Prologue to my New Zealand journey

The idea of visiting New Zealand had occurred to me couple of years ago. All of our family abroad visits was to Asian countries and they wanted to go somewhere outside the continent. I had been to Europe and US for my work and was looking at something new and fresh. The Australian continent looked promising. But Australia was too large a country and the places I liked to visit were spread across the country. On the other hand, New Zealand was small and the places looked stunning. I was hooked on to it.

Milford Sound on a cloudless day
Reality dawned when I casually checked the flight tickets. It was way beyond my budget and it took some time for me to get out of the shock!! But slowly I realized that I need to plan well in advance in terms of budget and tickets. So, the plan to New Zealand started almost two years ago!!

In this post, I will list down few preparation points for my New Zealand trip.

Places to visit
New Zealand consists of two major islands - North and South. With two weeks of time to spare, I found it difficult to cover both islands in that period. South Island looked more beautiful with lot of nature and scenery. North Island had some nice volcanoes and natural geysers but I had to prioritize one of those islands. I chose to visit South Island only.

My route map
New Zealand being in Southern Hemisphere has climate opposite to India. May to September being winter was ruled out. The summer from November to March was the peak season but it did not match with my daughter’s school holiday. It had to be either October or April. I choose April which was the beginning of Autumn. It was supposed to be one of the dry months but it was not the case during my trip!! It can rain any time in New Zealand. A point to be always noted.

North Island and parts of South Island was battered by two tropical cyclones during my visit resulting in floods. 

The cost of flying to New Zealand is the most expensive part of the trip. Since I zeroed in on South Island, starting my trip from Christchurch made sense. On the other hand, flights to Auckland (In North Island) were more frequent and slightly cheaper. But flying to Auckland and then to Christchurch did not result in any significant cost changes.

Christchurch Airport
A cheaper option was to first fly to Australia and then to New Zealand. But that added one more stopover to the trip and required Australian visa. Not a convenient option.

So, I had to directly fly to Christchurch. And the cheapest ticket was from Singapore Airlines!! I booked it nine months before the journey.

At Singapore's Changi airport
Indians need a visa to enter New Zealand and the country follows traditional way of giving visa. There is no concept of online application or e-visa. But the process is straightforward but bit time consuming. More on this in my next post.

New Zealand Visa
Mode of transport
Considering that I was traveling with my family, I decided to take rental car for the entire journey. While I was looking at international companies like Hertz for rentals, my friend in New Zealand suggested the local company “Ezi car rentals”. The prices were very competitive against the International companies. One month before my journey, I booked “Toyota Corolla” with them. The entire process with Ezi was done with ease!!

Our car in New Zealand
New Zealand allows tourists to drive with their home country driving license as long as it is in English. Not a problem for Indians as our driving license is in English. So it is not required to have International Driving Permit(IDP). IDP would have been a hassle as I had to visit RTO which on any day is not a pleasant experience!!

Roads of New Zealand
New Zealand follows left side traffic which makes it easy for Indians to drive. But they have some rules which are different than ours and I spent some time to understand them. Two things to note were the priority while taking turn in intersections/roundabouts and one way bridge rules (Yes, New Zealand has lot of “One way” narrow bridges!!)

"One way" bridge in New Zealand
I am fine with any type of food as long as it is vegetarian. But my family prefers to have “Indian” food. This was a problem in New Zealand. The cost of eating out in an Indian restaurant is very high and also it is not available in many areas that we were planning to visit. So, we decided to try cooking food ourselves during the visit. This was an experiment but it turned out to be very successful!!

I used extensively for all hotel bookings. For the price between Rs 6,000 to Rs 10,000 I could get an apartment with 2 bedroom and kitchen. Also, provided very flexible cancellation options. This was useful when I had to make run time changes in my plan to avoid going to places facing bad weather.

Though I booked accommodation 6 months in advance, it was not necessary to book so early for the month of April.

Our place of stay at Mt. Cook village
Final words

This trip is not about traveling on budget though I made all efforts to keep the cost under control but in few scenarios I choose convenience and safety over cost. But still it costed 50-60% of what the standard tour operators in India charges for the trip of similar (or less) duration.