When does a travel actually begin? Does it commence when you arrive at the destination or did it all begin when you boarded the flight, or while you were planning the nitty-gritties or should one go back to the moment when this idea was first perceived? Untraceable thus is the origin of a travel – Journey of a tiny spark that grew into a flame and spread like a wild fire, burning tirelessly within oneself, to keep the passion alive is a fascinating one by itself. Mesmerizing indeed is a story of passion. But all one sees is the execution of this passion that actually began several years ago, perhaps in a living room while watching a television show or while on a walk under the starry night sky during a power shutdown.
I am not exactly sure when the idea of traveling to NZ in particular, occurred to me first. Perhaps, it was while making a list of countries based on area or may be, after one of my French class friends traveled there. I sure did buy a DK publication guide to the country, about four years ago. I originally planned a trip to NZ during fall, to view the spectacular display of colours. I even printed out a map and marked the towns I wished to visit. However, that plan did not work for several reasons including definitely the expense involved and the dearth of vacations.
The beginning of my Solo backpacking last year to Sri Lanka boosted in me the confidence to fly further, explore more and take additional risks. I always had NZ on the back of my mind. However, this year, I did explore other options. Nothing was concrete until October though. That was when I was sure that I was traveling to NZ. By mid-October I had booked my flight and had begun to investigate on the Visa formalities. I ordered my “Lonely planet” guide book which arrived later that month and remained on my shelf, untouched, unattended for several days.
The Suspicious Agent...
A travel agent mainly handled my Singapore visa that I got earlier this year, as that seems to be the only way. Though applying for an NZ visa on your own did not seem very complicated, I failed to generate that enthusiasm to go through their long descriptions on the procedure. So, I attempted an easier way known to me from the previous experience. First, I approached VFS global. Unfortunately they only offer Visa support to Australia and not NZ. I began to Google for some other agents in Bangalore and came across – Global Gateways.
The interiors of the Global gateways office had a very dull and worn out appearance with dirty glass separations and dusty furniture. Though the office space had a few cabins separated by grimy glasses, the entire space was visible from where one stood. A girl welcomed me and handed me a form to be filled. They needed my qualification, experience, land I owned, my salary, my marital status etc. Before filling it, I checked with her if this was required for a tourist visa. She asked me to fill it anyways as a protocol they abided to. The filled form was then handed to another girl who asked me to step into another cabin. She went through the form and needlessly verified the things that were declared by me only a few seconds ago. Then came in, her manager; short and stout little man with a grim look on his face, as if, he was going to do me a big favour.
He glanced through my form and informed me almost immediately that in general, they do not do tourist visas. They mainly cater to people requiring a study or work visa and specially those whose visa has been previously rejected. Apparently, they prepare a case so valid that the consulate “has” to issue a visa to the applicant.
He also informed me that for my experience, I could get a good job in Australia with an attractive salary. I denied that offer and requested only for a tourist visa, that too, to NZ. He requested me to share this with other friends of mine anyways. That, I easily agreed to. He then enquired if I was traveling with my family. I shook my head and told him that I was traveling alone. He gave me that typical Indian look which I often witness – A sudden and random blend of surprise and suspicion, enveloped with extreme curiosity. He asked me why was I traveling alone, to which I replied saying that I was backpacking in the country. That answer was not convincing at all for him and probably did not even understand what it meant. He still looked suspicious about my intentions and that made me a little uncomfortable. He said that it was easy to get a visa if I traveled with family but in my case, the consulate could get suspicious. I wonder who was doubtful - the consulate or him.
By now, I was very annoyed and wanted to walk out but not without giving him a fitting reply. I made him aware of the fact that NZ visa can be applied for online and I was there just because I did not have the time to do so. He disagreed with me and said that there was no online application for NZ. For his offers, apart from the visa fee, he told me that he would be charging Rs.11000 processing fee. I quickly got up and told them that I would get back. As I hurriedly walked out of the office without a glance back, I trashed their visiting card.
That experience made me laugh but most importantly, it arose in me, an excitement to begin my expedition. After all, I should have done that in the first place. So, I went back home and read through the NZ visa website and realized that NZ is a backpacker friendly country. Online application is valid for solo travelers and the process is extremely simple.
So, the Process…
Here is a guideline to the visa process -
2. Fill an online application.
3. Upload following documents - Copy of passport, flight ticket, a covering letter, Passport size pictures (NZ visa), Document showing some family ties, Bank statements.
4. Submit the form and pay the fee.
5. Take a print of the confirmation page.
6. Approach TT services office in your city along with a print of the confirmation page, original passport and a DD of the amount mentioned in their website as a processing fee (Rs 630 for me).
7. Drop the documents at TT services with the address you wish to receive it back at.
8. They will send it to Mumbai or Delhi office, depending on where you are situated.
9. Within two weeks, if not earlier, you shall have your passport back with a visa stamp (Mine took 1.5 weeks due to Diwali holidays).
I was all excited to see my visa stamp printed on the Passport. Hong Kong, Macau, Sri Lanka or Singapore does not provide stamped visa. The only stamped visa I have is that of the US and it is good to see another one. This visitor visa allows you a one-year multiple entry permit with a maximum of 30 days of stay during a visit. Extension can be applied for with valid reasoning. Pretty easy, isn't it?
So, with my visa in hand, I glanced through the lonely planet book to see what places I must visit and what I could skip. I learnt about the Routeburn track and other tramping and hiking in NZ and found a need to do some serious shopping to prepare myself. Most important of all was to buy a good backpack. I went to Decathlon and a very knowledgeable and friendly sales guy helped me choose a bag.
Quechua Symbium Access 70+10L bag is perfect. This was the biggest they had. It has been my companion for three weeks and I can tell you for certain that it has been one of the best. It has a separate compartment at the base that you can use to store shoes or dirty clothes. An extra 10 L top pouch can hold stuff as well. The main bag has top and front opening. The front zipper is extremely useful as it provides easy access to the items that has sunk deep into the bag. Of course it also has some padding for support, which I am sure, reduced all my pains along the way.
My sleeping bag was too big in size and consumed excessive room in the bag. So, I decided to buy a compact one. That was one of the best decisions I had made.
Waterproof jacket, pants, thermal wear and a hiking pole seemed like a must have for trekking in a country with four seasons in a day. Truly, these gears saved my life as I trekked in extreme weather conditions.
Though its summer time in the southern hemisphere, do not expect a warm hot day. The days can be windy and cold and temperatures can drop much lower in the night, especially in the South Island. Enough warm clothes are also an essential. You will definitely need to carry some sunscreen cream to prevent yourself from getting terribly sun burnt.
With all these items, my bag was full and heavy. I wondered if I could carry this around for three weeks. The heaviest item was my Quechua trekking shoes; one of the best companions during my several treks in the country.
After some confusion about what bus to choose for traveling within NZ (Backpacker buses or local buses), I finally decided to figure it out when I get there. I wanted to explore the south island first as it seemed like a trekkers paradise and I am always driven towards the mountains. With my limited time, I choose to fly directly from Auckland to Christchurch and booked a flight and a hostel.
With all that, I was ready to go. There was a lot of excitement and a little bit of anxiety. I was taking some risks but what is a good travel without them after all? Without them, I don’t think I shall ever find out what lies on the other side of my world, beyond my comfort zone.