Elizabeth & Michael Nigro, Scenic Highlights from North to South, Travelled on 15 February 2013
—Fine Tours New Zealand was very responsive to our requests, questions, suggestions ...
Fine Tours New Zealand made recommendations and reservations for lodging, car rental, and four tourist activities during our month-long visit to New Zealand. We used one of their “standard” tours as a baseline and, working with their agent, customized it to our schedule and preferences, ending up with a clockwise tour of both islands. Fine Tours New Zealand was very responsive to our requests, questions, suggestions for changes, and various adjustments until we agreed on the final itinerary.
This was our first visit to that country. We arranged our own air transportation to and from Washington DC to Auckland, the details of our daily activities, and several tourist activities. We are relatively experienced, older, retired, and reasonably active travelers. We typically make our complete itineraries (flights, car rentals, hotel reservations, activities), enjoy cultural activities, and try to exercise (walk or brief hikes). We have used travel agencies or been with small tour groups for visits to Greece, Morocco, Peru, Turkey, and Egypt. We chose Fine Tours New Zealand based on recommendations from their web site and because we did not feel we had the time to investigate and make lodging arrangements. We enjoyed our visit VERY much and would recommend using FineTours for making hotel, car, and itinerary arrangements.
We liked visiting New Zealand and having almost a complete month for travel there. The weather in February/March was temperate and nearly perfect for tourists as we had only one cloudy day and barely a sprinkle on another. (An anomalous experience -- there is usually abundant rain in New Zealand; the country was experiencing a severe drought during our visit.)
The people are very friendly; practically every town has its own iSite for tourist information as well as well-identified public toilets. The country is very clean. There is a plethora of printed tourist material everywhere -- maps, accommodation brochures, flyers for attractions. We were able to use our credit card for most payments. There are no charges to go to the national parks or reserves.
The brochures, atlas, GPS device, detailed itinerary, and reservation coupons provided by Fine Tours New Zealand had mixed utility. As we had independently worked out, printed, and brought our own detailed itinerary based on theirs and a NZ Rough Guide, their detailed itinerary was of little additional use during the trip. The GPS (see below) and the itinerary’s directions were not helpful. For daily use, we followed local maps provided by the iSites for both Islands. The brochures were most helpful in providing maps for larger areas such as Wellington, Auckland, and Picton. As we traveled, we discarded ones for the places already visited. We provided the reservation coupons as required. Ultimately, we only returned home with the atlas.
It was convenient to have the lodgings selected and paid for in advance. Had we known better, we would not have included the breakfasts at the hotels because the frequent buffets were usually much more substantial than we needed, and, in contrast, the occasional “continental” breakfasts in our rooms seemed meager. Local cafes and bake shops are everywhere, and going to them would have offered more choice and been a little more interesting. For the most part, the lodgings fell into the “3-4-star European standards” category we prefer. (Detailed comments for all but one lodging are on TripAdvisor under ERNTravels.) Two were really well below our standards and not recommended.
Many of the rooms included kitchenettes and separate living area. Almost all the hotels have guest laundry facilities -- coin-operated, and sometimes "free" -- making it very easy to pack light and keep clothing washed. Most hotels charge for internet access, particularly in the rooms. The car rental arrangements through Europcar were easy to navigate. We had little trouble adjusting to driving on the left side of the road, helped in part by having automatic transmissions. We made sure that we bought fuel regularly as some drives were long with few service stations.
It's hard to imagine seeing New Zealand without a car, which allowed us to stop for activities, hikes, wine tastings or sheep on the roads. While the distances are not always long, the 2-lane roads are VERY windy. Overall, traffic is very light. The Kruse (sic) GPS was primitive, at best, by comparison to European and American standards. On several occasions, the directions were incorrect or difficult – getting us on one lane, unpaved back roads in order to get us back to a main road, for example. The display did not show the names of the towns through which we were traveling and did not show nearby service stations or other businesses. The displayed distances showed the kilometers to the next intersection or turning point, not the distance to the final destination. Recorded commentary on the GPS about various sites as we drove through them, triggered by location, was variably interesting; the background music surrounding the commentaries was often annoying. We ultimately disconnected and did not use the GPS.
The cell phone was useful on several occasions when we were running late to our B&Bs and for confirming tourist activities in advance, as required. Otherwise, we did not use the phone. We found food to be more expensive than expected and generally good. Most menus are fairly standard. The green-lipped mussels, lamb, and venison were very good. We usually had one small dinner in addition to the breakfasts. For examples, bread is an extra charge, and restaurant desserts seemed to cost between $10 - $16. On some evenings, we picnicked in our room with provisions from local grocery stores.
New Zealanders like their coffee filtered and very strong. Sometimes tips are included, and sometimes no tip is expected. Wine tastings at vineyards are inexpensive, but wine itself is generally not. Sandflies are horrible pests, prevalent in rain-prone areas of the South Island. Milford Sound is notorious for them. They carry no diseases, but their painful bites cause nasty welts for days. A tourist must be prepared with insect repellent to cover any exposed areas. We hope you have as wonderful a visit as we did!
—Elizabeth & Michael Nigro, USA
15 February 2013