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Last minute New Zealand trip help needed please

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Please advise on a last minute trip to New Zealand for 3 weeks in November. How much planning is necessary in advance? I don't want to limit myself by pre-booking hotels. Can I simply show up and figure out my itinerary as I go? I am not crazy about renting a car (I've driven on the left-side before, but I'm concerned the scenery will be too distracting and days of driving 4+ hours on my own may get tiring). Would buses be equally fine, or too much hassle with luggage vs. having a car and more flexibility? I avoid group tours, but I'm wondering if it may be better with a last minute trip? I hear hiking Milford Track needs to be pre-booked and that concerns me. As for 3 weeks, do you think it's best to just spend time on the north and south islands, or would a side-trip to Sydney and Cairns be doable? Coming all the way from the US, I would like to see both countries and not have to choose between the two. Lastly, for clothing, do I really need to bring all-season gear for November? I've hiked Patagonia on my own in November and lucked out with the weather, but I hear weather/scenery/etc. is similar to NZ. Thanks.

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