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Is 5 days enough time to do the Catlins, from Nelson and return?

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I realise this is a bit like taking coals to Newcastle, but this New Zealander has never been to the Catlins. I keep thinking all these overseas based Fodorites go there and it sounds a great place to visit, so DH and I should visit also!!!

Problem is I only have 5 days holidays available for travel and that's from the 7th Jan 14 - 11th Jan 14. I have debated driving from Nelson, staying the night in Christchurch and then carrying on to the Catilins the next day. Would be a long drive though, and only really leaves 1 day for sight-seeing before we make our way back.

I have also priced flying to Dunedin, then hiring a rental car which saves a considerable amount of time but is proving to be expensive flying during the summer holidays.

Alternatively we could just go and stay in Golden Bay and do the Farewell Spit tour, and Wharaiki beach neither of which we have done yet, or even do a cruise and a walk in the Abel Tasman Park.

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    That's the second time in a week I've heard the expression, "taking coals to Newcastle". I'm not familiar with the reference, but I suspect it's similar to taking Vegemite to Australia.

    Take this from a repeat (and repeat and repeat) overseas visitor - it's all good...but why not do something other than "we could just go and stay in Golden Bay", which I know is practically in your backyard.

    The Catlins is a great place to visit, but to thoroughly enjoy it, you really need at least two full days - one for the north, and one for the south. We much prefer the beaches, waterfalls, and forest of the north over the seemingly endless pastoral countryside of the south, yet we've had no trouble spending multiple days in both areas.

    I can certainly appreciate your time constraints and the drive time involved though. You can't go wrong with Golden Bay either, and I know it's a heck of a lot closer to you.

    If you do go to Golden Bay, be sure to explore the section of the Abel Tasman Track from Totaranui towards Whariwharangi Hut - most walkers stop at Totaranui, yet the track continues on around the headland to Whariwharangi and Wainui and IMO it's the best section of the track. There's plenty to do in Takaka too - you certainly won't be bored.

    Have you thoroughly explored the Marlborough Sounds? French Pass? Arapawa and D'urville Island? Murchison? Karamea?

    Less of a drive and plenty on offer - I envy you your options!

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    Thanks Mel for your comments. You have given me some more ideas, we haven't been to D'Urville Island or French Pass, so another possibility. We have spent time in Golden Bay before so have done things around Takaka itself and also been up to Collingwood. I have not been further than Totaranui, although my DH has, as he was a parent helper at school camps that both our children attended a few years ago, they were based at Totaranui.

    Caitlins is still on the agenda, might be able to stretch to 6 days, depending on the respite care I can get for my Mum while we are away. It would be a lot of driving though.

    The expression coals to Newcastle refers to Newcastle in the UK which was the largest exporter of coal in it's day. It is one of the UK expressions that filtered down into NZ.

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