My friend and i recently travelled to new zealand to do a road trip of the south island. Being from Australia we assumed there would be a lot of similarities in the types and price points of food and other daily neccesities available and our research tended suggest this would be the case. We arrived in christchurch on the first day of our trip to pick up our hire car and got touched for the first time by the hire car company. Although they were friendly we quickly realised that our "all inclusive comprehensive quote" was not all inclusive. It turned out they had a policy at the company - called apex car hire in christchurch, to fill up their cars with "a tank" of which they said would benefit us because petrol is about $2.14 a litre in newzealand and they were selling it to us at a 20% off rate. By the end we ended up paying about another $130.00. We were disapointed they had not choosen to tell us this but happily set on our way to start our road trip. However it was not long before we realised their lousy 20% off discount (which we had no choice in getting) was not actually %20 off - rather it was about 6 cents cheaper which we could have got ourselves with a shopper docket. It was also not until later in the week, returning to queenstown from milford sound that we realised they had ripped us off in another way -. Our petrol light was on and the petrol gauge was sitting right on empty. We were so worried we were going to roll into the petrol station. We filled up, releived we got there in time and quickly realised that the tank only held 52 litres from empty... we had been charged for an extra 10 litres of fuel at practically full price. and come on - its not like the tank is compleetly empty when renters return their car - there is always at least a few litres. let this be a warning - be very carefull with hire car companies in new zealand - i personally would not go with Apex car rentals in christchurch again.
Despite this- we had the most fantastic five nights in queenstown which very much lives up to its reputation as "the gold coast in the snow". The sceenery there and back was fabulious. the hotel (the mercure was a bit run down but fair for what we paid and lovely) was great and the people veryt friendly and accomodating. Of course it is full of english and european travellers and other holiday makers so perhaps that had something to do with it. It is very expensive for food there but that was something to be expected. Milford sound was also great - i must see. It was an odly still and sunny day apparently so we didnt have to worry about the mosquito's that apparently so bothersome to the many travellers who call that way. The people there were also lovely. the cruise was beautifull andthe prices, we felt, were fair.
Also - and i should have mentioned this first. if you are driving Mt. Tekapo is a stop you must make and we highly reccomend the peppers resort. Since we have returned we have discussed that we came across some of both the nicest and the ruddest people we have ever met. The nicest were in Tekapo. Everyone there was absoloutly lovely, helpfull and very welcomming. We drove in and the sky was lit up with stars (which tekapo is known for) and the next day we awoke the the most breathtaking setting. The hotel was so helpfull and accomodating we wish we had stayed there for a few days to slowly enjoy it. Tekapo and peppers resort is a must do stop@. :)
unfortunatly, we wished we never left tekapo or queenstown because as soon as we started heading up to christchurch we encountered problems. if you are planning a similar trip on the south island here is a tip - head for queenstown and possibly christchurch city when it reopens. stay away from the small towns such as te annu, fox glacier (or any of the glacier towns) becuase there is very little competition and they make their money by ripping tourists like us off. My friend payed fifteen dollars nz for a burger that was so old the bread was hard, the lettuce was so brown it had to be over a week old and with three cheap patties stuck together to make one (as they were so thin and hard) - we found similar things in other places - having to pay as much as 6$nz for chips for one person and being told i couldnt order off the childrens menu and they couldnt "not put youghurt dressing on my burger" because that was how it came (as i am vegan). I was told that i should just 'scrape it off' or 'leave it on the side of my plate' - honestly, i have never felt so embarrased and ridiculed. i felt like i was six again, trying to avoid that awful sulphurous smelling cabbage my mother used to cook. it seemed like everywhere we went in the small towns - this was the response and despite confirming that i could have coffee made on soy at various locations, four times i got cows 'skim' milk. the only place i was safe in the end was mcdonalds and kfc where i got my soy cofffee fix (horay!) and some un-vegan chips and toast. the supermarkets were also a life saver.
