road trip

New Zealand, Travel

The Campervan Style – New Zealand’s South Island 1-Week Itinerary


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New Zealand South Island in a week! It is definitely do-able but not all of South Island.

The itinerary revolves around the two main cities in the South; Christchurch and Queesntown. This itinerary was done in the middle of winter (July) and I did not come across any situation fouled by bad weather. My trip was absolutely blessed but due diligence checks for weather and road conditions are definitely recommended for winter travels. Road conditions can be found at NZ Transport Agency.

With a certified self-contained campervan, you can literally park anywhere out of the restricted zone (mainly cities). This is the freedom that comes with it and no worries about rushing to a booked accommodation for the night. It feels like clearing checkpoints in The Amazing Race. Check out 8-Day Campervan Road Trip In NZ South Island for NZD900 because it contains the budget plan and other useful details.

This route covers about 1300km, inclusive of all the detours along the way. You can choose to do it another way round which is Queenstown – Christchurch. I have heard about the gorgeous views from the plane surrounding Queenstown airport, hence it is better if you land (more air time) than to fly from there. There are certain roads such as the crown range road that is treacherous for larger motorhomes. Rental companies are unable to stop you from going there but insurance does not cover should anything happens.

Day 1: Christchurch

It is recommended that you arrange for the flight timing into Christchurch to be early so that you are able to check out the campervan rental in good daylight. If you are flying from Auckland, Air Zealand is a good choice because they are reliable and priced reasonably (checked-in luggage included). I paid about NZD190 for a return leg; Auckland – Christchurch and Queenstown – Auckland. Note that flights in and out of Queenstown usually cost a premium above other cities. I recommend to skip hanging around Christchurch and consider stocking up groceries for the campervan instead. Drive out of Christchurch to find a free campground or look for a powered site. The best app for such a trip is Campermate. Everything you need to know about campground, from discounts to dumping sites can be found on it.

Spend the night at Chamberlains Ford Reserve, it is a free campground.

Chamberlains Ford Reserve

Day 2: Lake Tekapo

Start the day by heading to Lake Tekapo. The route along the way gets more scenic as you get closer to Lake Tekapo. Cut into Highway 79 near Orari River to merge to Highway 8 (road leading to Lake Tekapo) instead of the longer route.

Spend the night at Lake Tekapo Motels & Holiday Park. It costs NZD50 a night for a powered site. Literally, paying for view and electricity hook up. I recommend to alternate the days between powered sites and freedom camping because you get to charge the campervan (which means your devices too) and it is friendly to your wallet too. The view at this holiday park was gorgeous. My proposal took place on the following morning right after sunrise!

DJI Spark at work

She said YES!

Powered site at Lake Tekapo Motels and Holiday Park

Ducks frolicking in the morning

Church of the Good Shepard at Lake Tekapo 

Day 3: Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook

After a night spent at the stunning Lake Tekapo, enjoy the drive up to Mount Cook. Drop by Lake Pukaki Visitor Center to get some fresh salmon and admire the beauty of the lake. The weather forecast predicted heavy snow on Mount Cook but roads were still opened the next morning! Continue the drive to Wanaka through the scenic Lindis Pass. Do not miss the Lake Wanaka Tree if you are a fan of it, definitely instagram-worthy.

Spend the night at Wanka Lakeview Holiday Park. It costs NZD40 a night for a powered site.

Lake Pukaki

The sashimi choice was perfect for making Pokebowls!

The Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook was covered with snow

Perfect for scenes in Game of Thrones

A glimpse of our campervan. Pardon my face.

Day 4: Queenstown

You can choose to do a few days here consecutively or make side trips to Milford Sound, Te Anau or Glenorchy. Glenorchy is where stunning scenes from Lord of the Rings were filmed. Try out the Ziptrek Ecotours, it brings you from the top of the gondola down to the bottom. Along the way, you zipline through the pine forests with beautiful views of The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu. Their guides are awesome and they introduce you to the forests and the eco projects. Special thanks to Ziptrek Ecotours for being so fantastic, especially to our guides (Aashray and Tom of July 2017) for a memorable time. Tickets for the Queenstown gondola and luge are sold separately from Ziptrek. If you have problems finding a parking lot near the public gondola parking (free for 4 hours hence super popular), consider buying the gondola tickets through Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park because you get to park there for up to 5 hours. It is a short walk from the gondola office.

All ready for the luge

Marvel at the gorgeous view as you luge down the slopes

Ziptreking through the pine forest

Don’t miss out Fergburger and Lone Star if you are looking for nice food in Queenstown. Need some cookies or sweet treats? Head to Cookie Muncher Cookie Bar to try out their cookies and drinks menu. 

It is expensive to spend the night in Queenstown, some people chose to stay at the Airbnbs near Frankton for a cheaper deal. For first time users of Airbnb, you can click on my link to get NZD45 credit to be used in your future bookings, more if you start hosting (If you sign up via this link, I get NZD45 too).

Spend the night at Lake Hayes Campground which is located at the northern shore of Lake Hayes. For alternatives nearer to Queenstown, you can check out the Shotover River Campground and Rotary Club of Queenstown South Carpark. All these freedom campgrounds are only for certified self-contained vehicles, their locations can be found on Campermate. Most importanly, they are free!

