Monday, November 21, 2005

Escapism: New Zealand

I'm close to signing the contract on my new home and it's very agitating! So to get my mind off it, I thought I'd post about something completely different: Travel!
(Especially since I might not be doing as much of it next year while adjusting to different housing expenses! It's in my budget still, but I am thinking cautiously.)

One of the best trips I've taken was to New Zealand. It's a beautiful place and in some ways, a very affordable place to visit.
Airfare: this is not the affordable part. If you are going during New Zealand's summer/USA's winter, expect to pay over $2000 unless you get some kind of really great deal on a package tour.
Accomodations: this is the affordable part, especially for a family traveling together. Most modest motel rooms in NZ tend to have kitchenettes, and are often almost like mini-apartments with a separate bedroom, or extra bunk beds for kids. When I was there, we never spent more than about $100-120 in NZ dollars per night, which at the time came to about $55-65 US.
Meals: New Zealand has great cafe culture and lots of nice restaurants. Old-fashioned British-descended cuisine is still out there, but it's given way to more sophistication and influences from Asia. I ate lots of wonderfully fresh seafood and found that most restaurants seemed to have prices close to what they would be in US dollars, so the exchange rate made them a bargain.
Getting around: you'll need to rent a car, as the distances and infrastructure make it impossible to get around solely on trains or buses. I rented a car for 2 weeks for about US$562 total. Since New Zealand is made up of 2 islands connected by a ferry, most car rental companies allow you to drop off your car at the ferry terminal in one island and pick up a new one on the other island so you don't have to pay to ferry your car across. The ferry itself is expensive, about $60 NZ per person.
Fun stuff: It will cost you about $125 NZ to go swimming with the dolphins but it's totally worth it! You suit up in snorkeling gear and head out on a boat into the open sea to wherever the dolphins are. Then you jump in and swim like crazy trying to keep up with them! When I did it, we found a pod of about 200 dolphins and I got within about 5 feet of one as it swam right below me. These are wild dolphins, not trained animals in a tank, so you can't touch them or always get very close, but it is exhilarating nevertheless. The boat chases after the pod as it keeps moving and after you've had a few chances to swim, you warm up back on the boat with some cocoa while they continue to follow the dolphins. In some ways this was just as good as being in the water, as you can watch them do flips and jumps and they are just beautiful.
New Zealand also offers skiiing, bungie-jumping, para-gliding, visits to Maori settlements, great hiking, caves, amazing birds and wildlife, winery tours, and of course plenty of Lord of the Rings memorabilia. If you want a quick overview of NZ's natural and cultural attractions, go to Te Papa in Wellington. It's an amazing museum with great exhibits on wildlife, art, history, and a little of everything.
Here's some other highlights:

Big empty beaches are never hard to find, even at the height of summer!

Lake Tekapo, on the South Island. Photos can't do it justice!

A garden in Christchurch.

You WILL get stuck behind a truck full of sheep at some point!


Caitlin said...

NZ is my total dream trip. I'm aiming for doing it within the next two years. I have to admit it wasn't on my radar until Xena (which filmed there) showed how many diverse ecosystems it had and how beautiful it is. Now I *gotta* go.

Unknown said...

New Zealand and Ireland are at the top of my list for places to visit. Agree with caitlin: I ant to go there because I hear and have read that there's so much beautiful diverse ecosystems in New Zealand. One thing for sure, if I go to NZ, I'll definitely go swimming with the dolphins! It sounds so incredible!

Thanks for sharing!

Nina Smith said...

I've only been to the south island but I spent 21 days there about 3 years ago. Best vacation of my life! And yes, enjoyed it on a very smart budget.