Or if I had listened to my wife when she was telling me how special NZ is (she lived there 10 years ago), we'd have maybe visited this part of the world first. Who knows? Or maybe saving NZ for last - or near-last - was a smart move.
For an outdoors lifestyle, New Zealand offers everything from beach to mountains to skiing to surfing to hiking to tramping to any number of sports. Is there a more scenically beautiful country in the world?
Although we arrived here before Christmas and spent time in Auckland, Napier and Wellington (my wife's old stamping ground) in the North Island, we desperately wanted to see the South Island, too - without missing too much.
New Zealand isn't cheap, though. We explored a variety of ways of seeing all we could in the near-three weeks remaining at our disposal. But there wasn't a way we could think of - with a family of four - without stretching the budget.
As a single person or a couple, costs can be reduced dramatically (you could even resort to hitch-hiking if you had to), but with little ones it's not that simple, though in Motueka we did meet an interesting and adventurous American/Canadian couple (see Jasonschlarb.com) who had been cycling NZ with a two-year-old!
The big issue for us was how to get around. We ruled out bicycles, obviously. Do we buy a car and then sell it before we leave? Do we go by coach, but then be limited to seeing only what the coach tour allows (and deal with the motion sickness our kids get on buses) and then have to stay in costly hotels? Do we rent a vehicle, but then fork out around NZ$80 per night in accommodation on top? And long distance train travel in NZ is pretty non-existent.
We looked at all sorts of options, but seeing as accommodation and food are usually the two most expensive elements of travel, a rental camper of some description fitted the bill. Why not have a house on wheels?
The regular campers (three or four-berth) were just too expensive at around NZ$120-plus per day (in high season, which it was) and used up too much fuel. Trying to get a relocation camper didn't work either as in NZ the time period given to drive a vehicle from one location to another is limited and fuel doesn't come free as is usually the case when relocating in Australia.
In the end we found the Spaceships/Rockets. These are Toyota cars with double beds in the back. They can be hired in NZ from three locations: Christchurch (which we did); Auckland; Queenstown. They also are classified as cars, which means it's cheaper to take on the ferry from Picton (in the south) to Wellington. The ferry crossing at NZ $258 still wasn't exactly a snip, though.
We shopped around for our Spaceship and got a good deal from the Christchurch location at NZ$55 per day. With a Sat Nav, our daily rental was NZ$60 (approximately £30). We also hired a tent for NZ$100, which came in useful (for storing luggage at night) even though I slept in it only once (usually, Jamie, Kobra and I would kip on the double bed at the back of the Rocket and Zenchai in the reclined passenger seat up front).
That cosy set-up worked well, though had some drawbacks as in summer it stays light for longer and Zenchai often didn't nod off until around 10pm. Also, once or twice his long legs would reach out in the night and knock the controls and we'd wake up with the hazard lights blinking!
Going back to costs, though, you have to also factor in fuel prices, which add up as you cover ground each day. But having refused to shell out for the Galapagos Islands when in Ecuador in 2010, we didn't want to repeat the mistake of not seeing somewhere special (the Galapagos are expensive to see, but completely unique) because of the price. Some experiences are worth any price, if you know what I mean.
We trimmed our costs further by eating in practically the whole time. We'd stop at supermarkets, buy our produce and cook out with the equipment (two-hob portable cooker) that came with our Rocket vehicle.
Another cost to bear in mind is campsites. Freedom camping is prohibited in New Zealand anywhere but in designated areas. Fines can be hefty.
We found the DOC (Department of Conservation) campsites to be the best value. Often they would charge NZ$6 per adult and NZ$3 for children aged over five. This meant we were staying for NZ$15 per night. For that, you would at least get the use of a toilet. Usually, there was running water (though not always drinkable). Some sites had showers (but cold).
However, some regions of NZ have more DOC sites than others and when we couldn't locate one we'd resort to the more pricey campsites (Top 10, Kiwi etc) that have hot showers, kitchens, TV rooms, playgrounds, pools, internet etc. These were priced anywhere between NZ$20 and NZ$60, though we never paid above NZ$55.
But Jamie and I certainly preferred the DOC sites, just for their beauty, peacefulness and being so close to nature. The more touristy sites were just too busy and lacked any real character or privacy.
When the costs were totalled, though, this is how it was broken down in terms of average daily expenses: campsites NZ$26.60; petrol NZ$52.43; food, drink and essential items NZ$57.66.
Not exactly rock bottom prices, but you'd struggle to find a room for four anywhere on our route for anywhere close to what we spent at campsites. And how could you feed your family three times a day for less than what amounts to £30 without venturing to a fast-food joint?
If we'd had longer to travel, we would have probably opted to buy a second-hand camper. They can be cheap in NZ. I met a Frenchman at our hostel in Auckland who had bought a camper for NZ$3,500, driven over 10,000km over two months and sold it for about the same price! It can be done.
We could have been more lavish with our spending and gone on plane trips, tours, cruises etc. But, with two young children, that didn't really work. We had our enjoyment by exploring mostly what New Zealand offers for free - the great outdoors.
We skipped many places we had hoped to visit, but that just means we'll have to come back again.