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Old 2nd October 2018, 15:46   #1
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Default Off to Kiwi Land - Our holiday in New Zealand

Intro rant

This travelogue is long overdue. Really long. Like worthy of inclusion in time dilation equations long. Equivalent to how it would seem to an observer in a non inertial frame of reference if someone in another inertial frame were to move. You get the drift. So enough Physics.
I can blame my work schedule for the delay. However, the more honest reason would be my own inertial state (dangÖthere itís again). In my case some things get done in bits and pieces, and here it especially holds true. You see I started writing this nearly two years ago (thatís how long). But every time I tried penning down something, Daenerys would get closer to Kingís Landing ever so slightly, or Eleven would slay another Demogorgan, or the black mirror would ruin another life. You again get the drift. So enough pop culture.
Long story short, I travelled to NZ in 2016 (hereafter referred to as NZ). The experience of sightseeing, driving, hiking, flying was memorable to say the least. Hence I thought it would be prudent to share it all with you. Those with eagle eyes may have noticed that this is my first ever post on this forum. So why not make it about the best trip Iíve ever undertaken (so far).


Why NZ?

My first criterion was that the destination has to be overseas. I travel enough in India to make me confident that Iíll visit every nook and corner of the country by the time I hang my boots. Hence it had to be phoren, where Iíd never been before. It also had to be secluded & not crowded at all. Like any other middle class Indian, I first looked at the South east Asian states for a probable destination. However, the more I researched it, the more I realised it would be too ďclichťdĒ. Judging by the number of Instagram, Facebook & Whatsapp posts Iíd seen, it seemed everybody along with his wife was going to Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore etc. A number of acquaintances also narrated a few unpleasant experiences of overcrowding and cattle class behaviour by our dear countrymen. I decided that if I wanted to listen to kids wailing for a samosa, or tourists disembarking from an overcrowded bus & cursing each other in choicest Hindi, I could go to Goa, why to spend so much money and experience that in Indonesia. So that part of the world was ruled out. Donít get me wrong, I would still love to go there, just not during the tourist season.
So I scrolled the Google map a bit more South-East. Australia? The Outback, wide open roads, beautiful vistas, Grand Ocean road, Twelve Apostles, Great Barrier Reef, the best amusement parks in the world, Australia did seem like the strongest candidate. I had a cousin living in Gold coast & working in hospitality industry. All our hotel bookings couldíve been managed. It all seemed perfect. So I made a mental note to finalise it, & out of curiosity just scrolled a bit more south. Thatís when NZ came into picture.
The movie buffs amongst us would remember NZ from Lord of the Rings & Kaho na Pyaar he. I remember seeing both those movies (multiple times) & thinking how great it would be if I could visit that country. More curiosity led me to research a bit more about the country & the places to see. Suddenly I was hooked on to it, & Australia started to fade away. Consulted (to be) better half. Proposal was vetted! No other certificate of acquiescence needed! NZ it was!


Planning & Preparation

The first thing to do was, of course, get my passport updated & our visas done. NZ visa application requires you to have the complete itinerary confirmed & booked. All my bookings - flights, hotel, restaurants, rental car, adventure activity etc were done online. A friend of mine working in a chain of five star hotels there got me a booking in Auckland & Queenstown. The visa application, while being comprehensive is pretty straightforward. We did approach a couple of travel agencies for getting our visas done, however, they quoted some random documents required to be attached, which were not at all mentioned on the check list of the visa application. Hence we went ahead & got the visas done ourselves. Moral of the story - donít be intimidated by the visa application procedure, just fill it out using your common sense, attach all the required documents & submit it to the Embassy. The only effort you have to make is physically going to the Visa office, standing in queue, verifying & submitting the documents (which for NZ barely took an hour). We got the Visas stamped in about three weeks. A sigh of relief. Morale shot up since the most important part was done successfully.

