Travel Tips for New Zealand
When to Go: It really depends on what you want to boat. You can boat stuff on the North Island year round, the Kaituna always has water. ALWAYS! (how great is that?). Typical season for people traveling in is November which is spring and then through January. Note that most of the boating requires some rain to charge the rivers and get them flowing. So plan on getting rained on in the South Island as it rains often but also plan on being flexible as it can rain for a week keeping the helicopters on the West Coast grounded. But it should also be noted that the stuff runs year round as the rain levels are nearly even year round ( weather website, click city to see monthly rain totals and temp). The main limiter during the winter season is not snow, but daylight hours.
Entry into New Zealand: Passport is of course required... but no Visa for folks coming from the US. Note if you plan to stop over in Australia, a visa is required. Thankfully for Diane I knew this as she planned on using a 6 hour layover in Sydney for site seeing.
Getting to New Zealand: If you are flying into the North Island, Auckland is the airport to use. It is about 3 hours from the Kaituna. If you are flying to the South Island Christchurch is the biggest airport down there. Take care when booking your flights to Christchurch though as they will connect through Auckland and in many cases turn into regional craft which will not take kayaks. Diane just choose wisely and had no issue. An extra note if you are going to Christchurch, the Auckland airport sucks when transferring from international to domestic (and vice versa). For your inbound leg you will go through customs with all of your gear and then have to take it all with you outside and follow the path to the Domestic terminal. There are buses that can take you between the two but Diane was shot down with the kayak, it was a 10 minute walk between the two.
Bio Screening Upon Arrival: New Zealand is an island with super diverse biology living on it. So they take extreme care in ensuring that no one introduces anything that can ruin that. Be prepared to pull your tent out and unfold it, show your shoes, show the inside of your kayak etc. It is all fair game. Do yourself a favor and make sure everything is free from dirt, grime, dust, and seeds... that is if you want to keep it.
River Beta: There is a guidebook with most of the runs included in it: Graham Charles's Book. Though it lacks up to date info on a lot of the gauges and did lead us astray a few times. Certainly much better than nothing and should be in your pack. Additionally there is a website with the same write-ups online and with updates in the comments, which is a useful thing to reference at time. I also used the website to post my boats for sale: http://rivers.org.nz/. Finally, I also posted on the Facebook group “uccc: slappin' it since '67” which is the University of Canterbury Canoe Club Facebook group. Canterbury is the region on the South Island with Christchurch in it.
Helicopter Shuttles There are two main people to use. The first is Fletcher. He is out of Hokitika (so Hokitika, Styx, Arahura). His number is +027-212-3855. Down south on the West Coast (Perth, Whotaroa) is a company that is located at take-out. Their number is +03-752-0793.
Flow Beta: On the main page of the website I discussed above, there is a small map hidden under the far right column that says "River Flows", this has links (via the map) to each region’s flow site. Due to the way the regions are set up and the proprietary nature of the data on the sites, there is no single source of info. So, that is a challenge for you if you are not fully in the loop with the layout of the rivers in the regions, to understand the data. Good luck. Down on the South Island, gauges are less plentiful and you depend more on the rain forecast, especially for the Fiordland and the West Coast stuff. For that, look at the Metvuw page here.
Ferry: If you plan on driving from the North Island to the South Island (or vice versa) there are two companies that provide ferries. The pick up on the North Island is Wellington where as on the South it is Picton. The two companies are Interislandes and Blueridge. You can see some info here. Note that especially near the holidays, you will want to book a few months out as the ferries will be sold out as you get closer.
- You do not need an international driving license... but, rules are changing more and more in Europe, if you get pulled over an international drivers permit ($15 from AAA) are requested. Some rental car agencies are also stating it is a requirement... though to date I have not heard anyone actually be asked for it at the counter. So... better safe that sorry right?
- They drive on the left side of the road, and the right side of the car. This was the first time I have done this at length. I drove a small amount in Japan, but not enough to feel comfortable. Luckily it was easy to pick up. I only messed up twice, once early on while on an empty rural road and the second time on our last day in a busy city. The second one was scary!
- I saw one toll road near the Waiari Stream which is on the coast in the Bay of Plenty. I didn’t need to drive on it... but it means there are some. I did not see any others.
- Unlike many other locations I have traveled to, this location was mainly automatics for car rentals. I guess that is good as driving on the wrong side of the car makes a stick extra challenging. Luckily the foot pedals are the same...
- GPS: I found an app called Navfree (now it is called NavMii) which is basically Google Maps but offline. This means that you can search and route your way around the country without internet or a data plan. So that is awesome. It is one map per country and they run 200-500 mb but work great. I also have begun using a map app, Galileo, which allowed me to save the .kml files from my planning (that I have on the website's map section) so we were able to see all the way points and camping spots etc. That map app wouldn't route though so we had to use both apps.
Phone: Each city also has tourism centers which usually have wifi so you could get by using that. I however went for pure convenience and got a sim card for the month. They sell them in both airports and run $20-80 NZD for plans ranging from 1 gb data and limited calls to 6 gb data and unlimited calls.
Water: OK to drink from faucets etc. Probably ok from a lot of the West Coast rivers too honestly!
Vaccinations: No extra needed.
Money: Plenty of ATMs that take US ATM cards. Just make sure to tell your bank before you go, in some countries 4 digit pins (no more) are required... Also, even on your credit card, get a pin put on. Also bring more than one. We had cards work at one spot, and others not... and then vice versa at other locations. The currency is NZ Dollars. In 2016 they exchanged at 0.71 US to NZ.
Prices: Pricey for sure. Food and whatnot wasn’t bad. Camping was more than you would expect for the facilitates. But it was gas where it got you. $2 NZD per liter. We were looking at $80 NZ per fill up. Or $60 US.
Food: Go to a cafe and get a pie. No joke. Best breakfast food ever. Meat filled pies. So so good. The sausage rolls aren’t bad either.
Boats: I honestly didn't look into renting boats. But I also hadn’t heard of anyone trying to rent. If they do rent, I am sure it is pricey. Boats are expensive there. Jackson boats new are $2200 or so (2016). We brought ours with us, as did everyone we met. We also sold our boats there. I posted on the forum, as well as on the facebook group for Canterbury, and also discussed it with people who I camped near etc. I had several interested parties in each boat. I sold them for $750-1000 NZD. The $750 was a friends discount and was a screaming deal I was told.
Accommodations: We camped every night... There are a lot of DOC (Department of Conservation) camping that range in price and facilities. Some are pit toilets for $8 per person a night, others have hot showers and kitchens for $18 a person per night. There are also some in between. Poaching camping is also possible depending on the region. In all you technically need to be self-contained meaning a shitter on board so you might not set up too early in the afternoon nor hang around too long in the morning if this is your approach.
Weather: The weather can be all over the place. We had warm days and cold rainy days. Apparently it was unseasonably cold when we were there... but it happens. You want rain for the rivers, but then you want clear days to actually boat the rivers. I was super happy to have my drysuit as I used it almost exclusively on the South Island. Also, some runs you only get while it is raining, though none of these are the main “classics” most people think of when they think NZ.
Random Thing to do: Hike the Tongaririo Crossing. It is a 12 mile trail that goes through the Tongaririo Crossing and has amazing scenic views. It will take most of the day... but you can park and huck Tawhai Falls the same day as it is 10 minutes away and apparently never gets too low.
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