13 months
Mar 4:
lawn bowling
Mar 5:
hello, dahlia!
Mar 20:
Mar 24:
bromeliads &
serial killers
new zealand gallery
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next location
(buenos aires)

farms in the land of the long white cloud
driving from Invercargill to Queensland, New Zealand; Mar 8, 2005

the low down

Overall: We love New Zealand and would love to come back for another visit. The scenery is absolutely stunning and unspoiled.

Franz Josef Glacier
[guest photographer: Don Stanat (Grace's dad)]

What we did: Almost a month (25 days) split between driving up the West Coast of the South Island and visiting a few spots on the North Island. Grace's parents flew out to meet us here and we toured the west coast of the South Island in a mini-van with them and Grace's Aunt Fran and Uncle Kirby who live in Invercargill. It was big-family fun! Then we left Fran & Kirby, trained over to ChristChurch, then flew to Auckland, where we rented a car. We drove to Rotorua, then north to the Bay of Islands, then dropped off Grace’s parents and stayed in Auckland for a few days before flying out. We did a lot more moving around than we usually do and we're glad we did because there’s so much to see. We also did some outdoor adventure sports (plenty to choose from here) that we highly recommend.

Essentials: All the small cities have a mini-mart or grocery to get basics like toothpaste, detergent and libations, but there aren’t commonly big grocery stores. The weather is quite different between the South Island and the North Island, and from day to day. Bring what you need clothing-wise unless you'll be in Auckland or Christchurch early in your visit to stock up.

Food: In restaurants, ask what fish is fresh and have that. Otherwise, the venison and lamb are generally delicious. The dairy, especially cheeses, are also great here. (Random side note: we also somehow managed to pay $18 for a burrito that wouldn’t stand a chance in our mostly-Hispanic home neighborhood of the Mission in San Francisco.)

People: In general, Kiwis are beyond friendly and interesting with a deliciously wicked, dry sense of humor. Unfortunately, we also ran into a few unhappy, unfriendly types commonly found working at food establishments in highly touristed areas. It was late in the season, and they’d probably just had their fill of foreigners. Aside from those, however, New Zealanders are amazingly welcoming (see new zealand: bromeliads & serial killers).

Daily budget: New Zealand can be more expensive than San Francisco! Accommodations besides backpacker hostiles are generally pricey - above $85/night for 2 people and generally around $100/night. On the bright side, New Zealand is supposed to have some of the best and cleanest backpacker housing in the world. Book in advance if you want to get a private room with ensuite.

Exchange rate: $1 US = $1.32 NZ

What's fabulous: New Zealand’s landscape is almost unbelievably beautiful and varied – rolling green hills, snow-capped mountains, waterfalls flowing into raging rivers, sheep sheered fields, glaciers, hot-springs, beaches, cliff-tops, lakes… pretty much everything except desert (at least we didn’t see any desert, but we did see the rest of this stuff). There are also an abundance of outdoor activities for a variety of tastes (hiking, rafting, bungee jumping, etc.).

Weather: Bring a raincoat and a bathing suit since the weather in a lot of places here can change in an instant. As our Aunt Fran tells us, it’s commonly all four seasons in the same day (especially on the South Island) and you need to be prepared. And don’t bother looking at the news report, just look out the window.

Random translations:
”kiwi” - New Zealander
”he’s thick as two short planks” - he’s stupid
”heaps” - lots
”too easy” - no problem (this is said *all* the time)
”elevator doesn’t reach the top floor” - not the sharpest tool in the
shed (to coin another saying)
”Good on you” - good for you
”Sweet as” - great (it’s short for “sweet as… something that’s sweet, whatever
it may be. Can also be used with other adjectives, like “Easy as.”)
”How ya goin’?” - combination of How’s it going? and How’re you doing?
”box of birds” - cheerful, or good (a common answer to “How ya going?”)
”good as gold” - doing well (another common response)

Getting around: Unless you're staying in the bigger cities, a car is the most convenient way to get about the country. This is a bit expensive, but it allows you to visit the small towns along the coasts and go inland for hikes in the mountains. In the big cities, public transportation is usually quite good.

