A Travellerspoint blog

January 2009

New Zealand wrap ... SWEET AS

43 days in a car in New Zealand...

0 °F
View A Rough Outline of our Trip on daveliz's travel map.

For three months we have spent 24 hours a day together and we are both still alive. This is especially amazing since we have been living, sleeping and driving around New Zealand in a very small minivan for the last 43 days. In general, we really enjoyed our time in New Zealand. We suspect that after a week in bustling Hanoi or Bangkok we'll be craving the peace and quiet of Kiwi land, but for now, we are ready to move on to Australia for some new scenery. Six weeks was a good amount of time to hit almost every corner of this small country.

A few observations about New Zealand and then some photos to show you the highlights.
- The people are called Kiwis, not for the popular fruit, but for a flightless, nocturnal bird that has a lot going against it, but is known for being a true survivor.

- There are more sheep than people in New Zealand. In fact we've heard a statistic that on average 500 Kiwis a day are leaving to move to Australia. Thus there is a huge need for migrant workers. Even we could apply for a work visa to pick wine grapes, kiwifruit or apples.

- NZ seems to be built around its wildlife, nature and agriculture, with adventure sports as a bonus. Tourism seems to be the booming business. Other industries seem to be hurting and dealing with recession.

- New Zealanders, in general, are kind, but seem to be abrupt and brief in conversation. Even the trained information specialists are inclined to conceal information, rather than reveal it. Perhaps they are trying to keep the country's hidden gems a secret from tourists.

- No matter where you go in the country, the weather reports always indicate it is FINE with a slight chance of SHOWERS.

- Sandflies are by far the worst creature in the country. They have a mean bite with an itch that lasts a week. The sandflies took at least a pint of blood from Elizabeth. A theory on the street is that Dave was not attacked, because the critters couldn't get through his hairy arms and legs.

- New Zealand is an extraordinarily easy country to drive around in terms of distance. However, the drivers are maniacs. They love to tailgate and to speed on narrow, curvy mountain roads. They make Boston drivers look lame. A British guy we met (who was quite cool and we suspect a pretty suave driver) told us he was pulled over for going too slow, which would be a distraction to the crazy Kiwis on the road. That made us laugh!! Note to Pat, Ellen and Doug.....DO NOT BIKE ON THESE ROADS - we love you too much!

- Campervans are everywhere. We think more people live in cars in NZ than in homes, and there are enough public toilets and showers to prove this point.

- NZ is an ultimate playground. They thrive on adventure sports, even for the youngest Kiwis around.

- We were very surprised that all of the small towns we drove through looked the same - a model from 1970 with one or two strips of shops with all basic stores. There wasn't one that blew us away with some New England charm or character. Dave was expecting a country full of charming villages and was very disappointed with their absence.

- Kiwis have some great sayings:
"SWEET AS" This is used in the following way. "Dave, that hike up Mt. Cook was sweet as .... " In other words, that hike was cool. What's funny is that Dave thought Kiwis kept saying to him SWEET ASS. He said thanks, would smile and quickly move on ; - )
"SAME. SAME" This mean same old, same old.

Queenstown: a view from the botanical gardens and then downtown. Outdoor bowling clubs are huge in popularity with the elderly. Rugby is the game of choice for the youngins.

Milford Sound: Part of Fjordland National Park, Milford Sound is known for its amazingly high sea cliffs. Mitre Peak has the second highest sea cliff in the world. This area was formed by the meltdown of glaciers and are interestingly fjords, not a sound. We got up close by kayak to see the cliffs and the wildlife.

More photos from Fjordland National Park. We opted not to do the famous Milford Trek and instead completed several day hikes in the area.

We did a day hike along the Routeburn Track, one of the Great Walks.

Getrude's Saddle - a fabulous hike to get a birdseye view of Milford Sound.

Lake Te Anau at the head of Fjordland National Park.

How does anyone know how to get somewhere when they speed by signs like this?

Starting from the busy town of Middlemarch, we did a 68k bike ride along the Otago Rail Trail. Again, more sheep than riders on this route which is known for its tunnels and viaducts.

The Steepest Street in the World, Dunedin, NZ.