We made the following itinerary :-
Day 1 & 2 - Fly to Auckland via Singapore
Day 3 - Fly to Queenstown & sight see
Day 4 - Tour to Milford Sound
Day 5 - Rent a car, drive to Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park
Day 6 - 8 - Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park
Day 9 - Drive back to Queenstown
Day 10 - Fly to Auckland
Day 11 - Return to India
I made a day wise calculation of the costs including meals, shopping and any miscellaneous expense we might do, & added 20% extra as contingency. A dear friend referred me to his trusted forex dealer, from whom I bought the NZ dollar. I loaded 75% of it on a multi currency card & kept the rest as cash. I was advised to buy travel medical insurance, however somehow, it was neglected due to the ultra-busy preparations & other functions at home (it was my marriage). Luckily nothing untoward happened during my trip, however, anybody wishing to go overseas as a tourist is strongly advised to buy medical insurance due to the exorbitant cost of medical expense in case of a mishap (thanks in no small part due to our ever weakening Rupee).
Thus, all bags packed, mobiles & powerbanks charged, documents carried, goodbyes were said & we boarded Air Singapore SQ 421 from Mumbai. Excitement was at its peak.


Day 1 & 2 - Fly to Auckland via Singapore

This proved to be the toughest air journey Iíve ever undertaken so far in my life. While the flight till Singapore was pretty uneventful, the one further till Auckland was a nightmare. A girl of about five, extremely finicky, made things hell for the passengers. Of the 11 hours of flight time, she was in bawl-mode for eight. Imagine a child screaming bang across the aisle next to your seat for the better part of about half a day. Her mother was understandably tired, frustrated & upset trying to pacify her. Things were not made easier by the dude who was with her (partner but not the father of the child). He had earphones plugged deep into his ears (smart but apathetic) and was completely oblivious to the childís wails. At one point, when the child finally slept, the mother got up, stood with her hands on her hips & admonished him. She even pulled his ear, Indian mother style. The whole Economy class watched stunned. I didnít know whether to laugh or cry. Tragicomedy at its best. Seems we Indians are not the only ones dramatic (She was from Singapore). We couldnít have been more relieved upon landing in Auckland.

Immigration formalities completed, we hailed a cab & checked into the Copthorne. Being a bit jet lagged (the time difference between India & NZ is 7 hrs 30 min) & sleep deprived, we just threw our luggage haphazardly & crashed. That was one of the best afternoon sleep Iíve ever had. Evening saw us hit our first spot in the sight-see list - The Sky Tower.

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NZ's tallest tower, at over 226 m. It has become an iconic part of the Auckland's skyline. Entertainment options include a casino & mall in the basement, two fine restaurants near the top along with a Sky deck for panoramic views of the city.


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View from the the chic Orbit 360, a fine dining restaurant situated on the 52nd level. The unique thing about this place, besides its curated menu, is that it rotates 360 degrees every hour, thus assuring everyone of panoramic views of the Auckland skyline.


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A bunch of stuff I couldn't pronounce yet it was all delicious.

Needless to say, it was an awesome experience (Iíll try not to repeat this adjective too much in subsequent paragraphs).


Day 3 - Fly to Queenstown

What? Another flight so quickly? Well, time was at a premium so we couldnít spend more than half a day in Auckland. Anyway, we had one more stopover here during the return journey. So on day 3 of the trip, we caught a flight to Queenstown. Some glimpses of our day there :-

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Enroute Queenstown aboard Air New Zealand, their Air India.

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We were booked in Haka Lodge, a delightfully quaint establishment in one of the suburbs. It is basically a backpackers hostel with a couple of private rooms. Everybody, right from the bell boy, the reception, staff & other guests were extremely friendly, helpful & polite, a trait we found was common throughout the country. The people there are extremely tourist friendly.

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Henry street, where our hotel was located.

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Queenstown - any & every view is photogenic

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One of the main junction in town, this is as busy as it gets. No traffic light or cops. Reason? Vehicles coming from the right have right of way & everybody adheres to this rule, so traffic is automatically streamlined.

