In our latest podcast we're talking with Susan from South Australia, who travelled by herself to New Zealand to join our 12 day Kiwi North & South Island tour.
This interview will be of special interest to anyone thinking of travelling solo to New Zealand. She shares her thoughts on what she was looking for as a solo traveller, who her fellow travellers were, what the guide was like and of course some special memories and highlights from her trip.
We chat with Susan for just under half an hour, listen to the interview here by clicking on the SoundCloud file below. There's also a full transcript of the interview on this page including pictures from her trip.
Andrew: Kia ora, everyone. This is Andrew from MoaTrek. So, on this month's interview, I'm talking with Susan Mills from South Australia. This will be of interest to anyone who's thinking of traveling by themselves, traveling solo out to New Zealand and traveling around and joining a tour. So, Susan came over from Australia to New Zealand last spring and she traveled with us on one of our small group tours. She was on our 12-day tour, the Kiwi, going to the north and the south islands. We're chatting with Susan and just hearing all about her trip, particularly from her perspective of joining the trip by herself. So, I hope you enjoy our chat with Susan.
Andrew: We're talking to Susan who's in Australia, in Adelaide, in Australia about her trip over to see us in New Zealand and join us on a MoaTrek tour. It was back in November, wasn't it Susan, last year?
Andrew: October, springtime in New Zealand.
Andrew: So, thanks for joining us all the way from Australia. And, how are you doing?
Susan: Sorry, I missed the question.
Andrew: The question was, how are you doing?
Susan: Oh, I'm doing well. No, I'm doing really, really well. Very well. Missing traveling. I've been stuck at home now for six weeks. It's not very good not traveling.
Andrew: And so, a few months on from your trip. So we'll start first with a few questions just for those of you that don't...those of our followers that don't know you. We'll put some links into the blogs and the photos you took on your trip because they were so wonderful. But if you could tell us a little bit about yourself, please and why you chose New Zealand for your trip.
Susan: Yes, well, my name is Susan, I'm born and bred in Adelaide, down in South Australia. I'm a wife and mum of two adult sons. I have a husband who works away a lot which, which leaves me plenty of time for traveling, both dreaming of it and actually doing it. I would say I'm a bit of an outdoorsy type of person, although I'm very much a bit of a scaredy-cat when it comes to going outside my comfort zone. So, I've found a new appreciation as I get a little bit older to stretch those boundaries.
Andrew: Excellent, excellent. And what was it that brought you to New Zealand? Why did you decide to come over to New Zealand last year?
Susan: Well, I had been as a child, so great many years ago, and loved it. We did a big family tour of the South Island. I hadn't seen the North Island and I had some time and opportunity to come away and do a bit of a solo trip, and I just, as I said, I love the outdoors and just the beauty of New Zealand really, really grabs me. So, I thought let's take a chance to go across ditch and experience what New Zealand has to offer. It was wonderful.
Andrew: Excellent. And had you done any solo travel before?
Susan: Yes. I have been to Europe and the UK in the past. I've got a lot of family in the UK so when we say solo travel, yes I've solo traveled, but I solo travel to family. So, it's not exactly the same as doing a trip like this one. So, this one was a bit little bit more nerve-wracking than that one because it was just me.
Andrew: So, what made you come not so much New Zealand, but why did you decide to do this trip at this time and on your own without the family?
Susan: As I said, my children are adults and they are off floating about in the world doing their own thing and my husband is away a lot and just had this opportunity of just this, I guess you call it wanderlust and, you know, do we go now, do we go later, do I wait for my husband? Often in life if you wait forever for your husband because he's never home, it can be quite difficult, and yeah, just seemed like the right time. I'd seen about MoaTek and thought, "Wow, that looks amazing," and away I went.
Andrew: Awesome. And we're so glad you came.
Andrew: So, you were looking for tours. Did you look at other ways of traveling?
Susan: Yes, yes. I mean, New Zealand for an Australian, in particular, is very accessible. We're just across the ditch. Adelaide, it's a four-hour flight so quite easy to get to. So, there's plenty of options. You can drive yourself, there's buses that will take you around, either the large coaches or more of a regular transport option. So, I researched and investigated, but soon as I thought of linked on to MoaTrek and had a look what was going on there, I thought, "Oh, yeah. This one sounds exactly like what I want."
