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Driving (and arguing) in New Zealand.

Travel Forums Australia / New Zealand & The Pacific Driving (and arguing) in New Zealand.

1. Posted by zzyzx (Budding Member 16 posts) 10y

My son and I will be traveling in New Zealand 1 - 12 June 2006. We arrive in Auckland 3 June and plan to spend the weekend there. We fly out of Wellington on the 12 (and plan to spend the preceding weekend there). This leaves us 5 days to see whatever we can reasonably see of the North Island.

My daughter, who lives in Palmerston North, will be flying up to meet us in Auckland...and this is where the arguing commences. My contention is that it would be a lovely thing to rent a car and drive back towards Palmy following (roughly) this itinerary: Auckland -> Hamilton -> Waitomo Caves -> Rotorua -> Taupo -> PN. My (perhaps overly optimistic?) estimation is that this could be done in 2 days, with an overnight in Rotorua.

My daughter's opinion is that this is insane. Leaving aside the prospect of a right-side-of-the-road driver having to adapt to left-side-of-the-road reality, there's the fact that this trip is happening during New Zealand's winter. And it's not like driving California's network of freeways, Mom. And gas prices are through the roof, Mom. And if you exceed the speed limit by even 1 km/hr as a visitor - New Zealand will feed you to the sheep, Mo-THER.

My son, like the Swiss, is claiming neutrality in this situation. Smart man.

Does this itinerary sound feasible, especially in winter? Would 2 days be adequate to travel it? I'm a good driver, not as dotty as my daughter would have you believe, and only minimally nearsighted. My daughter's suggested alternative is to fly back to PN and use it as a base for day trips to Waitomo, etc, but this seems like a less than judicious use of limited time to me.

Thanks in advance for your input, and I apologize for the length.

2. Posted by Reece Sanford (Travel Guru 1368 posts) 10y

OUCH 5 days to see the North Island i would be ripping what hair i have left out.

Both your suggestions have pros and cons.

First driving in New Zealand is nothing like California thats for sure.Its more like California Route 1 than California freeway.
I think i only ever saw 2 roads in NZ with more than 1 lane and they didnt last for more than 20km.

Driving on the left hand side isnt going to be a problem at all.
After driving in the US it will be easy driving in NZ although alot slower.

The police are bas**rds so dont break the speed limits.
I got fined for overtaking over a broken yellow line (no such law in England) and overtaking when i couldnt see 100 metres in front of myself (although i could actually see 400 metres).
Yes the police make it up as they go to.

Not sure if your hiring a car from Auckland to Palmerston or Auckland to Wellington but you may have a problem finding a company that will let you drop it off in Palmerston if you do that (unless its a big rental company).Not every company will have a location in both places to pick up and drop off and the bigger well known companies will be more expensive.

With the short time you have i would only spend 1 day in Auckland although with jetlag you may want to sleep most of that.

Hamilton i wouldnt bother with.

Taupo is good if you want to bungy jump or skydive as its dirt cheap.Apart from that theres nothing there,although theres Huka Falls,Wai-O-Tapu and Orakei Korako between Rotorua and Taupo.All worth visiting.

Having said all that if you base yourself in Palmerston (nothing there either) your a fair distance from Rotorua,Waitomo and Taupo and it will be a case of getting up really early driving to one and staying for an hour then driving back.

The driving times are:

Auckland-Waitomo 3 hours 10 minutes
Waitomo-Rotorua 2 hours 45 minutes
Rotorua-Taupo 1 hour 20 minutes
Taupo-Palmerston 3 hours 35 minutes
Palmerston-Wellington 2 hours 10 minutes

Palmerston-Waitomo 6 hours 20 minutes
Palmerston-Rotorua 4 hours 55 minutes
Palmerston-Taupo 3 hours 25 minutes

As you can see if you base yourself in Palmerston your going to spend 7 hours+ driving a day anyway and you will be going up and back on the same road.
With driving from Auckland at least you wont see the same road/area twice.

Personally i would of based myself in Auckland and did one day trips from there and flown out of Auckland instead of Wellington.

3. Posted by Sander (Moderator 4835 posts) 10y

Quoting zzyzx

My daughter's opinion is that this is insane. Leaving aside the prospect of a right-side-of-the-road driver having to adapt to left-side-of-the-road reality, there's the fact that this trip is happening during New Zealand's winter.

That's the only argument I'd pay any attention to. If you're unlucky, the desert road (going through Tongariro National Park) will be closed, and you'll need a pretty big detour to get around it. However, if the desert road isn't closed, you'll get absolutely gorgeously magnificent views of Mt. Ruapehu and Mt. Ngauruhoe covered by snow, and just for those I'd make the trip.

As reece said, it's all single lanes (once you're more than 30 minutes outside Auckland), but there's hardly any traffic (especially that time of the year), so driving is very easy. Nice and relaxing. I never had any trouble with the police either, while I'm pretty certain I was speeding nearly everywhere.

Btw, say hi to Siobhan for me. :D Tell her "Aan" said that you're allowed to drive. (Man, this is a small world! (I'm another of her friends from the place where she knows damon from.)) :)

4. Posted by Reece Sanford (Travel Guru 1368 posts) 10y

The route we took from Taupo to Napier was quite nice and then onto Palmerston although we did drive over to Whakapapa Ski Resort/Mount Ruapehu area to go snowboarding from Taupo one day and thats an awesome drive for scenery

5. Posted by zzyzx (Budding Member 16 posts) 10y

Thanks, reece and Sander, for your replies. They're very much appreciated!

reece, I'd love to have more time to spend exploring the North Island, and I'm truly bummed I won't get to see the South Island at all - because there lies Lake Tekapo, which I hear is not to be missed for any reason. Yes, Sander? ;). I'm comforting myself with the thought that, since my daughter lives there, there'll be many opportunities to visit. Hopefully, in time, I'll get to see all the cool stuff (and primarily: Lake Tekapo).

