A Countdown

Apart from the never-ending – or never wanting to end – question of which brand of roaming chip you should buy for your mobile phone, the second most popular question on the various forums that I visit is, “Do I need to book in advance?” Probably the most annoying feature of this question is that a general answer seems to be required, and that is not possible without very detailed knowledge of what the petitioner expects to do.

There are some activities, places and times that require booking at the earliest possibility – Queenstown between Christmas and the New Year (but that has always been the case, even since 1974), the Milford Track (and, increasingly the Routeburn and Kepler Tracks as well) – because they will be booked out very quickly. This is not to rule out the possibility of getting a single place on the Great Walks at short notice – that has been possible in recent years. But that would require a sort of flexibility that few travellers have.

Then there are activities which require longer planning, although they won’t be booked out – but that might not even take place if you don’t show interest early enough. The Dusky Track is the classical example of that. Transport requires a minimum number of participants, and the sooner you can name the date, the more likely you are to find fellow trampers to go with you. Another example is the Whanganui River Journey.

A third category is the initial night. One thing that nobody wants to be doing directly off the plane is trying to find a place to stay, or working out how to get there. You really need a plan, and have it rehearsed, or you will end up lost.

Finally, the major question of flights and vehicles. I am beginning to think that flights should be booked 120 days in advance (and no longer 90 as has been the case up until now). Prices seem to be on the move at around 100 days before take-off, and while last minute cheap flights are still in the realm of possibility, I wouldn’t count on it. And directly after that the vehicle (if you want to hire one) should be booked, because they too will start increasing in price and scarcity. One further tip: Get a good night’s sleep before hiring a vehicle, and count on returning it on the very last day, and being chauffeured to the departure desk. There are no refunds for early returns.

That having been said, almost everything in between can be booked more or less spontaneously. Buses, ferries, overnight stays, even Great Walks. Don’t leave it to the very last minute, but look at a weather report for the next week and start playing through the possibilities. I booked my places on the Heaphy Track just fours days before starting out (however I could see well in advance that the track was not full), but if the Heaphy hadn’t been possible, then I would have opted for one of the walks around the Nelson Lakes.

So here are some countdown dates and events for this trip. Use them with a grain of salt.

Date Days to go Event
November 24-29 77-72 Book flights: FRA-AKL, AKL-IVC, NSN-AKL
Book rail ticket: H-F
December 7-9 64-62 Room reservations: IVC, Oban
December 11 60 Book flight: IVC-Oban
December 13 58 Room reservation: IVC (Tina & Tony)
Enquire for Dusky Track transport
Book bus: IVC – Te Anau
December 15 56 Book flight: DND-NSN
January 2 38 Book bus: Te Anau – DND
January 4 36 Book emergency equipment
January 5 35 Book Dusky Track transport
January 19 21 Room reservation: Te Anau
Buy return train ticket: F-H
Arrange postal storage
From January 25 15 Enquiries at all and any kayaking organisations about finding partners
February 4 5 Order duty free
February 6 3 Contact with host in IVC, Michael Cameron about picking up spot/PLB in CHC
February 7 2 Battery replacements for all electronic equipment

Obviously, there are hives of activity. But nothing really to lose sleep over. If I were to set priorities, then flights would be first, with buses and accommodation taking a comfortable second place. The reasoning behind this is that flights are going to be the most expensive item on a per unit basis, and they have the greatest potential for savings, whereas bus and accommodation prices are fairly stable.

Now there’s only one last chapter to go: The book!