When it comes to retirement, the term conjures up a carefully crafted image that is apparent in any 55+ adult community advertising brochure, which show you how to spend your golden years riding around in a golf cart within the confines of your gated community, hanging out with your equally bronzed contemporaries by the pool, and having your nightly cocktail in the clubhouse.
If that scenario is not what inspires you, then read on. Regardless of what age you decide to retire at, as long as you are in reasonably good health, physically as well as fiscally fit, the whole world can be your community, with pools and clubhouses all over the planet. Let go and be adventurous! Note: I am assuming that you have not lost all your life savings to the current economic meltdown!
Nomadic Retirement in New Zealand
Many North Americans and Europeans are fascinated by the geographically diverse islands in the South Pacific that comprise the country of New Zealand, and for very good reason.
The North Island is where you will likely arrive by air, into Auckland, which is the largest city not only in New Zealand, but in all of Polynesia. Ideally, you will have planned your trip to coincide with the southern spring and summer, as that of course is the best time to enjoy all the outdoor activities New Zealand is so famous for. The North Island is probably most famous for all the volcanic hot springs around Rotorua, which is an intriguing center of Maori culture, the magnificent beaches lining the Bay of Islands, and the gorgeous scenery of the North Auckland Peninsula, known as the “Winterless North,” for its beautiful weather, and yet there is much more that you will find enchanting, there.
Buses and trains go virtually everywhere, allowing you to set on-the-go itineraries. But another great way to travel New Zealand is by campervan. No itinerary, just go as you please. That option can also be very economic, when considering all the money you will save on hotels and meals and be able to take the time to savor the places you are visiting. The typical campervan in New Zealand is not the enormous land yacht version that gives you 6 mpg, rather, they are cute little compact vans that still offer the traveler sufficient comfort. Mind you, if you want more space, larger varieties are also available, but you have to consider access. New Zealand’s roads are in very good condition, but away from large population centers, they are relatively narrow and winding, often graveled, and petrol is very costly as well. You will be responsible for windshield damages, something avoided by having a wire mesh screen protecting your windshield and your face. There are campgrounds throughout the country.
One of the advantages of going with an established rental company is that they will allow you to take the vehicle on the ferries that ply the waters between Wellington and Picton on the South Island, and possibly turn your vehicle in on the South Island. Now the real adventure will start. The South Island is larger, but much less densely populated and than its northern sister island, and the roads are for the most part wide open.
If you do choose to travel with your own means of transport, I recommend taking route 1 south to Christchurch. It is an incredible drive, with the very tall mountains on the west side, while hugging the coast of the South Pacific Ocean to the east. After you reach the city of Christchurch, which unfortunately was recently devastated by several major earthquakes, I recommend finding route 73 and crossing the Canterbury Plains, which come to an end in Waddington. There, it starts getting hilly as you approach the Korowai-Torlesse Tussocklands Park, which encompasses an impressive 21,000 hectares in the Torlesse and Big Ben Ranges of the Southern Alps. You will continue to climb to Castle Hill and eventually to the summit of Arthur’s Pass, from where you will head down toward Kumara and the West Coast, intersecting with Route 6. If you head north, you will find plenty of amenities in Greymouth, the largest city on this coast.
Be sure to fuel up in town before doubling back and then heading south, as the little you will encounter in this region of the South Island is rare and rather expensive. Highway 6 will take you along the West Coast, bringing you past the stunning Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers and finally to the splendor of the Haast region, where the road turns inland and you will go though some amazing canyons, eventually ending up in the nature tourism mecca of Queenstown. From there your options are wide open as to which direction you may want to head. If the direction is south out of Queenstown, my recommendation is to get as far as the turnoff to route 94, the Mossburn-Lumbsdon Highway, which will change names but remain as route 94, until 95 starts. Follow 95 into the area known as Fjord Lands and you will once again be overwhelmed the magnificent scenery. This is where you want to arrange for an all-day boat excursion on one of the steamers plying these waters. After that impressive adventure, find your way back to Christchurch, and if you can, turn in your vehicle at an agency there. You can proceed by other means, one of the better ones being the Alpine Express, which will take you back north to Blenheim. A bus ride to Picton, the ferry back to Wellington, and the train to Auckland will round out your grand New Zealand slow travel adventure.
