THE DECISION IS MADE:
I’ve had a few adventures over my time in some wonderful places on this planet of ours but one place had eluded me up till now. New Zealand has, for a long time, been near the top of my wishlist of countries to visit but the sheer distance from the UK (a massive 27 hour non-direct flight) meant that, if you’re going to go, it’s best to make the most of it and see/do everything there is to see and do over there in one shot. The recommended timeframe for doing this seems to be about 2 months. Getting two months off work wasn’t an available option but waiting until I retired wasn’t something I wanted to do either. Two months in New Zealand either meant spending an absolute fortune if one desired seeing the place via an organised package tour and staying in hotel accommodation for the duration or keeping the costs down to a reasonable amount by choosing the popular backpacking or campervan method. I wasn’t too sure how I would cope with backpacking and walking the trails at 65 (that’s if I get to that age) so, the solution? I handed my notice in at work just before Christmas. “New Zealand. Here I come!”.
Being the other side of the planet and in the southern hemisphere, NZ time and seasons are as opposite to ours as you can get. The best time to visit, therefore, was deemed to be March/April which is just out of peak season and approaching autumn. I couldn’t waste too much time after leaving work so a flight was duly booked. Booked through Netflights.com, an Emirates Airlines flight to Auckland departing on Sunday 3rd March and returning 3rd May. The flight actually arrives in Auckland on Tuesday 5th March and, by that time, I reckon I’ll be truly zonked out with jetlag. On top of the flight booking then would be a 4 night stay in a reasonable hotel located in Auckland giving me some time to get over the jetlag and see what the city had to offer.
1.) Return flight from Birmingham, UK to Auckland, NZ (Emirates) – £948.00
2.) 4 Nights accommodation at the Quadrant Hotel, Auckland – £353.00
3.) Travel Insurance – £125.00
GETTING AROUND WHILE I’M THERE:
Although the general concensus of opinion seems to be that getting around New Zealand is a doddle and is something you can, pretty much, sort out when you get there, I wanted a plan so there was a fairly lengthy deliberation on two options; Backpacker “Hop On, Hop Off” Bus or Campervan. There are distinct pros and cons to each of these options. The Backpacker Bus would be significantly cheaper and is a great way to travel around NZ if you’re a young student on a gap year on a budget. I’m not a young student on a budget though. I’m 51 years old, I’ve got a few grand to spend on this holiday and I can’t help thinking that I’d feel a little uncomfortable and out of place on these “party buses” they have a slightly tainted reputation of being – not that I’ve got anything against this. I’d have been all for it 20 years ago. You are also tied, to a certain extent, to a fixed timetable and itinerary. Campervan Hire, especially for two months, is not a cheap option but the biggest benefit by far with this is that you can go where you want, when you want and you have complete control over defining your own itinerary. You can also carry far more stuff along for the trip. There are hundreds of campsites all over New Zealand and you will always have a place to sleep the night . I took a deep breath and opted for Campervan Hire then booked a Jucy Cabana for 56 days, picking it up from Auckland city after my hotel stay.
4.) Jucy Cabana Campervan Hire for 56 days (inc. Insurance and GPS) -£2,286.00
The Milford Track:
One of the “must do” trails I wanted to walk while in New Zealand was the Milford Track, a 4 day trail on the South Island noted as being one of the greatest walks in the world. You have to get a permit to walk this trail and only 40 permits are issued on each day in the walking season. Hence, booking in advance is essential. Once I’d sorted my transport out, this was the next thing to see about. You can book online at www.doc.gov.nz I’d left this a bit later than I should have done really as the earliest I could book the trail for was April 11th, this is heading towards the end of the walking season. I read that you can get all 4 seasons in one day on this trail and rain is almost certainly guaranteed. I’ll be walking it in Autumn so I’ll have to be prepared. The huts you stay in are booked at the same time as applying for the permit and transport to and from the start/end points can be also optionally booked. I’ll be heading for a campsite in Te Anau for 9th – 10th April. Optional bus and boat rides have been booked to get me to the start of the trail and back to Te Anau from Milford Sound (end of the trail).
5.) Milford Track Permit inc. Huts and optional transport – £184.00
ESSENTIAL KIT PURCHASES:
Going on an adventure is always a good excuse to buy new kit but there were a few items that were absolutely necessary for my trip to New Zealand. I’ve booked the Milford Track which is a 4 day trail and I’m hoping to walk a few others so the focus was to ensure I had suitable equipment to cope with multi-day hikes in, what could be, very changeable weather.
