by Terri Cook Thursday, April 24, 2014
Auckland, on the North Island, has the country’s largest airport and is the primary international arrival point. The South Island’s largest airports are at Christchurch and Queenstown, but neither hosts direct flights from the U.S.
There is an extensive bus system on both islands, but it can be expensive and time-consuming to navigate. By far the most convenient way to explore New Zealand’s beautiful countryside is by renting a car or campervan, which should be reserved well in advance during the bustling Christmas and Easter school breaks. Be forewarned that Kiwis drive on the left side of the road. To travel between the islands, you can either catch a short domestic flight or take a ferry between Wellington and Picton across the beautiful, but often rough, Cook Strait.
Options for accommodation range widely in price as well as quality, from basic backpacker lodges and hostels to cozy farm stays and luxurious bed-and-breakfasts. The Department of Conservation (www.doc.govt.nz) manages hundreds of campgrounds, the fees at which are determined by the services offered, such as tap water and picnic tables. Nearly every town has at least one holiday park, or campground, where there is a per-person charge in addition to the site fee. The total cost for our family of four typically ran NZ$60 to $90 per night. If you have a self-contained campervan (e.g., with a toilet), you can “freedom camp” in many locations for free (see www.camping.org.nz for more information).
If you wish to tackle a Great Walk, you must purchase Great Walk Tickets well in advance. These specify the track, the dates, and your choice of accommodation — usually a shared hut or a campsite. If required, you can also book transportation to and from the trailhead(s). Several tracks, including the Abel Tasman, require booking year-round; others, like the Kepler, currently require reservations only during peak season (October to April). Bookings, which open each year in mid-July, can be made online, by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or in person at DOC offices. Children under 18 are free but must have a reservation.
In addition to the Great Walk facilities, the DOC manages an extensive network of backcountry huts and campsites available on a first-come, first-served basis. These require Hut Tickets, as described on the DOC website.
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