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Afterthoughts - questions I have been asked

Shrewsbury, United Kingdom

Would I use BA again?
Not if there were alternatives and a no huge difference in price. In fact, not unless I was desperate.
Which did you prefer; Australia or New Zealand?
I have been struck by the number of people whose first question this has been. Of course the answer is that they are different but it is true that I have more affectionate memories of New Zealand, South Island in particular and this may well be due to its lack of pretension, its stunning scenery, its emptiness and friendly folk. North Island was still pretty empty but definitely more busy and Auckland was just another large metropolis – even if quite an attractive one from a high level. Flying in to Christchurch, I was struck with the huge number of corrugated roofs and this was reflected in what I saw on the ground. Not the uninteresting grey shed roof we see here in the UK but all sorts of different profiles and colours. It has clealy been found to provide a popular, economical and colourful roofing material to compete with the concrete tiles and slate roofs we have here (I wondered if it had anything to do with local materials). Australia on the other hand I can't assess largely because I have only seen a very small part of it, albeit that it was hugely interesting. Both Nations are very friendly and welcoming. Away from the area, to distinuish between them – ask an individual to count from 5 to 8. A New Zealander will say five, sex, sivin, eight. White Australia appears to largely ignore any problems with its Aboriginal population while New Zealand recognises and celebrates Maori culture and language; though again, my perception is that whether or not you think that there is an injustice or inequality may have more to do with the colour of your skin than any absolute reality. On a philosophical if not very PC note, throughout history conquered peoples have either been exterminated or subsumed into the conqueror's society. Until European arrival, many of the Maori were tribes constantly engaged in wars; while the conquered men were often invited to the victory banquet, it was as the main course and the women were used as slaves. So extermination of enemies was common. Under European rule, while it was frequently brutal; in New Zealand's case, the legacy is such that the Maori traditions and language have survived. Even to the extent of the pride in performing the Hakka as an accepted national ritual. Ask a Maori today where his loyalties lie and it is tribe first, Maori second and New Zealand third.
What is it like to drive there?
South Island New Zealand is a delight with lots of empty roads. While Sue was driving I took a few photos from the camper and reviewing these has reinforced my impression; there is rarely a vehicle in sight. Admittedly this was winter, but there seemed to be plenty of traffic in the main towns. Driving through the Southern Alps was hairy and this was exacerbated by the practise of building road bridges over the many streams and rivers with a single carriageway, operating a preference system. Albeit that they are reasonably well signposted, it is something that you need to bear in mind as you round a bend. North Island was busier than South but still pretty traffic free by UK standards and Queensland had traffic levels roughly comparable with rural France but without the poor driving habits. Fuel is very cheap in both countries at about 50% of UK prices. As a result it seems that they are keen to have large engines in all their vehicles. Australia has not taken to diesel and seems to be a land of petrolheads. The 'Ute' is often as much a fashion accessory as a statement and takes the place of the 2 seater sports car in the UK. Often owned by by young men to whom a macho image is best enhanced with huge (preferably twin) exhausts and a large engine of several litres. The Ute will be in immaculate condition with ultra low-profile tyres mounted on gleaming alloy wheels. The truck section at the back will be covered by an impossibly tidy cover that looks as though it is never used. In fact it struck me that most of them were never used to carry any loads at all – which is probably as well as most appeared to have a lowered suspension. However, in Australia at least, the majority of cars appear to be automatic, which is a bit of a contradiction in a muscle car as not making the most of the power available. (Similar it always seems to me to a bodybuilder wearing an ill fitting suit.) Neither country has the opportunity to make much use of the power. Most roads are at best 'A' roads, sometimes with a bit of dual carriageway (which is fine with the relatively low levels of traffic). The speed limits are 80kph on most roads with 100kph on dual carriageways, occasionally increased to 110kph. Unlike the UK most people stick within the limits – I'd guess that as much as 90-95%. So these huge, powerful beasts are never given their heads and like the Chelsea tractors in London are really just fashion accessories that drink loads more fuel than necessary and pump out disproportionate amounts of CO2. Admittedly, the power can be used briefly when accelerating but the beast has to be throttled back before it gets its wind. The cars we hired were great fun, especialy the Aurion Sportivo – very responsive and handled well. Even the standard Aurion was quite pokey; Ollie reprimanded me on one occasion when I managed to induce wheelspin by flooring the accelerator to get past slow traffic. Ididn't think automatics behaved like that! I was glad we had the Aurions rather than Falcons while we were a family of 4 with luggage; it seemed to me that the Aurions had more boot space – certainly it seemed more useable. What struck me on our return is that both the hire cars appear to reflect the local view on life; here in the UK the equivalent vehicles (Avensis and Mondeo) are equipped with 2 litre engines; you may be able to get up to 2.8 litres, but in Oz, both are equipped with huge 3.5 and 4.0 litre lumps as standard fare.
