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New Zealand car rental

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Hi Travelers,
My friend and I are planning a 20 day trip beginning and ending in Auckland from Oct. 18 - Nov 7. We are going to be renting a car in Auckland for the entire trip. So far I've spoken with AutoEurope, Apex and Ace. Any comments on these companies would be appreciated. We would prefer to ferry the car over the Strait so we don't have to worry about timing for the dropoff / pickup at the ferry.

We were planning on just winging our overnight stays and not booking any rooms (except Rotorua) so we can travel at our own speed. Do you think we'll have trouble finding places to stay?

On the north island we're heading immediately to Rotorua for 2 nights then east to Hawks Bay wine area where we plan to stay for about 3 nights. Any special stops we should make on our way through Te Urewera and Wairoa? From Napier we're heading to Wellington to get the ferry and probably stay 1- 2 nights. We're thinking we can spend more time here on the way back.

We are planning a big loop of the south island beginning at Abel Tasman Park and heading to Westport to the glaciers, Wanaka, Te Anau, Milford (any thoughts on an overnight cruise?), Arrowtown, Mt. Cook, to Christchurch. We would like to drive up Arthur's Pass from Christchurch and do some hiking along the way. How much time does it take to drive from coast to coast w/o stopping. (Of course, we'll stop, but just wondering about the actual drive time.) Will we miss much if we don't go all the way to Greymouth? The rest of the trip will continue up the east coast to Blenheim wine country and back over the Strait.

With this route in mind, what suggestions would you have for places to skip and places to not miss. Any suggestions about what to see or do along the way? Also suggestions for hotels, eateries, day hikes, natural wonders, tours / cruises etc would be greatly appreciated. We enjoy day hikes, wineries and natural beauty. No water sports and certainly no extreme stuff. We are looking for a heli ride or plane over the glaciers / Mt. Cook.

Thank you for reading this (we're very excited!) and thank you for anything you can suggest.
Karen and Laura

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