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We did the Nevis Swing from AJ Hackett Bungy Jumps, one of the world's foremost adventure sports company founded by its namesake, himself a pioneer of bungy jumping. Nevis swing is the world's longest swing which can be done solo or in tandem. Basically, you are attached to the end of a giant swing, the operator cuts off your tether & you swing in a giant 1000 ft arc into a gorge hundreds of feet deep.
AJ Hackett has an extremely sophisticated setup to include a main office complex in downtown Queenstown & a base in the countryside from where they carry out their jumps. Photo & video recording costs extra & is automatically being filmed during the time you are saying your prayers before the leap of faith. After the jump, you can immediately view & save the footage into your preferred medium. While booking this thing I wondered why the hell it was so expensive, after having seen all that, I knew why.


A youtube video of what this thing's like. One of the biggest adrenaline rushes you'll ever have. The inital few seconds when you are in free fall feel like the end of you.

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The countryside from the AJ Hackett complex.

Having satiated the adrenaline junkie in us, it was time to appease the lord of gluttony. And what better place other than ...

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Fergberger! The world famous outlet (which has been declared as the world's best burger by a travel magazine) was right across the street from where we disembarked from the bus after being back from the Nevis swing. This place is crowded throughout the day, no matter what the time is. We had to wait half an hour yet the double venison cheese burger made it every bit worthwhile.
Thus culminated a memorable first day in Queenstown.

Day 4 - Milford Sound tour

The second day was spent in a bus ride through gorgeous countryside & a cruise in Milford Sound. Apparently, in geography, ďsoundĒ means a body of water. NZ being a water locked country, it has several ďsoundsĒ jutting inwards. Milford sound is by far the most famous of them. We found out just why.

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Good morning

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The coach which took us to the cruise. The driver had probably did the trip a thousand times, his commentary was pitch perfect & perfectly synced to every turn, spot & curve.

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Lake Wakatipu, astride which Queenstown is located, kept us company for a better part of the ride.

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The multi coloured countryside. There were so many scenes like this, that I got sick of clicking them. Decided to concentrate less on the shutter, more on the better half.

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A stop over enroute Milford.

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Weather in NZ is very unpredictable, especially closer to the coast or any of the inland fjords. The sun & clouds spent the whole day peek-a-booing.

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The base of the cruise start off point has a well appointed building, housing multiple cruise agencies. Cruise range from a private yacht housing a dozen to the bigger ones with 70+ capacity. Take your pick.

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The docks where all the cruises are moored, also the starting point.

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And we're off! Unfortunately, it was an overcast day with intermittent spells of rain (the only such day we'd encounter). As a result, clouds & fog obscured the iconic Mitre peak.

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The whole region is dotted with waterfalls like this one, the biggest of which is ...

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... Lady Elizabeth Bowen Falls, standing at an impressive 162 m tall, while simultaneously also hydro-powering the entire region.

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Approaching closer to Mitre peak.

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What Milford sound looks like on a clear day (what we missed). Image courtsey Google.
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Old 2nd October 2018, 17:39   #2
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Continuing on with the thread, since I was close to the 30 image limit on the previous post...

Day 5 - Drive to Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park

This is a world famous National park and for good reason. Mt Cook, also called Aoraki in native Maori speak, is the highest peak in NZ. It is situated in the vast & incredibly scenic countryside, which collectively has been declared as a National park. Edmund Hillary (a native) cut his teeth here, before going on to conquer European peaks & finally Everest. Throughout history, almost all of the world’s premier alpinists have climbed this peak. In fact, there is a massive Edmund Hillary museum in the area, which is one of its main attractions. The region is famous for its breathtaking vistas.
This was the part of the journey we were most excited about, since it involved driving through fantastic roads, gorgeous countryside, great food & a much awaited destination. I’d booked a car through Apex rentals, one of the trusted names. While I’d booked a Camry, they didn’t have one available when I dropped by in the morning to collect it. Reminded me of this scene in Seinfeld :-


