New Zealand Trip



Our Honeymoon in New Zealand

Map of NZ

We were originally thinking of going to Europe for our honeymoon, but the idea of going in mid-winter didn't seem too thrilling. Since it would be summer in the Southern Hemisphere, I suggested Australia or New Zealand. Tera started looking at some travel brochures, and the next thing I knew we were planning a two week tour of New Zealand by RV (otherwise known as camper van in New Zealand)!

Tuesday, 16 January 1996
Los Angeles to Auckland

I still couldn't believe that they had non-stop flights to New Zealand! (Los Angeles to Auckland on Air New Zealand) We arrived at Los Angeles International Airport an hour late, due to the rain (rain in Los Angeles has the same impact on traffic that snow does elsewhere). Luckily our departure time was delayed from 8:15 PM to 9:00 PM, for other reasons, so we didn't miss the flight.

Wednesday, 17 January 1996
In Transit

We lost this day while crossing the International Date Line. Flight time was about 12 hours. Usually I sleep well (4 or 5 hours, by my definition) on these types of flights, but Tera and I only managed to get only a couple of hours of sleep.

Thursday, 18 January 1996
Auckland to Waingaro, 182 km

We arrived in Auckland International Airport at about 6:00 AM, local time. New Zealand time is +20 hours from Los Angeles. But with daylight savings time there, it basically worked out to 3 hours behind LA, but a day ahead. Therefore, we had very little jet lag -- just a night with not much sleep.

After getting baggage and clearing customs, we got a shuttle bus ride to the Maui camper van depot. There, we got the lecture on how to use the 5 speed manual column shift and to be careful when driving on the left side of the road, etc. We noticed there was something missing in the camper van -- the A/C! None of the camper vans had air, but I was told we wouldn't need it, which turned out to be the case.

Maui Camper Van

Camper Van Specifications

Sleeps Two Adults
Private shower and toilet, hot and cold pressurised water, 240V heater, 2 ring gas cooker, refrigerator, microwave, AM/FM radio cassette player, fly screens on windows
Engine 2.0 litre petrol engine, 5 speed manual transmission
Driving Wide angle mirrors give good visibility
Seating Seatbelts for two in the front driving cab
Fuel Cons Approx 7 km per litre (17 mpg). Petrol costs approx NZ$1 per litre. Fuel tank 55 litres (14 gallon)
Dimensions Length: 4.78 m, Height: 2.50 m, Width: 1.90 m, Int Height: 1.82 m
Power 240V mains and 12V battery
Water 60 litre fresh water tank (16 gallon)
Bed Size One double bed 1.80 m x 1.24 m (5'10" x 4')

Since we were only 20 km (1.6 km = 1 mi.) from downtown Auckland, driving in to town was the logical thing to do. Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand, with 1 million of New Zealand's approximately 4 million people. Not that it's a bad city, but after getting lost and driving in circles for a while, it became obvious to us that tourists came to New Zealand for the countryside and the scenery, not to cruise around downtown Auckland.

We visited Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World, where we got to see penguins and other creatures in the Antarctic (besides Argentina, New Zealand is the closest country to Antarctica), as well as recreations of where the first Antarctic explorers lived. I thought that the touristy type of hype about the place was overrated.

Our first lunch halfway around the world was - guess where? McDonald's.

We got on the motorway (freeway) out of town to head for a campsite in case they started filling up early. After leaving the last of Auckland's suburbs, the motorway ended, leaving a winding, hilly, two lane highway (one lane each direction, with lots of sheep, of course) in its place. I thought New Zealand's Highway 1 would be like U.S. Interstate 5 from Sacramento to San Diego! So basically, we had to purge any thoughts of "it's only 140 miles, we'll make it in 2 hours" from our minds. But it was our honeymoon, so what was the hurry?

We stayed the night in Waingaro Hot Springs just outside of Ngaruawahia. The only problem we had is that Tera's curling iron wouldn't work with my voltage converter. Luckily the hair dryer had a 120V/240V switch, so it was O.K.

