Planning a Trip to Middle Earth

Hey folks, after a loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong time away, I am back! (obviously)

Sorry about that. All of October was getting things ready for New Zealand, T was gone the entire month on a business trip, and work was getting very stressful. Then November we were in New Zealand! Or as I affectionately call: Middle Earth. How was it? Um….awesome would be an understatement but I am still so in awe of this trip that it’s the only word that comes to mind at the moment. I kept notes while driving around Kiwi-Land so that I knew what I could write about when I got back. I have enough material for about 20, yes 20, posts concerning New Zealand. So take a seat and get ready, cause it’s a lot! Holy shit, it’s a lot.

So where to begin? Well, at the beginning, obviously. I thought that I would start with how we planned this four week adventure and what we learned that we could pass on to you, dear reader. Ready?

When?

When should you travel to New Zealand? Well, that depends on what you want out of your trip. You have to remember that NZ is in the southern hemisphere so the seasons are the opposite to ours in the north. We went in November, which was the end of spring. We wanted to go when the weather was good, but also wanted to avoid the peak tourist season (High Season: December through March, Shoulder: March – May; September – November, Low: June – October). We thought November would be a good time because it was still spring so the weather should be getting warmer, but not quite summer so we had hoped to miss the flood of tourists. We ended up being right. You still have to book things in advance, but that meant a day or two beforehand for us (as opposed to weeks or months ahead during peak). We did this because we wanted to be spontaneous with what we wanted to do. We had an itinerary that at least to let us know what direction we needed to drive and we did change it a little bit as we went along (especially once we got to the South Island), but the important thing was that we did get to see pretty much everything we wanted on our list.

The green is a must, the yellow is a maybe, and gray were options on doing something we wanted to do. The important thing to note is that if you want spontaneity – don’t go during high season, but be aware that the weather may not be perfect. We were considerably lucky that the sunshine followed us around (much to the dismay of the locals where they were having a nasty drought).

How?

Now that you have decided when you are going to go – how are you going to get around? This is also tied with the question: where are you going to stay? Well, we answered this question with two words: camper van. Or is that one? No matter. The popular way to travel in NZ is with a camper van. We did think about just renting a car and staying in hotels. T did the math (he is REALLY good with excel sheets) and found that a camper van (with a toilet – important point for later) or renting a car/hotels came out about the same price, but in the end we went with the former simply for the flexibility. You see, there are “holiday parks” all over NZ where you can drive in with a camper van  where you can either plug in your camper van (essential if you want to plug in your toaster or microwave) or unpowered site. You can have a tent site or rent one of the cabins. The parks have full range kitchens, washer/dryers, showers and entertainment centers. They cost money but we did find the price to be rather reasonable considering the ammentities. But if you want to save (and you have a self-contained camper van – i.e. one with a toilet) then you can partake in “freedom camping.” This means that you can park in designated zones for free provided you have said self-contained vehicles. We did this a few times and found the view a lot of times better than at a holiday park.

You, too, can have this view waking up in the morning….

We went with the company Discover New Zealand at the recommendation of some Swiss friends of ours (the couple who gifted us our Five Lakes hike for our wedding). They spent about 3 months in NZ after they graduated from college and only had good things to say about the company. T went into thorough research mode and found them to be cheaper than the really popular JUCY, they had the size camper we wanted, and they offer insurance that covers you when you drive on gravel roads – but with some restrictions (this is essential if you want to visit Mt. Sunday – Edoras because it is about 20km of gravel roads –  but to be safe PLEASE make sure to read the Terms and Conditions before renting). After working with them and being in their van for four weeks. We definitely liked working with them and highly recommend them to anyone wanting a similar tour in NZ.  Here’s the LINK to their site.

