Friday, May 04, 2007

How I Spent [Money During] My Spring Vacation, Part 2

Back to my vacation tales... New Zealand is a great place to visit if you love the outdoors. (If you are a couch potato who's really into ancient history, architecture, and art museums, you might not have as good a time.) I spent most of my trip hiking in beautiful locations, with drives of a couple hours a day between the towns we stayed in. Because NZ is quite small and has a lot of mountains, you can get a really interesting mix of landscapes within a short day of traveling. There are plenty of buses that you can take between major destinations, but driving is really the way to go. Unfortunately I can't tell you how much that part of the trip cost, as I paid for all the accomodation in exchange for my sweetie paying for the car and gas. Aside from a comment towards the end of the trip that we must have spent $300 on gas, I didn't get a chance to delve into these details... and didn't want to explain why I was suddenly being so nosy about it. I also found it impossible to get my head around the prices on gas station signs. The prices were shown in a number form like this: 193.9. But I didn't know if that was 193.9 cents or dollars, or what volume of gas it applied to. If it was a litre, I guess it must have been cents! But that seems relatively cheap for gas, given that I heard it was supposed to be more expensive there than in the states. Though I have to admit, my sense of litre vs. gallon is a bit vague... I'm good with some metric system measurements but not others. As for the car, the last time I went to NZ, I think renting cost about US$45 a day, but the exchange rate was better back then.

For places to stay, we mostly opted for motels-- nothing fancy, but often relatively spacious. We averaged about NZ$100 a night-- in some towns this was just a smallish room with a double bed and a table. In others it included a spare single bed. In one, we also got an additional bedroom with 4 bunks. The bathrooms always just had shower stalls, and you get very limited towels and a small bar of soap. Sometimes you even have to pay a little extra for not bringing your own towels and linens. All the rooms had small fridges and electric kettles. Two of the rooms included small kitchenettes with a microwave and/or a hot plate and some pots, plates and silverware. I have always been impressed by the standard of accomodations in NZ, at least compared to my admittedly limited travel experience in the US, which has mostly been on the two coasts when it's on my own dime. Whenever I have stayed at similar motel type places in the US, you just don't get as much for your money.
So much for the budget accomodations... then there was our night at the Hermitage. The standard rate for a room like ours turned out to be NZ$700! In this case, I started to feel like NZ wasn't such a good value. Of course the location is spectacular, and the window of our room looked right out at the mountains. We had two queen-size beds, a couch, armchair, and coffee table, a mini-fridge, tea and coffee and cocoa, free bottles of water, lots of lovely mini toiletries, and a nice big bathtub. Oh, and robes and slippers embroidered with the hotel logo. Everything was immaculate and very stylish. But it wasn't anything all that special compared to many hotels I've stayed in on business trips. And they don't offer room service! I thought the price was pretty exhorbitant for what you were getting, especially if you relate it to income levels in NZ. You can get a hotel room in NYC for an equivalent price (over US$500) that is just as nice, depending on your taste in views. In the most expensive area of NZ (Auckland) the median income is about NZ$55,000, which is currently about US$40,000. If you compare that to the highest median income areas in the US, such as New Jersey, Connecticut, etc, which are around US$60,000, a hotel in NYC starts to seem like a bargain. (Granted, being in a remote location might add some operating overhead that a hotel in NYC might not have to worry about... still...)
But this is where you just see a cultural difference. Though the Hermitage caters to plenty of international tourists, I think the Kiwis just tend to value different things and have different expectations. In the States, we've grown to expect a fresh mini bottle of shampoo every day even in fairly basic hotels. We take lots of luxuries for granted that New Zealanders don't, though that may be starting to change.

In any case, I did enjoy the room at the Hermitage (since it was free), and the excellent but somewhat expensive buffet-- I tried to get plenty of value for my money by eating lots of the perfectly cooked baby lamb chops. Over dinner, we got into a conversation with a middle-aged English couple. They were just finishing a month-long tour of NZ, which made me really jealous. They'd also been doing a some of the expensive activities, like a helicopter flight over Mt. Cook with a snow landing on one of the glaciers -- that kind of thing starts at about NZ$300 per person for about 15 minutes in the air. The thing was, when we told them we were just doing lots of hiking each day, the husband was sighing and saying he wished they'd had time to do that-- I guess he was a big walker (or rambler, as the English say) but his wife wasn't.
I had slight regrets over not doing a helicopter flight or ice-climbing on a glacier or skydiving... you can do so many of these kinds of activities in New Zealand, but they are really expensive. On the last trip, I paid about NZ$125 to do a dolphin-swimming expedition, and I am willing to spend a few hundred bucks for a thrilling once-in-a-lifetime experience like that... but these things also take time, and on this trip, I was on the fence about whether I wanted to try to fit it in. As it was I didn't have time to go everywhere I wanted to. But there is always the next trip to plan for, and I'm lucky enough to have friends to visit in NZ, so I'm sure I'll go back again.
Visiting friends is also a great way to experience a country on another level, by getting beyond the tourist veneer. More on that in the next post.

In the meantime, here are a few photos:

A waterfall near Arthur's Pass, on the way from Christchurch to Hokitika:

A wonderfully empty beach, at Okarito, on the west coast:

Twilight at Lake Mapourika:

After arriving after dark on a foggy night, this is what I saw when I first left the motel room at Franz Josef township the next morning:

And here's the Franz Josef glacier:

Early in that day's 4 hour hike, we stopped at this rather photogenic spot:

A tractor used for pulling a trailer full of lobster traps, I think, in a quiet fishing area near Haast:

More photos to come in the next post.


Anonymous said...

Your sweetie? Is there a dude in your life you haven't told us about? You've been holding out on us.

Madame X said...

No, there is no "dude" in my life that I "haven't told" you about.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I love the blog and have been reading for a while...

It may be the case that your expensive but free hotel room's "standard" rate may be like the "standard" rate on the door in US hotels -- i.e. the rate nobody ever pays. I have no idea why they do that -- but in most hotels there is a sign on the door or wall with standard rates -- I've stayed in lots of US hotels and have never actually paid it.

I'm guessing you could go on-line, try to book a room for the near future and find out what it probably would have cost you.

mOOm said...

The prices are per liter and there are about 3.5 liters in a US gallon. Petrol is somewhat more expensive in AU/NZ than the US but not anywhere near as high as in Europe.

StyleyGeek said...

The petrol price you quote must have been somewhere quite remote. Usually it's around $1.60 per litre, I think. That makes it just over NZ $6 per gallon (US $4.50).

Moom is right. In many places in Europe, petrol is about twice that.

(In case your commentators are suspicious of my accuracy again: I am a NZer who lives in Australia but still visits NZ a couple of times a year.)

fin_indie said...

Wow, I've been toying with the idea of a NZ trip for several years, and your post really makes me want to head down there soon. The mountains and outdoor activities make me drool!
...and btw, I'm hugely jealous of the English couple that spent a month there. Although, I'm shocked that they didn't have time for some "rambling", given the 4 weeks that they were there. Kinda odd and sad at the same time.

Rich Minx said...

Your pics make me a little homesick... very nice.

Su Yin said...

Ooh, and don't forget about NZ's exhorbitant tax brackets!

And if not in Auckland, there pretty much isn't anywhere you can work in publishing ... although there are one or two freelancing from little pockets around the South Island.