When discussing the lottery with the manager of the hostel in the village near the Waitomo Caves, he said that if he ever won, he would drive to Auckland to pick up the money, then head straight back to the hostel to buy it from the owner. With the money from his winnings he’d put in extra bathrooms and facilities to accommodate all the backpackers he has to turn away during the busy summer months. His comments made me happy inside – there is something fantastic about people who are truly content with what they have, and wouldn’t change much, even with all the money in the world.
I think that saving money and travelling on a budget requires a similar mindset – taking advantage of the opportunities put in front of you, without seeking out something more luxurious. To me, this makes travelling extremely exciting and memorable. Our time in New Zealand has come to an end and we’re now in Australia. At this marker in our trip, I’ve put together a list of the top five ways we saved money while in New Zealand.
1. Skipping the Tours
The village of Waitomo has many tour companies offering tours of the limestone caves and a chance to view the glow worms that make the caves their home. Though there are many options for these tours, they generally start at about $70/person. Chris said to me that he wished we could see the caves for free, which prompted me to immediately Google the idea. Sure enough, there were free “bushwalks” in the area that offered the chance the view the caves and glow worms. We visited the caves and they were amazing. In fact, during our bushwalk, we saw very few other people and were able to have the caves completely to ourselves. We were able to enjoy the calmness of the caves and the sound of the rushing water below. Some of the caves looked like ancient ruins from civilizations past, and we were able to look at them for as long as we wanted with no one rushing us to the next part of the walk.
2. Enjoying Natural Settings
Rotorua offers many geo-thermal spas and other fantastic adventures, but for a fee. By asking if the geo-thermal spas were available in a natural setting instead of behind doors that required admission fees to open, we could experience the warmth of the hot springs at no cost.
3. Staying in Less Expensive Accommodations
By bringing our tent and staying in hostels, we’re easily saving $100+ per evening. Since our trip is two months long, that’s over $6000 in savings on accommodations alone.
4. Eating in
One of the side benefits to camping and staying at hostels is that we have access to kitchens. This allows us to buy food at the grocery store and cook like we would at home. In New Zealand, we spent less than $100 on food for the entire week (not counting our two restaurant meals during the week). Not only did we save tons of money, but we were also able to eat quite a bit healthier.
5. Selecting a Cheaper Car
By renting an older car from a smaller rental company, we saved over $150 for the week. Since we were also required to purchase insurance (as our current insurance does not provide coverage outside of North America and our credit cards did not provide adequate coverage), we selected the option with the largest deductible, saving us another $50 for our week in New Zealand.
20min HIIT workout at the park
Breakfast: Peanut butter sandwiches
Lunch: Hummus, cucumber, and spinach sandwiches
Dinner: Curried chickpeas and rice
We spent our remaining time on Waiheke Island doing some hiking. On Sunday morning, we left Waiheke and headed for Rotorua via Hobbiton. Monday included finding our way to the village of National Park, at the base of Tongariro National Park (aka the location of Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings). Today, we hiked the 19km Tongariro Crossing, which I was initially apprehensive about, but now so happy we did!
Looking back to the weekend, our remaining time in Waiheke Island was fabulous. We did a 15km hike along the beaches and coast line of the island. After hiking all that way out, we were a bit tired to walk back to the tent hotel, so we hopped on one of the city buses, which took us back to our tent hotel. I’m always a bit nervous about figuring out city buses in a new location, but it’s worth it, as they are such an economical way to move around.
On Sunday morning, we boarded the ferry back to the mainland of Auckland. Our plan was to hire a car (New Zealand speak for renting a car) near the ferry terminal. We lugged our gear on a 20 minute walk through downtown Auckland only to find out the car rental company was out of cars until Wednesday. Fortunately, the next car rental company was only another block away and we were able to acquire a super-sketchy car from them.
The drive to Matamata (Hobbiton) from Auckland is less than 2 hours, but it was a bit of a nail bitter, with Chris driving on the left side of the road for the first time! (As I’m spatially and directionally challenged, I would never even attempt such a feat. I’m still trying to figure out which direction to look when I cross the street!)
Hobbiton was very cute, as Chris discussed in his blog below.
After Hobbiton, we headed to the geo-thermal town of Rotorua, where we stayed in our first hostel ever! I quite liked the hostel experience, as it gave us access to a kitchen, and the staff was very friendly. We were even able to get some insight into where to see some free geo-thermal activity in the area. I was quite happy about this, as I had only been able to find some fancier geo-thermal spas online and I really wanted to experience one that was in a more natural and less touristy setting.
One other thing that excited us about staying in the hostel was access to a power source. Yup – I’m talking about a plug in the wall. However, since we only have one voltage adapter and many devices that need charging (2 phones, 2 tablets, a battery pack, and a camera), we came up with an acronym for when we are around power: ABC – Always Be Charging.
