Driving, accommodation, shopping and eating
Our experience and thoughts on these aspects of our trip
ALL OUR SITES
Driving presented no problems, with the exception of trying to remember that when turning left at a junction you give way to other traffic. In general roads were very quiet and even the Christchurch rushes seemed fairly calm affairs. Other drivers seemed remarkably courteous (by UK standards) and we rarely encountered tailgating, although every effort was made not to impede others. Speed limits, often agonisingly low to us, were generally rigorously observed and often policed. It is worthwhile checking your insurance cover as motor insurance is not compulsory in NZ and the guy who hits you may not have cover.
Main roads were generally very good and straight, although in some hilly areas more care was needed in view of width, gradient and visibility round bends. Unsurfaced roads are common off the main routes. Most of those we ventured on to were in good condition being of gravel or large chippings. Occasional fords were encountered on these, some of which deserved inspection before crossing. However further afield are 'Back Country Roads' which can apparently be a lot hairier and merit 4WD with experienced drivers. A very few roads are banned to rental cars. Petrol stations can be few and far between outside towns and regular filling is sensible.
You usually got a small bottle of milk on arrival. One thing to note is that in many cases heating seemed a bit limited in the units and might have been on a self-cancelling switch. Given that our trip was in early spring in some motels showering was best accomplished fairly swiftly. Most motels had washing machines and often driers available. Breakfast was usually available to order for delivery to your unit. In all cases we found units clean. In all but one the owners were very friendly and helpful and space was adequate (although one did have a very tight bedroom). Parking was usually outside the unit, but one motel in Dunedin had very tight parking at some units where the Sonata would have presented problems, though fortunately our space was fine.
We wanted to see a little of the Catlins, an area in which there is little accommodation. Here a farmstay was arranged for us on a DBB basis at Waipapa Point Bed & Breakfast. This was quite excellent. We had a superb room and private bathroom. Dinner (lamb, of course) was taken with the owners and breakfast while they were readying themselves for the day. This gave a good opportunity to talk about farming and life in NZ.
If we were to make another trip with our own arrangement we would probably not use the Golden Chain booking regime. Most of their motels that we stayed in we would happily use again but by independent arrangement you would get wider choice and perhaps lower rates. We would probably do a few more farmstays.
Shopping and eating
There were a number of 'bakeries' around. By and large these seemed not to produce bread but offer a good range of sandwiches, flans, cakes and so on which could often be eaten on premises. 'Dairies' appeared to be small, local convenience stores in towns. Out of towns the local general stores varied a lot in size and stock, but most offered a café service with excellent cakes and sometimes quite ambitious light meals. Similarly many pubs offered all sorts of food and beverages. In general servings were generous and prices (by UK norms) reasonable.
We had intended to try local wines. Supermarket offerings were not unlike those at home with a lot of stuff from Oz. The NZ wines in supermarkets were only OK but remembering advice we had been given that good wine was not cheap there we traded up and found that once somewhere around NZD 30 you began to get a pleasant surprise. We did not see many wine merchants (perhaps because we were not looking in the right places) but in the precinct in Cromwell we found Pembroke Wines just as the shop was closing and with a manageress who was most helpful and happy to stay open while the wherewithal to pay was collected from the car. On a possibly less sophisticated note we found the local cider good.
In one or two small establishments we found that EFTPOS (electronic funds transfer at point of sale) would not take foreign cards.