The Karamea area is one of the most photographed locations in New Zealand, so it’s ironic to see so many ”For Sale” signs. But as one of the South Island’s more remote locations, I guess it must be tough to make a living here. We love this part of the West Coast Region for it’s untouched awesome beauty… and I mean “awesome” in the true sense of the word.
We recently stayed in Karamea for one night; a fleeting visit I know, but we enjoyed a stunning late afternoon walk on a beautiful beach… hey, where else in the world can you get a whole beach to yourself!
We received the friendliest welcome at the Last Resort Restaurant. My chicken curry and Michael’s pasta was delish! Lovely service by the wait staff – no pretension and keen to ensure a good customer experience.
Next morning we drove our 4WD 10 kms from Karamea, then 14 kms down a gravel road to the car park at the start of the Oparara Arch Track walk. It was freezing! Rugged up with layers of woollen thermals, I resembled a small bear. But wow, the beauty that greeted us! Say goodbye to my cares for a while and I’ll collect you on the way back… or maybe I won’t.
With the frost crackling around us, we entered quickly into a lush, native bush environment:
There are NO sandflies on the Arches Track at this time of year. In fact the ’black water’ here ensures there are NO mosquitos on this track at any time of the year!
This is magical New Zealand; a world which is featured in famous movies about hobbits, dwarfs… and a rather tall elf making his way up the steps to the arches…
..to view the rock forms..
…and me, artfully blocking the arch at the far end to ruin a perfectly good photo!
It’s been years since Michael walked the Heaphy Track and he’s keen to revisit Kohaihai, at the Karamea end of the track. So we headed north, parked our car at Kohaihai and walked a short way to view the spectacular groves of Nikau Palms and the beautiful swing bridge.
We met an English couple who have just completed the 4-day track on their mountain bikes. They were exhilarated after their amazing experience.
The sun has begun to warm our backs, so let’s say goodbye for now and leave Michael to enjoy his moment of bliss!
You might think that getting a rental car in New Zealand is a ‘piece of cake’, but here’s some facts you really need to know BEFORE you make that booking:
1. Consider the seasons:
How often have I heard “gee, hiring a rental car in New Zealand is so expensive”. Well my friends, that depends. Yes, they are more expensive in the peak summer months. Why? New Zealand has a much smaller rental car market and vehicle fleet availability is stretched during Christmas/ New Year and February. In fact, those key months are always fully booked! Car rental firms in Europe, Australia or the USA, have a much stronger corporate (business) market, making it more competitive and less costly. The Good news for travellers, is that in New Zealand’s off-season (May – September), most rental cars will be “parked up” in the yards (except for ski/school holidays).
2. Types of rental cars available?
More good news! There is a full range of rental cars – from ‘Small Economy’ to large 4WD or 12-seater. Most New Zealand rental cars have automatic transmission, but much of the pricing is determined by the age of the vehicle.
Leading rental firms such as Budget, Hertz and Thrifty, offer fairly new vehicles (up to 18 months in use). Their prices will be higher than the smaller local rental hire operators who have older cars. The price difference can be major – like NZ$40-60 per day! If you’re tempted to go with a smaller operator, remember you won’t get the convenience of a large depot network. (Smaller companies usually only have 2-3 depots – Auckland, Queenstown and in Christchurch). For a top-end option, ease your way into the seat of this Alpha Romero Spider V6 from Rent-a-Classic in Nelson!
3. Additional Charges:
Here’s where it gets really interesting! New Zealand rental cars nearly always come with unlimited kilometres (or miles) and insurance with excess. This insurance excess can range between NZ$2000-4000 depending on operator and age of the car. Here are your options:
You can reduce your insurance risk to nil by paying extra at the rental car depot (note: you will need to sign this into the contract). Generally this would be NZ$17-40 per day. Travel hint: check if your overall travel insurance package or credit card insurance would cover this.
Airports in New Zealand are basically run as companies and charge for the convenience of car or taxi pick-up at their terminals. Rental car or taxi operators will pass this cost on to the traveller. This is generally around NZ$50. Currently, this only applies for pick-up, not drop-offs.