Moeraki Boulders are a mystery formation in the Pacific Ocean. There are various theories on how they formed and why they formed there. Google it!

Shag Point, NZ: Trying to see animals in their natural habitat has some hidden dangers. Sea lions, who disguise themselves in the rocks, popped up on our arrival, and we couldn't get that close to the yellow-eyed penguins (the rarest penguin in the world), but look close, you'll see them.

Oamaru, NZ: more sea lions and signs of penguins in the area. We could have paid to get up close, but we put a ban on penguin prisons!

Mt. Cook is New Zealand's tallest mountain. We got a magnificent view when we approached and were amazed by the turquoise waters at its base. Unfortunately the clouds rolled in for several days of torrential rain, so our planned hike was nixed.

Christchurch was definitely the city with the most character in NZ. It had plenty of bars and craft fairs in various neighborhoods, all with different flavor. They have a great art museum. We also discovered a local drink that we love, it's like ginger ale, but better.

We ventured east of Christchurch to the hilly and winding roads of the Banks Peninsula with it's many picturesque and remote bays. Akaroa is a cute little village out on the peninsula where the French once tried to colonize New Zealand and never left.

On the day Obama got inaugurated, we celebrated with some wine tours in Blenheim, known for its sauvignon blanc. Along the way we stopped at White's Bay and then passed one of many deer farms we saw in our trip, which we found quite amusing.

Up in the Marlborough Sounds area we hiked around the Queen Charlotte Track's hilly bays seeing some birds and relaxing in beautiful coves.

We decided to return to the North Island earlier than planned to hit some areas we missed at the beginning of our trip. So we headed up the west coast pleasantly surprised by the beach side city of Mount Monganui with it's white sandy beaches. We decided to sit still for a few days and soak up the sun like real beach bums! We also noticed a huge increase of people on this beach, plus actual life guards on duty (a first we've seen on a NZ beach). It seems as though vacationers stay close to Auckland, the home city of most Kiwis.

After a night at Ohope Beach, Dave decided to do the flying fox in the playground. Just as Elizabeth was going to try a mean lady yelled at us about the ride only being for kids. We're still not sure why she yelled at us!

One of our favorite things about campervaning is waking up in the morning to a view we couldn't afford in Boston. Beachfront spots were best since we could fall asleep to the sounds of the ocean and not sounds of Dave snoring. Also part of the experience is not knowing who you'll meet at night. We particularly liked Kiwi Steve who baton twirls fire. We survived...proof of the photo the next day at the beach.

We wrapped up our tour of New Zealand in the Coromandel Peninsula where there are beautiful limestone coves and beaches accessible only via hike. New Zealand is a sailor's dream land! Once again, the closer we got to Auckland the more people we found, especially at the hot water beach, where "heaps" (as they say in NZ) of people dig in the sand to expose springs forming their own hot tub.

- An exhausted Elizabeth & Dave

Posted by daveliz 20:56 Archived in New Zealand Comments (3)

Elizabeth's not so political commentary

Deep thoughts while on the road...

0 °F

Forty-three days and 8000 K on the road will lend to some deep thoughts. I don't mean to offend anyone, rather open your eyes to some of my observations and thoughts. Clearly I won't be running for political office after this ramble : - )


While most of you were glued to your TVs when Barack Obama took office, Dave and I were asleep in the back seat of our car at a New Zealand Department of Conservation fishing campsite. At 5:30 a.m. our time (the day after from you), radio reception was poor at best and satellite television was not an option, but as the day went on we heard endless chatter from Kiwis and other foreigners about their expectations of Obama.

Everyone from a gas station attendant to a couple of ten year olds we met tasting wine at a winery (we found it odd too!) were intrigued by America's new president. No pressure Obama, but the world is watching you very closely as global economies crumble in the wake of the US recession. The world (or at least the people we've met) want the US to tend to its economic and domestic woes as it should help them. They want our help in terms of aid, but desperately want us to pull out of Iraq and other senseless wars. I am amazed by everyone's knowledge of the US, its president and its history. For Dave and I still don't know much about New Zealand's leader and we've been here for six weeks. Do you? Think about it. Why does the world know more about the US than most of us, and why are we so remiss to educate ourselves about news in other countries, and not just in a time of crisis?