Enjoyments: Besides the general scenery, the thing to do in NZ is outdoor adventure: bungee jumping, hiking, river rafting (photo), fishing, swim with dolphins, take a helicopter ride (video), Zorb (video), etc.

Specific places we visited/things we did:
Invercargill (southern tip of the South Island)
  - Southland Museum - where we saw a whopping 11 Tuatera, including the grandpappy Henry (born circa 1880!)
  - Whaler’s Bay – a great place for walks
  - Lawn Bowling at Te Rangi Bowling Club (see new zealand: lawn bowling)
  - Kilmock Bush – another great place for walks, and spotting leprechauns that have escaped Ireland, fairies and the like
  - Belle Fleur dahlia farm (see new zealand: hello dahlia!)
  - Oreti Beach – the most southern beach on the mainland of New Zealand and the closest we’ve ever been (only 600 miles) to Antarctica
Western coast of the South Island

- Queenstown (touristy, but with a lot to do, including many outdoor activities)

looking out from Queenstown
  - Wanaka (very beautiful, and also home to the not-very-puzzling Puzzle World – yes, we actually went there)
  - Haast (The rain was horrible, which made little waterfalls everywhere. And then we drove though… THE GATES OF HAAAAAAST!! Bwahaha! Actually, it was pretty amazing ‘cause the water level was so high – see photo)
  - Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier (where we took our first helicopter ride ever over the glaciers, and actually landed on one!)
  - Greymouth (where we visited the strange rock formations of the Pancake Rocks and Blow Holes in Punakaiki)

Christchurch (via the Transalpine Express Train from Greymouth, a very scenic ride):

  - Botanic Gardens (worth a long stroll, or if you're like Grace's mom, you can spend all day there)
  - Canterbury Museum (Grace doens't have the highest "museum tolerance," so this one was about right for him - 2 hours or so)
  - Christchurch Cathedral (well, of course you have to go see this, though we only looked at the outside)
Rotorua (North Island)
  - Kuirau Park (active volcanic park, definitely worth a visit)
  - Mitai Hangi - Most “authentic” of the traditional Maori dinner celebrations but still very touristy. Worth seeing this one if you’re interested in this sort of thing, and it includes a glow worm walk in the nearby forest.
  - River rafting on Kiatuna River (where we did a 7-meter drop in the raft – cool!)
  - Kerosene Creek (a warm-water sulfuric creek that is supposed to have therapeutic qualities, but has this sign next to it that says something rather alarming about Amoebic Meningitis – we jumped in anyway and we’re still alive, so we think it’s okay, but it’s probably a good idea to keep your mouth closed and head above water)
  - Aorangi Peak (great view!)
  - ZORB (maybe you’ve seen it on TV, or maybe you’ve seen our video – it was a lot of fun being a human hamster for a bit)

>> Recommended activity: rafting with Raftabout <<
website; email; phone: +64 0800 723-822 or +64 7-343-9500;
address: 811 State Highway 33, Okere Falls, Rotorua
our guides: Lee & Dean (both excellent, but everybody there is excellent)
There are a few different companies that do this sort of thing in Rotorua, but after some research, we decided to go with Raftabout, and we're glad we did. The guides were knowledgeable and fun, the service was professional, the trip left on schedule, and the safety precautions were excellent. They also provide a quality action-photo service (since it's pretty difficult to get a picture of yourself going down a 7-meter drop).