After our third day of being stuck in christchurch for the storm and having to stay in a place called the Tui lodge near the airport (the doors didnt lock properly, the bed doona was stained and the man on the desk couldnt speak english) my friend and i both agreed that we had come across some of the rudest people in christchurch we have met in our lives. I dropped my wallet in the movie cinema at a shopping mall called the 'hub' at hornby - the girl saw my australian passport and when we had to turn around to go back to get it we walked in on her telling her co-worker that we were 'dumb australians'. we had already had to tollerate her rolling her eyes at us when i couldnt figure out where to put my card and frankly we had just had enough. The lady on the kfc drivethrough located just outside the mall also took our breath away. my friend just wanted to order a burger box and when she asked him what chicken he said "hot and spicy" and she just cut over the top of him and said "wicked wings it is" (he didnt want wicked wings but she had been so aggressive the whole time we just wanted to get away from her). She also leaned over the window and glared at me and said "anything else" . I said "no" and she told us "move to the next window" so rudely we couldnt pull ourselves together to say anything. The cab driver on the way to the airport also answered his mobile phone while driving and the girl at the "new world supermarket" charged us for an extra avacado we never got (which i guess is an honest mistake) and started tapping her hands at us on the counter when we were trying to figure out the coinage to pay her.
I know christchurch has been through alot and our unsatisfactory stay probably has alot to do with the fact that we were confined to the airport and suburbs. It is unfortunate for the good people in christchurch, who are fighting so hard to get tourists back that others such as the people we came across have such an 'anti-australian/ anti-tourist/ anti-hospitable - whatever you want to call it - attitude. I would suggest to stay away from christchurch .
In summary there are alot of tourist traps in new zealand and frankly it is sad that it is not better regulated at the region is quite beautifull. Surprisingly, many of the tourist traps are not in the big tourist stops - milford sound, tekapo, queenstown were all fabulous places- but bear in mind that you will have to stop in some places on the way that quite frankly are rip offs and *** holes. There is absoloutly nothing there (fox glacier is a hole and our motel room smelt like sewrege and cost us 150 for the night - stay away.. we couldnt wait to get out). please try not to support theese sorts of places when you travel... new zealand needs to learn to respect the people that travel there wherever they come from.
Unique Suggestions: go to the supermarket first - we bought a loaf of bread, a few avacados and some peanut butter- this did us for breakfast each morning. Use the internet and print out a map off all the subways, mcdonalds, kfc's, burger kings and PETROL STATIONS first. this is peice of mind because you will always know you are not to far away from clean and safe food which is not half dead, frozen and a rip off.
Fun Alternatives: there are lots of great things to do in the south island. Frankly the glaciers werent that impressive. its just like a frozen lake on a hilll. stick to queenstown, tekapo and milford sound - you will have the best trip in the world. so much to do - ski, hike ( mt. cook and observatory in tekapo), jet boat, snow board, bungee and probably hundreds more things - go out on the town at night - live music, loads of food to choose from, great pubs.
Lots and lots of independent travellers, backpackers or working holiday makers buy cars and campers in New Zealand every year. Before you head out, make sure you know what's important when buying a car. Get a feel for what you can get for your money beforehand by checking out TradeMe (New Zealand's eBay), shop around for a while, do your research! Especially when you buy from a dealer. That goes for any country, really, but those New Zealand car dealers know you need a car to explore the country, and that cars cost comparatively less in NZ than in say, European countries, so they think they can bank on your ignorance of the local market. Same goes for repair places. Before you roll up to a place, call before and ask what it costs to have a certain thing fixed. Again, shop around. We met a car mechanic who seriously wanted to charge us 400 NZD for a wheel alignment, and he justified his price by adding it was 200NZD for the front wheels, 200 for the back wheels..! He just saw us, thought we were young backpackers on a long journey, which equals disposable income and saved money in the bank, and thought he could trick us into spending 10 times the amount this would normally cost.
Unique Suggestions: Shop around, call beforehand, don't just show up and reveal that you're a traveller. Don't say you need it fixed right now, because that'll rise the price. Say that you live in the location you're at, don't reveal you are on a road trip and pressed for time. Your foreign accent also means nothing, you may be an expat living in the country. Show that you know your stuff and they won't rip you off.
Fun Alternatives: Do your research, shop around, be confident in a negotiation, act like a local, be respectful.
from NZ Herald news today
Rip off New Zealand?
Guys, just 14 months out from the 2011 Rugby World Cup, you are sleep-walking into acquiring such an unwanted reputation worldwide.
