Going Our Way: Working to see the sights in New Zealand


Beautiful landscape at Franz Josef Glacier. West Coast, South Island, New Zealand. (ALAMY)
August 19, 2011

Who: Dara Curran, 37, of Orlando

Where: New Zealand

Why: Solo vacation, sort of (she’ll be working during most of it)

When: Late November for six weeks

Budget: $4,000 to $6,000, not including airfare


Dara Curran of Orlando. (family photo)

“I want to get a really good overview of the country, meet locals and see the amazing scenery — I love mountains, beaches, hiking and farms. I need to stay connected via the Internet so I can continue to work while I’m there.”

In a couple of decades of listening to people tell me about their trips, there’s only one country I’ve never heard anyone say anything even remotely negative about: New Zealand. The word “magical” tends to come up a lot. Also: beautiful, amazing, stunning, pristine, awe-inspiring. With its dramatic landscapes, unique wildlife and distinctive culture, it’s no wonder the Colorado-sized country tops many travelers’ life lists.

Unfortunately, many Americans who make the trip have only two weeks or so to take it all in — which is why Dara Curran is so lucky. The Orlando resident recently landed a telecommuting job and wants to take advantage of her new flexibility with a six-week visit to the island nation this winter. She asked us for tips on planning a budget-conscious itinerary. (Prices are in U.S. dollars.)

Getting around. Curran’s dream is to rent a mini motor home with a foldout table and a bed where she can work by day and camp at night. One option to consider — especially if traditional motor homes freak you out — is the small-scale, Kiwi-designed, two-berth camper van called the Spaceship (www.­spaceshipsrentals.co.nz), available at rental offices in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. The bright orange Toyota Previas are outfitted with mini fridges, two-burner cookers and CD/DVD/MP3 players, and have a dual-battery system, meaning you can charge one while you use the other — and park at non-powered (i.e., cheaper) campsites. A five-week rental, picked up in Auckland and returned in Christchurch, runs about $3,140. Just bear in mind that you can rent an economy car for the same number of days for less than half the cost (www.­acerentalcars.co.nz).

Where to stay, economy-car option. Curran will be traveling during high season, when lodging is priciest, so even B&Bs are likely to bust her budget. The cheapest option (assuming couch-surfing is out) is camping in a tent, but the weather on the South Island can be dicey in December even though it’s the start of New Zealand’s summer. Since even a little rain can wreak havoc when you’re camping, we say nix the tent.

Instead, we’re pushing youth hostels. Unlike the scuzzy dorms of yesteryear, many now feature private rooms, maid service and upscale amenities, including Internet access and concierges. Private rooms with shared baths average $60 a night, varying by location and season. For discounted rates, book through Hostel World (www.hostelworld.­com) . And since you’re traveling during the Christmas holidays, reserve early.

Where to stay, camper-van option. Both North and South Island are dotted with commercial campsites in desirable locations (see www.holidayparks.­co.­nz for some options). In a Spaceship van, you can stay in a non-powered site for an average of $30 per night. The campgrounds usually have communal bathrooms with showers, lounges with TVs and games, Internet access and other perks. A woman traveling solo, staying at an approved campground and taking the usual precautions (be aware of your surroundings, lock your vehicle while sleeping), should have no problems.

Where to go. We don’t have the space to go into detail, but here are a few suggestions to give a rough idea of timing and cost.

Auckland, consistently named one of the world’s most livable cities. Sample lodgings: City Lodge, a budget hotel on a tree-lined street five minutes from the center city, where a private room with mini kitchen costs $63 a night; or Sandspit Holiday Park, north of Auckland on Kawau Bay, where a non-powered vehicle campsite is $13 per night.

Russell, in the Bay of Islands, a darling seaside town where you can laze on a secluded beach, hire a yacht, go biking, enjoy a great meal or visit galleries and bookshops.

Waitomo, for black-water rafting in the Glowworm Caves (as cool as it sounds), and Rotorua, to do the geyser/hot-spring/steaming-mud-pit thing. A private room at Lyons Lake Stay, overlooking Lake Okareka, goes for $70 a night; at the Blue Lake Holiday Park, a short drive from the center of Rotorua, a non-powered campsite on the edge of Lake Tikitapu is $31 per night.

Wellington, home of Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand. At the top-rated beachfront hostel Moana Lodge, a private room runs $79, single or double; at the Wellington Waterfront Motorhome Park, within walking distance of downtown, vehicle sites are $42 per night.

Abel Tasman National Park. At Abba Lodge in Awaroa Bay, near hiking trails, beaches and wetlands (you arrive by water taxi), a private room costs $105 a night double. At Maitai Valley Motor Camp outside Nelson with a swimming hole and golf course, a non-powered vehicle site is $5 per night.

Franz Josef Glacier and the stunning lakeside village of Lake Wanaka. A private room at the Matterhorn South hostel is about $57 a night, single or double, and a powered vehicle site at the Wanaka Top 10 Holiday Park is $33 per night.

The Mount Cook region. At Lake View Homestay (www.­lakeviewhomestay.co.nz), you can go fishing, attend sheep-herding demos and admire a killer view of Mount Cook. Rates start at $100 per night single. At Glentanner Park, set in a working sheep station, a non-powered campsite is $14 per night.

Christchurch. New Zealand’s second-largest city is recovering from the magnitude-6.3 earthquake that killed 181 people on Feb. 22, with aftershocks continuing. The center city is still off limits, but the airport, train station and the rest of the city and its suburbs are up and running.

Kaikourais considered by many to be the country’s best eco-destination, especially for whale-watching and swimming with wild dolphins.

Costs

Economy-car/youth-hostel route: about $3,460 ($1,240 for car, $2,220 for hostels for 37 days).

Camper-van/campsite route: about $4,250 ($3,140 for Spaceship van, $1,110 for campsites for 37 days).

Not included: food, admissions and attractions; incidentals; flight from Christchurch to Auckland ($90); one-way ferry crossing from North to South Island with vehicle ($173); fuel $750.

Interested in having us help plan your trip? Go to www.­­washingtonpost.­­com/­goingourway.

Who: Dara Curran, 37, of Orlando

Where: New Zealand

Why: Solo vacation, sort of (she’ll be working during most of it)

When: Late November for six weeks

Budget: $4,000 to $6,000, not including airfare

“I want to get a really good overview of the country, meet locals and see the amazing scenery — I love mountains, beaches, hiking and farms. I need to stay connected via the Internet so I can continue to work while I’m there.”

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