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.

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