Luckily, in our case they were not out of cars. Our option was a gleaming white RAV4. Anybody of you lucky enough to drive one will attest to its smooth & powerful engine, sedan like handling & superbly comfortable front seats. Ours was a petrol automatic, a CVT I guess, since I could not discern between shifts. Since there were only the two of us, the car swallowed all our luggage in the boot & rear seat comfortably. I remember the first time I braked it, we almost hit the dashboard & I got a glowering “Dare you do that again” look from the co-driver’s seat followed by a condescending “Are you sure you’re upto this”. Being used to the brakes on our Sumo, Indica & Manza, this was a whole new level of bite! However, I quickly got the hang of it & we commenced our drive.

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Our steed, the RAV4.

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Google aunty showed 250+ Km to drive, yet a driving time of a smidgen over three hours. I thought aunty must be getting senile, for who averages speeds of 80 kmph on dual carriageways? Turns out I was wrong. The roads, though not four lane, were brilliant- smooth, flat & with long curves. Thus, it was easy to maintain 80 Kmph (the speed limit). Traffic was very light. Ultimately with stops for food, photography & just taking in the scenery, we still managed to reach in 4 hrs.

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Approaching our first halt

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The first (unplanned) pitstop. We had been long on the road however, with scenery like this, we HAD to halt. A bridge atop the Kawarau river.

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Fuel stop at Omarama, a small town just before taking a left turn towards Lake Pukaki. This was the smallest meal they had! I made a mental note to shed the extra kilograms when I reached back home.

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Lake Pukaki. The unique turquoise colour is due to the glaciers emptying into the lake which also bring with them finely ground rock particles (according to Wikipedia). But why analyse, just get amazed.

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Lake Pukaki with Mt Cook visible in the background.

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Driving alongside the lake was an absolute joy.

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Approaching the King!


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Arrival at base for the next three days - Aoraki Mt Cook Alpine Lodge. Fantastic location, spacious rooms & out-of-the-world views. This lodge is managed by a family and is one of the more pocket-friendly stays (the only thing cheaper are the dormitories). The other famous hotel out here is The Hermitage, a full blown luxury establishment situated a short distance away. Bookings usually have to be made minimum four months in advance, else you won't get any.

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View from our room.

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A common area in our hotel for reading, watching TV having dinner (they had a communal kitchen, wherein guests could bring stuff from outside & cook.


Day 6- 8 : Mt Cook / Aoraki National Park

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The Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre. It is basically a museum, a cinema hall, shopping complex & food court all-in-one.

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The museum houses some equipments which were used by the expedition team of Sir Edmund Hillary & Tenzing Norgay. It also has in general detailed information about mountaineering which is hugely interesting to an adventure buff. The movie hall (a dome planetarium type) screens short films based on the same subject. In short, you can easily spend half a day in this Alpine Centre.


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Day 6 of our stay saw us in the small Airport in town for a Glider plane & Helicoptor ride to the nearby glaciers adjoining the Mt Cook. It was a surprise for my unsuspecting infinitely better half. After looking into her eyes, I safely assumed I had atoned for any of my previous sins.

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We took off in a glider plane from the Airport ...

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... watched the main imposing mastiff of the mountain from close ...

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... & landed on the Tasman glacier.

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The area is snowbound, all year round. This glacier melts into many small rivers & streams at its snout & finally drains into the lakes. Yes, those turquoise ones.

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Lake Tasman. Operators also conduct powered boat rides here. Accessible by road till a drop point 1 km away.

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Approaching the Airport after the tour, Lake Pukaki (more than 40 km away) is visible in the background.

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The shuttle for our return journey. Bumpier & scarier than the monoplane glider. Hence, more enjoyable as well.

Day 8 saw us exploring the countryside in general.

