little bit to add to our Rotorua experience before I complain about what a horrible time we're having on the ocean with great weather right now!! Hope everyone liked the new photos. On the evening of the 22nd we went to a traditional Maori marae (which is a meeting house for the families/tribes) for a concert and a hangi (dinner!). It was really fabulous, we had to go through all the customs on entering the grounds of the marae and then they gave us a concert with a few of their celebratory songs which was really great because they included arm movements, sort of like dances and the music was great, sort of like Polynesian with a twist. They also showed us some of their traditional games, one was throwing wooden sticks at each other in different patterns and guess who got to go up on stage and demonstrate that one....ME!!! I think the chief saw the look of terror on my face when he said he needed volunteers to try it out - me being quite clumsy I was not about to volunteer but he called me up anyway and after awhile I got the hang of it and wasn't so bad (I did drop them a few times though). Then we went in for the meal which they cook underground in the earth (sort of like a giant pressure cooker). It was so great, they made chicken, pork and lamb, potatoes, pumpkin and yams all cooked that way - it has a really yummy flavour. All in all it was a really fun night and a neat experience.
The next day we drove to the Bay of Islands where we are now in a small town called Paihia and it is really fabulous. It was neat when we drove through Auckland because we went through the harbour and it was just packed with beautiful sail boats and yachts - lots of rich folk there and we now know why it's called the city of sails. It was incredible. Out here in Paihia there are also lots of boats - if you know how to sail you can actually charter yachts for as little as $55/day (CDN). We weren't quite up to that task so we've been doing trips with other people sailing but have just spent two days on boats. Our first day we went dolphin watching and saw tons of Bluenose dolphins playing in and around the boat. We were hoping to swim with them but that's really hard here because if there are babies around you can't and they have babies all year round so you have to be lucky enough to find 5 or 6 swimming around without the young uns which is pretty hard! It was great just to watch them and see them so up close. Today we went on a 40ft. catamaran (just like a sail boat but with pontoons) and sailed around the bay looking at all the islands up close and having a swim and snorkel at a little bit on one of them. It was really relaxing just sailing all day, we did some reading, helped hoist the sails and just enjoyed the views - saw more dolphins too! It really is a rough life here! Well, this is probably the last official update, I'll probably write something of my disasterous journey home and that'll be it. Tomorrow we are off to see the Kauri forest which should be excellent and then we fly out on the 27th! After I get home and Rocky gets settled in Australia we'll probably do some work on the page and put more photos on and stuff so they'll still be reasons to check! Take care.
February 22, 2000. ROTORUA, NEW ZEALAND.
Sorry it's been so long since the last update but for awhile there wasn't much to write and now there's lots! Unfortunately we were planning to do a heli-hike in Franz Josef but it got rained out which was a real bummer (they hadn't gone for over a week) so I don't want to talk about - we were pretty disappointed. We didn't have enough time to wait around a few days for good weather (who knows if it ever came - it rains a lot on the south island) so we headed out to see the pancake rocks and blowhole in a small town north of greymouth. It was absolutely pouring rain and there was no accomodation available (this was not our best day), so we ended up driving to Westport and spending the night there. We did go on a brewery tour in Greymouth which was lots of fun though! After that we headed to Nelson for a couple of days where we stayed in a nice place down by the beach and I got the best and cheapest fish and chips. I'd hurt my foot pretty bad about a week before so I finally had to break down and give it some rest and see a doctor! Not too much fun. We enjoyed the nice views around Nelson and Rocky took a four hour walk in the National Park (see the photos), I couldn't walk that much on my foot so I went to a small hippy and artsy place called Takaka nestled away in the mountains, it was a crazy drive but lots of fun. On the 19th we took the ferry over to the south island, Picton was a very cute harbout city and the ferry ride was really nice. We then drove almost all the way up the island and stopped in a place called Taumarangi (or something like that) basically just for a sleep before the adventure begins.
We spent the next day in Waitomo where they have the Karst caves full of glow worms. Rather than do the wussy float in a tube through them rides we decided for some adventure. Rocky did the crazy Indiana Jones goes caving trip (I really wanted to, but couldn't with my foot!!!!) - glad I ended up not going because he said it was pretty tough, lots of heavy rock climbing and walking in water filled rubber boots (which were heavy). My trip was really cool. It's called the Lost World and it's a huge cave filled with lovely green moss, it's totally undescribable but inside the cave it looks like a fairyland complete with small river. Getting in and out was all the fun though. I had to abseil 300ft. down to get in (it takes about 30 minutes taking your time) which was really fun. Then you explore the cave, see the glow worms, enjoy the wonderful views. It's neat to look up 300ft and see the sun and trees above and realize you came from there. Then we clamboured over rocks to get out about halfway and then I had to climb up a very small, totally vertical, 100ft ladder up! I really hated that part - it was pretty scary, especially in the dark. A few more smaller ladders, some narrow ledges and I was finally out! It was a great trip.
