Leon's Weblog

June 3, 2007

Back from New Zealand

Filed under: Personal — Leon @ 8:34 am

New Zealand

I just returned from a two week trip to New Zealand with my friend, Eugene. (5/19/07-6/1/07). We toured the country from Christchurch to Auckland by car. The pictures from the trip are available in my photo gallery.

We arrived at Christchurch on Monday, May 21st via JFK–>LAX–>AUK–>CHR airports. The trip took 2 days (one for the flight and the other day was lost when we crossed the international date line). We picked up our rental car from AVIS the same day and drove along the Banks Peninsula to Akaroa. The roads are very well maintained so the only problem was adjusting to driving on the left side of the road.

On the second day, we headed North West to Arthur’s Pass. Along the way, we stopped by Porter’s Pass which has beautiful views of the landscape and a footpath to a cave. We were able to climb to the entrance of the cave but, without any equipment, were able to go no further.

We stayed at hostels (or “backpackers” as they are called here) most of the time. Unfortunately, we decided to camp out one night not knowing that there was a big storm on the way. Maybe that was why the national camping sites were closed (we thought it was just because we were there in the off-season). That was the only night that it rained hard but we didn’t want to risk camping out again. Also, the temperature drops down to 0 deg C during the nights in the late fall so camping is not too pleasant when it’s dry either.

It appears that New Zealanders take speeding very seriously. We did not see anyone going over the 100 kph speed limit the entire time that we were there. And, with only a few marked police cars checking for speeders, it seemed like this minor misdeed is more of a social faux pax than a legally enforced offence. That is until I received a 230NZD speeding ticket in the mail for going 75 kph in a 50 kph zone. The ticket indicated that the fine goes up to 800NZD depending on speed. I guess that’s how they pay for all that road maintenance. So the moral of this story is… beware of the speeding cameras (even if that means going at snails pace on the national highways).

Getting from the South to the North Island is fairly straight forward and hassle free. There is a ferry (the Interislander) that departs every few hours from Picton to Wellington and back. The trip costs 45NZD/person and takes about 3 hours. We drop off the rental car in Picton and picked up another one on the North Island under the same contract (which is cheaper than getting a separate rental contract on each island). The ferry itself is huge and can accommodate several tractor trailers with cargo as well as crates of cows and sheep on each trip (avoid the aft of the top deck if you don’t like the smell of livestock)

New Zealand is very youthful and adventure packed destination with more extreme activities per capita than any other place in the world (don’t quote me on that… it’s just something I’ve heard). Apparently, the laws there protect the local businesses against litigation from injury much more than they do in the United States (so play at your own risk). It also helps that the local news is 80% sports coverage and 20% politics. Besides the usual extreme sports (such as sky diving and bungee jumping… been there, done that), New Zealand offers some of their own unique attractions. Rotorua, offers many activities including the Luge (a unique form of down hill go-cart racing). Waitomo Caves is popular destination for caving, abseiling and backwater rafting. If surfing is more of your style, check out the little town of Raglan which is has a world-renowned surf and offers year round surfing lessons. So, whatever your fetish for getting an adrenaline-high, chances are you will find it here.

I found the South Island to be less populated, rustic and more pleasant overall. While North Island offers more modern-world marvels, the South has the best breathtaking views all along Arthur’s Pass as well as the Marlborough Sound. So, if you are playing a trip to both islands, definitely allocate more time in the South.

Overall, New Zealand is a beautiful and exiting place to visit. It was defiantly worth the 24 hour flight from New York and I would highly recommend it to both nature and adventure lovers.

General Observations/Discoveries

  • Most cities shutdown at dusk (people sleep here)
  • “Subway” has lamb sandwiches. McDonald’s has Kiwi burgers.
  • Lots of sheep (cows too)
  • South Island is very rustic and more pleasant. North is more industrial.
  • Fall is the off-season for travelers. The weather is still temperate (nippy at times) and the attractions are less crowded.
  • Do not camp on shore of Tasman Sea in heavy ran/wind
  • Do not drive two-wheel-drive vehicle on beach (in sand)
  • NZ uses 240V outlets with unique plugs
  • Roads are in very good condition. Drive on left side of street (English style). People keep left as well (except on escalators)
  • NZ doesn’t believe in two lane bridges. Just close eyes, cross fingers, and hope there is no oncoming traffic.
  • Suggestive commercials on radio. National slogan to prevent forest fires is “don’t be a dick.”
  • Fat people should not go into caves
  • Bathrooms have separate hot and cold faucets (PITA)
  • Toilets do not flush clock wise. In fact, not in a spiral at all.
  • Designated #1/#2 flush buttons on toilets
  • You can “hire” inanimate objects
  • People over 50 don’t show their face in public (although we suspect that they exist)


  • Day 1 – Arrive at Christchurch, pick up rental car, and drive to Akaroa
  • Day 2 – Take Arthur’s Pass to Greymouth. Visit Dolomite point at Punakaiki.
  • Day 3 – Drive to Westport to see the seal colony at Tauranga Bay. Have breakfast at the Bay House Café. Walk across the longest swing bridge in NZ (over the Buller River). Rest at Nelson at “Accents on the Park”, a nice hostel. Walk to the center of New Zealand.
  • Day 4 – Drive through the Marlborough Sound to Picton then take the Interislander Ferry across the Cook Straight to Wellington
  • Day 5 – In Wellington, take the Cable Car to the botanical garden (on top of the hill). Drive to New Plymouth to rest for the night.
  • Day 6 – Visit Mt. Egmont National Park. Drive to Waitomo Caves and go caving/abseiling/rock climbing on the Haggas & Honk Holes tour.
  • Day 7 – Drive to Lake Taupo and then further north to Orekei Korako Geyserland (best visited via Jet Boat along Lake Ohakiri)
  • Day 8 – Drive to Rotorua for Skyline Skyrides (luge), Rainbow Springs, and Offroad NZ (cart racing). Continue north west to Bridal Veil Falls and on to Hamilton.
  • Day 9 – Raglan (surfs up)
  • Day 10 – In Auckland, visit Mt. Victoria in Davonport, Tamaki Drive, Underwater World, Sky Tower etc…

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