When travelling overseas, surely the top most thought in our minds, should be “Travel Insurance Must have”. A lot of travellers pay attention to details like accommodation, transport and flights. They might even plan on where to dine and play golf! However, very often way down the list, is that all essential task of arranging travel travel insurance!
All sorts of unplanned events can happen while travelling overseas – they probably occur more frequently than we think. A lot of us have experienced flight delays because of extreme weather. And it’s not uncommon for a close relative to pass away and trips have to be rearranged. Let’s not forget the dreaded inconvenience of missing luggage and having to buy and replace our stuff in the interim. But there’s also that massive cost of medical emergencies while travelling abroad. What happens when you need hospital care or emergency surgery? Seriously, being faced with thousands of dollars worth of medical care is a daunting prospect!
We had a client travelling through New Zealand who shortly after her arrival, began to feel ill. She continued on with her travelling companion. Near the end of their trip she fell dangerously ill and was unable to return to Europe as planned. Due to the seriousness of her condition, a doctor from Europe had to fly over to New Zealand and accompany her back to Europe. An ambulance was waiting for her at Vienna airport. Can you imagine the cost! Luckily she had solid health insurance which covered all medical costs, accommodation and the repatriation charge.
Another sample is that of a young couple spending their honeymoon in New Zealand. We never think about younger people falling ill, but they do. One of them had to have emergency surgery – totally unexpected. This involved hospital costs, flight amendments and additional nights of stay in New Zealand. The point is, these stories can happen to anyone at anytime. Having a good travel insurance package is really ‘non-negotiable’ and “Travel Insurance Must Have” should be given top priority when travelling overseas.
Travel insurance costs are really minimal compare to the overall cost of an overseas trip. Here are some important facts you need to be aware of:
– travel insurance is best purchased when you do your travel reservations (to cover any unforeseeable cancellation costs).
– insurance is based on your country of origin, what category of passport holder you are and on the destination country.
– costs are based on your age, pre-existing medical issues, and the duration of your travel.
– there are some credit cards that provide travel insurance – but there are ‘traps’. Read their terms and conditions very carefully. You want achieve 100% coverage!
Summary: you need to buy your insurance in your home country. There are some online travel insurance options – such as Lonely Planet Travel insurance – which navigate around those issues nicely.
When Kaikoura was hit by an earthquake over a year ago, the Kaikoura road Trip north and south of the village was blocked by landslips. Because SH1 goes through Kaikoura, it was immediately cut off from the rest of the country. After months of removing a massive amount of rocks and soil, the main SH1 Road was reopened on 15 Dec 2017! We couldn’t wait to check it out ourselves by travelling the route between Blenheim and Kaikoura. This is what we found today as we neared the beautiful Kaikoura township:
As we neared ever closer, we were prepared for and fully expected a lot of roadblocks. There were only two places that we had to stop for only minutes at a time. And the road workers were so cheerful!
What has been achieved in little more than one year is truly amazing. The teams worked 24/7 to get the project to a stage where the busy Christmas traffic could flow both into and out of Kaikoura. This road is also the main arterial road for freight. The railway line, which follows the road closely, is mainly still closed but we expect the passenger trains to start running again by mid 2018.
We spend two night at the charming and rustic Kincaid Cottage 5 kms out of the Kaikoura township. We made numerous trips into Kaikoura and the peninsula to check out the walks.
And as this photo shows, plenty of campervans and tourists milling around. The seal colony here is a major attraction and the views up and around this hill are superb. Due to the shoreline being lifted up to 2.5 metres, the harbour entrance had to be cleared for the Whale Watch tour boats. This could only be done by blasting a way through with dynamite. So the New Zealand Parliament had to pass a special emergency law to allow this to happen. What a job!
Kaikoura is famous for its Whale Watch Tours, dolphins and generally all things aquatic. Don’t expect an array of great restaurants. But there are a few gems to be found. No trip to New Zealand is complete without checking out the local Fish’n’Chips shop. The evening we arrived, this place, located in the main street, was humming. There was a queue going out of the shop and believe me, that’s always a great sign!
A handy hint if you’re doing the Kaikoura Road Trip for the very first time. Find out where all the locals are eating, because they’ll be the best places. If you continue through the township and go along the Peninsula, you’ll find the lovely Green Dolphin Restaurant – gets wonderful reviews. Also opposite the Green Dolphin there is a pub with views across the harbour and a great local vibe. If you travel further along for another 10 minutes or so, you’ll come across a great communal eating place with caravans selling grilled fish and salad.
If you’re still rushing to buy presents for an occasion or to thank a host, there are a couple of really lovely homeware interior gift shops with quality goods and local artwork. Definitely worth a browse.
