There are one or two choices of routes to New Zealand from the UK. We plumped for using Singapore Airlines, who operate flights arriving into Auckland and then back out of Christchurch, both via Singapore, from Manchester. This also meant a stop off in Singapore both ways to break the journey, resulting in a small selection of birds which weren’t seen in New Zealand. Weather here was a world away from the main part of the trip – very hot and humid, although we were only treated to the occasional downpour while there.
For no special reason, we decided on tackling the North Island first, and then the majority of the time on the South Island after that. After pinpointing the areas we wanted to cover, the logistics of the trip were drawn out. We were happy to stay in locations for up to 5 nights, and travel out by car from them even if this meant an hour or two journey. This meant a solid location (probably not in the lines of birding planning but worked well for us) and quite often we would find local walks which would also turn up great local birds. Many motor homes cruise around the islands, and this may be decent alternative for a purely birding holiday, but we found hiring a car in Auckland, driving via the North to South Islands ferry, and then returning the car to Christchurch for the return flight worked well and was not overly expensive. Apex car rentals gave a good price and included Interislander Ferry, with the only down side that the car we were given wasn’t in the best condition when we picked it up. Any worries about fuel stops being few and far between were also dashed – there seem to be plenty for all journeys – but it IS a good idea to have a full tank at the start of any long journey here. Roads are also a lot better than expected, being generally metalled, and with road signs good. Be aware of driving laws – speeds are strictly enforced by the police (maximum 100 km/hr) and can be as low as the chugging 30 km/hr through the regular road works that are encountered.
Timing of the trip was made around taste. We didn’t want to be there during peak summer season, which is December to February. This often then leads to the question of a Spring visit during October to November, or Autumn March to April. Decision here was easy – my retirement date of end of February fit in beautifully with the March to April time slot. This was also (perhaps by fluke) an excellent shoeing in for the weather. We left the 6 inches of snow and threat of travel disruption in the UK for mid 20’s and almost constant sunshine on the North island and into the first week of the South Island. This may have been a little unseasonally hot for here, but so also was the early snow at the end of our tenure as we left, with some passes such as Arthur’s Pass (good for Kea) shut. One norm that has to be accepted – the South Island can be wet, particularly on the western side and Stewart Island, where there are over 200 days of rain a year, and 10-15 metres of rain during that year in some parts. We saw that rain on occasional days when we were there, but overall escaped a lot of the rain god’s wrath! However, the weather still affected us at times, with a day’s delay getting off Stewart Island due to high winds cancelling the ferry, and Abel Tasman walk being cancelled due to heavy rain. There were also signs of the earthquake that hit the east coast in 2016 (not to be confused with the one which devastated Christchurch in 2013, but a much more powerful one), where the road from Picton to Kaikoura (the latter a must do for seawatching trips) had only been reopened for 3 months, and then only during daylight hours.
Credit cards are very widely accepted throughoutthe islands and even on Stewart Island
The power sockets are the angled two pins similar to Australia. They are not always great, with some adaptors falling out. It is useful to have an adapter which also included a third (earth) pin
If you think you might suffer seasickness on some of the trips/ferries, you will. Stores and pharmacies have quite effective remedies as prophylaxis
Booking ahead for trips such as Otago penguins, Stewart Island Kiwis, etc online is often worthwhile – it is surprising how many tourists are on these (including bus trips)
We didn’t see evidence of many mosquito types of insect, but sandflies can be a real pest in certain coastal areas. A specific repellent can be bought for these