Generally if you rent a car for 3 days plus, a one-way charge will not apply (note: there are some exceptions at specific locations, for different operators and different times of year) Check with your reservation as these one-ways can easily be $250-300!
Child Seats etc :
You will be charged for additional extras such as child seats ($15-20 per day), snow chains (same), ski racks and wifi device (about NZ$10 per day). If you travel in peak season, you must book these in advance.
4. Ferry between the main islands:
With the main operators (Budget, Hertz, Thrifty) you can drop-off your rental car at the ferry terminal and then go on the ferry as a passenger (your luggage is check in and out just the same as an airport). You’ll then pick up another car on the other side. Note, you will be charged about $50 “ferry terminal fee”, but you will save about $200 on the ferry cost for the car. Smaller rental car firms don’t usually have depots at the ferry terminal, so you will have to take the car onto the ferry (and leave all the luggage in your car).
More good news: Unlike Australian rental cars, New Zealand does not charge stamp duty and admin fees. Generally one-way rentals are fine without charges (unlike huge charges for long distance, multi-state rentals in Australia).
All rental cars are calculated in 24 hours terms (so to be clear: pick-up at 2pm and drop off 2pm next day = 1 rental day, BUT drop off at 5pm = 2 days! Often rental firms will provide “leniency time” of 59 minutes.
Happy Travelling folks!
New Zealand’s largest National Park lies in the southern Fiordland Region of the South Island. The most famous fjords are “Milford Sound” and “Doubtful Sound”. The base for both fjords is the village of Te Anau, the “tramping/ hiking” capital of New Zealand, known for it’s wide range of famous walks located nearby (e.g.the Kepler Track, Hollyford Track, Routeburn Track, Milford Track etc). Both Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound provide a spectacular visual impact but with a different travelling experience.
The Fiordland National Park has only one main (public) road – from Te Anau via the Eglington Valley to Milford Sound. Given that the park covers 1.3 million hectares, you can imagine how remote and wild this region is. The drive from Te Anau to Milford is about 125 kilometres and one-way, takes 2.5 hours. This winding road provides one of “the” most scenic drives on Mother Earth!
This road is used heavily by tour buses, motorhomes and other cars. But the huge advantage of this option, is that you can set your own pace to Milford Sound. There are a number of car-parking sites you can use along the way to take pictures. You can also stop at the “Divide” and for an hour or so, start walking the “Routeburn Track”. Nature lovers and walkers definitely enjoy the “Key Summit” walk with stunning views into the Hollyford Valley. If you want to get away from other “tourists” just turn into the “Hollyford Valley” and do walks here.
For “off the beaten walks”, I’d recommend Lake Marian or Lake Catherine – or a bit further down the road, start the “Hollyford Track” until “Hidden Falls” (a 31 metre waterfall). Watch your time getting to Milford! You’ll have to go thru the “Homer Tunnel” and if you’re not a confident driver or simply want to enjoy a day “off driving”, join a tour with a local operator from Te Anau.
Once in Milford, you take the cruise into the fjord and travel back the same way to Te Anau. VERY IMPORTANT: take care in planning your morning starting time in Te Anau. The best time is between 7am-7.30am or after 9am. Otherwise you’ll join a long “queue” of coaches, motorhomes and cars. If you go with a local tour company, they’ll stop at the right place at the right time!
Now this one is totally different! You will have to join a tour group ex Manapouri wharf, which is about 25 kilometres south of Te Anau. Firstly, you’ll board a fast-boat from Manapouri Wharf to West Arm. This takes a good hour. From there you’ll board a coach and take the drive over Wilmot Pass into the Doubtful Sound wharf area. Here, the coastal sailing ship is waiting for your cruise into the fjord and out to the Tasman Sea (weather depended). You’ll be out for a good 2 hours and will return the same way back via Wilmot Pass and West Arm Lake Manapouri. The key issue with this full day trip is that you will not be able to travel “independently” during the day. You’ll have to stay on the boat or the coach.
Summary Milford or Doubtful Sound:
Milford Sound:- you are independent, you can drive with your own car (or join a small size tour party) and stop for hikes. However you must get your times right to avoid heavy traffic.
