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Old 8th December 2019, 11:18   #1
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Default Self-drive holiday in South Island, New Zealand

My wife Jaya and I had enjoyed a wonderful holiday in North Island, New Zealand in February, 2017. We had rented a Ford Focus which we collected immediately after arriving at Auckland airport and returned it before flying out. We had loved this driving holiday so much that we were keen to return to NZ for another, especially to check out the South Island.

We did return to NZ in Nov 2019 for a self-drive exploration of South Island. Our joy was multiplied manifold this time because our daughter Enid, son-in-law Sandeep and granddaughter Baby Boo, who are based in Singapore, joined us. Sandeep is as passionate as me about cars and driving, and we made a perfect team.

Before I come to the details of our Nov 2019 South Island trip, let me share some pics of our Feb 2017 North Island trip :

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Day-1 of our latest trip (16 Nov 19) : Arrived at Wellington after a long flight from Singapore via Melbourne. Checked into an AirBnB apartment. Throughout this trip, we stayed only in spacious (3-BHK) fully-furnished bungalows booked through AirBnB. This gave Baby Boo enough space to run about and enabled Enid and Jaya to prepare special food for her.

Day-2 (17 Nov 19) : Took a ferry to Picton. The 3-hour ferry ride was nice and the surroundings got quite scenic after we crossed the Cook Strait and entered the narrow channels leading to Picton.


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During the 2017 trip there were only two of us and a Ford Focus served us well. But this time there were 4 adults and a two year old baby. Things to be carried increase greatly with a baby and child seat is mandatory in NZ. So we decided to rent a spacious 7-seat SUV and had pre-booked a Toyota Highlander through Thrifty, a popular car rental company. However, when we went to collect at Picton ferry terminal, the Thrifty executive told us that no Highlander was available and gave us a Hyundai SantaFe instead quoting the fine print that whenever you book a car it is always “Model X or equivalent”. At Thrifty car rentals the equivalents (same rental charge) for Toyota Highlander are Hyundai SantaFe or Nissan X-Trail.

The SantaFe is a wonderful car, only marginally smaller than Toyota Highlander, so we took it and drove 134 km to Nelson. I was 100% in my element after sitting behind the steering wheel of the SantaFe -- a nice and peppy AWD SUV.


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Old 8th December 2019, 12:18   #2
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Day-3 (18 Nov 19) : Drove 425 km from Nelson to Whataroa, enjoying awesome scenery along the way.


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Being a Ford Endeavour owner, I was always excited to see Ford Rangers and Everests which are very popular in NZ.
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Jucy is a popular low-cost car / campervan rental company and their vehicles stand out due to their colourful design.
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Our AirBnB bungalow at Whataroa.
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The lady who owned our AirBnB bungalow also owns a big cattle farm nearby and kindly offered to give us a conducted tour of her farm.
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Day-4 (19 Nov 19) : Woke up at Whataroa to see torrential rain outside. Also, bad weather forecast for next 2 days. First thought in my mind was how unlucky I was to have my holidays ruined like this after spending lakhs and planning for months. Then I philosophized thus : "Count your blessings that you woke up alive, healthy and fit. What's the big deal about sightseeing anyway?" Felt happy and went back to sleep after breakfast.

Weather suddenly cleared in late afternoon and we got ready quickly and drove to Franz Josef glacier, 35 km away, at 100 kmph in our SantaFe. It wasn't all that great to look at from the view point compared to glaciers we have seen in Iceland, Alaska, Switzerland, etc. That's one problem with excessive globetrotting -- things one used to gape at start appearing unexciting!


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I was surprised to learn that car thefts are not uncommon in NZ.
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Franz Josef glacier.
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Day-5 (20 Nov 19) : Drove to Okarito (beach / lagoon) and Fox glacier view point from our present base at Whataroa. Later, visited a cattle farm at Whataroa.


Okarito beach.
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While returning from Okarito we found a car stuck in mud on the grassy verge beyond the road shoulder. We stopped to render assistance and soon a couple of other cars also stopped. A young couple (probably Korean tourists) had been driving the car and I could not figure out how they got off the road. The front left wheel of the car was stuck deep in mud and was slipping. The front right wheel was on the grassy shoulder and could not provide adequate traction to the FWD car.

It would have been very simple to pull out the car with any other car but neither our rented Santa Fe nor any of the other cars had a tow rope. Sandeep led the effort to physically push the car in addition to using engine power and it worked after a couple of failed attempts.