1.) Large Backpacking Rucksack:
I’ve got an old Karrimor Jaguar that’s been around and seen a bit of the world. It’s still OK and could have been used but it’s not the most comfortable sack I’ve had and it’s definitely seen better days. I decided to get a new one and, as I’m always a sucker for state-of-the-art, went for the Haglofs Sumo 95. A flagship 95 litre expedition rucksack.
I was pleasantly surprised when I filled this up with stuff and tried it on for the first time. Although it looks really big (as you’d expect), it was very comfortable with excellent weight distribution. Apart from the usual three (top, middle and bottom) compartments, the rucksack has two additional zip pockets of reasonable size and a side zip for access into the main compartment making it far easier to get hold of frequently needed items. It has a hydration facility too.
2.) Walking Boots:
I bought a new pair of walking boots (Salomon 4D GTX) for a trip to the Angel Falls in Venezuela in 2011. This included an ascent to the top of Auyan Tepui, the table mountain which the falls “falls” off. It’s a pretty serious undertaking with only about 100 people per year making the climb and I can understand why with the conditions and terrain you have to tackle – it throws just about everything it can at you. Needless to say, the boots stood up well, they were very comfortable and I didn’t get any blisters but they were all but demolished after an intense two weeks of getting hammered by water, rock and mud. I tried to restore them as best I could on my return home but the next weekend walking trip I did soaked them through again and one of the eyelets came off. I decided to get another pair for New Zealand.
3.) Mobile Phone:
I’ve had just a company supplied Blackberry for a long time, never really needing anything else. Obviously, now I’m leaving the company, it’s something I will have to have anyway. The easiest thing for travellers to do is to buy an unlocked phone and use local Pay As You Go SIM cards. I’ve got an Apple iPad 2 so the logical choice may have been an iPhone but, after looking at a few reviews, went for the Samsung Galaxy S3. The more I’m using this phone, the more I like it. Plug it into a computer via a USB cable and it not only charges but transferring files is just a matter of copying them over from one folder to another – no stupid proprietary stuff you get with Apple. You can also insert a Micro SD card into it for additional storage. Again, a massive one over the iPhone. The screen is nice and large and it also has an 8 megapixel camera.
4.) Waterproof Jacket:
After 25 years or more of buying and using Gore-Tex jackets, I have come to the conclusion quite a few experienced walkers have arrived at with their experience of “waterproof” jackets. Gore-Tex is good at keeping the water out but it’s pretty hopeless when it comes to breathability. I almost invariably have a wet inner lining after being active for a while and generating internal heat whilst wearing a Gore-Tex jacket. This was the case when I recently tested my new walking boots out and went for a short walk. I was going to take just a Berghaus Paclite (one of two that I own) but after this last episode decided I needed a more effective solution. I’d discussed this issue with a friend recently which gave him the opportunity for giving much praise to a jacket he’d recently decided to acquire made by Paramo. This is a soft material jacket given a Nikwax treatment and is supposed to be not only waterproof but highly breathable. He said it worked and he’d never go back to Gore-Tex so, after reading a few more online articles from reviewers who, more or less, said the same thing, I decided to give one a shot. A Paramo Alta II was ordered.
Well, the first thing you notice about this jacket is just how soft the material is. You find yourself instinctively asking, “Is this really waterproof?” Being soft, it’s very comfortable to wear and I was pleasantly surprised with its weight – pretty light I thought. It’s not going to win any awards for style but give me function over fashion any day.
On its first real test, a walk around the country lanes on the snowiest day the country has seen, it fared very well. I was, maybe, a little too warm when walking with a fleece on too, so my base layer T-Shirt was a tad moist but the inner of the jacket was bone dry. I’ve no regrets with the purchase.
I like simplicity and reliability when it comes to camping stoves and you can’t get much more simpler and reliable than a Trangia. I used to have one years ago but I’m not sure what happened to it. I don’t do much backpacking at all but I will be when I’m in NZ. They don’t recommend gas stoves on the Milford Track so a new Trangia it was.
Over £1000 on new kit is pushing the initial cost of this trip to near £5K before I even get there but this gear will last much longer than two months (so long as I don’t lose it!). I will be reviewing each of the above items after I return from New Zealand. For a full kit list, see the next post.