The New Zealand Blog: Part 1
Written by: Kenzie
As I’ve mentioned a few times before, I was lucky enough to travel to New Zealand for my birthday back in November thanks to my best friend, Claire, who surprised me with the plane ticket in October. We had about a month to plan an adventure that turned out to be an absolute blast.
We flew into Auckland on a direct flight from Houston and then got a second, short flight to Queenstown in the south of the South Island. From there, we rented a car and basically road tripped all the way to the north of the South Island where we took a super short flight to Wellington on the North Island, picked up a second rental car, and road tripped back to Auckland before heading back to Houston.
In that time, we pretty much tried to pack in as much as possible. I mean, we wanted to see it all! So, I’ve decided to split up our New Zealand adventure into three parts, a trilogy, if you will. In this post, I’ll cover our basic plans and give a few tips on New Zealand travel. Next New Zealand post will cover the South Island shenanigans and the last will wrap up our trip in the North Island.
For starters, I’d like to point out that I am very much a planner when it comes to big trips. So when Claire gifted me the plane ticket, I was super excited of course, but also stressed because we had a lot of planning to do. We took to coffee shops and spread our laptops, planners, and notebooks across tabletops. It was a mess, but we got it done.
Here’s some of the sites and apps we used to plan.
This app lets you plug in a destination and date and it will monitor plane ticket prices to let you know when the best time to buy is. Claire used this to buy the round-trip tickets to Auckland and back home.
We utilized Google Flights to buy the short plane tickets. It’s helpful because it shows different airlines so you can compare prices and amenities.
I absolutely love Airbnb. About half of the places we stayed across both islands were Airbnbs and they are always so much fun! All of our hosts were super friendly and offered travel advice on the best places to go for sights, food, and anything else you could think of.
Left: our Airbnb house in Paparoa National Park (photo by Claire). Right: A pretty sunset from the window of our Airbnb in Rotorua. The entire house was powered by geothermal energy, which was cool even though it smelled a bit like farts.
For our hotels, we used kayak.com to compare prices and locations. We also used Kayak to find our rental cars.
Our first rental car was from the company Budget. We had a great experience with them. It was very easy to find the desk in the Queenstown airport and the staff was friendly. I had a little bit of a panic when we had to fill out paperwork for driving and neither of us had driven on the left-hand side of the road before. When we handed our paperwork over, the woman helping us seemed reluctant to rent us a car, but the other woman working simply verified if we were okay with left-hand side driving and we said “yes” because obviously we needed a car, and things were smooth-sailing from there on out.
We rented our second car on the North Island from Europcar. I do not recommend them. It took them forever to find our reservation for the car, and we had to convince them to include the GPS which we paid for because they couldn’t find the information for our reservation even though we had all of our emails where we specifically requested the GPS and paid for it. They did upgrade our car from a compact car to an SUV for free which was nice. Also, it took nearly TWO MONTHS for them to refund our security deposit to my card, after I contacted them and my bank. It was not the best rental experience
Now, for some hopefully helpful tips for anyone wanting to plan a trip to New Zealand.
1. Definitely GO! If you’re trying to pick a destination and New Zealand is an option, I would recommend choosing it. It was absolutely gorgeous, easy to get around, and it has a little bit of everything. If you’re waiting on a sign to buy a plane ticket, consider this it.
2. Driving on the left-hand side isn’t scary. Admittedly, I was pretty wary of driving on the opposite side and so was Claire. When we found our first car in the parking lot, I familiarized myself with the controls and bravely pulled out, telling Claire to keep reminding me at every turn to be on the left.
It wasn’t scary! It took maybe five minutes to gain my confidence and then maybe another thirty to stop using the windshield wipers when I wanted the blinker, but after that, it felt just like driving in the US! Also, almost all the streets were well-paved (aside form a few gravel roads to get to more remote destinations) and the traffic was non-existent except for in the cities. Plus, a car is the best way to see New Zealand so the long hours in the car were never boring since everything was so beautiful. That being said…
3. Make a playlist. I am very much into music. Before leaving Houston, I spent a significant amount of time making a long Spotify playlist for all the time spent in the car. Claire was paying for Spotify Premium at the time (I finally followed suite and did the same because Spotify is great) so when we wanted something more specific than my master playlist on shuffle, we could search a certain artist or song whenever we pleased.
4. Get some spending cash! Or just get a credit card made for traveling that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees. However, my philosophy is to have as few credit cards as possible. Plus, cash is always good to have on hand, especially in smaller towns where you may want to buy from a store or stand that doesn't accept cards.
5. Have fun, be flexible, and try not to stress. Now, I know that stress is a natural occurrence for pretty much everyone, especially when it comes to traveling. (For example, I basically had a meltdown at a train station in London when we missed the train to Paris, but that's another story).
Like I said earlier, we saw a lot of things and had places we needed to be, but I was never super stressed on this trip about having to be at a certain place at a certain time. In a country like New Zealand, I think it's important to give yourself extra time while traveling long distances to pull off and enjoy the scenery or take a little detour to some really cool cliffs you see in the distance. The point is that this is a vacation, and I think it's important to really soak in your surroundings as much as possible.
Hope this had some helpful information for y'all! Expect more tales from New Zealand in the coming weeks!