Andrew: And what were the things that you...that were important to you for this trip that made you look at MoaTek?
Susan: I really really liked the family-run element of the business. I thought that would create something more of a community experience rather than just a load on load off experience. It sounds like, from the first initial reading of the website when I looked at it, it sounds, certainly sounded like they know New Zealand extremely well, which they actually do, having been on the tour now. So, that element was really, really one of the biggest things that drew me in is that I could go and feel part of the family as opposed to just be a number herded on a bigger coach. The smaller coach element as well. I think is it the maximum you have is 18? We only had 15. So, 15 passengers was brilliant, and that appealed to me as well that much smaller number means that you can meet everyone, you can talk to everyone. And on the bus, everyone was involved in all the conversations, everyone could hear the answers, everyone could ask more questions. It really really was exactly what I hoped it would be.
Andrew: Excellent. Now, you said just before that you were a little bit nervous about coming over. What, if you don't mind me asking, what were the things you were nervous or I'd say worried but, you know, thinking about beforehand?
Susan: Well, I think it can be very daunting even just getting on a plane yourself but it can be very daunting being in an unfamiliar environment and meeting new people that you've never met before. Will they be nice? Will they not be nice? Will they accept you? You know, that kind of thing makes you very nervous. Also, the safety element I guess is another thing to think about when you're solo traveling and that can bring in its own little nerves. But, you know, it all completely dissipated the minute we all got together as a group, and that was for me the very first morning when we're dropping our luggage off. And it just, every, all the nerves that I felt of will this be fun? Will I meet people I like? You know, will this be what I hope it to be, completely dissipated from the minute we all got together. And from the minute Paul sort of pulled out from the cub with his microphone on and started his banter, we were just a group having a great old time.
Andrew: Yeah, yeah. And, no, it's like that isn't it?
Susan: It is. It's amazing.
Andrew: And, and you've done trips that you've organized yourself before. And how would you compare the difference between a trip where you're doing all the bookings and organizing compared to this one where you're on an on a tour like MoaTrek?
Susan: Well, I'm completely sold on the MoaTrek model of traveling I must say. It is so much easier to just pack your belongings, show up and have someone else having done all the logistics, all the booking of the hotels, all the, what will be nice to look at along the way, where we're gonna stop for morning tea, where you're gonna stop the lunch. Absolutely, everything taken care of. It was just so easy to just then sit back and relax, which is what a holiday really should be rather than the panic of, "Oh, I've got to get to the train, got to get my bag loaded onto the train, off the train, etc., etc. Even driving yourself around, you know, it's got its own nerves, GPS, you're looking at that. It really was like chalk and cheese, and I don't know why I haven't done more tours to be honest.
Andrew: But we're all like that, aren't we? In our 20s and 30s, we do it ourselves and then as we get older, 40s and 50s, we start letting someone else do it, right?
Susan: Exactly. And the things that you don't get when you're by yourself like the knowledge, like, the guide. Like Paul, our guide, and I'm sure he's representative of all the guides of MoaTrek, just so so knowledgeable about everything. Like, no question was too tricky for him to be asked, you know. If he didn't know it, I'm sure he probably made it up. But he, you know, the birdlife, the forestry industry, just absolutely anything that we could ask him about New Zealand and its country it was just answered, and that, you don't get that when you organize your own trip. You can get an element of it, you can go to a museum and see a part of it, but you do not look at in a landscape, have someone ask a question and go, "Oh my God, that's really interesting." That's a huge difference.
Andrew: Thinking back now, the few months that have passed, if I asked you to describe...to use one word or say no more than three words to describe your guide, what would you choose?
Susan: He's a character, exceptionally fun and exceptionally knowledgeable.
Andrew: Very good. Because what we often hear after the trip is that people say that, you know, they really felt like it was traveling around New Zealand with a friend.
Andrew: And, you know, I guide tours myself and if I guide a trip and people have said that, that is the highest compliment and it is something, and that, it comes from, you know, the nature of the guides but also the family-owned kind of, you know element of MoaTrek. And yeah, it's certainly...and that's the kind of way we hope to do it, is with the people that feel they're comfortable. Especially for a solo traveler, you know, arriving on a new country and having a friend from day one well, that's not bad, is it?
