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New Zealand on our own?

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Hi, we're considering a relatively last-minute change of plan to see New Zealand in the fall (November). We are active seniors, not a lot of hiking is required, but we can certainly get around. We could do up to three weeks perhaps, and at the end, fly back to Tahiti for a cruise on the Paul Gauguin (long booked.)

Thinking of a cruise around the islands, or a package tour, but also thought it worth investigating doing a fly-drive tour ourselves. We do like independent travel.

But I saw a youtube video of the flight from Milford Sound to Queenstown and I started thinking about the terrain--the mountains and mountain roads. Would we be crazy trying to drive around this part of the South Island?

I thought since it's spring, perhaps starting in Auckland and working ourselves down to the south island gradually by car, and ending in Dunedin with a flight back to Auckland. Southbound since the summer weather will be progressing while we're there. But I know this is a lot of driving, perhaps too much, so I'm looking for ways of shortening that with a flight or two.

And then I think about these mountains. I guess it would be sensible perhaps to catch some kind of local tour to Milford, from Queenstown, say. Is that easy to do?

Just musing. At the moment a Holland America cruise that includes Sydney is catching our eye as an alternative...talk me out if it if you can!

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    I would choose driving over an organized tour. Driving yourself gives you freedom to stop and see what you want for as long as you want, instead of going on a group tour where you're stuck with a certain itinerary.

    Three weeks would give you time to visit both islands; you may need to schedule an interisland flight or two to help you see what you want.

    Do you have any definite ideas yet of where you want to go?

    Lee Ann

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    Definitely hire a car and do your own thing. We always book our first and last nights but apart from that, we choose where we want to go each day and where we want to sleep each night. Hate coach tours where you have very little say in where to go and what to see.
    Don't do a tour from Queenstown to Milford - drive yourself and time it so that you can do a mid-afternoon cruise in the sound and that way you will avoid crowds from the coach trips.

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    I advise that if you drive to Milford Sound yourselves, stay 2 nights at Te Anau and devote the entire day to drive to Milford Sound and back.

    The roads around Queenstown and Te Anau aren't bad at all! If you drive over the Crown Range road from Queenstown to Wanaka, there are some hairpin turns. But that journey can be avoided altogether by driving via Cromwell.

    You will see far less of the country if you have to rush out and back from a port at every entry point. And doing an organized tour means you are on their morning departure schedule and all stops will be centered around the slowest in the group taking that one last photo.

    Motels will often have a stovetop for cooking simple meals. At minimum, they'll have coffee/tea making supplies, a sink, fridge, and microwave. Between towns, there is usually only one road, so getting lost shouldn't be an issue.

    I think you would be so much happier planning it yourself. Post a draft itinerary and we can help you with it. We can help you avoid overlong drives or thinking you can drive between Fox Glacier and Mount Cook in a day (yes, they look close on the map, but there is no secret tunnel that Googlemaps doesn't know about).

    Yes, it takes a bit of time to get from Point A to Point B. The roads follow the contours of the land. But I consider them meandering, not crazy or scary.

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    Not much more to add to the excellent advice you have already been given.

    I love cruising, but New Zealand is best visited via independent land travel. Many of the best bits of the country are not on the coast, thus, if you cruise, you either have to miss them or you only get a quick visit on an excursion which requires a lot of additional travel and cost.

    We've driven between Queenstown and Te Anau several times and it was just fine.

    Three weeks is a good amount of time for visiting both the North and South Islands.

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    Long reply and a few questions follow.

    What are your special interests/likes/preferences? Is warm, sunny weather important to you? I would guess you would like to see mountain and coastal scenery, but what else? Do you prefer cities and/or areas away from cities, or small towns? Are you interested in wildlife, history, Maori culture, art, geothermal sites, food, wineries, train travel, glow worm caves, lighthouses? I see you don't want to do much hiking, but how about walking on beaches, kayaking, other types of activities (since you mentioned being active seniors)?
    Knowing your interests would be helpful in making suggestions for you. Three weeks might not be enough time if you're driving from Auckland to Dunedin and lingering at scenic spots on the way.