Friday, 19 January 1996
Waingaro to Rotorua, 305 km

Our first objective for the morning was find a real supermarket to load up on food. We even found a 220V curling iron with the diagonal plugs ( / \ ), which Tera could never ever use again unless she was in Australia or New Zealand. In case of emergency, I gave Tera the stick shift refresher course, which was complicated by the column shift and driving on the left side of the road. She was glad to give the keys back to me and let me do all the driving.

In Waitomo we saw two caves -- one was filled with glow worms and Japanese tourists, the other with just Japanese tourists. The glow worms were neat -- they hang from the walls and the ceilings of caves and, if all of the tourists remain quiet, they emit a little light which attracts insects, which they eat.

We stayed at a campsite just outside of Rotorua. The 9:30 PM sunsets were very nice, and they also meant that we could find a restaurant for dinner and still be able to set up camp in daylight.

Saturday, 20 January 1996
Rotorua to Lake Taupo, 105 km

We stopped a half hour south of Rotorua to see a geyser at the Wai-o-tapu Thermal Reserve. They soaped the geyser to get it to erupt at about 10 AM daily.


We changed plans and decided not to stay at Tongariro National Park, so we found a good riverside campsite in Taupo, where we basically fed ducks and vegged all afternoon.

Sunday, 21 January 1996
Lake Taupo to Wellington, 423 km

Yesterday's early stop meant that we had to cover a lot of distance today to make it to Wellington in time for our Monday morning ferry crossing to the South Island. We passed through a 50 km stretch of desert (!) east of Tongariro National Park.

We had takeaway (to go) fish and chips in Levin -- a small, rather uninteresting town. For some reason, takeaway is significantly cheaper than a sit-down meal in the same restaurant, so we ate the fish and chips inside the camper.

We stopped in Paraparaumu Beach - there were nice ocean views, but the beach itself was not the most scenic. The mall in town was decent though, and we were able to pick up a few things we needed.

The campground in suburban Wellington (Lower Hutt) was near an industrial area and didn't look that attractive, so we ventured into the city for a hotel. Since it was a weekend, Wellington (the capital city) was rather dead, so we were able to get a top floor room in the James Cook Centra for about $100 instead of the usual mid-week rate of $250.

We had dinner at a restaurant on the Queen's Wharf, the only part of the city that was alive on the weekend. After dinner we took the cable car up to Kelburn and enjoyed the botanical gardens and good views of the city.

We spent a lot money on gas - $38 in the morning, $42 in the afternoon!

Monday, 22 January 1996
Wellington to Havelock, 90 km

Most of our morning was spent on our $125 ferry crossing from Wellington to Picton. We had lunch in Picton, a small beach town.

Town of Picton

We bypassed the main road and took scenic (twisty) Queen Charlotte's Road from Picton to the really small town of Havelock (population 380). We took lots of pictures and did a short walk to Cullen's viewpoint.

I was going through bike withdrawal, so I rented a piece of junk mountain bike and went for a ride on SH 6 toward Blenheim (which, by the way, does not rhyme with "Anaheim"). We stayed at the Havelock motor camp.

Tuesday, 23 January 1996
Havelock to Nelson, 85 km

We took the mail boat from Havelock to see the Marlborough Sounds Maritime Park. The mail boat makes weekly mail and food deliveries to the residents in the sounds. It was an interesting boat ride with occasional stops, but it took all day. The lack of food in Havelock forced us to leave for Nelson early for dinner. After dinner we set up camp at Tahuna Beach Holiday Park and played cribbage while it was raining. This, surprisingly, would be the only rain we'd encounter on the entire trip. We saw a neat rainbow after it stopped raining.

Wednesday, 24 January 1996
Nelson to Greymouth, 326 km

We left Nelson with a 1/4 tank of gas, thinking we'd just fill up on the way. Somewhere along the way, we realized we weren't going to make it to a gas station, yet we had used up too much gas to turn back to Nelson. We had little choice except to forge ahead. At 10:30 AM the camper van ground to a halt only 22 km (14 mi.) from Murchison.