Monday morning, we headed to the geo-thermal waters of Kerosene Creek and “Hot and Cold” based on the recommendations we received. Kerosene Creek was my favourite – the water was very warm and Chris and I were able to find our own private spot on the creek.
Monday afternoon took us to the Mangahuia campground at Tongariro National Park. We wanted to use that as our “base camp” for starting the Tongariro Crossing (aka “The Crossing” where Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings is located) the next morning. We had a few adventures getting to camp, as we first needed to pick up a few supplies in National Park village. The village was quite small, and the only grocery store option was in the gas station. Granted it was bigger than the average gas station convenience store, it certainly didn’t have everything we were looking for. One thing they, and everywhere else in the village was missing, was an ATM. Chris and I were running on our last few New Zealand dollars and we were concerned we wouldn’t have enough cash to pay for the campground. Luckily after a bit of searching, we found a $10 bill at the bottom of one of our bags and we were good to go!
The campground was quite different from what we’re used to in BC. The spots were relatively open, and everything felt very communal. However, it was fantastic and quiet. As we needed to be back in the village of National Park for our shuttle to The Crossing at 6:45am the next morning, we went to bed with the sun at 9pm and fell asleep right away. When our alarms went off at 5:30am, we were ready to go! (Got to love it when the sun is also up that early, and you still haven’t fully adjusted to the time zone!) We packed up the car quickly, without even stuffing the sleeping bags or tent, and headed to our shuttle pick up point.
The Tongariro Crossing is a 19km, one-way trek, with an 800 m elevation gain, from the north side of the park to the south side, taking you passed the base of Mount Doom. We hired Alpine Adventures to drop us off in the morning, and pick us up in the evening. They were fantastic! I’d read reviews of other shuttle companies, and issues with people getting left behind and having to wait for hours to get home. Our shuttle company seemed to put safety above everything else. Apart from being concerned about the reliability of the shuttle, I was also a bit nervous to do the hike itself as I had read it was quite difficult. However after talking with the husband and wife team that run the shuttle, I felt I was in good hands and could accomplish the hike.
The crossing was absolutely worth it. So many beautiful parts to this hike. I loved the feeling of climbing the mountains. The wind blowing against me as we came up to the Red Crater made me feel like I was in the middle of Mordor.
Once at the top of the Red Crater, it was time to go down. I normally hate downhills, and this one was no exception at the beginning. I was timid and so scared I wondered if a helicopter rescue was possible. The ground was sandy and rocky and incredibly steep. But after a few minutes of descending at a painstakingly slow pace, I decided to try out the advice the shuttle driver gave us when he dropped us off: Let yourself slide a bit, then dig your heels into the ground to stop yourself from sliding. After I got the hang of it, I actually started to have so much fun! I was a bit sad when the gravel skiing was over.
I wasn’t sad for long though as what lay in front of us were beautiful crater lakes coloured bright green. Just around the corner from those, we could see steam coming out the volcanic vents.
The trip did get a bit tough at the end, as there was a lot of downhill (the stepping kind, not the gravel skiing kind) which started to wear on my feet and knees. But we finally reached the end point and our shuttle was there to pick us up!
In the end, I would say that the hike compared in difficulty to the Chief or the Sea to Sky in Squamish, but quite a bit longer.
To survive the hike, I wore:
Light Activewear moisture wick Athlete shirt from the 2015 BC Pole Championships
Karma sports bra
Lululemon capri pants
Northfact Gortex trail runners
Karma moisture wick zip-up shirt
I also brought with me:
2.5L of water, including a 1.5L camel back
North Face Gortex rain jacket
First Aid kit
Note: I never needed the rain jacket or extra hoodie, even at the top of the mountain, though I heard we had an excellent day for The Crossing.
Note 2: I cannot say enough about the importance of sun-block here. I’m DILIGENT about sun-protection. On the hike today, I re-applied my waterproof and sweat-proof sunblock every 30-60 minutes, starting at 6am when I left camp, and I still got a bit of colour and burn – something near impossible for me to achieve in Vancouver.
Our split times for the crossing were:
1hr 12 minutes: Base to Soda Springs
1hr4 minutes: Soda Springs to South Crater (this was the second steepest part of the climb)
42 minutes: South Crater to Red Crater (this was the steepest and windiest part of the climb)
21 minutes: Red Crater to Emerald Lake (this included gravel skiing)
1hr 33 minutes: Emerald Lake to the hut
2hr 6 minutes: Hut to parking lot (this included quite a long break for lunch)
Total time was 7 hours.
Times included plenty of breaks for re-fueling on snacks, taking pictures, enjoying the views, putting on sun-bock, applying band-aids, eating lunch, and complaining about sore feet near the end.
Last night, we decided to splurge on a hotel room so we could feel luxurious and take a warm shower. And of course, re-charge our devices one by one.
5km run by the hot springs on Monday
19km hike on Tuesday
Breakfast: Peanut butter sandwiches with banana
Lunch: Granola bars and trail mix
Dinner: Pub dinner!