>> Recommended activity: ZORB <<
website; email; phone: +64 7-357 5100 or 0800-227-474 (from NZ);
What can we say? It's weird, it's fun, and it kinda' upsets your stomach. You can do a twisty-turny one, or you can do a straight one. If you choose straight, you can bring along a couple of friends. You can do it wet or dry. Or with an olive.
>> Recommended accomodation: Westminster Lodge <<
website; email; phone: +64 7-348-4273 or 0800-937-864 (from NZ);
owners: Barry & Jill (both characters, but in a good way)
address: 58a Mountain Road, Rotorua (high up, overlooking the town);
This is a nice little B&B-type place with only a few rooms. It's very homey and the owners are super helpful in providing good ideas for what to do for the day.
Russell, on the Bay of Islands (North Island): This is a great place to just relax and unwind for a bit:
>> Recommended activity: Fullers Bay of Islands <<
website; email; phone: +64 7-348-4273 or 0800-937-864 (free)
location: Maritime Building on the waterfront, Paihia
There are several companies that do this sort of thing in the Bay of Islands. Fullers is professional and has competitive rates. On our trip we had great guides. They do several different types of cruises around the bay. We chose the dolphin cruise, which, if you're lucky, allows you to actually swim with the dolphins in the open ocean. In our case, unfortunately, there were baby dolphins in the pod so we weren't allowed to swim with them, but we did get to see orcas very close which was a nice consolation prize.

>> Recommended accomodation: Beachfront Estate (Wairoro Park) <<
website; email; owner: Captain Yan Boerop
address: there really isn't one; it's 2 km from the car ferry (look for the sign that says "beachfront chalets)
These are wonderful A-frame cabins above the Bay of Islands. The views are superb, they're clean as a whistle, and you're less than a 5-minute walk down to the water where you can use the free kayaks.

our cabin at Beachfront Estate
our backyard, the Bay of Islands
On the drive back to Auckland, we stopped briefly in Warkworth to visit:
  - Parry Kauri Park - This is one of several parks dedicated to the monstrously huge (and old) Kauri trees. The local celebrity here is the McKinney tree (at 800 years old, it’s considered a teenager compared to some that are over 2,000 – the largest known tree is called Tane Mahuta (Lord of the Forest) which is 4.4 meters in diameter and 17.7 meters to the first branch.
And lastly we drove back to Auckland where we relaxed and took in the sites for a few days. Auckland is an incredibly beautiful city and there's lots to see and do. We were only here for a few days, but we would certainly like to come back and spend more time.
>> NOT Recommended: Quality Rental Car <<
location: Auckland (and other cities throughout NZ)
This was the *worst* rental car experience we've ever had. The car was dirty, old, empty (no petrol), ran poorly and the service was unprofessional. Save yourself the hassle and don't rent from these guys.

Check out the new zealand gallery for pix of all the above!

© 2004-2012 susan & grace, all rights reserved

-- comments from readers --


I just want to thank you for your very informative information on New Zealand, because we want to go there sometime soon. I always study a place thoroughly before going, but since you have already been there, I gathered much more knowledge than I could have gotten from a travel book. Thank you so very much for all the info! Do you publish your travel knowledge? We are going to Buenos Aires in October, so if you have notes about a trip to that city or to Iguazu Falls, please let me know. (As a matter of fact, we do! Click here for some written info and here for some pix.)

--Judy M. (San Antonia, Texas, USA); Sep 22, 2006


Your sheep retrospective was absolutely hilarious. Did you get to go swimming on the glacier? What a lovely place Aotearoa is.

--Chris (Louisiana, USA); May 22, 2006

We didn't, unfortunately, get to go swimming on a glacier. :( But that just means that we have to go back!

--Grace & Susan; Jun 2, 2006


Thanks for the pics and videos. We are going to NZ in 3 weeks time and trying to find out as much as poss. I am 56, my husband 49 and daughter 17. Do you think I am too old to do the raft thing?

--Lynda (Plymouth, England); Dec 26, 2005

I think that you will be fine on the rafting. My folks are both nearing 70 and they seemed to handle it quite well. Go for it!

--Grace; Dec 27, 2005