One of the most common ways of travelling around New Zealand, particularly amongst the backpacker brigade, is to use the backpacker buses such as Kiwi Experience and Magic Bus.
Kiwi Experience is aimed at the younger age-range and generally involves much drinking and other related activities, with the itineraries and accommodation tailored accordingly.
Magic Bus is a slightly less well-known outfit but from my perspective, though not having used them, is aimed at a slightly more discerning traveller.
When I did my 4 week trip around New Zealand in 2003, my transport was predominantly by InterCity coach using a flexipass.
I found InterCity to be reliable and comfortable and a good choice as a fully independent traveller. Compared to the backpacker buses, I didn’t have to endure stops at places I wasn’t interested in and could make my own choice on accommodation.
Often you get a commentary from the driver and the people travelling on the coaches are a mixture of locals and tourists.
Driving in New Zealand can be very enjoyable. Apart from the roads being quieter (generally) than in the UK – many roads are often single carriageways with great views. Out of the big cities, its a bit like driving in Wales or Scotland. It can be frustrating in some locations where there are no passing places, however HGVs and tractors should – and mostly do- move over to the left as far as they can to let you pass and passing lanes are frequent and also signposted (e.g signs tell you “passing lane in 1km”) which guards against drivers taking unneccessary risks.
There are very few motorways in New Zealand and on those that do exist, the maximum speed limit is 100kph (approx 60 mph). There has been some major investment in the road system over the past 10 years, with Auckland benefitting most (to the acute annoyance of the rest of the country). In terms of long distance driving off the motorways, you couldn’t expect to get an average speed much higher than 70kph (40mph).
New Zealand does however have one of the worst road safety records in the developed world – far worse than in the UK. One of the many reasons for this is that you can start driving in New Zealand from the age of 16 and insurance is not complusory. You therefore have 17 year olds driving around in 2 litre Subarus or Mitsubishi Evos because, unlike the UK, the insurance doesn’t make the cost of owning one prohibitive. Drink driviing in New Zealand is also less of a social no-no than it is in the UK. The rural nature of most parts of the country and lack of public transport, means that most teenagers need a car if they’re not living in a city. Not all teenagers are like that obviously, but quite frequently, on a weekend, there will be a fatal crash reported where two or three teenagers have been killed due to speeding.
To put it into perspective – the fatal accident rate in New Zealand is about 3-400 per year (population approx 4 million). In the UK, road fatalities are at about 3,000 (population 70 million). The fatal accident rate in NZ is therefore about double that in the UK.
If you are travelling to New Zealand from the UK, particularly if you fly in one go, do not expect to be in any fit state to drive any great distance when you arrive. It would be better and safer to allow at least a day before driving significant distances. Many crashes occur because tourists attemp to drive long distances as soon as they step off the plane (the distances are large too – Auckland to Wellington takes at least 10 hours, to Rotorua and Tauranga at least 2.5).
If you are planning on taking lots of electrical equipment etc, its worth buying a few UK-style 4-socket extension cables. You can then save having to re-wire plugs when you arrive and just re-wire the extension cable or plug into a UK-NZ socket adaptor.
It’s worth both photocopying and scanning your passport, key documents and travel itineraries etc and emailing them to a Yahoo, Gmail or Hotmail account so that you can always get to them should you lose something. Having them on the internet is just that bit better than being on your own computer.
If you have any medical conditions, ask your doctor to write a letter of introduction to give to your GP in New Zealand, detailing test results etc. Its better than just having a presicription to give and also can be useful if taking banned medicines through customs in some countries.
The Warehouse is a cheap and cheerful discount retailer in New Zealand. It sells cheap clothes, hardware, homeware etc and is a prime destination for those fitting out a new home on a budget. Don’t expect high quality (although they do have a good guarantee) but it is a good pile-em-high sort of store. Some stores also sell groceries.
If you want a comparison, its possibly like Wilkinson’s in the UK, or Woolworths (before it went bust).
You will know about the Warehouse very soon after you arrive as their TV adverts are ubiquitous!
Whitcoulls is a bookshop and stationer in the same mould as the UK’s WHSmith – in fact it used to be part-owned by WHSmith and still sells some of its own-brand merchandise.
Whitcoulls sell the same range of products as WHSmith and there is usually one in most decent-sized towns. It can be a good source of DVDs, including BBC series.
There are two key NZ food retailers – New World and Foodtown
Both sell a good range of food, including very good fresh meat, fruit and veg. Frozen food in NZ is not as prevalent as it is in the UK (frozen food sections are small compared to those in the UK), nor (when I was there at least) prepared meat and fish as you might get in Tesco or M&S.
Supermarkets do not sell the full range of alcohol – usually just wine and beer. Spirits have to be bought from liquor stores/bottle shops, which are everywhere.
Farmers is a national department store chain which has no real UK equivalent – Debenhams is the closest I can think of but is not really the same.
They sell clothes, homeware, furniture, home appliances and electrical entertainment
Farmers also have a store-card that is quite easy to get hold of and which is useful for building a credit record.