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Drove from the village further in to the mountains.

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The glaciers empty into streams like these which cut mountains, flow across the valleys into Lake Pukaki, along with others.

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There are dozens of hiking trails which criss cross the countryside, ranging from a few hundred metres to those dozens of Km long with halts in hiker's huts in between. We would've loved to do those treks, however, time being at a premium, settled for the shortest one, which was a simple walk up a hillock. Short & sweet.


Day 9 - Drive back to Queenstown

What the heck?! Is it already time to go back? With heavy hearts, we packed our bags & commenced the return journey.

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The weather had turned cloudy on our way back.

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The top of Mt Cook just visible above the clouds. As if to say goodbye. So long, dear friend, thanks for all the memories. Till next time.

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A beautiful vista from a viewpoint on our way back.

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On our stopover in Auckland during return journey, we visited the final spot, Mt Roskill. The view of Auckland.

Thus concluded our unforgettable NZ trip. With heavy hearts we boarded the return flight. It felt as if we left a part of us there somewhere, maybe on the roads, the lakes, countryside, an infinitesimal but significant part. It still calls us to this day. I don’t know when, but I intend to answer that call …

Last edited by GTO : 3rd October 2018 at 06:59. Reason: PM coming up
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Old 2nd October 2018, 21:25   #3
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Thread moved out from the Assembly Line. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 2nd October 2018, 22:20   #4
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Very nice travelogue, stunning images. In all my travels I never made it to NZ. Definitely on my bucket list!

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Old 3rd October 2018, 10:30   #5
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Wow! Stunning pictures of the NZ countryside. New Zealand is on my list to visit someday. I do agree with you, NZ is a place not many visit and is definitely a unique destination.

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Originally Posted by superbad View Post


Tragicomedy at its best.


Quote:
We did the Nevis Swing from AJ Hackett Bungy Jumps, one of the world's foremost adventure sports company founded by its namesake, himself a pioneer of bungy jumping. Nevis swing is the world's longest swing which can be done solo or in tandem. Basically, you are attached to the end of a giant swing, the operator cuts off your tether & you swing in a giant 1000 ft arc into a gorge hundreds of feet deep.
This must be quiet an experience. I had the chance to do something similar (sky diving), but I could never get myself to do it. Maybe someday I'll swallow the brave pill and take a plunge.

The glider plane and helicopter ride and the areas surrounding Mt. Cook must be the highlight of the trip.

Your travelogue makes me want to pack my bags and head to New Zealand immediately. May I ask when did you visit the country? Which month is the ideal time to visit to avoid bad weather?

Last edited by ChiragM : 3rd October 2018 at 10:33.
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Old 3rd October 2018, 12:02   #6
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This must be quiet an experience. I had the chance to do something similar (sky diving), but I could never get myself to do it. Maybe someday I'll swallow the brave pill and take a plunge.
You could say it was the highlight of our trip. The experience, at the expense of sounding redundant, is mind blowing. The initial free fall is so terrifying that I couldn't shout, even though I wanted to. My mouth was just a big open "O", like literally , no sound coming out & eyes popping. You sir, MUST take the plunge whenever you have the chance.

We visited in Dec first week, Oct-Mar is their summer, quite pleasant although in some places like Queenstown, it still goes down to single digits in the evening. Mar-May (fall) is also recommended, the crowds have thinned. Just avoid Jun-Sep.
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Old 3rd October 2018, 13:07   #7
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Stunning pictures and a great blog indeed. You have cleared a lot of my questions and doubts about NZ. Keep traveling and sharing such wonderful blogs.
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Old 3rd October 2018, 13:30   #8
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Brilliant travelogue and some stunning pictures. This reminded me of my trip to NZ with almost similar itinerary, just that me and my wife added 3 more days to cover the north island as well from Auckland and did almost 2200 kms in our Toyota.

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Old 3rd October 2018, 16:01   #9
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@superbad, great pictures and some really useful information, thank you.