Susan: That's right, we actually had...there was three of us who were solo travelers. There was another female from San Francisco and a third female from the UK. The San Francisco female has done a lot of solo traveling, but the one from the UK has never really traveled before it all and so this is her first big solo trip. And we all just, we were so welcomed by all the other people, all the other couples, all the other groups. Sometimes we would have a wander off by ourselves and sometimes we would, you know, mingle in with the, you know, it was also very, very easy and just really, really great. And all of us, all of us, just, yeah, we've all end up friends. We're all still in contact, sending each other messages.
Andrew: Nice. Really? Oh, that's awesome.
Susan: Yeah, absolutely.
Andrew: Yeah. So, can you tell me a few little stories from your trip? Like, you mentioned something before about being a bit of a scaredy-cat about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Was there anything that kind of comes to mind from your trip around that?
Susan: Well, two things really. The first one was day one, as I said, that that initial nervousness and being worried about what the tour was gonna hold really dissipated very quickly. And by mid-afternoon we, you know, on a very cloudy and cold day we were sailing Lake Rotoiti and we went to the thermal springs. No, everyone was getting into their bathers and I certainly didn't really want to, and I'm like, "You know what? Let's do it. You've got to do this. You've got to step out your comfort zone. This is what you want to try and push yourself to do," and I did. So, we're sitting lovely, happily in these lovely warm thermal springs when someone then said, "Now let's go down the end of the jetty and slide off the slide into that freezing cold lake." I'm like, "No, I'm doing that." They're like, "Oh yeah. Yeah you are. Come on" and so there we are. We're all flying off the end of the jetty into this absolutely freezing cold, so cold it took my breath away. And that is not something I bet I would do. But, you know, I'll be honest and say that I'm the actual one that did it twice so people could get some photos as well.
Andrew: How many people jumped in?
Susan: I think there was about six of us all up that did it.
Susan. Yeah. And it was a particularly cold day, but the catamaran that you're on to sail lake Rotoiti had lots of hot coffee and warm blankets for us after we'd done that, so that was good. The other thing that really pushed me out of my comfort zone was the extra activities that you can do, and the one we did in Rotorua was zip lining. And I am terrified of heights, like it is an absolute abject fear. And I was so nervous but there was four of us from the tour that did it and one of the other ladies doing it was also terrified of heights. So, we talked each other into it and we did it together and anytime we sort of felt a bit nervous the other one would go, "Come on, we can do this," and absolutely we did...we finished it. We loved it, absolutely loved it, and we all felt like superheroes at the end of it. It was those two things really, really were exactly what I thought was the adventures you can kind of look for in a country like New Zealand that has so much to offer.
Andrew: And how about in the South Island? Is there anything... Not so much, you kind of challenge wise or pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Was there anything that kind of sticks in your mind from the South Island?
Susan: Well, Akaunui Farm visit is I think the highlight of absolutely everyone's tour in New Zealand that goes with MoaTrek. Well, Paul, the whole way down to the Akaunui Farm would say that we're gonna have a typical...visit a typical New Zealand farmhouse for a typical New Zealand lunch. Every day a couple of times a day he would say this. So, once we get there and realize that there's nothing typical about this farmhouse and certainly nothing typical about the lunch, it really was a great way to enter into it. The welcome that you receive from Di and Ian, who own the farmhouse there, run the farm is just extraordinary. They are interested in you, they listen to your name, they remember your name throughout the whole visit. The food was exceptional. They grow a lot of their own food, obviously, and everyone just loved it. We could have stayed there. None of us wanted to leave. So, that's one of those big highlights.
Andrew: Yeah. It's always, the hardest thing about going there is getting people to leave. No one ever wants to leave.
Andrew: Yeah, yeah. We're really lucky because, actually, we're the only tour accompany that they actually host. So, you know, Diana, she teaches school in the community there and she takes, usually it's a Tuesday or whatever that MoaTrek go, and she takes Tuesdays off because they know she's the only one she does, otherwise, it's just their home.
