Adventuring New Zealand

For four weeks in Dec 2011-Jan 2012 I travelled around New Zealand in a camper van.

While I did do quite a bit of research in advance of my trip, you can never really know what is going to make or break a trip and I like to have some resources on hand during any adventure.

For this trip I trusted the 2011 Rough Guide NZ-purchased in Canada for pre trip research and lived on the dash for most of the trip and the AA Travel Atlas (yeah I know only my mom uses a travel atlas)-purchased for $25NZD on day one and used every day.  Living without a data plan on my phone meant that I had to actually navigate with the atlas and this one is well designed.  It also includes some cool highlights and was how I discovered things like the Top 10 Parks and Pancake Rocks.

Going into the trip I had a list of must do items and a rough idea of when I wanted to tackle the items.  Most weren’t really that complicated.

I wanted to walk on a black sand beach

I wanted to bungee jump.

I wanted to see penguins in the wild

I wanted to hike

I wanted to ride my bike 

I wanted to get some real New Zealand Merino wool to make a blanket

I wanted to wade in the Tasman Sea

I am not a complex or demanding traveller.  I prefer to be free to discover things I enjoy (flat whites) and to walk away from the things that don’t inspire in me what they might have in others (Moreaki boulders).

I don’t like to have a tight schedule that involves being stressed or rushing to and from places so that means that I don’t travel in big groups or go on a lot of organized tours.

Fiordland NZ

Things I would do again 

Pancake Rocks

I would love to see these at sunrise or sunset.  I found them inspiring and magical in the sunshine, but I anticipate that I may discover more by visiting without a crowd of tourists on Christmas Holiday

Mountain Biking: I did highlight some of the areas that my bike and I got a bit of a work out, but honestly I would ride anywhere in the country.  It is outstanding.  I will post all about MTB NZ in a separate post in the near future.

Drive through Arthur’s Pass

One of the most amazing locations in the country!   In the space of just a couple hours you see ocean and mountain, cross multiple weather systems and more.  The scenery is spectacular…the sand flies (Canadian Black Flies) were awful though.

Te Papa  

The museum is beautiful and you really can’t do it in just one visit.  It also reminded me that access to our history and culture should be free.  People should be able to take their children to these activities at no charge.

Weta Cave: Hell Ya!  nuf’said

We decided that he should keep the fishOne of the coolest exports from New Zealand is the gift of technology to the world of movies.  Weta is famous for participating in such epic movies as District 9 and Lord of the Rings, but it is also the largest producer of realistic looking chainmail for actors to wear in movies and a number of other assorted secrets that I just can’t tell you.

Go!  It is FREE and while tiny I promise it will spark a layer of your imagination in a way not many places can.

Bungee Jumping:

New Zealand
the “bounce”

Kawarau Gorge is a 43 M bungee jump.  Not the largest around, but it was more than large enough to inspire fear in this girl.

Oh.. and do it with AJ Hacket.  The invented bungee jumping as it is done today.  TRUE STORY

Stay in Top 10 Holiday Parks

There is always a place in my heart for a five star hotel, but these are the best of the best when it comes to living the campervan lifestyle.  There are spotless bathrooms -playing music and armed with hair dryers.

They average about $6-10NZD more per night than their competitors but are worth every penny.  The landscaping is lovely, spaces are designed for giant campervans and the staff are willing to go out of their way to support your needs (can you say extension cord?)

An added perk is the fact that almost every one of them offers at least some free WIFI which is pretty few and far between in NZ.

See the penguins!

Yellow eyed penguins are super cute and tiny.  They spend the summer on the south island of New Zealand where the babies are raised until they are strong enough to go to sea and hunt for themselves.  We had to wait for a few hours to see the parents come in from the ocean, but as the babies got hungry they started to pop out of their dens and I can’t tell you how adorable they are.

Visit Fiordland

Glaciers and mountains make good company, but couple them with rushing waterfalls and dense ocean forest and you have a set from a movie.  There is about a 2 hour drive to get into Milford Sound from the last real town (Te Anau) and I could do it everyday for the rest of my life.

Along the way you will see wildlife and hear birds chirping beside rushing streams and waterfalls.  Stay the night and surround yourself with magic.

Things I wouldn’t recommend 

Moreaki Boulders: 

They look cool in pictures and are really quite easy to get to, but I wouldn’t make a special trip.  Unless you have some passion for alien eggs (which is what I think they look like up close), I wouldn’t go out of my way.

On a secondary note I was very saddened by the signs stating that the stream that was feeding into the ocean a few hundred metres down the beach was not safe due to pollution.

Visiting over Christmas Holiday

While taking advantage of Christmas and New Years gave me three extra vacation days I paid a premium for the trip because of the time I was in the country.  On average the campervan ended up costing about $250NZD a day for a service which is worth about $150 in the off season (after Jan 15).  It is also the prime season for campervan parks and they up their rates by as much as $10-20NZD a day during the season as well.

Trying to see everything in less than four weeks.

While attempting to see a large amount while in the country is definitely worth tackling, don’t try to squish everything in at once.  Take time to relax and enjoy the scenery.

