6 ways to travel New Zealand: Pros and Cons

Destinations, New Zealand, New Zealand, Road Trip

6 ways to travel New Zealand: Pros and Cons

11 Comments 08 May 2012

The best way to see New Zealand is by long drives to every corner of the country’s two islands. From the road, people can make the most of this country’s scenery. Rolling mountain ranges, crystal clear lakes and waterfall after waterfall, you really shouldn’t miss a single sight here.

But not everyone can travel this way. Depending on who you’re traveling with and how much money you have to burn will determine how you travel New Zealand. People have a few options of transportation while touring the country, each has its pros and cons. One or many could be right for you.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Car or campervan

Pros

Freedom! You have your own wheels, which means you can go where you want, stop wherever and always have a place to sleep. Not to mention you no longer have to lug around all your bags and with a car you can collect as many souvenirs as you’d like.

Having your own car or campervan will allow you to see a side of the country that all other means of transportation cannot. Sure you can stick to the normal route and visit Franz Josef Glacier or Milford Sound, but you can also visit less-traveled spots such as Tasman Glacier and Hokitika Gorge.

Cons

With freedom comes responsibility. When you travel New Zealand in your own vehicle or a rented vehicle, someone has to drive. Plus, you should consider travel insurance. It’s not a huge deal, but some might not want to even bother during their vacation.

The price of private transportation is another con and even a deal breaker for some. It’s possible to keep this option cheap if you have enough people pitching in, but petrol is expensive in New Zealand as is buying or renting a vehicle. Even if traveling this way works out to be more affordable in the end, a large sum of money is almost always required up front.

Nzine.co.nz

Public bus

Pros

This is usually the most affordable way to travel the country. Companies like Intercity or Naked Bus offer bus fares as low as $NZ1. Of course you’ll have to be pretty lenient to get a rate this low, but it’s all part of the adventure right?

On top of cheap fares, you’ll get your fill of scenery during long coach journeys in which you won’t have to drive. Make sure to get a window seat!

Cons

Lack of freedom. Not only will you have to plan your travels around the company’s timetable, but you also won’t be able to stop wherever and whenever you please. It’s a pretty big negative considering all the scenic lookouts and trails located directly off the main highways here.

Tour companies

Pros

Like with public buses, this is a relaxing and stress-free way to travel the country. Unlike public buses, private tour companies stop for some things along the way to a destination, such as scenic lookout points.

Another upside to these tours is that it’s easy to get to know people on them. Imagine a group of travelers in your age group all holidaying together on one bus and making the same stops. For some people this is a huge asset.

Cons

However some may not enjoy traveling with a group of fellow travelers. They may prefer to be on their own or travel more like the locals would.

Some might also want to have a bit more control of their trip. A lot of these tour companies stick to the accommodation or restaurants they have partnered with and either include these places in the cost or use these places as drop off and pick up points. Again this could be a pro or con, on one hand everything is planned for you, on the other you don’t get a lot of freedom or spontaneity in your trip.

What could also be considered a pro or con is the price of these tours. Usually they work out to be a lot more expensive than public transportation. However, sometimes depending on where or how many places you want to visit, certain hop-on, hop-off bus companies can actually be more affordable.

Jade Johnston is one of my favorite NZ hitchhikers. She’s hitched rides all around the country and written about her experience on Our Oyster, which is where this picture is from.

Hitchhike

Pros

This option is more practical in New Zealand than anywhere else I’ve traveled. Driving around the country, you’ll see loads of people sitting on their bags, holding a piece of cardboard box with places like “Queenstown” or “Wellington” written on it in black marker.

Obviously the big perk here is free travel, though you should really give the driver a few dollars. Another big perk is the thrill. It’s exhilarating, waking up with no plans but to get somewhere, hanging out on the side of a road hoping for the best and taking off with a random stranger.  Hitchhikers always seem to have the best stories.

Cons

It’s a risk. You’re taking a chance hopping into a car with a stranger, that is if anyone even offers to pick you up. The fear factor is on both sides and a lot of people can’t be bothered. This means waiting in the rain or snow, sometimes getting stuck somewhere for longer than you’d like.

