Mount Cook National Park (© Sealy Tarns)
DRIVING IN NEW ZEALAND
Why New Zealand? The answers are endless. The start of this trip was when three generations — parents, child and grandparents — want to travel together in a laid-back place.
NEW ZEALAND TOURISM, CHRISTCHURCH & CANTERBURY TOURISM
The father wanted a scenic place where he can take great photos. The mother (me) was in search for delicious food, while the grandmother didn’t really mind anything as long as the room is comfortable and there are places to relax in the afternoon. The kid, at only 10 years old, didn’t have much say in this, but as parents, we wanted our kid to go outdoor and explore nature.
New Zealand was at the top of our list, and self-driving sounded like a great choice. We rented a car, not an RV, and rested in hotels, motels and B&Bs along the way. We picked the South Island because of the views. The father, the driver of this trip, made his point loud and clear, “If I see a nice view, I’ll make a stop.”
I planned the trip and reserved the car, the rooms and the restaurants (some were must-try restaurants), and looked at many websites to make sure we had all the info before the trip.
Our trip began at Christchurch Airport. If you don’t have any fresh produce with you, it doesn’t take long to be out. Once we’re out, we picked up our car and drove to the city. At the hotel, after check-in, we went to grab a bite to eat. After the big earthquakes, things are starting to shape up nicely now. The grandmother, who had been here a decade ago, said Christchurch had changed so much. One thing remained the same — paddle boats in the Avon River. So I asked her if she wanted to get on the boat for old time’s sake, but she said no, she’d rather go shopping. She wanted to go to the Bridge of Remembrance, dedicated to those who died in two World Wars. She’d been there before with her friends, and that was merely a month before the major earthquake in Christchurch, which damaged the structure. Two years ago, repairs were completed, so she wanted to see it one more time.
Our first dinner was something quick and easy near the hotel, because we needed an early start the next morning.
It takes about two hours from Christchurch to Kaikoura. We went to Kaikoura for whale watching.
There are many whale watching sessions throughout the day, and we picked the 12.45 session so we wouldn’t have to rush. Once we’re in Kaikoura, we had a light meal (in case we got seasick) and retrieved our tickets. The session took about 2 and a half hours. The weather was pretty mild, so we didn’t get seasick, and our son was excited to see the dolphins and a whale. It actually took us more than an hour to see the first whale, which was a rather small one. It emerged from the water for a bit, before diving back and disappearing.
Some might feel it’s a waste of time to be on the ship that long and only see the whale so briefly. Some even said it’d be better to just go to the zoo. For us, seeing an animal in its natural habitat is an entirely different experience to going to the zoo. Even our son said that the whale and the dolphins in the ocean looked much livelier than the ones in the zoo.
Next on our schedule was eating crayfish. In Maori, the word ‘Kai’ means eat and ‘Koura’ means crayfish — so it’s not hard to guess what Kaikoura is famous for. We went to a small shop on the street where they also served other seafood. It was simply cooked to retain the ingredients’ natural flavour. Our son, however, said it would taste even better with Thai-style seafood dip.
That night, we went back to Christchurch and had a Chinese dinner. (New Zealand mussels in spicy sauce tasted heavenly!)
Google Maps told us it would take 2 hours 50 minutes from Christchurch to Tekapo, but since we wanted to take it slow, with frequent stops along the way, we knew we’d arrive in Tekapo after lunch. We made a stop at Ashburton to pick up some snacks, and once we were in Tekapo, we went to the Church of the Good Shepherd, which is a must-visit destination in Tekapo. After that, we continued to Mt. John, which has an astronomical observatory and a breathtaking view (you must buy tickets). We had lunch at a cafe there.
Some visitors might spend the day at Tekapo but not the night, but my husband wanted to take pictures of the stars with the Church at the background, so we spent a night there. He took our son for a walk, while my mother and I enjoyed the view and the fresh air. After dinner, my husband and our son, dressed in very warm clothes, ventured out to see the stars, and when they returned, they said it was everything they’d hoped for. The sky was dark and the stars were bright, but it was so cold they had to return after a while.
According to the map, from Tekapo to Mount Cook Village, it should take under 2 hours, and there’s plenty of time for us to stop along the way for pictures. We weren’t in a rush — we just had to be there in time for the helicopter ride at 2pm.
The road along the Tekapo and Pukaki Lakes on the way to Mount Cook was simply magnificent. Everywhere we looked, it was gorgeous, so we made several stops. My husband muttered to himself that he should have brought his film camera and the pictures would have been even better.
We arrived at Mount Cook Village at noon, just in time for lunch before the helicopter ride. Before the ride, we went through some safety procedures, before getting on the helicopter for a 50-minute ride, with a 10-minute stop on the glacier. It was quite exciting to step on the glacier, and both my son and my mother had a great time.
After that, we went to check in at a famous hotel in the area and took a walk. The weather was so wonderful we wished we could save it in a can and bring it home with us.
From Mount Cook to Queenstown, it usually takes 3 and a half hours, but for us, we took it slow. That’s the beauty of a self-driving trip. We visited a salmon farm in Twizel (the smoked salmon was delicious) and made a stop at the Wanaka Lake before having lunch in Cromwell. Next, we had some scone and tea at Arrowtown. By the time we’d arrived in Queenstown, it was already late afternoon.
Queenstown has many hotels to choose from, and we picked a hotel downtown so the grandmother could take a walk when she didn’t want to join us in our activities.
The next day, we went to observe bungee jumping at the Kawarau Bridge, zipline across the river (only my husband), and take the Shotover Jet (the whole family). We explored a few other places before going back to the hotel. The grandmother had been out to see the Wakatipu Lake and a sheep farm.
In the afternoon, we took the skyline cable car to see the mountains. The father and son went on a luge ride before dinner at a restaurant on the mountain with a breathtaking view that everyone should see once in a lifetime.
We wrapped up the trip with ice cream at a famous parlour in Queenstown. Even though my mother had had a big dinner, she didn’t say no to such delicious ice cream.
We drove to return our car at Queenstown Airport before going home the next day. Too bad we only had a few days to explore this beautiful country, and our son said he’d like to come back for bungee jumping!
Thai passport holders need a visa in order to visit New Zealand. Check out www.ttsnzvisa.com.
You can request an international driving license at Department of Land Transport (www.dlt.go.th). To rent a car, the driver must be 20 years or older, and must carry the original driving license.
CARD & PIN
Most gas stations are self-service stations and you need a credit card with a 4-digit PIN number. Check with your credit card service provider before travelling.
New Zealand has strict rules about bringing fresh produce into the country. Do not bring fresh fruits, vegetables and meats with you to avoid trouble at immigration.
Even in summer, if you’re in a mountainous area, the weather can be chilly at night. In winter, the temperature can drop below freezing. Always have warm clothes with you.