We love Kiwis (by MAPG)

Trip Start Aug 11, 2009
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Trip End Feb 19, 2010


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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Sunday, November 15, 2009

Even now, while relaxing on the sunny beach of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand, I can resist the temptation of taking a swim in the 30 degrees warm water, in order to rewind our memories of New Zealand.
Our Kiwi-Adventure started in Auckland, NZ's largest city, situated in the upper part of the Northern Island, Auckland is a beautiful city, and the only reason it was not proclaimed NZ's capital is due to it's uncomfortable location too far away from the Southern Island. The compromise meant choosing Wellington as the capital city (just of the tip of the Northern Island). Except its isolated location, Auckland has everything it needs to become NZ's crown jewel town. Auckland bears a great amount of NZ's history (European settlers as well as Maui-people), an attracting skyline (best viewed from Devonpoint), a harbor where you can find the latest racing yachts, and 1 Million inhabitants from all over the world. Every aspect of Auckland points out to a high living standard. This somehow anticipates the reaction of the majority of backpackers when asked about Auckland. Most of them just want to leave the city as quickly as possible. Everybody wants to rent a van or get on a tourist bus to discover the nature NZ is so famous for. Contrary to this general opinion we really enjoyed Auckland's multi-culti flair, and although we were forced by the circumstances, we were happy to return after a couple of days on route.
Like most tourists, our plan consisted in renting a camper van in Auckland (North Island) and travel all the way down to Christchurch (South Island), where we had to leave for Sydney two weeks later. I mean, what could go wrong with the allocated time? NZ only has 4 Million people, and is only a tinny fraction of Australia, where we had 5 weeks. At least that is what we though 6 months before, when we were planning the trip in Frankfurt. For starters, we omitted that we were not the only ones driving from N to S. An estimated 90% of people start their trip in Auckland. And then there was the timing. While Europe is putting on the winter gear, everything in NZ flourishes in November-December. It's a period of mild and rising temperatures, ideally for traveling. This series of events made prices for vans skyrocket, and because fellow travelers advised us not to book in advance (big mistake regarding camper vans) we were left only with the very expensive vans to choose from.
Eager about the idea of a do-it-yourself trip, we did not hesitate too much when offered a good deal on a car. The only problem was, this wasn't a bunky camper van, but a big, comfortable , 160 HP strong Toyota Camry. This made all vans appear small in the rear view mirror! After equipping the Camry with some camping gear such as: gas cooker, plates, cutlery, etc. we set off in a national park race against time. The car then accompanied us everywhere and practically became our home for the next 3400 km through this extraordinary country, where people drive on the wrong side of the road.
With a little over 10 days left, we only allocated 3 days for the North Island, leaving the remaining 7 for the South Island. In fact, the north Island offers and enormous amount of destinations ranging from caves illuminated by glowworms, to volcanic lakes, and stunning walks. Driving through NZ is a unique experience, and a whole lot more than counting sheep. Almost every km you stumble upon a point of interest (aka must do for kiwis). This rule does not apply to gas stations though. Don't expect to get too much help from fellow drivers because after 9 PM you hardly see any. This happens because most accommodations close their doors after 8 PM.
Now back to our itinerary. After a one day drive to the Coromandel Peninsula, East from Auckland, we headed South for Wellington. We stopped twice, first at Lake Rotorua, best known for its volcanic activity, and then at Lake Taupo, famous for the one day 18 km trek that can be done in the area. Unfortunately, we had to rely on the weather in Taupo, and the latter was against us.
In Wellington we took the ferry to Picton (South Island) and then headed West to do a semi-loop until Christchurch. Because of the time constraint we only got a 3 hours glimpse of Able Tasman National Park (NP). On our way to Franz Joseph Glacier we stopped to see the remarkable landscape of Paparoa NP (Punakaiki or Pancakes Rocks) just off the coast. After a full day of crawling through the ice crevasses at Franz Joseph, we continued our drive and reached Queenstown, a beautiful city that reminds of Zurich. Because the three NPs were not enough, we headed another 300 km to Milford Sound. It is not only Milford, the only fjord accessible by road, it's the entire Fjordland NP, NZ's biggest. The drive to Milford alone was worth the trip. After spending two nights there, we returned to Queenstown for an adrenaline kick, and then managed to bring the car safely to Christchurch.
Last but not least, we would like to thank NZ authorities for providing such a great infrastructure for travelers. If it wasn't for the great roads, car parks, resting places, free information offices (i-sites), and certainly beautifully preserved NPs, we would have gone mental on this live-in-the-camry journey.
So if you plan to travel to Switzerland but are somehow intrigued about all the constraints and about the Swiss accent, just think out-of-the-box and get yourself a ticket to NZ and you will be amazed! You'll receive a warm welcome and will be treated great by the locals. Even if you get caught with the coca leaves you bought months in advance while traveling through South America, and about you had totally forgotten, NZ authorities will let you off with a verbal warning. Don't try it though, the adrenaline kick is not worth it!
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