After Waitomo we both slept pretty well (both trips were four hours) - then we got up and drove the long way to Rotorua through Lake Taupo which is one of the most active Volcanic areas here. We got to see lots of volcanoes (including one of the most active) and also saw the Craters of the Moon thermal area. It's really weird to wander around places with huge craters with steam pouring out of them. In this area it's really neat because just randomly steam comes out of the ground in certain spots - very cool. Today we drove to Wai-O-Tapo which is the thermal wonderland where we got to see lots of boiling mud, volcanic craters, coloured volcanic pools and lots of sulphur pools and caves. It was really neat and the highlight of course (besides the boiling mud) was the let off of the Lady Knox Geyser! Tomorrow we're heading all the way north to the Bay of Islands area where we hope to do some dolphin swimming and a little relaxing before I have to head home. Thankfully the weather is much nicer up here and we're definetely getting lots of exercise!
February 15, 2000. WANAKA, NEW ZEALAND.
Happy Valentines Day everyone! I know it's a day late but we didn't get a chance to get on the computers yesterday. Well, there is so much to write and I really hope I don't forget anything because it's all wonderful! I think we've stepped into paradise! We left Christchurch in our little Mazda 323 on the 12th and headed for the Milford Sound direction. We ended up in Te Anau which is about 2 hours from the sound and the drive was just incredible. The road twists and winds through huge valleys tucked away inbetween towering hills and mountains. The view was so fabulous, the hills looked like crushed velvet with all different shades of green, blues, mauve and pink. We also drove around Mount Cook which is the highest peak in New Zealand and stopped at just a perfect lookout on the lake with a great view of this monstrous formation. It is surrounded by lots of other mountains and is capped with snow and just looks incredible! It really is all undescribable so I'll do my best. We also drove through a set of mountain ranges called the Remarkables just outside of Queenstown which were also incredibly fabulous! We also almost ran out of gas on our first day with the car - hint if driving in New Zealand, if you see a gas station fill up so you don't end up driving 100km on empty looking for another one and praying! We ended up staying at a nice place on the lake in Te Anau after an exhausting eight hour drive and I think our senses were going through a little bit of overload from all the scenery. The next day was really crappy weather (as it often is near Milford Sound, 6 metres a year of rain, so guess what - it was raining! This is not just normal rain either, buckets came down for 12 hours straight so our plans to go walking didn't quite work out! We ended up driving around and finding a place to stay in Te Anau downs which is about 30 km from the first place we stayed closer to Milford Sound (which was good because we needed to be there at 7:30am for our first adventure the next day).
So, on Valentines Day we got up at 5 am and drove to Milford Sound - and guess what - it was raining still and very cold (probably around 12 or 13 degrees but coming from Australia it felt freezing!). We showed up at the deepwater basin for our sea kayaking! Yes, in this cold weather we decided to get into tiny boats and get on the even colder water. Anyways, it was incredible. Because of all the rain the waterfalls in the area were flowing at two or three times their normal amount which made for incredible roars of water and beautiful sites. We even kayaked to within about 20 metres of one. That was really incredible. The fjord we were in was just fabulous and being at water level is a great way to see it! It's very humbling to be paddling around amidst 500m vertical cliffs and Mitre Peak which is the huge peak there at one vertical mile up. It's so incredible because everything is so big around you it makes it all seem smaller if that makes any sense. We were mainly kayaking around the edges of the fjord because it was really windy but that was great because we saw lots of seals playing in the water and lazing about on rocks! I think this tops most of my other Valentines Days. We were on the water for about four hours just soaking in the views and Rocky was very impressed (and relieved) that I paddled the whole time (we were in a double kayak!). I guess he thought I might wimp out - although I must say the two of us our a little achy this morning with sore arms, hands and backs - I think these are signs that we're getting older!
After the kayak we drove out of the sound which was just as incredible as you are constantly surrounded by giant things and you get to the top and can look over it all - it really makes you feel very small! We stopped to look at a place called the Chasm which is a gorge like thing with water just pounding over it! The water coming over these rapids and surging through a channel that dropped about 30 metres with beautiful rock formations on either side - the noise itself was amazing! (I'm going to have to find new adjectives for stuff like awesome and magnificent or this is going to get redundant!). We then drove to Wanaka which is where we are today. We really lucked out in finding a place as everything was pretty full but then we found a motel at a reasonable price that it one of the best deals we've got. A really beautiful place and the room overlooked the lake with views of Mt. Aspiring and others in the area. We were on like a bluff so I walked out this morning with a cup of tea and overlooked this peaceful town on the edge of a beautiful lake with perfect reflections of the mountains in it. It was like a postcard and all I could think about was that it doesn't get any better than this! Well, I think I should stop writing now as we need to get moving as we are heading to the glaciers today for what sounds to be a cool adventure tomorrow but you'll have to wait until we do it to find out!
February 10, 2000. CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND.
We have finally made it to our last stop on the route! We originally
were flying into Auckland but instead took a one way flight from Auckland
to Christchurch so we wouldn't have to do any backtracking and waste time.
The actual flight was really great because the plane didn't really go up
that high so for about 90% of the trip you could see NZ below and all the
landscape - it was so fabulous. We haven't seen any of it close up yet but
could pick out a volcano flying over it and lots of rocky and green
mountains. As of tomorrow we will be heading to Mount Cook for some
walking trails and then will hopefully be off to Milford sound to do some
sea kayaking. There is so much that we want to do we're just hoping we can
find time to fit it all in - no relaxing days anymore! We'll try and keep
you all posted. Rocky is trying to get some photos together so hopefully
there'll be some new ones soon!