The decision is made - we are going to New Zealand. Actually it wasn't a difficult thing to decide upon - Kiwi Land was my dream destination for far too long (i promise, no Hobbits were involved in the decision process).
But from the moment of deciding before actually sitting in a plane Oceania bound, it was quite some beforehand errands we had to run and arrangements which have to be made. Especially with our little one coming along on this down-under adventure.
So I thought I'd spare your precious time (better use it for excitement of your upcoming trip) and share my "pre-New Zealand to-do list".
1. planning your route
First things first. New Zealand might seem compact, but it offers way too many tempting and exciting travel options, believe me on that. So it is always wise to do some advance planning - just to have an idea of what you want from your trip and not being disappointed because you missed on something. I'm not saying you have to plan every single day, but a general overview is good to have.
Pure New Zealand (an official Tourism page) has plenty of trip itineraries as well as helpful tips based on your interests and the amount of days to spend (the Middle-Earth route is among them).
The other two helpful sources were Lonely Planet Guides - Lonely Planet: New Zealand's Best Trips and the standard Lonely Planet New Zealand guidebook. If you are planning a detailed journey go for the standard version, since there are quite some points of interest missing in the other book.
I also found it helpful to mark all the photos and location from New Zealand which I spotted on Instagram and which looked interesting.
I'll be also sharing our route with you very soon - stay tuned.
2. choosing a right season to travel
High season when the country is sunny and warm (from December to May) and low season when the whole coutry is windy and wet (from July to October) are an important issue to consider when planning your trip to New Zealand.
During high season you will be sharing your peace and quite with plenty of other seekers; camping spots and accomodation are going to be limited and you will have to book all your activities in advance. Many companies (includings airlines) will slightly raise prices on their services as well.
Keeping this in mind we decided to travel during shoulder season (end of October and November). Every day the weather was getting better and better (except for Wellington - it stayed windy as it always does) and even though the amount of tourists (us included) was visible, we didn't have any trouble with overload. The only thing we have booked in advance was our transport vehicle - the rest has been organised simply by walking in.
Please also keep in mind that some regions are way more popular than the others - for instance South Island lakes, Tongariro Alpine Crossing and Queenstown area are on every visitors list, so even if you wish so, you will rarely be alone. But South Island West Coast and North Island (except for main tourist attractions) felt relaxed and spacey. Even though sometimes we caught ourselves saying: "OMG, and the high season hasn't even started yet?!".
What I'm trying to say is - be prepared to share your activities and space. New Zealand is a VERY popular destination.
Oh, and please do not forget about school holidays (check them here) - during this time expect increase of bookings and folk and decrease in spare seats and accomodations.
3. choosing your source of transport
NZ is best discovered in a slow pace. So one of the most popular choices of those who travel to NZ is renting a motorhome.
Motorhome gives you an opportunity to stop at and enjoy any corner of the country you want to go to. Sleeping next to the roaring ocean or under the misty mountains is no problem with a 4-wheel home (there is more info coming on that).
Other popular option is renting a car. Traveling by car you will encounter some of the most wonderful b&b's and stay in rusty motels discovering local life in another exciting way.
For the ones who don't want to drive there is also a bus option, with many bus providers bringing you to most of the destinations. This option is very popular among backpackers, so if you are on a tight schedule be sure to book in advance. We have met a lot of Kiwi Travel buses as well as Inter City ones during our travels. Stray New Zealand might also give you a good overview on available bus options.
To be honest chosing between car and motorhome (bus and train were too complicated to take with a kid) was one of the toughest decisions for us. Sitting at our kitchen table on the other side of the World in Germany, scrolling though computer screen with all the rental offers on it and drawing schemes and plans, we weighted all pros and cons (again, we are having a kid on board) and decided for a motorhome. Without any previous experience either of driving one nor living in one. Stay tuned, in the next posts I will tell you all about motorhome life - from renting to living in it.
