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Dream trip to NZ in late Dec - thinking of using First Light to plan trip

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Has anyone used this company? I may use them to plan a self-guided tour for myself and 22 yr old son. Normally I like to plan my own itinerary but I'm thinking because I have NO clue about NZ and I would like to do some much (outdoors type of stuff) that perhaps outsourcing the job may be best. Your thoughts on this company or any others in NZ that will plan/arrange tours self-guided or otherwise?

Thanks!

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    If you get a couple of guidebooks and ask questions here, you can plan this trip on your own pretty easily.

    How much time do you have in New Zealand, and what are your interests? What kind of outdoors stuff do you want to do?

    Lee Ann

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    You have sufficient time before your trip to use the plentiful resources right here on Fodor's. There are many of us who have been planning our own itineraries to NZ for years who would be more than happy to help you plan yours. And we're free!

    To help get started, the following info would be good:

    How much time on the ground do you have?
    Where are you coming from?
    What is your budget for accommodation?
    Will you rent a car?
    What are your personal "must dos"?
    One island or both?

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    It just seems a bit daunting considering I know so little about what one should do to really experience NZ.

    We like to be outdoors..my son and I
    We like, hiking, kayaking (our two favorites) maybe one or two nights hut to hut hiking, maybe an overnight kayaking trip
    we enjoy the beach and the mountains
    We like to do Yoga and learn vegetarian cooking
    we like to see marine life, maybe kayaking or swim with them
    heli-hiking would be nice
    We don't mind renting a car. Ideally we like to visit both islands but do more in the south.
    We live on the east coast of the US but will probably fly out from L.A., CA to Auckland
    Budget is probably around $8k (USD) for all land expenses...activities, lodging, transport, food
    thinking about staying around 14 days..in starting in mid/late Dec

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    It's only daunting because it's unfamiliar.

    Two weeks really isn't really enough time to see both islands, particularly as you want to do so many activites (and good on ya for that).

    NZ appears small on a map, but travel distances are greater than they appear. Roads can be narrow and winding, stopping to take in the gorgeous scenery slows one down, etc.

    I'm going to share what I do when I begin to plan an itinerary.

    I make a big block calendar using Excel. I label the blocks with my travel dates. Day one is the day of my departing flight, the last day is the day of my return flight. In between are the days I have to spend on the ground. I then begin to plan my route, taking into account what time of day I arrive, how tired I could potentially be, drive distance to my first destination, what I want to see and do along the way, and where and how long I want to spend at each destination. I fill in the boxes with this info.

    It usually takes several attempts to finesse a workable itinerary. I prefer a minimum of three nights in each location, which gives me at least two full days to explore, hike, DO, but there are exceptions. I never manage to do all I'd like, there are aways compromises to be made, but writing it down on a calendar enables me to SEE my itinerary and it's potential flaws.

    Here's a sample from my last trip to NZ:

    Day 1
    PER-AKL
    NZ176 1920

    This was an overnight flight; we left Perth in the evening and arrived in Auckland early the following morning.

    Day 2
    AKL 0550
    NZ303 0750 CHC 0910

    This was the day we arrived in Auckland and continued on to Christchurch.

    Drive from Christchurch - Geraldine
    138 km, 2:00
    Peel Forest hike enroute
    Victoria Villa B&B Geraldine

    This was our loose plan for our arrival day. We'd gotten very little sleep and didn't want to drive more than a few hours, yet we had no interest in staying in Christchurch. We actually ended up taking a much longer scenic route to Geraldine which took most of the day, including stops for a couple of hikes.


    Day 3
    Drive from Geraldine - Glenorchy, approx 6:00, visit QT enroute
    Precipice Creek Station
    Glenorchy

    This drive actually took us nine hours because we stopped so much along the way.

    Day 4
    Hiking in Glenorchy

    Day 5
    Hiking in Glenorchy

    Anyway, you get the gist.

    I'll get back a bit later with some specific suggestions that might work with your particular interests.

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    Okay...

    Outdoor activities...you're headed to the right place. NZ is chockablock with outdoor activities.

    I'll stick to the SI, as I know it better than the NI.

    Overnight hikes - December is high season, and some tracks limit the number of trampers, so you'll need to book if considering one of the more popular tracks. There is no charge to walk the track, but hut passes (for which there's a fee) are required for some tracks.

    This site will give you all the info you need to know on the various tracks, keeping in mind that the Milford, the Routeburn and Abel Tasman are three of the most popular multi-day tracks.

    http://www.doc.govt.nz/

    When I think kayaking, I think Marlborough Sounds, Milford Sound and Abel Tasman. It's possible to book a walk/kayak combo, which is a good compromise if you don't want to
    commit to walking an entire track. The Queen Charlotte Track (Marlborough Sounds) and the Abel Tasman Track also have a water taxi service which will take you from one section of the track to another, so it's also very easy to walk sections of each track as day walks too. The Marlborough Sounds has various accommodation options tucked away in the sounds - it's a great place to hang out for a few days.

    Beach and mountains...no shortage of either on the SI

    Yoga and vegetarian cooking...I have absolutely no idea on this one. I do know first hand that vegetarians are well looked after in SI restaurants and pubs though. You will not go hungry.

    Marine life, maybe kayaking or swim with them...you can swim with whales at Kaikoura and with dolphins off of Banks Peninsula (Akaroa).