Day 5: Te Anau

Start the day early by embarking on a long but scenic drive to Te Anau. Once there, you can take a day trip to the Te Anau Glowworm Caves or Doubtful Sound. If you are ambitious and want to skip Te Anau and head straight to Milford Sound, take note of the super long drive to get there. There would not be any energy left to enjoy the Milford Sound Cruise so I would not recommend that. Instead, break the journey up and spend the night at Te Anau. The evening we got to Te Anau, the route leading to Milford Sound (highway 94) was closed because of snowfall. However, the Kiwis cleared it the first thing next morning. Kudos NZ Transport Agency!

Spend the night at Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park. I found a great deal on Campermate for the holiday park offering 30% off the listed price of NZD40 a night. We ended up staying two nights there because it was too beautiful. It is one of my favourite camping spot in South Island so far.

We woke up on the 2nd morning with a fresh coat of snow all around

Day 6: Milford Sound

The original plan was to drive to Milford Sound for the 12pm cruise and then head all the way back to Queenstown. But as mentioned, we decided to use Te Anau as our launch point to Milford Sound. From Te Anau, it takes about 2-2.5 hours and you get to experience the Homer Tunnel en route to Milford Sound. The usual cruise takes about 2 hours, at least for the one we had with Cruise MilfordThe experience at the 8th Wonder of The World was breathtaking because there are so much to be seen, from wildlife to cascading waterfalls. Thanks to Cruise Milford for the opportunity! 

Milford Road is extremely scenic, one of my favourite is definitely the Eglinton Valley.

The landscape changed as we got closer to Homer Tunnel

A Kea came to check out our camper van while waiting for Homer Tunnel traffic, it is the only alpine parrot in the world and native to South Island, New Zealand

Cruise Milford is the one at berth 3

Soak up the sceneries before heading back to Te Anau. Spend the night at Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park (same as the previous night).

Day 7: Queenstown

Continue on the drive back to Queenstown and spend the rest of the day easy there. Be sure to check out the Onsen Hot Pools because they are perfect for a winter getaway. I advise to not rush flying off on the same day. Instead, spend the night at one of the freedom campground near Queenstown and book the flight out next morning. This is so that you have time to pack your campervan and do some logistics before returning it. There is a dump station at the BP station in Frankton if you are going to drop off the campervan at the airport.

The view from Onsen Hot Pools private room, you can see the shotover jet in action along the river

Go for the Tandeki package for a better premium experience

A for effort by Onsen Hot Pools

This is my itinerary so far, so readers feel free to amend it to suit your needs. I hope this post is helpful to future travellers to plan their South Island trip.

New Zealand, Photography, Travel

See To Believe – The Beauty Of Driving From Queenstown to Milford Sound


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Milford Sound which is named by some as the 8th Wonder of The World , is one destination to put on your checklist when visiting New Zealand. To enjoy the beauty of it, it is highly recommended to take the cruise which departs from the ferry terminal. There are a couple of operators and they do have different itineraries to suit various preferences. I went on a fantastic experience with Cruise Milford which truly showcased the beauty of Milford Sound.

The question is how to make your way to Milford Sound if you are not on a helicopter tour. It is about 4 hours drive (one-way) away from adventure capital of the world, Queenstown. That means a whopping of 8 hours drive alone, especially straining if there is just one driver. Fret not, because the journey from Queenstown to Milford Sound is as breathtaking as the destination. Check out some of the useful information about the drive to Milford Sound from Cruise Milford. Road condition changes quickly, it is always a good practise to check it regularly if you are driving in winter because roads do get closed due to heavy snowfall. One good place to check is New Zealand Transport Agency. Milford Sound has about 200 days of rain in a year, do not be put off by the rain because there are much more waterfalls to be seen.

A quick trip to Milford sound can be done in a day, either through a coach or self-drive. A return coach trip costs about NZD80 which usually comes with a packed lunch and a humorous guide, it varies among different operators. But that being said, you will miss all the gorgeous pit-stop places along the way. I suggest a 2-3 day journey with a night stop at Te Anau. It is a beautiful town that lies at the border of Fiordland National Park and also the start of Milford Road (SH94 to Milford Sound). The Te Anau glowworm caves are also located here. We spent two nights here, with the day in between driving to and fro Milford Sound. We got a hooked up site at Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park completed with wi-fi and excellent facilities, it was a steal. Initially, we chose it because of the 40% promotion on Britz app which costs NZD28 for a night. We were literally the only campervan on the 2nd night, probably due to the snow storm warnings and hence trips from Queenstown were affected.

SH 6, shortly after leaving Queenstown

On route to Te Anau after a night of freedom camping in Queenstown

Take an evening troll around the waters in Te Anau and watch the sun goes down.

Milford Road is extremely scenic, one of my favourite is definitely the Eglinton Valley.

The scenery changed as we got closer to Milford Sound.

Plenty of photos opportunity while waiting for the Homer Tunnel traffic. The road was closed since the night before due to snowfall.

A Kea came to check us out during the wait. It is the world’s only alpine parrot, a very smart and curious creature.