At the end it's up to you to decide what option to go for.
But once you decided don't wait with booking - motorhome choices (especially during the high-season and holidays time) are limited with some vehicles being sold out up to six months in advance. Cars are usually easier to get, but I would still recommend to take care of it in advance.
P.S. If you are planning to cross from South Island to the North one or the other way around, be sure to book your (and your vehicle) tickets in advace - in high season they are sold out fast. We used Interislander services and were content with the result.
4. obtaining a visa
I know this point might sound rediculous to many of you (my German family is no exception). But for me as a holder of Russian Passport visa issue is always there. Many nationalities don't need to arrange anything in advance - just have a confirmed flight ticket back home or to a third country to prove that you are planning on leaving New Zealand at some point. Check if you are one of the lucky ones here.
But if like myself you require a visa to enter NZ, than you should plan some advance time in obtaining one - the process is actually very easy and you need to do is to fill out some forms, attach some documents (all on-line) and send your passport to a visa center responsible for your country of residence. Depending on your nationality you might need to pay visa fee - for Russian nationals it is free - I just paid the courier services (as least something!).
It took me about 3 weeks to get an email with visa confirmation and my passport back.
Oh, and don't forget to take a printout with your visa with you, just in case.
5. preparing proper clothing
Another issue worth a separate post. NZ is a country of weather contrasts - it might rain one minute, get windy the next one and get hot ten minutes later. This means you have to be prepared!
A rain jacket, a proper pair of shoes, a warm hat, gloves and a couple of layers of warm clothes should be ready before you go. Even though you can easliy stock on warm clothes in New Zealand I wouldn't recommend to count on this. Shoes have to be reliable, so be sure if you get them new to test them at least a couple of times - mountain and terrain climbing in New Zealand is what you most likely be doing - and I don't think you want to have blisters while doing so!
And please please please pack sunscreen! Sun is very severe in Kiwi part of the World!
6. organising an international drivers license
If you are planning on renting any sort of vehicle in New Zealand than you need an international drivers licence.
It is very easy to get in Germany, but you need to be aware of where to apply for one and the conditions of achieving one may vary from country to country. Please be sure to check with your authorities.
7. organising an international simcard
I'm sorry to report but New Zealand is not exactly what you'd expect concerning internet access. That said, in cafes, caravanparks and hotels you will most likely get 100 MB of data free. If you want more you have to pay - and the price is not low. That combined with poor connection, and slow internet doesn't make it attractive to search the web. Too bad if like me you are dependent on your mobile devices.
There are some exceptions and some places offer unlimited internet - you will notice that by a huge sign, but these are rare to spot.
So there are two solutions you could go for:
Organise a local simcard. From our research the best offer and the easiest way to get on-line is to go for a Vodafone. You will be able to choose between different rates, offering you data, calls or sms's or all of those. You could also top up your account on-line or via app, which is convinient. Just to give you an overview - 1 GB of data costs around 30 NZD, and 1 GB is not a lot.
Second option is to go for an international simcard. This one you could order on-line. It arrives per post within 1-2 working days (in Germany). This option also offers different packages depending on the desired data amount. The advantage of an international simcard is that you can use it right away and it works in more than 90 countries. We have used the one from Travsim and found it helpful (since we went to Australia first we could use it for both countries, which was very convinient). We didn't have 4G, but it always chose the best operator and had 3G intstead. Lufthansa is also offering some good solutions.
8. packing your first aid kit
That is just a reminder that you take care of any special medicine you are taking in advance. Plus an advice to pack a big jar of sunscreen (at least SPF 50) and bug repellent! Of course you can get them on spot as well, but maybe you prefer your own ones. Sun and bugs are no joke in New Zealand - black flies can drive you mad (and the bites itsch sooooo bad!!) and the sun is VERY strong on that part of the World.
As always I hope you found this post helpful. Feel free to drop me a message or share this post.