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New Zealand

Author nfmungard
#1 | Posted: 15 Jan 2020 04:05 | Edited by: nfmungard 
Kicking off my feedback and travel advice re a visit in New Zealand...

First things first, New Zealand is not a very efficient choice for a WHS traveller. The size of the country is way larger than most maps will indicate as it's on the edge of most maps and the scale is skewed. Roads are good, but not fast; e.g. what I would call highways only exist around Auckland. Most roads are country roads, some bridges are single lane. Last but not least, the inscribed sites are few (3), one of which is prohibitively expensive and even if you had the money (10k$), you would also need the time (a week on a cruise or more) and get a reservation (sub antarctic islands). In addition, New Zealand is not very active re their tentative lists with only one tentative site being scheduled for a WHC.

That said, it's still a great travel destination.

Getting In
Unless you are based in the Pacific or Oceania, you will likely have to transfer. For Europeans, choices are China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia or Los Angeles. The last choice is discouraged as it requires a transit visa in the US. I opted for flying in via Singapore and Sydney and flying out via Shanghai. This way I am able to polish my WHS visits a bit (Singapore 2, Sydney 3, Shanghai coming up). Nowadays, there are plenty of long distance budget airlines operating in South East Asia/Oceania, so it is not that expensive to fly one way Singapore -> Sydney and Sydney -> Queenstown. Experience with Scoot and Jetstart were ... interesting, though. It's not what you would expect from a long distance flight, but it did the job.

I organized it such that I flew into Queenstown (South Island) and fly out of Auckland (North Island). This saves you plenty of travel time. It's also a good combination with a side trip to Sydney.

NOTE: Do not bring ANY foodstuff (biohazards) whatsoever to New Zealand. And clean your hiking equipment, specifically your boots. They will fine you heavily if they find you with dirty boots or an apple.

Getting Around/Rental Car
There are buses, but we travelled by our own car. New Zealand is a road trip country and you will miss out if you travel by public transport. Be aware that travel times tend to be way higher than you would assume. Those sign saying driving in New Zealand is different (i.e. slower) are correct. There are plenty of reasons for this:

1) There are no highways. You mostly drive what in Germany would be called a rural road. Overtaking a slow Lucy (camper van) can be difficult. Max speed is 100km/h.
2) There are plenty of road repairs all across the country.

A few advices:
* Don't speed. We saw plenty of traffic police in remote parts of the country.
* Get proper car insurance including glass damage. There are plenty of stones on the road. Preferably, you don't get it at the rental agency on site as they grossly overcharge you.
* One way rentals South to North are supposedly cheaper than the other way around. You should definitively check and see how you make arrangements.
* The ferry in Picton requires an early reservation. Most rental companies will collect the car in Picton/Wellington and give you a new car on the other side.

Road Conditions
If you are wondering, why I am bringing this up again... Road conditions are a challenge and road repairs a constant feature of the country. It's not that the Kiwis go cheap on their roads, It's that these roads are subject to nature forces, including floodings, mud slides, ... Before our visit, tourists got stuck at the Fox Glacier/Franz Josef Glacier. The single highway of the area was shut both direction Wanaka (South East) and direction Greymouth (North) due to floods. I did see the impact the floods had, and there was no quick workaround. And if you are wondering, why didn't they just take a detour, you need to know, that the whole area only has this one road going in and out. So check the weather, plan with enough buffer and don't be stupid.

I would recommend to trust Google maps here. They tend to have the construction sites / road blocks. And seeing even the "big" highways are just normal rural roads it doesn't really matter where you drive.

Supposedly, December to January is high season. And there were a few places where we needed to prebook and had a hard time getting a cheap accommodation. However, high season felt pretty empty to me. The place was not crowded at all.

Like I said the Sub Antarctic Islands are prohibitively expensive. Problem is that the cruises always to the full monty. There is no 2? day tour to the Snares (the closest islands) only.

Of the two sites, I seen Te Wahipounamu clearly belongs in the 4.5-5* region. It's huge. It covers so many different parts: fern rain forests, coastal regions, pristine mountain ranges, fjords. It's remote and very little human interaction has happened. I have a really hard time understanding any rating below 4* here. Only complaint I can accept is that the site is too large and should have been split in multiple separate inscriptions to allow for a better appreciation of the different components and make the different parts more visible.

