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NZ S Island itinerary help please!

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We will be in NZ for 8 weeks later this year. We're very excited to finally be heading to NZ, but I feel like I'm drowning putting together this itinerary!! We plan to split the time 5 weeks South Island, 3 weeks North Island. Only our flights arriving Auckland 10th Oct, and departing Auckland 6th Dec are booked, so the split between North and South islands can change.

We're a retired couple. Enjoy scenery, day hikes, museums, different foods, and unique cultural experiences. We plan to do lots of day hikes - but no extreme sports or multi day treks. We don't plan to visit lots of wineries - maybe one. We prefer to stay a few days in one place, taking a few extra hikes rather than bouncing around quickly - which is why we've allowed 8 weeks!

I've put together a preliminary itinerary. I'm hoping for some feedback, suggestions, and some answers to some of my questions.

Days 1-3 Auckland (2n). We arrive Auckland evening 10th Oct. Auckland Museum, Auckland Art gallery, city walking tour, Rangitoto Island. The "must" stop is the Auckland Museum, we will include the others now or at the end of the trip. Day 3 PM fly to Christchurch. Pick up rental car.
Day 4 Christchurch to Dunedin (2n) with stop at Moeraki rocks. I looked at flying into Dunedin, but it looks like car rentals will be much more expensive. I'll check that again before we buy internal tickets!
Day 5 Dunedin. elm wildlife tour in afternoon-evening.
Days 6-8 the Catlins (3n). Lots of hikes exploring the NP and the shore areas. What town is a good base for the Catlins?
Day 9 Catlins to Invercargill (1n). To take Stewart Island ferry the next AM.
Days 10-12. Stewart Island (3n). Ulva Island. Hikes. Interesting plants and animals - and some birds. Is 3 nights too long if we're not avid birders? My husband can't go past an interesting plant without taking a few pictures... so it sounds like a good stop.
Day 13 Ferry to Bluff, Drive to Te Anau (4n).
Day 14 Milford Sound late afternoon cruise. Allow time to take some hikes and enjoy views on drive to Milford Sound.
Days 15-16 - Overnight cruise Doubtful Sound. Glowworm caves or hike on return.
Day 17-18 Te Anau to Queenstown (2n). Is this too much time in Queenstown as we have no interest in doing bungee jumping and other extreme sports??
Day 19-20 Queenstown to Wanaka (2n)
Days 21-22 Mt Cook (2n)
Days 23-24 Mt Cook to Franz Josef (2n). Questions! This looks like a long drive - is there a good spot to break it up?? Also - we don't plan on doing heli-hiking and have seen glaciers in Canadian Rockies before, so this isn't on our "Must" list. Presumably the scenery is good too. See Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers.
Day 25-26 Hokitika (2n), with side trip to Punakaiki. I haven't checked tides - it may make more sense to spend the 2nd night at Puakaiki.
Day 27-28 Arthur's Pass (2n). Sounds like a nice drive on the way back to Christchurch. Day hikes.
Days 29-31 Christchurch (3n). Akaroa one day.
Days 32-33 Kaikoura (2n). Whale watching - and some hikes
Days 34-37 Abel Tasman NP (4n). Day hikes and water taxis.
Day 38 Abel Tasman to Nelson or Benheim(1n) - to take Ferry next day.
Day 39 Ferry to Wellington.

That's it for the South Island. Comments and suggestions please!
Is there something we should cut out so that we can spend some time in the Marlborough area?
Is there a different way handle the Queenstown, Wanaka, Mt Cook areas so that we're spending 3 nights and 2 full days some places?
Other suggestions please! I'm looking forward to eveyone's suggestions!

I'll put the North Island itinerary in a separate posting. This is way too long.

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    I envy you your 8 weeks! Looks like you've done your homework, but there are a few niggles to work out. I'll try to answer in order they came up.

    Where to base yourself in the Catlins: I'd suggest either Owaka/Pounawea or Papatowai. Most of the sights are between Nugget Point and Curio Bay, so if all your nights are in one place, you want to be between the two. Be aware that there are few places to eat, so you might want to get a place with cooking facilities. And be sure you have a full tank of gas before leaving Balclutha. Because there's virtually no petrol stations until Fortrose and it isn't even open on Sundays - and closed after noon on Saturday.

