New Zealand has held the top spot on my places-to-go list for oh, I don't know how long. It all began when I saw an adventure program on the Travel Channel about one of New Zealand's Great Walks, the incredibly gorgeous Milford Track. A beautiful lake, valleys, thick forests, high altitude trails...it hit such a chord within me; enough to make me think, even believe, that I could hike it (or tramp it, as they say in New Zealand). I think I glossed over the fact that you need to overnight at communal huts before you hit the trail's end. Oh yes, and I barely go hiking on our own island trails.
Then I saw Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings." I, along with movie goers worldwide, was entranced with the glorious backdrops of snow-capped mountains, mysterious forests, endless grasslands, all beckoning to me in an IMAX-like panorama showcasing Mother Nature's finest. That sealed it. New Zealand was my dream honeymoon destination! That is, whenever I could afford to go. Oh, and yeah, after I met Mr. The One For Me.
A year passed.
Then another ... and another ... SIGH. I'm getting blue in the face.
About half a year later, I get one of those emails from Hawaiian Airlines featuring their new direct route to Auckland, New Zealand. Might as well check it out. I check the prices. No. way. I log out. Check again. HOLY. CRAP. $644—six hundred forty-four dollars—I read it right. That's how much my roundtrip airfare via Hawaiian Airlines from Honolulu to Auckland, New Zealand will cost. How can I not go when the regular price is usually twice that amount!
By that weekend, I've come up with three deadline-free, two-week long vacation periods.
I'm excited, but stop to seriously think about it. Am I really, r-e-a-l-l-y going to do this?
Go international. By myself?
They drive on the left side.
Do I need an international driver's license?
I got bills to pay.
Holy Schmoly. I don't care. I'M GOING.
Several times, I get to the point just before I need to enter my credit card number to complete the reservation.
It takes me about two weeks before I finally seal it.
But garsh dang it, I'm going to New Zealand! I'm guardedly happy, if you know what I mean.
I tell one coworker. Then another. And another. Yes! I'm going to New Zealand. By myself! I am jumping up and down. "You're so brave," one says. "I wish I could go with you," says another. "I'm so happy envious of you!" states another.
Yup, I guess I'm going. I have three months until I board the airplane so I can do all the research I need to plan the itinerary. And build up my courage while lessening the anxiety!
Traveling alone is not the concern here. Driving isn't a problem—I LOVE to drive! It's driving on the left side of the road that nibbles at my elbows.
First step: I begin researching vehicle rentals. The U.S.-based companies are really expensive, in the $500-$700 range for a small to mid-size for two weeks. I'm just looking for something with a spacious trunk that's automatic. After doing some research, I come across the website, www.rankers.co.nz, that offers real people reviews on activities, attractions, accommodations and transportation in New Zealand; it's like their version of TripAdvisor.com. I feel like I've hit gold when I search rental cars because the local companies have so much more affordable rates when compared to the U.S.-based companies. After comparing rates, I settle on NZ Discount Car Rentals — they have older model vehicles, but I don't mind. Plus I'm supporting local businesses. Hey, as long as it runs, that's my criteria. No connection for the iPod, so I'll just bring my mini portable speaker. Need to have my streaming country music, especially when driving across wide expanses. Gets me into my happy place.
An informational website sports the tagline: "100% PURE NEW ZEALAND." It's enough to get me psyched. Yeah, that's me going to New Zealand! Then seeing the images...oh, so lovely! I am in a down right jubilant mood as I gleefully rub my hands together ... "Oh my pre-e-ecious!"
This site and the New Zealand Tourism Guide have great information on getting around, especially who has the right-of-way at stop signs, etc. (it can get a little confusing when you have to think, "I'll be in the left lane..."). And they do have a lot of roundabouts that are crazy during rush hour. It's a great head's up in order to get familiar with their driving laws. It also reminds me that I'll be vacationing in winter and just how cold it can get. Of course, it depends on where you go; the higher the altitude, the colder it gets.
I hit the online outdoor gear shops and talk about perfect timing—all their winter apparel and accessories are on sale. I purchase gloves, a warm scarf, cute ski hat (well, you never know), thermal top and bottom, and boots. I happened to have already purchased a sporty jacket that's specially insulated to keep you warm and toasty—who knew when I'd ever use it, but this was the PERFECT occasion. See, the Universe is on top of things.
I have a solid three months during which time I plan to:
• Get in shape (I have to say this is pretty much an ongoing thing, but now I have extra incentive!)
• Research New Zealand must-sees, must-dos and must-eats (I guess I will be maintaining by this time)
• Build an itinerary (never set in stone, always flexible)
• Start work on this website so I can share planning tips and things I'm learning along the way
• Make a packing list
So, edit to day of departure.
I have successfully built an itinerary (up until the night before!); started work on the website, but it isn't live yet; and made a packing list from which I had to edit a number of items in order to leave space for goodies to bring home. Uncheck: get in shape. : (
But hey, no worries. Because my New Zealand adventure awaits!
Helpful resources included Tripadvisor and Agoda, mainly to compare prices for accommodations; they were generally the same. I didn't go the airbnb.com route, but I'm going to definitely check it out next time.
If you're thinking about renting a campervan (motel + rental car all in one!), search "How to campervan around New Zealand" on tripadvisor.com. Reviewer objko from the U.S. has a lot of information on this subject in great detail + it's a fun read too!
Next blog: My New Zealand adventure kicks off ... with a slight detour! Sign up for upcoming blog entries and please share if you like this as well. Cheers!