@Solivagant: If you give the West Norwegian Fjord 5* , then I really have a hard time understanding how you can award only 3.5* here. Milford Sound easily matches the Naeroyfjord.

Tongariro is a bit harder to judge. Thanks to some terminal cancer patient (a German) who had the Tongariro Alpine crossing on his bucket list and who died in the crossing, (Quote: My father was really sick, but totally in the condition to do an alpiine hike) we had to postpone our crossing from Sunday to Monday. The Maoris did a traditional mourning ceremony from Friday to Sunday for this irresponsible moron. Problem for us apart from the stressful drive to Auckland on Monday was that the weather was really bad and views were terrible. Unlike Sunday, where the sun shone. We did also explore the Southern side on Saturday which was nice. Still, my benchmark for volcanoes is the Teide and I feel Tongariro is not on the same level. I think 3-3.5 would be correct.

Tentative List
We only managed to see one proper tentative site, the Auckland Volcanic Fields. If there were more tangible Maori remains, I would be strongly in favor. But I failed to notice any. Best part was the youngest volcano, Rangitoto, which is a protected nature reserve. I would have also liked to visit the outside quarries.

We also ticked off the Fjordland site, but this is presumably an extension of Te Wahipounamu and to me a no brainer: The lakes and fjords are part of Fjordland.

Of the rest, both Abel Tasman and Napier sound enticing to me. Abel Tasman is further North than Te Wahipounamu, so fauna and flora should be different. Travelling in New Zealand I saw plenty of fabulous Art Deco and if Napier has a consistent set, it would be nice addition.

White Island has been in the news recently due to dead tourists. I cannot judge the site, but assuming the Eolian Islands are inscribed, I would think this makes sense, too.

But as mentioned, the Kiwis are not too eager to add new sites.

Personally, I think the Great Walks are great and unique to New Zealand. I think they could make a nice inscription. In addition, the New Zealand Gold Rush would be nice. Rotorua should also be added as it shows how Maori used the thermal energy. Last but not least, if there is any authentic Marae from before the 20th century that would be nice.

Author nfmungard
#2 | Posted: 15 Jan 2020 04:54 
01 Jan - Queenstown
We arrived in the evening and picked up our car. I got a tax free Vodafone sim. Note: Spark is the provider of choice, Vodafone NZ is pretty spotty. We had a prior reservation via AirB&B. Situation on New Year's Day was pretty dire.

02 Jan - Queenstown
Jetboat, other bookings and hiked the Queenstown mountain for the views. Queenstown is the place if you are into "extreme" sports. But it's not cheap.

Note: If you want to reach the WHS from Queenstown, drive to Glenorchy and hike parts of the Routeburn track till you reach the core zone. It should be feasible in a day.

03 Jan - Queenstown to Te Anau
We hiked from Te Anau the first bit of the Kepler track. It would have been smarter to park the car at the hydro plant as the Eastern shore of the lake is rather unimpressive and the core zone starts directly after the hydro plant. The fern forest and the lake shores we got to see were great and I wish we would have had more time to go further.

04 Jan - Te Anau to Milford
For our visit to Milford we stayed two nights in Te Anau. The drive from Queenstown to Milford (4h) is just too much. If you are considering visiting as a day trip, join a tour with a bus. Everything else in irresponsible. Better option is to do as we did and stay in Te Anau.

Along the road to the ferry we made several stops (several viewpoints, one hike). We followed the guide book recommendation to do an afternoon tour as it's more quiet. I would recommend doing the cruise first, though. The sound was still pretty busy with boats in the afternoon and you can't really manage your time if you still have to make the boat.

* I don't think that there is much that sets the average cruises apart. So you can safely pick the cheapest. Unless you are really into a scientific presentation.
* There are kayaking options for Milford. Looking at the fjord, I don't think these offer much of a benefit over the standard cruise.
* In Milford there is free parking including shuttle a little bit outside. They don't really advertise it as they want you to use the paid parking. The parking is left before the airport, so if you are passing the airport you went too far.

