Whether you’re on a weekend roadtrip or a working holiday, valuable time is often eaten while agonising over travel decisions. A cruise or a hike? Two light jackets or one heavy one? Chicken or fish? When it comes down to it, there are a number of ways that can help you get the most out of your travel-time, ways that apply to a variety of travel scenarios. This is my personal list, learned via flashes of genius as well as discovered through sparks of stupidity (the latter being more common). It’s an ongoing, morphable list of what to use and what to lose when traveling, which will hopefully help to make you more travel-efficient and allow you to spend more time enjoying your time than wasting it.
Whether you’re an experienced photographer or a novice, your pictures will be your favourite souvenirs. If you’re really into your photography, consider investing in a decent SLR. Adding a zoom-lens is especially useful when traveling, from photographing wildlife to capturing portraits of locals without harassing them. An efficient one to try is a travel lens, such as an 18-200mm, which will give you a variety of photographic options without the hassle of carrying multiple lenses. If you’re not keen on lugging around a big camera and lens, consider a sturdy point-and-shoot, such as the Sony Cybershot TX5. This is a freeze-resistant, 3m waterproof, drop proof camera that also films HD video. The pictures are great quality and you wont have to worry about damaging it on the road. Personally, I carry around both: a Nikon SLR for those ‘arty’ shots and a Sony Cybershot for the places where the Nikon could get damaged.
Most places have easy and cheap access to internet cafes so you shouldn’t have a problem. As well as taking up space and adding weight, having a laptop makes you an attractive target to thieves. Instead, consider a smaller more discreet Netbook, or an Ipad. Jim Karlovsky, a fellow MatadorU student, has written a great article on the wide range of travel aps available for the ipad here.
This can be down to personal tastes, but if you’re interested in traveling rather than touring, ditch the guided excursions. In my experience, they are usually overpriced and barely skim the surface of what is really out there.
Last summer I visited Cinque Terre with the family I worked for in Tuscany, and we took a guided boat tour of the 5 villages. While the villages were beautiful, we seemed to be constantly being rushed from town to town, herded on and off the boats like cattle, with little time to explore and enjoy the individual towns. I look forward to visiting Cinque Terre again someday, and having the time to explore the numerous higgledepiggledy alleyways on my own.
Rather than opting for the large guided tours, have a wander away from the center of town and check out the smaller businesses that surround. On a recent trip to the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, just about every person we spoke to urged us to go on the dolphin-sight-seeing cruise. As I have mentioned, I am not a fan of cruises, so instead we wandered along the bay until we came across 3 guys playing Frisbee in front of a boat shed. There were kayaks, boats and bikes all arranged outside the shed, as well as a ‘tinny’: a small tin boat with a 15hp motor.
One of the frisbee players introduced himself as Danbro (as in, “Hi I’m Dan, bro”) and offered to rent us his tinny. Danbro started his business when he was 13, and specializes in renting out kayaking or boating equipment and leading kayaking day trips. As well as the tinny, he also lent us a couple of fishing rods and showed us how to bait our lines and where to go for good snapper. We set off exploring the bay, and when it started to drizzle we were free to drag the boat up onto the beach and grab a bite to eat. Midway through lunch we got a text from Danbro telling us that he’d checked the weather report and the skies would clear in 15 mins. They did, and we set off to our fishing location. Another text came in from Danbro: dolphins had been spotted near where we were anchored. Not long afterwards a pod of dolphins swam past us, about 3 meters away, no dolphin cruise required! We returned to shore having caught a decently sized snapper, which Danbro gutted and filleted for us.
There aren’t a lot of sightseeing companies that would offer this kind of personal, friendly service, and we ended up having a drink with Danbro before heading home to feast on our fresh fish dinner. It felt good supporting someone who was clearly passionate about what he was doing and wasn’t trying to rip us off.
