Chilling With the Kiwis

Faye Seifert, back right, and pals before cruising New Zealand's Dart River.
Faye Seifert, back right, and pals before cruising New Zealand's Dart River. (Provided By Faye Seifert)
Sunday, August 26, 2007

Faye Seifert of Bowie is the latest contributor to our Your Vacation in Lights feature, in which we invite Travel section readers to share the dish about their recent trips. It's a big, confusing travel world out there, and you can help your fellow travelers navigate it. Your hot tip can be the next guy's day-maker; your rip-off restaurant, the next family's near-miss. To file your own trip report -- and to become eligible to win a digital camera -- see the fine print below.

THE TRIP: A month in New Zealand's North and South islands.

WHEN: March 2007

WHO: My mates -- Jeannine Swarts (74), Linda Blake (68), Jackie Gentry (70), Sally Phillips (64) and Teddie Wood (67) -- and I (age 71). All retirees, we have known each other for more than 20 years.

WHY: Nothing like pushing the edge of the envelope at our ages.

PLANNING: An Internet search led me to Fine Tours New Zealand (, a small company in Fairlie, New Zealand, that puts together self-guided tours. After six months of e-mails, we developed an itinerary that included accommodations, vehicle rental and assorted attractions. We were given maps with our routes highlighted, a cellphone and a GPS unit with commentary on Maori legends and local history.

COST: My budget was $5,000, but I probably ended up spending about $5,600. Our accommodations had kitchens, so we ate out one meal a day and shared the cost of the food prepared in our lodging.

HIGHLIGHTS: On the South Island, a four-wheel-drive tour with Sam Neill (Sam's Off Road Tours, across his sheep farm to see seals and penguins on the Otago Peninsula, jet-boating the Dart River and hiking to the base of the Franz Josef Glacier. On the North Island, cruising Coromandel Peninsula's curvy, mountainous roads in the rain, and driving to Paihia during a record rainfall that closed the main road and stranded us overnight with some really kind Kiwis.

COOLEST SIGHT: Watching the glaciers and snow-covered mountains of the Southern Alps get closer and closer as we drove to Mount Cook. The day ended with orange and red clouds reflecting off a glacier.

I CANNOT BELIEVE . . . That Linda and I drove a 12-seat diesel van on the left side of the road for a month without a mishap. Not even a ding -- across 3,500 miles.

WHAT I'D DO DIFFERENTLY: I'd think twice about using About New Zealand Rental Cars. Upon arrival, the company told us that our van, which we had reserved six months in advance, was not available. When they finally found one for us, it had bald tires. The company eventually replaced them and promised a two-day refund. When we returned the van at the end of the trip, we received only a one-day refund.

MOST DIFFICULT ADJUSTMENT: Driving on the left in cities like Wellington and Auckland. A good navigator will make city driving less nerve-racking.

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