As I stepped out of the plane in Auckland it suddenly hit me: I have never, ever, been so far away from home as I am right now! It is almost impossible to get any further away from Denmark!
I always wanted to go to New Zealand. But, as it was the case with Australia, I did not dare hoping to be able to afford it. But here we were! As a family. We stood there, holding each others hands, waiting for the shuttle bus to pick us up in front of the arrival hall and take us to the airport hotel.
The following morning we picked up our campervan. Our home for the next 3 months. During our weeks of camping in Australia we determined that life in a campervan is pretty good, when traveling the way we do. Anton has all of his usual surroundings and routines, like most other boys and yet we are able to move around the country, exploring new things every day. Furthermore, renting a campervan was a lot cheaper for us than renting a normal car. Even the cheapest little Hyundai Getz would have cost us triple the money we paid per day for the campervan. Thinking of that, I do not mind driving around a nice, refurbished Toyota Hiace with a raised roof! Of course it has to do with the fact that we are traveling “off season” and the market for campervans is VERY different from the market for normal cars. The seasonal differences are much greater. We arrived in early August, just as the winter was coming. Most campervans are, by then, just parked in a parking lot, collecting dust until spring.
The Kiwi’s, as the New Zealanders are called - and call themselves - are very friendly people. They smile a lot and are generally service oriented. Instantly we felt at home. And in many aspects you can even directly compare camping in New Zealand with camping in Australia. 95% of the camp grounds or holiday parks are built sometime in the 1950’s or 1960’s and only sparsely maintained since then. Apart from a fresh coat of paint every 15 years or so. During the winter, amidst all the rain, humidity and darkness, it can seem a little comfortless to be dependent on worn down toilets, shower cabins and communal kitchens. But then there are the shining stars: Those places that excel by being different. Either because they are beautifully located and thus create the foundation for some extraordinary experiences, or because they are nicely updated and refurbished. Or both, as we did see a few times.
In New Zealand there are camp grounds with a host, supervising the area and making sure the hot showers, kitchens and communal areas are working. And then there are the unsupervised grounds, administrated by the Department of Conservation. They are mostly without power and hot water. They are also much cheaper.
We tried both types, and even though you may feel a bit lonely and tense on dark and deserted grounds without any supervision, power and hot water, it actually went quite well. But for the most we stayed in supervised places, and were happy to pay a little extra for a powered site, so that we could plug in our heating fan during the cold winter nights. In most holiday parks they also have excellent laundry rooms. As we are only traveling with a one-week supply of clothes we need to do our laundry frequently, but it was never a problem. We always had fresh, clean clothes in our backpacks.
Our expectations for New Zealand were HUGE! And that may have been the problem to start with. The north island reminded us very much of South Australia and Victoria. With a mix of the intense green that we know from Ireland. Northern New Zealand is VERY green! And it IS beautiful. But for quite some time we missed the “WOW-effect”. I guess it had to do with the fact that we came straight from Australia where we had so many WOW experiences. But also because you read so much about the wonderful and unique nature of New Zealand and expect to be blown away instantly. If you read into the various forums on the internet about traveling in New Zealand you will also realize that there are various opinions about it all. Everybody seems to agree on the fact that the country is extremely beautiful and very unique. That it is definitely worth a visit for anyone who can get away with it. Eventually we came to the same conclusion. We started on the north island because we had been told that if we started on the south island we would most likely end up being disappointed about the north island. And this is where the travelers forums are divided. Some say that the north island is the most beautiful. Others point to the south island as being the greatest. In the end it is all a matter of taste. But for me, personally, I have to say that it was not until we got down to the middle of the north island that I started to get really, genuinely thrilled about what I saw. Lake Taupo, Hobbiton near Matamata and the capital Wellington, just to mention a few places. They were fantastic! Nature here was not “just” lush and green but multifaceted. Volcanos, glaciers, wastelands. I like that!
We took the ferry from Wellington on the north island to Picton on the south island. And already as we arrived the landscape around us seemed to change from what we had seen so far. Perhaps it was just because we KNEW it would be a bit different that we felt that. I do not know for sure, but nevertheless a somewhat different type of landscape emerged in front of us. We had some extraordinary adventures in the Abel Tasman National Park, where we would jump of a small boat in low waters, and walk in to the beach bare feet. Then we walked for a few hours through the rainforest and arrived on a different beach, from where another boat would pick us up. We saw the exciting Fox- and Franz Josef Glaciers, both of which are nowadays only a fraction of their historic size. And then we went out on Milford Sound, the Fiordland, in the very southern part of the country. It was a rainy day, but we saw thousands of beautiful waterfalls all around us on the cliffs.
We were truly thrilled about the towns of Wanaka, Queenstown and Oamaru. We went there several times. Simply because they just had beautiful surroundings combined with the certain “it” or “something” that just make them charming and interesting to us. Each in their own, different way.
As we drove around in a campervan we got to see many, many thousands of kilometers of country roads. We could also have booked a “designed” or “guided” round trip through one of the many travel agencies present, just to see the highlights. That would have included Queenstown, Wellington, Matamata (Hobbiton), Lake Taupo and perhaps Christchurch. All this is about 10 days. But we saw so much else. We saw many of those places where most tourists never go. We got a little closer to the locals and we got to experience everything in a pace that suited us perfect. By now, we can truly say, that we know New Zealand quite well.
Christchurch may be one of those places that made the greatest impression on me. It was the very last stop on our three-month journey through New Zealand and we had been looking forward to see it. After the earthquake in February 2011, which demolished the entire inner city, there is actually not much to see. And then again, there actually is! Three years later, the local residents are busy rebuilding the city and it made a great impression on us all to see and feel their resilience and determination. Their focus on moving on with their life, in spite of having suffered such great loss. I would really like to visit the city again in about 10 years time to see the result. In the best, democratic manner, the locals have been included in the decision making process and they have started to build the “optimal city” almost from scratch. This will be interesting to see.
It is not exactly cheap to travel around New Zealand. Food and daily necessities are expensive compared to what we are used to in northern Europe. However, Australia is just a notch more expensive, so we were already accustomed to the price-level. And if you take into consideration that we would also have had daily costs in Germany or Denmark, it actually wasn’t that bad. But one should not think that a vacation in New Zealand is cheap. Or that it is cheap in general to live here. It is not!
In spite of the costs in New Zealand, I must say that it truly grows on you and I can recommend a visit here to anyone at any time. It really is a place to go and see before you die! If you are short on time, I would personally recommend prioritizing the south island. But this is just my personal opinion. Others may advise you differently.
It takes about 36 hours on a plane to get there from Europe. And tickets are not cheap. Yet it is well worth the money to go and experience the unique nature, the Kiwi’s and their laid back lifestyle. New Zealand is a nice place to be!
Read our travel diary from New Zealand here!
See more pictures from New Zealand here!
Read more about camping in New Zealand here!
Read about Alexandras opinion on New Zealand here!
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