I'm going to New Zealand- tell me everything!!
November 9, 2008 11:01 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to New Zealand- tell me everything!!

Please tell me everything and anything that will help me have a cool, exciting, adventure in New Zealand. I'm flying into Auckland 12/26/08, leaving 1/12/09, and have only a vague plan so far.

About me: From Los Angeles, early 30s, have traveled to UK and Europe but that's about it. I'm a writer and plan to incorporate experiences from this trip into a semi-memoir/travel narrative/fiction hybrid kind of thing I want to write. I enjoy outdoorsy stuff, music, film and cultural stuff, and just chilling someplace quiet. I am not a tremendous fan of traveling by myself, but that is what I'm stuck with in this case- anything that would help me meet locals and have someone to talk to besides myself would be greatly appreciated. I am a "pescatarian" so no lamb, but do love good seadfood.

My original goal was to take this boat trip to NZ's sub-antarctic islands. I was put on a waitlist and haven't heard back, so that seems out. My plan now is to rent a car in Auckland and drive south, exploring along the way. I'll then take a boat to Stewart Island and hopefully hike the 3-day Rakiura Track, then drive back north.

So, I have many many questions:
1) What are the cool things I absolutely need to do in the big cities, Auckland and Christchurch?
2) Accommodations: I'm told it may be crowded during the high season- will I be ok just reserving a hotel in Auckland and booking as I go- or will I regret not booking everything in advance? I am not totally adverse to hostels, but would prefer a cheap-to-moderate, clean hotel at this point in my life.
3) New Year's Eve: Anything especially cool I should do?
4) "Farm stays" This concept intrigues me. Are there any in particular that are highly recommended? Are there any that are more vegetarian friendly, ie they wont ask me to hack the head off of anything or watch as they do? (I'm also considering stopping at Stonehaven homestay in Blenheim, since by all reports it seems to be the best thing ever, and I wouldn't mind exploring the wine country a bit.
5) the south island and the Southern Alps. The south island seems to be overflowing with natural beauty- is there any one thing I just can't miss? (love LOTR books but would prefer to forget the movies, so dont really need to see where they were filmed)
6) Stewart island- anything in particular I need to know about hiking and getting in/out? Do I need to reserve accommodations for the night I get there? I have read up on the hut system along the tracks, but will it be so crowded in summer that I should bring a tent in anticipation of them not having room? How badly will I regret it if I don't bring a stove and choose to just eat cold food for 3 days? I do have the (amusingly named to an American) "Tramping in New Zealand," and it does have a list of necesssary equipment. But what one thing will I regret not bringing? And what stuff i should I try to bring over from the US, and what should I buy/rent there?
7) If I go around quoting "Flight of the Conchords," will people find it amusing, or is everyone sick of it by now?

Whew. That is a lot. Sorry.
posted by drjimmy11 to Travel & Transportation around New Zealand (22 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
1) Auckland & Wellington are New Zealand's major cities. Christchurch doesn't really compare.
5) Fiordland.
posted by dydecker at 11:07 AM on November 9, 2008

Response by poster: hmmm, OK, change that to "Wellington" then.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:16 AM on November 9, 2008

Of all the experiences I had in Auckland in 2004, the one that sticks out the most is the Maori haka ceremony I attended on my first day there. It was a real haka (not one of those disney-fied sequences one can see as a tourist) and it was engrossing and quite terrifying. The 20 or so minute ceremony really spoke to my soul.

On a lighter note, if you are spending some time in NZ, you have to try the goofier sports(?) like zorbing. And if you haven't bungied before, the place to do it is from the Auckland bridge.
posted by seawallrunner at 11:17 AM on November 9, 2008

You might be better off posting this on Lonely Planet's Australasia Thorn Tree forum (though you might be EVEN BETTER off reading all the responses to similar/identical questions in the forums before posting)

I love New Zealand, have fun.
posted by arnicae at 11:21 AM on November 9, 2008

I really didn't find anything too cool to do in either Christchurch or Auckland. I loved New Zealand, but didn't spend much time in the cities. The south island is where you'll want to spend most of your time.

I met lots of other traveller's and they were pretty much unanimously underwhelmed by Stewart Island. Routburne and Milford Track got lots of love, though. I never heard any of them having issues with getting accommodation in the hut system (although for Milford, I believe you do have to book pretty far in advance - you may be too late).

I stayed in Hostels, and tried to book ahead by a day or two, because I kept ending up struggling trying to find a place to stay when I'd just show up. There's definitely not as many options as Europe or Australia. 1 or 2 days in advance should be fine, however.
posted by backwards guitar at 11:44 AM on November 9, 2008

No worries, djjimmy. Of course for tourism the best thing to do is get out into the country and away from the cities, so it's neither here nor there really.

