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Cruise around Australia and New Zealand-followed by land tour

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How casual can we be with reservations? We arrive Auckland on Nov 7th and plan to spend 4 weeks on self drive tour of the highlights of NZ.
From the ship we will have seen (1 day each):
Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart on Aus side.
The NZ itinerary is:
Milford Sound-cruise only, no stop
Fiordland Natl Park-cruise only
The following stops are full day:
Dunedin
Akaroa (Christchurch)
Picton
Wellington
Napier
Tauranga (near Rotarua)
Auckland (debark)

After 2 nights in Auckland, we will rent a car and go north to Bay of Islands for 3 nights, then south to Coromandel, slowly making our way to cross on ferry to South Island. Stay 4-5 days in Nelson (per recommendation from friends).

What places on the above list do we want to stay more than one day? Because we will see so many places (although briefly) we don't want to reserve ahead (and go back) until after we get off the ship. Is that too late? What else MUST we see? We are casual travelers and just fine with simple motels with private bath. Our style is small towns, hanging out at the coffee shop and bakery to get a feel of the people and community. We enjoy simple hikes. Our only priority on South Island is the Trans Alpine train between Christchurch and Greymouth - which direction is best?

We don't have a set departure date back to our hometown of Bellingham, WA but have heard we should leave before Christmas holidays because of the crowds. We will finish our trip with a week at the Great Barrier Reef (Cairns).

To summarize - we will be in New Zealand from Nov 7th-Dec 8th approximately.

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