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NZ North Island, feb/mar, Need to book ahead?

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I'm planning a trip to NZ, roughly 3 weeks in feb/march of 2013. It will be my second visit; the first one was in 2002. I have studied a number of guide books and lots of websites and narrowed the area down to the central part of the north island. Specifically I plan to "do" Mt Taranaki/Egmont Park, Whanganui, Tongariro, Te Urewera, Whirinaki, with a side trip to Lake Tarawera and then drive back to Auckland to take the flight back home. Even though this is only a small part of NZ, I found more things than I have time for.

Concerning accommodation I'm faced with a tricky problem: On one hand, I want to arrive knowing that have a place to stay and I don't need to spend time looking for accommodation in unfamiliar towns. On the other hand I would like to have the flexibility to stay a little longer in one place or cut my stay short in another one, which kind of contradicts the idea of booking ahead. And, of course, a one day change in one place means I'd have to change all the reservations further down the line.

In short, my question is, is it easy to find some decent place to stay without booking ahead. I understand that Feb/March is no longer the very peak of the summer season, but it can still be busy. The alternative would be that I book now to the best of my knowledge and then make an effort to stick to the arrangements.

Any advise, suggestions, personal experience, etc. would be welcome.

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