The ultimate New Zealand itinerary and how it all went down the drain. Literally.

If they would give out Oscars for the best travel planning I’m sure my mantelpiece (if I had one) would be lined with gold statuettes by now. I am able to plan our trips with such detail that I can almost envision the whole adventure before we even leave home.

Our big trip to New Zealand was no exception. On the contrary, after six years from our last longer journey I felt a bit out of practice. I thought I needed to brush up my planning skills so this time I really outdid myself. With the help of Lonely Planet, a list of NZ travel bloggers, Department of Conservation website and several other resources I came up with the perfect itinerary that included a well-balanced blend of everything: hiking, wine tasting, kayaking, some more hiking, a couple of boat tours, stargazing… I calculated driving times and located the best spots for freedom camping. Everything down to the last detail.

The only thing I didn’t factor in was New Zealand weather. 

I did know that it would rain more than I would wish for (wait, that’s a lie, I never wish for rain on our travels). But in one of all those guidebooks I also read that the weather changes quickly and you can often experience all four seasons in only one day. So I thought we would somehow get around the nuisance of occasional rain. Though even in my worst pessimistic nightmare (and if you ask my husband, I do tend to fear the worst more often than not) I could not have forseen weather forecasts like this:

These are not  just “areas of occasional rain”, if you look closely, there’s no way of getting around it. And this kind of weather started as soon as we picked up our campervan.

So what does the perfect planner do when she has to deal with the Unexpected? 

As you may know, planning and improvisation skills seem to be in reverse correlation. That’s why any unforseen situation calls for my Mr. Not-So-Well-Organised husband to step in and take charge before the Mrs. Organiser gets caught in a spiral of self pity and doubt if all this was really such a good idea. 

Take charge he did. First he prohibitted me from constantly checking the weather forecast. Then he made me change the direction of our trip. Instead of heading north from Christchurch through Kaikoura towards Marlborough and Abel Tasman we drove south to Lake Tekapo which I was saving for last. I tried to console myself that “of course this is the only sensible thing to do” and “that’s the whole point of travelling in a campervan: we can change our plans in an instant and simply follow the sunshine.” All the while I couldn’t get my head around the fact that we will not spend the first night in the campervan somewhere on a beach around Kaikoura like I imagined for a couple of months.

Instead it rained at Lake Tekapo and we couldn’t see Mt. Cook, nor hike the Hooker Valley track. Stargazing at the Mt. John Observatory wasn’t meant to be either. But we drove to Oamaru (in rain) which we originally didn’t plan to visit and we liked it. And we saw the picturesque Nugget Point lighthose which I didn’t include in my itinerary as it was too far south. The only completely sunny day so far we spent in the Milford Sound. That itself was so spectacular that it almost made me forget about what we missed from our original plan. Besides I still had big hopes for the North Coast on our way back to Christchurch. After all, the weather must get better at some point, right?

The upside of ruined plans: seeing places like this.
And then the earthquake. 

This put everything in another perspective. If we didn’t change the plans because of the rain we would probably be somewhere around Nelson at time when it hit. One thing is sure: We definitely wouldn’t have slept right through it as we did somewhere in the middle of Fiordland. In light of the distruction that the earthquake has caused all the complaining about rain suddenly seems somewhat selfish and immature.

I finally accepted that we can slow down instead of rushing from one place to another. If it rains we can simply make more stops for coffee which the Kiwis have mastered to perfection. At the same time I am slowly saying goodbye to the other half of my perfect South Island itinerary which now got cancelled by earthquake. We will not see Kaikoura and Marlborough Sounds at all. But I’ve realised one thing: This country is so breathtakingly beautiful that it won’t disappoint even if we don’t see everything I wanted to. 

Once you slow down you can make unplanned overnight stops like this.