05 January - Te Anau to Wanaka
Originally, we had planned to kayak on Doubtful Sound. The tour got cancelled due to the weather and we decided to go early to Wanaka where we hiked Roy's Peak for the one selfie you have to take while in New Zealand.

Doubtful Sound supposedly is more remote and bigger than Milford. You need to take a ferry first and then a shuttle bus before you even get to the departure point. It's certainly something I would have looked into if we had had more time.

Meanwhile, we greatly enjoyed Wanaka (way nicer than Queenstown) and the hike up Roy's Peak. The hike is challenging, but not technically difficult.

06 January - Wanaka to Greymouth
We drove from Wanaka to Greymouth in a day stopping both at Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. It was a long day. And the road damage from a recent flooding was clearly visible along the road. But it was a very worthwhile day. I think this would warrant more days (at least 1 Day for Aspiring Mountains and Haarst, 1 Day for the Glaciers). We ended in Greymouth, a spooky place.

07 January - Greymouth to Kaikoura
We drove again across the Southern Alps. Reefton was a nice stop for a coffee (had an American Rocky Mountain feeling somehow). We also had planned to visit a gold mining town along the way but gave up due to road conditions. Kaikoura was for whale watching.

My friend wanted to go to Kaikoura. The more natural choice as a WHS enthusiast would have been to stay on the West Coast and head to Abel Tasman.

08 January - Kaikoura
We hiked around the peninsula and splendid views of the seals and coastline. In the afternoon we went whale watching. For my friend it was the first time he did this. I had seen whales in Peninsula Valdes and the experience was better as they are less restricted and the whales are way closer. In NZ the boats have to stay at least 100m apart. Which is probably sensible for the animals.

09 January - Kaikoura to Blenheim
We drove to Marlborough and did a small vine tasting. Then we continued up to the Queen Charlotte track which we hiked a little, staying overnight in Blenheim. Blenheim was the first place where we felt back in civilzation.

10 January - Blenheim to Picton to Wellington
We took the ferry from Picton to Wellington. Car was returned in Picton and a new car picked up in Wellington. Note: Even though we were travelling without car, the boat was fully booked. So reserve in advance as we did.

Wellington was the nicest city we visited while in New Zealand. Quite pleasant. A WHS enthusiast may, though, forego Wellington and drive directly to Napier.

11 January - Wellington to Taurangi
We drove along the west coast to Taurangi. Beaches were not memorable. But we went up the Southern part of Tongariro National park to see Waitonga Falls and that was nice. This can be well done by car.

12 January - Taurangi
Originally planned as our alpine crossing day (weather was great), we went to Rotorua instead. There is plenty to see along the road. Best parts to me where the Lake in Rotorua and the Whakarewarew Tribel Village including the geysir. As I said, sth should be inscribed here.

Having to return to Taurangi meant driving 200km in addition.

13 January - Taurangi to Tongariro to Auckland
We got up early to catch our shuttle bus in Tongariro. And then did the alpine crossing. The weather was not good and views were very limited unfortunately. The drive to Auckland in the afternoon was tough, staying awake wise. Don't do this alone and constantly make sure everyone is awake. Preferable don't do this.

14 January - Auckland
Excursion to Rangitoto Island. Nice. Auckland, not nice. Please cut your time in Auckland short. It's really not worth the visit.

15 January - Auckland and Departure.
One Tree Hill to Mount Eden.

Author Solivagant
#3 | Posted: 15 Jan 2020 05:27 | Edited by: Solivagant 
@Solivagant: If you give the West Norwegian Fjord 5* , then I really have a hard time understanding how you can award only 3.5* here. Milford Sound easily matches the Naeroyfjord.