The price of ordinary, everyday articles and living costs horrify me in this country. I've been here, admired the place, loved the people since 1975. I wasn't even put off by my first ever weekend in New Zealand - 17cm of rain in 24 hours and sitting shin-deep in water at Eden Park as the All Blacks aqua-planed past Scotland in that infamous 1975 test.
But what I see today is of far, far greater concern. This place is becoming one of the most expensive I visit, one giant rip-off. And most of you seem unaware of it.
It's not as if I live a hermit's life in some sweet little English village where nothing has changed since the war. I spend much time in France; have been to Rome, Venice, Paris, Dublin, London, New York, San Francisco, Augusta, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Sydney so far this year. You'd have to admit, however grudgingly, that gives me some licence to compare this country with others.
What I find here amazes me. So much so that I don't know how most ordinary folk manage to balance their budgets. True, petrol is much cheaper than in Britain. But in just about every other field, hotels, car hire, restaurant food, wine, clothes or whatever, you're the victims of massive overcharging.
Of course, it's always difficult to compare like with like when speaking of different countries but this is an overall impression from someone from Europe.
I sat down for a simple lunch at a restaurant on Auckland's waterfront last week. The sun was shining, the setting fabulous. A glass of splendid New Zealand sauvignon blanc was a delight - until we saw the price. $28 for two ordinary sized glasses? You don't pay that in Paris or London, unless you go somewhere like the George V in Paris or London's Ivy restaurant.
Now let's be fair. The NZ dollar has appreciated significantly against the pound over the course of the past 12-18 months. When I last visited NZ it was $2.40 to £1. Today, it is around $2.04. But does that explain a growing number of instances where an overseas visitor felt totally ripped off?
And there is growing evidence that it is chiefly the cities of this country who are leading this "grab what you can, make a killing" attitude towards visitors. If that is indeed the case, then it is the country areas, the less populated centres, who will suffer most.
Take car hire. Am I the only visitor to New Zealand who has ever decided that it would be better to drive from Auckland to Wellington and stop for a couple of nights somewhere to see the North Island? It hardly struck me as a revolutionary idea, yet this set me up as a target for just about every major hire car firm in Auckland.
Hertz demanded an outrageous $300 drop-off fee if I wanted to leave the car in Wellington. Yet isn't that what 90 per cent of visitors would do if they were touring, especially going on to the South Island? Companies such as Avis, Europcar and others were demanding only slightly smaller amounts. Some didn't even have a drop facility in Wellington.
Only Ace Rental Cars charged for the hire, no drop off. They are based in Parnell. Go there, save yourself a fortune and snub the big rip-off merchants. Because the fact is, if you hire a car almost anywhere in Europe, there is no drop-off fee. They understand tourists want to drive from A to B and then leave their car. Why rob them for the privilege?
Parking in one city centre carpark in Wellington this week was $9 an hour, $39 for four hours. In Monte Carlo, the first hour's parking at public carparks is, er, free.
Then there are the hotels. This weekend in Wellington at the InterContinental, a king room costs $410. Now it is rugby test weekend and it has club facilities but even so. £205 a room? You might pay that in New York or London but not in most European capitals. And just imagine what on earth such a room will cost on the weekend of October 8/9 next year when Wellington hosts two of the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.
The capital city costs a fortune and it's not just an Englishman who thinks so. In the winter of 2008, in the company of several visiting South African writers, we sat down in a harbourside restaurant. When the menus arrived, we were so horrified by the prices we all got up and walked out. It was daylight robbery.
Last week, at Kermadec in Auckland, one main lunch dish was $33. In the evening, entrees were $25, mains around $42 with desserts $18. The wines were equally expensive. In a Takapuna restaurant, also last week, a bottle of Stoneleigh pinot noir cost $48. I could take you to a dozen restaurants in Nice where you'd drink a perfectly good French wine for nothing near that amount.
Even in glitzy Monte Carlo, at one elegant beachside restaurant, a glass of rose wine costs less than $6. And that is in one of the best locations on the Cote d'Azur. The fact is, you just don't have to spend such vast amounts as New Zealand hostelries are charging, even in outstanding restaurants across Europe.