Susan: Yeah, and it's a beautiful home and they have so much beautiful family history on display. And they're happy for you to wander through the house, they're happy to answer questions about any of the photos that you see or any of the memorabilia that you see. Just so exceptionally welcoming. It was just beautiful. The other highlight I think needs to sort of, I started bragging about in some ways is that we got to see Mount Cook. Apparently not everyone gets to see the top of Mount Cook but we did when we were there and we're so happy.
Andrew: Actually, and you got snow at Mount Cook, or you were there the day after snow, because you went walking out in the... Right outside the hotel, it was just snow, wasn't it? And you went for a bit of a walk in the snow that day.
Susan: Yeah, we stayed in the national park there, and they'd been a bit of a snowstorm that evening, some snow flurries just as we were going to bed but certainly, it raged on during the night. We woke up to this astounding winter wonderland from...it was really a dark, nasty day the day before, as we were driving in but snow covered Wonderland. For an Australian who lives on the edge of a desert, it was just like, it was like Christmas as far as I could tell. Many of the others on the tour are a little bit more used to snow than I am, but I was the one that was like, "Oh my goodness." We had a bit of a snowball fight. And yes, sir, a large portion of the group went on a nice little, you can go for treks in the morning. And we have free time in the morning to do that and that's what we did. We went to trekking through this snowy Wonderland and of course, all the clouds and the sky was clear, which allowed Mount Cook be out on display. It was a stunning, stunning morning. It was just sensational..
Andrew: Yeah, you did... I'll put some photos up on the page that we published this on the website, because I remember your photos clearly from Mount Cook, and they were unbelievable.
Susan: Yeah, amazing.
Andrew: And I guess that's nice that you've shared that with people. I mean, if you're on your own and you get the snow, it might be nice, but there's nothing better than just, you know, sharing it with a group of people, especially if you're still in contact with them.
Susan: Yeah, yeah. And who am I gonna throw a snowball at maybe by me by myself really?
Andrew: Yeah. So, then you said that there were three other ladies traveling on their own on the trip?
Susan: Yeah, three of us were solo.
Andrew: And what was the current dynamic on the trip? Because, you had your three solo travelers? And could you tell us about the other people on the trip?
Susan: Yes, there was a couple from the UK and some, there were other couples were from America. We also had a group of four friends who had been friends for a very, very, very, long time. So, long term friends, they were there as a group as well. So, like 15 of us on the tour, and just really, really interesting people. People that had traveled to the North Pole were there, people that have been around the world being gymnastics judges, just a hugely, hugely diverse group of people. Interestingly enough, quite a few, the travelers, the majority of the travelers were teachers or former teachers. So, to say we were an inquisitive lot was to be an understatement. We certainly kept Paul on his toes with our endless questioning, but we're all a bit thirsty for knowledge in that. But yeah, really, really diverse and interesting group, and as I said, we've all kept in contact, we send messages at Christmas and New Year and, yeah, so it's been really nice. I've made a whole group of new friends and new places to go and discover when I go and visit them as well.
Andrew: Well, that sounds, it sounds great. And so, just one last question, then, Susan. So, what advice or what tips would you give to other people thinking about a solo trip to New Zealand? And whether they're practical tips about, you know, things to take or things not to take or just some kind of tips about, you know, mindset or, you know, that kind of thing, any tips?
Susan: Well, my first tip would be to do it. Just absolutely go and do it. My second tip would be to do it with MoaTrek. Absolutely, you are treated genuinely like family. New Zealand is a really friendly country. New Zealanders love to engage with you, talk to you, and make you feel welcome. So, you're not gonna have that problem as well. But with the MoaTrek group, I found that we were traveling like family. So, that was really wonderful. I think traveling to a country like New Zealand, it's really, really good to take your sense of adventure. To say, "Yes, I am gonna try those new things, I am going to, if the opportunity to plunge into a lake occurs, let's do that. If I get a chance to zip line let's do it." So, take a sense of adventure would be probably my biggest tip.
Andrew: Awesome. And any practical tips? Was there any gear that you took and didn't need or anything that you didn't need and wished you had taken?
