Category Archives: Lodging

New Zealand Travel Tips


  • On the left
  • “roundabouts” go in a clockwise direction.
  • Divided freeways are limited to the Auckland area.
  • Highways are two lanes with periodic passing lanes.
  • One way bridges are the norm, so be aware of oncoming traffic.
  • Traffic signals are only in LARGE cities (Auckland mainly)
  • Picnic areas and public toilets are pointed out by blue road signs.
  • Picnic areas outnumber toilets 50 to one.
  • Roads are VERY winding and often precipitous.
    • WARNING: If you suffer from car sickness you may want to reconsider a road trip in New Zealand.
  • Gas (petrol) stations are few and far between on the open road, so keep your tank at least half full.
  • A town name on the road map, doesn’t indicate a town. There may be nothing more than an intersection.
  • Gas costs $2.15 NZD per litre. This equates to $8 NZD per gallon or $7 USD (as of today March 26, 2014).

Rental Car vs RV:

  • Reserve your car in advance. Supplies are limited, especially in smaller areas. You may be told there are none available at the last minute.
  • If you rent a car, be aware that insurance is mandatory and cannot be waived.
  • There is a Excess Insurance amount of $3,000 NZD which is your deductible. It will cost you an extra $35 NZD per day to waive this deductible. If you book through the NZ Auto Club with Thrify, this amount is reduced by $11 NZD per day. Since we don’t normally drive on the left, we opted to pay the extra amount per day.
  • If you are a member of your countries Auto Club, you probably have reciprocity with New Zealand. If so, see my comments below on “Auto Club”.
  • If you opt for an RV be aware of the following:
    • Narrow winding roads are more difficult to maneuver in a wider vehicle.
    • Gas consumption is generally greater than a passenger vehicle.
    • One option for renting an RV, with a smaller frame is to use Jucy Rentals. These are converted passenger vans.

Auto Club:

  • If you are an auto club member in a country with reciprocity, you need to register with the New Zealand Automobile Association. They will issue you a free New Zealand AA card. You can use this card for fuel and rental car discounts. Thrifty is the NZ AA rental car partner. You can book a Thrifty rental on line with your NZ AA club card, once you have it.

Food Along the Way:

  • There is no proliferation of fast food chains. Don’t expect to find a McDonald’s outside of a major metropolitan area.
  • You will find individual cafe’s along the way. We found these ALWAYS to be clean, friendly and predictable.
  • Food seems expensive, but prices include tax and tips.
  • Food choices will include:
    • Toasted sandwiches
    • Meat pies
    • Sweet bakery items
    • Fish and chips
    • Hamburgers (sometimes). Be aware they include a fried egg.  They also sometimes include beetroot and bacon.


  • We never saw a Starbucks.
  • All of the cafes serve the same coffee menu:
    • Flat white – Double shot of espresso with steamed milk. Similar to a latte but with more coffee.
    • Long Black – A double shot of espresso poured over hot water. This is similar to an Americano.
    • Short Black- basic espresso


  • Not required. We were told by a NZ couple that the staff are paid adequately. You only tip for EXCEPTIONAL service.
  • Accommodation:
  • We opted for hotels and vacation rentals that included kitchen facilities.
  • We found that everywhere we stayed, they gave you a pint of milk upon check in. No non-dairy creamer in this country.

Mega Trip Part 3 – Where to Stay

Limosa Rise
Photo of Limosa Rise, Wilson’s Promontory, Australia

Once I had the flights booked, I then had to accommodate my plan to the flight schedule. I also kept trying to search for available timeshares. In the end I was able to score a week of timeshare on the North Island of New Zealand and one in Australia near Melbourne.

As I have said in prior blog posts I prefer to rent vacation rentals and not hotel rooms.

This was particularly critical on this trip in order to hold down the cost of food, laundry and internet access. I have a new “Best Friend” for searching out vacation rentals. I began using Trip Advisor to find vacation rentals and to see reviews. This part of the process is the most time consuming, but I find it to be lots of fun. Once I find a possible choice, I go directly to their web site, if they have one. I like to deal directly with the owner whenever possible. In one case I wasn’t happy with the bathroom configuration of a property and the owner gave me contact information for a similar property nearby.

I found that in both New Zealand and Australia, farms/ranches have purpose built vacation rentals on their property. These units are modern and have all the amenities that I prefer. These owners are also full of helpful tips about where to shop and the must do things in their areas.

