New Zealand: some vaguely useful travel tips

DSC04865I’ve just spent two weeks in New Zealand. I’ve been there before – on a campervan trip with my family in 1995 – and was convinced I remembered it all pretty well and that my husband would bloody love it. Turns out I was right on only one of those counts; he did love it, but I did not remember it well at all.

Apparently, my memories of that original holiday aren’t so much memories of New Zealand itself, as memories of dicking about in the back of the campervan with my siblings. There were a few bits that were pretty familiar, but largely I had no more of an idea of where or what things were than my husband did. He possibly even knew more than me, because he’s watched Lord of the Rings more than is reasonable for any one human to ever have done.

I’m told New Zealand’s changed a lot in the last 20 years, but I refuse to believe that I’m now old enough that things can change that much within my lifetime. So I’m blaming my memory instead.

Either way, I’m now going to be adding New Zealand to my list of places I tell everyone to go (which is largely a list of everywhere I’ve been), so thought I’d put together a few helpful tips.

  1. If you care about the state of your left leg and your relationship even a tiny bit, hire an automatic.

I was unable to convince my husband that we should do the campervan trip, because he’s frankly unnecessarily tall and wouldn’t have fit into even the biggest of campervans. So instead, we toured round in a hire car. I seriously considered being stingy and going for the cheapest one, but it turns out that would have been a serious error in judgement.

Because New Zealand has hills. Lots, and lots of hills. And roads that go up and down those hills at the same time as winding round some pretty big corners. Trying to do all of that while faffing around with gears would just be deeply irritating, overly complicated, and would probably cause damage to both the gearbox and your clutch foot.

And, given that my husband and I have rather different belief systems when it comes to the appropriate time to change gear, a manual car may also have resulted in serious marital strife. So just don’t do it. Just don’t.

Me with car
Automatic. Important.


  1. There’s loads of places to stay, but it’s worth booking them years in advance if only so that you forget what you’ve booked and get a nightly surprise

The bulk of our planning was done at the start of the summer, when I was in a haze of major depression and medication changes. I’d worked out an itinerary and booked (cancellable) places up accordingly, but by the time we actually got on the plane at the start of November I had little to no idea of what on earth any of the places were like.

I decided not to remind myself, partly because it was quite entertaining having no real idea what was ahead, but also because I knew that if anything was really that awful there were at least 20 other options within a very small radius that we could flee to in desperation if needed.

Motel room
Surprise room number one.
  1. New Zealand is an excellent place to have coeliac disease.

I got on the plane with a suitcase full of gluten free food, as always. Which was entirely pointless, because New Zealand had some of the best gluten-free food I’ve yet encountered. What I should’ve packed instead was some kind of waterproof clothing.

Still, I may have been slightly damp on the odd occasion that it rained, but my stomach was happy. I had crumble! And a burger, with a great big bun! And chips! Chips with everything! I even had Weet-Bix, a product with the very thing that makes me so ill IN THEIR NAME. Because it turns out that New Zealand is a magic land where they make it incredibly easy for people with coeliac disease to eat actual food.

Honestly, it was almost worth the mammoth journey and huge air fare just for the crumble.

  1. However far away you think it is, it’s further than that.

Speaking of mammoth journeys, it really, really is one.

One of the posters on Murray’s office wall in Flight of the Conchords reads “New Zealand: 100% Further Than You Think.” It is a poster of truth.

It’s like the international equivalent of Nottingham, which is always further away than I left it last time. There’s a point in the journey where you realise you’re flying over the far edge of Australia and you just think it’s NEVER GOING TO END.

It does. Eventually. I promise.

Piha Beach
So far away. So very far.
  1. Do not, under any circumstances, let your husband buy trousers with zip-off legs.

He’ll wear them the whole time, because that way he’s “prepared for all weather.” And then he’ll never even zip the legs off, because it’s not actually THAT warm in New Zealand in November, and you’ll be left wandering around town wondering if he’ll ever dress like a normal person and not like an urban hiker ever again.

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