    If you prefer warmer, drier weather, November is not the greatest time for New Zealand, particularly for the south of the South Island. November can be "unsettled", meaning it could a mixture of warm/sunny and rainy days. In the south of the South Island (Dunedin, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Te Anau) it will be cold at times, made worse by winds--you'd need to bring clothing for cold and wet weather (which you won't need in French Polynesia, though you might need a light rain jacket for FP). In general, NZ has highly variable, unpredictable weather. You can expect warmer, sunnier weather on the North Island and at the top of the South Island (Nelson, Blenheim) in late spring. But even here, you might encounter rain. I was in Auckland in November, and on two of the five days it rained. When it was nice, it was great.

    You mentioned Dunedin. I can see from your profile that you spend part of the year in Dunedin, FL. I think you'd enjoy the contrast! (I've not been to Dunedin, FL, but I've been to Fort Lauderdale, which was warm and flat.)

    I live in Dunedin, NZ, where from November through January, it tends to be windy, which can make it seem colder than what the thermometer says (though we have some wonderful days as well). Especially when winds blow up from the south, these "Southerlies" remind us that there is nothing but ocean separating Dunedin from Antarctica. November through December are the wettest months.

    I imagine it's much hillier here (Dunedin was built on old volcanoes) than in Dunedin. Fl. On the rugged and wild coast, long strands of kelp cling to basalt rocks. Pasturelands above the beaches are dotted with sheep and contorted macrocarpa trees (Monterey cypress, native to California).

    November through February is the best time for seeing wildlife. Dunedin's Otago Peninsula is home to the Southern Hemisphere's only albatross colony. Normally, these huge majestic birds can only be seen on or over the ocean, which is where they spend most of their lives. You can also see two varieties of penguins, endangered sea lions, fur seals, and lots of other wildlife (mainly birds). The Otago Peninsula is gorgeous when it's clear and sunny. Look at two accommodations on the Otago Peninsula:
    http://www.kaimatanz.com
    http://www.larnachcastle.co.nz

    Compared to the Americas, NZ doesn't have a long history of human settlement. Polynesians first settled on the NZ mainland between 1250 and 1300 A.D., and the area around present-day Dunedin was first settled at this time. (Humans may have arrived earlier, but didn't stick around.) In the 1800s, whalers and sealers arrived to the area. In 1848, the city of Dunedin (ancient Gaelic for Edinburgh) was founded by the members of the Scottish Free Church. The Otago Gold Rush of 1861 to 1865, turned Dunedin into NZ's first great city—until the 1880s. You can see this reflected in the city's heritage buildings. Thus, Dunedin is one of NZ's most historic cities.
    http://www.dunedinlibraries.govt.nz/kids/homework-zone/early-dunedin-and-otago/otago-gold-rush
    http://www.toituosm.com/whats-on/exhibitions/first-great-city

    Other Dunedin attractions (besides the Otago Peninsula and its wildlife):
    Baldwin Street (world's steepest street)
    Speight's Brewery (brewery tours)
    Soon-to-open Emerson Brewery
    Cadbury Chocolate Factory
    Olveston House (historic house)
    Taieri Gorge Railway
    Tunnel Beach (short but steep walking track)
    St. Clair Beach (popular beach suburb known for its surfing and seaside cafes)
    Toitu Settlers Museum
    Otago Museum
    Dunedin Public Art Gallery
    Orokonui Ecosanctuary
    Dunedin Botanic Garden (69 acres of gardens and an aviary).

    If you'd like to catch a scenic flight from Milford Sound to Queenstown, it's better to take a coach tour. If you'd like to avoid crowds at Milford Sound, consider overnighting in Milford Sound. You won't travel farther than the two-hour daytime cruises, but dock in a quite cove for the evening. You'll have a chance to kayak in the fiord for an hour or so before dinner. If it's a clear night, you can go up to the top deck to view the stars (no light pollution). In the early morning, after daybreak, you'll sail to the mouth of the fiord. You might see penguins, dolphins, fur seals, seabirds.
    https://www.realjourneys.co.nz/en/experiences/cruises/milford-mariner-overnight-cruises/
    https://www.tripadvisor.co.nz/ShowUserReviews-g255121-d1440296-r100089055-Milford_Sound_Scenic_Cruises_Real_Journeys-Milford_Sound_Southland_Region_South_.html

    In the last year the NZ dollar has really lost value against the U.S. dollar and this is not expected to change for a while. You'll be enjoying a favorable exchange rate, meaning this would be a good time for fun splurges like scenic flights. Note scenic flights can be be cancelled if weather conditions are unfavorable. In which case, you'd have to depart MS by coach instead of by plane.

