26 days in New Zealand flew by, both figuratively and literally as we drove over 3800 kilometers in that time. The fast pace at which we traversed the two islands was a bit of a shock to our bodies that were used to spending 3-5 days everywhere in South America. It was also a blow to our wallets, but that's true for everybody who visits. We had planned on $70 per person, or $140 per day as a couple. We thought this would be a realistic budget since we were not planning on any big adventurous spending like skydiving or bungee jumping. How did we do?
|Days in Country:||26|
|Daily Per Person:||$82.66|
Whoops! Worse than Brazil, we were $25 off base per day. Here's the breakdown:
|Money Spent||% of Budget|
Transportation was huge, as usual, this time because of our rental car and associated fuel costs. We rented via Omega Rental Cars using their NZ$29 a day special. With the required insurance they make you buy, the total was US$35 a day. So, every morning, we arose having already spent 25% of our planned budget....just by waking up! Plus, we spent US$438 on gas, which equaled US$16.85 a day. Renting a vehicle in NZ just isn't cheap., You might ask, "Why didn't you rent a campervan and save on accommodation?" Well, compared to the rental rates we were finding for campervans for the month of February, it actually made more fiscal sense to rent a car and stay in hostels.
That being said, having the freedom to drive around the country was integral to our being able to see and enjoy so much of the country in the short time that we had. Yes, it was tiring, and yes, we spent a lot on rental fees and gas, but self-driving is definitely the best way to maximize your time. We made many random stops at interesting viewpoints or to take random pictures on our long drives. We were able to customize our routes based on whims and visit eateries that would have been too far out of the way if we were taking buses. While it’s hard to say we were happy to go over budget, we both agree that it was worth it.
Accommodation was generally of high standard across NZ and we felt like we did a pretty good job finding deals. Doing it over, we would have signed up for a BBH membership as it provides discounts at hostels in their association - NZ$3 per person per night. YHA does the same, but we were often at BBH hostels as they provided a better value. They're independent, so they each have their own flair and they can choose what to provide. For us, this often meant free WiFi - a rarity in NZ - and sometimes free breakfast. The only YHA we stayed at was in Waitomo and was our least-liked NZ hostel. Great setting, but our dorm was stuffed with 7 beds where 4 would have sufficed, the kitchen was cramped and the utensils were pretty shabby. Also, we CouchSurfed in Wellington and Rotorua which helped keep the budget down, but more importantly, we had great experiences and writing this reminds us that we should be looking for similar opportunities as we continue through Asia.
Tours included swimming with dolphins, the Milford Sound boat cruise, and a boat tour/transportation that we used for Abel Tasman. Just these three items made up 12% of a pretty hefty budget - a testament to how much New Zealand can cost if you go big on activities. If your dream for NZ is to jump out of planes, throw yourself into ravines, and Zorb down hills, find out those prices ahead of time and anticipate them in your budget.
Miscellaneous involves a haircut for Tyler, shipping a few items home, a few bottles of wine as presents during our visit in Australia, and a SIM card+data for our phone. New Zealand was the first country where we decided to get a SIM card. We knew about the lack of WiFi in hostels and we knew we'd be driving in some pretty remote places, and we felt like it was a smart idea to have a phone in case of emergencies/gettinglost. We used 2degrees and for NZ$19, we got the SIM card, 90 minutes of calling, unlimited text, and thanks to a promotion, 1.5 GB of data. The calling/texting was more than enough and the data turned out to be just right. We had working internet in most of the hostels we stayed at, so we only relied on tethering at a couple places. We were very happy we had it.
If you're self-driving and don't want to rely on a data connection for GPS directions, we highly recommend the MapFactor GPS Navigation Android app. After downloading a NZ map, we were able to use the GPS on my phone/tablet to get directions from hostel to hostel, city to city, wherever we needed - no internet connection required. It had issues finding our location at times, but that was usually due to poor satellite signal and after a couple minutes, we'd be on our way again. No recommendations for an iPhone app, but I'm sure a comparable solution exists - let us know if you've found one!
Christchurch - 1 night
Queenstown - 4 nights, including Mount Cook and Milford Sound
Kaikoura - 2 nights, Dolphin Encounter
Motueka - 1 night, Abel Tasman
Nelson - 2 nights
Picton - 3 nights, Blenheim wine tour and rest
Wellington - 4 nights
Turangi - 1 night, Tongariro Crossing
Waitomo - 1 night, Glow worms
Rotorua - 2 nights, Whakrewarewa and Redwood Forest
Whaitanga - 2 nights, Cathedral Cove, Hot Water Beach
Auckland - 3 nights, Devonport
New Zealand in Retrospect
Our schedule was pretty frenetic and was worse than it looks above when you account for how much driving we did. The drive from Christchurch to Queenstown via Mount Cook was 7 hours, the Milford Sound self-drive was 8 hours, and the drive from Queenstown to Kaikoura was just over 10 hours long. This all happened in the first week of our stay. The drives got shorter from there, but the damage was done and we were pretty tired for most of our time in NZ.
Despite this, we loved it. How can you not? Absurdly gorgeous scenery, kind, friendly, and genuine people, great food and wine, plus fantastic coffee? Sold! 26 days was barely a taster for New Zealand and it has cemented our desire to return for a long visit. Although it made sense to rent a car and stay in hostels this time, a future visit of ours would take the shape of arriving in Auckland or Christchurch, buying an old camper van and outfitting it for a three-to-six month exploration of every nook and cranny of both islands. There is so much worth experiencing and going by campervan would be the ultimate way to try to see it all.
Swimming with dusky dolphins in Kaikoura immediately became and remains one of the best experiences we've had on our trip. We didn't do any of the usual adrenaline activities, but this fit that bill perfectly and Anaïs was able to fulfill a lifelong dream. It was the kind of memorable that we can close our eyes and vividly remember the dolphins circling us and doing flips around each other months later.
I said in our Chile wrap up that Torres del Paine had the best scenery on our trip so far and that holds true. When you take the time to get deeper into nature, you are rewarded with more amazing vistas. Personally, the biggest missed opportunity from New Zealand was not doing any multi-day hikes, especially some of the Great Walks. I did the Milford Sound trek in 2008 and it was the highlight of my time then. This time around, we did a few day hikes - including the incredible Tongariro Crossing - but I wish we would have had the time to spend 3-5 days enjoying the countryside. If we have our way, that 3 to 6 month visit in the future will see us tackling as many of them as we can. Check with us then to see if our answer on "best scenery" has changed.
After relying on buses in South America and hitchhiking on Moorea, it was liberating to have a car and decide on our itinerary each day, changing it when we saw fit. Speaking English was relieving - I was finally able to take the burden of interacting with everyone off of Anais's shoulders for a while. Being able to head into the grocery stores and actually know what everything was made it easy to prepare meals and the great tourism infrastructure made it simple to do what we wanted to do. New Zealand was easy and for that we were grateful.
But, our bank account was emptying out at an alarming rate, so we had to move on to a much cheaper country - Australia. Confused? Stay tuned!