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Tackling Compact New Zealand on Your Own

October 15, 2000|LUCY IZON

The Youth Hostel Assn. of New Zealand is offering a variety of packages for visitors who want to explore the country independently.

New Zealand is a popular destination with independent active travelers because it's compact and diverse. Its three primary islands (the North Island, South Island and Stewart Island) cover a stretch of about 1,000 miles. In this relatively small area, you can walk on glaciers, swim with dolphins, hike up the side of an active volcano, sea-kayak along beautiful coastal beaches, ski alpine regions and even try bungee jumping where the sport originated.

The hostel association packages are designed to keep costs down by combining economical youth hostel accommodations with transportation by backpacker bus or rental car, or with a pass for coach, rail, ferry and air services.

The New Zealand association, which is affiliated with Hostelling International, has 55 hostels in cities or near national parks, ski slopes and popular walking tracks. The hostels provide separate sleeping and bathroom facilities for men and women, although most have single, double, twin and family accommodations. There are no age limits or curfews. Most have self-catering kitchens, and staff members are knowledgeable about local activities.

Auckland, on the North Island, is the gateway for most international visitors, and you can start your Discovery package here. For $46 you get a bed in a shared room at the Auckland City YHA and a pass for the Auckland Explorer Bus, which travels in an hourly circuit, stopping at Auckland's major attractions (you can get on and off the bus as you like). The package also includes a ticket for a return ferry ride to the seaside village of Devonport, which takes you across Auckland Harbor.

On the South Island, similar Discovery packages are available for Christchurch and Queenstown.

An option for exploring the whole country is a pass for the backpacker bus service Magic Travellers Network, plus vouchers that can be exchanged for shared accommodations at any of the New Zealand association's hostels.

The Magic buses travel the North and South islands along fixed routes. Passengers have the flexibility of getting off the coach at any point to spend extra days where they choose. Passes are valid for six months. The driver-guide provides helpful information and will drop off or pick up passengers at YHA hostels along the way. Travelers get airport pickup upon arrival plus an information kit with a YHA accommodation guide and details on discounts.

Costs for one of three routes range from $325 to $373 with vouchers for 14 nights' accommodations, $378 to $426 for 21 nights, or $427 to $702 for 28 nights. Rates drop after March.

These packages cannot be purchased on arrival in New Zealand. You can book ahead by contacting YHA New Zealand National Reservations Centre, P.O. Box 436, Christchurch, New Zealand; telephone 011-64-3-379-9808, fax 011-64-3-379-4415.

For details on these and other packages (with coach, rail, ferry and air pass transportation, or with a rental car) visit the Internet site


Lucy Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer. Internet

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