Another recommendation is getting a membership through Top 10. We first heard about them in Waitomo (after seeing the glow worm caves) when we decided to stay somewhere overnight. We paid about 50 NZD for a two-year membership and with it we got a 10% discount at all Top 10 sites througout NZ, 10% the Ferry (what we needed to get from North to South Island).  There are also local discounts depending on where you are, but you usually have to ask the front desk about that. Here’s the LINK for Top 10.

WHAT?

So you have your plane ticket and camper van booked – now the question is: what do you need to pack?

First – you need to download the CamperMate app. There you can find literally EVERYTHING you could possibly need in New Zealand: gas stations, holiday parks, freedom camping sites, grocery stores, free WiFi, dump stations (for you camper van waste), ATMs, things to do in your area, you name it – the app probably has it. And the best part? It also works offline!

However, we do suggest swinging by Vodafone when you get there (we walked passed a kiosk at the Auckland airport on our way to baggage claim). They had a deal that for 86 NZD (about 50 Euros) we got 8 GB of data, 200 international minutes, and 100 texts. That was perfect for us. We put the card in my phone and I gave T an internet hotspot when he needed/wanted it. Whenever I had WiFi, I used it to call home so that T had the majority of the minutes to call his mom or sister, though I also used some minutes as well. It was great and we highly recommend getting it. Just an FYI, internet at the holiday parks are always limited. We only had one the entire trip that had free unlimited, the rest would give us 250 MB per device a day (up to five devices) or we have to pay outright to use their internet at all (Milford Sound charges $10 per 100 MB, but they are a special case which I will discuss in another post). So having our data plan helped a lot.

Second, pack what’s practical. I know this seems like common sense, but you will likely be spending the next month in a tiny camper van where space is very limited especially in terms of clothes. I recommend stuff that you can layer, a few t shirts, a long undershirt, thin and thicker sweatshirt, waterproof shell/raincoat, etc. I also had some leggings in case I needed an extra layer, hiking pants, one (maybe two)  jeans, one pair of shorts. NZ ended up being a lot warmer than we anticipated but we had enough “cool” clothes so not overheat, but were able to layer on colder days (especially in the beginning). Almost all of the holiday parks have washing machines so you don’t have to have enough clothes for the whole trip, you can wash your things!

Packing cubes are also one of the best ways to help not only limit what you bring, but makes organizing and packing a breeze. I got these on a whim from amazon for about 10 € each (for a pack of three cubes and three bags). There are more expensive ones but I wasn’t sure if they would even be very useful. They were!

See? Nice and easily packed.
Packed in minutes….

As you can see, it made keeping our clothes organized much easier and when it came to packing, half of our luggage was done in minutes so we could spend more time combing the rest of the camper for all the other knickknacks that we had packed away for the month we were there. Another note: if you can – bring a soft suitcase. We did manage to find space for our two suitcases, but if we had something softer, it would have been easier. You may not be so lucky to find a place to store your cases.

Thirdly, bring power packs (large batteries). This will help you with your cell phone and tablet charging needs when you are freedom camping. T had one that doubles as a speaker (JBL Charge 3) and I had mine that we used on our Five Lakes hike, I only charged the battery once the whole month we were gone.

Fourthly, spices. We did more cooking in our van than eating out (especially in the South Island where you can drive for hours before seeing another soul). So we stocked up on food that we could heat up in a pot or pan (through our gas stove) so that we weren’t dependent on needing a holiday park. We could decide on freedom camping at any time and we did (learning how to toast a bagel on a pan was an interesting experiment). But some of those foods can be rather bland so having some spices on hand can really help. We didn’t bring whole spices, I did the tic tac camping hack.

See? How cute?!?!?!

I used old tic tac containers and filled them with spices that we would normally use. Or at least, what I thought we would use. More than half of the containers were emptied by the end of the while the last few were barely touched. At least I know for next time, but they were a good and small thing to have.

Anyway, I am sure that I will come up with more pieces of advice as we journey through T and my trip through Kiwi-Land.

Bis nächste Woche!

 

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