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Trip Report New Zealand - North & South in 15 days - yes it can be done

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We had a fantastic trip to N.Z. in late November/early December. Planned it very carefully, mainly through Lonely Planet, Tripadvisor and lurking around on this site to see all the great advice. Much of the advice would have been against covering this amount of travelling but we found one trip report - from indiancouple - which covered similar distances in a similar timescale, and this convinced us it could be done. So thank you, indiancouple, for your inspiration!

There's so much information on this site as to all the places we visited so I'll stick to the basic details of where we went and when, just so you get an idea of timescales.

Who are we? Well we're from the UK. There's me (57), DH (61) and for the North Island bit only, daughter (DD, 29) and partner (DDP?) also 29. DD and DDP presently living in Brisbane but due to return to the UK permanently this summer.

So - this is probably the only chance we will get, ever, to visit N.Z. So you see why we wanted to cram it all in, although obviously this isn't ideal, I feel we did very well.

We are both reasonably fit, like walking but not lengthy hikes. We had an eye to our budget, so no splashing out on helicopter trips etc. Not into bungee jumping, skydiving etc.

Some caveats -

- Highlight of N.Z. - in our opinion - is scenery so we concentrated on scenery. We left out the cities almost completely.
- We pre-booked and pre-planned almost everything to save time.
- In the South Island where we were really covering the miles, we stayed mostly at motels. We could therefore fix our own breakfasts and be on our way early each morning.
- We managed several two-night stays so we weren't driving great distances every day.
- We'd had a week in Brisbane first so we flew into N.Z. from Brisbane, just a 3 hour flight. So there was no jet lag problem. It we'd been arriving on a long flight from the UK we would definitely have needed an extra night in Auckland.
- Travelling in early December, there was good daylight - it stayed light until well beyond 8 p.m., nearly 9 p.m. by the time we got to our furthest point South - so there was no rush to reach destinations by nightfall, and no need to drive at night. We had time for plenty of stops along the way.

Next post - dates, times, distances and destinations.

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    Here is the outline. I should mention that apart from a couple of days (see later) we were really lucky with the weather. Sunny and warm, or at least dry, for most of the time.

    Day 1 - 28 November
    Arrive Auckland 4.30 pm. Rental car - drive to Mt. Eden. Bavaria B&B. Walk up Mt Eden, great view of city. Dinner Eden Cloakroom.

    Day 2 - Auckland to National Park.
    Auckland to Waitomo - lunch Thirsty Weta, Otorohanga.
    2 p.m. Waitomo Caves, Spellbound tour.
    Left Waitomo around 5.30, arrived National Park Village 7.15.
    Stayed at Mountain Heights Lodge and dinner at Elvins.

    Day 3 - National Park to Rotorua.
    Tongariro National Park - 2 hour Taranaki Falls Walk. Light lunch in visitor centre cafe.
    Drove past Lake Taupo. Stops at Lake Taupo, Huka Falls. Visited Orakei Korako thermal area. Arrived at Rotorua around 5 p.m. Sandi's B&B. Dinner, Indian Star, Rotorua. Polynesian Spa.

    Day 4 - Rotorua
    Wai-o-Tapu thermal area, in time for 10.15 Lady Knox Geyser.
    Lunch at Wai-o-Tapu.
    Skyline gondola/luge.
    Quick look at Government Gardens in the town.
    6 p.m. Mitai Hangi.

    Day 5 - Rotorua to Wellington.
    Ohinemutu village, St Faith's Church. Coffee in Rotorua town.
    Drive back to Auckland Airport.
    Lunch stop at RATA, Cambridge.
    Left DD and DDP at the airport (they continued northwards to Bay of Islands, diving etc).
    DH and I took 4.30 p.m. flight (1 hour) to Wellington.
    Bus to city centre - Ibis hotel.
    Cable car, ascent to Botanic Gardens and walk back down.
    Dinner Wagamama, Wellington waterfront.
    (I would recommend flying to Wellington direct from Rotorua - it would have been a better use of limited time than driving back to Auckland. However, DH was helping DD with the driving so for us, what we did made sense).