Regarding tramping in Stewart Island, I would try and sort out your hut bookings and first night beforehand because Stewart Island is a tiny place, and pretty popular in the summer, too. I haven't actually been there, but if it's anything like the Routeburn or Milford tracks, the huts will have stoves so no need to bring your own. But doublecheck this first.

4) If you're in Blenheim, check out Lake Rotoiti, which is very peaceful, and if you have time Abel Tasman National Park. Both are quite beautiful.

For 2), I would book your first night's accomodation in Auckland from LA so you know exactly where you're going that night. Then I would just wing it in the country (But remember to book your tramps early - they can get crowded).

In Fiordland, I once walked the Routeburn from Fiordland to Lake Wakatipu, which is spectacular - but there are plenty of other alternatives down South. Tramping is a nice chance to meet people as well since you're alone.
posted by dydecker at 11:44 AM on November 9, 2008

Since you'll be here over New Years,
there's some music festivals over that time listed here.

New Zealand is very into chill roots & reggae over summer, so keep that in mind.

I know you're only getting in a few days before hand, but if you're into outdoor dance music, I'd skip (much of North Island) down to Canaan Downs Festival (top of south Island - check out the music & culture, they show NZ movies & documentaries on an outdoor screen), and then hit the tramps near Abel Tasman (tho, it'll probably be pretty busy), or Fiordland - some of the most beautiful spots, ever.
I haven't been to Stewart Island to compare, but it's still listed on the Great tracks list (over summer/peak season, you know you have to book the tramps there, right?) - and still down south.

Go to the cities if there's something you want to stop at on the way (*scratches head....* Te Papa?). If you're wanting a basic vibe guide to the cities, Auckland vs Wellington is something like a miniature LA vs San Francisco. Auckland warmer, better clubs (apparently), sprawling suburbs and motorways (still pretty green by overseas standards), Wellington smaller, greener, higher cafe/local band/art etc ratio (+ capital city and the above mentioned, Te Papa museum etc).
Christchurch is more... English?
Grid pattern suburbs and central city, winding river with grassy banks & civilised willows, stone buildings etc, (and in the 80s had a lot of the skinheads etc - English!).

I'd work out if there's any North Island festivals I'd want to go to, then plane down to South Island (no point taking a rental car on the ferry anyway, for cost)

More gigs here.

Have a lovely time!
posted by Elysum at 12:59 PM on November 9, 2008

Definitely go Zorbing! It's ridiculously fun. On the North Island, blackwater rafting at the Waitomo caves was brilliant as well.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 1:35 PM on November 9, 2008

6. I think not having a stove for three days could be boring. Although the weather should generally be pleasant you can't rely on it being horribly cold/wet. To have spent a day getting piss wet through and then find you have nothing warm to eat/drink would not be a good scene. It's a long time since I've been to SI maybe (some) of the huts now have built in stoves - your tramping book / the Department of Conservation website (aka DOC) should tell you. You can catch a boat to/from SI or a light plane from Invercargill. On the whole I would suggest plane - it's a three hour boat trip across what can be be some reasonably bouncy waters and as you're already tight for time the plane might be better.

More generally you don't have a hell of a lot of time to spare in any case - I wonder whether you should consider ditching Stewart Island and instead going tramping on the South Island - I just feel this might give you a couple of more days in hand.

Nothing to do with your questions but I love the Golden Bay area at the north-west tip of the South Island. You have a number of tramping/kayaking options here (google Abel Tasman National Park / Kahurangi National Park / Farewell Spit).

Other general tips:

1. Make sure you wear strong sun cream (SPF 30) at all times and bring a decent sun hat.
2. There are (effectively) no freeways in NZ - don't assume that x miles can be be traversed in the time you might do it in (some parts of) USA. Check the NZ Automobile Association web site for driving times between place.
3. Have a great time - it's a glorious place and you're coming at a great time of year.
posted by southof40 at 2:48 PM on November 9, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! I am fairly committed to Stewart island. Not really sure why, but I am.

I haven't been to Stewart Island to compare, but it's still listed on the Great tracks list (over summer/peak season, you know you have to book the tramps there, right?)
The one I want to do is the 3 day Raitura(sp?) track, which i see I forgot to mention. From what my book says, this is one of the few Great Walks that does NOT require a reservation.

