I have been using booking.com for overseas trips since 2014. Over the years I have leveraged some fabulous deals via the site. At the same time I ran into a couple of tough situations during the Trans-Siberian expedition. At Mogocha I was turned away by the keeper of the Yalta Inn saying that he had never had access to Internet and hence, the online booking could not be honored. That resulted in driving more than 1500 km that day to Chita. In the next instance, the hotel confirmed by the site in Novosibirsk had been shut for over three months! Barring these instances I have got more than expected from reservations through the site. Hence, this time too, for both Australia and New Zealand, I decided to go with booking.com despite the suggestions to try Airbnb, Trivago, etc. Travelling alone in Australia, I have chosen hostels to keep costs low, while in New Zealand bookings are primarily in apartments.
I had to do quite some research to get the best deals for car rental in Australia and New Zealand. I was assisted by Praveen Tomy, my cousin in Sydney, to arrive at the right type of car and the price. Praveen was insistent that I should use a sturdy vehicle for the solo trip. Despite a cheaper deal for a sedan I took his advice and settled for a Mitsubishi Outlander from Apex Rental. At AUD 2000I got a decent deal for a 37-day SUV hire. From Auckland Archana approved of my selection of Toyota RAV4 for the drive in New Zealand through Rentalcars. In both case I picked the zero excess and full on-road assistance options to keep all worries away. Fuel price is on the higher side in both countries with fuel in New Zealand being more expensive. However, toll roads are fewer in New Zealand than in Australia, I understand.
Getting used to driving in Australia and New Zealand is only a matter of being more disciplined than one is used to in India. I don’t have to get used to driving on the right side of the road or left hand drive cars. One can drive in New Zealand with a valid Indian driving license for a year. However, a valid International Driving Permit is required to drive in Australia. I secured mine from Ernakulam, Kerala from the authority that had issued my driving license. With digitization the process has become almost completely hassle free.
VFS Global handles visa applications for Australia. With the necessary documents and papers I completed submission of the visa application in less than ten minutes. I was a wee bit apprehensive if my application would receive sufficient early attention as I had submitted it almost four months ahead of the proposed travel date. The saving grace was that I did not have to submit the passport along with the application, which gave me the choice of inserting the New Zealand visa application the very next day at TTService. For New Zealand visa the passport submission was part of the process. While I got the stamped New Zealand visa in 10 days the Australian e-visa took over five weeks. I presume that my application was overlooked for more emergent applications.
With both the visas in the bag, in a manner of speaking, I tuned to the packing list. Over the past few years I have developed an omnibus list of items to be packed. Depending on the climatic conditions, duration of travel and the mode of travel the list is pruned, adapted and finalized. Since accommodation has been finalized in all the locations identified for overnight stay I scored out the tent, tripod chair, bio toilet, sleeping bag and mat from the list. Since New Zealand may require layering of clothing the same was factored into the list. Food items have been completely eliminated from the list since both countries have severe restrictions of what can be taken into those countries. To capture the beautiful landscape I am taking along an SLR with tripod, GoPro Hero3+ and a good phone camera. Besides, Praveen has already sourced a DJI drone camera for me from Hong Kong. I hope to document these two expeditions better than the previous ten! If wishes were horses….
Ferry crossings are part of the itinerary, both in Australia and New Zealand. While the Tasman Sea separates mainland Australia and idyllic Tasmania the choppy Cook Strait separates the northern and southern islands of New Zealand. Rentalcars in New Zealand provided a free ferry crossing as part of the car rental. The Interislander ferry takes over 3 hours and, I was told, is not meant for those who are prone to seasickness. The Spirit of Tasmania ferry between Melbourne and Devonport set me back by over $350 despite opting for just the recliner seat in the ferry. The ferry takes all of ten hours each way - it is an overnight ride from Melbourne and a day ride from Devonport.
Finally, for under USD 1000 I secured bookings with Qantas Airways from Chennai to Sydney, to Auckland and back to Chennai from Christchurch. The 30 kg baggage restriction meant that I had to be choosy about what I packed. This is a huge change from my previous international road trips. Since I had started out by car in my previous trips what I put into the car was only limited by the space in the car! The packing list had to exclude a lot, as they entered the ‘non-essential’ list. Bags were packed, weighed, repacked and reweighed…how many times, I do not remember now. Finally, this morning I decided that the next repacking would happen only later in the day when I am at the Chennai airport for check-in.
The most critical part of such a long stay away from home is to ensure that the house is kept clean and certain routines are delegated to the house maid. I stayed at home one day to meet with her, explain what needed to be done daily, fortnightly and monthly. I am most worried about the three fish I have at home. The fighter fish are of resplendent colors and they even respond to my whistles. I feed them twice daily and from now on they have to be used to a one time feed. On Sundays they will go without food – Lenten time for the fish. The bowls have to be cleaned fortnightly and the fish must be given the luxury of fresh water. However, the fighters are a hardy variety and I expect them to withstand the change in their routine. The indoor plants have to be watered, pruned and vases cleaned at regular intervals. Soot has an uncanny ability to stick to glass windows and fans. They have to be dusted and cleaned with Colin every fortnight. The cupboards, crockery and cutlery too have to be attended to regularly. The trustworthy maid, Saraswati, who has been looking after my flat for the past two years, was all ears when I took her through the paces. I have also left written instructions with dates for actioning the items.