There are no vehicles parking at the ferry terminal, the parking is located about 10 mins away and enjoy the stroll to the terminal. The guy at the booth told us that given the passengers load for our timing, it was perfect for moving around the decks.

Cruise Milford is at berth 3, subjected to changes though. 

The sky literally cleared for us when we were about to set off, truly blessed.

We got this private area to ourselves, the upper deck is definitely better for the views. Coffee/Tea and cookies were provided in the lower deck for guests.

The Captain announced that he was bringing the cruise under the falls and anyone could try to go under it.

This dude was prepared for it, head to toe in Gore-Tex.

Imagine the views out there

Caught some seals camouflaged on the rocks.

A rainbow awaited us on the way back, couldn’t get any prettier isn’t it?

Enough of the beauty, time for a long drive back to Te Anau

Woke up the next morning in Te Anau with fresh snow all over

Thanks to Cruise Milford for the wonderful Milford Sound experience!

 

 

Europe, Iceland, Travel

How To Do A 10-Day Icelandic Road Trip With A $1000 Budget


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Now that the aurora season is coming to an end in the Northern Hemisphere, it may be good news for another group of adventure seekers to experience the midnight sun in Iceland. Personally, I like shoulder seasons such as October and April where I can get a combination of both aurora hunting and day activities. Ever since my last post on my Icelandic itinerary, I have got more than an average number of adventurers asking me about the budget breakdown for my trip. For the benefit of those and potentially more, I decided to come up with a budget guide to traveling Iceland. Take a look at my photography entry of Iceland.

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Accommodation

Personally, I find the Airbnb options out of Reykjavik pretty limited but they provide very good value for money if you manage to book a reasonably priced apartment. Out of the 10 nights I had in Iceland, 9/10 of those were in Airbnb (the 1/10 was due to overbooking). And out of these 9 nights, 8 of those were private apartments. Be prepared to fork out about USD110 to USD150 per night for the whole apartment (triple sharing basis). Book well ahead for South Iceland towns such as Hofn and Vik because they are priced much steeper due to their distance from Reykjavik. They are well within reach for people just doing the Golden Circle route, hence tends to be more touristy. Even though my most expensive Airbnb booking costing USD210 per night was actually for a guesthouse at Vik, it was a very good experience with a fantastic Icelandic breakfast provided. For first time users of Airbnb, you can click on my link to get USD33 off your first booking, more if you start hosting others (I get USD33 too if you sign up via this link).

  • 10 nights at USD1300 for 3 pax, comes to about USD40 a day for each person.

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Aurora display right outside my Airbnb apartment!

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These three cottages are listed on Airbnb at Egilsstaðir where I caught my first ever aurora sighting.

Car Rental

The key to having an enjoyable and fruitful Icelandic road trip is to engage a good car rental company. Personally, I would recommend Blue Car Rental because this was the only one I used and found it to be perfect for my trip. It comes with unlimited mileage, CDW, TP, GP, SCDW insurance and taxes. Consider adding Sand And Ash Protection (SAAP) if you are traveling in seasons with high winds forecast. However, this can add up the cost of car rental significantly. I did not opt for it and simply took extra precautions while traveling. Sand storms are common in South Iceland and do not attempt to drive through it, turn back instead. The majority of parking spots in Iceland are free except in parts of cities and Þingvellir National Park at the time of writing.

  • 10 days rental at USD850 and total cost of diesel at USD200 for about 2,500km miles driven, comes to about USD35 a day for each person.

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A reliable car can make a difference to your Icelandic trip

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Food

I cooked most of my meals at Airbnb apartments and spent a few nights eating out at Icelandic restaurants to try out their local dishes. The cost of food is definitely not on the cheap side in Iceland, so trips to the supermarket can greatly help to budget your spending. Refer to my previous post for information on groceries. Notice how the expenses for two meals eating out can be more than the rest of the food expenses for the whole trip.

  • USD210 for groceries expenses and USD270 for two dinner at Icelandic restaurants, comes to about USD16 a day for each person.

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The famous Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (best hotdog in the world and probably the most expensive too)

Miscellaneous

Icelandic sim card Síminn can be obtained for about USD26 at the airport. Factor in additional budget for Blue Lagoon/Myvatn Nature Baths and other touristy activities such as whale watch. The good news is that national parks and aurora watching are free (which is why most people travel to Iceland in the first place). You can choose to take out accommodation by renting campervan or motorhomes.

Final breakdown based on triple sharing

Car: USD 850 (ISK96,500)

Gas for 2500 km: USD 200

Parking: USD 4.5

Airbnb and guesthouse for 10 nights: USD 1,300

Data plan: USD 26

Food: USD 480

Myvatn Nature Baths: USD 81

Total: USD 2,941.50

The average total cost per person comes to about USD98 each day. This excludes the price of air ticket to get to Iceland, depending on which country you are flying from and also travel insurance which I always advise fellow travellers to purchase. Read about the comparison for travel insurance, specifically if you are from the US. I know of people who spend more or less, much to their own traveling preference. For such a fantastic experience and trip of a lifetime, it is definitely worth it.

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