Yesterday I learned the biggest problem with switching to driving on the left today: drifting to the left in your lane. If I don't pay attention, my mind tries to pull me, the driver in the right side of the car, into left side of the lane.
We rented a sketchy car from a sketchy rental place, a Toyota Vitz (from 2006, I'm guessing) and hit the road towards Rotorua. On the way, we decided it made sense to go to Hobbiton.
Hobbiton pretty much met my expectations - it's a movie set made permanent. They don't let you wander around too much and you have to time things well to get good photos without random other tourists in them. However, the space is just beautiful, and matches exactly what you would imagine The Shire would look like. The Hobbit holes are adorable, and it was neat to see the two scales for making the actors look different sizes.
Bag End, where the adventure begins.
At the end they give you a choice of drinks that can only be found in Hobbiton. They seemed a little small for normal sized people :P
Does walking around The Shire count? Also carrying 22kg packs through Auckland to get a rental car?
Breakfast: Egg sandwiches and strawberries
Lunch: Cheese, cucumber, and salami (for Chris) sandwiches made in the morning and eaten at The Shire's Rest before Hobbiton
Dinner: Shredded chicken and lettuce wraps with some pesto hummus, and cookies
In the 24 hours since we’ve arrived in New Zealand, two things have stood out to me; how great the people are here and how beautiful the country is. Kiwis aren’t just nice in terms of exchanging pleasantries, but they are genuinely excited that we’re visiting their country and want us to take advantage of our time here. From the time we took off on our Air New Zealand flight, to the time we arrived at our tent hotel on Waiheke Island just off the coast of Auckland, everyone we met was extremely helpful and had a sort of calmness about them. The scenery here is jaw-dropping. I’ve been told that New Zealand is much like British Columbia, with its mountains and rugged coast lines. However, from the little bits I’ve seen so far, it reminds me much more of Hawaii, with its lush green flora, and warm breezes on the coast.
We took a 14 hour flight from Vancouver to Auckland on Air New Zealand. I have to say, Air New Zealand was excellent! The staff was friendly and we could even order food and drinks (for free!) directly from our seat using the in-seat touch-screen. The 14 hours flew by (what a pun!) quickly. I learned from a local that Air New Zealand was just voted best airline in the world, and I’m not surprised.
After landing in Auckland and making our way through quarantine (we were a bit nervous about quarantine since it was our first time through and we had camping gear with us, but we made it through without any issues), we took the SkyBus to downtown Auckland, where we boarded a ferry to Waiheke Island. When we de-boarded on the island, there was a long line-up of people waiting to get on. Our taxi driver to the tent hotel explained to us that 9000 people live on the island, and 2500 of them commute to Auckland for work each day.
We arrived at the Fossil Bay Lodge tent hotel at 8am, not expecting to be able to check-in for hours. However our host, Mike, didn’t even question our arrival time, he simply acknowledged we must be tired and showed us directly to our tent. Our “tent” has a cozy double bed, two chairs, a table with some wine glasses, and a propane heater in it. A few steps from the tent was a private bathroom with a portable “flush” toilet, sink, and hot-water shower.
After taking a nap, we walked about 15 minutes to the local village for lunch. The restaurants looked interesting, but extremely expensive in our view ($18+ for a burger with no fries, $12 for a small glass of wine….), so we decided to hit up the local grocery store. There we picked up enough food for lunch, dinner, and breakfast the next day. We ended up with some delicious items including a hummus-babaganoush dip (you can buy these separately in Vancouver, but I haven’t seen them as one dip before), and some cumin and coriander flavoured crackers.
Later in the day, we were able to spend a couple of hours walking around the coast. The trail took us from the beaches and up the cliffs for expansive views of the shores and the Auckland skyline. I could say more but it literally was breathtaking so I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Hiking the Waiheke Island coast line.
Breakfast: Air New Zealand hot breakfast with omelette, potatoes, yogourt, and fruit
Lunch: Cheese, cucumber,and hummus sandwiches, with cucumber and crackers. Eaten "picnic-style" at the tent hotel
Dinner: Tortellini - made in the kitchen of the tent hotel
I can't believe the trip is almost here. We spent the weekend making some final purchases, such as a footprint for our MSR Mutha Hubba, 3-man tent. (Seriously, how does a tiny tent footprint cost $60?) The next two days will be spent packing. We want to start packing early, so when we realize we forgot something, we have time to acquire it before our flight takes off. A few of our main packing items include:
AM: Pole conditioning workout
PM: Power yoga
Breakfast: One egg over-medium on toast with half an orange
Lunch: Baked red snapper with a side salad
Snack: Spoonful of peanut butter
Dinner: Baked chicken with mashed cauliflower
We just spent the entire day creating this blog. Literally. All. Day.
No workout. Seriously, we spent all day on this blog.
We also lost track of what we ate while creating the blog, though we think pizza was involved...