It’s worth spending your money on experiences you will remember, try not to scrimp here. While you can survive sleeping in a tent, or living on spaghetti-sandwiches, if you don’t go for the good experiences, you’ll regret it. For example, I haven’t bought new clothes in a year and a half, but 3 months ago I visited Queenstown and did “The Awesome Foursome” combo deal: bungee, jetboating, white-water rafting and a helicopter ride for NZ$599. It was the most terrifying, exhilherating day of my life, and worth every penny. I am so glad that I didn’t opt for the cheaper, tamer options and will never forget how I felt as I plummeted into the 134m Nevis Canyon.
It is always tempting to buy a little stuffed kiwi or photo-pack of your jetboat ride, but most of the time these things get shoved in a box and forgotten. Now and then you’ll find something special that you’ll treasure, but these times are rare. Avoid filling your valuable backpack/suitcase space with tat. Instead, keep receipts, tickets and drawings. Hicksy’s journal is bursting with things like the receipt for the tin of beans we bought when we ran out of money in the Abel Tasman, and tickets to a rugby game. These are the things that will trigger the memories when you return home, not some stuffed toy.
This thing is gonna have all your stuff in it! Don’t scrimp! Go for quality here, you want waterproof, sturdy material and a high-quality structure to not only protect your belongings, but your body too. The last thing anyone wants is to put out their back halfway along the Milford Track.
Guys, do you really need those night-vision goggles? Girls, are you really going to have that many opportunities to wear stilettos in Cambodia? Prioritize, simplify and be brutal. While it’s great to always be prepared, it can be a pain in the butt lugging around a heap of stuff that you packed because the chance may pop up where you use it. Ask yourself, “Will I perish without it?” If the answer is no, it’s gotta go.
The list of what to use and what to lose is a subjective one, many may disagree with me. What about you? What would you use and what would you lose on your travels?
According to Frontier Lager,
Men are endangered. Years of oppression, veganism, vampire-based television series and weak, low-carb beers have nearly wiped them out.
The last place to find real men, hairy men, men who aren’t afraid of a little red meat, appears to be New Zealand.
It is becoming more and more apparent to me that Kiwi men pride themselves on their manliness. The metro-sexual invasion of the 21st century seems to have skipped this little country in the corner of the world. While one or two man-icure salons may have opened in Auckland, the rest of the men in New Zealand appear to be as rugged as a bear driving a Holden.
So rugged, in fact, that in New Zealand even the ice cream is manlier. How on earth could one expect a thundering kiwi mountain of masculinity to eat something as girly and pink as hazelnut infused lemon grass sorbet? No. Hazelnut infused lemon grass sorbet is for sissies. In Kiwi Land there is special ice cream made for men, and men only. Rum & Cola flavour, or Peanut Butter ice cream, advertised as being “Dangerously Smooth” and allowing you to “Beat Hunger, With a Spoon.” The same company also sells yoghurt for men, claiming that “man has lost his place in the world, and in the fridge.”
Without wanting to give Mammoth Supply Co too much free advertising, you have to look at their yoghurt ad. Behold! Yoghurt eaten the macho way![youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1foVGaooUFQ%5D
It reminds me of the Speights Southern Man campaign, which celebrated all that makes Kiwi men manly. So if you’re a guy reading this and all of a sudden feel a little emasculated in comparison, then I urge you, put down your pet chihuahua, postpone your backsackandcrack wax, and study the poster below, courtesy of Speights.
In April, after a great deal of persuasion, my parents decided us to visit us in New Zealand. It was up to us to plan a road trip of the South Island that included as many of the best bits as possible, and squeeze it all into 10 days. We decided that the best way to do this would be to hire a campervan, plot an approximate route, and take it from there. We didn’t want every minute planned out, we wanted to be able to take our time and stay at a place for a little longer if we loved it. At the same time, we also knew that there were some specific activities that we wanted to do, and we would have to book them in advance. So after a lot of emails, guidebooks and conversations with helpful Southlanders, we finally came up with a basic plan for the South Island road trip of a lifetime. What followed was 10 days of pure Kiwi experiences, a trip that finally convinced my dad that New Zealand is not just sheep, mountains and rings.