The cost of New Zealand wine bewilders me in restaurants. In supermarkets you can buy a good bottle of your outstanding sauvignon blanc for as little as $12.99. But dare to order it in a restaurant and it soars to anything between $40 and $60. That's a 400 per cent mark up, or more.
Then there are clothes. One New Zealand store last week had a merino wool wrap-over cardigan for $498. In Rodd & Gunn in Queen St, wool sweaters were offered at $235. True, there was a discount which made them $180, around £90. But you'd barely pay that in Paris. No wonder the place was empty.
In another store, a pair of New Zealand-made socks cost $35. Far cheaper in Europe and even less expensive in America. In New York in April, I bought four top-quality cotton shirts for US$99 ($130). In Wellington this week, one specialist shirt shop was offering three shirts for $300.
Yet it isn't like this everywhere in New Zealand. I hired a room at the Boulevard Waters Motor Lodge overlooking Lake Taupo this week and stayed two nights. The setting, right on the waterfront, was spectacular, matched only by the views. $158 a night did not strike me as robbery for such a comfortable room and fantastic setting, with your own private terrace overlooking the lake.
In Taupo for lunch, the Fusion cafe served an enormous bowl of delicious seafood chowder with two slices of focaccia. It was a meal in itself and superb quality. The cost? $10.50. Great value, and it shone like a beacon on a dark night in terms of the many examples of overcharging I've encountered on this trip.
Does any of this matter? After all, it's only tourists who might get fleeced and they won't be back every year. And the Rugby World Cup which is being held here next year might be the last time it is hosted exclusively by New Zealand. So hey guys, grab what you can in hiked up profits, make a fortune and smile all the way to the bank. Right? No, wrong, dead wrong.
New Zealanders will be dumb if they even think of such a philosophy. The World Cup ought to be an event that showcases the whole country to visitors from every corner of the globe. They should go home extolling the virtues of this land. Think long term, six or even 16 years of profits on the back of that scenario, not a money grab operation spanning six weeks which will persuade many visitors never to return.
Already, the word is getting out in an international sense that New Zealand is getting expensive. The fact is, you just can't afford to allow that image to take root. You're too far away from the rest of the world to afford such a scenario. In Paris, Rome, London or New York they can get away with that purely due to population numbers in those parts of the world. It is very different here. International travellers are not fools; fewer will come if New Zealand is known as too expensive.
Learn from the example of South Africa which has just hosted the soccer World Cup. Some locals believed they'd make such a killing.
They spent thousands transforming facilities in their homes so they could charge visitors astronomical rental fees. Airlines elevated the cost of domestic flights to another stratosphere; hotel prices were eye-watering.
The result? Many private South Africans didn't get any visitors at all. Some would-be landlords are now crying they are close to financial ruin.
In case you hadn't noticed it down here, there is a major recession ravaging the Western world, especially Britain, Europe and the US. Budgets have been slashed, overseas trips heavily curtailed. The moment the word gets out internationally that New Zealand has become one big rip-off, your tourism industry is in serious trouble.
The rush to profit might seem a Valhalla but long term it could be the ruination of not just your business but a great many others.
* Peter Bills is an international reporter
The bus companies try to sell the rather expensive bus tickets to the starting point of the track (40 NZD) the day before departure. However the weather is unpredictable. The day after I bought my ticket I could not see the mountains, they were hidden in the clouds. I asked the bus driver what to do with my ticket now. She encouraged to go pointing to her local knowledge, it would not be so bad and there was no need to return a ticket. For the profit of the bus company this statement was correct. However for us trekkers it was not! We had 5-10m visibility, icy rain and very cold wind. Me and hundreds of others trekkers just suffered all the way not seeing anything.
Unique Suggestions: Buy the tickets only on the day of the track. Buy only if you can see the mountain range and forecast looks good. If you want to go by car to the track remember the end of the track is quite far from the starting point, so you would need a second car at the other end to avoid the bus fare.
The pricing for tourist attractions and food in places without competition is becoming an increasing problem in NZ. For example, the Whale Watch company in Kaikoura would still make a lot of money if they did not charge 125 but only 60 NZ$ per person. Not to talk about all the scenic flights which cost hundreds of dollars. They know exactly what they are doing, otherwise they would mention the prices on their websites or not hide them somewhere, so you have to click around ten times until you find the information. But sure, as long as the tourists pay there is no need to change the price frame.
