See that long small country to the right of Australia? It’s New Zealand. It is one of my favourite destinations, hands down. The best way to get around is on your own. Sure, there are train and buses, but for the most part, people drive. What a gorgeous drive it is too.
I traversed from the North, from Auckland, to Rotorua, Waitomo, Napier, Wellington, then cruised down to the South via Blenheim, Franz Josef, Queenstown, and the Fjordlands. On the map, it looks like a small country, particularly when dwarfed by neighbouring Australia. But it was a lot of driving, particularly in South Island. My destinations were rather spread out, more because I was short in time than from lack of interest.
I cannot imagine any other country where I would see such a drastic change in geological environment and in topology. Auckland is practically the tropics. I arrived donning wool sweater, long coat, thinking I have left the heat behind in Bangkok. I ended up pulling over and wiggling into the one t-shirt I brought. By the time I got to Milford Sound, I had three jackets, a scarf, gloves, and long underwear. One stop, I was diving in the sea water with the wild dolphins and stocking up in groceries at the farmers’ market. The next one I was hiking on glaciers, looking up at the highest snow-capped peak.
The speed limit had never been so easy to keep an eye on, an even 100kph, needle pointing at 12 o’clock. Roads inbetween villages were long, uninterrupted, and rather empty. It took me a while to remember to always fill up at a petrol station, even if the tank is still half full. I came to a spell where there was no gas station for over 260 kilometers. How on earth did people living along that stretch manage??
I stayed at a variety of lodging options, from bed & breakfasts, hostels, hotels to apartment rentals. Bed and breakfasts, hands down, are my favorites. More often than not, the hosts sit down with me over breakfast to chitchat. Especially as a lone traveler, these B&Bs afford me a nature environment to engage with locals, not that it was hard to do anywhere in New Zealand. Hostels in this country also have a different meaning than usual. When I think hostels, I think teen and college-aged backpackers. Here, though, the average age is probably in the 40s. A majority of people I saw actually were retirees or people well established in their career and taking a sabbatical. The biggest thing is the availability of rooms with en suite bathrooms. I don’t care how cheap it is, I am too old to be padding down a hallways of strangers just to go brush my teeth.
All in all, there are very few parts of the entire drive where the scenery was not breath-taking. Knowing what I know now, I would have given myself more time, but then vacation time is never enough, is it?