    You can self-drive around New Zealand and still take a coach tour to Milford Sound. The coach tour will make a few stops scenic stops along Milford Road. Instead of watching the road, you can just sit back and enjoy the scenery.

    I would spend at least two nights in Queenstown as there's lots to see and do in the vicinity. Take the Queenstown Skyline Gondola. Walk around its Botanic Garden. Perhaps take the Skippers Canyon Tour (includes Shotover River Jet Boat Ride). Or take the TSS Earnslaw Steamship Cruise across Lake Wakatipu. I'd highly recommend self-driving or a tour to Glenorchy. Maybe visit Arrowtown, and Amisfield Winery along the way (it has a nice bistro and good wines). Perhaps visit Gibbston Valley wine region, which is just 15 minutes from Queenstown.

    If you enjoy wine tasting, a few regions would interest to you. Meanwhile, the capital of Wellington is known for its beers (and other wonderful attractions).

    On the South Island, I recommend a night or two in Mt. Cook Village (which can be visited if traveling between Queenstown and Christchurch, or Wanaka and Christchurch, or Dunedin and Christchurch. The road into the village and the village itself are stunning. Its Hooker Valley Track is an easy walking path with stunning views.

    You'd certainly enjoy Wanaka for a night or two.

    Here's a link to weather story from November 2015:
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/weather/news/article.cfm?c_id=10&objectid=11548521
    Below are climate reports for November 2014 and November 2015. November 2015 was atypical because of the El Niño weather phenomenon.
    https://www.niwa.co.nz/sites/niwa.co.nz/files/Climate_Summary_November_2014.pdf
    https://www.niwa.co.nz/sites/niwa.co.nz/files/Climate_Summary_November_2015.pdf

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    Oh wow, thank you for all of this information! I will try to come up with a draft itinerary. This is a new idea for us. I'm heartened by the encouragement to do a self-drive trip--husband has driven on the left several times, so that wouldn't be a problem.

    I'm also encouraged by the fact that you can find motels as you go, without pre-booking the entire trip. That's certainly the way it is in America, glad to hear it's like that elsewhere.

    We love beautiful scenery and wildlife. But we also like interesting towns and cities. Strolling, finding a new pub and talking to locals is our idea of a pleasant afternoon in a town. I'm a LOTR fan as well, but I'm not going out of my way to see Hobbiton, if you know what I mean.

    It's coming out of the fact that we'll be halfway to NZ when we're in Papeete, so husband had this bright idea of going the rest of the way.

    I'm a bit dismayed about November weather. I guess I assumed it would be late spring already, but I know so little about NZ weather that it's good to know. Would we better sticking to the northern portion of the country? We could do it in December (i.e., after Tahiti), but that would put us smack into the Xmas holidays.

    Which are the best months to visit NZ? We do prefer warm, pleasant weather, that's why we spend the winter in Florida instead of Toronto.

    Diamantina, thank you for all the detail about Dunedin. The fact that we live in Dunedin FL half the year certainly makes your Dunedin a destination that we would not want to miss, despite its reputation for brooding weather. I also read a novel last year set in the Otago gold rush, and was fascinated (Eleanor Catton, a Canadian who moved to NZ, won the Booker prize for the book, The Luminaries.)

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    <Would we be crazy trying to drive around this part of the South Island?>

    Heck no, people do it all the time. What you see from the air isn't indicative of what you'll be driving through on the ground - most of what you probably saw on the video was inaccessible by road - hence the flight in the first place - there's only one road in a and one road out of Milford. And it's not all that difficult.

    We always drive ourselves on the SI and I recommend that others do the same, unless they're just bad drivers or so terrified of driving on the left that they're a danger to themselves and others.

