Saturday, February 4, 2012

New Zealand travel, cycling and campervan information and tips

Here is a list of information that was useful for the trip, including info on camping and cycling in New Zealand. I also include a few tips for campervan travel at the bottom.

New Zealand Travel information and guides:
-The Department of Conservation (DOC, pronounced "dock") website is fantastic. They have campsite brochures that can be downloaded or picked up at national park information sites (possibly also available at I-sites). They also have fantastic information on hikes, Great Walks, national parks, you name it.
-DOC information sites (found at the national parks, but also in cities of a certain size). Great for tramping and other outdoor info, but we also got great recommendations for campgrounds and cycling shops and that kind of thing.  Prior to the trip, I emailed a few such sites - email addresses are on doc websites- with questions and was pleasantly surprised to get rapid, informative responses.
- I-sites: tourism information sites, found in airports and any town of a certain size. A great resource for maps, accommodation information, attraction information, location of area bike shops and health food stores, etc
- Guides: we had my 12 year old Lonely Planet New Zealand, plus a more recent Fodors. These are good for different purposes, but in general I preferred LP because it is geared for more active people and has more Detailed information  (Fodors is very car travel tourist focused, ie, go somewhere, look at one thing quickly,  move on). The old LP still worked really well, though prices had about doubled since 2000 when I last visited New Zealand.
- Talk to people when you arrive: Dozens of New Zealanders volunteered travel recommendations and answered our questions. Folks were so friendly and helpful, and we ended up taking quite a lot of advice gleaned along the way from nice people who shared local knowledge. Thanks!

New Zealand Campground and holiday park guides:
-DOC South Island campground guide: very useful, see above for description. This is all on the website, but it was handy to have the paper version in the van.
-Jason's holiday park guide (South Island)- picked up the brochure at an I-site. They have a website as well, but I found this cumbersome to use. has information on where you can camp, freedom camping, etc.

Maps & driving: the AA road atlas was useful for urban areas and short-cutting major highways on farm roads, but otherwise we used the AA map from the I-site and the highway map provided by our rental company. The highway system is pretty straightforward and it was easy to get around. Two little things to be aware of: streets change name a lot, so this is something to look out for as a street can have one name on one side of an intersection and a different name on the other side. Also, major streets/roads are often not signposted at intersections, with only the (minor) cross street being posted.
-travel times: the highways are narrow, twisty and sometimes steep. Highways were mostly undivided, two-lane roads and there were sometimes limited opportunities to pass slow vehicles. Travel times were much slower than one might think from the distances. This site has travel times & distances.

New Zealand Cycling information:
Guides: "Classic New Zealand Road Rides" by Kennett and Turner (2010) was the best guide. Not sure if you can buy this outside of NZ - we found it in a bike shop in Wanaka. It lacks an index but is chock full of local knowledge including popular area training rides and routes of epic rides (including those of local cycling events, eg, an ultrapopular century ride and the like). We also used the Lonely Planet "Cycling in New Zealand" guide, which was a pretty crummy guide, to be honest.  The profiles are appallingly bad and the descriptions are quite minimal (some of it seems to have been copied straight from the motor vehicle guide). This might be a starting point for a touring cyclist though, and that's what the book is really geared for.
Websites: we found some group ride info on this site.  There was also local ride info/intelligence (eg, closed roads in Christchurch area) on this site.
Talking to people: this was the most useful way to find out about routes and rides. We chatted with cyclists in various spots, including bike shops, forums (Dan got a lot of info, and even did a group ("bunch") ride with a kiwi guy from the weight weenies forum, and I got a lot of local info from the teamestrogen new zealand forum)), coffee shops and while doing other activities. I'd particularly like to thank one very talkative cyclist who we chatted with while we were on the Te Anau glowworm  cave tour (he'd just done the epic race from Milford Sound to Te Anau. Wow!).
Dan's blog: Dan generated detailed profiles and descriptions of the epic climbs that he did on the trip (search the new zealand tag for the posts). He also linked to his strava tracks, which show maps in addition to route profiles.
Most useful advance bike tips: New Zealand highways are chip-sealed. We brought our 28mm tires and were fine (locals will no doubt find this humorous, as they seemed to also find any comment we made about the wind.  what wind??). If you are bringing a mountain bike, we were told that you can expect close scrutiny at the agricultural control part of customs (our road bikes did not get inspected). Finally, if you plan to rent a bike, be aware that the brakes are set up differently than in the US, in terms of which levers control the front and rear brakes. We rented downhill bikes and did just fine with the reversed brakes, though. I'll bet that most shops would reverse the brakes for you upon request.

Finding a campervan: Rankers website in New Zealand has consumer reviews of a bunch of companies.  Trip @dvisor NZ forum has some useful postings on this topic, plus useful information on how insurance and rental schemes work and the like.

Helpful Campervan tips:
1. Pack your stuff in soft duffel-type bags. Hard suitcases take up a lot of room and limit your options for stowing stuff in the van where storage space is quite limited. Soft bags permit you to stuff the bag in myriad places, a soft bag flattens when unpacked and thus takes up less room.
2. Leave unneeded luggage with the rental company. We left our bike cases with the rental company when we picked up the van. They were happy to store them during the trip.
3.  Check contents of the van before departing the rental company. We did not have enough hangers, which distressed Dan who likes to hang stuff up.
4. Our rental company was OK with us carrying bikes on the trip. Other companies that I contacted were not so positive about having bikes in the van (some said it was against their policy). Some companies will rent racks or little trailers to carry bikes or other outdoor gear. We put the bikes inside the van during travel and it worked really well: it was easy, convenient, and we didn't damage bikes or van.
5. Diesel fuel is much cheaper than gas. Fuel is expensive in NZ, so we saved a lot by getting a diesel van.
6. Did I mention how much I loved our compact VW vanagon-type van?


Christine said...

What a trip! I learned a lot and enjoyed your photos. Thank you.

NadiaMac said...

Thanks Christine!