Whereas the locals do not have to visit the attractions (or at least not more than once) they also have to pay the high food prices in restaurants although the average income in NZ is much lower than in most countries the visitors come from. The simplest breakfasts for 10$ plus the drinks is just crazy, and this craze has even caught the West Coast towns like Hokitika. (Since I paid 10,50$ for two black bricks named toast, burnt fried eggs and a cheap rubber sole the owner called bacon, served after a 25 min wait in a cafe, I am very sensitive towards this community...)
If it becomes cheaper for Kiwis to travel to Sydney than to spend a holiday in their own country something is getting wrong. You even have to pay for wine tasting in this country, not to mention that a mouthful of wine in a restaurant costs between 7 and 10$.
The Little Blue Penguin Colony in Oamaru gives a funny example: Tourists (adults) pay 15$ for the evening viewing, locals only 6$, and locals who bring visitors from outside the region get free entry. Not so sure if this is a good or bad example... Judge yourselves!
I have posted a tip (Things to do) on my New Zealand page in which I recommend attractions with free admission or low entry fees, like the Penguin Hospital in Moeraki, the seal colonies in and north of Kaikoura, most museums and art galleries etc. If you know other such good examples than the ones I have already listed, please inform me.
Here is the link to My Five Star List of Free and Friendly Activities
Unique Suggestions: Enjoy your trip or the attraction, and tell yourself it is worth the money... You only do it once, so forget about the price. Some activities are even once-in-a-lifetime experiences, so do not cry about the money.
Fun Alternatives: You can indeed do something against crazy prices in restaurants: Boycott them!
Book motels with cooking facilities and cook your meals from time to time. Ask in advance because the rooms in some new motel chains are as small as a chicken house or as a small hotel room at the most, and there is not more than coffee & tea making facilities, microwave and fridge (nearly placed on the bed...).
If you love fish 'n' chips buy it at the local fish'n'chips shop and do not order the "seafood basket" in a restaurant. This is nothing else but fish'n'chips at five times the price!
If you prepare your own breakfast you do not only save money but also time at the start of the day. Get a bag or box for the breakfast stuff, buy some coolbox ice bricks in the supermarket, they will keep everything cool until you come to the next motel and fridge in the evening.
Bed & Breakfasts are also an option. But sometimes you get very basic accommodation and, I admit, nice breakfast for a lot of money. And there is no need to pay more than 100$ for B&B if you have to share a bathroom, only because the breakfast is included.
As it would cost you several dollars to go online in an internet café, and free WiFi is not available everywhere, a calling card is normally the cheapest way to make phone calls to other countries.
I always give good advice to thoroughly check out calling cards you want to use during your New Zealand visit:
1. Make sure they do not charge a connection fee.
2. Make sure you choose a card which offers most talktime to the country you intend to call most frequently.
BUT - now I have learnt to pay even more attention after purchasing the WorldCard in a hurry. I did not want to get another GoTalk card because they had ripped me off the last time by making the card unvalid one week before the expiry date, and I lost several dollars. (Normally I use Skype at home, but I needed a card to send a Fax to Polynesia - and as I saw in a list in the dairy where I bought the card that WorldCard offered most talktime to Tonga and Germany it seemed perfect...)
Now I know that once using this card is like throwing money out of the window. They charge you 20 cents + GST every day after first use! So if you use a NZ$ 10 card once and make a call for let's say, 50 cents, it takes you only about five or six weeks until the $ 10 are gone by not making another call!
They also give their rates without GST, so they seem lower at first look.
So I tried to send this fax to Polynesia. The voice said one minute would cost me 43 cents, and I could talk 20 minutes with my $ 10 credit. I was connected but the fax did not go through. So I tried again, and the voice said I had 15 more minutes. So it had cost me $ 2.50 to not get my fax through in less than a minute. I tried again, the fax did not go through - and spent another $ 2.50 on it.
I complained (at least they have a good website with contact form) and got a quick and polite answer which I should publish here in full length, so you get to understand how the rip-off with WorldCard works:
Thank you for contacting Compass Phone Cards, we are pleased to assist you in whatever way we can.