Also, just a personal plea to Obama....please re-train our border patrols and make it easier for foreigners to visit our wonderful country. (Of course, some officials may be fantastic already, but we've gotten some nasty feedback.) Since 9/11 the US has inflicted higher entry visa fees for most foreigners. As a result, US citizens now face reciprocity and get charged the same fees for entering other countries.

We have heard over and over again that the US is an unpleasant place to visit. Not only is it a challenge for many people to now get a visa, but if they do, upon arrival they have awful experiences with customs and the border patrols. These travelers are often treated like criminals from the onset. I understand our border patrols must be firm and attentive to detail to ensure criminals don't enter our country, but there needs to be a balance.

Entering New Zealand was one of the most pleasant experiences I've had. The customs official was so kind, yet inquisitive, likely getting the same information the US officials are trained to attain, but his manner was gentle. Customs officials are often the first people foreigners meet and they can set the tone for an entire visit.


After Israelis serve in the military (3 years for young men and 2 years for young women) they often take time to travel and they do so in large groups. We met many in South America and some in New Zealand. The Israelis would talk to us when approached, but otherwise kept to themselves. As an American Jew I was so curious to learn about their life and I would hope they would be curious about my life, but this was not the case. Most are very reluctant to open up, although we met one nice couple who was willing to talk politics and about the challenges their country faces.

Our new German friends asked us what we thought of the Israeli travelers. I was torn to answer the question, as I didn't want to bash the Israelis, but I must admit it was something Dave and I had talked about at great length. I was raised to believe in Israel, its mission and its people, and I want the world to understand them and appreciate the country, but after seeing their behavior in South America and New Zealand, I know why so many people misunderstand them.

In South America store owners and hostel owners would often complain about the Israelis being loud and argumentative and always trying to barter for a lower price. It made me sad that this was the impression they are leaving, rather than that of nice 20-somethings who are just short on cash because they have recently finished military service.

In the hostels, at bus stations, and at sites and hikes travelers talk, but Israelis often don't participate in the conversation. Perhaps it is a language barrier, although most speak English. Dave's philosophy is that due to centuries of fighting and terror, the Israelis have a sense that antisemitism is so widespread they are in constant fear of being targeted. I agree, but wish they would open themselves up more to project Israelis in a positive light and to help educate the world that they are people just like you and me, and good, educated people at that.


My favorite topic! Two weeks is the standard amount of vacation Americans get off every year. After traveling just three months I have a new appreciation for just how hard Americans work. It is part of our upbringing to achieve and excel in the workplace and to ultimately make the world a better place, but are we doing that with just two weeks off a year? Are people as productive as they can be by giving their employer their maximum potential? Aren't people just burnt out?

Our friends in Europe think we have it all wrong. As a standard they get one to two months off a year and they can often apply for a year sabbatical every five to six years with no fear of losing their job. Best yet, they are encouraged to take the time off to either travel, fulfill a family obligation or to educate themselves further either in school or by doing a different type of job. The French, German and British we have talked to about this plan say it makes them better workers, and happier people! Sounds like a win-win situation. How novel!!!


Just a quick note about my health for those of you who have inquired. If you know me best, let's just say my trip should be sponsored by Imodium. Unfortunately, my sour stomach has traveled with me. Since I spent most of 2007 and 2008 in the gastrointerology office for a multitude of tests that showed basically nothing, I may try to find an Eastern medicine professional when we are in Asia. My western medications just aren't working. Perhaps a simple leaf or herb is the cure to all of my tummy problems!

- Elizabeth

Posted by daveliz 19:03 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Great start to the South Island

Our first two weeks on New Zealand's South Island

rain 77 °F
View A Rough Outline of our Trip on daveliz's travel map.

Elizabeth and I immediately had a good vibe about South Island. As the ferry arrived in Picton from Wellington it wandered through the Marlborough Sounds. These are beautiful bodies of turquoise blue water surrounded by hills with quaint villages and beaches scattered throughout. Once we arrived we headed for Nelson which had the most life of any city we've encountered in NZ so far. The highlight for us was the Saturday morning market which was bustling with people and full of great, local art work, fruits and vegetables. Elizabeth bought our first souvenir and we had some delicious pot pies which are hot snack item here.