Doubtful Sound: you have to join a tour party ex Manapouri (or Te Anau with transfer). This is not everyone’s “cup of tea” to sit all day, but the advantage is no traffic and more “off the beaten track” than the Milford Road.
Note: with both fjords you can also do this as an overnight experience on the boats (with your own cabin or bunk style accommodation). Many people also come on a coach from Queenstown (which is a very long 12 hour day) or fly into Milford Sound (which is very weather dependent).
Travellers to the Central Otago region often either stay in Wanaka or Queenstown. The distance between Wanaka and Queenstown is only about 67 kms (40 miles) or 1 hours drive via Cardrona Road. However they both offer a different experience to the other and that’s handy to know in advance!
Staying in Wanaka:
If you’re travelling via the West Coast, you’ll reach Wanaka first. The Wanaka village is located beside a pristine lake with the same name – Lake Wanaka. The rolling tussock grass hills give a sense of space and a great relaxation vibe. Wanaka is a prime holiday destination for New Zealanders heading south and some families choose to have their holiday homes here.
What to do in Wanaka
Ok, I’ve already mentioned the lake, but water sports are also a big drawcard. The region offers a wide range of walks and mountain biking,either along the lake or in the nearby Mt. Aspiring National Park. For food and wine lovers, visiting the area’s picturesque boutique vineyards is a must-do experience. Generally a stay in Wanaka is more nature focused, with significantly less visitors than Queenstown.
Staying in Queenstown:
Queenstown is the “tourism capital” of New Zealand and only about 50 minutes drive Wanaka. And like Wanaka, it’s also located on a beautiful lake – Lake Wakatipu.
What to do in Queenstown?
Apart from the magnificent Remarkable Mountain Range, lake views and vineyards, the key attraction is action and outdoor tours and some of the best dining and shopping to be experienced in New Zealand.
So, what exactly do I mean by action tours?
Many of the most adrenaline-based attractions have been created right here in Queenstown. Bungy Jumping, exhilarating jet-boat rides plus Whitewater Rafting - these are just a few from the list – hey here’s another one!
Other highlights such as the Routeburn Track or Lord of the Rings filming locations are close by. Many travellers stay at least 2-3 nights to discover the region properly. Queenstown has a buzz and a very active nightlife, with annual visitor numbers reaching 2 million - pretty significant for little ole New Zealand!
Stay in Queenstown or Wanaka – it all comes down to this:
If you’re looking for action, nightlife and some key icons of New Zealand tourism, stay in Queenstown. If you seek a more casual, nature-focused and relaxed holiday, stay in Wanaka. Remember, the drive via Cardrona, provides a stunning scenic connection between these two southern pearls!
There’s no excuse for bad coffee - not in New Zealand. Kiwis are self appointed coffee connoisseurs and won’t pay good money for a lukewarm, scummy brew. The standard is high and that’s good news for our international travellers!
Now here’s a thing that puzzles some European visitors accustom to having late afternoon coffees. New Zealanders generally place more importance on their morning and lunchtime coffees. If you arrive at a café 3-4pm you’ll probably find the staff sweeping up and clearing the cabinets. This café is packed in the mornings and lunchtime, but after 3.00pm, is a different story
….and that suits Michael just fine, but if you like a café vibe, you will sacrifice some of the atmosphere by going at this time..
New Zealand cafes not only serve great coffee but also a variety of cabinet food (attractively presented) or a menu - some will offer both. And for a small country, I think we have the best tasty gluten-free options to be found anywhere in the world.
Our cafes are often theme-based and this is no better illustrated than by The Federal Store in the Strandon suburb of New Plymouth. Here the theme is 1940-50′s kitsch and décor, complete with formica tables and chairs and memorabilia in every available space. You’re greeted to a stunning display of home-baking with the most enormous and ornately iced cakes. The muffins are buttery and packed with gorgeous berries and dotted nuggets of white chocolate and don’t get me started on the salads. The female staff wear a scarf around their heads in a style popular for that era and although the atmosphere is slightly chaotic, it’s a happy place to be!
This photo was taken while Michael was trying to choose between a savoury muffin and a sweet one…must have driven the staff mad. The Berry and white chocolate muffin won the toss. It was a good choice!