The rate for calling French Polynesia on a Worldphone card is $0.39 per minute + $0.25 connection fee excluding GST. This makes the call rate $0.439 per minute + $0.28125. Please see the terms and conditions of the WorldPhone card below:
WorldPhone calling rates, effective 24 February 2009. All rates exclude GST and apply 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A connection fee of 25c + GST applies to each call. After first use, a service fee of 20c + GST per day applies. Calls are billed for the first 15 seconds and thereafter in 5 minute increments.
In your case, the call was 29 seconds. Your call was charged in the 5 minute increment as stated.
5 * $0.439 = $2.195
$2.195 + $0.28125 = $2.48
As I can see from your card details. There were two attempts to fax/call and this means that $2.48 was charged twice. Please also be reminded of the daily service fee for the Worldphone card. This means that everyday from first use, your card will be deducted $0.20 + GST.
The Worldphone card is best use for calls that are not frequent but have long durations. This takes advantage of the low per minute rates and avoid the daily service fee. This card is not recommended if you are going to make frequent and short calls. Please check our other phone cards and check the rates and conditions that best suit you.
If you require any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact me back or call the Compass Phone Cards Team between 7am to 7 pm, 7 days a week.
Thank you for choosing Compass Phone Cards.
BTW The fax went through with Telecom without a problem. With GoTalk I had encountered problems with faxes very rarely.
Unique Suggestions: Use this card for calls that are longer than five minutes, best for really long calls - and pray that the line is stable, and you do not get kicked off, because in this case the next five-minute count would start, and another connection fee would apply. Use your credit up as fast as possible, as they charge you for having the card with a daily fee - which BTW is even called service fee.
Fun Alternatives: DO NOT purchase a WorldCard!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Purchase a card without connection fees, no five-minute counting schemes, etc.
Take your time and read the terms and conditions BEFORE you purchase a card.
I was always happy with GoTalk - until the last one expired one week before the expiry date. When I called the service line - which BTW was not noted on the card and not on the internet, but I found it on an old card - the staff were rude, said they could not check my card, and just hung up.
Or just use Skype if you go online on a regular base.
Some may disagree but I found this place cheesy and not much different than a petting zoo. However I grew up in the American Midwest so I am very familar with farming. That's why I don't see it as a tourist attraction.
I confess, I cannot really be objective as far as this tip is concerned because all of the circumstances were against this little town. It was on a rainy, foggy and windy sunday afternoon that I arrived here. Hungry and looking for a nice place to have a rest on this chilly winterday, I had hoped to find it here. It turned out to be some kind of ghost town. No tourists, no local people, shops closed and nothing, but really absolutely nothing to see or do. (as you can see on the picture)
I wonder why it is so often mentioned in the travel guides.
I do not know if this is a Kiwi invention but I think it is rather weird: Restaurants take a surcharge of normally 20% on public holidays.
They explain it with the extra money they have to pay their staff on public holidays - as if they did not earn any money during the year and would go broke if they did not apply the surcharge. Of course, this is not only a tourist trap but a bad practice towards all customers who also complain about it.
In other countries they have to pay staff up to 100% surcharge on public holidays and no surcharges apply for customers.
Fun Alternatives: Boycott surcharging restaurants on public holidays, cook your own meal or have a cold or microwave-dinner from the supermarket, get your drinks from the supermarket or liquor store. As most supermarkets and dairies are open on public holidays except Good Friday and Christmas Day this should not be a problem.
Costs $20.00 to go to the top for a panoramic view of Auckland.
Victoria and Federal St.
Unique Suggestions: One way to get more value is to go for dessert...you have to pay a miniumum of $25.00 but at least you get dessert and coffee with your view!
Fun Alternatives: I like the view just as well from Rangitoto and also from One Tree Hill.
The Mitai Maori village in Rotorua is billed as "A sacred place...a spiritual place" and it is probably the best of all the similar evenings on offer, certainly better than hotel-based "hangis", but it is primarily a tourist attraction and the worst part about it (for me anyway) was that there were hundreds of people attending and we were almost routemarched from one point of interest to the next.
Unique Suggestions: Be prepared to share the evening with coachloads of tourists.