You're not the first person who's suggested cutting my time in Auckland (is it really that boring?), but as you noted, having one day of down time to recover from jet lag seems wise. And then an additional day to explore the city. Should I really skip Hamilton altogether? My thought was, since it's essentially on the way to Waitomo, it might be a good stop for topping up the gas tank and grabbing a bite to eat, if nothing else. But I'm certainly open to suggestions for a more interesting travel route!

The car rental is through Auto Europe, and they assure me I'll be able to drop it off in PN - although admittedly, rental rates are somewhat higher than other companies I researched. And certainly, basing myself in Auckland would have made the most sense for day tripping, but since my daughter is in PN...you see the dilemma.

Sander! Pleased to "meet" you! Siobhan and Damon have had so many good things to say about you, and I'm quite a fan of your travel photos. I passed along the "hi" to Siobhan - well, actually, it was more like I emailed her, smirking and feeling more than a bit self-congratulatory, and sent her the URL to this forum. ;)

One last question, and I thank you for your patience thus far: mostly to reassure my daughter that we wouldn't wind up stranded in some snowy hell, with wolves slavering and loping along, howling mere inches from our rented Nissan Pulsar, I've considered hiring a GPS system for the duration of our car tour. Have either of you (or anybody else) any experience with this? Is it a waste of time and money? (The rental would cost me about $125USD, plus a credit card deposit of $1200USD).

Thanks again, you two.

6. Posted by Sander (Moderator 4835 posts) 10y
  • grins* I see my reputation has preceded me. :) (And yes, Lake Tekapo is indeed the best.)

I would definitely stick to two days in Auckland. Plenty to do there, and although jetlag to New Zealand isn't all that bad, you'll still appreciate the extra rest. If you're into hiking, I'd pick up a map of the coast to coast walkway at the visitor information centre (at the bottom of the skytower) and walk that. Takes you past nearly all the must-see places in Auckland, including Mt. Edgen and One Tree Hill, and at the end you'll be able to brag about how you walked from one side of the country to the other. :) (Plus there's a decent bus service back to the city from the end.)
Other recommendations for places to see would be Parnell (great shopping area with lots of little cafes (and an awesome chocolate shop; perfect for lunch) ;) just to the east of the CBD), or taking a ferry to Devonport.

I've never been to Waitomo myself (another friend (Tiny/Steve) recommended heavily against it, and I already saw glowworms for free on the South Island), but Hamilton isn't all that bad (although also not very exciting), and would indeed make a good stop for lunch. I don't know how nice the Hamilton Gardens (its main claim to fame) are in the winter, but it's probably worth walking through for half an hour or so at the least. Just don't linger too long, otherwise it'll be evening before you get out of the caves at Waitomo.

I have no experience with GPS systems. I don't think I'd bother; signs are very clear, and it's very hard to take the wrong road in New Zealand, there not being all that many of them. :) What I would do is buy a cheap prepaid phone (shouldn't cost more than $50 (NZD) in Auckland, so that if you do get stuck, you can call. Of course, there's stretches of road where there's no reception, but (iirc) they don't last all that long.

7. Posted by Reece Sanford (Travel Guru 1368 posts) 10y

You mean Mount Eden Sander?

I have a GPS System for my car but like Sander said its not really worth it.Besides if you get lost then it means you will have longer to see the rest of the country

Yes Lake Tekapo is very nice.I was there in November last year and i cant wait to go back.The 3 days i had at the Mount Cook Youth Hostel were awesome.The sun was shining and the mountains were covered in snow and the hiking was excellent.

Check out my photos on my blog

8. Posted by Sander (Moderator 4835 posts) 10y

Aye. One of these days I really should write that whole "edit post" functionality... One of these days... :)

9. Posted by zzyzx (Budding Member 16 posts) 10y

Thanks for the input on GPS systems - I've decided I'll forego that option. The idea of getting a little lost in New Zealand actually sounds kind of fun. :)

reece, my son's eyes lit up big time when I told him about the possibility of snowboarding in NZ. But from what I can find online, it doesn't look as if the ski season at Whakapapa or Turoa opens till June 16. Damn, we'll be missing it by four days. :( (Another one of those things for "next trip," I guess...) This is getting a bit frustrating!

Sander, I have an unlocked world phone that I'll take with me, working off the assumption that I can pick up a relatively inexpensive Vodaphone SIM card at the Auckland airport or somewhere along the line.

BTW, Siobhan was completely amazed you were able to figure out that I'm her mom. She wants to know how you did it. (My thought is that the explanation is either incredibly simple, or involved arcane voodoo rituals and the blood sacrifice of fluffy bunnies - in which case, it's probably better not to ask. :) )

10. Posted by Sander (Moderator 4835 posts) 10y

Quoting zzyzx

Sander, I have an unlocked world phone that I'll take with me, working off the assumption that I can pick up a relatively inexpensive Vodaphone SIM card at the Auckland airport or somewhere along the line.

Oh yeah, that should be no problem. Queen Street (the main road in downtown Auckland) is lined with shops selling those.

BTW, Siobhan was completely amazed you were able to figure out that I'm her mom. She wants to know how you did it.

You gave yourself away when you called it "Palmy". (And I figured, "how many Californian girls would be living in Palmerston North?", after which a quick check of your profile confirmed the last name.)