Scroll to the bottom of the page to see an interactive route map of our trip, or click here to see a bigger version.
My parents arrived in Dunedin in the evening, after a long drive down from Christchurch. Exhausted, they were keen to get some rest. I had taken the liberty of booking a room at a small backpackers near the center of town. I assumed that they would be happy with “no frills” accommodation, and enjoy roughing it as Hicksy and I had been doing ourselves. This was a big mistake. The backpackers that I had booked was by no means the worst I have ever seen, but it was… minimalist. The bathrooms were communal and the place was small, old and smelly. Still, Mama Kirk put on a brave face and hoisted her luggage up the narrow creaky stairs and into her room. We heard giggles coming from outside the window, and discovered a hot-tub full of girls in the garden below. Papa Kirk didn’t think the accommodation was so bad. Mom clearly wasn’t happy though, and when she pulled back the covers to discover a family of fleas camping in the bed, it was the last straw. They were booked in to a hotel less than an hour later.
The next day we showed my folks the best that Dunedin had to offer. We did a tour of the Speights Brewery (our second), and drove along the peninsula to the Albatross Colony, before heading out for supper. The Speights tour was outstanding, and I would recommend it to anyone visiting Dunedin! Don’t bother with the Cadbury’s tour though, it’s highly overrated and is little more than a long walk to the gift shop.
The next morning we all piled in to the campervan and began the 3hr drive to Te Anau. The trip had finally started! The Camper, while being a 5-sleeper, was cosy and rattled like mad when we were driving. We soon got used to it, our reflexes improving as we dodged/caught the falling books/dishes/laptops as they burst out of the cupboards. We arrived in Te Anau in the late afternoon, plugged the camper into the campsite and set off to explore the lake. Kiwi campsites are outstanding, they’re clean, well maintained and have everything you could possibly need. That night we barbequed under the stars and slept relatively soundly despite the snoring of Papa Kirk.
The following morning we were up at sparrow’s fart to catch a boat across Lake Manapouri followed by a bus over the Wilmot Pass to Doubtful Sound. The journey to the sound really makes it clear just how remote you are, it was quite exciting! Once we got to Doubtful Sound we boarded the Fiordland Navigator for an overnight cruise along the length of the sound.
This was comfortably one of the best things we’ve done in New Zealand. It was absolutely incredible! The first day was very wet and windy creating dramatic waterfalls that cascaded down every surface available. We had a great time messing around in single-man kayaks in the drizzle, working up a substantial appetite.
I need to take a moment her to tell you about the dinner. First off, it was Hicksy’s favourite food: Buffet. And not just any old buffet, but roast lamb, beef, chicken, veggies…. an array of salads and sauces and sides….it was heaven. And I haven’t even started on the desert buffet!
The next morning we woke to clear blue skies, still water and breathtaking views. We were wowed further when a front blew in creating a rainbow right across the sound. I will always remember the overwhelming peace that I felt, standing on deck, cup of hot chocolate in hand, engulfed by the silence of the sound.
We slowly made our way back to the docking station and started the long journey back to Te Anau (which was a much more interesting trip now that the rain had cleared!).
We then headed to Milford Sound where we were greeted by more clear skies! I know I’m harping on about the weather, but it really is quite unusual for the area, which gets about 6,813 mm of rain a year. The journey to Milford is an experience in itself, with beautiful scenery and short walks as well as an interesting drive through the Homer Tunnel. We plugged the camper into another campsite and got an early night. What luxury this was in comparison to the last time Hicksy and I came to Milford Sound! No 3 nights of sleeping in our tiny Ford Festiva while rain thunders down relentlessly outside, oh no! This was bliss! Well, if bliss includes swarms of sandflies anyway.