While Tera got out her lawn chair and a book, I unpacked my mountain bike out of a box in the ski closet (which I brought for my Australia trip; more on that later), rode 45 minutes into town, bought the last gas can in town, filled it with about a gallon of gas, strapped the can to the rear rack, and rode back to the camper van.

I was unable to tip the gas can high enough to get more than 2/3 of a gallon into the camper. We were on the road again at 2:30 PM, and I was wondering if we were going to run out of gas again before making it to the town, since the advertised mileage for the camper was 17 miles/gallon. Luckily, we made it to town without running out of gas again.

We saw the Pancake Rocks and blowholes (they weren't blowing that much that day) in Punakaiki, as well as great views from SH 6. We got ourselves back on schedule by making it to Greymouth for the night.

Gas expenditures: $5.20 (for the gas in the can) + $53.50 + $27.00

Thursday, 25 January 1996
Greymouth to Fox Glacier, 199 km

We left Greymouth at 9 AM and got to Franz Josef by 11:30 AM or so. The weather for a glacier (pronounced "glass-ee-er" in New Zealand) flight was looking a little uncertain, so we'd try again after lunch. A flight was leaving for Fox Glacier at 12:30 PM, so we drove to Fox. The flight was canceled due to cloudy weather.

At this point the only way to see a glacier was to do a hike with a tour group out to it. We bought some warm clothes, and off we went. There's a short hike out to the glacier, which was rather warm with all that clothing, but once we walked onto the glacier, an icy cold breeze blew down the face of it!

Glacier View

Glacier Crevice

Afterwards, we had a pretty good dinner at a barbecue-style restaurant. The mountain skies finally cleared around 9:20 PM, and we were able to see Mt. Cook from the campsite.

Gas expenditures: $25

Friday, 26 January 1996
Fox Glacier to Queenstown, 381 km

South of Fox Glacier, Highway 6 rejoined the coast for some excellent views before turning inland at Haast. Before the summit of Haast Pass, we stopped to take some pictures at Thunder Falls. Lots of fully loaded cyclists were negotiating the steep Haast Pass. We had seen plenty of bike tourists on the trip, but there seemed to be a lot more of them on the West Coast of the South Island. I joked to Tera that we'd take our tandem bike fully loaded over the pass next time we were in New Zealand!

We made it to Wanaka around lunch -- it was the first town for miles which was big enough to find a place to cash travelers' checks.

At this point in the New Zealand trip we realized we didn't have enough time to continue to drive south to Invercargill, east to Dunedin, then north to Christchurch to catch our flight on Wednesday. Our new plan was to stay in Queenstown for a couple of days and use it a base for the next couple of days of exploration, then sprint through the Canterbury Plains to Christchurch, where we could have a day to explore the city.

We arrived in Queenstown around 3:00 PM. This gave us enough time to find the campsite, get some souvenirs, and book our activities for the next couple of days. We were particularly interested in booking a bus trip out to the launching point for the Milford Sound cruises, since this would have been a ten hour drive (five hours out and five hours back) in one day. There were a couple of package deals that combined the bus trip/lunch/two hour cruise. One of them was with a large company that provided a package that included lunch on the cruise. The package that looked more attractive was the "Barbecue Bus", a smaller bus which stopped for a Barbecue lunch along the way, instead of having lunch on the boat. The Barbecue Bus package was also a little bit cheaper than the other package. Our instincts convinced us to book two seats on the Barbecue Bus.

Gas expenditures: $44

Saturday, 27 January 1996
Bus Trip to Milford Sound

We woke up at 6:00 AM to catch the Barbecue Bus at 7:00. The bus ride was good, with excellent commentary from our host/driver, and several rest stops at Te Anau and several scenic points along the way. We took lots of photos, of course.

Our bus pulled into a rest stop for lunch. While our host was firing the barbie, we took a short hike on a trail into the woods. The barbecue was excellent, with plenty of food for all. We saw a few buses from the larger tour company, and they were mostly filled with Japanese tourists. We were glad we followed our instincts.

