Kia Ora everyone. We are very excited and happy to have finished planning for a trip to New Zealand. Aotearoa, the Maori name of New Zealand, is famous for its stunning landscapes, scenery and natural beauty. The country is comprised of two islands, the North and the South Island. For this trip of ours, we are limiting ourselves to the country’s South Island (stunning natural beauty). The North Island (more of a cultural center with vibrant cities) will have to be done on another trip, as there is so much to see in South Island itself. Almost every person who we spoke to about our trip said that the South Island is the place to go, especially if it is your first visit to New Zealand.
Our planned travel itinerary is a 10 day trip as follows:
Day 1: Christchurch (arrive in afternoon)
Day 2: Day trip to Akaroa, return Ch-Ch in evening
Day 3: Day trip to Arthurs Pass, return Ch-Ch in evening
Day 4: Drive to Mount Cook, stay night at a lodge near the mountains
Day 5: Drive to Wanaka, stay at B&B in Wanaka
Day 6: Wanaka
Day 7: Drive to Queenstown, day trip to Glenorchy, return QTN in evening
Day 8: All day tour to Milford Sound (the most famous fjord in NZ), return QTN in evening
Day 9: Queenstown
Day 10: Leave Queenstown, go to Christchurch via Dunedin
Day 11: Fly early morning out of Christchurch back home
Of course, a trip this far and this awesome needed some awesome planning. And since we do not have much time (10 days is too short), we really need to prioritize and choose wisely. Luckily, there are tons of resources available online for New Zealand. Planning a trip to this country is not very hard – just time consuming, because there is too much information! Following are some things that helped us a lot in our planning:
I used tripadvisor extensively. It is such a great community of people, who have a vast amount of knowledge and information. First, read various posts that other travelers have written, then post your itinerary and get feedback on it from so called “Destination Experts”. I highly recommend people who are planning a trip to NZ to keep checking the forum topics periodically right up to travel day. There are such a wide variety of topics being discussed, that you will literally discover new things over there.
Google Street View
A lesser known but amazing planning tool was Google Street View (see below screenshot of how to get a street view). We plan to go on road trips a lot, and I used Google Street View to figure out which roads to take, and how far ahead to go and get a general idea of driving in NZ.
(Go to google maps and drag-drop the yellow character on the bottom right)
Social media was very helpful to get a personal view on attractions/places to stay and eat. Planning tools here were YouTube and Facebook (search “New Zealand” in the search bar at the very top of your facebook page after logging in, and you will get unbiased content from across facebook, as well as from your friends/friend’s friends who have visited NZ). There is lots of good content here which can keep you busy!
(some typical NZ foods/snacks)
We love discovering new food and experiencing different types of local cuisines. To discover the best of local food in New Zealand, I used two websites in particular. The first one is a website called Zomato. It has scanned menus online and also a few reviews. The second and perhaps a little more obvious website is Tripadvisor. This website is great to find the most popular restaurants in a city or town, as it ranks them every year. Lastly, since we are vegetarians, we found some interesting eating options at vegetarians.co.nz. This website is great for vegans and vegetarians. A Christchurch specific vegetarian food resource is the Christchurch Vegetarian Center.
There are tons of travel blogs which talk about people’s experiences in New Zealand. But some particularly useful and resourceful blogs were nzfrenzysouth.wordpress.com and tikitouringnz.blogspot.co.nz.
The first one (NZ Frenzy) is actually written by a well known American outdoor writer Scott Cook. It is not your typical travel blog. Scott’s blog focuses exclusively on outdoor walks/hikes/drives/view points, something which is a hallmark of the South Island; you cannot go to the South Island and not do one of them! The blog is quite detailed (has maps/directions and even has GPS co-ordinates) and uses lots of pictures to give you an idea of various locations/attractions.
The second blog (tiki touring) is written by a lady named Shelly, who has been traveling NZ for a while now. I found her blog through tripadvisor forum and I am glad I did. The depth in terms of the number of places featured is incredible. You can find almost any major place worth seeing on her blog. Though the detail level is not always as high, the pictures give you a good sense of what to expect at each location.
Weather and temperatures
For monthly weather profiles, check out niwa.co.nz. This place has historical weather data on all sorts of things like sunshine hours a month, temperatures, rain, etc. etc. Your one stop shop for everything weather related. Once on niwa, go to education and training on the top, then schools (left menu), teaching resources (left menu) and then climate data. Trust me, I am not asking you to do your school homework or something, this stuff is actually very useful while planning and also while packing clothes.
Driving Directions and Drive Times
I cannot stress more on this, DO NOT use Google Maps for estimating drive times in NZ, or planning road trips in NZ. It is completely inaccurate and does not take into account time for stops made for food/fuel/restroom breaks. It also does not account for the COUNTLESS times you WILL stop for taking pictures, as the South Island has stunning scenery around literally every corner. For drive times, use the Time and Distance calculator on the NZ Automobile Association website. You could use Google Maps for road names, directions, or actual locations of places, but not for drive times and distances.
The ever present “I-Site”
Each city in NZ has an i-site in the city center area. This place is filled with brochures/pamphlets of everything there is to do in that city or town, along with helpful staff who can make calls and help you book various activities. They even sell phone SIM cards and sometimes have luggage storage. These i-sites have websites also, which you can use to explore things BEFORE HAND. This way, when you are in NZ, you don’t waste your time standing in long queues at i-sites (they are filled with tourists) and figuring out what the options are. You can find most i-sites through Google, but some i-sites useful for South Island are:
Activities in NZ are some of the most expensive when compared to anywhere else in the world. Luckily, there are discount websites where you can discover various options for activities and tours and get discounts on it. Of course they come with terms and conditions attached, so make sure you read the fine print. Some useful discount websites are:
There is also Groupon, but it is only available in Auckland (North Island)
Lets get Techie
I plan to take a tablet with us (same applies to a smart phone also), so I have downloaded pdf’s of DOC maps/guides to various walks/locations/cities that I will visit. I downloaded a bunch of other pdfs on whatever I could find from DOC (Department of Conservation – NZ) or i-sites online. I also downloaded this app called Maps.me for offline maps (useful when no WiFi or data connectivity). The speed with which the maps get loaded/zoomed is awesome. OsmAnd is also a good offline map app. For electrical plugs, I will use a Targus World Adapter. I also plan to take a power strip with me, in order to be able to charge multiple devices from one outlet. For phone, I plan to buy a 2 degrees prepaid $20 option from the Ch-Ch i-site. The SIM cards are free, you have to then charge it with some money, which is done at i-site (and also at convenient stores and gas stations as I heard). Make sure you have a world phone (quad-band, google this if you don’t know). $20 prepaid seems to be enough for our trip, it will allow us to make a few short calls for making restaurant reservations, and call some toll free 800 numbers for booking activities. The $20 option also gives you 500mb of data, which is handy. I also have installed Skype on my tab, so I will be able to make calls (local and international) on it, but I will need WiFi for doing so.
Some invaluable things
I have printed out two sheets of paper with me, one is for activities and the other is for restaurants. Each paper has a list of activities/restaurants for each city/town we visit, along with phone number, address and hours of operation. This can be a great resource for us as it saves us lots of time. It allows us to pick and choose things spontaneously while we are out, and that too without requiring any Wi-Fi or data connection. As you will agree, when in a foreign country, one cannot expect to have internet everywhere. So this can be a very handy resource.
Hope this helps you in your planning. Is there a resource/tool/idea which you found to be effective while planning a trip to NZ? or elsewhere? … Feel free to share your ideas.