Car-packing in New Zealand
Fri 22 Jun 2007 -17 °C
This is just the most recent post. Previous posts are available in the Archive section below right.
Something is preventing us from sending email from the current connection. We have a bunch of drafts waiting to be sent but we'll have to wait until our next laptop access.
The scenery is of course one of the main reasons to visit New Zealand. Whether dramatic World Heritage sites or ordinary sheep farms, the views are outstanding.
The New Zealand people are also an attraction in their own right. Friendly and hospitable, easy to meet and readily helpful, they mostly give the lie to a supermarket advertising campaign that says they don't know how lucky they are.
My picture taking naturally gravitates to scenic shots and it's easy for me to forget that other things may be interesting, so this will be about the non-scenic aspects of our travel. The link at the end has a lot of pictures.
New Zealand is a backpackers paradise. Where we stay is sometimes called a hostel, sometimes a lodge, but mostly just a backpackers. There seem to be several in every community of any size and many in more remote areas. We're more car-packers than backpackers but the term is used generically for low-cost lodgings. Some of the guests come in cars, either rented or bought, others by bus or even hitchhiking. People with a camper van also opt for backpackers once in a while.
Backpackers vary considerably but what they have in common are shared kitchens, showers and toilets. They usually have doubles, twins and dorm rooms. Some also have 'ensuite' rooms with their own bathroom but we've been happy enough with shared facilities. Mostly we pay about US$35 a night for a double room, but it has gone from a low of US$32 to an infrequent high of US$50.
We get to meet a lot of travelers in the hostels, from the UK, Australia, the US, Germany, France, Switzerland, Holland, the Czech Republic, Israel, China.
We did get tired of trying to read with the often inadequate lighting and having to keep charging batteries for our portable reading lights. So we finally bought a small desk lamp. This is something a car-packer can do that a true backpacker couldn't. Occasionally our rooms will have no electrical outlet and usually there's only one. But we can use our laptop in the lounge in those cases. Fortunately, the laptop is a universal voltage model, as is my shaver, and those are the only two appliances we carried before getting the lamp. The reading lamp will be useful in Australia and we'll leave it behind when we go to Indonesia.
Heating in the hostels ranges from toasty to frigid. We had one a while back that registered 49° in the morning. That one had a heater that we thought shouldn't be left on all night. At the next hostel the heater could be left on, but it was a low-power unit that left us at 58° in the morning. Many of the heaters have a built-in timer that keeps them from being on continuously. There's always enough blankets, though, and we wear long silk underwear and even fleece jackets if we need to.
Driving on the left
Getting used to driving here has been surprisingly easy, except for the dreaded right turn in traffic. This is so counterintuitive that I have to think about it each time: "I'm about to do this dangerous thing that they require over here and say is actually safe." I'm better now about distinguishing the turn signals from the windscreen wipers, but in the beginning I frequently gave a flash of my wipers before I began a turn. When I see a quick swipe of another car's wipers now, I think "There goes an American or other foreigner signaling a turn."
Internet access is often available in the hostels, but usually only using their computers, not our laptop. We pay anywhere from NZ$3 to NZ$8 an hour, usually NZ$5 or NZ$6 which is US$3.50 or US$4.20. Most internet cafes provide access only on their computers but sometimes we can plug our laptop in.
It's so much better when we have laptop access. That way we can download all our mail at once and then read it and compose replies offline. Also because of the security controls we set up on the laptop, it's extremely awkward and time-consuming to do any banking transactions on a public computer.
The security on our laptop is such that if it is lost or stolen, we might lose a few days of pictures (not a small loss!), but none of our private information such as passwords, account numbers, health records or anything to facilitate identity theft would be accessible. Most travelers we've met don't carry laptops, but I suspect those who do have insufficient security.
Having such intermittent access to emails takes adjustment too. Sometimes we prepare an email message many days before we get a chance to send it. Having been used to checking mail at least twice a day, going days without checking is a minor hardship (very minor in the greater context). The mail we receive may be a week old or more, and it may be another week before we can reply.
The visitor centers, run by the Department of Conservation, are exceptionally well designed, attractive and informative.
Public toilets are available everywhere, in the smallest towns and on scenic trails. A camping van without a toilet would be entirely practical. Many toilets, both public and in hostels, have both low-power and high-power flush buttons as a water-saving feature.
Museums have been very good, even those in small towns. Kids in one museum were very excited until they had to sit down for a story.
NZ libraries are great in the large towns. Small town libraries are fine, too, with smaller selections.
A US credit card works virtually everywhere. Not all small towns have an ATM machine and some hostels require cash, but for the most part the New Zealand eftpos system is in use and is faster than a transaction in the US. Usually no signature is required.
A welcome practice is no tipping, so you can mentally deduct 20% from the menu.
Pronunciation of place names
In Fiji I surprised the fellow who was giving us a little lesson in Fijian and he asked why I could pronounce it so well. It was because I was applying Swahili rules and there was a good fit. I wish the same were true of Maori. Actually the fit with traditional Maori may not be so bad, but Maori-looking names here sometimes have a distinctly English pronunciation. The Maori language and culture is honored here in public signs and in the displays in museums and visitor centers but we have had no interaction with Maoris other than in souvenir shops.
See http://dianeanddave.net/albums/AsideFromTheScenery/index.html for a lot of miscellaneous non-scenic pictures. Click the first one and then use right and left arrow keys. Down arrow may help in showing the caption. There are so many you may want to breeze through them fairly quickly.
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