    At Stewart Island, be sure to do the Kiwi-spotting tour. http://www.kiwispotting.co.nz My husband and I aren't birders either, but we enjoyed Ulva Island. There aren't many tracks in town, but you could also get a water-taxi to Port William and walk back to town from there.

    You don't have to be an adrenaline junkie to enjoy Queenstown. Make the stunning drive to Glenorchy - walk Mt Crichton Loop on the way. Go to Arrowtown, rent bikes, watch bungy jumpers, get picked up from a winery. Do the Skipper's Canyon tour.

    No way of driving Franz Josef Glacier to Mount Cook in one day. There's no direct road and no tunnel. Why not skip the West Coast Glaciers, since you don't have that much interest. Drive to Mt Cook, then on the Christchurch. From Christchurch, you can do a daytrip to Akaroa. Then drive to Kaikoura for a night or two and back. Then across Arthur's Pass to Punakaiki. From there to Nelson, etc.

    One of our favorite places was Golden Bay. If you find some days you don't know what to do with, add them to the Nelson/Abel Tasman block and head over the hill to explore for a couple of days. Two or three nights Takaka/Pohara ought to do it! Check out Wainui Falls, Labyrinth Rocks, Rawhiti Cave*, The Grove Scenic reserve, Pupu Springs, Collingworth, Wharariki Beach*, Cape Farewell, and Farewell Spit.

    *Absolute highlights of the area!

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    Hi Wendy - eight weeks, lucky you!

    Although five weeks on the SI sounds like a lot, you might find you still have to make some compromises.

    But for starters, you need to re-think your routing.

    The drive from Mt Cook to Franz Josef looks long because it is - they're separated by a mountain range! This is not a viable route.

    The best way to incorporate both Mount Cook and the West Coast is to make a loop - which means you need to revise your whole itinerary - in your case you might consider this:

    Christchurch-Mount Cook-Dunedin (you'll still see those rocks)-Catlins-Invercargill-Bluff-Stewart Island-Bluff-Te Anau-Queenstown-Wanaka-Fox and Franz Josef-Hokitika to Punakaiki, then backtrack to cross Arthur's Pass-Christchurch-Akaroa-Kaikoura-Abel Tasman (Nelson area, Motueka, Kaiterieri)-Picton-Wellington.

    OR - Same as above, but instead of crossing Arthurs Pass, continue driving up the West Coast towards Westport, then cross over to Murchison and up to Motueka (Abel Tasman area) and then work your way back down to Blenheim, Kaikoura and Christchurch - then fly from there to the NI.

    Regarding the Catlins - on our first three night visit to the area, we stayed in the South Catlins near Fortrose.
    We loved our accommodation, but discovered that we much preferred the beaches, waterfalls, and forest of the north over the seemingly endless pastoral countryside of the south. So, on our second three night visit, we opted to stay in the North Catlins. We then had to choose between staying near the beach or near the forest…in our case, the forest won.

    There aren't really 'towns' per se, more like dots on the roads - which is much of the charm.

    In other words, what you decide will depend on what most interests you. It's a sprawling area, with lots on offer.

    No, three nights on Stewart isn't too long - that's what we did - I think three nights is a good amount of time for almost any area, as it gives allows two full days to explore. I don't count driving days as exploration days as driving in NZ can be pretty exhausting.

    Two nights in QT too much? Never, even for those of us who aren't into the whole QT vibe. It's a beautiful area with loads to do in the vicinity, most of it not the least bit adrenaline-loaded.

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    Correction on my first reply. The Tokanui petrol station is closed Sundays and only open until noon on Saturday. They directed us back to Fortrose, where the only petrol station really wasn't a petrol station at all. It was a pump in back of the cafe and they would only take CASH!

    In short, there's really no petrol between Balclutha and Invercargill.

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    Since you'll be stopping in Auckland at the start of your trip, have you considered just continuing your self-drive of the North Island from there and then leaving the South Island for the last half of your trip? You won't need a car for central Auckland or, obviously, Rangitoto Island. You would need a car if you'd like to see outer areas of Auckland, such as its beautiful West Coast.

    When you're ready to leave Auckland, you can just pick up your car from the CBD.