On the TransAlpine train to Arthur's Pass, Arthur's Pass, New Zealand

This travel blog photo’s source is TravelPod page: Our first tramp

Train

Pros

Chances are if you chose to travel this way you’re doing it more so for the journey, not the destination. Routes like Christchurch to Arthurs Pass aren’t just a way for getting somewhere, but popular activities in the country. The five-hour journey leads passengers through the Canterbury Plains, past the Southern Alps, gorges, lakes and more. Even if you don’t need to travel by train, I would recommend looking into what scenic routes this country’s railway system has to offer.

Cons

New Zealand’s railway network is not very big. Sure it can take you from Wellington to Auckland or from Greymouth to Christchurch at a pretty fair rate too, but it’s not a practical way to travel the whole of the country.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Plane

Pros

This is the quickest means of travel, especially because you’re not required to arrive extremely early to get through security for most domestic flights around New Zealand. You’ll also get aerial views of places like the Marlborough Sounds or Queenstown traveling this way.

Cons

It’s expensive. Plus you’ll miss out on a lot. Sure you’ll see some things from above on short flights or at the end of long flights, but you’ll miss out on the sights that make traveling New Zealand so special.

Not to mention that this option is pretty impractical for people wanting to stop at a lot of destinations in the country. All airports in the country besides Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch are quite small and only offer a few flights a day to only a few domestic locations. This means you might have to switch flights in Christchurch for what should only be a one hour flight from Queenstown. It just doesn’t make sense.

The best way to see New Zealand is by using more than just one of these means of transportation. Weigh out which options fit best with you time, budget and expectations of the trip.

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A video tour of New Zealand’s South Island

Destinations, New Zealand, New Zealand, Road Trip

A video tour of New Zealand’s South Island

6 Comments 30 April 2012

It’s not possible to take just a few photos in New Zealand’s South Island. In fact, it’s almost impossible not to take thousands.

Considering my track record with taking too many photos (600 in Angkor Wat, yikes), I thought maybe I would try recording my travels around the South Island on video instead of photos. That way I could get every view, every moment, every glorious mountain or lake on record.

This is really my first attempt at vlogging a trip, so be kind. I separated this series into four parts. Ric, my dad and I started our 10-day journey around the South Island from Wellington and ended in Queenstown. Our car Maximus was a reliable carrier. It was nice to have private transportation in this trip, because we could stop at as many waterfalls, gorges and lookouts as we wanted and trust me, we did.

Part I: Wellington to Abel Tasman

We started our journey in Wellington as that has been my hometown for the previous five months. From Wellington, it’s a three-hour ferry ride across the Cook Strait to Picton on the South Island.

We didn’t spend long in Picton, just enough time to have fish and chips along the water and spot a ray in the water. We traveled to Blenheim to visit a friend at Moa Brewery, then headed to Nelson where we set up our tents just off the beach at Tahuna Beach Holiday Park.

After only one night, we left early the next morning for Abel Tasman, stopping along the way for my dad’s first skydive. The start of the trip was a bit of a rush, so we spent two days relaxing, kayaking and eating burgers in Abel Tasman.

Part II: Abel Tasman to Hokitika Gorge

The next leg of our trip was more about the journey then the destination. We spent this day and a half mainly on the road, which you’ll find is a good thing when traveling New Zealand.

We had a picnic on the beach as soon as we hit the West Coast in Charleston. We played around at a sweet cave on the beach not too much further up the road. Of course we stopped in Punakaiki to see Pancake Rocks. Then we spent a night in Greymouth at Noah’s Ark, one of the very best hostels I’ve ever visited. Greymouth is home to Monteith’s Brewery. Naturally we sampled the beer.

The first half of the following day was all about hitting Hokitika Gorge on the way to Franz Josef. I’ve never seen water that color blue. Stunning.

Part III: Hokitika Gorge to Queenstown

Unlike the last part, this part was all about the destinations. We hit some of New Zealand’s most notables in these days. First was Franz Josef where we climbed a glacier. Next was Haast where we tried white bait. After there was Wanaka where we sampled wine at Rippon Vineyard.