The many unique words to the area are well known but there was one piece of language that particularly intrigued me as it clearly has slightly different meaning to here. You will often see a sign showing a swerving car with a subscript 'When Frosty' – we have the same sign but with the subscript 'When Icy'. The two words mean essentially the same thing but to English ears, the word 'frosty' has a more romantic, perhaps childish nuance while 'icy' is harder and more dangerous.
What are the campsites like?
Well, we used 'Top 10 ' franchised sites pretty well exclusively in South Island and they were all very well equipped, some extremely well. A campervan is a good way to get around but it would be possible to use a hire car and use the camp sites chalets; most of them appeared to cater for this. Pitches worked out at around £10-£15 per night, while the chalet we had was only about £25 for the night. Bearing in mind we went during their winter, it was not surprising that it was rarely necessary to book ahead. But it was surprising to find all of them open and still quite busy. We used a couple of other site operators in North Island and found them to be to a good standard too.
Would I do anything differently?
Sue had repeatedly suggested we get some insect repellant before we left and I had poo-poohed it but I wish we had got some before our Doubtful sound cruise and we certainly needed if after nightfall in Cairns on any exposed skin. We got some spray on stuff with deet in the end and it worked well.
What about the actual distances involved?
We found that it was easy to underestimate this. We used the excellent New Zealand Tourism site for ideas about distances and times and they weren't far out but found ourselves slightly surprised at the effort of spending so much time behind the wheel. While I think we managed a lot in a short time and we spent quite a lot of time travelling, albeit through beautiful scenery and at a speed that allowed us to see it; none-the-less we had many quite early starts and late finishes, so I am not sure that we absorbed as much as we might. The six or so days we spent in each of South Island, North Island and Queensland certainly allowed us to get a flavour of the areas but we could could easily have spent twice as much time covering what we did in more leisurely fashion and probably have got a lot more out of it. Ollie and Ang spent the best part of 3 weeks in North Island and didn't get to see it all. Clearly a lifetime would be needed to see and understand any country, but I think you could get a reasonable snapshot with a month in each Island of New Zealand. This would allow progress at a rate that would not simply leave you exhausted. The only places we spent more than 15 hours were Te Anau in South Island (and we spent about 8 hours sleeping that night and 4 hours that day driving to Queenstown and back) and Rotorua in North Island. But given the constraints within which we were working, I wouldn't change a thing! We almost got caught on the time it would take us to complete the scenic route from Hervey Bay to Brisbane and at least in part was due to underestimating the amount of time it takes to get through a metropolitan area, due to the amount of time we had spent away from them. Then again, I was struck by the 2hour flight time between Brisbane and Cairns and 3 hours from Cairns to Sydney. These are huge distances. At least internal flights are relatively cheap!
What was the weather like? We had expected to have all 4 seasons on the trip and had prepared accordingly. New Zealand was unexpectedly warm on the east coast but we gathered that this is unusual. Sydney and Brisbane were pretty typical nice Spring days when we were there but it was cooler away from the coast in the mountains. Cairns was pleasantly warm but not as warm as I had expected. We needed air-conditioning for a couple of nights but not for all of them. It was frequently quite cool after the sun went down.
Are there many others there?
I was certainly struck by the volume of northern hemisphere people. As a broadly fracophilic roughly francophonic anglophone, I am used to hearing a number of european languages while on holiday. I was quite unprepared for this down under where I had doubted large numbers of europeans would travel such a distance (particularly when, as I found out, most had to travel via Heathrow). I was wrong – all european countries appeared to be represented in most of the places we went. We even met a Belgian sailing on Lake Taupo and found ourselves in the same lift going up the Skytower in Auckland some days later!! Most of the Dutch appeared to be holidaying in France as usual, as I don't remember meeting many. I was not surprised to see a number of Japanese but was surprised at the number of numbers! They appear to like travelling in tour parties (which I guess helps to avoid language difficulties) and struck me rather like starlings at the end of summer, appearing in large flocks of chattering individuals, swooping, diving and climbing together in unison, then moving off again all together.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on October 29, 2007 from Shrewsbury, United Kingdom
from the travel blog: From the Shire to Middle Earth and back
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