Following up on some of the above, is it easy to book short inter-island plane trips, say from Auckland or Wellington to Christchurch, on short notice? Can I do this spontaneously, or I should I book before I leave the US? I had planned to drive all the way down, but maybe that would a time-waster. Somehow I pictured getting on the ferry from North to South to be relatively quick and painless, but I'm hearing that's not the case?
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:06 PM on November 9, 2008

Response by poster: light plane from Invercargill

Sorry, missed that part. I'm gathering this is something you can just walk up and buy a ticket on the day?
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:07 PM on November 9, 2008

The first two weeks of January are when just about everyone in NZ goes on vacation. So I wouldn't rely on 'winging it' too much or you may have real trouble getting accommodation, especially if you're heading to a place by a lake or the sea.
posted by slightlybewildered at 3:13 PM on November 9, 2008

Hang out and do some tramping in Arthur's Pass. Christchurch is a nice town, though I won't spend a ton of time there. Wellington is a little more cultural. I liked the wine country around Queenstown and on the north end of the south island. The west coast of the south island is breathtaking. Do some tramping in fijordland. Drink wine around Nelson. Have a good time.
posted by craven_morhead at 3:47 PM on November 9, 2008

Yes, you can get flights all over the country, at short notice - usually cheaper with more notice, obviously, and especially between the main centers.
Look up air new zealand, quantas & pacific blue for flights, or just go through a travel agents for quick comparisons flight centre.

I was just meaning that unless you get a deal it's probably cheaper dumping one car in wellington, and getting another... where-ever you're going.
And given time constraints, it's not that more for you to get a plane from Wellington to Nelson, Christchurch, etc, than to get the ferry & bus/hire etc, so I was thinking you could hire another car in Nelson or something.

Obviously, if you've got some kind of deal that makes that cheaper, go for it.
Auckland to Wellington is a full days drive. (min 7, usually 9hrs, no major breaks). Do it if you're stopping places on the way - Waitomo, festivals on the west or east coast, etc.
posted by Elysum at 4:14 PM on November 9, 2008

Lake Tekapo in the South Island is absolutely beautiful.
posted by hellopanda at 4:25 PM on November 9, 2008

A few thoughts...

- Take the plane to Stewart Island, not the boat. The plane is like a rickety bus with wings attached, but the boat is tiny, and the seas are enormous, and every second passenger will be vomiting in your general direction. Take the plane. I grabbed a seat at the last minute, but in peak time it's probably best to book a day or two beforehand.

- The polite term for Stewart Island's weather is ...changeable. A sunny day on the island is an exquisite experience, but you should adopt an attitude in which rain, sleet and gale-force winds are an acceptable part of your holiday experience. The beaches of the island are absolutely beautiful in 'bad' weather, but only if you're not expecting to be lazing in the sun, drinking cocktails. If you're walking the Rakiura track, it's worth noting that regular walkers on Stewart Island have a tongue-in-cheek system for measuring the depth of the island's famous bogs - it's based on the number of hippopotamuses one could 'lose' in the mud. Keep those boots tied up tight!

- Visit the local Department of Conservation (DOC) centre before you set foot in the bush - even if you're an experienced hiker. The rangers there can advise you of current trail conditions (Are the track markers intact? Are the water tanks at the huts full or empty? How deep is the mud?) and make sure your gear is appropriate. New Zealand terrain can be difficult, tracks are not always well marked and the weather can change in an instant. Even if you're only going on a day trip, pack with the expectation that you'll be stuck in the bush overnight: take food, water, wet weather clothing and consider a tent. Every summer, tourists wander off into the bush unprepared; if they're lucky, they get hauled out by volunteer rescuers at great risk to everyone involved. New Zealanders take bushcraft seriously, so they're actually not as sympathetic to hapless lost tourists as you might hope. Also, DOC centres and police stations provide a walker registration service - let them know where you're going, when you expect to return and remember to tell them once you finish your walk.

- Your plans seem to include a lot of driving for such a short trip. Driving in NZ can be tiring - most roads are two-lane and very windy. It's not like driving across the desert where you can just point the car in the right direction and try to stay awake. Can you change your flights to fly into Auckland and out of Wellington or Christchurch? Alternatively, you could take the day or overnight train from Wellington back to Auckland.

- Wellington is pretty good for 'cultural stuff' - it has some nice old cinemas, plenty of small, trendy bars, a decent live music scene, good cafe food and great art galleries and museums. A few hours north of Wellington is Martinborough, a wine region with a burgeoning gourmet food culture. Christchurch is nothing special, but it's your gateway to Arthur's Pass and the West Coast. Take half a day to admire the quaint English architecture, then move on.

