13 Days North & South Island in October (NZ Spring)

May 17th, 2016, 10:46 AM
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Join Date: Jul 2013
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13 Days North & South Island in October (NZ Spring)

We spent 13 days/12 nights on our honeymoon traveling both the North AND South Islands of New Zealand in the spring (mid to late October). Full disclosure, it was a fast paced trip up until we got to Queenstown but we made the most of our time and have very few regrets. We are fairly active and are foodies/craft beer lovers. Despite doing all the driving, (and there was a lot of it, especially on the South Island!) my husband is an avid photographer so I’ll also report a few of our favorite stops.


Day 1:
We flew into Auckland and stayed at Mecure Auckland. It was centrally located and really accessible to great shopping. There was a good continental breakfast.
- Quay Street Café (flat white, eggs benedict, and avocado toast), cool little alley around the corner with boutique shopping/more restaurants
- Pier (wood lounge chairs were available for public use, great up close views of the skyline)
- Arthur Park (this is an arboretum/botanical garden lovers dream, great perspective of Sky Tower)
- Mac’s Brewpub (quirky little spot, very relaxing place to try multiple Mac’s brews on tap)
- Seek out the Food Trucks (husband tried GoGo Mexico this night. We both had Mama Tahina the night after because we loved coming to this spot!). Husband’s beer favorites include Steinlager and Speight.

Day 2:
Waiheke Island
- The plan was to take the ferry and rent bikes to ride to explore a few wineries on the island. The bike rental was a horrible idea. We pretty much rode uphill the whole time to Cable Bay and Mudbrick. I feel like we should have known better since we were the only ones on our ferry who went to the bike stand.
- Cable Bay - walk through the front door and through the second set of doors after it and you’ll see a gorgeous view – we did a quick tasting and were on our way. Mudbrick was the real highlight of Waiheke for us.
- Mudbrick - we planned on simply having lunch here but we ended up staying for THREE hours! We had lunch in the main dining room (everything was excellent, we had the salmon and scallops), then decided to do a quick tasting. There was a little patio in front of the tasting room, but behind the tasting room were some stairs to another patio with a pretty overview of the Mudbrick restaurant and garden. Behind that patio was a set of stairs that went to a grassy hill area that had this incredible 360 view of the island. It was spectacular and well worth the trek up all those stairs while pretty well under the influence of a few glasses of wine.

Day 3:
We packed our bags and were picked up by Great Sights New Zealand to visit the Waitomo Gloworm Caves and pass through Rotorua on our way to Wellington.

- Waitomo “Glow Worm” Caves – Heartbreakingly, I feel that this was fake despite all the lists on the internet that this was a thing not to miss in New Zealand. I really don’t know what else to say I was so disappointed.

We stayed at the Rotorua Lakeside Hotel that had a great location. We were a short walk away from Lake Rotorua and Eat Streat. It smelled like eggs throughout the property obviously because of all the geothermal activity in the area, so that was the only cause of discomfort (even though it’s not the property’s fault); however, the free geo-thermal pools available to hotel guests and an actual hunk of honeycomb honey to go with your tea at breakfast were nice amenities.
- Lake Rotorua “Market” that was going on that day was a bust, it was basically a local garage sale
- BREW on Eat Streat for lunch (pizza & calamari)
- We followed the pathway to go East around the lake, it was a nice walk
- Lovely India on Eat Streat for dinner (great naan)

Day 4:
- Hobbiton - first encounters of the many adorable lambs we would see on our trip, great commentary tour, if you want souvenirs buy them right away as you only get one opportunity (this is the only place where you can buy the Hobbiton beer in the world), “free” perk of beer/beverage at end of tour – Husband’s beer favorite was the stout.
- Past Eat Streat there was a mall that I purchased mud mask packets for souvenirs for our friends/family. Highly recommend that tip if you plan on visiting Rotorua.
- Lady Jane's Ice Cream Parlour - we went here both days to sample the local delicacies - hokey pokey and goody goody gum drops. Hokey pokey was so amazing…I had it both days!
- Pig & Whistle for dinner - cozy pub feel. There was a band playing that night. fish & chips, seafood chowder

Day 5:
Flew out of Rotorua airport to Wellington. Robert Harris in the Rotorua airport has great coffee.
We stayed at the Novotel Wellington. We weren’t very centrally located since we were only staying one night, but in hindsight, I wish we had stayed here a few more days instead of Waitomo Caves/Rotorua. The hotel bar had pretty views, but not as pretty as restaurant; however if you get breakfast, you will get to take advantage of this. The rooms themselves had very contemporary décor. Lots of red.

