Travelling to New Zealand: Go with a group or do it yourself?

Things to consider when deciding to visit New Zealand and join a group tour or DIY. From the perspective of a Kiwi.

If you're pondering these two options for your New Zealand adventure then it's a good problem to have. On a world map, New Zealand looks small and probably easy enough to navigate, right? Images and footage of pristine wilderness and untouched forests, mountains and beaches aren't captured from the side of a 4 lane roadside shoulder, or even a 2 lane one for that matter. More often than not, the road isn't even PAVED. Yes – your New Zealand adventure will be riddled with first world complexities that you, as a couple, individual or group will need to wrestle with before you get on a plane. So, before you scream and shout at each other, read on for more argument fodder.

1. The long and winding road

Time. You'll never get it back. Add up the cat videos you watch online, plus the time you spend feeling guilty about it, and it's daunting. While you needn't feel guilty about how you choose to explore New Zealand, you need to consider how much time you have, and allocate a significant portion of that to driving New Zealand’s windy, narrow roads – all to get to the real good stuff. Actually, even to get into the major centres. We're not a big country, but there are only a handful of straight roads – our steep, forested mountains come at a cost!

2. Connecting the dots

Signage is an issue here. New Zealand is a country of innovators, inventors, outside the square thinkers who pride themselves on coming up with common sense practical solutions to many of life's problems. Unfortunately, that doesn't apply to signage. There seems to be an assumption that everyone will just connect the dots and never get lost.

3. The spousal annoyance factor

Unless you're on your honeymoon, sharing the entirety of a block of time together adds a layer of pressure to any relationship. If there's one test of a relationship that stands above all others (you can make your own list of standard relationship tests and comment below), it's travel. There are obvious advantages to heading to work for the day, and re connecting in the evening. So a trip around New Zealand in no one else's company except for your spouse or partner is a great test – one which some relish, and some simply endure. A group or organised trip can add a buffer to this pressure, provided of course, you're with like-minded people.

4. And about this like-minded people…

Now that we're talking about it, one of the big questions when considering an organised trip should be "Who else takes a trip like this?" Aside from the vetting of an organisation and their credibility, it's worthwhile checking that you're going to be spending 2 weeks with people who at least share the same idea about how they'd like to experience their time in New Zealand. Understandably, some people would rather the solitude or sense of ‘escape’ from a DIY trip, than take a group excursion. It usually comes down to one’s personal tolerance of other people and our collective weirdness – let’s face it, we're all quirky and we're all intolerant to a greater or lesser degree. While it's quite rare that you'll be part of a group that is intolerant of one another, there's always that "one guy". Like him or not, you won't forget him! On the flip side, when you’re part of a group of like-minded people it’s not uncommon to make life-long friends who’ll serve as your comrades on the next adventure.

5. Accommodation

Getting a bed for the night seems like a simple thing these days – AirBnB, booking.com and other online tourism aggregate sites can make things quick and easy. That is, if you book far enough in advance. It seems that in the next few years, there will be a few new hotels and accommodations built in New Zealand to meet the demand we experience here during the peak summer season. Until then, if you're looking to do it yourself, getting in quick (that means quite a few months in advance) is the name of the game. An organised trip will generally have hotels and lodges all sewn up well in advance and take the hassle out of your hands. What is true for both means of travel, is that you don't always get what you want unless you dig a little deeper and find out what you're really getting.

6. Packing it all in

Life is busy. So are adventure vacations. Or not. If you're thinking of lying on a beach and drinking cocktails, then ok – you won't be occupied with much else. The Cook Islands are great for that. But busy is good when it comes to New Zealand. That doesn't mean rushing from place to place, snapping a hundred photos (and choosing one for your Facebook cover photo), ticking the box and moving on, but depending on your time frame you should pack it in and soak it in. There's so much to New Zealand that you shouldn't miss no matter how long you have. If you've pre planned to the hilt, then you'll get away with doing it yourself, otherwise you may only come away with a few good profile pictures (it's hard to take a bad photo in New Zealand).

7. Envy & regret

There's nothing worse than coming home from an adventure in a far flung country, feeling proud of your exploits and discoveries, only to be asked by a friend if you visited a particular area that sounds way cooler than anywhere you actually experienced. Damn - There goes that perfect Instagram photo. Bragging rights aside, there's nothing quite like rocking up to a spectacular place, having it to yourself and wallowing in your own smugness for a while. And why not eh? So – if you're going solo and driving, make a point of getting local beta on New Zealand’s off the beaten track gems – there are many. And if you're choosing a local guiding company, look closely at the places they visit and why. There are some who will simply tick the boxes, and others who will really get you away from it all and turn you into that annoying friend.

So, there it is. A short list that started out with the intention of making decisions like these easier, but upon editing only serves to make the decision harder. Either way, you should get on that plane.

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