Below are some links to places I have rented for the trip.

The Orchard Homestay, Coromanel Peninsula, New Zealand Farm Stay:

Johanna Seaside Cottages, Great Ocean Road, Australia Farm Stay:

Awatea Cottage, Abel Tasman, Vacation Rental:
Awatea Cottage

Art on Hart, Bermaqui, Australia South Coast New South Wales
Art on Hart

Limosa Rise, Wilson’s Promontory, Australia
We leave in a few days and will post updates on our adventure.

Know Your Travel Style

What is your travel style?  Do you like to lay by the pool or on the beach?  Do you like to spend time shopping?  Do you prefer to be active, hiking, kayaking or snorkeling?  Whatever your travel style, it is important to understand and respect it.

Your travel style preferences don’t end with what you want to do when you travel, it also has to do with how you plan and what kind of trips you take.

When I travel I want to know where I am spending the night and I want to arrive before it gets dark (whatever time that may be).  Because of this, my lodging is generally booked at least six months in advance.  As I discussed in a prior post, I prefer to stay in a vacation rental or timeshare with a full kitchen, but I also stay at hotels.  My hotel stays tend to be one night stays, en-route to a week long location.

If I get a timeshare or vacation rental I’m going to stay a week and explore the surrounding area.  I don’t book activities in advance.  In this way I can be flexible and allow for changes in weather.  As example, if it is a rainy day, I’ll opt for a museum, as opposed to a garden tour.

I made the mistake once of letting a friend plan a trip and because I was working, at the time, I left all the details to him.  The trip was for a group of ten friends who caravanned in three cars.  I had my own rental car and maps (this was pre GPS).  It turned out we were only spending one night at each location and we kept crisscrossing ourselves, because the trip was not laid out in a logical order.

Each morning I would discuss our destination with the “leader” and what route we would take.  On three different occasions he missed a critical turn, getting lost.  I, however, made the turn and arrived at our destination hours before the rest of the group.  After eight days I was so frustrated that I opted to leave the group and head off on my own.  What a relief.

It turned out that our leader’s travel style was to get in the car and just drive in whatever direction suited him that day.  He would have no lodging booked and would stay in whatever town he happened to end up in at nightfall.  His freelance style and my need for order were in direct conflict.

In order to fully enjoy your travel, know and respect your own travel style.

Discounts and Road Service Too!

I am in the process of planning a three month trip to Australia and New Zealand for 2013.  I recently became aware of two memberships that can net substantial discounts.

One is my US Auto Club membership.  We can show our US Auto Club card and obtain roadside assistance and discounts at International Auto Clubs.  This is true in many other countries.  I had no idea when I rented a car in Europe that I could use my Auto Club card.  If you are in the US, check out this site  If you are in another country, check with your local auto club for reciprocal agreements.

The second savings tip is to join your country’s Youth Hostel Association.   They also provide discounts on rental cars, tours, attractions, travel insurance and other services.  You don’t have to stay in Youth Hostel’s although you might want to consider checking out my prior blog about Hosteling.

In the US Senior membership  for a year is only $18.00.  This member ship will save us 40% when we travel from Darwin to Adelaide on the famous Ghan train.

site - The Ghan - Main Image April 11

So those are my tips for today.

Museum Memberships Often Cheaper Than Buying Tickets

We recently spent the weekend in San Francisco, safely ensconced in our two bedroom vacation rental, with its own “free” parking space.  (   But that is not the subject of this latest entry, the subject is memberships.

We were in San Francisco primarily to attend the a special exhibit, “The Masters of Venice”, at the De Young Art Museum and to also see the Pisarro’s People Exhibit at the Legion of Honor.  The Legion and de Young Museums are both a part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.  Since we planned to attend the exhibits on different days, we would be required to pay for two admission fees, but wait, there is another option, membership.

If your trip will include museums, zoos or aquariums, before you walk to the window and buy a ticket, check out the membership options.  It’s best to do this ahead of time, so you can see which membership will best meet your needs, but you can also inquire at the ticket window.  Also, most memberships are considered charitable donations and so they are tax deductible.  Tickets aren’t tax deductible.  Below are some membership options.

