Thursday, December 15, 2011

Flight home and tips on travelling to NZ

Day 16 (Mon, 5 Dec 2011)

I know, theoretically this isn't a day cos we left NZ on the 6.20am flight. But considering we spent 13 looooong hours on the plane, it had to be included!

First, we took a domestic flight from Christchurch to Auckland, before taking an international flight back to Singapore.

Walking from the domestic to international terminal at Auckland Airport.

Can we ever be without Internet, even when we're in transit?

Funny sign at the airport. Why is the door alarmed? Is it afraid of the fire extinguisher?

You know, when you're on holiday, it's like stepping out of reality and into a time warp - one where you don't have work or social responsibilities. For 2 glorious weeks, we existed only for playing, eating and chilling, without the usual cares in our regular world. It was heavenly and very hard to come back to earth.

I cannot rave enough about NZ as a family holiday destination.

Before we left, we wondered if the kids, especially Andre, would get bored in a nature-centred country like NZ. As it turns out, he enjoyed it tremendously. He even wanted to migrate to Wanaka! Despite having no theme parks or many shopping opportunities, this holiday is by far, the best one we've had yet, as a family. We spent 2 weeks creating memories that all of us would remember for a lifetime.

Here are my thoughts on travelling to NZ:


In the past, one of the downsides of travelling to NZ was the cost of the air tickets. This is no longer an issue, since Jetstar started flying there. We paid only $2,400 for air tickets for the 4 of us, which is dirt cheap (especially considering we flew multi-city, ie arriving and departing from different cities). True, those were promotion tickets but even Jetstar's regular priced tickets to NZ are very affordable.

Accommodation is NZ is extremely good value for money. You can usually find a comfortable and well furnished motel unit in town, sleeping a family of 4 for under $200. Some even come with breakfast. If you want to be assured of your lodging beforehand, many motels offer online bookings. If not, you can always drive into town and look for accommodation.

Food was also not as expensive as we'd expected. In restaurants, main courses tend to cost between $20-$35 which doesn't sound cheap but remember, GST is included and they don't charge a service fee. Also, their portions tend to be huge so sharing is possible. In cafes, a burger usually costs about $12, sandwiches and pies are cheaper.

To me, the drinks are expensive. A cup of tea or cappuccino is usually priced at $4 or $4.50, even in modest cafes along the highway.

The only thing I found pricey in NZ is their activities and entry to attractions. I expect the setup costs tend to be high and they're big on safety, which is always a good thing. They're very family-friendly though and many attractions offer Family Passes which can save you a few dollars.

But while they may not be cheap, they're highly memorable and my philosophy is, we didn't go all the way there to shy away from experiences of a lifetime. So just bite the bullet and go for it!


We were a little apprehensive about the driving before we started as we had to cover such long distances but overall, it's been very manageable. In general, we've been very impressed by NZ's roads. Their highways are excellent and maintained regularly - getting to all the major tourist spots and towns are usually via highways.

There are some mountain passes which are more nerve-wrecking but for the most part, it's actually less stressful driving in NZ than on Singapore's congested roads next to inconsiderate Singaporean drivers.

A caveat though: we travelled during late Spring/early Summer, when there is lots of daylight and the road conditions are good. If you're driving in Winter, the roads may be slippery and you will need snow chains. Not advisable for drivers unfamiliar with such conditions.

When planning this trip, we considered taking up one of those self-drive packages offered by tour companies. But we quickly figured out that it was a lot more expensive. Those charge per person and when you go as a family, you'll know that the land tour is never a certain amount x 4. You pay a flat fee for a car, no matter how many passengers it carries, and for the motels, a unit that sleeps 4 is usually only marginally more expensive than one that sleeps 2. So my advice is, just do a little more homework and plan it yourself.

Route-wise, there are some basics that can't go wrong. We actually deviated slightly from the popular tourist route but as long as you keep to the main highways, you won't get into trouble. When you're driving, make a mental note of which towns are enroute (for toilet stops) but you don't have to be too anal about planning stops in advance. Most towns, even the little ones, have at least a cafe and all cafes have toilets. But I do advise that you stop whenever you get tired. Bad idea to drive if you're sleepy.

Go with a good car rental company (and get a GPS!) We chose Apex Cars and it was super. It's cheaper than the big names like Hertz or Budget, and it's very flexible - it allowed us to pick up the car in Auckland, drive right onto the Interislander Ferry, continue our journey and drop it off in Christchurch. Some companies require you to change cars between islands, which is pretty troublesome logistics-wise.

For petrol, we found that the larger towns, especially those with more than one station, offered better rates. The exception is popular tourist areas, eg. the glacier towns, Queenstown and Te Anau had some of the highest prices for petrol. If you're staying the night in a big town, top up the tank before you leave, so you don't have to worry about running out along the way.

Because of the long drives though, I don't think NZ is a suitable holiday destination for small kids. Sitting in the car for hours at a time may not be fun (both for the kids and parents!) But for those with teenagers, it's stupendous. The kids are old enough to appreciate the nature and activities, and can even help pack and carry luggage.


We were struck by how clean the country is. We were especially impressed by the toilets in NZ. You can tell how civilised a country is by the cleanliness of their toilets and the ones in NZ are excellent. Even public toilets in the middle of nowhere are usually clean and there are toilets in every cafe.

The people are extremely friendly and throughout our trip, we never saw a single person using a handphone (if you do, it's likely an Asian tourist!) It's a very relaxed and gracious country.

It's also a very safe country and that's partly what makes it a great family holiday destination. Once, we accidentally left our car window down all morning at an attraction, and another time, we didn't close our motel unit door properly and came back to find it wide open, with our belongings (laptop included) in full view. Both times, nothing was taken or touched. Of course, you'll still need to use common sense and take the normal precautions but I'm saying that you don't feel any sense of danger in this country, even in the remote areas.

