New Zealand Vacation
12-Nov-2002 to 13-Dec-2002
This was one of the best vacations that I've ever had. I place it in my top three (Kenya and China being the others). The countryside in New Zealand is simply fantastic. I consider myself to be more of an outdoor person than a city person so New Zealand is a great place for me - lots of gorgeous country and few large cities. We most enjoyed the South Island. As a Kiwi friend of mine said: "The South Island has 3/4 of the scenery and 1/4 of the population." When (not if) we go back again, we'll probably spend all of our time on the South Island and most of that in the southwest quadrant.
While you might mistake some of our panoramic photos as being from the California Sierras or Colorado Rockies, I assure you that being there provides a much different experience. The flora and fauna are much different creating a different ambiance. I think it is worth the trip to enjoy New Zealand - but not to the exclusion of enjoying many wonderful locations in the U.S.
Everything seemed to go right for us. The weather cooperated and we only had two afternoons of heavy rain and about two days of what is best described as drizzle. Except for our first couple of days, the temperature was ideal - around 70 degrees. The biggest downer of the trip was that we didn't have enough time to do more of the activities on our list. Driving time was longer than we had hoped which left less time for hiking.
Except for the first 9 nights and the last 5 nights, we were in our campervan without any campsite reservations. We just squeezed in as much as time permitted. Since their schools let out just before we left New Zealand, we had sparse crowds everywhere. We were always able to sign up for activities and find a camping spot at the last minute. This made for a relaxing trip.
The only three "problems" on the trip were (a) being slightly ill for about a week, (b) having rented an old decrepit campervan, and (c) not having taken the sand fleas seriously enough. Luckily we didn't have to cancel any activities because of my feeling under the weather, but I did have decreased energy so we eased up on the activities for several days. My vote would be to forget renting a campervan but it did have some advantages (more on this later). I now strongly suggest protecting yourself ALL the time against sand fleas when in their territory, not just when they are at their worst. The deet won't kill you, but at times I was beginning to think the sand flea bites might (and they are still healing more than one month later).
In Wellington I went to an Emergency Medical Center to see a doctor. While I knew my general health history, there was some medication and test result information that I didn't have with me which would have made this a more productive visit. They decided to do a blood test. Because we were traveling and staying in a different place every night it was difficult for me to obtain the results of my blood test and their opinion of the results. I spoke with a doctor over the phone but my phone card ran out of credits and the call hung up on me. I finally had them fax the results of the test and passed them on to my doctor upon my return. The doctors, staff, and lab people were all most cordial and willing to help. I think my lack of a contact point, however, made my visit to them essentially useless.
The campervan we rented was a "backpacker van". It turned out to be a 1996 (if I recall correctly) Mitsubishi that probably should have been put to rest some years ago. In some ways we probably got what we paid for, but the level of quality we received was lower than we thought possible. We never used its toilet or shower since we mostly stayed in parks with toilets and showers and there are plenty of public toilets available in cities and towns. One big disappointment was that the battery for the refrigerator and water pump only ran off the battery. So when we were in a camper park and plugged into the electricity, it did not charge the refrigerator or water pump power source. Service personnel told us that this was a "feature" of the old Mitsubishi vans. Other problems with the van were:
1. Bad second battery. We had to go to a repair
station to have it replaced.
2. Propane connection not tight and it leaked propane one evening. Another repair station fixed this.
3. Refrigerator door opened while driving. Duct tape fixed this.
4. Microwave made a terrible racket. I believe its diffuser fan was defective.
5. Shifting (stick) was difficult. The shifter did not slide between gears like our cars at home. We had to carefully position it when changing gears.
6. Two cabinet doors frequently opened while driving.
7. One screen was not tight and let in bugs. I fixed it myself.
8. The water hose was too short to refill water in almost all camper sites.
9. The light cover over the sink fell off and I couldn't get it to stay back on.
10. Water and smoke out of the exhaust bothered me.
11. Subject to being blown by the wind. Hard to drive quite slow to compensate.
12. The water tank was small. Good thing that we didn't take showers in the campervan!
Overall, I'll probably resist getting another camper van. The BIG advantage of the campervan was being able to have a refrigerator so we could control our breakfasts and lunches. Another "advantage" is that when you roll into a town there are few choices in camper parks so the selection is easier than choosing a motel. Other than these, I'd prefer to travel in a car. Our van was so restricted in space that we moved everything several times a day anyway so I could have just as well moved in and out of a motel.
Out of the cities, there seemed to be sand fleas everywhere in the southwest quadrant of the South Island. I was quite casual about when I used deet. I ended up with dozens of sand flea bites, which I suspect contributed to my not feeling well for a while. I also told Jennifer one night that I thought sand fleas were in the bed but I was probably wrong since she didn't end up with too many bites. My recommendation is to always protect yourself to minimize the number of bites you see. I was told that the sand fleas get fewer the further north you go and that fits with our experience. We didn't see mosquitoes anywhere but I was told in the north of the North Island that they are around. Be prepared!
The highlight of the trip was the Milford Trek, a 33.5 mile hike over 5 days (but really only 3 days of hiking). We had great weather with four days of sunshine and only one day of drizzle. The hike was awesome (which is quite an understatement). In the tradition of making a top ten list, here are my top 10 reasons for taking the Milford Trek.
10. Be a guest at a sand flea banquet.
9. Learn how to protect your food and belongings from Keas (birds).
8. Exercise your neck muscles looking up at the mountaintops and waterfalls.
7. Discover leg muscles you never knew you had.
6. Comradery with fellow trekkers.
5. Enjoy walking in the rain.
4. To do pirouettes and other graceful moves on slippery rocks.
3. Great guided tour and staff.
2. Great fauna and flora.
1. Awesome natural beauty.
Copyright 2003: Vincent A. Busam, all rights reserved