The complete rebuild of the road will take another year or two. During this time the road will be most likely closed at night between 8.30pm and 7am. So travellers need to keep this in mind. Also, with any heavy rainfall, there could be new road blockages and delays. Again, travellers do keep yourselves informed.
So, happy to say that our recent Kaikoura Road Trip was well worth the effort – Kaikoura is definitely open for business again. Travellers can now access the key attractions – the Whale Watch, Dolphin Swim and the Albatross/ Seabird tours. In any case we pay our respects to the local community and the contract builders who have achieved so much in such a short time – a huge achievement!
Fiordland is New Zealand’s ‘walking capital’ and not just for it’s famous “tracks”. You’re bound to have heard of the Milford or Routeburn tracks, but there are a number of less known walking tracks in the Fiordland National Park. Some of these walks may take only an hour, while others may take a full day. What they all share, is beautiful scenery, pure oxygen and delightful birdsong. Over the years, I’ve walked all most of these tracks and day walks in Fiordland National Park should be included in every New Zealand itinerary.
Lake Marian is an alpine lake, off the Hollyford Track road. It sits in a hanging valley formed by glacial action in what surely is one of the most beautiful settings in Fiordland. The lake sits above the bush line and is surrounded by mountains. When the weather is calm, the magnificent lake becomes a mirror of reflections.
As is the case with many of these walks, it really helps to base yourself in Te Anau. From Te Anau you can be picked up to take a guided day excursion to Lake Marion.
The journey begins with a spectacular scenic drive along the Milford Road to the starting point for the Lake Marian walk. On the way, you’ll get plenty of opportunities for short nature walks and photographic stops. The hike starts off with a gentle walk. As you stroll pass a series of waterfalls, the track steepens and becomes quite rocky underfoot. The track then ascends through a forest of fuchsia, ribbon wood and beech trees. From the Lake Marian carpark, cross the swingbridge and continue to another series of waterfalls (10 minutes).
After the waterfalls, the track becomes steep and sometimes muddy during the ascent to Lake Marian (1.5 hours).
The track begins from the Lake Marian carpark which is on Hollyford Road, 1 km from the turn off. To find the Hollyford Road, turn off from the Milford Road (State Highway 94) at Marian Corner, a few minutes towards Milford Sound from The Divide. Marian Corner is about 87 km along the Milford Road from Te Anau.
If you have a spare half day, give some thought to joining an affordable and comfortable, fully-guided walk. You’ll get to sample the picturesque Kepler Track which is one of the great iconic New Zealand Great Walk. It really is an easy and leisurely stroll. The path is well graded and approximately 11km in distance. The path leads you around the South end of beautiful Lake Te Anau. The journey begins by a water taxi ride across Lake Te Anau to Brod Bay. From Brod Bay, just follow the walk through beech trees around the lake edge. The track has a gentle gradient and is suitable for most fitness levels.
You get to stop for a rest on the beach where light refreshments are served. This is a special time to drink in the magnificent views. Half way through the walk you’ll emerge from the bush to cross the Control Gates. From here the track opens out onto open grassland to the Wildlife Park. The park offers opportunities to view the rare flightless Takahē. This huge and colourful bird is now restricted to the tussock grasslands of the Murchison Mountains of Fiordland. They get to share this space with native waterfowl, weka, parakeets, tui, kea, and pigeons.
Gertrude Saddle offers an adventurous guided day excursion from Te Anau, hiking in the Fiordland mountains. Now this walk really provides the ‘wow’ factor. You’ll get unrivalled alpine terrain and spectacular views of Milford Sound from the summit. Leave from Te Anau and take a very scenic drive along the Milford road. This will take two hours to the upper Hollyford Valley and the Alpine Homer Hut. The drive leads into the heart of the Darren mountains and up into the sub alpine herb fields.
Take note guys, the Gertrude saddle is challenging at times, but ultimately a great reward for the effort. The track is rough and rocky underfoot and follows the valley floor up to an imposing Barrier face. Once at the Barrier Face, the track commences a steep and steady climb to the chilled waters of the mystical Black Lake. You’ll then walk across giant granite slabs to the top. Tere are incredible views into the surrounding valleys, and down onto Milford Sound. On a sunny day, the Saddle is a wild, inspirational place for lunch.
Another word of caution here folks! – it is absolutely essential to take warm clothing, as well as a good lunch and snacks. Hot drinks and energy snacks are carried by the guide, and there are tea breaks available. It takes about 3 hours to gain the saddle and nearly the same to return to the van. This is a more demanding walk than Lake Marion, and only suitable in good weather. Lake Marion is the back-up walk if the ‘Trips and Tramps’ guide deems the weather is not suitable for this walk.