    Yes, you'll pay more if renting a car from Dunedin as opposed to renting a car from Christchurch. Fewer cars available and fewer car rental companies.

    If you're coming to Dunedin to do the Elm Wildlife Peninsula Encounters Tour, late-November to early December, in my opinion, is better. You are more likely to see Yellow Eyed Penguin chicks from late-November to early December. The YEP is the rarest penguin in the world (though the Fiordland Crested Penguin, which you might see on your Milford Sound cruise, is almost as rare). Part of the Elm Wildlife Tour includes a visit to a large NZ Fur Seal nursery. When I was there in February, there were about 100 adult female fur seals, most with pups. The pups are born from mid-November to mid-January. See this link for more info.:
    http://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/marine-mammals/seals/nz-fur-seal/
    As an aside, one of the highlights of a visit to Kaikoura is a visit to the Ohau Point fur seal colony (27 km north of Kaikoura), and the Point Kean fur seal colony which is off the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway (lovely walk).

    You can also expect to see NZ Sea Lions (world's most endangered sea lion), and endangered Northern Royal Albatrosses, and many other birds (including the gorgeous Royal Spoonbill), during your Elm Tour. As an adjunct to the Elm Wildlife Tour, you can pay extra to visit the Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head. Don't bother because the chicks won't hatch until late January-early Feb. so you'd just see adult birds on nests. The Elm Tour gives you about an hour at Taiaroa Head, during which you can pay to have a warm drink or snack in the cafe or just stay outside, trying to sight albatrosses flying overhead--unless you are unlucky, you will see these magnificent birds, with their 3-metre wingspans. Normally, you'd have to be on a boat to see them as they spend most of their lives at sea, but here you can see them from land! It's great, they're great!

    Instead of visiting Taiaroa Head, the Elm also offers the option of doing the Monarch Cruise, a one-hour wildlife cruise of the harbour. If the harbour is calm, the cruise is worth considering as it offers good sightings of seabirds and fur seals.

    If you can't change your schedule around, you'll still have good wildlife sightings in October.

    Dress warmly for this time of year. You will need a water- and windproof jacket. A light fleece as an under layer comes in handy, too. It will likely be very windy. The weather is unpredictable from October to December, could be sunny or rainy or foggy.

    While in Dunedin, don't miss seeing the Railway Station (it hosts a lively farmers' market on Saturday mornings) and the Tunnel Beach Track (if you're here during fine weather). I think you'd also enjoy Toitu Settlers Museum, which is next to the Railway Station. This museum tells of human settlement in south New Zealand in an entertaining fashion. Admission is free. If your husband like plants, and if the weather is fine, he'd probably enjoy the free-admission 69-acre Botanic Garden. NZ has many beautiful botanic gardens (CC, Wellington, Hamilton, Auckland, and so on). Baldwin Street, the world's steepest street, is just a few minutes drive from the Dunedin Botanic Garden.

    My preferred accommodation in the South Catlins is Curio Bay Salthouse. You might want consider spending one night here. See reviews:
    https://www.tripadvisor.co.nz/Hotel_Review-g1370234-d1367925-Reviews-Curio_Bay_Salthouse-Tokanui_Southland_Region_South_Island.html

    It only has three rooms with basic cooking facilities but with great views of Porpoise Bay. From November through April, a pod of Hector's Dolphins takes up residence in the bay, and you can often see them from the beach or your room. These are among the world's smallest dolphins and can only be found in NZ (in Akaroa they can be seen year-round). Curio Bay Salthouse is a 10-minute walk from Curio Bay with its Yellow Eyed Penguin colony and 180 million year old fossilised forest. Here's a link to a brochure for Curio Bay:
    http://www.doc.govt.nz/Documents/parks-and-recreation/places-to-visit/southland/curio-bay-porpoise-bay.pdf
    Sunrises from the beach can be stunning.

    From Invercargill to Curio Bay (or vice versa), you might want to stop at Waipapa Point Lighthouse. Slope Point is the southernmost point of the South Island and it's also along here (I don't find it that interesting).

