New Zealand – The lost paradise

If there is one place on the planet that you absolutely have to drive, it’s got to be New Zealand. I went in the shoulder season, middle of August. The weather was not too cold, bordering on 0 degrees Celsius. It was perfect. If you choose to go around the same time please remember, you will lose the light between 4:30 and 5 PM.

This has got to be one of the most scenic countries to drive in. It is nothing short of spectacular and driving is surprisingly easy. It’s one of those countries where you can go with friends, family, elders, anyone. It caters to one and all and is just about as laid back as can get. If you’re into photography, please carry your go pro with the relevant accessories and an extra battery pack. You will be using a LOT of it.

The view from Astro Cafe at Lake Tekapo is phenomenal!

Flight: The flight to New Zealand from Mumbai is long. The 19 hour fly time is probably the hardest part of the trip. There is no direct flight and you will need to fly via Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok. I flew via Kuala Lumpur. Book about 6 months in advance and you will get a great deal on the flight tickets. At the time of check-in, ask if upgrades are available. Sometimes, they’re surprisingly cheap!

Visa: Getting a visa to New Zealand is surprisingly easy. You really don’t need to visit a travel agent. Just follow the directions at https://www.ttsnzvisa.com/in-en/Home and you will get your visa within a week. You can courier your passport and documents to the relevant address and you should have your passport couriered back to you within a week.

Brochures: If you write to the tourism department at https://www.newzealand.com/int/ they will send you a brochure and a map. You should also spend some time on the website to try and decide what are the places you want to see. You can also download their app and keep saving the places you’ve shortlisted within their app. This feature is quite useful. While it’s nice to have a good idea of what you want to do, you do not need to book anything in advance. Tickets for everything are largely available unless you’re going during peak season.

Best time to visit: Most people like to visit during the summer. I went in August which is the shoulder season. It wasn’t too cold and it definitely wasn’t warm. Being from a tropical country, I like my vacations on the colder side. August was perfect for me.

Currency: New Zealand uses NZ dollars. New Zealand is not all that expensive. You can have a great holiday at a very affordable price once you get there.

Getting Around: New Zealand is not Europe and connectivity is not that great. You’re better off getting a car. Hiring a car is easy. The cheapest car hires are available with Juicy https://www.jucy.co.nz/ Roads in New Zealand are excellent and unless you plan to off road, you will never require a four wheel drive. Depending on how much luggage you have, a hatchback will do just fine. New Zealand is a right hand drive country and you don’t need an international driver’s license for so long as your home country’s license is in English.

Please buy insurance for your car, ensure it’s the one with “zero liability” with no deductibles. This means you can crash your car, junk it, and not have to pay a penny. It’s a little more expensive than some of the other insurance plans, which do not cover roof damage, but please take this, just in case.

Separately, while this is a no-brainer, please get yourself an insurance policy, just in case you meet with an accident. Never, ever, travel out of your country without travel insurance. While this is usually on the checklist for your visa, please ensure you have it!

You should also know that insurance plans in India do not cover injuries from skydiving, bungee, anything that is inherently dangerous. If you decide to break a bone while doing any of these, be mentally prepared to pay for them on your own. P.S. Being a lawyer means I’m used to reading the fine print J.

I loved driving around New Zealand and I think this is what really made my holiday so special. There’s so much to see on the way. You will be driving through high mountains, drive on winding roads and suddenly be awed by beautiful beaches, or a gushing river; you’re never bored! The roads also provide for a lot of stopping points, vantage points and viewpoints almost as if the people who built it knew that travelers would want to stop to take in the view.

The Raging Meg

North and South Island: New Zealand is split into two islands. The North Island and the South Island. These are connected by ferry and by air. The ferry ride lasts a good part of 3 to 4 hours. You can ride on it with your car. It’s quite massive and you will be very comfortable on it. The ferry has 3 floors and there’s enough to do on it once you’ve parked. While planning your trip, remember that your ferry points are Wellington on the North Island and Picton on the South Island. If you’re going to take the car onto the ferry, both these cities need to be on your itinerary.

While booking your car, look for offers that give you a free ticket for the car to cross between islands. That way, you will only need to pay for the individuals going with you. I got my car from Apex Car Rentals, https://www.apexrentals.co.nz/ along with the insurance, the free ferry tickets, a full tank of fuel (which came at a slight discount) and a great car. I had a very hassle free experience with them and I got great service.

Important Tip: Please ensure you always have sufficient fuel in your car. It doesn’t matter if you have half a tank when you’re driving through the next town. When your fuel gauge reaches the half way mark, please tank up at next gas station. New Zealand doesn’t have fuel stations on its highways. Only when you’re driving through a town will you see one. This combined with the fact that New Zealand has low population density and horrible cellular network on its highways, means you can really get stuck with no cellular network and no cars crossing you for a long time should you run out of fuel. Better to be safe than sorry.

Another way that people like to explore New Zealand is with camper vans. Hire one which meets your needs and you won’t need a hotel accommodation at all. It comes equipped with a small kitchenette so you can cook as you go. New Zealand has designated areas where you can park your campervans. Most places also have toilets and showers. These can either be free or for a small fee. This idea didn’t appeal to me much because it meant I would have to park the van and walk most other places.

Bungee!

What to pack:

Biosecurity checks are taken very seriously when you arrive at New Zealand. This means that you will need to throw away all food, cooked or uncooked, packaged or unpackaged when you arrive. They will inspect all outdoor equipment that you may be carrying including sneakers, swim gear and the like. Please ensure you have these cleaned before you carry them or you risk losing them at the airport because they pose a threat to New Zealand’s ecology. You can’t blame them for being overcautious, they have a frail ecosystem. Please pack them in a way that they’re easily accessible for the people checking at the Airport.

Apart from your regular travel packing, please carry the following –

  • Your tablet – This will serve as your guiding map for all places you go. Keep your phone and your tablet separate with separate mobile phone connections. Get these at the airport after you land. They’re cheap.
  • Power converter – This depends on where you’re travelling from. It’s best to just buy a converter that is compatible for all locations around the world. Then you just need to remember to pop it in your bag every time you travel.
  • Car Charger – Drives are long in New Zealand, please carry a car charger. You will need this, especially because you’ll be navigating a lot with your tablet.
  • An empty bottle – You can drink tap water in New Zealand. Carry a couple of empty bottles and fill them up as you go. You don’t want to be on a long drive with no water!

Do bear in mind that the network across New Zealand is not the best. Set your destination on google maps before you commence your journey and it will take you all the way through. Always input your travel destination and get google maps started on the tracking before leaving city limits. Once you’re out of the city, you will definitely lose cellular network. Tried and tested.

Where to stay:

New Zealand is one country you can visit without really planning an itinerary. You will find good options to stay the night along the way. You don’t need to tie yourself down with prior reservations. If you must, do try AirBnB. I used several across New Zealand and they were all excellent. If you’re looking for a backpacking style accommodation, look for a backpackers sign on the road. You can also visit https://www.bbh.co.nz/ to look for your closest backpackers. BBH usually has private accommodation and dormitories both. Toilets and showers are normally shared. Staying in AirBnB and in backpackers hostels is cheap. You can find great accommodation for as low as INR 3,000 a night (for two!).

Here’s what I did on my road trip. Please remember, you don’t have to agree with my travel plan, and if you haven’t been booked into a hotel, you’ll always be free to choose where to travel to, or just stop by a hotel while driving through.

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