I’ve known for a little while that I am going back to New Zealand. Such a buzzing feeling, because I love being there. I’m an organised person and like to plan ahead. I’m not the kind of person to fill my whole trip with tours or use a backpacking service like Stray where I don’t have to do much myself. I like figuring things out myself, that’s just part of the adventure for me. So after I’d booked my plane ticket, how did I prepare for this trip?
For me, it helped making a Excel spreadsheet and filling out all data I’ll be on the road. From the day I’m flying out, till the day I arrive back home. It worked really well on my last travels, so I decided to do it again this time. Then on a piece of paper I wrote down all places and areas I wanted to visit. I then ordered them logically so that I could make an efficient route. I’m flying into Auckland, so it only made sense to go to Paihia first and make my way down from there. Once I had an idea of how long I’d be staying where, I filled out the destinations in my spreadsheet. This served as a rough itinerary. When I booked something, I made sure I added it to my spreadsheet, including times of departure and arrival.
2. Book the things that needed advance booking
One of the things I wanted to do was do a multiple day trek. I choose to do the Rakiura Track on Stewart Island. I’ve never been there before and I’ve seen amazing pictures from people who did the trek. Although the trek is not as ‘popular’ as the Milford Track, it still felt like a great idea booking the huts in advance. Since I’m flying out of Christchurch, it made sense placing this trek at the end of my travels. That gave me an indication of how long I had to go from Paihia in the north to Stewart Island in the south.
I also want to go back to Hopewell in the Marlborough Sounds. That piece of paradise easily gets booked full, so it was smart to book ahead. I even was a little bit too late to book all my nights in the share room (the cheapest room) and have to change rooms halfway. I don’t mind, as long as I can stay there. But can you imagine…I booked in November for a stay in February. Since Hopewell is sort of in the middle, it decided how much time I have on both islands.
3. Book everything for the first few days
I always book accommodation for the first few days. I’m never heading to a country again without having at least the first few nights booked. I did that on my first trip to Australia and I learnt from it! I’ll be arriving in Auckland early in the evening and I’ll only be staying one night. My main criteria for a hostel in Auckland was ‘ease’. I don’t need a super cosy hostel for that first night. I just needed a place conveniently located with broad reception hours. I chose the Auckland International YHA. I stayed there before and it was fine. I know where it is, I know an airport shuttle will stop there and I know it’s an easy walk to the Intercity bus stop. Perfect. After Auckland, I’ll be heading to Paihia for a few days. I decided to book my hostel there too. The main advantage of booking in advance is that you can have your first choice in hostels. I’ve never been to Seabeds before, but the reviews are good and that’s good enough for me!
4. Activities, enquire and book
Now I have a rough schedule, I can look for things to fill my days with. One of my oldest dreams ever is to do a multiple day horse trek. I started googling and found High Country Horses, that does treks in the Glenorchy area. I enquired about possibilities, and after a bit of waiting and some e-mails back and forth, I managed to book a four-day horse trek. So awesome!
I also googled for tours to do in and around Paihia. I really want to go to Cape Reinga, the northernmost part of New Zealand. I found Awesome NZ with plenty of options and evena package deal: two tours for NZD 199,-. After a quick calculation, I decided it was worth getting this package deal and I now have two tours booked: a dolphin cruise in Paihia and a Cape Reinga tour.
I won’t be renting a car by myself. Maybe this reduces the flexibility of my stay, but I don’t mind and bus services will get me where I need to go as well. Since I’ll be doing quite some travelling using Intercity, I decided to book a FlexiPass. You can buy several hour-packages so it’s worth doing a rough count on how many hours you’re going to need. No worries, you can always top-up (which I had to do too). Once I got my FlexiPass, I booked the bus to Paihia.
Getting to Hopewell takes a bit of planning. I’ll travel by water taxi so I enquired about times and fares. I’ll be using Cougar Line to travel to Hopewell. On the way back, I’ll be travelling with Kenepuru Water Taxi and Arrow Water Taxis back to Picton. I travelled with Kenepuru Water Taxi before and these people are so friendly! They will help you find the best option (time/price). When I enquired, they even contacted Arrow Water Taxis in order to coordinate the best travel option for me. And always a quick response, amazing! But that goes for Cougar Line as well, they are also very helpful. Maybe it’s a kiwi thing, but I just get so happy when people help you like that.
6. BBH membership card
Yes, I love BBH. The hostels are generally of very good quality. Sure, there are some bad ones, but you can easily weed them out by checking the BBP (%). I choose hostels with a BBP of at least 80%, preferably even higher. It’s possible, because there are plenty of great hostels you can choose from! Buying your club card in advance has its advantages, because you can book your hostels and get the BBH discount right away. I booked my hostel in Paihia when I hadn’t ordered my BBH-card yet. Any booking I did after that got me the discount. The cool thing is that you can even claim a NZD 15,- rebate when you book your card online. Awesome!
I often went back to my spreadsheet, just to get an idea of where I’d be at which point, if my ideas would fit in the days that I have, if I’d get other/better ideas etc. It required quite some puzzling to get everything to work. Once the days started filling up, I had a few gaps to fill. This may sound a little strange, but once you have a few things booked, it kind of sets the rest of your trip in place and reduces your flexibility. I depend on bus time tables, for instance.
I had a few days between leaving Nelson and having to be in Queenstown. My first idea was to travel down the west coast with a stop in Fox Glacier. I’d spend two whole days on the bus and have limited time in the town to explore (my main reason of going there was Lake Matheson). Then I got a better idea: from Nelson I’ll now be heading down the east coast, spending a quick night in Christchurch before heading to Mt. Cook Village. Yes, I have an extra quick stop, but it’s a far more relaxed route as I won’t be travelling such long hours and have more time to explore. It’s worth doing some puzzling to figure out what works best and don’t be afraid to change things up.
8. Fill in the gaps
I really didn’t mean to book all my hostels and transportation beforehand, but once I started, I got so excited and just kept going. This doesn’t mean all my days are preplanned. It merely means I have my hostels booked and I have ways to get there. As for activities, there is still plenty of opportunity to wing it and enjoy things as they come.
Everything is super super easy to book. I booked everything online without having to make a single phone call! I booked my hostels through the BBH website apart from the YHA, Hopewell and the hostel in Mt. Cook. The system is incredibly easy to use and each hostel replied in a very short time. Transportation required some more puzzling. Intercity is easy, but they don’t travel everywhere. To go to Golden Bay I used Golden Bay Coachlines. To go from Queenstown to Invercargill, I booked with Tracknet. To go to Stewart Island and back, I used Stewart Island Experience.
Something I haven’t done before, but seems like a good idea is to write everything down in a notebook: which day I’m travelling where using what with which booking number and staying where? From every booking I made, I received e-mail confirmation. I filed all those e-mails so I have everything together. I won’t be using my mobile internet data abroad (way too expensive!), so I wanted something to give me an overview on everything. Some confirmations and vouchers I need printed out, but other times a booking reference will do. Now I have everything in one place and I can look things up without being connected to the internet. Let’s see how this will work on the road!
10. Getting ready
And by getting ready, I mean literally packing by backpack and getting ready to go. Shopping done, washing done, shoes cleaned, iPod charged and filled with music, pages copied from my Lonely Planet so I won’t have to bring the whole travel guide. You know, things like that. 😉
How about you? How do you prepare for travels?