    Melnq8 is correct, there is now a 24-hour self-serve fuel pump in Papatowai:
    http://www.odt.co.nz/regions/otago/381397/24-hour-fuel-pump-service-centre

    For groceries, there are New World Supermarkets in Invercargill, Gore, Balclutha, and Dunedin; Countdown Supermarkets in Invercargill, Gore and Dunedin; and smaller Four Square Markets in Owaka and Milton. Milton also has a SuperValue supermarket.

    More basic info here:
    http://www.catlins.org.nz/index.php?/site/visitor_info#Maps

    I don't think you need to overnight in Invercargill. Its Southland Museum can be seen in a hour or so. Some also stop in Invercargill to see Burt Munro's motorbikes at E Hayes & Sons Hardware Store.

    Have you see the Southern Scenic Route website?
    http://www.southernscenicroute.co.nz
    http://www.southernscenicroute.co.nz/images/SSR/Downloads/ssr_brochure.pdf

    Melnq8 is right, don't drive from CC to Dunedin or vice versa. Drive from Dunedin to Oamaru, stopping at Shag Point, Katiki Point Lighthouse, Moeraki village (and possibly lunch at Fleur's Restaurant), Moeraki Boulders en route. You might want to get off the main highway (SH1) and take more scenic coastal roads part of the way.

    From Oamaru, you'd drive inland through the Waitaki Valley to Omarama and then north to Mt. Cook Village. While driving through Waitaki Valley, consider a short side trip from Duntroon to the distinctive Elephant Rocks.

    If you overnight in Oamaru, you can see Little Blue Penguins swim ashore at dusk/early evening (admission charged at Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony). These small penguins swim ashore in large groups and are very cute. The larger Yellow Eyed Penguins (third largest penguin species) you'll see on the Elm Tour are solitary. You're not likely to see many YEPs at one time. Oamaru also has a beautifully preserved Victorian precinct, a nice botanic garden, and Yellow Eyed Penguin viewing hide at Bushy Beach. Otherwise, its setting is not that scenic.

    My favourite day hike at Mt. Cook Village is the Hooker Valley Track (easy with swing bridges and glacier views).
    http://www.doc.govt.nz/Documents/parks-and-recreation/tracks-and-walks/canterbury/Aoraki/walks-around-aoraki-village.pdf

    On Milford Road at the Divide, you'd probably enjoy the Key Summit Track.
    http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/fiordland/places/fiordland-national-park/things-to-do/tracks/routeburn-track-key-summit-track/

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    Thanks to everyone. I'm pulling out the maps and calendar to rework our itinerary! Great suggestions. Looking at a flat map, I would never plan to drive Christchurch - Mt. Cook - Dunedin.

    A couple of questions -

    I have been trying to include Arthur's Pass, assuming it would have great "crossing the mountains" scenery. Is it a good idea to try hard to include Arthur's Pass, or will we be hitting the big scenic roads other places?

    Also - a Maori culture question. Rotorua appears to be a big "Maori Culture for tourists" spot. What are some alternative places to experience Maori culture? Rotorua's other draw is the geothermal areas. We spent several days at Yellowstone a few years ago, so we are OK missing the geysers and hot pots.

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    <<Looking at a flat map, I would never plan to drive Christchurch - Mt. Cook - Dunedin.>>

    Not sure I follow???

    Arthur's Pass can be hit and miss - in good weather it's lovely, in crap weather, well, not so much. The village itself is just a spot on the road, Otira Viaduct is an engineering marvel, there's a very nice I Site, and there are some nice tracks on offer - but you need time to walk them.

    Personally, I prefer the scenery on the West Coast to the scenery on Arthur's Pass (or to the scenery on Lindis Pass for that matter), but I'm from Colorado, so mountain scenery and dry crunchy rolling hills are commonplace here, whereas rainforest that reach the sea, rugged coastline and lush green landscapes aren't.

    So, it could well depend on where you're from and your personal perspective.

    In other words, it's a good idea if you want it enough to fit into your itinerary.

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    First REVISION on our itinerary - thanks for all your suggestions! Comments and more suggestions please!!

    I did add a few days in the north island before our flight to Christchurch. We'll leave the rest of our north island itinerary for the end of the trip so that we can take advantage of off-season Doubtful Sound cruise prices. It helps the budget! Hitting the first week of high season would be painful.

    I rearranged our South Island itinerary, moving the Mt Cook stop as you all suggested, and adding a few days to loosen up the schedule.