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    I traveled 3 monthes all over New zealand, december untill march, and the weather is best for this time.
    the milford area is hard to calculate when to come because of the mountains and the weather changes all the time, i suggest you to use the campermate app it helps alot!

    and yes driving the long road is the best.

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    Oh, and we're also interested in history and anthropology. We have a particular interest in Polynesian history and culture, so the Maori culture would be a great interest.

    And the breweries in Dunedin sound great--love interesting beers. I like wine too, and although tours of wineries would not be a big fascination I could certainly see doing something like that.

    I also suppose, for sake of argument, that we could combine the HAL cruise with some time on land prior to flying back to Tahiti.

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    I didn’t mean to discourage you from visiting the South Island, but prepare you for what’s possible weather wise. You might be pleasantly surprised.

    Warmest, driest, sunniest weather for New Zealand overall (from north to south) is in February. But, after December, it’s also the busiest month, with peak visitor arrivals. You’re correct, December bustles during NZ and Australian school holidays (NZ school holidays commence Dec. 16-20). It also sounds like December in NZ would be inconvenient, given the timing of your cruise.

    Mid-January through March usually brings milder weather. Because this was/is an El Niño year, we enjoyed warmer temperatures from December 2015, even in Dunedin. Though some areas had more rain than usual. At the end of December, thunderstorms pounded popular North Island and top-of-the-South Island areas (normally the best places in summer), causing some flooding and temporary road closures. See:
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11179157
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10696837

    There are a few places you’d have to book ahead of time. For ex., places with limited accommodation, such as Mt. Cook Village (should you go there). I can’t think of November events that might affect you, other than perhaps the Queenstown Marathon on Nov. 19. But Queenstown has plenty of accommodation. If you have a special accommodation in mind—with an exceptional view, or location, or outstanding service, so on, and only a few rooms, or one that's particularly popular—then these places can certainly book up in advance.

    Most tourists seeking a Māori cultural experience visit Rotorua, which also offers geothermal attractions. It’s also a convenient stop if you’re driving south from Auckland. It’s busy, touristy and sometimes smells of sulphur, but home to some (but not all) of NZ’s most talented Māori artists (carvers, weavers, tattoo artists, and more). You can also attend a Māori performance and/or a traditional Māori hāngi meal (see wikipedia.org/wiki/Hāngi). If interested, you might check Trip Advisor reviews for:
    Te Puia
    http://www.tepuia.com/new-zealand/About-us/
    Tamaki Māori Village
    http://www.tamakimaorivillage.co.nz
    Whakarewarewa
    http://www.whakarewarewa.com
    The Rotorua Museum has a large collection of Māori taonga (ancestral treasures). See:
    http://www.rotoruamuseum.co.nz/collection/taonga/

    Auckland War Memorial museum has outstanding Māori and Oceania collections, and daily Māori cultural performances.

    Te Papa (NZ’s national museum and art gallery in the capital, Wellington) also displays outstanding Māori taonga, and is the country's best museum, due to its collections, striking architecture, and scenic waterfront location. Wellington is an attractive, fun, often windy, city. Other attractions include its Weta Cave Workshop Tour and craft breweries. It’s also the departure point for ferries to Picton, on the South Island.

    Another important site for Māori is Waitangi (next to Paihia in the lovely Bay of Islands), where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. But with only three weeks for two islands, I think the Bay of Islands is out of your way. Have a look at this NZ touring map:
    http://www.newzealand.com/travel/library/p23573_23.pdf

    You’ll have a multitude of routing choices. Narrowing it down, even with three weeks, will be difficult. But folks of this forum will help. I haven’t read The Luminaries (though I gifted a copy to my best friend). I believe it’s set in Hokitika, which is on the South Island’s West Coast. The West Coast is gorgeous, heavily forested, with highlights such as Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks), Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, and more. There’s always more!