- If you pass through Dunedin, head to the visitor's centre and find out about day hikes near the city. These areas aren't managed by DOC, they're local land, so they're not as well equipped with huts or markers. But the terrain is absolutely beautiful. The centre sells a book called 'From Sea to Silverpeaks' which may help. I recommend Tunnel Beach (an isolated beach accessed via a tunnel through a headland) and Flagstaff, a high plain above the city. Again, don't go unprepared. Also, if you're able to tolerate loud music and hippies, Dunedin has a strong outdoor rave culture, which may give you somewhere to be on New Years Eve. Some of the venues are spectacular - coastal headlands, beach caves, clearings in native forests. Expect a relaxed attitude to drugs and personal hygiene - this may or may not be a dealbreaker.

- NZers are generally friendly but many pride themselves on being 'down to earth'. They tend to speak quietly, under-state their successes, over-apologise for their faults, under-estimate their abilities and under-dress for social situations. On the other hand, they are fiercely proud of their country and their culture, and not very tolerant of criticism from outsiders. All of this means that tourists, especially tourists with American accents, need to carefully mind their behaviour if they want to make friends. What most of the world knows as natural confidence, NZers may interpret as crass arrogance - just who do you think you are to speak so loudly and be so brash? If you find that people are standoffish towards you, try toning your confidence down a notch; feigning embarrassment may help.
posted by [ixia] at 5:37 PM on November 9, 2008

Following up on some of the above, is it easy to book short inter-island plane trips, say from Auckland or Wellington to Christchurch, on short notice? Can I do this spontaneously, or I should I book before I leave the US? I had planned to drive all the way down, but maybe that would a time-waster. Somehow I pictured getting on the ferry from North to South to be relatively quick and painless, but I'm hearing that's not the case?

The Interislander ferry from Wellington to Picton is no big deal; you can book online. It's a three to three-and-a-half hour trip on a big but not particularly fancy ship. You can book a personal ticket quite late, but if you want to take your rental car across you'll need to book early, especially since you're travelling in peak holiday season. Taking your car also means checking in early on the day - they pack vehicles pretty tightly in the cargo hold so it takes time to get them parked and secured. There are plenty of car-hire places in Picton, though, so it may be more practical to just hire a new car once you arrive.

Ordinary domestic plane trips can be booked close to your departure date but like most travel, the cost goes up the later you leave it. You can also cross the Strait in a small plane, which would allow you to avoid Picton (a rather dull ferry-terminal town) and head straight to Blenheim or Nelson instead.
posted by [ixia] at 6:58 PM on November 9, 2008

You can book a personal ticket quite late, but if you want to take your rental car across you'll need to book early, especially since you're travelling in peak holiday season.

Seconding this - if you're going to try to get your car on after 23-Dec you need to go and look now for your favoured dates although as many others have said it might be cheaper to dump one car in Wellington and pick up another one down south.
posted by southof40 at 7:18 PM on November 9, 2008

One more thing: Learn some Maori. At the very least, learn to pronounce Maori words and place names correctly. You don't want to be standing around with a map, asking directions to
unless you can say it correctly ;)

It's very unlikely that you'll meet anyone who speaks Maori and no English, but New Zealanders of any race will react positively to a correctly pronounced kia ora. Also, remember that Maori words never have a plural 's' attached - so don't speak about "Maoris".
posted by [ixia] at 7:20 PM on November 9, 2008

It's always cute when people are earnest about correctly learning Maori pronounciation, especially when they hit the point they see a word like say, White Island, and without thinking, pronounce it 'Fih-teh' Island.

I want to hug them.
posted by Elysum at 7:55 PM on November 9, 2008

7) the latter.

Its like 'wowing' an Australian with your Steve Irwin impression.. or when your attempt at a Scottish accent is just an poor impression of Billy Connolly.

These people (and FOTC) are popular in their respective countries.. but many people will be understandably tetchy when it seems that all you know about their country is a caricature you saw on a TV show.

You seem like an intelligent person, and I am sure thats not the case. But expect a lot of eye-rolling if you over-indulge, no matter how well-meaning your intentions. Some New Zelanders are a especially sensitive when it comes to their accent which, lets face it, forms the crux of many of the jokes on Flight of the Conchords.

People love talking about their countries, especially to Americans; just be a careful not to miss out on that good will by asking a local to say 'fish and chips' all the time!
posted by TheOtherGuy at 12:53 AM on November 10, 2008

7) Actually, I think I hear more Mighty Boosh quotes than FOTC.
That's cultcha. *shrugs*

Oh, and for the accents thing - most people seem to find Beached As pretty funny at the moment.

P.S. The fish & chips thing is mostly an Australian versus New Zealand thing.
Ie they try and get us to say fush & chups, and we try and get them to say feesh & cheeps. Oh, and preferably a few 'Aussie rhymes' like fish & quiche, annnd that old classic, secks/six & secks/sex!
posted by Elysum at 2:29 PM on November 10, 2008

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