Finally we reached Queenstown, where we gave up our tents for a sweet apartment. In the country’s ski capital we had an amazing meal at The Bunker, which has a mysterious James Bond vibe to it. A few days isn’t enough in Queenstown. Luckily, we’d be coming back.

Part IV: Queenstown to Milford Sound

There’s no better way to finish a trip to the South Island than with what is perhaps its most stunning scenery, Milford Sound.

While Queenstown and Milford Sound are not that far from each other on a map, the only road connecting these two destinations goes completely out of the way, so the drive takes about four hours. It’s a great dive though, as usual.

We arrived in Milford Sound, rain pouring and waterfalls gushing. The small town doesn’t have many places to stay, so Milford Sound Lodge was an easy pick. The lodge is warm and full of life. Its dining area is walled with windows, so we spent the night drinking wine and watching the rain come down on the mountains just next to the lodge.

While I loved being in Milford Sound in the stormy weather and seeing how powerful the place is, I didn’t really want to cruise Milford Sound in rain the next day. Luckily, the clouds separated and the sun came out giving us a gorgeous day at sea. Unfortunately we had to leave early that day to drive back to Queenstown where Ric and I said goodbye to my dad at the airport.

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Hump day photo: Pancake Rocks

Destinations, New Zealand, New Zealand, Other, Photography, Road Trip

Hump day photo: Pancake Rocks

2 Comments 25 April 2012

Pancake Rocks is a must-stop on any tour of New Zealand’s South Island.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

They were formed 30 million years ago from minute fragments of dead marine creatures and plants landed on the seabed about 2 km below the surface. Immense water pressure caused the fragments to solidify in hard and soft layers.-Department of Conservation

The natural roadside attraction is located on SH 6 in Punakaiki. It’s great to see at all times of day, but especially spectacular at high tide when blowholes in the rocks are bursting with water.

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Digging for heat at Hot Water Beach, NZ

Destinations, New Zealand, New Zealand, Road Trip

Digging for heat at Hot Water Beach, NZ

12 Comments 12 February 2012

After six months of living in Wellington and a month of traveling New Zealand, I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter how extreme the sun, how warm the day or how beautiful the beach, the water is almost always unbearably cold in this country. So you can imagine just how appealing a place called Hot Water Beach is to travelers.

Located on the Coromandel Peninsula, about a ten minute drive South of Hahei, Hot Water Beach has thermal waters beneath its sands. With visions of hot springs and jacuzzis in my head, I approached this beach outing ready to unwind and relax.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one. Nor did I realize just how hard it is to dig a hole in sand. This may not be the experience you would expect from a place with thermal waters, but this was my experience at Hot Water Beach, NZ.

I was excited to visit the beach from the moment I woke up. I slipped out of my tent early and wandered down to the front office at Hahei Holiday Resort to rent a spade (shovel) and check low tide times for the day. I paid a $NZ10 deposit for a spade, which I received back upon return.

You’ll find places selling or renting spades all over the Peninsula. A lot of the places that rent them collect a deposit and charge a fee. I was lucky to find our accommodation lent them pretty much for free.

People should visit the beach either two hours prior to or after low tide. 

Ric and I arrived at Hot Water Beach almost exactly two hours prior to low tide and walked out to the type of view that makes New Zealand so special; gorgeous sands below, rolling farmland in the distance, clear water in front and only a few people in sight. However, this wasn’t the Hot Water Beach we came to experience. To reach the piece of beach with thermal activity, we’d have to walk ten minutes to the right.

A whole Hot Water Beach to ourselves. Not really. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

As I walked further down the beach a large rock that had been hiding a small piece of it started to reveal my worst nightmare, 150 meters of Seaside Heights on Fourth of July weekend. For those who have never visited New Jersey or never watched The Jersey Shore, this means a ridiculous amount of people, screaming kids and obnoxious people who don’t even try to not kick sand on your towel as they walk by.

Like I said, my nightmare.

Everyone from Hot Water Beach crammed into one spot. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

But I still had to give the place a try.