Watch a Kea tackle the rubber around your car window (this really happened).  Enjoy a random chat with the locals at a gas station (yup talking to strangers Sorry Mom)

Have a coffee in a proper cup and enjoy it.

Start and end in Auckland

While we had a place to land as a base camp while in Auckland doing both the north and south island can be done more efficiently end to end.  What I also learned along the way is the fact that most tourists that travel one way do so from Auckland to Christchurch.  If you are willing to do the reverse your campervan rental rates will be lower because the rental companies need to get the vans back to Auckland anyway!  You will also save on the abundantly expensive ferry which is about $600NZD round trip for two people and a campervan.

Ride Your Bike-New Zealand!

On a recent trip to New Zealand I had the chance to do some mountain biking in some of the best* parks I have ever been in.

The best part about the journey I did around NZ other than the people was the changing scenery and landscape and I have to say that the trails and parks followed the same feel.  There are parks and trails operated all over the country and I only had a chance to sample a few, but I anticipate the flavour and outstanding level of maintenance is not localized, but national.

Trails are maintained by great local mountain bike clubs and the Department of Conservation and are proof that the entire country definitely seems to take pride in both the sport and the beautiful land that trails are built on.

This is where we stopped for a snack. Can’t beat looking out over the lake from the trail-Photo Credit Rowan Hick

Queenstown-Seven Mile

Seven mile is a no cost series of trails just outside of Queenstown.  We were lucky enough to steal a local friend to escort us because I promise we would have never found the nondescript parking lot along side the lake without a guide.

While trail levels vary they are all fed by a climb up to the top of a spiderweb that feeds the trailhead.  My Canadian (Ontario specifically) self was used to not really having to climb for very long and I have to say I was fully warmed up by the time we finished the climb to get started.  After a few lighter trails we started to get moving and spent a few hours weaving our way in and out of a beautiful pine forest with tightly packed dry singletrack.  Filled with trails at every skill set I would love to have had more time to explore.  That being said I loved a coulple enough to do them more than once.

Trails were in great shape and the forest was absolutely free from any debris that didn’t belong-proving once again that mountain bikers are lovers of nature and the environment.

Kudos to the Queenstown MTB Club for it’s efforts on this great park.

Auckland-Woodhill

While the only pay per use park ($7NZD/day) I rode in New Zealand, Woodhill is a beautiful forest full of everything from family friendly tracks all the way up to a pretty wicked (looking-I didn’t try any) trick park.  About 30 minutes outside of Auckland this was also the longest we had to drive to get to go for a ride, but the drive was definitely worth the effort.  Locals did speak of a route to the park via open trails but the ride there and back would have been longer than the couple of hours we had available to ride.

With a very sandy base this park is a bit hard on your drive train, but we were lucky enough to visit it after a couple weeks of rain and found it in a pretty good level of packing from the water in the forest.  Great trail markings and maps in different locations made it easy to figure out where you were and to shift easily from a harder trail onto an easier one (or vice versa) with little slowing you down.  I didn’t find the park suggested route flowing quite as nicely as some others I have ridden, but I think that with some time and experience in the park there is lots of flow to be found and more ways than I can count to challenge yourself as a rider.

Rotorua-Whakarewarewa

The Whakarewarewa (faakka-ray-wa-ray-wa…yeah that was hard for me too) Forest is as close to my soul as a forest outside of British Columbia can possibly get.  I was born on Vancouver Island and the giant redwoods of Whakerewarewa made me feel at home.  Rich rainforest like ambiance filled with signature silver ferns on the forest floor and a stream that would rival any storybook combined with a tall canopy that filtered in this amazing gauzy green sunlight and made you feel like you were wrapped in goodness.

Access to the forest is free but the local bike and tourist shops do sell a very cool microfibre waterproof trail map for somewhere between $5-10NZD.  Money well spent as there are over 100km of trails for all skill levels as well as multi use trails for everything from prams to trail running.

Some of the trails were in rough shape because of recent heavy rain and while I did successfully manage to come out reasonably clean, I did have to navigate some trails a bit slower than I would have liked because there were some massive divets from run off that were almost exactly the width of my tires.  What I enjoyed most about this forest was the fact that it was a mere 6km from the downtown core and we were very easily able to ride to the park rather than having to drive to a destination before going for a bike ride.

*This is my first season as mountain biker.  I do have a fair amount of kilometres under my wheel on a road bike, but am no pro.. hell I am no amateur, but a passionate newbie at best.  I do not mean to consider myself an expert on what makes a great trail, but I follow the logic of the smile test and feel that it can be the best definition of any sporting experience.  

The smile test: In sport it is said that it doesn’t matter what level you are performing at, but if you finish the run, ride, swim, wave etc with a smile on your face that is the definition of a good experience.

You can have a flowy piece of singletrack that just makes you feel happy and even if it wasn’t technical you can consider the run worth the time.

You can enjoy a downhill ride with a tail wind and consider that a great day cycling.

You can have a run with the perfect breeze, ride the softest wave and more.  Athletes that enjoy the time they spend should not always question whether or not it was their hardest or most challenging effort, but if they enjoyed it.

Joy can be defined in so many ways..don’t question how you found it.

Special Note also goes to the Queen Charlotte Track.  I am coming back to ride you one day on a road bike!