Susan: Well, it's certainly rainy than I was expecting it to be but that could perhaps be how New Zealand Springs work. So, I think I think it's very important to pack for many seasons because you will get many seasons. If, you know, the Mount Cook day for example, we woke up and walked in snow and it was minus two degrees, and we traveled down to Queenstown where it was really beautiful and sunny and we were in T shirts. So, it's really important to pack layers is I guess the way...the best way to be in an environment like New Zealand, so you can layer up when you're in the cold bits and layer off when you're back in the, the, the more climate areas. And plus when you go out on the many lakes, it can a bit chilly as well. So, definitely think about layers, light layers.
Andrew: Yes, it's a good tip. Have you told that to your sons when they go traveling?
Susan: Yes, they get a lot of information. Whether they listen to it that's, you know, that's probably not really happening, but mom still gives it.
Andrew: Yeah. Oh, excellent. Any final kind of thoughts or anything you'd want to share, anything that's popped into your head about your trip now we're reminiscing?
Susan: Well, I don't know. I think something that's often occurred to me after the trip is something that Bobby, one of the travelers from New York actually said at one point, she was down the back of the bus and we'd all been having a laugh about something. And she said, "They say laughter adds youth to your life, and going by how much we're all laughing and we're all gonna live to 100." And that to me is something I've often thought about, you know, when things it, you know, I may be having a bad day and you just think, "Oh, you know, I remember having a laugh there." And that to me sort of really sums up what MoaTrek, what our MoaTrek experience was when we went. I love that statement that she made. I love it.
Andrew: Wow. Yeah. I remember you saying that. That's beautiful, yeah. We should all live by that.
Susan: Shouldn't we? We should try.
Andrew: I always gauge my trips by how many...how much people are laughing. A holiday with laughter, I think it's a good trip.
Susan: Yeah, yeah. We were laughing a lot.
Andrew: Paul would...he would have a Ph.D. in making people laugh.
Susan: Yes, he would. He's quite the character.
Andrew: Yes. So, thanks again, Susan. So, thanks for coming to visit us last Spring, and thanks again for sharing your thoughts. you know, from the perspective of traveling solo for your trip. And, yeah, we'll put this up on the website, moatrek.com, and I am going to put some photos out right in the places you're talking about so people can see that your plunge into the lake and your dangle off the, in the zip line in Rotorua and you're hike Mount Cook in the snow. So, don't worry, it will be, you know, radio with pictures, type of thing.
Susan: Yeah. And put a picture of the big carrot too because that was a highlight.
Andrew: Okay. I'll definitely put those. Yeah. Okay. Well, again, yeah, thank you, Susan. A final question. When are you coming back to New Zealand?
Susan: Oh, soon, I hope. Soon, soon, soon. I've made my husband a little bit jealous, so he has plans for us to hopefully maybe even have another MoaTrek trip next season.
Andrew: You have to do a longer trip and come up the West Coast next time.
Susan: Yes, definitely the West Coast. Bay of Islands as well as something else. We’ll have to try one of the longer trips.
Andrew: Yeah. Okay, well look, thanks again, Susan, and we'll talk to you soon. Thank you.
Susan: Thanks, Andrew.
Andrew: So, that's our interview, our chat with Susan from Australia talking about her solo trip to New Zealand last year. Now, we hope you enjoyed it. We certainly enjoy talking about her trip, and on the website on moatrek.com we will post some photos right on the page with the transcript and the audio for the interview so you can see the things that Susan got up to, Susan and her friends got up to on the trip. And we hope you enjoy it. So, we're MoaTrek, moatrek.com, New Zealand small group tours, family-owned New Zealand business. We've been running tours all around New Zealand since 1971. As Susan said in the interview, it's about traveling New Zealand as you would with friends, with family. The trips are fully guided. Our guides are really passionate Kiwis who love sharing the best of New Zealand, the places we all grew up and went to holidays on as kids.
Each night we stay in comfortable accommodation, enjoy really good food and wine and getting out and enjoying the best of New Zealand countryside, you know, on short walks and fun activities, things like that. But just mainly about having a real trip of a lifetime with other like-minded people in New Zealand. So, to find out more, have a look at our website, that's moatrek.com, M-O-A-T-R-E-K.com. And we hope to hear from you soon and look forward to seeing you down in New Zealand. Cheers. Kia ora.