Last fall we spent a month in New Zealand (their spring), touring the central portion of North Island. Our route took us from Wellington, up the west coast to Hamilton, over to the east coast and back down to Wellington, with stops at Rotorua and Taupo along the way. This was our third trip to NZ but the first in many years. We visited with friends, went caving, hung out in small beach cities, and hiked into beautiful waterfalls. You can drive for hours through scenic countryside with amazing views at every turn, and we did. Some things have changed, some have not.
What Hasn’t Changed
The people of New Zealand are uniformly friendly and engaging. It helps that they speak English (of a sort) and like strong coffee. 🙂 Our touring model is to utilize B&B’s almost exclusively, taking hotels only when we have no other options. Thankfully, that only happened once and it was a short stay. Running a B&B out of one’s property has become a national cottage industry in the intervening years since our last trip, and they do it extremely well. Each one that we stayed in were friendly, accommodating, tastefully done, and relaxing. Mission accomplished! Two stood out in particular, Acorns B&B in Wellington, just five minutes from the airport, and Firth Street Mews B&B in Matamata, home of the Hobbiton filming site. The operators at both were gracious beyond what one would expect.
No matter where you go in New Zealand you will find plenty to capture your imagination. We didn’t do a dolphin swim or climb a glacier this time, but the coastal views, waterfalls, and small cities are a joy to experience. Sometimes a bit quirky, always enjoyable. Be prepared to experience a different lifestyle and go for it!
Currency exchange rates have varied over the years but all of our trips happened to occur when it was quite favorable to the U.S. dollar. Even with price increases due to increased demand and other economic factors, New Zealand is still an attractive bargain.
The vibe is generally “relaxed English countryside,” in the agricultural sense. Lots of sheep and cattle, and I mean lots. North Island is the more genteel of the two islands, South Island has the Southern Alps and more extreme recreational activities as a rule.
What Has Changed
As I said earlier, costs are up but still favorable.
We’ve always enjoyed small town eateries with local fare and flavor, and the chance to interact with the friendlies. This time, however, the impact of increased tourism was evident in the proliferation of big name fast food outlets. They are all there, even in many small towns. Local proprietors are still doing the good work, but you will need to resist the temptation to take the fast food shortcut or miss out on one of New Zealand’s best attractions.
The impact of the Lord of the Rings movies is at a national scale. We toured three filming sites (Rivendell, Hobbiton, and WETA Studios). They print money with this stuff, but it is so well done you don’t mind. Our top recommendation would be Hobbiton in Matamata, and the WETA Studio in Wellington (also near the airport).
There you go. Short trip report. Yes, you should go! New Zealand is an amazing place. You will come back refreshed and planning your next trip.