    I did leave the drive from Queenstown over the mountains and up the west coast to Punakaiki in the itinerary. We live on a Maine island. Lucky us - but we live about 10 meters above sea level and the highest point in town is about 50 meters. We love seeing big rugged mountains! The west coast drive looks too good to skip. Our mountains are great for skiing all winter - but they are worn down bumps - not the Rockies.

    I've included a quick outline of our North Island plans. Our flights to NZ and leaving NZ are booked, but the split between north and south islands is flexible.

    What needs changing? Comments and suggestions please!

    NEW ITINERARY -
    Auckland 2n. Arrive evening. Full day - Auckland Museum and whatever else we can fit in - maybe a walk.
    Northland 3n. Paihia, Russell, Waitangi National Reserve, Waipoua Forest.
    Return to Auckland - fly to Christchurch.
    Christchurch 1n.
    Mt Cook 2n. 1st day - drive Christchurch to Mt Cook. 2nd day short hikes. Hopefully see the Mtn!
    Dunedin 2n. Day 1 drive from Mt Cook. Stop to see Moeraki Rocks. Day 2 elm wildlife tour afternoon-evening + ? in AM.
    Caitlins - 3n.
    Stewart Island 3n. Ulva island walks and others. Thanks for all the great ideas - I'll be looking at your lists!
    Te Anau 5n. Day 1 Ferry back to Bluff and drive to Te Anau. Day 2 Milford Sound cruise. Day 3 walks. Day 4-5 overnight Doubtful Sound cruise and maybe glowworm caves.
    Queenstown 3n. Side trips to Arrowtown and Glenorchy hikes.
    Wanaka 2n.
    Franz Josef 2n. See glaciers and do some short hikes.
    Hikitiku-Punakaiki 2n - look up the tide charts to figure out the schedule.
    Arthurs Pass 1 night to break up drive back to Christchuch. Is this a good stop - or are there other places to stop?
    Christchurch 3n. Day trip Akora.
    Kaikoura 2n. Whale watching cruise? or hikes
    Able TAasman NP 4n. Day hikes using water taxis. Maybe side trip to Collingwood and northern coast.
    Picton 3 nights. Explore Queen Charlotte track area with day hikes and boats.

    Ferry to Wellington.

    Wellington 3n
    Tongariro NP 3n
    Taupo 2n
    Rotorua 2n - or 2n Wahai and Whitianga. We have spent several days at Yellowstone NP so the geysers and hot pots are not a draw. We're hoping to include enough Maori cultural experiences elsewhere, and spend these 2 nights in the Coromandel area. Comments?
    Auckland 1n. Spend next day in Auckland, evening flight back to LAX.

    Comments? Suggestions?

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    Curious why a night in Christchurch? Does your flight arrive late? One night won't give you much time to see anything, so curious why you'd not just press on.

    Just an FYI that if you plan well and you self-drive, you can incorporate quite a few walks on your way to/from Te Anau/Milford.

    I count four nights Te Anau, inclusive of Doubtful Sound overnight, not five (?) PS - you can fit it glow worms day of arrival as drive from Bluff is only 2.5 hours and you might need time to kill before you check into Te Anau accommodation.

    I think you mean Franz Josef to Punakaiki (via Hokitika). So, two nights Punakaiki? Lots of nice walks around Punakaiki - easy to fill a full day there IMO (unless the weather is complete shite that is:)

    Regarding that night in Arthur's Pass - yes it makes sense, but I have driven from Punakaiki to Akaroa in a very full day, inclusive of many stops. You might be early enough in the season that you can wing it, decide when you get there (then again, Arthur's Pass has very limited accommodation).

    With a wee bit of tweaking, I think your SI itinerary is coming together nicely.

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    Diamantina -

    Might I ask how you came about your screen name? I wonder every time I check the spelling before I respond to you in a post.

    Brazil?

    Outdoor gear sold in Australia?

    River in Australia?

    Clematis?

    I can't help but be curious - seems we have so much in common.

