How I Became a New Zealand Travel Expert

waitomo caving

As an immigrant, I’ve seen more of New Zealand than most New Zealanders.

Hopefully, in this brave new era of international isolation, that fact’s about to change. A silver lining on an otherwise depressingly dark grey cloud.

But how come I’ve seen so much more of New Zealand than the average citizen? Well, my family was never one for overseas holidays. We couldn’t afford them. Growing up in England, I never set foot on Continental Europe. To me, visiting Scotland or Wales counted as a foreign holiday. We never went to Ireland, or even Northern Island.

disneyworld animal kingdomOnly once did we leave Great Britain. When I was seven, we went to Florida – but only because my nana had been given a year to live and was spending all her money on us. (I didn’t know that at the time and, two decades later, my nana’s still with us and living in Tauranga.)

Then, when I was ten, we moved to New Zealand. Obviously, emigrating was a massive expense, but things were cheaper in New Zealand back then. And the exchange rate was three dollars to the pound. We bought a house far posher than I’d ever dreamed of living in: four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a massive lounge, a deck, a walk-in wardrobe, a stained-glass window, a garden we didn’t share with the whole terrace… Most of my parents’ salaries went towards the mortgage. They were teachers.

Of course, this meant we still couldn’t afford to go on overseas holidays. Not that we cared. I mean, to us, New Zealand was overseas. Instead, we went on holidays around New Zealand.

glacier new zealandAnd they were awesome.

We went to the Bay of Islands and Cape Reinga and Ninety-Mile Beach. We went to Waitomo and Rotorua and the Coromandel. We went to Napier and Wellington and Taranaki. Mount Maunganui, Rangitoto, White Island. Christchurch, Dunedin, Queenstown. All around the South Island in a campervan. And so much more.

It wasn’t until after uni that I started writing about all the places we’d been. I’d always planned to earn a living by my pen, but not as a travel blogger. Now I needed to visit more places in search of new material. And more. Then tourism companies started offering me things in exchange for writing about them, so I visited even more places. Before I knew it, I was an unofficial expert. Whenever a question about New Zealand geography came up, the quiz team turned to me!

horse riding glenorchy

And apparently that’s my role now. People ask me for New Zealand holiday advice. I know about many obscure places you wouldn’t necessarily think of going to. I know about the places you absolutely have to go to. There aren’t many places in New Zealand that’ll disappoint you.

A Carbon Neutral Campervan Holiday

I really like travelling by campervan. I’m always telling people it’s the best way to see New Zealand. There is, however, one drawback. Driving a heavy motorhome over hundreds of miles produces a lot of carbon. Not exactly the most environmentally friendly holiday, is it? You can’t help but feel a little guilty.

Happily, there is a New Zealand campervan hire company that’s doing something about it.

Wendekreisen Travel is a family-owned company that actually seems to care about doing what’s right. My family’s used their campervans in the past, and we’re always more than satisfied for the price. Now they’ve got a carbon project up and running that fully offsets the fuel imprint of their rental vehicles.

A carbon neutral campervan holiday – how is such a thing possible? I emailed Wendekreisen to ask about it, and their Managing Director agreed to do an interview – yay! So here’s that interview:

Can you explain how the Wendekreisen Carbon Project works?

Our carbon project is based on the carbon trading scheme. The project allows us to offset the fuel emissions of our customers by purchasing carbon credits to balance out the carbon debits.

Our reservation system automatically calculates our total carbon debit in metric tonnes, which we then offset by purchasing PFSI carbon credits from the New Zealand Native Forests Restoration Trust. For the underlying theory and a simple explanation of how we calculate the carbon debits, you can have a look at http://www.wendekreisen.co.nz/about/carbon_offset.aspx.

Twice a year, we purchase carbon credits to offset the carbon debits in the calculation. To offset the debits, we cancel the credits we buy. This means that the carbon credits we purchase lose all of their monetary trading value and thus retire. Once they have been cancelled, the New Zealand Emission Unit Register issues official notification which we can then use to verify our claims. The money we paid for the credits goes directly to the New Zealand Native Forests Restoration Trust. They use these funds to acquire more land in order to plant more trees, create more habitats and control pests better. This in turn will generate more carbon credits for them, which they can then on-sell to anyone interested.

The idea is to grow the project to make a significant difference in the future. The land acquisitions by the trust have a covenant placed on them for 100 years. This means that all trees on the land are protected for at least 100 years. After this time, New Zealand Legislation such as the Resource Management Act 1991 will continue to protect these native trees. You might like to know that the trust currently owns and manages 7,000 hectares in this way.

For us it was crucial that the project fulfils 2 criteria. These are ‘permanence’ and ‘additionality’. This meant that we were seeking a project which would remain indefinitely and would not have happened otherwise. We are satisfied that the trust fulfils both of these criteria. PFSI carbon credits are the ‘gold standard’ in the New Zealand carbon credit market.

Why did you feel you had to introduce it?