The two hour cruise through Milford Sound was excellent. (Technically, it's a fjord, since it was carved out by glaciers, but they still like to call it a sound.) It was like taking a boat ride through a maze of beautiful cliffs and waterfalls.

The ride back was O.K., except we were tired from a busy day. We had a Taiwanese guy on the bus that seemingly wanted to stop every five minutes on the way back to take pictures. Nobody seemed to mind, as long as he didn't take too much time.

All in all, it was an excellent package day trip and highly recommended.

Sunday, 28 January 1996

After a leisurely morning, we walked into town for lunch. We did more souvenir shopping after lunch. We saw a live kiwi and other birds at the Kiwi House. The Skyline Gondola gave us a ride up a nearby hill (after waiting for the busloads of Japanese tourists), and we enjoyed the views from the top.


After a decent buffet dinner at the restaurant on top of the hill, we saw a short film called "Kiwi Magic" -- a wanna-be IMAX 3D film about some ignorant American who is shown the scenery of New Zealand. Afterwards, we noticed that there was a bunch of (Thai) Buddhist monks that looked out of place -- we couldn't figure out why they were there. We took the gondola back to the bottom and spent the remainder of the night writing postcards.

Monday, 29 January 1996
Queenstown to Christchurch, 495 km

Most of the day was spent covering some miles to make it through the Canterbury Plains in one day. This ended up being a good plan, since this was the flattest, least scenic, and therefore, the most boring driving of the trip. We did manage to make a couple of scenic stops: one with good views of Mt. Cook while eating two day old sandwiches for lunch, and another at Lake Tekapo.

We set up camp at a campground in Papanui (suburban Christchurch). We walked over to a nearby mall to find out it had just closed at 5 PM. Dinner was at a Pizza Hut next door to the mall. Unlike the one in Pattaya, Thailand, this Pizza Hut tasted just like the ones in the U.S.

At night we got a jump on our packing, leaving the exploration of the city until the next day.

Gas expenditures: $28 + $34 + $34

Tuesday, 30 January 1996

We took the public bus into the city -- it reminded me of the Orange County (California) busses that not many people use. The difference, though, was that we were the only people younger than 60 on the bus!

In the morning, we enjoyed walking through the Botanical Gardens near downtown. For lunch, once again, we've gone halfway around the world to go to yet another American restaurant - TGIF.

Cathedral Square was home to a large chessboard, which had a crowd of people around it watching a game. I got a game in against one of the locals. While I was playing, we ignored the Wizard, a character who dresses in robes and babbles to the public weekday afternoons.

A touristy tram took us on a fifteen minute ride around the city, taking us past most of the places we had seen on foot in the morning. Although the city was nice, it ended up being a lot smaller than we expected.

We took a shuttle out to a touristy gondola ride up to the top of another hill. The view from the top to the Banks Peninsula was nice, but we would have been better off just driving to the top of the hill instead.

After having a good dinner at a local seafood and grill type of place, we returned to camp to finish packing and prepare for flying out the next day.

Wednesday, 31 January 1996
Christchurch and Beyond

We had some time before our afternoon flights, so we went to the Antarctic Centre near the airport. After we finished looking around, we still had plenty of time, so we went to the local mall, which was rather dull by American mall standards, and then had lunch.

After lunch we returned the camper van. I expected this to be a long, drawn-out process where they went over it with a microscope, but this was not the case. Instead, they did a few spot checks, gave us our deposit back, and we were on our way.

At that point Tera and I parted ways. Tera was flying back to Los Angeles, while my next project at work was not going to start until March, so I was flying to Australia (more on that if I ever get around to writing about it).

Final Statistics:

bulletTotal distance driven: 2550 km (approximately 1600 mi.)
bulletTotal gasoline cost: NZ$ 381
bulletWith an average gasoline price of about NZ$ 1.00 per liter, we averaged approximately 16 miles per gallon -- not bad when the camper van advertising said 17 miles per gallon.

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Page Last Edited (though probably not for content): 14 September 2010