New Zealand by the Numbers: a Wrap Up

Time: 25 days. 3 in Christchurch, 4 in Auckland, 2 in Wellington and 16 spent roaming in the campervan.
Vans rented: 2, Blackhole and Shenzou both from Spaceships, an excellent and cheap option.
Nights Slept in Vans: 19, 4 in commercial campsites and 15 in Department of Conservation sites.
Friends Visited: 1, we spent 4 days catching up with one of my camp friends in Auckland and it was wonderful.
Boat Rides: 3, we took a boat to see glowworms, a boat in fjordland, and a really expensive ferry between the two islands.
Flights: 1, from Auckland to Christchurch in their first snow storm in 15 years.
National Parks: 5
World Heritage Sites: 1
Best Food: After arriving from Japan, we enjoyed all the western food immensely, but our favourite were the cheap and abundant Fish and Chips, the chocolate bar Moro Gold, and, of course, the fresh and delicious Kiwi Fruit.

Worst Food: Not a big fan of Marmite.
Best City: We loved Wellington, with its charming waterside walks and excellent museums. It reminded us a lot of Ottawa, one of our favourite cities. A close second place goes to Wanaka where we enjoyed the beautiful scenery, the lake, a ridiculously dangerous children’s playground and the chill atmosphere.

Worst City: Queenstown. We felt it was overrun by tourists, which I know is a little hypocritical, and everything was way too expensive.

Best New Experience: Seeing all the natural wonders of New Zealand. It was amazing to drive through mountains and arrive at crystal clear lakes, boat through giant fjords, and come this close to touching a glacier.

What we learned: Thanks to some excellent museums, we learned a lot about glaciers, fjords, mountains and other natural wonders, as well as about native birds; like the crazy alpine parrot, the sadly disappearing kiwi bird and Maori customs and culture. I also learned that there are such terrifyingly large giant squids lurking in the ocean. We also picked up some excellant slang, like a handle of beer instead of a pint, that L&P is a delicious lemon fizzy drink and that ‘to go’ food is takeaway, not take out.
Travel Tip: If you’re camping, pick up a DOC camping guide. They won’t give them to you at your rental place, because they have deals with commercial campgrounds, but the DOC sites were cheaper, in more natural settings and more peaceful. Their only downside was that the maps and directions in the guide were a little vague and it was quite easy to get lost while looking for the sites, but that only added to the adventure. Also, don’t go camping in Wellington, make plans to sleep elsewhere, because the one campground is way too expensive.

Will we go back? Most definitely. We are already planning our lives as expats there.

 

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Australasia’s Weird Food: Lamingtons

Popular in both New Zealand and Australia, lamingtons are sponge cakes covered in strawberry jam or chocolate sauce and coconut flakes. For some reason we never actually ate one in either country, but they sure do look delicious.

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Gorgeous South Island

A view from our campsite near Te Anau. Absolutely stunning. 

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The best part!

By far highlight of our trip to New Zealand was reuniting with a long lost friend, Gillian!

We spent four days living with Gill in her gorgeous house in Piha, near Auckland. It was an amazing time full of reminiscing, wine and excellent food. It’s so nice to see people you haven’t seen in years and have no problems jumping right back into the friendship! I can’t wait for my next visit, or perhaps permanent move!

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Camping in New Zealand

After a lot of research in to travel costs and feasibility, we decided the best way to see New Zealand was by car. Having heard about cheap camping opportunities we decided to go for a campervan of sorts. Of course, we hadn’t really planned for the freak snowstorm or other bad weather, and had to delay our trip a few days waiting for the mountain passes to be opened and the driveway to be shoveled. Spaceships campervans are old Toyota lucidas imported used from Japan and retrofitted to sleep two, or if you’re brave and don’t mind a roof rack, four. We picked up the winter warmed pack, a heater, a hot water bottle and  thermos, and were on our way. 

While camping had it’s downsides: the sites were much more expensive than we had planned, it was cold, our van was a little old and extremely embarrassing, we are so happy we choose to camp. 

Eventually we found these sweet department of conservation guides to the free and cheap campsites, and from then on we were set. No more $35 a night to sleep in a parking lot, now were paying $6 a night to sleep in the gorgeous parks of New Zealand. 

While our van seemed a little sketchy at first, other than the hub cap incident, a dead battery, and a few little peculiarities with the glove compartment, it brought us home unscathed.

Spaceships come fully equipped with cooking equipment, a DVD player and bedding, so it was really easy to pick up and go. They were definitely also the cheapest vehicle to be had, if not the nicest. Hopefully the next time we go we can afford one of those fancy motorhomes with bathrooms and a real bed, but for now, this was perfect.

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The best museum in New Zealand

Well, to be honest, we didn’t visit very many museums in New Zealand, unless you count the many Department of Conservation exhibits we stopped at. Those exhibits were great, amazing even,and brought back fond memories of the visitor’s centre at Algonquin. For the purposes of this contest though, I will count only the actual musuems we visited.

Te Papa in Wellington. 

Absolutely amazing. This museum is free with donation, and has so many excellent exhibits. One floor was entirely designed for the geography nerds among us. Information on earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics and rock cycles was next to interesting displays on the wildlife of New Zealand, which included a huge room displaying the biggest giant squid ever captured. There was even a house which simulated an aftershock of 5.0 magnitude. The next floor is dedicated to Maori traditions, immigration, and the people’s history of New Zealand. There is another floor, but we had to skip it, as we stayed until the museum closed. All through the museum there are interactive displays and children’s centres, as well as innovative exhibits, such as a 3-D movie of the giant squid, and recordings of children talking about the most interesting behaviours of animals. We spent over three hours here and wanted to come back the next day. Scott’s favourite part was a small exhibit outside which showed how the building was engineered not to collapse in Earthquakes including a viewing area of the the buildings supports.

Auckland Museum

Another free with donation musuem, but they make you buy a ticket for $10 as your supposed donation. This museum felt more formal and not as interesting to Scott and I. It’s building was absolutely beautiful and built in the middle of a giant park, so it had location going for it. The three floors contain information about Maori traditions, the natural world, and New Zealand’s contributions to wars around the world. We spent the most of our time on the third floor, learning about New Zealand’s participation in WWI, WWII, and various other conflicts. It was incredibly interesting and engaging, but I think we were comparing it to the excellent war museum in Ottawa, and left not fully satisfied.

Cable Car Museum – Wellington

It seems a little ridiculous to pit this small, focused museum against the two heavy weights, but we really enjoyed this place. At first we only entered to pass time while waiting for the next cable car down the hill, but we ended up staying for nearly an hour. The first floor has a restored cable car you can sit on, as well as an excellent history of the cable car in Wellington. It was fascinating to learn so much about something I knew nothing about before. The basement had another restored car, and the historic winding machine that used to control the cars. My favourite part by far were the videos playing in a screening room, one abut the trams of New Zealand and one about the private cable cars all over wellington. Since the city is built on a hill, many residents have installed their own cable cars for easy access to their homes. I watched the whole movie, and we later saw a few of these cars while driving around. It was definitely worth the visit. 

Weta Cave – Wellington

We made the short trek out here because we were both big Lord of the Rings fans. I distinctly remember watching all of the additional footage on at least one of the DVD’s and being fascinated by the “making of” scenes. This small museum is mostly a gift shop, with collectibles on display and for sale. There was also a video that outlined what kind of work they did for various films and the different departments making up Weta. It was definitely worth a visit just to see some of the life size figurines. 

Winner?

It was a close race between Te Papa and the Cable car Museum, but if I take revisability into consideration, I’d have to give it to Te Papa.  I can’t wait to go back and check out that upper floor. 

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