Kiwi Cool: Saving Money While Traveling In New Zealand

Saving money in New Zealand - supermarket lamb
Last month, I spent three weeks traveling through New Zealand, focusing mainly on the cities and culture. After living in Istanbul for two years, it wasn’t the culture shock, the jet lag, or the seasonal switch that was hard to adjust to, it was the prices. While I knew New Zealand wasn’t cheap (though their dollar is slightly weaker than ours), I was unprepared for the sticker shock. Dinner and drinks can easily run $50 a head or more, city buses can cost more than a NYC subway ride, and $3.50 for a bottle of water seemed offensive. I did discover a few ways to save money and still enjoy the Kiwi cool.

1. Drink locally, eat globally – New Zealand is known for its excellent wines, and starting to get accolades for their craft beer as well. Whether you’re dining out or picking up a bottle in a supermarket, it’s hard to go wrong with anything made in New Zealand; even the cheapest glass of house “Sav” is likely to be pretty tasty. Also note that many pubs are likely to be “tied” houses (unlike the excellent Free House in Nelson, pictured in my first “Kiwi cool” post) and will carry a limited range of brands, giving you an incentive to stick to the “house” tap. In contrast, for cheap eats, look for foods with origins outside the country; Asian cuisine like sushi, Chinese noodles, and Indian curries are often the most budget-friendly options and given the country’s ethnic mix, just as authentic Kiwi as roast leg of lamb and Pavlova.

2. Rent a car – This is one area where I didn’t follow my own advice, preferring to explore the country on public transportation as my husband is the only driver in the family and my baby is not a fan of car rides (yet she’s perfect on planes). Generally, public transportation in New Zealand is not cheap – a day pass for the Auckland bus system is over $10, taxis from the airport can cost up to $100, and the cost of two bus or train tickets between cities often exceeds the daily rate for a budget rental car. Kiwi companies Jucy and Apex offer older model cars as low as $22 – 34 per day, if you don’t mind a less than sweet ride.

3. Book transportation online – If you do choose to go the public transportation route, it can pay to make your arrangements online rather than in person. By booking tickets for the Waiheke Island ferry online, I saved $7 on each adult fare, even for a same day ticket. As part of the promotion for the new Northern Explorer Auckland-Wellington train, Kiwi Rail was offering two-for-one tickets, check their website for current promotions.

4. Check out motels – In my European travels, I’ve been using AirBnB and other apartment sites to book accommodations, as it pays to have extra space, laundry and a kitchen when you are traveling with a baby. The AirBnB craze hasn’t quite hit New Zealand yet, though you may find luck with BookABach (a bach is a Kiwi word for a vacation home that might be more basic than a typical house). I was more surprised by the quality of motels and motor lodges in New Zealand, they are often modern in style and comfortably outfitted with nice amenities like heated towel racks, electric blankets, and real milk for your coffee standard (a small pleasure compared to the powdered creamer typical in most hotel rooms). Motel rooms range from modest studios to sprawling apartments with jacuzzis. I found a useful directory of accommodations on NewZealand.com, and you can filter for features such as laundry or pool and check for special deals. Golden Chain is a quality collection of independent motels spread over both islands.

5. Create your own Wi-Fi hotspot – Another surprise I found in New Zealand is the lack of free Wi-Fi. Even many coffee shops only offer Internet for a fee, and some accommodations will limit your free connection to 100 mb or so per day. The city of Wellington has set up free hotspots in the city center, but I found the signal hit or miss. A more reliable and affordable option is to make your own hotspot by purchasing a pre-paid SIM card with data. Consult this helpful wiki for rates; I bought a SIM through 2degrees with 1 GB of data for about $20. One other tip is to find the local iSite tourism office for a short period of Wi-Fi access if you need to check email or make travel plans (they can help with booking travel and accommodation too, of course).

6. Shop vintage – After a few days in Kiwi Land, you’ll feel an urge to buy lots of nice merino wool clothing and gifts. For a country with apparently more sheep than people, it is everywhere and you can easily spend hundreds of dollars on new sweaters. Another option is to try vintage and thrift shops. I found a lovely baby sweater probably knitted by a nice Kiwi grandmother for $8 in an antique store, just as quality as the $30 one I bought at a market, and both far cheaper than most retail shops. Auckland’s K Road and Wellington’s Newtown have lots of used and “opportunity” shops, often with proceeds going to charity. Eco-friendly fashion is also becoming more widespread, and “recycled” fashion shops can be found in most cities.

7. Stay in on public holidays – One upside to the high cost of a pint of beer is that tipping is unnecessary in New Zealand; the GST tax on goods includes service. However, you will note on many restaurant menus a surcharge for public holidays of 15%. This covers the owner’s cost of paying their employees more for the holidays. Try to avoid dining out on holidays or look at it as a special holiday gratuity.

