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.”

La Convención: A Festival Of ‘New Circus’ In Buenos Aires

In the urban landscape of Buenos Aires, Argentina, fauna is fantastically diverse. I love watching the human wildlife. My favorite species is the callejero, or street circus performer. In parks around the city, they set up their slack lines. They hang their long, silk telas from trees to practice aerial dance. Juggling pins fly. The callejeros spend hours in the parks, simply teaching and learning circus arts.

Each year, callejeros from Buenos Aires and all over Latin America convene outside the city. The event is called La Convención Argentina de Circo, Payasos y Espectaculos Callejeros (Argentinian Convention of Circus, Clowns and Street Performer Shows), or La Convención for short. It’s a grand affair that gains a bigger crowd each year. The November 2011 Convención attracted around 900 participants.

The event was founded in 1996, when the circo nuevo (new circus) phenomenon began to grow in Argentina, mirroring movements and conventions that were going on in Europe’s bohemias.

“La Convención was created to satisfy the need for space. We wanted a space for meeting, learning, exchange and union – by artists and for artists,” comments El Payaso Chacovachi, one of the founding clowns. That first year, 250 people and one small circus tent started something special.

Now, fifteen years later, this has become one of the greatest street-level shows on earth (or at least in the southern hemisphere). La Convención has always been a five-day marathon of workshops, contests, parades and performances. On day one, the big tents go up – two real circus tents.

Flocks of circus artists arrive with their own tents, costumes and juggling pins. A small village springs up in the grassy sports field complex that the organizers have reserved. Dining options: a food tent with lovingly prepared vegetarian fare, or public grills for DIY barbeque. There’s time to decide – dinner doesn’t start until 10 p.m. at the earliest.

Ambling through the tent village, I feel lucky. My Porteño friends with callejero tendencies had tipped me off about the gathering. Word of mouth is the only kind of publicity for this deliberately non-commercial event. I stand out a bit as a foreigner with no circus attire, but nobody minds. I gravitate toward the hula-hoopers and the swapping of skills begins.

According to the printed program, a schedule of organized events is set for each day. “Jueves, 1600hrs: Charla, debate y mesa redonda (Thursday, 4 p.m.: discussion, debate and round table).” This is in jest. The first three days pass in a dreamscape of loose workshops by day and drum circles by night. Artists savor this time as a chance to learn, teach and grow their talents.

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Every imaginable skill from the school of new circus is represented – the juggling of anything from pins to discs and cigar boxes, contact juggling, unicycling, staff spinning, diabolos, poi, hoops, aerial dancing, trapeze and improvised, new forms of object manipulation, balance and strength. Art meets play. Spontaneity reigns.

The last two days – a Saturday and Sunday – are the culmination of La Convención. Saturday is the grand parade. Everybody unpacks their best and finest circus attire. They achieve a “new circus” look by mixing classic elements like wigs and noses with contemporary design. Red, black and white stripes are everywhere. Tutus ruffle. Leotards and leggings are worn tight. I watch two clowns paint each other’s faces, matching each other.

The nuevo circo clowns pile into buses, cheering and playing whatever instruments they can find – tiny charango guitars, kazoos, melodicas and accordions – in an exodus toward the city of Monte Grande. They take to the streets.

Hours of parades degenerate into a massive street party. A foam machine covers everyone with a layer of white. Paper plates of shaving cream appear out of nowhere, suddenly widespread. Pie in the face! Soaked and soapy, I join the chaos.

Back at the circus grounds that night, all the face paint and foam has been washed off. Another party erupts in the Big Tent. A brassy ska band keeps everyone dancing into the small hours of the morning.

A final big day is ahead. The best of the professional performances have been saved for Sunday. The grand finale: shows by the most prestigious circus schools and companies in Argentina, like Compañia Colectivo Xibalba and Escuela Le Lido.

On the bus ride back to Buenos Aires, I read the event booklet cover to cover. I find this:

Founder’s Manifesto [translated]

Clowns, circus people, and street performer artists are a special stock within the world of professional artists, and I call professional anyone who lives by their profession.

Because of their particular characteristics, as half artist and half foraging go-getter, and since they clearly mix their lives with their art, they are associated with freedom within the collective imagination.

Their freedom is physical (they generally work traveling), economic (the money they earn is directly associated with their ability and effort), and psychic (they don’t have to be the best, they’re happy just being). This freedom allows them to take the reigns of their own lives. So, they happily wander the world without borders, full of limitations, creativity and courage, actualizing themselves as artists and as people.

La Convención is designed to celebrate these lives, and also to learn, to familiarize, to inform ourselves, to enjoy. Most importantly, we come to celebrate once a year for six days, creating our own utopian world full of free and sovereign ideals.”

~ El Payaso Chacovachi

Official festival website: http://convencionargentina.com/
Photos from last year’s Convención on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ConcursoFotograficoConvencion
La Convención 2012: November 23 – 28