Alternative title: "Lest I forget all the details about one of the greatest holidays ever" :)
I think the hardest and most time-consuming parts of a holiday are a) the planning and b) the packing bits. Being a true-blue Virgo, I enjoy both these aspects almost (only almost! I'm not all weird!) as much as the actual holiday. For a major overseas holiday I generally take 1-2 months just to do the research. I read a lot, most of it online. I read all the online guides, tripadvisor, T+L, about.com, and for good measure the travel itineraries posted online by Cox and Kings, Thomas Cook and SOTC. By the end of it all I have a pretty good idea of where to go and what to do/see. In this case, we knew we only had 10 days. We couldn't leave Delhi before the 19th of December because Ads was going to take part in his Annual Day function and that was on the 18th. The schools re-opened on the 2nd Jan and since everyone would need some downtime back home to get over jet-lag, we decided to get back on 30th December, which gave us a clear weekend to prepare ourselves for work and school.
Fortunately, 10 days seemed about right to get a neat introduction to New Zealand (not ideal, but optimal given real-world constraints!) I asked for quotes from the major tour operators, while at the same time working out how much it would cost us if we made all the bookings by ourselves. It turned out that there wasn't much of a difference if I accounted for the time and hassle saved by letting someone else do all the work. The total amount was still a shocker!!!! :( We went with SOTC who made our flight, train, hotel and rental car bookings. We decided to fly to Auckland first (it's on the North Island) and spend 2 days there with a friend. On the third afternoon, we would fly into Queenstown, rent a SUV and begin a week-long tour through the South Island. We would get rid of our rental car in Greymouth, take a train to Christchurch and thereafter fly back to Auckland, spending an extra day there before heading home to India. We more or less skipped doing the North Island in any detail. On South Island, we hit all the highlights and decided to skip the eastern and central parts which are well-known for stuff we've already done many times (for example, whale-watching in Kaikoura; Lake Tekapo which came highly recommended but which I felt would be similar to the tons of other lakes we would visit anyway; and Mt Cook National Park which might be a repetition of what we would see in the glacier region on the West Coast)
So, the planning and bookings got done well in time. The packing was mystifying. It was summer, but we were going to pass through variable temperature zones. Hot and sunny in Central Otago (Queenstown and Te anau), squally and rainy (2 days before we left our friend called to say that Auckland was wet and cold and I should get raincoats!), ice in the glacier region. So I had to pack for summer, winter and possible monsoon :) In the end I did the only sensible thing. Layers for everybody, no shorts or sleeveless clothes (which anyway didn't make sense since we are paranoid about sun exposure). Full-sleeved shirts/tops and pants. Raincoats. Thermals. 3 types of jackets for everyone - light, medium-heavy and heavy.
I detest overpacking, so my strategy is always to pack the full consignment a week before we leave. 3 days later, I open the suitcases and mercilessly cut the wardrobe by half :) I get S to do a final check (so that he can't blame me if he's standing around without clean undies in the middle of the vacation!) and we are set. I'd ensured we could wash in 3 of the 5 hotels we were staying in, so we could easily make do with just 4-5 sets of clothes for the 10 days trip. I was thrilled when our friend's husband complimented me on having just 2 suitcases. In the event, it turned out that I HAD overpacked - we never used the thermals and heavy jackets, a fact that I cribbed about all the way home :) S calmly asked me if I wanted the entire family to walk around with thermals and puffy coats in 20 degree weather just so that I could feel good about my packing :)
This post has turned out longer than I anticipated, so more about the holiday in the next post. Until then, cheerio :)