    You can usually find videos of SI drives on You Tube, though when these videos are speeded up they appear more like thrill rides. I always mute them. Here's one for Milford Road.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmhZX7NEgco&nohtml5=False

    As a LOTR fan who doesn't want to go out of your way to visit Hobbiton, the Weta Cave Workshop Tour in Wellington could work for you, as would a Nomad Safari out of Queenstown. See:
    http://www.newzealand.com/int/feature/the-lord-of-the-rings-trilogy-experiences/

    Places with lots of wildlife that could be on your possible route and not too out of the way, would be Kaikoura, the Otago Peninsula (Dunedin) and Akaroa (near Christchurch). If you come to Dunedin. I highly suggest an Elm Wildlife Tour (try to make sure you go out with a 4WD vehicle) or, if the harbor is calm, a Monarch Cruise with a late afternoon visit to Penguin Place. Dress warmly. If visiting Wellington, you’d also find Zealandia Ecosanctuary easy to visit.

    Two days for Dunedin is best, one day to enjoy city center attractions and another for a wildlife tour. You'd enjoy the Railway Station, Toitu Settlers Museum (next to the Railway Station), and probably Speight's Brewery tour (its pub is attractive, but the food is average). These are all near the Octagon, a kind of town square with heritage buildings, bars, restaurants, shops and galleries. You might consider staying at the St. Clair Resort, across from the beach, or the Esplanade Motel. The beach suburb of St. Clair is only a 10-minute drive or 15-minute bus ride to the Octagon or a 10-minute drive to the Otago Peninsula, which is worth driving to, if the weather is fine (unlikely).
    http://www.hotelstclair.com
    http://www.esplanade.co.nz

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    Wow, again, thank you for all this information! Still working on what to do, will come back with questions.

    Hokitika--I pictured it being closer to Dunedin because Dunedin gets mentioned in the book, but it's far away! It is a huge book, a bit tough to get into, and to follow, since the plot unfolds very slowly and is quite convoluted.

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    Looking at tour companies, including group tours and self-driving.

    Here's one that costs about NZ$8K pp with First Light Travel, but I can't post the URL it seems here. So here's a summary, Kiwi Premium tour:
    Day 1: Auckland
    Day 2,3: Rotorua
    Day 4: Tongariro National Park
    Day 5: Napier
    Day 6: Wellington
    Day 7,8: Nelson, Abel Tasman Park
    Day 9: Kaikoura
    Christchurch
    Day 9: Mount Cook
    Day 10,11,12: Queenstown, Milford Sound
    (roughly)


    Or this self-driving itinerary that includes the train trip from Christchurch to Greymouth, no pricing available, Fine Tours New Zealand:

    day 1,2: Auckland
    day 3,4: Rotorua
    day 5: Napier
    day 6: Wellington
    day 7,8: Kaikoura
    day 9,10: Christchurch
    day 11: Mount Cook
    day 12,13: Dunedin
    day 14,15: Te Anau (Milford Sound)
    day 16,17: Queenstown
    day 18,19: Wanaka
    day 20: transalpine to Christchurch
    day 21: fly from Christchurch

    Could we put together something like that ourselves, and what do you think a reasonable daily budget would be for hotels? Not luxury, but not basic either. We like pleasant, quirky hotels, no golf courses required, although a resort-style splurge is always good.

    What do you think of these itineraries? I'd like to make sure we have some 2- or even 3-night stops, since although we love to drive and look at scenery, we do like to be able to "settle in" to a place and get the feel, not rush from place-to-place.

    Still considering the cruise as well. My TA, who is from NZ, says that a NZ cruise is okay, as long as you spend some time in and around Queenstown as well. I've got a hold on a cabin right now.

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    Yes, you can certainly put a self-drive itinerary for yourselves that has advantages to the tour.

    Just a few comments at this time, more later. Maybe an itinerary with an internal, domestic flight from, say, Wellington to CC would be more practical, but then you'd miss out on the Interislander ferry crossing from Wellington to Picton (which can be rough at times, gorgeous at its best, and very occasionally cancelled).

    Your self-drive itinerary could use just a little input and refining, especially Wanaka to TranzAlpine railway. You'll want to stop somewhere in-between, maybe even two nights in-between, say one night in Fox or Franz Josef (villages closest to West Coast glaciers, Fox is also handy to Lake Matheson, and Franz Josef is close to Okarito Beach and Forest); and perhaps a second night in Hokitika (as you enjoyed The Luminaries, it's also home to Hokitika Gorge, free glow worm viewing, and a tree top walk). Before turning in your car in Greymouth, you'll want to drive 35 minutes north to see Punakaiki, and then 35 minutes back again. it'll be worth it.

