New Zealand, land of the long white cloud, Aotearoa

This is a trip of firsts, first time on a long self drive; first holiday in New Zealand North Island, first in an AIRBNB, first travelling with friends. Although i was in NZ years ago as a junior attending a conference.
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Photo: driving from Auckland airport towards Thames.

New Zealand comprises both North and South islands. As we couldn’t take too many days off, we only went on North island and booked our tickets as early as June.

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Photo: driving through Coromandel and Thames on way to Rapaura Gardens.

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New Zealand has a 5 hours time difference with Singapore. In Spring (November) , the days are long. Daylight starts as early as 6am and ends at 8pm so you can plan some activities at night. Beware that some places may not have street lighting especially in the outdoor nature areas.

New Zealand is suitable if you want to be far from the maddening crowds. If you like nature walks, interaction with small animals like sheep and a slow paced, self drive bonding trip with the family.

Preparation for a trip
Rent a car ahead of time and consider having appropriate boot space for luggage.
Get your Driving license. For Commonwealth countries, bring your own driving license.
Phone card – I got a Vodafone SIM Card but on hindsight should have a Spark instead. It’s useful for navigation on Google Map as we didn’t get a GPS. If you need to make local phone calls and want the other party to call you back, there’s a local number to contact for sms. 1GB for $45 for 30 days.

Adapter – take note that it’s a unique slanted hole.

If you’re allergic to pollen, get zrytec.
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Photo: NZ Flax seed plant which the Maoris use. Leaves for weaving baskets and seeds

Prepare for road trip if you have children

Download your favourite music for your road trip and something to occupy the kids as driving time can be as long as 1.5hrs.

Dress well – You need sunblock, hat/cap, sun glasses, hoodie and sweater, preferably wind breaker. You will experience different weather in one day

Learn a few culinary skills before coming. We bought our groceries from the supermarket chains like Countdown and Pak’n’Save, which operate toll 10pm. They are huge. Pak’n’Save sells fresh green mussels which is very cheap but you need to clean the shells. Or you can buy packs of soup. Our favourite brand is “Naked Local” which sells for $5.30 per pack and feeds 2 pax.

We didn’t see many Chinese restaurants nor fast food joints except in major town centres. In the few places we visited, such as Thames, Hamilton, Rotorua, Lake Taupo area and Napier, there are not many choices especially since the tourist site may be a distance from the city centre.

In Singapore, I rarely cook at home. But here on holiday, we cooked every dinner for 4 adults, load shared among us for shopping and cooking. Nearly every BNB has an oven, Washing machine and a dish washer.

So if you’re with young children, do consider renting accommodation that comes with fully equipped western kitchen and washing machine. Stay about 2-3 nights in a place and explore that town. New Zealand is the kind of place to travel with 2 small families.

We were very surprised not to find bakeries in the small towns. Perhaps it’s our expectations formed by Asian cities and French villages where you can find bakeries and boulongaries. I do recall seeing cupcake shops in London. But not in New Zealand North Island. Hamburger and fries, Mac and cheese were our usual lunch. Our “best” lunch was in Coromandel at Pepper Tree followed by KFC in Rotorua. Thereafter it was usually beef sandwich. Coffee is decent although I suspect it could be from a Nespresso machine despite claims of being insanely good.

Granted, we didn’t visit Auckland or Wellington.

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