NZ: Landing On A Long White Cloud

It’s long overdue but there is also a lot to cover. And to be totally honest – our first day was not our best, so it’s taken quite a bit to … Well, to sort of figure out the best approach.

And all because of a travel agent.

Let me just say, I know not all travel agents are THIS incompetent. However, everything THIS agent touched turned to travel manure.

Summation: we had planned a three (3) week holiday for a family of five (5) to travel around two (2) islands. I took care of a lot of the planning myself; pretty much everything except:

  • campervan hire
  • ski pass
  • ski equipment hire
  • accommodation in Queenstown
  • ferry between Wellington and Picton

Each of these was paid upfront, in return for the standard use of travel vouchers. They tried to sell us travel insurance as well, but not only did we pick it up much cheaper with Defence Health, I was able to include the Snow Pack and Adventure Pack with a far greater coverage. If you’re skiing or luge-ing or bungee-ing in NZ, ensure you have these extra features or your extra activities aren’t covered.

blog-01Awaking on D-Day, we were all excited for our trip. Being the first time I entrusted any travel details to a third party, I was fairly nervous. But I convinced myself to enjoy the trip and trust the agent.

The flight itself was pretty much a non-event and I’m very happy about that. We left early in the morning with QANTAS, giving us a 2pm arrival in Auckland with plenty of time to pick up our campervan and find our first campsite.

As we stepped into the arrival terminal, my phone buzzed. An email. Really? Already? I remember being very tempted to ignore it … But I checked it just in case

And I’m very glad I did. The pick-up location for the shuttle to the campervan had changed. And the directions from the travel agent were awful – we could not find the door they referred to.

auckland-airport-hobbit-dwarfLuckily, there were some awesome Hobbit displays in the terminal from Weta Workshop. The NZers are very proud of their greatest export (though, I think Taika  Waititi is going to challenge that…), and it provided a great opportunity to entertain the tired kids while I figured out where to go.

Tip: Take Door 8 and head out to the bus stop. The ‘shuttle’ for Britz Campervan is actually a public bus, and where a travel agent calls it a Yellow Bus – it’s actually any colour at the time but called a ‘yellow bus’ for the route it takes. You might be lucky to see a sign in the window saying ‘Yellow’.

The good news is the bus drivers are accustomed to this and happy to help out. Tell them you are heading to Britz and they will tell you when to hop off.

Britz are also very helpful – especially when your Travel Agent forgets to include a $210 payment in your voucher.

That’s right folks. We turned up to pick up our campervan and were slogged another $210 for a fee the travel agent completely forgot about. Since the travel agent was unavailable to take my call, I made the payment with the intent of chasing the agent when back home. Britz were very good and ensured I had all the paperwork to argue the point. You can guess how much extra time this took to fix up. By the time we sorted it all, it was already approaching night and we still needed to pick up groceries. This was not a great start to our holiday.

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Things did improve: before you leave Britz, make sure you raid The Pantry. It is a big cupboard right at the door, where any travellers can leave leftover groceries for those just starting their journeys. It is perfect for things like oil, salt, flour, tomato sauce, even toilet paper. All the things that are sooooo much cheaper in bulk but rarely used up in a 2 or 3-week trip.

Any groceries still needed can be picked up 5min down the road towards the highway. Countdown is one of the 3 big grocery shops which sell almost anything. They also have a Travellers Card which gives you a 5% discount and a discount for patrol. Every bit helps.

Our initial plan was to drive to the North of Auckland, as close as possible to the Waipoua Forest. The extra time with pick-up really hit us, and I wasn’t sure if we would still make it. We definitely wouldn’t be there for dinner, but we learnt of a good enough site to make the effort to sleep there for the night.

This is where I am going to rave about Campermate. And seriously, I cannot rave about it enough. You are going to read a lot about this app throughout our NZ trip because we used it everywhere, every day. Campermate is an app you can download to phone, iPad or tablet for free. It will show on a map all the campsites, dumpsites, grocery, playgrounds, fresh water, wifi, public toilets, anything you need while campervanning around New Zealand. It will show you places of interest and parking around them. It will show you EVERYTHING, and in most cases, with reviews from other Campermate users. It is brilliant when you are looking to free-camp but you want to make sure if your huge campervan will fit. Just as an example. Seriously, I considered Campermate the absolute travel enhancer for our trip.

With a stop for dinner (quesadillas), we eventually arrived at Port Albert Domain (Wharf Road, Port Albert) around 10pm. Take SH1 North through Auckland. From Wellsford turn onto Port Albert Road SH16. At the end of the road, turn right onto Wharf Road. You need to drive down a gravelly road to the open campsite – a big open area to park your campervan for the night without cost. It’s about 11km from Wellsford.

Arriving at night meant we couldn’t really appreciate the water views with the location, but it was a real bonus to have a clear starry night before crashing in bed. The Legend of the Long White Cloud ended up being figurative only – but we were determined to shake off the ‘travel agent Blues’ and start afresh tomorrow.

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