    What are your plans for Christchurch? If your plans for sightseeing here are not too extensive, consider just spending one night here along the way, as it's not far from Kaikoura, and, as you'll be returning to it later. This will free up a day for the rest of your schedule. Maybe you'd prefer to stay in Akaroa instead of Christchurch. It's a cute seaside village that offers Hector's Dolphins cruises (you can even opt to swim with them).

    You might want an extra day in Wellington or Napier.

    I see as you've planned on spending two nights in Te Anau, you intend to self-drive to Milford Sound. It's a spectacular road.

    Meanwhile, have a look at this driving distance calculator.
    http://www.aatravel.co.nz/main/time-distance-calculator.php

    It's still early days, but I think you're off to a good start. You wouldn't see nearly enough of the country if taking a cruise around NZ. The country is best appreciated on driving trips, and it not just the major destinations that charm but also the journeys in-between. Sometimes, you'll pull over to the side of the road, look out at the view and feel as if you have nature all to yourselves. My husband and I have done a few road trips in Canada (BC and Alberta), and felt the experience was similar. I imagine Ontario must be like this, as well.

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    I've had a better look at your itinerary and thought about it more. Can you possibly take 3.5 weeks for your NZ driving trip? It would allow you to slow your pace down. Even 4 weeks if you can!

    Forget what I said about flying from Wellington to CC. It wouldn't save you time, particularly as you plan to stop in Kaikoura. There are several ferries a day, and two companies that service this route. If you rent with APEX, they'll cover the cost of your vehicle on the ferry. See:
    http://www.apexrentals.co.nz/new-zealand-car-rental-deals/cook-strait-ferry-deals.aspx

    I'll just comment on the South Island portion.

    The 8 a.m Bluebridge Ferry will get to Picton at 11:30 a.m. The 9 a.m. Interislander Ferry will get to Picton at 12:30 p.m. The drive to Kaikoura will be a little more than two hours. You'll want to stop along the way, definitely at Ohau Pt. Seal Colony, 27 km north of Kaikoura.

    In mid-November, the sun rises at about 6 a.m., sets at about 9 p.m. on the SI. So you can enjoy long days.

    If you could add a few more days to your trip, I'd suggest this itinerary, which is basically a tweaking of yours, keeping in mind you are trying to avoid one night stays and would like to take the TranzAlpine one way. Again, this is just one possibility of many. I have included driving times, but it will actually take longer, sometimes much longer, because you'll be stopping along the way, maybe making a few side trips.

    Day 7 Kaikoura
    Day 8 Kaikoura
    Day 9 Kaikoura to CC 2.5 hour drive overnight CC
    Day 10 TranzAlpine leaves CC 8:15 a.m. arrives Greymouth 12:45 p.m. drive to Punakaiki, then to Hokitika, or continue straight to Fox Glacier Village
    Greymouth to Punakaiki 35 m
    Punakaiki to Hokitika 1 h 10 m
    Hokitika to Fox 2 h 20 m
    Overnight Hokitika or Fox (or Franz Josef village, but Fox is closer to Wanaka, so less driving the next day)
    Day 11 Fox Glacier Village or drive to Wanaka
    Day 12 Fox to Wanaka 4 h 20 m Overnight Wanaka
    Day 13 Wanaka
    Day 14 Wanaka to Dunedin 3.5 h Overnight Dunedin
    Day 15 Dunedin
    Day 16 Dunedin to Te Anau 3 h 45 m Overnight Te Anau
    Day 17 Te Anau (Milford Road and Sound)
    Day 18 Te Anau to Q’town 2 h 15 m Overnight Q'town
    Day 19 Q’town
    Day 20 Q’town
    Day 21 Q’town to Mt. Cook Village 3.5 h Overnight Mt. Cook Village.
    Day 22 Mt. Cook to Tekapo 1.5 h, Tekapo to CC 3 h 10 m
    Day 23 Fly out, what time?