Our family business has always believed in a balanced approach. It is important to all of us that any profits are generated in a balanced and responsible way, without harm to other beings. We have a range of initiatives in place, and although some of these are significant in a social context (i.e. all Wendekreisen staff enjoy fully funded health insurance), we were not convinced that any of them made a significant difference to the future wellbeing of the environment. It was an area that could be improved. As a family, we made the decision to be more pro-active in this regard.

Why introduce it now and it not before?

All initiatives are expensive and funds are always limited. As mentioned before, at Wendekreisen there are many other initiatives in place and we are working on new initiatives parallel to me answering your questions. For example, we have had a tertiary accident prevention program in place for a year and are currently waiting to have these efforts formally recognised by ACC. All being well, ACC may issue us with tertiary recognition in accident prevention. However, you cannot do everything at once and your efforts have to be in line with what you can afford. There is also the matter of researching the right initiative, which we found to be a task and a half. It took us over a year to source the options, then filter through the spam (or projects which incur tremendous administration costs) and then decide to commit to a project that will actually work. We had so many ideas (i.e. start your own project with friends who are landowners, get out there and plant trees, etc), but none seemed as good as the option we have committed to now.

How do you calculate how much carbon each vehicle emits?

As mentioned earlier, we have explained this on our website: http://www.wendekreisen.co.nz/about/carbon_offset.aspx.

In order to simplify labour intensive processes, Wendekreisen has decided to apply the following calculation:

  • Each rental day will accumulate a carbon offset of 200 kilometres distance
  • Wendekreisen will offset 0.27Kg CO2 emissions per kilometre travelled = 54Kg per 200km/Day (i.e. a 10 day hire will offset 540Kg in CO2 emissions)
  • The same calculation applies to all Wendekreisen vehicles regardless of size

If any of your readers have better ideas, we would like to hear from them. Feedback and suggestions are always welcome.

Will Wendekreisen vehicles become more expensive to hire as a result of this project?

No, the project is entirely funded by Wendekreisen. The carbon debits are listed with all quotations but incur no extra charges. You can try this yourself at http://www.wendekreisen.co.nz/calculator/booking.aspx.

Are other New Zealand campervan hire companies doing the same thing?

There have been voluntary tree planting initiatives that were funded and part organised by other campervan hire companies. However, none of these were successful and we are not aware of any other operator doing the same thing. However, you might like to know that New Zealand’s largest emitters of CO2 emissions, ‘Z’ and ‘Air New Zealand’, are bound by legislation to offset their carbon emissions. They do not participate voluntarily like we do, and guess where they are buying their carbon credits… Yes, in part, overseas in the Ukraine for 0.30 cents a metric tonne. This has never made sense to us. We believe that if you emit CO2 here, then it should also be offset in our beloved New Zealand. I guess that is where the carbon trading scheme has its limitations and, I agree, any effort is better than no effort.

Do you expect other companies will follow suit?

Although we are not overly confident, we hope that others will follow. We invite anyone interested to contact us and we will help as much as we can to forward the info. Our motivation of this project is not to gain a competitive edge. Our motivation is to make a difference to the better good of planet earth and to balance shocking CO2 emissions of humanity. We have actually contacted the Ministry for the Environment and expressed our concerns relating to the difficulty to offset emissions in New Zealand. They were extremely helpful in this regard.

Do you have an environmental vision for New Zealand? If so what would that be?

I have always been very keen on this subject and, in part, studied tourism planning and development for this reason. I was at Auckland University of Technology when the Tourism Strategy 2010 and the ‘100% Pure’ campaign were released. I could see the potential criticism and immature nature of such a campaign. I tried my utmost best to communicate my thoughts to lecturers, fellow students and the Ministry for Tourism, without success. Only recently did this subject emerge in the media, and it seems there are many others today thinking the same way.

I think ‘100% Exclusive’ would suit New Zealand much better. We face the same problem as we did as a company. Funds are limited and we cannot do everything at once. A start would be a good thing. At this stage I am not satisfied that there is any interest by the Ministry for the Environment nor the Ministry of Tourism to make any serious changes towards a truly sustainable future in an environmental context. I understand why, but if you ask me, I would say that cutting down administration and increasing the actual efforts on the ground are absolutely crucial.

I have suggested a plan to the honourable Minister for Climate Change Issues, Tim Groser. I suggested to him that in today’s day and age, we can use websites to effectively target individuals and companies who are willing to offset their carbon footprint. Many people are not aware that the average carbon footprint of private individuals is less than 6.3 metric tonnes per year. Using PFSI (gold standard) New Zealand carbon credits, which fund projects such ours, the actual cost of breaking even on this footprint is less than NZ$100 (pending market prices). Right now, the cost is at an all time low, and if the government was to purchase credits in large quantities, annual costs for offset could amount to less than NZ$40 per individual.