- Wind Turbines – We had family members that were locals so they took us to this AMAZING vantage point and I couldn’t believe how close we could get to the wind turbines
- St. John’s Bar – Very cool space to just relax and chill on the bean bag chairs. Bar snack highlights included chunky fries, fried squid. We walked around the area until we got to Civic Square and it was a really enjoyable walk (although, my family said we were there on a rare day when it wasn’t windy).
- Te Papa – DO NOT MISS
- Hashigo Zake – Husband’s beer favorite included Radio Reckoner. If you’re hungry, try the meat pies
- Fork + Brewer – Cool brewpub –standard fare, and standard brews, but really cool that they brew in house and pair their beers with their food.

Day 6:
Picton Ferry
- The Ferry across the Cook Strait takes about 3 hours. Our recommendation is to get a window seat ASAP on the 2nd or 3rd floor. Resist the urge to go to the upper deck. At any time you can move about the Ferry and explore the upper deck, and the designated viewing areas on the boat. There is a snack bar on the 2nd floor, but we brought our own. Coffee/tea and scones with cream were also offered. The last 45 minutes into Picton are the most scenic on a clear day and there is a map on the upper deck to help you navigate your surroundings.

Picton to Abel Tasman
- If you’re on your way to Abel Tasman, make sure to stop in Nelson because it’s hard to find grocery stores. There’s a lot of decent shops in the town as well; we purchased some MacPac fleece here.

Ocean View Chalets
We stayed at the Abel Tasman Ocean View Chalets, just outside of Abel Tasman National Park. They were quaint, semi-private rooms with a balcony and mini-kitchen (fridge, microwave, utensils, serve ware, etc.) The property was also very remote. We could see beautiful constellations at night and woke up to sounds of the horses and birds (from I think the neighbors?). They also had a special complimentary treat of milk and cookies upon check-in. Breakfast was also quaint and felt very private. We had an array of cereals, breads, and yogurts, and the front desk staff also double dutied as chefs with your egg order…aside from their role of chef, front desk was also available to plan/book activities. In our case, we had our kayak trip planned, but we ordered a lunch from the front deck to bring along, which came in very handy! Huge thanks to Kris during our stay!

- Fat Tui – Very hip burger bar which looks like a food truck, but is definitely permanent. It is a 2 minute walk from the Ocean View Chalets. Loved the cowpat and Charlie’s straight up cola.

Day 7:
- Wilson Abel Tasman Kayak -We really enjoyed our experience. We had a small group (just me, my husband, and another couple) with our instructor, but he showed us how to use our kayaks and on the way to split apple rock (great pic op!), and we learned a little bit about the history and wildlife in the area.
- Boat ride to hike starting at the Tonga Quarry – nice 1 ½ hr hike. Little beaches, ferns galore, quite a few inclines that were challenging but cool swing bridge and shelters were available for drinking water.

Day 8:
- Didn’t see any whales in the area (definitely saw bunches seals!) but there were a lot of little shops/eateries in the area. We made ourselves a small picnic on the “beach”.

- Pegasus Bay – Made a pit stop here on the way to our hotel but what a beautiful setting to enjoy a glass of Pinot Noir! Highly recommend.

We stayed at Christchurch Hotel 115, a super cute boutique hotel overnight. A little scrunched but we had a balcony where you could see the trolley come in. Christchurch is very deeply affected by the earthquakes and we could see from the service at Christchurch Hotel just how cosmopolitan and cool this city was prior to the tragedies. Their staff was unbelievably accommodating, friendly, and helpful. The city of Christchurch, at the time of our visit, felt almost apocalyptic, but we are hoping one day we’ll be able to come back and see how Christchurch will be revitalized/rebuilt.
- Smash Palace – What seemed like a member’s only biker club turned out to be a very cool burger bar situated between two buses. Husband’s beer favorites included Panhead Supercharger.

