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17 days in NZ--1st timer looking for "must-see/do" suggestions

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Hello you NZ experts!

My husband and I will be in NZ in early August for 17 days. I'm just now starting to plan this as it has recently come up (tacking onto a business trip).

I would love suggestions for must-see, must-do places and things, as well as itinerary suggestions. I'm hoping to get some of your real favorites.

Let me give you some parameters and info.:

-- we are arriving and departing from AUK (and can fly back there from wherever in-country)
-- we are an active middle-aged couple
-- we are very well traveled, although have never been Down Under
-- we will be renting a car
-- we are absolutely open to inter-country air travel (please recommend where we should do so)
-- we love gorgeous scenery, and particularly mountains
-- we like to do light hiking/walking and be active
-- our optimal way of traveling is to stay in each place around 3 nights and choose locations that have a lot to explore in that vicinity
-- we love good, simple food done well
-- our preference is to drive between locations a max. of 3-4 hours
-- we like a mixture of rural and urban locations
-- if you have any favorite lodges, hotels, or b&b's, I'd love to hear that too.
-- we'd be open to something like "do all 17 days on the South Island"
-- budget is open (if you think something is truly great, we'll go for it)

Since I have never been to NZ, I am finding the vast array of information to be overwhelming. It certainly makes me more sympathetic to the newbie travelers who post questions about areas with which I am very familiar.

I'm looking forward to your enthusiastic suggestions!

LisaG

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