From the car park, the marked track meanders up the valley through spectacular alpine vegetation. Once at the head of the valley, the route winds towards the saddle. There are no permanent markers after this point. Cross the Gertrude Stream below a large, steep waterfall area, about halfway up to Black Lake. From here, parts of the track are very steep and not suitable for those with limited tramping experience, or a dislike for heights. The track goes up steep rock slabs and is treacherous when wet or frosty – there are steel cables to assist you. From the head of the valley continue up through the boulders to the saddle. Return the same way.
Breathtaking views of the valley and part of Milford Sound/ Piopiotahi can be seen from the Gertrude Saddle. This track provides excellent access to the mountains for experienced climbers.
From the end of the unsealed Hollyford Road, this well graded track takes you on a short climb through rainforest to the lookout of the impressive Humboldt Falls. This walk starts from the end of the unsealed Hollyford Road. To find the Hollyford Road, turn off from the Milford Road (State Highway 94) at Marian Corner, a few minutes towards Milford Sound from The Divide. Marian Corner is about 87 km along the Milford Road from Te Anau. Allow 2 hours to drive from Te Anau to the end of the Hollyford Road.
This walk is part of the Hollyford Track, which starts at the end of the Hollyford Road. For information about all sections of the track, see Hollyford Track description.
After crossing Humboldt Creek follow the old road to the start of the track, which initially sidles along bluffs, with swampland to the left. Sections of raised board walk cross areas prone to flooding. Where Swamp Creek joins the Hollyford River/Whakatipu Kā Tuka the track follows the river bank with occasional views of the Darran Mountains.
At Hidden Falls Creek the track passes Sunshine Hut (private), and continues upstream to the swingbridge. You can view the falls two minutes on from the bridge. Hidden Falls Hut (12 bunks) is reached 10 minutes after crossing the bridge. You can see Mt. Madeline from here. Return the same way.
This is a good, valley-based day walk for families and for when bad weather prevents walking in exposed areas.
One of the most remote parts of New Zealand can be found in the fjords of Fiordland. In total, there are 14 fjords, the most famous of these are Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. The key difference point of difference between the two, is that Milford Sound is the only one with a public road access. For Doubtful Sound, you have to go on a guided tour, all of them starting at the wharf Manapouri. You can do both fjords as a day tour or a Doubtful sound overnight cruise. View both in comparison with this blog.
Real Journeys is the largest local tour operator in the Fiordland region. They have a number of purpose-built vessels in Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound. The Fiordland Navigator operates during the summer season and is designed along the lines of a traditional scow. This design blends old world charm with modern comforts, including spacious viewing decks, a dining saloon/fully licensed bar and an observation lounge.
As for accommodation, the Fiordland Navigator offer private cabins with en-suite bathrooms (all rather small but manageable for one night) or a limited number of quad share bunk style compartments. Meals provided are a three-course buffet dinner and a cooked breakfast. The journey begins by boat from Lake Manapouri, then transfer by coach over Wilmot Pass. This part of the experience takes about 2.5 hours. In Doubtful Sound you can opt to join a guided tour. These include kayaks (they have them on the Navigator) or with a dingy boat.
Whatever option you choose, you will be crusing cruise through some of the fiord’s most stunning scenery. Knowledgeable nature guides will provide commentary. You can be assured of the most amazing encounters – pods of resident dolphins, fur seals or rare penguins.. In the evening, you can mingle with fellow travellers and if the skies are clear, spend some time on the upper deck gazing at the stars. You’ll need to pinch yourself to prove that you really are in a wild and remote location. The next morning, you’ll return back the same way to Manapouri Wharf.
The ‘Southern Secret’ overnight option for Doubtful Sound is more boutique in nature and a much smaller operation. This 20 metre vessel is based in Deep Cove in Doubtful. The vessel has only five private cabins and accommodates a maximum of 12 passengers on a charter.
Each cabin has an en-suite bathroom including toilet and shower. Linen and towels are provided. Of course, you will need to bring an overnight bag with personal belongings and warm clothing. The service on-board is very personalised and the local skipper is also your guide and host. You will also arrive via Manapouri Wharf (or fly in by helicopter). Activities on board include fishing, kayaking and mammal watching during the Overnight Cruise.
Once again, you will take cross Lake Manapouri to West Arm first and then with coach over Wilmot Pass to Doubtful Sound. As you board TUTOKO II, your friendly crew will welcome you for an overall 22 hour journey into the Fiordland’s wilderness.
You’ll be surrounded by breathtaking mountain vistas on this cruise. Your captain will give an informative commentary on the area’s history and how Fiordland was formed. The meals will be a memorable part of this journey. There’ll be plenty of local fare being presented at the table. If you’re up to it, have a go at fishing for your dinner. Meanwhile, just to be doubly sure, the crew will be harvesting lobster for the plate.