As soon as we reached the crowd, we found the emptiest spot we could and started digging. Five minutes in and the water was cold. Ten minutes in and the water was still cold. Fifteen minutes of digging and although we were hot, the water was still cold.

What were we doing wrong?

Finally, a wonderful man came over and told us we had to search for warm spots. Those spots can be found as soon as you walk on them. 

I looked up to see a massive group of people digging around one area of beach. They were surrounded by steam. I had to test it out.

Hot water?

More like boiling water.

I literally felt like I burnt my feet after walking in their hole.

So I kept searching for a hot spot of my own. I felt everywhere in the area, but couldn’t find it. I started to think, “Is that it? Is just that one spot ‘Hot Water Beach’?”. Ric and I both started to get annoyed and stupidly just started digging at a random spot.

And this is no easy task. In fact, digging a hole on the beach is probably one of the most discouraging things I’ve ever done.

I would dig a spot just to see more sand sink into it. Only after a few minutes of digging would a hole start to form and that would come just in time for a wave to crash into the short wall Ric and I had made and shatter our dreams of reaching warm water.

It went on like this for about twenty minutes without the water getting even the slightest bit warmer. Just as we were about to give up, Ric went to look for a hot patch. He came back shaking his head, so I gave it a try.

The tide had gone out a lot since we first arrived, giving the crowd room to spread out and a lot more beach to explore. I started feeling around an area right at the water’s edge.

Cold.

Warm. 

Warmer.

Warmer.

Ouch!

There it was, an extremely hot patch. I motioned for Ric to come over. He started digging, but waves just kept crashing into us and destroying our wall of sand. This was our spot, but we had to wait out the tide. So we stood there, spade in hand, for about twenty minutes, giving it a go every now and again to only be let down.

Finally, we just started digging like crazy. Ric dug into the sand ferociously with the spade as I got on the ground and started throwing out sand with my hands. Slowly, our hole started to resemble the hot water pools we’d seen on posters.

We must have dug for about an hour and only created a pool deep enough to reach the front of my hip bones while laying down. It didn’t matter.

We did it.

Relaxing in our hot pool, finally. Photo by Richard Hackey

All we had to do now was lay in the warmth of the earth and watch everyone else work. And that’s what we did for about an hour as a few tiny bubbles popped up around us. After all our hard work came the bliss I had imagined.

It’s really quite amazing that a place like Hot Water Beach exists and certainly nothing like I’ve visited before. For that, it’s worth a visit, but prepare to work for this New Zealand experience.

Here’s some things to remember on your trip:

  • a spade (shovel)
  • sneakers (hot spots are often too hot to even stand on)
  • sunscreen (NZ sun is extremely strong, don’t forget to protect yourself while digging)
  • water
  • low tide times

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Cruising on the Interislander

Destinations, New Zealand, New Zealand, Road Trip

Cruising on the Interislander

2 Comments 03 February 2012

Those traveling all of New Zealand, not just the North or South Island will have to cross the Cook Strait either by plane or boat. Facing the added expense of both options can be a bit concerning for travelers on a budget.

Luckily, Interislander makes the crossing more than just a mode of transportation, but also a great activity to add to the agenda. Passengers can expect jaw dropping views through the Marlborough Sounds, onboard food and entertainment, maybe even a few dolphins swimming beside the ship.

While on a recent ferry crossing with Interislander from Wellington to Picton, I said a few times, “Now this is how to travel.”

Amenities

Interislander is set up similar to a cruise ship. It offers a few eateries, a bar, a movie theater, several lounges and viewing platforms, a children’s play area, a travel information center with a real live person on site to help book trips, VIP sections, even a lounge for truck drivers.

I boarded early in the morning and headed straight to the cafeteria for breakfast. At $12, the big breakfast was extremely reasonable considering how much airlines and ferries usually charge people for food these days. Expect your standard cafeteria food. Visit the cafe for better meals.

Big breakfast served on board. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

One of the ship’s dining areas. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The only other purchase I made was an hour or 40MB of internet at $7. I would only purchase it to do a few little things online, but I found the connection extremely good considering we were out to sea and in the middle of nowhere most of the time.