Once you accept that that is how it is you can enjoy this for what it is.
Hearing the Maori warriors call from within the bush is blood-tingling. You will have a fairly authentic hangi meal, learn a little about the Maori culture and lifestyle and hear some great music. With the Mitai you will even see glow worms and a Maori canoe - if you can get a place at the front of the crowd!
At $NZ68 for two for four hours entertainment and a meal I guess it wasn't too bad!!
Fun Alternatives: Spend some time, have some patience and get yourself invited onto an authentic marae to meet Maori people with time to share their culture with you.
THe image of New Zealand as presented by glossy magazine ads, travel shows and other promotional activities is one of an adventurer's and ecotourist's paradaise. Certainly, it has lots of (expensive) things to do for the adrenaline junkie and many outdoor attractions, but don't forget that it is also home to three million people tat have to make a living so it has its environmental problems too.
The most obvious of these to us was the clear-cutting of the South Islands northern mountains. New Zealand is one of the largest timber exporters in the world, and there is very little old-growth left in the country. After felling almost all of the original forest cover, they replanted New Zealand with fast-growing foreign trees. Don't be surprised when you cross over to the South Island to see lots of barren hill tops -- even fromn the scenic Queen Charlotte Drive.
Of course, the world needs wood and paper and the impact of these trees growing here may be far less brutal than cutting the slow-growing forests of the dry American west. We have no way of knowing that personally right now and we'd have to do our research. But the sight of barren hillsides certainly doesn't fit the NZ image as seen from North America
New Zealand is known as the world's adrenaline capital and the Buller Gorge Swingbridge sure sounded like it would live up to that billing. At 110 meters long swinging over the river, we imagined a hair-raising crossing that would send shivers up our spine and prepare us to be on "Fear Factor". The thrills pumping through our veins would remind us of how great it was to be alive! So we paid our $5.00 and readied ourselves for the rush.
So, were we disappointed when the walk across the river was no more difficult than walking out of a bar as the designated driver -- not hard at all. Sure, we were given a map of some nice hiking trails on the other side, but even looking at the 10 meters of earth displacement caused by the 1929 White River Earthquake couldn't keep us from feeling like we had been suckered by the hype. We felt a little better when we recrossed the swing bridge -- at least there was an acrophobic grandmother paralyzed by fear adding to the atmosphere. But for the most part, the stop was a waste of time.
Of course, at least we avoided being even more disappointed -- we could have tried the zip line for transport across the river. That looked like triple the lameness at only five times the price!
Unique Suggestions: PIck up the guide and make sure you look at the effects of the 1929 earthquake, which, though eroded by time, are interesting.
Fun Alternatives: The alternative is to keep on driving and use the hour you save to do something worthwhile.
We heard that Huka Falls is the most visited spot in New Zealand, which alone is to make it a place to be wary of. Being around Lake Taupo and near Rotorua, Huka Falls is on the itinerary of every tour bus, including those that have very little time. To view the falls only takes a few minutes and they are beautiful (though hardly spectacular) so we wouldn't recommend skipping them. we would recommend having low expectations of communing with nature -- there's not much of that there.
If you're a kayaker on the other hand, this looks like a great ride. Our friend Kirk kayaked over the falls and must have loved it. In fact, part of the reason we visited here was just to see where he rode.
By the way, there is no entrance fee, so it's okay to go here, shrug your shoulders then go somewhere else. It's nice, but it doesn't deserve to be such a tourist spot.
Unique Suggestions: Walk to the end of the falls and check out the raibows made by the mist and the sun. And watch the tourists take pictures of each other.
It's not really a tourist trap as such but, contrary to what you might expect, unless you really want the peace of mind of having everything pre-arranged, it's not always best to book your excursions in advance over the Web.
This is because New Zealand has, without doubt, the best available tourist information in any country I've ever visited. At all airports, tourist information centres and even in regular shops, you can pick up a huge selection of FREE comprehensive maps and information publications, many of which also contain generous discount vouchers for excursions and attractions; so it's well worth waiting until you arrive there before booking.
The one exception I found though was whale-watching in Kaikoura- not only did I not see any discount vouchers there, but also the trips are so popular, it is probably worth booking in advance.
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