The next morning Dad, Hicksy and I paddled twin kayaks the entire length of the sound, while Mom opted for the scenic cruise. It took us a leisurely 5 hours to paddle the 25km to the Tasman Sea, taking in albatrosses, sea lions (or seals? I never can tell) and going through waterfalls along the way. We went with Roscos Kayaks and I would recommend them in a heartbeat. Our guide, Burto, was brilliant. He was full of knowledge, great fun and didn’t mind Hicksy’s half-hearted paddling in their twin kayak. We got back to the campsite for what we thought would be a relaxing afternoon, but soon discovered that we had to be in Queenstown the next day for a wine tour. Back to the camper!
So back to the camper we rushed, and off to Queenstown we rode! The next morning we were picked up by Appellation Central Wine Tours, for a private tour of the Central Otago wine region. Now, I’m not much of a wine drinker, but this was superb. The guide really knew his stuff, and could answer all of Dad’s questions about tannins and vines and other winey things. And Dad is a wine
The vineyards were also beautiful, in fact Queenstown was beautiful, picturesque in its Autumn colours. We had another day in Qtown, so we filled it with jet boating, luging and me demolishing Hicksy at mini-golf. We also treated ourselves to the famous Bluff oysters, which were de-licious and introduced Mom and Dad to the legendary Ferg Burgers! We didn’t do any of the super-extreme activities as Hicksy and I had already done them on a previous visit (which will be blogged about at some point) and Mom and Dad weren’t really interested in chucking themselves off a cliff while attached to an elastic band.
From Queenstown we headed to Wanaka. We went through Arrowtown, gorgeous with its wide streets under a leafy canopy of oranges, reds and browns. As it was Hicksy’s birthday we made a slight detour to the Rob Roy Glacier, a small hike that he’d been wanting to do for a while. Dad’s Achilles tendon was giving him trouble (he’d snapped it skiing) so Mom, Hicksy and I climbed to the glacier. Well, it was more of a steep walk than a climb I suppose. It’s a fantastic hike to do, with a great deal of variety in scenery and exciting rockfall-risk areas where signs warned us against stopping for fear of being squished. Glacial water is delicious too.
We now entered the final stages of the trip: the drive up the West Coast to the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers.
This was an interesting drive, going from the awesome views at Lake Hawea and Blue Pools and continuing into Pukekura, population: 2. The two people who live in Pukekura are Pete and Justine, who run the Puke Pub where one can sample the supposedly delicious Possum Pies. Even Hicksy didn’t try those. They also have a bizarre museum out back, where you can see real possums (future pies?), eels and other weird stuff. We wandered around the museum for a while, until it got a bit creepy and we moved on to the glaciers.
At this point the weather finally started to turn, hitting us with the wind and rain that is more typical of the dense rainforesty area. We got to the glaciers in the late afternoon and decided to treat ourselves to a relaxing evening in the thermal pools.
The next day Hicksy woke up early to explore the Fox Glacier, and later on we went with Mom to the Franz Joseph. I would have loved to have done a glacier hike or helicoptered over them, but unfortunately time and weather were against us so we had to make do with the walk to the base. I’m not sure we got to experience it in all it’s glory, but it was still an awe-inspiring sight.
Time was rapidly running out. We drove up the West Coast, crossed the famous Arthur’s Pass and finally arrived in Christchurch, where we stayed at our final campsite. My parents said it had been one of their best holidays ever, which was a relief, as I had hoped they would fall in love with New Zealand as I had. I was amazed at how well we all got along, 4 adults in a confined space initially seemed mad. It’s hard not to be permanently happy though, when every day your breath is taken away by the beauty of your surroundings.
We had our last delicious meal of steak and mussels before Mom and Dad flew home, we boarded our bus, and it was back to beans on toast for Hicksy and I.
Click on the blue arrows for details.