Day 9:
We took the Tranzalpine Train from Christchurch to Greymouth. My husband initially thought the idea was hokey, but I pressed on and I’m glad we did. DO NOT MISS. The train itself has a glass roof so you have a full view and a headphone guide to narrate the route. There is an open car which was a photographer lover’s dream. We spent 70% of our ride there and only came back in to warm up/use the washrooms/grab a drink or snack etc. There is also a snack car so we were able to enjoy cheese, crackers, fruit and a glass of wine/beer.

- Not a bad place to make a pit stop. We bought green jade in this area and there are a few other gift shops on the strip. One of the shops actually let you go into the back and see the jade getting carved which was pretty cool.
- Porky’s Takeaway – fish & chips!

Franz Josef
Rainforest Retreat – we stayed in one of the “tree huts” here and I think we were under a different impression of what we actually received. This retreat reminded us of a ski town. The huts were close in proximity and clustered in one area but we made do with what we had since we were only staying one night.
Monsoon – What a fun bar! I think there were a lot of student tour groups that came through the night we were here but it was such a lively atmosphere in the bar. Really cozy with the fireplace going and had a very quaint pub feel. And a few varieties of Mac’s on tap! The restaurant was much more subdued. We enjoyed our dinner of New Zealand steak and green mussels. Great value.

Day 10:
Haast Pass
- Hard Antler – a nice pit stop before the ridiculously gorgeous drive you’re about to take (get that camera ready!). We saw a helicopter land in the helipad behind the restaurant while we were there.
- This was a challenging drive for my husband. Not only were we driving on the opposite side of the road but we were also navigating different altitudes and mountain driving. However, the shots and views were very rewarding.

We stayed at Brown’s Boutique and this was one of our favorite places. Great location with a short walk downtown. GORGEOUS views from the corner room. They had a little sitting area with magazines and games and you could “rent” movies from their collection. There was also a little binder of personal restaurant/activity recommendations in their sitting area which was really helpful. There was a bit of a B&B feel to this place, as we had breakfast every morning with the other guests. (Seriously, every breakfast was delicious – thank you Joanie!) And there was a nice little patio outside to enjoy a good book and the sun on a nice day.

Day 11 &13:
- Luge – another idea of mine that my husband thought was hokey but was really fun! The price included the gondola ride. The views were incredible! It looked like a painting!
- Atlas Beer Café – Husband really liked this place. It was very cozy inside but there was outdoor seating too. Emerson’s on tap and sazerac cookies.
- The Cow – Another cozy spot, you sat with strangers at this pizza & spaghetti house. DO NOT MISS the garlic bread. We also tried the fish pizza of our tablemates and that was surprisingly delicious!
- The Bunker – Not really worth the hype. Food wasn’t memorable but they had fun cocktails (Strawberry shortcake!)
- Empanada Kitchen – Go early and DO NOT MISS. Buy one of everything, seriously
- Fergburger – Didn’t wait too long but definitely overpriced. I had the fergburger w/blue cheese
- Ferg’s bakery – Boston cream doughnut, Almond croissant

Day 12:
The highlight of our trip - Real Journeys Milford Mariner overnight.
It really is quite a long trek overall but totally worth every penny. A driver came and picked us up and took us to the Real Journeys office. From there, we drove about 1 ½ hr to make a pit stop at a local café for coffee and snacks. You could take pictures here too.
I believe the next 2 hours you’re on your way to the Fiordlands. It’s really hard to describe what you see but you see multiple vantage points of The Remarkables; pass through multiple scenery changes from flatlands to rainforest climates, into valleys. I think at some point our bus driver (who narrates during the drive) said 5% of the world’s population live at one of the latitude lines we crossed. So at that point, I know I felt pretty fortunate to have the opportunity to do this. You might be tempted to take pictures in the bus but don’t. Just enjoy the views. Eventually the driver will make a few pull offs and you’ll be able to get jaw-dropping pictures. Going back to feeling fortunate, at one point we were able to fill up our water bottles with glacier water. Water...straight from a glacier! The one tip I appreciated was our driver telling us at a stop off to put down our phones, not say a word, and just take in our surroundings and a moment to realize just how small we are in the world. So amazing.