    Day 6 - Wellington to Motueka (155 km)
    taxi to Interislander ferry.
    8.25 sailing to Picton (glorious calm sunny day, amazing scenery, highly recommended)
    Picked up rental car at Picton.
    Via Queen Charlotte's Drive. Several stops at viewpoints.
    Lunch at Slip Inn, Havelock (Green Mussel Chowder)
    Arrived Motueka around 4.30. Accommodation - Equestrian Lodge Motel.
    Shopped for food & wine, self-catered dinner.

    Day 7 - Motueka
    Abel Tasman National Park.
    9.00 a.m. boat - Abel Tasman Aqua Taxi. Boat to Tonga Bay. Amazing warm sunny day.
    Walked back via Bark Bay & Torrent Bay to Anchorage, picked up 4.15 p.m.
    Picnic lunch, self-catered dinner.

    Day 8 - Motueka to Punakaiki - 255 km
    Left Motueka at 8 a.m. Arrived Punakaiki 4 p.m.
    Stops at Buller Gorge, Cape Foulwind lighthouse, Tauranga Bay Seal Colony. Picnic lunch.
    Punakaiki - stayed at Paparoa Park Motel.
    Pancake Rocks (blowholes not blowing but rocks spectacular in evening sunshine)
    Dinner Punakaiki Tavern.

    Day 9 - Punakaiki to Fox Glacier - 244 km
    Left motel 8.15 a.m. Walked Porari River Track for 1 1/2 hours. Weather not so good - drizzle.
    Excellent coffee at Smelting House Cafe in very damp Greymouth.
    On to Hokitika, wandered round jade shops etc. Food shopping. Picnic lunch by beach.
    Glacier Face Walk at Franz Josef Glacier.
    Arrived Fox Glacier 5.30 p.m. Rainforest Motel. Self-catered dinner.

    Day 10 - Fox Glacier
    8.35 a.m. 'Fox-Trot' (half day Fox Glacier walk). Back at motel by 1.15.
    Afternoon walk round Lake Matheson and tea/cake Lake Matheson Cafe.
    Dinner Plateau restaurant.

    Day 11 - Fox Glacier to Arrowtown - 359 km
    Early morning walk round Lake Matheson (second attempt at mountain view, lovely but problems both days with cloud cover!)
    Left Fox Glacier around 9 a.m.
    Spectacular drive via Haast Pass.
    Stops at Knights Point, Lake Paringa, Thunder Creek & Fantail Falls, picnic lunch.
    Stop at Wanaka for ice cream and sit by lake in sunshine.
    Another spectacular drive over Crown Range Road to Arrowtown.
    Arrived at Arrowtown approx 5 p.m.
    Stayed at Arrowtown Lodge (B&B).
    Dinner, The Postmaster's Residence

    Day 12 - Arrowtown to Te Anau, Te Anau-Milford Sound and back
    192 plus 242 km
    I need to say that this was the one day when we deviated from our plans. Plan was to spend the day at Queenstown and drive down to Te Anau in the evening ready for Milford Sound cruise on Day 13. However, weather forecast for Day 13 was terrible and Milford Sound was one of our highlights of the trip.
    So -
    Went first to Arrowtown Museum
    Left Arrowtown around 10 a.m. 2-hour drive (not stopping at Queenstown). Reached Te Anau soon after 12 and checked into accommodation (Blue Thistle Cottages). Shopped for food in Te Anau, went to visitor centre and booked last Milford Sound boat of the day - 4.30 p.m. with Mitre Peak Cruises.
    Plenty of time for drive to Milford Sound. Stops for picnic lunch, stopped at Mirror Lakes, Homer Tunnel, various viewpoints.
    Great boat trip on the sound in the sunshine. Only around 20 people on the boat. Dolphins and seals as well as all that scenery.
    On return drive stopped to do Chasm walk. Reached Te Anau around 9 p.m. (still more or less daylight). Self-catered dinner.