One of the things that I want to do before I get too old is to ride a bicycle on those roads and tour the country that way. Your pictures just remind me to get around to it before I have to use a wheelchair to do it .

I can relate a bit to how you felt during the tandem swing, I experienced much the same emotions when I did a bungee jump many, many years ago. However, unlike you, who had the good sense to keep your mouth shut, for some reason , I kept screaming the f word continuously. I didn't even know I was saying until they let me down and my friend let me in on the fact. It embarrasses me to this day!

If you don't mind could you please share an approximate cost breakup of the whole trip?
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Old 3rd October 2018, 18:17   #10
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Thanks superbad for the fantastic review.

I have been planning to go to NZ for many years and have tentatively decided May 2019 as the time to do that along with my partner. Would you say thats a good time, weather-wise?

One more question I had is about parking - are there clearly marked spots for parking in Queenstown? Getting a rental towed away is one of my worst nightmares !
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Old 3rd October 2018, 18:39   #11
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Originally Posted by Lone Ranger View Post
One of the things that I want to do before I get too old is to ride a bicycle on those roads and tour the country that way. Your pictures just remind me to get around to it before I have to use a wheelchair to do it .
We share similar bucket lists

Quote:
If you don't mind could you please share an approximate cost breakup of the whole trip?
Sure (in Rs):-
1) Tickets Mumbai - Auckland & back ~ 180,000
2) Auckland - Queenstown & back ~ 20,000
3) Nevis Swing ~ 18,000
4) Stay at Queenstown ~ 15,000
5) Stay at Auckland ~ 11,000
6) Stay at Mt Cook ~ 35,000
7) Car rental ~ 18,000
8) Ski plane & Helicopter ride in Mt Cook ~ 29,000
9) Food, miscellaneous ~ 50,000
Total - 376,000

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Thanks superbad for the fantastic review.

I have been planning to go to NZ for many years and have tentatively decided May 2019 as the time to do that along with my partner. Would you say thats a good time, weather-wise?

One more question I had is about parking - are there clearly marked spots for parking in Queenstown? Getting a rental towed away is one of my worst nightmares !
May is actually the end of fall & start of winter, so it would be cold, wet & foggy, hence not recommended. The summer thins out in March, so April would be the last month I'd recommend. About parking, marked spots are there, however not everywhere. But it is not really an issue, you can generally park on the road side, unless there is any sign which explicitly states otherwise.

Last edited by Gannu_1 : 3rd October 2018 at 19:26. Reason: Back to back posts merged. Please use the multi-quote option (QUOTE+) while quoting and responding to multiple posts. Thanks.
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Old 3rd October 2018, 18:58   #12
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Hi that was one wonderful write up and crisp pictures. Loved the bungee jumping video, must have been thrilling to the core. Thanks!

Did you miss out on anything in particular? Want to do it sometime in the future.
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Old 4th October 2018, 09:36   #13
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Default Re: Off to Kiwi Land - Our holiday in New Zealand

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Originally Posted by superbad View Post
Just avoid Jun-Sep.
I am tempted to do another winter trip now. I recently did a Scotland road trip in December (link). Winter adds a unique perspective to the place.
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Old 4th October 2018, 09:57   #14
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Default Re: Off to Kiwi Land - Our holiday in New Zealand

Yes no doubt, winter will add a different flavour to the trip. It'll be snowing in Mt Cook & Queenstown, which would be great to experience. Plus the crowd would've thinned out. However, the winter will also bring fog, overcast & wet days obscuring visibility especially in places like Milford sound. Depends on what one wants to see actually.
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Old 4th October 2018, 12:59   #15
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Default Re: Off to Kiwi Land - Our holiday in New Zealand

Great travelogue with enough details, and the pictures are just mesmerizing to even stare at. Thanks for sharing this unique travelogue. I am sure you had such a wonderful experience enjoying those enticing vistas.
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