A "challenge" eh? And a reasonable one. The issue you raise is the reason I suggested a few weeks ago that the listing of WHS by Category should include both Community and individual ratings to highlight and facilitate comparisons across similar sites. I have no doubt that my own original assignment of ratings across nearly 800 WHS includes some ratings which might not easily stand up to such analysis!
We visited the area way back in 1987 (Were you even born?) and our main trip to the inscribed Norwegian fjords was made a few years before that - it is a problem to assign ratings for visits made such a long time ago! On purely objective "compare OUV" terms you must be correct to highlight a difference of 1.5 stars - but, across all those years, my memory of the respective visits is one of relative disappointment with Te Wahipounamu and undoubted "delight" with the Norwegian Fjords!
We had a rented Camper van in NZ - pick up in Christchurch and drop off in Auckland across 2 weeks. Generally it was a good trip. (We absolutely HATED Queenstown by the way and got out ASAP all those years ago- it will be "worse" now!!) We did not however do any multi or even full day walks and perhaps these are necessary to gain the real value of the NZ sites. We know that you enjoy your hiking/trekking and that no doubt impacts your relative rating?
I also remember the Milford sound boat trip with particular "dissatisfaction". A noisy crowded "tourist boat" with "typical" loudspeaker commentary which trundled up the sound and back stopping at a waterfall which wasn't as spectacular as ones I remembered in Norway!! Our Norwegian fjord rides were on delightful local ferries which, in late May, were almost empty. Have you ever travelled the Hellesylt to Geiranger fjord trip? I still say that it is "superior" to Milford sound - and you don't have to take a "tourist cruise" either.
I do remember the Kea at the top of the pass as a positive and also the views of Mt Cook on a clear day (though it has always been a "travel regret" that we didn't pay for a helicopter trip up onto it - we have never regretted our ride over Vic Falls.) . One walk we did do was up Franz Josef Glacier (or was it Fox which we chose?). This had to be abandoned because of rain - in comparison I remember the Norwegian Glaciers we walked to being white against a blue background!!
So - a fair bit of my 1.5 star rating difference between the NZ and Norwegian Fjords can be put down to the reality and the memory of our visit experience. If I was giving more weight to the inherent value of the site I would probably increase the NZ site by half a star and reduce that of Norway similarly.

Author Colvin
#4 | Posted: 16 Jan 2020 00:59 
Great advice, Nan -- thanks for sharing! Sounds like you had a fantastic trip. I'm sorry to hear the weather was not good for you on the Tongariro Crossing (I would have been annoyed, too, by those circumstances). That said, I see you enjoyed Rotorua, which is an amazing natural site. Fjordland sounds amazing, so one of these days I'm going to need to get back to visit the South Island.

For those looking at traveling at times of the year other than high season, I found March (early autumn) to be an excellent time to visit the North Island. As Nan mentioned, car hire is cheaper traveling one way north from Wellington to Auckland. Some of the highlights I found on the North Island that Nan didn't get to (or maybe that he didn't mention) include: the free and fascinating Te Papa Museum in Wellington, the glow worm caves near Waitomo (many outfitters offer hiking or blackwater rafting adventure tours), and the scenic Bay of Islands, north of Auckland, which offer sailing trips and a look at New Zealand's colonial heritage at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. I enjoyed touring the Art Deco buildings of Napier on the sedate east coast of the North Island, but I'll admit that other cities have grander examples of Art Deco buildings.

Author nfmungard
#5 | Posted: 7 Feb 2020 11:55 
The issue you raise is the reason I suggested a few weeks ago that the listing of WHS by Category should include both Community and individual ratings to highlight and facilitate comparisons across similar sites.

Still recuperating from my Chinese flu (not Corona) and then will focus on the migration. But good idea. Alternative would be to provide a CSV file with your ratings etc and plenty of columns.

We absolutely HATED Queenstown by the way and got out ASAP all those years ago- it will be "worse" now!

They even have Louis Vuitton nowadays. But the prohibition on public drinking has improved the general feeling in the city I guess. But yeah, Queenstown is not a site of itself, more of a logistical hub.

We did not however do any multi or even full day walks and perhaps these are necessary to gain the real value of the NZ sites. We know that you enjoy your hiking/trekking and that no doubt impacts your relative rating?

Yes, the Milford cruise feels a bit like being in a cruise traffic jam. However, I think this is actually one of the strongest parts of the NP. The authorities steer most tourists to a very small subset of the total inscribed area. E.g., if you do doubtful sound instead of Milford you should already have a better experience. And there are so many more fjords, that aren't accessible at all, unless you get your own boat or you hike there.

Re hiking impacting my rating, not really. The hiking is more about me feeling I earn the tick. Not so much about the appreciation of the site itself. But yes, NZ is prime hiking country.

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