Tuesday, January 29, 2008

New Zealand Road Trip - Epilogue (24)

January 29, 2008

We've been back home in Calgary for a bit over a month now - enough time to get the entire trip documented on a blog and to put it all in perspective. Part of the perspective is that today in Calgary it reached a high of -28 C (-48 C if you consider the wind chill factor). Pretty darn cold! I don't think it ever gets that cold anywhere in New Zealand! So for that alone, it's a great place to be.

What did we really think? New Zealand is very much like the west coast - BC squished into an island. We like BC, we liked New Zealand.

What did we like about it?

It has beautiful and varied scenery. If you take a look at our pix, you should, I hope, notice that there is quite a variety of geography - mountain ranges, volcanic features, rural pastoral settings, urban landscapes, ocean and inland.

The people were friendly and it was easy to navigate, notwithstanding having to drive on the "wrong" side of the road. There is no language barrier - aside from a few "Kiwi-isms" communication is not a challenge. The biggest centre is Auckland - 1.4 million - but somehow it didn't seem that big. So it's not intimidating in terms of trying to find your way around a huge city.

New Zealand gets a lot of rain. We had our share, but we were prepared with umbrellas and raincoats and managed to find activities that pleased us in spite of the rain. The upside is that the place is green and the drinking water is excellent! No bottled water needed here!

We agree with Craig's assessment that the South Island is where you go for natural beauty and the North Island is more for cultural activity. That's not to say that you can't have both on each Island - that's just the dominant impression. We liked it all, but Dunedin, Fiordland and Wellington were outstanding.

There are many activites that one can indulge in with enough time and cash. For example, I would have liked to go kayaking and "swim with the dolphins" - but it wasn't warm enough for me and we didn't have the time to spare. Also, we would have liked to spend more time in lots of places. So for these reasons, it would be nice to go back sometime.

What's not so great?

New Zealand is not about the food. We found the restaurant food to be rather uninspired and expensive. Come to that, we felt the place was expensive in general. However, that is relative. One fellow we encountered was from Germany and he felt New Zealand is cheap - he'd love Canada - I'm not sure we'd like Germany!

I know part of the price issue was "sticker shock" - NZ$1.00 = C$0.80 - so things would be more expensive right off the bat. But, as an example, gas was NZ$1.70/litre pretty well everywhere, which works out to about C$1.36 and gas around Calgary at that time was about C$1.00/litre. New Zealand has a small population base of only about 4 million, so it's hard to get economies of scale going. In addition, most consumer goods are imported and the significant value added that is produced in NZ is exported. That adds up to more costly goods.

Another thing we learned is that while the price you pay is the sticker price, that price includes a 12.5% goods and services tax - on everything. Apparently New Zealanders are heavily taxed in general.

But if you're going to play, you've got to pay. So if you go, be prepared to pay a bit more for most things and in some cases a lot more.

Recommendations?

If you go take a minimum of three weeks. We had about 22 days and it really wasn't enough time. But we did see a lot of things and came away feeling that we have a good idea of what the place is like. To really do the country justice and to be able to see ALL of it, probably a minimum of six weeks would be required.

I'm not a planner - no agenda for me. The only advance planning we did was to arrange for a car and the beginning and end accommodations. Other than that we just made it up as we went. We didn't have any problem securing accommodation and I think we would have been able to find a place in Auckland without a reservation - I just didn't know that for sure and I didn't want to end up sleeping in the car! We weren't there during peak tourist season, so it may be a bit different in January, which is on or about peak summer.

There were three of us, so we tried to get "family suites" at motels. This worked out really well as they all had little kitchens where we could make our own meals. Given that we weren't terribly inspired by the restaurants, we usually would stop in at a grocery store and get what we needed for breakfast and often for lunch and/or dinner as well. In spite of my comments about New Zealand being more expensive than Canada, we found the motel accomodation was quite comparable in terms of price - a good thing.

One other recommendation that we have is to take advantage of bus tours. We've done this in a number of cities and have never been disappointed. They are priced reasonably and are a very efficient way to see the "must see" attractions of a city. Many are "hop on, hop off" meaning that if one place interests you, you can get off the bus, take some time to look around, then catch another bus as it comes by.

Mary's Travel Tips

Take a raincoat! That's probably the best thing I took.

Take old stuff. I took old T-shirts and towels. They are still there! I left them behind so I could bring back some of Craig's things and the few items that we bought and still fit into one suitcase.

I also picked up a few used books at the library - $4 for a few books and I left them behind as I read them.

I bought an inflatable "neck pillow" - I used it all the time! On the plane, in the car. It was great! Highly recommended for traveling.

Travel light!

Anything else?

Now that you ask...

New Zealand capitalizes on its environmental attractions, "adventure" sports (kayaking, hiking, etc.), and "extreme" sports (bungee jumping, speed boats, etc.) and on the North Island the Kiwis cash in on their Maori history.

The bottom line is the bottom line. We were tourists - we paid for the privilege of going on a number of "cruises" to see some beautiful scenery, and were willing to pay to go whale watching. We also paid to see some birds (penguins and albatross) and we paid to attended an evening of Maori entertainment.

I felt the prices for these things were not outrageous, although it does get expensive after awhile as each tour and activity adds up. (As an aside, most of the museums were free, although they encourage donations.) But I didn't mind paying because if the local people can make a living by keeping their natural environment intact, they will keep it intact. For example, the penguin colony we visited near Dunedin is on a private farm. If the farmers were not making a good living from the penguin colony, they would not be reforesting their land and would continue to run sheep where the penguins are now. Essentially, over time, the penguins at that site would disappear.

Same thing goes for Fiordland - there are lots of nice trees there - one option would be to cut 'em down, but keeping this region as a national park and allowing tour companies to run their operations there is the option they've chosen. The forests are preserved and people can still make a living.

The downside of ecotourism is that a steady stream of tourists into an area may not be a good thing either. Price has a way of controlling that - charge a little more and fewer people will want to pay the price.

Conclusion

Excellent vacation. We'd go again and recommend it to others.

Enjoy the blog - there is a post for each day we were there - December 4 to 26. First day is at the bottom so you'll have to do a bit of navigating to get there. To get to the beginning, click on the arrow by the "2007" on the bar to the right, then click on the arrow by the (6). The posts will drop down. Select the one you want.

Cheers!

Mary

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