    Heli-hiking would be nice...Franz Josef or Fox Glacier, on the West Coast of the SI - an absolutely beautiful part of NZ, which incidentially, has beaches and mountains galore.

    We don't mind renting a car...I highly recommend you do. It's the best way to see NZ as far as I'm concerned.

    For some more ideas, you might want to take a look at some of the trip reports posted here. I've written quite a few very detailed reports on the SI. They might help. Just click on my screen name and scroll down to my Trip Reports (most of the NZ ones are on the second page).

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    I'll second all the suggestions that you can easily do a self-guided tour of NZ. I've done it three times with a map, a couple of guidebooks and the Internet.

    I won't get specific with an itinerary, but I will suggest a couple of "hut-to-hut" hikes we have done in NZ. Neither of them are as famous as the Milford Track, but that makes them all the better because they are lesser-traveled.

    1) Hollyford Track--We did this as a 3D/2N guided hike with Hollyford Tourism Company (www.hollyfordtrack.com) This hike, which goes from the mountains to the sea, is excellent with gorgeous scenery. While I would not normally choose to hike with a group, the number is limited to 16 people and we were able to hike ahead of the group on our own a lot of the time. While the Hollyford Track can also be hiked on your own with nights in huts, we chose to do this as a guided hike so that we could sleep in a real bed (in the nice, but simple lodges) each night with a hot shower and a hot meal. It was an excellent decision on our part.

    2) Kaikoura Coast Track--This is a private hiking track which you do on your own (3 days/2 nights). They transport your belongings between farms and you spend your nights in cottages on the farm properties. You can prepare your own meals or pay to eat with the host family. (We did one night of each). Again, it was a hike from the mountains to the sea and the scenery was fabulous. The difference from the Hollyford Track was that we could start our hike whenever we wanted and we were hiking all by ourselves. Yet, we had the hot shower and comfortable bed each night. It was also neat staying on farms and getting the meet the owners. http://www.kaikouratrack.co.nz/

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    Ten days is enough to get a taste. Fly into Auckland, visit Goat Island Marine reserve. There you get to swim with wild fish which are not afraid of people. If you want to see the geo-thermal attractions around Rotorua drive down there next.

    Fly from Rotorua down to Nelson. Spend a day or two hiking and Kayaking around Able Tasman National Park. A alternative would be to fly into Blenheim and go tramping and Kayaking in the Marlborough Sounds instead. It would be two flights either way, so a stop over in Wellington is also a option.

    Drive to Nelson Lake National Park. The Lake Angelus tramp is worthwhile, a couple of days for most people. (Booking required), or a more challenging trip (not for the unexperienced!) would be to hopeless hut and it would get you away from the tourist hoards). Would take 2-3 days.

    If you have time to spare drive down to Kaikoura for whales and dolphins, or call into Hanmer Springs for hot pools and mountains. Then finish your trip at christchurch.

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    thank you ThomasW. We are now going to skip the NI all together and fly into either Nelson or Cchurh. Kayaking, heli hiking swim/sightsee marine life, and regular tramping are top activites we would like to do. We would also like a Yoga retreat for a day or two.

    With about 15 days in the SI, what are some of the top places to visit that would include these activites?

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    You can see quite a bit in 15 days.

    Abel Tasman offers kayaking and tramping, the Marlborough Sounds offers similar tramping (beaches are not as nice) but the Kayaking is sheltered more the ocean swells. Can also go swimming with dolphins in the Sounds.

    Near Blenheim, you can go on a Kayak tour around the Wairau lagoons, could maybe hire the kayaks and go by yourself but getting 'transport' would be the problem. The lagoons are tidal, muddy and sometimes smell but they contain a lot of bird life and history. Its far from a well known attraction, but would get you away from the tourists. This is the guy which does the tours.
    http://www.driftwoodecotours.co.nz/kayaking-eco-tours.html ,

    Kaikoura offers whale watching, dolphin and seal swimming plus lots of tramps. If you there on a calm day when the sea is clean can see a lot of fish life by snorkeling - it is rarely clear. Can also go Kayaking around the Peninsula.

    These hundreds of possible tramps to do, the great walks are a good start (eg Hollyford Track). I am most familiar with the tramps in the upper south island so can not offer much advice regarding the ones further south.

    Never done Heli Hiking, but flying up and walking on the Glaciers is popular. But its only for a couple of hours. Also can go Heli hiking in Kaikoura. Actually, possible to go Heli hiking nearly anywhere, just need to organize the choper to take you in...

    I love the scenery and pace of South Westland, Haast, Jackson Bay ect... the tramp into Welcome Flat hot pools is down there. Same nice Kayaking, but can not think of anywhere local which hires them.

    Never been down there, but can go Kayaking (and tramping) at Stewart Island. Its remote, and less spoiled then other parts of the country. But I doubt you would have time on your trip.

    I would probably advise flying into Christchurch, drive up to Kaikoura then to either Abel Tasman or the Sounds. Spend a few days exploring.

    Then make your way over to the West Coast, (Could spend time at Nelson lakes national park). The Pancake rocks are worth a look. Drive down the Coast, maybe call in and Kayak around the Okarito Lagoons, see the white herons. See the Glaciers.

    Drive over Haast past (maybe detour down to Jackson Bay, I like it down there). Then explore central Otago before returning to Christchurch. Although 15 days might be a bit rushed for such a itinerary.

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