Once we arrived at the Visitor’s center we boarded the Milford Mariner for the overnight. It was raining that afternoon/night so in all honesty it wasn’t the most pleasant but we had a nice cabin with a window and private bathroom/shower. You were able to take advantage of water activities (small boat ride to an animal adventure- our groups saw penguins, kayaking) but we passed on both. At night there was an assigned seated dinner and I feel like your tablemates were picked with intention (families, honeymooners, groups, etc.). And cash bar! Husband’s beer favorites include Monteith Pilsner. The next morning, we woke up to an overcast day but the sky cleared up eventually and we were able to see God’s honeymoon gift to us. The rain from the waterfalls the day prior generated multiple waterfalls across the sound against this beautiful blue sky. It was truly a breathtaking experience that we’ll never forget.

Day 14:
Queenstown airport
- Airspresso – Iced coffee (super decadent!) Steak & Mushroom pie
- Bought some pineapple lumps as a souvenir and started thinking of the next time we’ll be back in NZ!
heythererena is offline  
May 18th, 2016, 02:02 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Enjoyed your report heythererena, sounds like you had a fabulous trip.

FYI - there are 2-3 grocery stores in Motueka, which you pass through on your way to Abel Tasman
Melnq8 is online now  
May 18th, 2016, 02:56 PM
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I'm curious why you found the Waitomo Caves "fake". Could you elaborate? What were you expecting and how did it not live up?
deSchenke is offline  
May 18th, 2016, 07:41 PM
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Thanks for posting your trip report! We leave for the South Island tomorrow.

Lee Ann
ElendilPickle is offline  
May 28th, 2016, 08:10 AM
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yes, thanks for the great report of what sounds like an outstanding trip. We had 14 nights on the SI but there is still a lot left for us to see.
annhig is offline  
Jun 13th, 2016, 02:36 AM
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Thanks for the report, it was a great read and it really makes me want to go back! I did a gap year in New Zealand several years ago now and had a great time with this company http://www.smallerearth.com/uk/new-z...r-new-zealand/ such a great experience.

I am looking at heading back over there in a couple of years for around 6 months- if anyone has any advice on doing it independently, then I would love to hear from you.

edwardphelan is offline  
Jun 13th, 2016, 04:34 AM
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Most of us here on Fodor's are independent travelers Edward. We'd be glad to help. Just start a new thread when you're ready to start planning.
Melnq8 is online now  
Jun 15th, 2016, 12:26 AM
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Thank you ever so much!
edwardphelan is offline  
Jun 17th, 2016, 12:46 PM
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heythererena is offline  
Jun 17th, 2016, 12:47 PM
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Melnq8: Now that you mention it, we did stop for groceries in Motueka and thankfully we did! Our dinner that night was ham sandwiches and beer. Forgot the name of the grocery store but they had a great beer/wine selection!
heythererena is offline  
Jun 17th, 2016, 12:49 PM
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ElendilPickle: Hope you have a great trip! We loved the South Island the best!
heythererena is offline  
Jun 17th, 2016, 12:53 PM
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deSchenke: Our Waitomo Caves excursion felt fake from the offset. We got yelled at for having cameras because of the lights that would "distract" the worms but our tour guide had no issue shining a flashlight at a small section of glow worms. I hope the glow worms are real though, maybe they're just not located in this cave.
heythererena is offline  
Jun 17th, 2016, 04:47 PM
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Hmmm okay. Too commercial? And you didn't like you couldn't take photos - but they'd be available for sale at the giftshop? I get that. Maybe not "fake", but too touristy and commercial. ??

We've seen glowworms at several caves: Waipu, Abbey, Rokokoputuna. More for the caving experience, but they were still there at Clifden Cave. And we took a privately guided tour near Waitomo (sadly, he's no longer in business). We've also seen glowworms along walks behind a farmstay along Queen Charlotte Drive and did the kayak/glowworm tour at Tauranga.

I wouldn't describe any of these experiences as "fake". They were all highlights of our trips! We've never been or done the Waitomo Caves, so just curious.
deSchenke is offline  
Jun 17th, 2016, 04:49 PM
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And I forgot to mention this in my first reply... but the trip that was near Waitomo (Te Kuiti) by the private guide, showed us how to photograph glowworms and gave us general instruction on cave photography. It was fantastic!
deSchenke is offline  
Jun 17th, 2016, 05:09 PM
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Great trip report - thanks so much!
Bokhara2 is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2016, 01:21 PM
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Enjoyed your helpful TR very much.
Adelaidean is online now  
Jun 26th, 2016, 10:04 AM
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Hi everyone, off topic question , for this kind of trip , would u recommend taking a suitcase or a backpack?
webrahul is offline  
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