    I tried to figure out a way to incorporate the top of the South Island into your itinerary. I think you'd like it as Blenheim-Nelson area is one of the sunniest areas in NZ, but I couldn't get it to work.

    If flying from the U.S. to Auckland, you might arrive around 5:30 a.m. After picking up your luggage and passing through customs and immigration, you'll be out of the airport by no later than 7 a.m., most likely before. You might not be able to check into your Auckland hotel room until 1 or 2 p.m. You might be okay with this, especially if the hotel lets you check in early or if you've slept on the jet. But some travelers choose to connect to a domestic flight to Christchurch or Queenstown (in my case, Dunedin), starting in the south and working their way north.

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    Well, Ontario doesn't have the grandeur of BC and Alberta, no big mountains or sea, but it's very beautiful in its own right.

    The cruise is looking very tempting right now. We would fly back to Queenstown afterwards and spend a few days there, and do a mini-driving trip.

    Thanks for the calculator URL.

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    We'll most likely be flying in from Papeete on Air Tahiti Nui, their flight arrives around noon, so no problem I think with hotels. We also will not be quite so jetlagged, what with at least one night in L.A. and one night in Papeete. It's a way of breaking up the trip and taking advantage of Air France's Premium Economy from LAX. And we'll be flying home from Papeete at the end of the trip, so round-trip makes sense. Then the flight to AKL is around 6 hours I believe, and we can cope with Economy seats for that (I think).

    I've asked my husband to see if he can get a "feel" for all of this, before I go any further down this road. I couldn't sleep last night with all these scenarios running through my head.

    Today I've been watching youtube footage of the SI. All I can say is, "wow".

    (Later) Thinking seriously of putting off this plan until 2017, probably November, or perhaps January 2018. Will update when I know.

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    January will have better weather, but higher crowds.

    I never thought I'd be picky about accommodation, but I get a sense of real satisfaction when I feel the same sense of "wow" and anticipation for my lodging for the night as I do for the activities of the day.

    That was a grammatically mangled sentence and I apologize. In short, if you are heading to NZ at peak season - book ahead!

    I started booking for our March 2017 vacay in February of 2016!

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    Yes, I admit I love the wow factor too, as long as it's not pretentious. I remember one like that in Thailand, Chiang Rai, The Legend, a resort on the river.

    I think we'll probably stick to November, or early December, thanks for the advice.

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    Okay, so it's certain now, we're going to wait until November 2017, health willing!

    So the pressure's off to decide what type of trip we do. I've been reading through a booked from a Thomas Cook series entitled, "Drive Around New Zealand", and many of the individual areas seem just wonderful. Nicely-done guide, and certainly argues for driving.

    But it still might be a combo cruise and drive, since we'll have more time.

    Now I can go ahead and book my plane flights to and from Tahiti. So looking forward to that trip, even though it is our sixth!

    Thanks so much for all of your wonderful advice and suggestions. I will cherish this thread, and probably start a new one sometime in the fall when we will start planning this big adventure!

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    That's exciting news you'll be coming to New Zealand in November (health permitting).

    Are you still thinking about doing the Holland America cruise from Sydney to NZ?

    I can tell you what it's like for cruise ship passengers arriving in Dunedin. Small cruise ships dock at the waterfront in central Dunedin. Otherwise cruise ships dock at Port Chalmers, a suburb of Dunedin, which is about a 15-minute drive from central Dunedin. From there, passengers board cruise ships buses to downtown Dunedin, or are met by rental car agencies (for those renting cars to explore on their own for the day) or tour operators (which must be arranged well ahead of time). Some passengers travel no farther than Port Chalmers.

    The buses leave passengers off at the Octagon, the town square, from where you can walk to many attractions. The city center is much busier when the cruise ships are in, with the Octagon filling with stalls and often buskers. The last of the buses depart between 5 and 6 p.m. to return to Port Chalmers.

    In November, it'll only be one cruise ship on a given day (in peak cruise ship season, Jan. to mid-March, there can be two ships on a given day).

    Your sixth trip to FP! Always on the Paul Gauguin? How fabulous. I've been to FP only twice, and thought it's one place where I'd love to take a cruise.

    Good luck with your plans.

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