Entry into New Zealand is relatively easy, with most holders of North American and European passports being eligible for an automatic 90 days, which may be extended by showing you have the means to support yourself along with your onward ticket. The people of New Zealand are friendly and welcoming, and this island nation holds some of the greatest travel adventure possibilities on the planet, without having to leave civilization altogether.
Southern Hemisphere World Circle
Did you know that you can fly around the bottom of the globe, without ever going north of the equator? There are several airlines that connect from New Zealand to South America non-stop, such as Aerolineas Argentinas and LAN Chile. Qantas was doing the same run, but because of financial difficulties, they are cutting back several of their long haul services, and it appears that the South American destinations are getting the ax. There are also several other alternatives with limited-time stopovers in Tahiti and the Easter Islands.
Once you have reached South America, there is a whole continent awaiting you, where you can spend literally years vagabonding about. Entry requirements are generally also very simple, although depending on what country you are a passport holder of, there are reciprocal visa fees in most countries now, which can range from US $130 to about $180. But each of those visas is multiple entry and valid as long as your passport is.
The seasons in South America, of course, are also reversed from the northern hemisphere, as they were in New Zealand and Australia. If you were enthralled by the Southern Alps, be prepared to be impressed to a much larger degree. Say you land in Santiago de Chile and decide to go to Mendoza, Argentina for that obligatory cask of Malbec Wine, near your route you will see the largest mountain outside of the Himalayas, Mount Aconcagua, with a majestic series of peaks, topping out at almost 7000 meters, or 22,841 feet, and the entire cordillera from Colombia down to Tierra del Fuego is one continuous chain of peaks, routinely reaching over 14,000 feet. The entire mountain range extends over 7000 kilometers, 4300 miles, from Venezuela and Colombia, through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. Even at the extreme northern end in Venezuela, which generally is not associated with the Andes, there are six peaks that range from 15,441 feet to 16,342 feet.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Each one of the countries in South America is an adventure in and of itself. Assuming you start your journey in the westernmost part, which is Chile, you have a huge geographic variety to explore. From the world’s driest desert, the Atacama, down to Tierra del Fuego, a total distance of 4300 kilometers, or 2700 miles, with a coastline of over 4000 miles, a large portion of which, in southern Chile, is not easily accessible by conventional means. This is Chile Austral! It reaches from Valdivia to Cape Horn, a generally rugged and inhospitable region of the world, gloriously untouched and mostly unseen by humans with little or no outside influences. The almost constant rainfall has created such natural wonders as the green Valdivian temperate rainforests, many large rivers and lakes, and massive glaciers such as Grey Glacier. The year round snow level in this far southern region lies right around 1000 to 1500 meters, and the harsh climate keeps the tree level at around 500 meters.
When Chile finally ends, you will find the small “city” of Puerto Williams, which claims to be the Southernmost City in the World. It is the capital of the Chilean Antarctic Province and serves as the nearest civilized base for exploring Chile’s Antarctic Base as well as supporting scientific studies on the sparsely populated Navarino Island in the Beagle Channel. Puerto Williams has a population of only about 2400 people year round, including all the armed forces stationed there, and lies at 54°56’ south, while the competing city for the title of “Southernmost City in the World,” Ushuaia in Argentina, lies at 54°48’ south, a mere 8’ further north, but with 65,000 inhabitants it more clearly resembles a city than the part military camp, part settlement of Puerto Williams.
In my next installment, I will go into far greater detail about traveling this entire fascinating continent, trying to cover many facets of nomadic retirement here. There is so much to do, so much to absorb, from opposites like Amazonia to the Atacama Desert and the Andean Altiplanos where you will end up in the Bolivian capital of La Paz, situated at 12,000 feet above sea level, making it the world’s highest “de facto” capital city, where breathing is hard work to folks from lower elevations. I will also take you to some of the most famous archeological sites, such as the “lost” city of the Incas, Machu Picchu, a 15th century site that sits high above the Urubamba River.
After the thorough exploration of South America, we will head yet further west to South Africa, exploring that country’s natural wonders. So keep watching this space for the next installment of the great adventure called “Nomadic Retirement.”
About the author: Jamie Douglas is an Adventurer, Writer and Photographer with an amazing array of Nikon equipment, and a lifetime of experience traveling and documenting. He currently enjoys the great weather and fine wines of Mendoza, Argentina, and edits Expat Daily News Latin America.
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