New Zealand has always been one of our top dream holiday destinations. Every time we think about the planning, the flight time (roughly 10 hours!), and the air ticket price, we always put it back on hold, promising that we will go next year. 🙂
We were excited when we learnt that this year, our favourite airline, Singapore Airlines, has quite a number of air ticket deals to New Zealand, such as this one. It was a very good promotion and definitely a deal hard to resist. Problem was we knew we had to make a lot of planning if we were to self-drive there, and we did not have a lot of time left to make the decision. Traveling with 3 young kids (one being an infant) can be challenging especially in the winter!
Then we came across the idea of private hire tour services that is slowly gaining popularity in New Zealand. It was definitely our preferred way of travelling as we could have a lot of flexibility in our itinerary, and more importantly enjoy the holiday and not worry about vehicle and travel logistics. We had not quite heard about it previously as everyone we knew, self-drove there. So we did lot of research and finally settled on Call Jeeves Tour. What really appealed about them was their fast responsive email responses, and understanding about traveling with kids (which is always challenging). Being a family owned business, they are personalised in their interaction and flexible enough in terms of changing itineraries and not as rigid as some other operators who are more commercially operated. Call Jeeves also had a good rating on TripAdvisor which was really icing on the cake.
We have since completed the trip and we were very impressed by our driver/owner, Warwick, and his wife, Karen, for making our trip so memorable and relaxing that I thought of sharing our experience here. Days after returning from New Zealand, our kids are still missing the duo (they never felt this before with other private tours in other countries) and asked when we would be returning to New Zealand!
Upon arriving, we were picked up by Warwick at the airport arrival hall. For those who are unaware, New Zealand has strict immigration rules which apply to food and medicine. Parents need to be aware of this, and ensure that all rules are complied. I will share more about this in another post.
Our ride was a spacious Toyota HiAce Commuter mini-coach, with enough seats for 9 passengers and plenty of space for our stroller and bulky luggages.
The interior was equipped with heater that was really useful especially after we come back in from a chilly and windy walk outdoors. The seats can be reclined when the kids are napping during the car rides. And they did, most if not all of the time, when they were supposed to be enjoying the beautiful scenery. Duh.. We often joked that this is because of the good driving (which is true!) by Warwick.. haha
The vehicle came with an infant seat and 2 children car seats which by the way were mandatory accordingly to NZ law. With all these, we were set to go!
Most of the itinerary was planned by Warwick based on understanding our requirements and ensuring that we optimise our time in the South Island. Multiple emails prior to the trip ensured that we tweaked the itinerary to exactly what the family is expecting. With different age groups within the party, it is really difficult to plan!
Outcome? The whole trip was relaxing, and not too hectic, and yet with all key attractions visited. Perhaps the only regret is that we should have spent more time there!
Playgrounds with toilet breaks:
Parents will really understand this. With lots of long hour drives around New Zealand, we would often stop for our toilet breaks as well as stretch ourselves, get some coffee and snacks. We were grateful that Warwick had planned some of these breaks such that we could hit a playground and let the kids have some fun and fresh air. Many toilets had playgrounds next to them, and these were really welcomed by the kids! And they really had lots of fun running around in the cool weather, with a thick jacket and still not sweat. Look at the priceless expressions of the kids!
Food and Supermarkets:
After 3 days of bread and fish & chips, the family started to crave for comfort food (a.k.a. Asian food). Thus we went around searching for these restaurants. Although there was no “wantan mee” (dumpling noodle) or chicken rice, Warwick managed to find us restaurants that served decent rice with dishes and noodle soup. This was really welcomed by the kids. End of the day stops will always include a pit stop to the supermarket to stock up items for the next day (including instant noodles and potato chips!). Warwick knew exactly where the supermarkets with a good range of stuff (i.e. Countdown, Pak and Save, 4 Square) were located! This saved us a lot of valuable time.
Unexpected Fire Experience in Queenstown:
The hotel we were in had a minor fire incident which resulted in full evacuation. Cause of the fire is still unknown (according to hotel staff when we left). During the incident, my hubby called Warwick and he and Karen appeared within 10 minutes trying to see how they can help. This was really good service. While both of them cannot fight fire, their presence kind of calmed the family, especially the seniors. They went around with my hubby asking for updates while the family waited. This was really appreciated. And sorry for making them miss their dinner, which we understand they were mid way through. While fires do not commonly happen on holidays (which we hope not!), having a local like Warwick and Karen does help when such need arises. We were eventually allowed back to the hotel in the night, which was a real relief to the family.
For those wondering what’s the damage to your wallets, it is typically more expensive as compared to similar services we tried before in countries like Korea and Taiwan. This is partly because of the higher standards of living in NZ. Goods and services tax is also very high there at 15%! There are strict rules governing such services in NZ (i.e. mandatory rest hours etc.), and this really makes it a very safe mode of transportation as compared to self-drive.
One possible way to cut cost is not to use the driver services in areas where you can walk around, (for example, Queenstown) provided that the hotel that you stay at, is near the shopping and restaurant area. However, you will have to note that many places in NZ do not have public transport services easily available especially in the rural areas. There are coach services around but they are definitely not as convenient for our group.
The scary bit about self driving in NZ is that sometimes you even do not get any cellphone signal at all so you can’t even seek help via the internet. Not to forget that during the winter season, the sky goes dark as early as 5pm so if you have to drive long hours for any particular day, you would easily have to drive in this kind of lighting condition (pardon for the blur image, but you get the idea..)
You can always discuss the different options with Call Jeeves to ensure that you have a budget fitting vacation! After traveling with Warwick, we definitely see the benefits, and it’s totally worth it!
Saying Good Bye:
Time flies, and its really hard to say good bye after 10 days of touring the South Island together. Unlike other private tour operators we had encountered in different countries, Warwick and Karen came with us for the flight check in and accompanied us to the boarding gate. This was really a nice gesture, and everybody hugged good bye at the gate. There was a tinge of sadness, but we know we will be coming back one day. Hopefully to both North and South Island!
And Call Jeeves will definitely be one trusted operator and friend that we will call upon if we come back again! Till we meet again guys !
Note: This is not a sponsored post. Stay tuned for subsequent posts detailing on the trip!