A cluster of mini-campervans on the Interislander Ferry. You feel left out if you don't have one. So all of you with minivans (Chad, Holly, Jessica)...watch out...we're converting them when we get back home! We used to mock you. Now we want your apple juice stained car! Chad, didn't you say you're selling?

Arriving at Picton on the ferry.

Master haggler at work.

Mmm... pot pies!

Abel Tasman National Park was the next stop and believe it or not, we did another backpacking/kayaking trip. This park is the location of a "Great Walk" of New Zealand (the name of New Zealand's most popular walks.) It lines the Tasman Sea and has beautiful views from inland by hiking through the bush, as they call it, or on water by kayaking or taking another type of boat.

I swear I didn't hold Elizabeth at gun point to convince her to go! She was convinced it was the number of days in a row we were living in a tent and hiking with heavy packs that ruined her first experience at Torres del Paine in Chile. So, we decided to take a sea taxi to the top of the park, which gave us a great overview of the area. We hiked the first day to a campsite on the beach. The next day we met a kayak group to get home. Continuing with the busy, high season theme, we were warned that the track would be a "virtual walking human highway," so we were sure this is where all the people would be.

As for the hike portion of our trip at Abel Tasman, it certainly earns it's status as a Great Walk. We hiked along beautiful beaches and up hills on paths with great overlooks of the Tasman Bay. Low and behold, we were mostly alone on the hike and our campsite only had four other tents! It was wonderful! While kayaking the next day, we saw lots of seals who are currently in mating season, as well as many more picturesque little bays and beaches. Ah, just what we needed... we love the south island! Elizabeth also enjoyed this style of expedition much more... water crossings included!

Elizabeth braving another water crossing even after her "Towers of Pain" (aka Torres del Paine) experience.

Elizabeth walking along the beach after crossing the tidal waters.

The human highway during the busy, high season.

Tonga Beach at Able Tasman.


The view from the campsite beach.

Yet another view from the campsite beach.

Sunset over our campsite at Tonga Quarry.


Kayaking with the seals.


After Abel Tasman we headed further west, passing through a hippie town called Takaka and traveling along Golden Bay to enjoy a morning alone on a long, beautiful beach.

Golden Bay during the busy, high season where the prices are doubled or tripled. Hmmm... we're on to you New Zealand!

Unfortunately, it was too cold to have a much needed beach day.

Heading south we traveled down the famous west coast of New Zealand, which is supposed to expose beautiful landscapes with ocean and mountain views the further and further south you drive. The roads are remarkably curvy, but scenery and signs to keep you awake and snickering. Unfortunately we hit a patch of bad weather, so we didn't see as much on the drive as we had hoped for.

Heading down the west coast we saw plenty of signs like this....Penguin crossing. You don't see this sign much in the USA! We also saw more sheep than people and some official deer parks. They actually raise deer here for venison...so forth for hunting season!

Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki along the West Coast.

Layers of limestone make up the Pancake Rocks.

We also had rainy views of two of New Zealand's largest glaciers. Although impressive to most visitors, we couldn't help but remember the massive and empowering site and sounds of Perito Mereno Glacier in Argentina. It makes both Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers look like a Mt. Wachusett ski slope. The glacier hikes were also supposed to have views of the highest mountains in New Zealand, Mt. Cook (12,316 ft) and Mt. Tasman (11,473 ft). Due to the low clouds, we'll have to wait until we come back around to this area to see this mountains.

Franz Joseph Glacier

We're currently in Queenstown, a city with a ski town feel, waiting out torrential rains. Queenstown also has a good vibe and is the first non-sleepy town we've hit in NZ. Stores are open and people stay out past 5pm! When the weather dries up we'll do some more hiking and Kayaking in Fjordland National Park... this is what New Zealand is known for, with it's high mountains and beautiful sounds, so we can't wait to get going! Plus, as self-declared street people, we got our first official warning from a city councilor this morning that we parked overnight too close to a residential area. If we do it again we could face a fine of $400. Aren't no showers punishment enough?

- Dave

Posted by daveliz 14:43 Archived in New Zealand Comments (4)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 5) Page [1]