So after nearly 10 months in New Zealand, pretty much working the whole time at 3 awesome jobs that I loved it, was time for a big road trip. Since arriving, I had taken a few weekend trips as well as a week in Wellington in between jobs but now it was time for something big. As soon as it was discussed that I would be taking on another long term job that would take me through the end of my visa (and beyond) my parents booked tickets to come visit over the holidays in December. They had to come in December because my mom is a teacher and this is the only time she had off, besides summer. And winter in New Zealand is kind of miserable. I mean, if you have people to visit or like winter sports, it’s not that bad. But if you need good weather on your side to do stuff, June-September is not the best time to come. Within a week of my parents booking their airfare in July for a December trip, my sister whined that she wanted to come too and another ticket was booked. FYI, the holidays mean nothing to us. I’m Jewish so Christmas is our holiday to go to an empty movie theater and eat Chinese food (let the record show that I have never had Chinese food on Christmas. Pizza, yes, but never Chinese. I don’t know where that cliche got started). Tickets were booked for this reason because if you leave LAX on 24-December you don’t arrive in NZ until 26-December, skipping Christmas and saving like $200 a ticket on airfare. Sign my family up! Plus my mother got her Christmas wish of skipping the day entirely. The rest of us don’t mind the holiday but she flat out hates it. Anyway, timing was good and I had buckets of holiday time saved up, so off we go!
My mom had a list of places she wanted to see and with only 2 weeks to see everything, I knew it was going to be a tight squeeze. I made the executive decision that we would fly to CHC the day they arrived, to recover a little and then jump in the car the following day and go. Originally my mom was a little weary of this, she wanted to spend a day in Auckland to recover from jetlag, but because of time we had, there was none to waste. Besides, I told them that there was hardly any jetlag. You maybe a little tired the first day and we’ll take it slow, but by the next, you’ll be fine. I don’t think they believed me at first, but it ended up being true! I made a good choice. The weather also had to be near perfect every day because we didn’t have time to sit around and wait for the weather to clear (as the ideal NZ trip would allow you to do). In addition to the time crunch, we were going to be spending a lot of time in the car (a la the trips we took in the 90’s) and no one except me would/could/want to drive and my sister was going to be all sorts of miserable in this situation. The minute I drew up a rough draft of the itinerary I emailed my sister and asked if she could stay a extra week. I knew she had buckets of vacation time saved up as well and there were some cute towns in the north that I had already been to and knew she would love so she paid the fee and extended her ticket and extra week. I kept telling her, we are going to spend hours in the car, be prepared and even still, like the typical little sister, she arrived and started to complain. But thank GOD for for that extra week! We didn’t have the best weather that week, but we had like no plans, so it was fine, it evened out.
The plan was we (or should I say I) drove from Christchurch over to Queenstown, up to Piction and Wellington and then straight through to Rotorua and Auckland in 12 days. And we actually had time to see stuff! With the exception of our night in Queenstown, we had great weather so everything went off as planned.
Even though they drive on the left, driving in New Zealand is insanely easy. It’s the best place to learn and make mistakes, because there is no one there to hit! We are all over 25, but no one else wanted to put their name down to drive the car when we picked it up. My parents had been in the UK earlier that year and drove around the countryside and apparently my dad freaked the shit out of my mother with his driving that she put her foot down when they came to NZ. So no Dad. My mother hates driving in the US, so she was automatically out. I was surprised my sister didn’t volunteer because she likes driving, but this was her first time in a country where they drove on the left (she’s never been to the UK) and just didn’t really want. But of course, once everyone saw how freakin’ easy the roads were, they calmed down a bit. By the last day my sister wanted to drive, but since she didn’t put her name down, I only let her drive around the block. This trip had so much driving. It wasn’t until the 5th day (out of 12!) that we didn’t drive for at least 8 hours. The roads are very easy and traffic is pretty much non-existent, but things still take time and since we had so much to see and so little time, we had to keep moving. I did love that it was like days in between when we saw traffic lights.
Booking hotels was another issue. My parents aren’t super classy, but staying in hostels is not for them. New Zealand does have proper hotel rooms in most towns, but another option for large groups or families of any size is something called the family rooms. Loads of hotels usually come with a couple of these unusual rooms. They usually include 3 or more beds in one or two bedrooms (usually one of the beds is in the main room), an in-room full bathroom and small kitchen with microwave and fridge. These rooms usually cost about 2/3rds the price of 2 full priced hotel rooms, so they are a bit cheaper. Since we were traveling around the peak time and we had a sort of unusual situation, it was just easier for me to call around in each town we were going to be in and book everything directly. Everything in New Zealand is so small, that I would call, talk to someone at the hotel directly, explain the situation (A family, parents with two grown children) and they could tell me exactly if they had space or not. I would always follow up every booking with an email that included date, price and occupancy to confirm. Everyone got back to me within a day and even one place said that the person on the phone quoted me the wrong room price and if I still wanted to keep my booking with a higher price. Normally in America, you would fight for the lower price, but since the towns were so small and the options so much less, I reconfirmed the booking at the higher price. There wasn’t really much I could do. I don’t know what I would have done if I wasn’t in the country. Trying to find lodging would have taken forever over email with our requirements. I mean, most of the year, you can just drive up to any town and find a place, but since it was the summer holidays and we were on such a tight schedule, I wanted to book everything in advance. But then we probably wouldn’t have been in this situation if I wasn’t in the country anyway.
Moral: All in all, a good time. But the time constraints were not ideal.