The majority of my time on board was spent either napping on the ferry’s big, comfy lounge chairs or on the top deck checking out the views.

Sights

The top deck was definitely the place to be on the clear summer day I traveled. Views are absolutely stunning sailing through the Sounds with massive mountains cascading into blue and green waters.

I was even lucky enough to watch a pod of dolphins swimming and jumping beside the boat. The captain who first spotted them, made sure to announce it to everyone on board.

A view of the Sounds from inside the ferry. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

It seems like wildlife spottings are pretty common through the Marlborough Sounds too. All three times I’ve taken the ferry, each captain announced seeing dolphins. In fact, I’ve actually been on dolphin sighting tours that cost more than my Interislander ferry trip and didn’t give me nearly as good an experience.

Staff

A great interaction with the staff started as soon as we drove onto the ship. One of the staff members directing Ric where to park the car, pretended to be pulling us in on a rope while giving a massive smile. For me, it’s little things like this that always make a trip that much better.

From then on every member of the staff was extremely kind, even fun. The duty manager waited by the exit door bidding everyone farewell at the end of the journey.

Duration

Expect three to four hours for this trip. Those traveling with a car must arrive before final check in, which is usually about an hour before departure, but don’t worry about arriving much earlier than that, as you’ll just have to wait in line.

Ric having a nap during our trip. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Price

People can book through their website, at a ticket counter or through an agent. A single adult ticket with no vehicle costs $NZ52-$NZ75. For two people traveling with a standard sized vehicle, the price is between $NZ215 and $NZ330 depending on what kind of ticket you purchase and time of travel. These prices seem to have stayed the same the few times I have checked.

The cheapest option is a web saver reservation and these are a lot cheaper so it’s beneficial to book as early as possible as only a limited number of these non-refundable reservations are available. Interislander also offers promotions which may be worth looking into.

Thanks to Interislander  for sponsoring our ferry crossing to the South Island. As always, all opinions are my own.

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A video montage of South Island scenery

Destinations, New Zealand, New Zealand, Road Trip

A video montage of South Island scenery

8 Comments 29 January 2012

While New Zealand may be known for its extreme sports, sheep and friendly people, it’s the country’s scenery that dominates anyone’s travels here. We spent ten days traveling the country’s South Island from Picton to Milford Sound constantly saying,”Look at that!” or “Wow that’s beautiful!”. Ric said after three days, “You really run out of superlatives for this place.”

He couldn’t have been more right. 

Driving this great country is truly incredible. Every turn presents a new landscape and every bend a sight more breathtaking than the last. We traveled about 2,000 kilometers up, down and through mountains, beside vineyards and crystal clear lakes.

Our general route of the South Island on Google Maps.

No picture or video will ever do this country justice, but hopefully this montage of our drive across the South Island will help people realize why I can so easily declare that New Zealand is by far the most beautiful country I’ve ever traveled.

Thanks to Interislander and Jucy Cruize for sponsoring my ten day South Island adventure. As always, all opinions are my own.

Banner photo taken by Bobbi Lee Hitchon near Milford Sound.

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Road Trip: Ohau Point Seal Colony

Destinations, New Zealand, New Zealand, Road Trip

Road Trip: Ohau Point Seal Colony

No Comments 07 September 2011

Driving along State Highway 1 through Kaikoura on the South Island of New Zealand, I saw some yellow and black seal-crossing signs. As with any case of an unusual-to-me animal crossing sign, I was on the look out for a possible peak or even encounter. But these signs weren’t a warning, but a promise of seeing seals.

If you look in the center of this shit you'll see dozens of seals on the rocky beach. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

If you look in the center of this photo you’ll see dozens of seals on the rocky beach. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Located right in the coastal highway, Ohau Point Seal Colony is home to many barking and playful seals of all sizes. Make sure to pull over when you see signs for the lookout. It’s definitely worth the short break to see heaps of these funny creatures in their natural habitat.

But if my image wasnt close enough to capture the cuteness. Heres one from Rankers.co.nz

But if my image wasn’t close enough to capture the cuteness. Here’s one from Rankers.co.nz

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