My vision would be to make a website available to commerce and private individuals allowing them to offset their emissions voluntarily. Although I would not expect much participation from private individuals, I most definitely believe that the commercial sector would participate. The website could feature industries and marginalise an approximate carbon imprint depending on the number of staff employed. Wendekreisen was  quoted that it would take 32 metric tonnes annually to offset our 2 X depots in Auckland and Christchurch. Now we are offsetting 2,300 metric tonnes as we have extended our program to the total fuel emissions of all customers. Assuming an annual 32 metric tonnes offset with PFSI credits, the total annual cost would amount to about NZ$200.

If a company was then able to print an official ‘Seal of Approval’, thus verifying their contribution, I think many would be interested for marketing purposes alone. Currently, there is only the carbon zero program, and they charge NZ$200 for the carbon credits, ask you to record 3 hours worth of data every week, and charge you annual administration fees of NZ$11,500. This most certainly does not work and will not encourage participation. The system needs to be simple, cost effective and fund semi-voluntary organisations by buying their efforts – the carbon credits. The marketing of such a government run initiative will be in line with 100% Pure (or Exclusive), create great tourism resources and potentially make great contributions towards a sustainable future of Aotearoa.

So where in New Zealand are the ‘Wendekreisen’ trees being planted?

There is a website featuring a Google map that shows every project the New Zealand Native Forests Restoration Trust is currently taking care of. The map is available at http://www.nznfrt.org.nz/reserves.

Interesting stuff. Thanks for that, Wendekreisen. Isn’t it great when individuals try to make a real difference? I’m just glad to know I’ll be able to enjoy future New Zealand campervan holidays without having to feel guilty about my carbon footprint.

Money Matters: The Cost of Living in New Zealand

One of the hardest things for me to get used to when we moved to New Zealand was the money: saying ‘dollars’ instead of ‘pounds’; ‘cents’ instead of ‘pence’. I was ten. I kept mucking up my maths homework by automatically drawing pound signs where dollar signs were required. Not that it mattered – it was still decimal currency – it was just another reminder of how far away from home I was.

I missed ‘coppers’, the one and two pence pieces you get in Britain. (Yes, it’s the little things you miss.) The lowest coin in New Zealand was the five cent piece. Was. That got abolished a few years ago, which is a shame because it had a nice image of a tuatara on it. The lowest coin now is the ten cent piece. How long before that becomes worthless too?

Around Auckland 001When we moved here, in 2001, one pound was worth approximately three New Zealand dollars, which was fantastic when it came to us buying a house, or getting birthday cheques from relatives back home. Now it’s worth less than two. People often complain about how high the cost of living here has become, (and I’m among them,) but isn’t it the same everywhere?

Let’s see.

Petrol in New Zealand is a little over two dollars a litre at the moment – that’s about one point seven-five US dollars; just over a pound. Petrol in America is less than one US dollar per litre, and petrol in Britain is more than one pound thirty per litre. So no surprises there: petrol in New Zealand is a lot more expensive than in the US, but slightly cheaper than in the UK.

Food… If I’m extremely careful, (and I have to be,) I can survive on thirty dollars a week if the right things are on special, but that gets very boring and I find myself wanting to visit my parents more often. In general, New Zealand is more expensive than the UK food-wise, but when it comes to dining out New Zealand has the UK beat.

Foodstore DessertMy all-time favourite restaurant is the foodstore, in Auckland’s Viaduct Basin. I went there for my graduation dinner, my 21st birthday and my boyfriend’s and my one-year anniversary. It’s a posh place and the food is sublime, but you don’t pay through the nose. Mains cost between twenty-nine and forty-two dollars – yes, that’s as much as I spend on food in a week, but it’s not very expensive for what it is. Think what it would be in London!

The average wage here is twenty-seven dollars an hour. Wages in New Zealand are lower than Australia – which is why so many kiwis are ‘crossing the ditch’ – and they’re also lower than in Britain. However, the minimum wage in Britain is lower than New Zealand’s minimum wage of thirteen dollars fifty an hour.

Rent in Auckland is scarily expensive, but it’s not too bad elsewhere. My boyfriend and I want to escape the city centre as soon as we are no longer tied to it by the university. We want to take a holiday together, but money is a problem.

New Zealand used to be considered a cheap holiday destination, minus the cost of flights, of course, but the rise of the New Zealand dollar over the last few years has changed that somewhat. Campervan hire is still a great way to go, especially at this time of year, (winter, also known as the ‘low’ or ‘off’ season,) and my boyfriend and I are looking into it. Yes, campervanning may not be quite as fun in winter, but it doesn’t rain all the time and we can always snuggle for warmth!

HUNUAF~6In many ways, winter is the best time of year for bush walking, because you don’t get all tired and sweaty and headachy. At this time of year, you can hire a campervan for under thirty dollars a day – in the height of summer it can be well over a hundred dollars a day, and we’re looking at the cheapest ones. I wish my boyfriend hadn’t sold his car. I suppose we could always hire a car, but I’d rather get a campervan if we were going to do that and save on accommodation.

Anyway, my family have found that overall the cost of living in New Zealand is cheaper than in the UK, but even if it weren’t that wouldn’t matter: the quality of living in New Zealand is so much better.

Around Auckland 006