    Day 13 - Te Anau
    Weather forecast was right, the day was windy and the afternoon wet. A relaxing day - went into Te Anau, Visitor Centre (rain and gale warnings for Milford Sound on display).
    Short walk by lakeshore. Relaxing afternoon in our comfortable cottage.
    Early evening - to Fjordland cinema - 30 minute 'Fjordland On Film'. Dinner at Olive Tree Cafe.

    Day 14 - Te Anau to Mt Cook via Queenstown - 429 km
    Good weather returned!
    Left Te Anau 7.30 a.m.
    Time for a two-hour stop at Queenstown, lovely morning so went up Skyline Gondola for coffee and fantastic views of town, lake and mountains.
    Stop at A. J. Hackett Bungy-jumping bridge (to watch, not jump!)
    Stops at various viewpoints and picnic lunch by Lake Dunstan.
    Stop at Lake Pukaki viewpoint and various places on the drive up to Mt. Cook village - beautiful afternoon and Mt. Cook in full view.
    Reached Hermitage Hotel at around 5 p.m. Accommodation in one of their chalets.
    Time for 1 1/2 hours of the Hooker Valley walk.
    Self catered dinner.

    Day 15 - Mt Cook to Christchurch - 329 km
    8.30 a.m. Glacier Explorers boat trip among the floating icebergs on the Tasman Glacier lake.
    Left Mt Cook around 11.30.
    Stop at Mt John Observatory
    Stop at Lake Tekapo, picnic lunch by lake (fantastic wild lupins) and visit to Church of Good Shepherd.
    Direct route to Christchurch, short stop at Geraldine.
    Arrived Christchurch 5.15 p.m. City Centre Motel.
    Walked into city - Cathedral Square, Botanic Gardens
    Dinner Cafe Valentino.

    Day 16 - Home!

    Left for rental car return and airport at 9 a.m. Very long but uneventful flights back to UK via Singapore.

    That's the brief outline. Happy to answer questions. Hope it was helpful!

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    We are planning a trip for June/July around the south island. There will be 4 of us. Myself, my husband, and our 2 children (ages 9 and 10). You stayed at 2 of the motels we are booked at: Paparoa Park Motel (we've booked Pete's Place) and Rainforest Motel at Fox Glacier. Just wondered what you thought of them. Of course we read reviews before booking but it's always nice to hear from someone who's stayed recently.

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    They were both fine. Paparoa Park Motel was nothing special but OK for an overnight stay. There were lots of little bugs (sandflies?) but the windows had screens so they didn't get in.We had Gordon's Villa at Paparoa Park Motel so can't comment on Pete's Place. Gordon's Villa looked out towards the Pancake Rocks. There's a sweet little glow-worm dell below the main motel block and they provide torches for you.

    The better of the two was the Rainforest Motel. Good generously sized rooms, good kitchen facilities, lots of space, Sky TV, nice owners. Very well located - down Cook Flat Road so away from the main street, but only a very short walk to main street with restaurants, glacier tour operator etc.

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    Nice report Barbara_2. I'm one of those people who advise against doing so much in so little time, but we all have different travel styles and it sounds as if it worked out very well for you. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed your trip, thanks for posting!

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    Sounds like a very succesful trip, and good information on travel times for those wanting a fast paced trip.

    I also loved indiancouple's trip report. Recommend that anyone interested search for that one!

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    Fantastic trip report. Really enjoyed it. You did bypass Nelson which is a bit sad, but I thought your trip covered a lot of New Zealand and obviously the time-frame worked for you.

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    Thank you for your comments. Yes, it was a shame we missed Nelson and there were many other places we would have liked to visit. But I couldn't take any more time off work! As I said, we took a decision to concentrate on scenery and I think that worked as well as it could have done.

    We are shocked and saddened to see what has happened to Christchurch this week. There is a message on the City Centre Motel's website, they are OK and their building is OK though they have a lot of damage to 'chattels'. We'll be contacting them - but not just yet, they will be so busy clearing up and dealing with immediate business. We are worried about the lovely Cafe Valentino down the street, they are in an old building and when we went there on 12 December they were the only business on the block still operating after the September earthquake. I've been reading about the fears for the tourists up at the top of the cathedral tower when the earthquake happened. It's terrible.

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