Planning a trip to New Zealand has been overwhelming. It is supposed to be the trip of a lifetime so I want to be sure to see all the important sights. It was a lot of pressure so I contacted a New Zealand travel agent. My mistake. While I think using a travel agent has its place, it is certainly not for me. I like doing my own planning, I like doing my own research.
The travel industry in New Zealand is very tech savvy and any time you do any web search for New Zealand many ads will appear and follow you so you almost feel pressured to contact someone thinking that travel there is out this world. My experience though was not to my liking. While the agent was very polite and professional I did not like how she wanted to sell me into every activity. The trip was going to cost over $9,000 USD for the three of us.
I was scared by the price tag. My free tickets to New Zealand were going to be an extremely expensive vacation. But I decided to do my own research. I used the Lonely Planet New Zealand guide and travel forums on Tripadvisor.com. These resources and the friendly people who answered me gave me the confidence that I needed to plan my own vacation.
I quickly learned that hotels in New Zealand are very different than in the US. There are more types of hotels. You can even camp very easily with the freedom camping.
In Auckland there aren’t as many hotels as you think that can accommodate 3 people in a room. But there are several apart hotels. Much more than anywhere else. With the favorable exchange rate you can stay in nice properties for a good deal. There are also several backpacker hotels for those who want to save. I am still undecided on where we’ll stay. I have a reservation with an apart hotel but I’m still not 100% sure on it.
One thing I did want to do is to try New Zealand’s different types of accommodations. We are staying a in a quirky hotel in Hahei. It is called The Church Accomodation. The main building is an 1916 Methodist Church where they run a restaurant. Then there are several guest cottages in the gardens. This seemed to be a fun place to stay and during my search I found several quirky places where we could stay. I wish we had the time to sleep in a yurt or gypsy caravan, maybe next time.
Motels seem to be really big in New Zealand. Not the chain motels like we have in the US but independent motels. It has been fun seeing how each motel owner takes an old property and refurbishes it for the 21st century. Some make the rooms very stylish, others make them very practical. It seems that most motels offer kitchenettes making it family friendly and budget conscious.
Even though I use Expedia many times to book my hotels because of their flexible cancellation policy, this time I found that many times it was significantly cheaper to book directly with the accommodation. Once again searching the websites that rate hotels gives you the names and reviews for the hotels. It makes it easier for you to search for what you want. I am excited about our variety of hotels. We will be staying in an apartment in Auckland, a “quirky” accomodation in Hahei, independent motels in Hamilton, Rotorua and Mt Cook, a chain hotel in Christchurch and a luxury hotel in Queenstown.
Because we are going to New Zealand during the beginning of their winter, we had to cut out some of the fun things to do such as taking the ferry between the North Island and the South Island. The activities there are better suited for summer time. Instead we will fly between the islands. Air New Zealand is the biggest airline but there is a discount airline called Jet Star. Jet Star only flies from certain airports
In addition Air New Zealand has a website called grabaseat.co.nz. You can purchase the same flights at a significant discount. We were able to buy our tickets at about 30% off. In this website you have to pay extra fees for seat assignments and bags but it is still a big savings.
This is the part that scared me the most. There are so many things to do and I want to make sure I don’t miss anything. It can get pretty expensive to do all the things the travel agent suggested. With a lot of research I was able to narrow down what I wanted to do and how to get it cheaper.
There is a website called called bookme.co.nz which sells discounted activities. You can pre-book and pre-pay at big savings. I also learned that you should be visiting all the i centers for each town you visit. They can direct you to the worthwhile activities and give you discount vouchers. I also learned that several activities have free equivalents. So no need to spend unnecessary money. I also don’t have to fly everywhere. I can take a bus for many of the excursions and fly back at a cheaper price with limited availability.
I do want to do some things and I really hope I have the chance. My must do list includes:
- Sea kayaking
- Glowworm caves
- Star gazing at Mt. Cook
- Milford Sound cruise
- Maori cultural experience
The travel agent wanted us to rent a 4WD in both islands with GPS. It appears that you don’t need GPS when travelling from city to city and on the North Island unless you are going off roading a regular car is sufficient. On the South Island depending on the time of the year and where you are going you can get by with a car with snow chains. There are a few NZ car companies that rent a little older cars for cheaper prices such as Apex. Jucy also is a local company and they rent cars and campers.
I am looking forward to my trip and will share with you how it goes. In the meanwhile I need to look for more ways to save.