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Fox Glacier visible in the background.
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Old 8th December 2019, 21:18   #3
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Day-6 (21 Nov 19) : Drove 340 km from Whataroa to Cardrona, visiting Knights Point, Ship Creek, Blue Pools, Wanaka Lake and Hawea Lake en route. Wanaka and Hawea lakes are unbelievably deep blue in colour and the only other lake of such hue I had seen before is Pangong Tso at Ladakh. Subsequently, we saw several other lakes in NZ which are strikingly green or turquoise blue. They have to be seen to be believed.


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At Knights Point.
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At Ship Creek.
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At Ship Creek.
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At Blue Pools.
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At Blue Pools.
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At Blue Pools.
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Hawea Lake.
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Day-7 (22 Nov 19) : Based at Cardrona, visited Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge which is famous for its 43 meter bungy jumping. Sandeep booked a bungy jump which unfortunately got cancelled due to very high wind speed. It was very frustrating for him. He got some consolation by doing zip lining. Later visited Lake Hayes. Cardrona itself is (in)famous for its 'bra fence' -- Google it to know its interesting history.


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Day-8 (23 Nov 19) : Drove 200 km and shifted base from Cardrona to Te Anau. Encountered bad weather (rain, drizzle, overcast) most of the day. Saw two XUV-500 on the road today.


Saw an alpaca farm at Te Anau. It was right next to our AirBnB house and we could see the alpacas grazing from our windows.
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Te Anau Lake.
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Day-9 (24 Nov 19) : Drove from Te Anau to Milford Sound. It was 120 km of one of the most scenic routes we have seen in New Zealand. At Milford Sound we did a 2-hour cruise and enjoyed awesome scenery before driving back to Te Anau.


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Old 8th December 2019, 22:24   #4
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Day-10 (25 Nov 19) : Drove 166 km from Te Anau to Queenstown to swap our Hyundai SantaFe with a Toyota Highlander GXL at the car rental company’s (Thrifty) office at Queenstown airport. As I wrote earlier, we had originally booked a Highlander but got a SantaFe instead. Though the SantaFe met our requirements very well, we wanted to experience the Highlander too and when we phoned Thrifty they offered to swap the car at Queenstown.

We drove the SantaFe for 1878 km before returning it. Average speed over the entire distance of 1878 km was 64 kmph.

After collecting our Highlander at Queenstown we drove 197 km to our new base at Twizel. The Highlander is bigger, higher and a more capable SUV as compared to the SantaFe. The 3.5 litre V6 petrol direct injection engine of the Toyota Highlander produces 295 BHP and 350 Nm of torque. SantaFe has a 2.2 litre diesel engine which produces 190 BHP and 437 Nm of torque. Though the SantaFe has less power, it felt more agile due to its good power-to-weight ratio and high torque. To accelerate the Highlander very rapidly I had to literally step on the gas pedal and rev the petrol V6 engine to more than 6000 RPM. But the lower powered diesel engine of the SantaFe propelled the car forward quite impressively at a low engine RPM of 2500. The Highlander is also less fuel efficient and runs on petrol which is significantly costlier than diesel in New Zealand.


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Day-11 (26 Nov 19) : Drove from Twizel to Mount Cook National Park and returned after an awesome day of fun. We had booked (for all 5 of us) a glacier flight combo which comprised a ski plane ride to land on the Tasman Glacier and a helicopter ride back to Mount Cook National Park after spending 10 minutes on the glacier. But due to bad weather on the glacier our flight was cancelled. We rescheduled it to the next morning (27 Nov 19) but that too got cancelled. It was frustrating but we made up for it by driving around the National Park and trekking up to the Tasman Glacier view point.


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Old 9th December 2019, 00:35   #5
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Day-12 (27 Nov 19) : Drove 358 km. First went South from Twizel to Clay Cliffs. The Clay Cliffs are quite awesome and reminded me of the 'moonscapes' in Ladakh and Spiti Valley. The stream flowing next to Clay Cliffs is very pretty with its banks covered by colourful lupin flowers.

Thereafter drove North (via Twizel) to Christchurch. Checked out beautiful Lake Tekapo en route with its colorful lupin fields. Peak lupin season in NZ is during November / December and one can see these beautiful flowers in multiple hues of purple, red, yellow, etc.

Sandeep had booked skydiving for 8 AM today. It was cancelled due to high wind speed.


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Day-13 (28 Nov 19) : Drove 180 km from Christchurch to Kaikoura. There is hardly any place in whole of New Zealand which is not pretty. Today’s stretch was no exception.


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At Kaikoura.
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At Kaikoura.
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At Kaikoura.
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Day-14 (29 Nov 19) : Drove 160 km from Kaikoura to Picton. Returned the Toyota Highlander to rental company (Thrifty). Our self-drive exploration of South Island thus came to an end.

We drove the SantaFe for about 1900 km and Highlander about 1100 km. So our total driving was 3000 km. It was a wonderful experience. Sandeep and I shared the driving and enjoyed equally.