This is simply heaven on earth. Everywhere you go, you see vast expanses of green or blue, with rainbow hues in between. It's like God took special care to create this country. If you're looking for a holiday to get away from it all and have all your worries melt away, this is the perfect place.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

End of the road trip

Day 15 (Sun, 4 Dec 2011)

Dunedin - Christchurch: 355km

After 2 glorious weeks, this would be our last day in NZ :(

We spent it mostly driving, as we had to get to Christchurch - our final stop. Along the way, we stopped at the Whitestone Cheese Factory in Oamaru. Whitestone has won many awards and the cheese has been featured in the US sitcom "Scrubs".

The factory in Oamaru produces all the Whitestone cheese for NZ.

There were tastings at the shop and of course, we bought some. Hopefully, the cheese will survive the long journey home!

Not too long after we resumed our journey, we came by a funny place called Riverstone Arts and Crafts. The sign read "The best bloody shop for miles!" How not to stop?

It sells a multitude of curios and knick-knacks, everything from stuffed toys to Christmas ornaments and furniture.

The two-storey shop is covered wall to wall with stuff in seemingly random order and you have to wade through the trinkets, but there are many gems.

There was sooooo much stuff it was overwhelming. We ended up just buying a giraffe windchime.

But it was loads of fun looking around. There was even a wooden pool table (using golf balls) out side!

Our next stop was Butler's Berry Farm and Cafe. Didn't eat anything, we just wanted to look around as we had yet to see a berry farm. Originally, we thought we'd be able to stop at a farm and pick berries but it was too early in the season.

Strawberry fields forever...

The shop sold shelves of berry preserves, sauces and fresh fruit.Have you ever seen a gooseberry? I haven't. We tried it - it's sour! It's usually used for pies and jams.

Our lunch stop was at Timaru, a sizeable town.

To our delight, we saw another Speight's Ale House! Yay! The menu was slightly different from the one in Dunedin but the food was still good.

Finally at about 3.30pm, we arrived at Christchurch. We decided to stay at a hotel close to the airport as our flight home is at an unearthly hour of 6.40am. Checked into Copthorne Hotel Commodore which offered a very convenient free 24/7 shuttle service to the airport. It's only 5 minutes from the airport.

View from our room. We're gonna miss all this greenery when we get home.

We returned our car to Apex, located just around the corner.
The Camry we rented served us very well for our journey. In total, we clocked 2,929km. What a feat in itself!

To end the day, Kenneth's friend from JC now living in Christchurch, picked us up for dinner at her place with her lovely family. The place is actually her rental home as her real home was damaged in the earthquake and is undergoing repairs.

Absolutely super to enjoy a home-cooked meal among friends.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

To market, to market

Day 14 (Sat, 3 Dec 2011)

Our last day in Dunedin. In case you're wondering why we allocated so much time to Dunedin, our original plan was to spend one day in Christchurch. However, after all the earthquake scares, we decided to give the city a miss so so extended our time in Dunedin by one day.

It was a bonus for us. After all that driving, we were happy to stay in one spot for a few days, to enjoy the last leg of our trip.

Coincidentally, since we're in Dunedin on a Saturday, we were able to visit the Otago Farmers Market at the Dunedin Railway Station. Over 65 vendors come together every week to offer the freshest fruit and produce from Otago. This is one of the busiest Farmers Markets in Australasia.

This is a very happening place. It's pretty crowded and why not, it was a lovely, cool morning.

They seem to have everything, from plants...

to freshly baked bread and pastries,

from honey...

to newly picked cherries.

You can even order your Christmas ham from a truck!

We found one stall selling venison sausages.

Then the fun part - sampling the wares!

Why not go the whole hog? A hotdog with the works to wash down the sausage.

Looking around, it seems like the market is a popular venue for Saturday breakfast. There are even vendors selling piping hot cappucino from the vans.

The Dunedin Railway Station itself, where the market is located, is a historical site. A five-minute walk from the Octagon, it is apparently the 2nd most photographed landmark in the Southern Hemisphere, losing out only to the Sydney Opera House.

After that leisurely morning excursion, we went back to Speight's Ale House for lunch as we really enjoyed our meal there yesterday. This time, we ordered fish & chips and lamb steak.

In my original itinerary, I had planned to visit Larnach Castle in the afternoon, as I thought it would be interesting for the kids to see NZ's only castle.

But after last evening's escapade, we were all rather tired and the kids pleaded disinterest at seeing an architectural landmark. I guess after all the fantastic adventures we've been having, this one sounds a little flat. It didn't take much to convince us, especially as we'd seen the extremely narrow and winding roads up the mountain to Larnach Castle.

So it was an afternoon of chill instead.

We walked to the Octagon, the city centre of Dunedin. It's only 800m from our motel and in the cool 23-degree environment, it was very pleasant.

The Octagon is flanked by the main buildings of the city, such as the town hall and art gallery.

There was a protest going on right in the centre. I asked our motel owner, a jovial elderly gentleman, what they were protesting against. He replied, "who knows? The world, probably. I reckon it's 'Rent-a-Mob'." Heh. (We found out later it's Occupy Dunedin.)

We then walked to the nearby Warehouse, which is a very large hypermart like Target, and got ourselves 3 DVDs for $25. Came back to the motel and watched 'Home Alone'. It is the Christmas season afterall! (And yes, the motel unit came with a DVD player).

For dinner, we walked back to Jitsu Japanese Restaurant, also cos we liked the food the first time. We're such creatures of habit! Although I must say in Dunedin, there's no end of choices for cuisine. They have everything from Thai to Turkish, Chinese to Italian.

Then it's back for an early night as we have a long drive tomorrow. Very sad this trip is coming to an end.