A bonus tip that may or may not be relevant in the future: follow the rugby fan trail. Started for the Rugby World Cup in 2011 to ease traffic congestion and crowding on public transport, Auckland’s Fan Trail was revived for a match against Australia last month. The trail stretches two miles from downtown to the stadium and is lined with entertainment, food and drinks, and other activities, most of which are free. Even if you aren’t headed to a game, it’s fun to watch both the performers and the fans dressed up to cheer on their team. If you happen to be in Auckland during a future big rugby match, find out if the city plans to run the fan trail again.

Stay tuned for more “Kiwi Cool: New Zealand for the Un-adventurous.”

Kiwi Cool: New Zealand For The Un-Adventurous

Kiwi cool New Zealand pub
I just spent a month in New Zealand and I don’t ski, snowboard, climb mountains, or bungee jump. I don’t like “extreme” anything and I’m not sure why anyone would participate in something called “zorbing.” In the midst of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s too cold for beaches or swimming but too wet most days for a pleasant hike. Instead, I explored museums and galleries, sipped multi-layered wines and single-origin coffee, and discovered fashion designers and weekend markets as exciting and innovative as New York. There’s no doubt New Zealand has some of the most peaceful yet jaw-dropping nature on the globe, but is there a New Zealand for travelers who aren’t interested in adventure, extreme sports, or rural pursuits? The country may not be known for its cities, but there’s more to Kiwi culture than “Lord of the Rings” tours and “Flight of the Conchords” songs.

Stay tuned for features on finding “Kiwi cool” here, such as why Auckland is worth more than a stopover, how Wellington may be more hipster than Portland, and who is helping Christchurch get its groove back. The South Pacific nation has plenty to offer the urban explorer year round, even if you want to travel without a car (as I did), a tour guide, or special gear. You may go to New Zealand for the great outdoors, but find lots to enjoy indoors as well.

Photo from the awesome Free House pub in Nelson on the South Island.

Photo Of The Day: Dunedin Train Station

dunedin

Dunedin, with a population of over 115,000, is New Zealand’s southernmost big city. (No disrespect to smaller Invercargill and other southerly towns.) For visitors to New Zealand, Dunedin feels like the real south of the country.

Flickr user carlcroom‘s photo of Dunedin’s train station offers a little bit of a sense of that South Island end-of-the-road magic. Mostly, though, he simply captures the grandeur of an impressive train station. Dunedin’s, finished in 1906, was built in a Renaissance Revival style.

Upload your favorite images to the Gadling Group Pool on Flickr. Our favorites from the pool are chosen as Photos of the Day.

New Zealand’s Mount Tongariro Erupts For First Time In Over A Century

volcano For the first time in over a century, New Zealand‘s Mount Tongariro has erupted. While there have been no reports of deaths or injuries, the eruption has spewed ash everywhere and is prompting a threat warning for the central North Island.

According to news.com.au, the event threw rock and ash from the area of the volcano known as the Te Mari craters. As of now, the situation on Mount Tongariro is unclear.

“For the moment, things are quiet (but that) doesn’t necessarily mean that the eruption is over and done with – it could reactivate at any time so we’re watching pretty closely,” explained GNS Science volcanologist Michael Rosenberg.

The volcanic alert level for Mt Tongariro has risen from one to two. Moreover, the aviation color code has been raised to red. Roads are closed, domestic flights have been disrupted and nearby residents are being advised to stay indoors to avoid falling rock and ash.

If the wind was to blow towards the north, major cities like Waikato, Auckland and the Bay of Plenty could be affected. Luckily, forecasters are predicting mild winds for the upcoming days.

Mount Tongariro’s last eruption was from November 1896 until October 1897, following eruptions in 1869 and 1892.

[Image via Mirko Thiessen]

New Zealand’s Award-Winning Nudist Resort Now On Sale

nude resort Have you ever dreamed of owning an award-winning resort? How about an award-winning nudist resort? If your answer is yes, your chance has come, as New Zealand‘s Katikati Naturist Park is now on sale. The only rule: the new owners must keep the park clothing-optional for at least 10 years.

Owners Kevin and Joan Sampson began the naturist resort in 1996, and it ended up being very successful. Each year, the property attracts 16,000 people. Moreover, in 2008 it won a “Tourism Industry Association” award for holiday parks. Now, however, the Sampsons have decided to explore other things, although they still plan to visit the resort as guests.

“It would take somebody who understands the naturist ethos to run it successfully. I don’t think non-naturists would feel comfortable,” explains the couple.

For those interested, the property is selling for $1.48 million.

[Image via Katikati Naturist Park]