During the cruise you’ll get to visit the nesting seal colony. There is something incredibly joyful watching bottle-nose dolphins ride the bow; enjoying a free ride on the surf. In the evening whilst the crew prepare dinner try your hand at kayaking and enjoy a close-up personal experience. There’s no one to bother you here, so go at your own pace. Alternatively, kick back with a wine and relax on the top deck – it’s a great way to relax before dinner.
The next morning, the vessel makes an early start. Whilst the crew prepare a full and hearty cooked breakfast, you can enjoy the peace among the most awesome scenery. All too soon, the wharf looms and you’ll be heading back over the pass to meet the ferry across Lake Manapouri. But not before you’ve swapped email addresses with new-found friends.
Now, this overnight kayaking experience is completely different to the others. It is a more physically demanding experience, but a highly satisfying way of exploring this wilderness area of New Zealand. You’ll need to be prepared for some ‘discomfort’ such as sandflies, rain or both. Each day involves about 5 hours of kayaking.
Along with your guide and a maximum of 8 guests, you’ll camp out at a base camp nestled in the forest up Hall Arm. Nearby a freshwater stream flows quietly, lulling you asleep. The campsite is very photogenic. You’ll get plenty of time to enjoy the birdsong and soak up the atmosphere. There is a communal tent for socialising at night while everyone cooks their own meals. Note: if kayaking is not possible due to bad weather, then a boat cruise will be offered instead and the camping will be replaced with a hostel in Doubtful Sound.
Surprisingly, Winter is really the best time for the fjords of Fiordland. Yes, it’s a bit more chilly, but between May and September, there is less rain and wind. The good news is that there are ‘special ‘expedition cruises’ into Dusky Sound, Preservation Inlet and to Stewart Island. These are run by Real Journey on specific dates and are very popular with the 50+ age group looking for adventure, good cuisine and social company. If you are in New Zealand during the winter season, then the multi-day overnighter cruise in the Fiordland region is highly recommended.
A question travellers often ask us is: “Packing for New Zealand holiday, what should I bring”? Well, it’s very simple – less is more! It’s most important to bring the right type of clothing. Read another of our blogs. New Zealand is an outdoorsy place, so the focus will not be on fancy night dresses and suits, but on practical outfits supporting whatever your trip focus is.
Generally speaking, the longer you travel the less luggage you’ll take with you. This is what we have experienced over the past 30 years when travelling the world. You simply cannot and don’t want to prepare for all eventualities. Sometimes you’ll see fellow travellers dragging several pieces of suitcases behind them; don’t go there. There are smarter ways to travel ‘light’.
We recommend the ‘onion system’, which basically means layers of clothing. Those can be peeled on and off according to the weather and location situations. This is also has the most effective benefit when reducing your packing space in your luggage. For some outdoor tours – see heli hiking on glacier – you will get special equipment (e.g. boots, rain jacket, gayters, walking stick).
When going hiking or walking in New Zealand’s great outdoor, always take a rain jacket as well as a day pack to fit in some extra food, water bottles, mobile phone, valuable and other helpful items (don’t leave credit card and passports in your car!). Using a day pack is also a great idea on the aircraft as hand luggage. Read on re day walk like the Hollyford Track.
Now, this one is often forgotten. Most accommodation providers will provide clothes washing options. Either you have access to a washing machine and dryer or the hosts (B&B, lodges) or a concierge (hotels) will arrange this for you. Often the costs is minimal and you just pay for the washing powder. Hotels might charge you a laundry fee, so watch out for that.
Here’s a list of key clothing items we’d recommend for New Zealand:
Depending on your rental car size your luggage space in the boot might be limited. Generally 2 x mid-size pieces will go into a Compact or Intermediate vehicle. If your suitcase is big, you might only fit in one piece and a hand bag. SUV rental cars are good as their luggage space is large. 8-seater peoplemover (especially Toyota Previas) have limited luggage space (even with their eight seats, there’s actually no space for 8 pieces of suitcases!). An interesting one are motorhomes – soft bags store better than large suitcases. Again, it all depends on the vehicle size (either camper or motorhome).
With domestic flights in New Zealand you can get maximum 2 x pieces of luggage at 23 kg per piece each person – plus one piece of hand luggage at 7 kg per person. This is fairly generous. If you need more luggage you will need to purchase ahead. This is recommended, as it will cost you much more at the counter if you add more luggage to check-in.
This is the smartest move of the lot! Instead bringing your old (and trusted) t-shirts, why not buy some while travelling in New Zealand! Add to your luggage as you go and bring back home some memorable pieces. Very popular besides t-shirts are: woolen sweaters, sun hats, outdoor clothing (we have the ‘Kathmandu’ and ‘Macpac’ brands in New Zealand). And maybe some nice fluffy sheepskin slippers!
This overall packing suggestion for New Zealand will not cover every aspect (such as bringing your own medicine), but at least it keeps your travel planning focused on the basics!