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    Melnq8,

    The arrival night in Christchurch. I'm looking at a flight that arrives in the evening around 8:30pm. So one night near the airport, and off in the AM. Alternative is a morning flight the next day, arriving around noon. By the time we get baggage and pick up a rental car, it's likely to be 2-3pm. That sounded late to start off for Mt Cook. Hmm - I need to check one of the more reliable guides re driving time and sunset time. Google maps said 4 hours. I'm assuming their estimates are probably under actual times.

    RE Te Anau. We are planning to include stops and walks on the road to Milford Sound. Sounds like a great day! RE the 5 nights. Day 1 - arrive from Stewart Island. Day 2 - Milford Sound. Day 3 - hikes in area so we're not doing boat trips back to back. Day 4-5 Doubtful Sound overnight. I assumed stay in Te Anau after Doubtful Sound trip, figuring we'ld be happy to have a shower and a good night's sleep before driving to Queenstown. If we take one of the Doubtful cruises that gets back at noontime, we could probably drive on to Queenstown that afternoon. Is 2-3 hours realistic for the drive from Te Anau to Queenstown?

    Punakaiki. I had listed this as a rather vague Hokitika/Punakaiki because I've put off checking the tide tables until our dates are pretty firm. I've allowed 2 nights in the schedule, staying in Hokitika or Punakaiki, or 1 night each. I need to check tide schedules and figure this one out.

    RE Arthur's pass. Yes, I put the stop in so that we would have time to make some stops. It is tempting to wing this one - especially as we might want to leave Puanakaiki early if the weather is awful. Are there other good places to stop overnight between Greymouth and Christchurch if accomodations at Arthur's Pass are full?

    And a question for anyone reading this. I have one "bonus" day not in my itinerary. I had put in a night in Oamaru between Mt Cook at Dunedin. We saw fairy penquins on the piers in Melbourne a few years ago - so as I wrote up the itinerary I decided to skip the night in Oamaru and drive on to Dunedin. I didn't add that night back into the schedule. So - if you had one more day - where would you put it?

    Thanks for your comments and suggestions!

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    Gotcha - you'll definitely need that night in Christchurch with such a late arrival.

    It'll get dark around 8 pm in October, so not an major issue if you arrive by 2-3, although it is a 4 hour drive, longer with stops, so an overnight might make sense regardless. That'll leave the whole next day to get to Mount Cook, unhurried.

    Yes, the drive from Te Anau to Queenstown takes about two hours, longer with stops, so definitely realistic.

    Not a whole lot of options between Greymouth and Christchurch other than Arthur's Pass - you might find the odd independently owned place here or there. Lake Brunner is back there, but a bit of a detour for you - it's worth the detour if you have time though. There's a lodge and some accommodation there, but limited.

    You will find accommodation closer to Christchurch in places like Sheiffield, Mt Hutt Methven, but you're practically to Christchurch by then anyway.

    You might be interested in the Wilderness Lodge in Arthur's Pass - not cheap, but a special place. You'd need to book though.

    http://www.wildernesslodge.co.nz/

    As for that extra day, I'd add it to Wanaka. Plenty there to fill two full days - the drive to Mt Aspiring Nat'l Park from Wanaka with a hike or two back there can full a full day.

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    Sorry for the delay in responding, Melnq8. I'm about to leave on a trip and I still haven't packed, booked all my hotels or car rentals. I'll be up all night!

    Yes, Diamantina is a colonial town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. It was a centre of diamond mining in 18th and 19th centuries. I must have tried 10 screen names before I came across one that wasn't already in use. Hence, the obscurity. When i joined Fodor's, i just returned from a long trip to Brazil and Argentina and it just popped into my head.

    Yes, we have lived somewhat parallel lives.

    Wendy, if you're driving from Paihia to Waipoua Forest, you'll probably go by way of Hokianga Harbour. There are some boulders here similar in shape to the Moeraki Boulders that might interest you:
    http://www.itravelnz.com/listing/koutu-boulders-501f09b494881.html

    Also while in the Bay of Islands, if you drive as far north as Doubtless Bay, you might enjoy the small village of Mangonui.
    http://www.newzealand.com/int/mangonui/

    As you're interested in Maori culture, definitely visit Waitangi, a place important for both Māori and Pākehā. It's walking distance from Paihia.
    http://www.waitangi.org.nz

    You've probably noticed if you book several trips with Real Journeys at the same time then you'll get a discount. I quite understand taking advantage of the lower season Doubtful Sound fares. I did the same thing. I think you'll find that the boat is not all that crowded either, as it's not peak season.