After returning the car we took the ferry to Wellington.


Electric vehicle rapid charging stations are available in many petrol pumps.
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Baby Boo on board the ferry to Wellington.
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Day-15 (30 Nov 19) : Boarded our flight to Singapore from Wellington.

Final thoughts :

1) The best way to explore New Zealand is by driving. One can use a car or campervan. Roads are excellent and traffic is sparse. It is convenient for Indians as they drive on the same (left) side of the road. Indian driving licences being in English there is no need for an International Driving Permit.

2) If one is from India and has not driven in advanced countries before, I would recommend that one should do adequate advance homework on the internet to learn each and every traffic rule in NZ. Roundabouts (especially multi-lane ones) and junctions can be quite confusing for someone who has only driven in India. One has to be absolutely clear about right of way and road signs. Traffic rule violations are very costly in NZ.

3) Regardless of season, weather can play spoilsport for sightseeing, scenic flights and activities like bungee jumping and skydiving. Weather changes very quickly in New Zealand. It is advisable to have a few days extra cushion in the itinerary.

4) Being in the Southern hemisphere, seasons in NZ are opposite of those in Northern hemisphere. December to February are summer months in NZ. Still, it is advisable to carry some warm clothes as it can suddenly get a bit cold even in summer, especially in the mountainous regions.

5) Having explored both the North and South islands I would say that there is hardly any place in the whole of New Zealand which is not pretty. There are 3820 lakes and 3144 glaciers in this small country! One is never far from mind-blowingly beautiful sights. NZ should be high on everybody's bucket list and more so if you love self-drive holidays.

Last edited by aah78 : 9th December 2019 at 22:18. Reason: Image removed on request.
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Old 9th December 2019, 08:28   #6
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Default re: Self-drive holiday in South Island, New Zealand

Debuda: Let me be the first to compliment you on a well-written travelogue. Excellent flow to the day to day sojourns which made me feel like I was in the Santa Fe/Highlander with you all, and awesome photographs - I can't say which is better. Rated 5 stars.

Keep traveling, exploring and taking us around the world along you!
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Old 9th December 2019, 11:14   #7
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Default Re: Self-drive holiday in South Island, New Zealand

Debuda: Superb travelogue. Hope you enjoyed the scenic beauty as much as I loved going through it through your photographs. May I ask which camera/phone did you use to capture photos?
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Old 9th December 2019, 13:41   #8
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Default Re: Self-drive holiday in South Island, New Zealand

Nice travelogue, brings back fond memories of my trip to New Zealand a few years back. We did a South Island drive from Queenstown to Mt Cook & back. We got overcast weather for Milford, but clear during Mt Cook. You really did miss the glacier ride, it would've been awesome. Well, there's always next time!
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Old 9th December 2019, 13:55   #9
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Default Re: Self-drive holiday in South Island, New Zealand

Great pics @debuda. And wonderful crisp travelogue.
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Old 9th December 2019, 14:01   #10
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Default Re: Self-drive holiday in South Island, New Zealand

What a wonderful travelogue and amazing pics to boot as well!
Just realized from your pics that your daughter and me are classmates from NPS!! What a small small world!
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Old 9th December 2019, 14:24   #11
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Brilliant write up and pictures Sir, NZ on my bucket list.
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Old 9th December 2019, 15:02   #12
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Default Re: Self-drive holiday in South Island, New Zealand

Top class travelogue sir. Had instigated me to plan for a tour of this scenic country.
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Old 9th December 2019, 15:09   #13
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Lovely read. Great pics. It's on my list. It's on my list. One day ! I actually almost planned to do one this April 2020, but the costs put me back a bit. This truly has inspired me to keep working for it soonest. Loved it.
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Old 9th December 2019, 16:54   #14
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Default Re: Self-drive holiday in South Island, New Zealand

New Zealand is a blessed country !



My visit in 2017 was for 15 days but included both the islands and that's one thing I always tell people not to do ! Exploring south Island (places which I couldn't explore in my last trip) for 15 days is next on my bucket list, whenever I can manage to save up those lacs


Fantastic Travelogue ! Enjoyed and loved every moment you captured. 5 Star rated

Last edited by varunraizada : 9th December 2019 at 17:16.
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Old 9th December 2019, 21:37   #15
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Default Re: Self-drive holiday in South Island, New Zealand

Quote:
Originally Posted by abhi.modi05 View Post
Debuda: Superb travelogue. Hope you enjoyed the scenic beauty as much as I loved going through it through your photographs. May I ask which camera/phone did you use to capture photos?
I use a Nikon D3300 DSLR with a Nikon 18-300 mm all purpose lens. I'm glad you liked my pictures.
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