New Zealand: Heading onward to LOTR

new-zealand-map

Francis and I are both fanatic of Lord of the Rings. It is our dream to visit the landscape that inspire Peter Jackson to recreate JRR Tolkien’s epic trilogy of elves, dwarves, wizards and human warriors battle against the ring who controls all. New Zealand, the destination, is quite distant to many countries, being located at the bottom of the earth. But if Maori managed to discover it long ago via long treacherous sea voyage, so can we travel south. Luckily, Singapore is one of the best hub to get there.

Surprisingly, the cost to traveling is similar to paying a trip from Singapore to USA: $1.26k SGD. Sure, we can reduce it down to below $1k SGD by taking the Australian budget airline, JetStar, but who would want to sit in a tight, cramp seat with only 7 kg carry on luggage and extra charge on carry-on luggage for roughly 9-10 hours? I won’t. Hence, sucking the price in and choosing Qantas airline. Other options were Singapore Airline or Air New Zealand but they were both at higher price. I also took travel insurance and paid 50.55 SGD with Great Eastern for 17 days.

NZ care for their ecological nature. They are strict on people bringing in food, animals, plants that will disrupt the balance. Be sure to read the list of prohibited items before flying off. They have a hefty fine for that nice honey you are bringing.

Visa check

I need a visa to visit, however there is a condition that if you apply outside NZ and do not stay for more than 59 days, I don’t need to pay the visa fee. If you are transiting in Australia, make sure to check if you need or not need a visa, even if you are not leaving the airport. To find out about NZ visa, check this website.

Quick Facts

The time difference is NZ is 5 hours ahead of Singapore, so you will get a slight jet lag after landing. The currency is similar, 1 SGD to 1.04 NZD. NZ have 4 seasons but in reverse from the rest of the world. We headed on November, which is Autumn for others, but Spring for NZ.

new-zealand-dollars

Kiwis, New Zealanders (and also the NZ bird), are the friendliest people you will meet. Some words may mean differently like these examples:

  • Dear – expensive
  • Duvet – comforter
  • Hot chips – french fries
  • Jersey – sweater
  • Mate – friend
  • Sweet as – cool as
  • Ta – thank you
  • Takeaway – fast food
  • Tomato sauce – ketchup
  • Torch – flashlight

Accessibility and Cities to Visit

The place is safe, food is delicious and every establishment accept credit cards. Tipping is not mandatory but you can tip if you liked the service. One thing is that public transport is not quite accessible as Singapore. It is best to rent a car, especially you are in a group and when traveling to different cities at your leisure pace. Take note that you will be driving on the left side of the lane (similar to Singapore, UK, etc). Other option would be to join a tour bus and meet new people. Just make sure to plan your itinerary to match the tour bus. Domestic flights are not cheap but if you are saving time, go for it.

There are airport shuttles that can drop you off to your accommodation. It is cheaper than getting a taxi since you are sharing the cost with other passengers. There are 2 shuttle companies that I know of: SuperShuttle and Airbus Express (now called SkyBus NZ). The price will depend on number of people, return trips and the city you are in. Airbus is cheaper than SuperShuttle, just check your schedule to see if their timetable fits. It is advisable to pre-book, either online, your hotel front desk or iSite (NZ tourist help desk), especially when you are arriving quite late or really early. We paid approximately $30-43 NZD for 2 person.

Major cities will have public buses and trains, while other cities go only with cars or taxis. If it helps, book accommodation near the main street so you can just walk to your destinations.

We decided to land in Auckland, take a domestic flight to Queenstown and work our way back to Auckland while stopping by several cities. There was less cars on the road as most tourist would go the opposite way. We paid $444 NZD for 8 days rental with GPS and insurance out of the 15 day vacation. We booked 2 times to save days without the rental: 4 days in the South and 4 days in the North with About New Zealand. It was the cheapest rate at that time, always be on a lookout for rental deals. Other companies were Ace Rental, Apex Rental, Go Rental and Jucy. Here are the cities we checked out and the links to the experience:

South

  1. Queenstown – LOTR sites, Milford Sound and nature scenery
  2. Franz Joseph – glacier
  3. Nelson – we wanted to get our wedding rings from the makers of the ring!

North

  1. Wellington – more LOTR and city attractions lol
  2. Rotorua – sulfur bath and Hobbiton!
  3. Waitomo – glowworm cave
  4. Auckland – city attractions

Mind you, the trips between cities can be between 3-7 hours drive. Make sure to hydrate, make a pit stop to stretch and do your business. Try to travel before it gets dark if you are not used to driving without street lights or drive carefully if you are not used to winding mountain roads without any side road barriers. It also gets slippery during snow or ice.

Accommodations and Activities

Accommodation wise, majority of it was in Airbnb. It was our 2nd experience with it and the people we stayed with are lovely. One of them even made breakfast for us! The rest was with motels, which were quite decent. I do notice that most people like to leave their bathroom window open, even in 15 C temp. Look at the individual city links to check which ones to book.

There are many outdoor activities available. From the usual hiking trails to more adventurous sky diving. Try to plan on what activities you would like to do so you can plan on a budget. The dollars can rack up as they tend to start at 60 NZD per person and can go high as $300, depending on what you are going to do. Once you made a plan, try to pre-book the popular activities, else it may be sold out when you buy in person.

Oh and make sure to have your emergency medicine and heavy moisturizer when visiting in spring (or winter). I got sore throat and dry skin when I visited.

That said, happy trip to land down under!

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