  • Bringing the kids or grand kids?  Buy them a Koala Pass.  The annual pass is only $7.00 or $11.00 more than a child’s one day admission ticket.
  • Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco:  If you live outside California, an out of State membership is only $70 and includes free admission for the member and a guest.  There are other membership options if you are a California resident.  We purchase one Senior membership and that gets us both into the museums and exhibits and also gives us a discount on museum store purchases.
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium:   One day tickets for two adults and two teenage granddaughters would cost $125.80.  An unlimited membership for two adults, plus all children and grandchildren is $175.00.  It is pretty much impossible to see the Aquarium in a day, so we’ll buy the membership and get the other member benefits.

I hope you can see the advantages from these few examples.  When our daughter and granddaughters lived in San Diego, we bought them zoo memberships each year as a gift, so they could go as often as they liked.   And don’t forget that the memberships are a donation and are tax deductible, while the tickets are simply an out of pocket expense.

Vacation Rentals vs. Hotel Rooms

Why rent a hotel room when you can have a whole house or apartment?  I have been using vacation rentals for over ten years.  They are usually cheaper than a hotel and provide things that hotels don’t offer or offer at a higher price.  A vacation rental gives you room to spread out and feel at home.  You have a kitchen to cook in, if you like, and save the cost of eating out.  If you travel with kids, they can have their own room and TV.  Most vacation rentals also provide free internet service and use of a washer and dryer, so you can travel home with clean clothes, or extend your vacation for a longer period of time.

The downside of vacation rentals is that it is more time consuming than booking a hotel room.  You must search through various housing options and then contact the owner to make arrangements.  You also don’t have daily maid service.

If you try vacation rentals you open a world of possibilities.  Below are examples of places I have rented:

1.  A two bedroom apartment in San Francisco, near Golden Gate Park, with free parking garage:

Cost of three nights in September 2012:  $692 vs. Handlery Union Square Hotel (one hotel room) $632 plus parking of $20 to $34 per day with no in and out privileges.

2.  A one bedroom apartment on the Thames in London.
Cost of three nights in September 2013, $650:  $1,013 vs. Holiday Inn (one hotel room) $1,226

3.  A one bedroom apartment in the Irish countryside:

Cost for a week in September 2012:  $455 vs. Tudor Inn (one hotel room) $738

 4.  An Alaska house for two couples with a killer view:

Cost of three nights in September 2012: $1,025 vs. Best Western (2 hotel rooms) $912

So, how do you book a vacation rental?  You can start with a worldwide vacation rental web site such as,, or   You can also search for a country specific web site.  (Note that in Europe you need to search for “self catering”, while in Australia you search for “self contained”.)  You can generally find links to apartments or vacation rentals on specific location web sites.   Below are a few examples:




There are different types of vacation rentals:

 1.  Individually owned and operated:  In this case you deal directly with the owner, usually via email.  The owner may or may not accept credit cards.  Most owners accept PayPal, so you may need to create a PayPal account.  Be aware of cancellation policies.

a.       You may or may not be asked to sign a rental agreement.

b.      These units are sometimes the owners second home, in which case the property may contain the owner’s personal property.

c.       Some units are simply rental income properties.

d.      In a few instances you are renting the owners actual home and they move elsewhere during your stay.

 2.  Individually owned, but managed by a property manager:  In this case you deal with a property management company.

 3.  Condominiums and timeshares, offered by the owner:  These are specific units in a larger complex that are owned by an individual.  These may be managed by the individual or a property manager.

 4.  Condominiums and timeshares, managed by a property manager:  In some instances you will find a timeshare or a corporate rental property.  In this case there may be multiple units available.

Length of rental varies.  You need to review the information for each rental.  Some rentals require a minimum number of days, but some will allow one night rentals.  Before you send the inquiry check the availability calendar (if one is posted) to ensure your dates are open.  Many of the web sites allow you to search based on your selected dates.

I generally submit inquiries, via email, on five to ten properties and then whittle the list down based on amenities, proximity to local activities and the owner’s terms and conditions. I sometimes ask for additional photos of the unit and sometimes make inquires about access to public transit.  Each destination has it’s own little quirks.  As example, I just rented a house on the Big Island of Hawaii and wanted to know if the house had a view of Maui, so I asked for additional photos.  When I rented a three bedroom condo in Washington, DC for ourselves and our two granddaughters, I asked about access to the Metro line.

I ALWAYS purchase travel insurance, since cancellations generally require forfeiting some or all of the amount s paid to date.  You can shop and compare travel insurance at

I hope you will check out a vacation rental for your next stay out of town, or the next time friends or relatives come to visit.