    Are you aware you'll likely encounter biting sandflies on the West Coast of the South Island? Because of this, you might want to spend just one night in Punakaiki instead of two (they don't bite at night, but mosquitoes do). I enjoyed the Pororari River Track. Walks brochure here:
    http://www.doc.govt.nz/Documents/parks-and-recreation/tracks-and-walks/west-coast/paparoa-national-park-brochure.pdf

    Yes, while in Abel Tasman, do make a side trip to Wharariki Beach and do some walks on the way. Walks brochure here:
    http://www.doc.govt.nz/Documents/parks-and-recreation/tracks-and-walks/nelson-marlborough/walks-in-golden-bay.pdf

    You'll begin to experience Māori culture after you disembark the plane at Auckland International Airport and proceed through the carved gates en route to the arrival hall (baggage area, customs and immigration) and read the words "Haere mai" (welcome). The gates, crafted from eleven totara logs and gifted to the airport by the late Māori Queen, "takes the form of a traditional doorway and represents all the Maori tribes in New Zealand."
    And, if you’re flying in on Air New Zealand, you’ll notice the “koru” motif on its plane.

    Kiwis will often greet you with, “Kia ora” instead of “Hi.” I've read that one in 7 Kiwis identifies as Māori.

    Yes, Rotorua is touristy. Yet, more than any other place, it offers opportunities to view traditional Māori visual arts and performing arts (song, dance, chanting), and a chance to eat a hāngi meal. When my husband and I first visited Rotorua, we attended a cultural performance and hāngi (I can't remember which one it was). Neither or us enjoyed it, but we were both impressed by the carving and weaving school at Te Puia.

    While the performances in Rotorua are for tourists, these traditional cultural activities are still practiced by many Maori. Every other year, there’s a large competition for the best Kapa Haka group in New Zealand. Last year it was in Christchurch, next year it’s in Hawkes Bay.
    http://www.tematatini.co.nz/events/
    http://www.newzealand.com/int/feature/kapa-haka-maori-performance/

    Universities, such as Dunedin's University of Otago, teach Māori performing and visual arts.

    The Auckland Museum, which you'll be visiting, has an extraordinary collection of Māori taonga (treasures), from small carvings to complete buildings. The museum also offers Māori cultural performances several times a day. Maybe you’d prefer seeing a cultural performance in a museum setting, rather than one of Rotorua's cultural villages.
    http://www.aucklandmuseum.com/whats-on/maori/maori-cultural-performance.

    You will see works by contemporary Māori artists at the Auckland Art Gallery. Dunedin's Public Art Gallery always has works by Ralph Hotere on view.

    I believe the East Cape/Gisborne is the region of NZ with the largest Māori population. About 44% of the population is Māori. The drive around the East Cape is beautiful (gorgeous coastline) as well as interesting (small villages with beautifully carved maraes). Several Māori themed films were shot in this area, including Whale Rider. I don't think you'd be able to work a drive around the East Cape into your schedule.

    Here's a link to a touring map for North and South Islands:
    http://www.newzealand.com/travel/library/p23573_23.pdf
    And the drive distance calculator:
    http://www.aatravel.co.nz/main/time-distance-calculator.php

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    Thanks for all of your suggestions! Our itinerary sounds much better now - and I'm looking forward to exploring the suggested links.

    Melnq8 and Diamantina - I hope you both enjoy your trips.

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    Thanks, Wendy. I'll try!

    Here’s the link for sunrise/sunset times in NZ:
    http://rasnz.org.nz/in-the-sky/sun-rise-and-set

    Here’s the link for tide forecaster:
    https://www.niwa.co.nz/services/online-services/tide-forecaster

    Regarding the Catlins with respect to low tides, if you’re driving from Curio Bay and then continuing north (or vice versa), an interesting and scenic place to stop is Cathedral Caves. You pay $5 to park, then walk about 15 minutes through native bush to caves on the beach. The beach itself is also beautiful. However, the track and caves are only accessible two hours on either side of low tide. Cathedral Caves is only open part of the year, roughly late-October to May.
    http://www.cathedralcaves.co.nz

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