14 days in NZ - 1st timers, help with itinerary

Nov 9th, 2019, 06:26 PM
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14 days in NZ - 1st timers, help with itinerary

We're going to New Zealand February 26-March 14, so about 2.5 weeks. We arrive in Auckland early on the morning of February 28 and plan to hop another quick flight down to Nelson and start our road trip from there (or somewhere else on the South Island, haven't bought this flight yet, depending on what our itinerary ends up). We will be flying out of Auckland back to the US on the evening of March 14. We've heard we would get choice anxiety when planning our trip, and we are definitely there. We want to spend most/all of our time on the South Island. The main places we want to hit are the following:
  • Nelson/Abel Tasman/Marlborough
  • The West Coast
  • Arthur's Pass
  • Mount Cook
  • Wanaka
  • Queenstown
  • Milford Sound/Fjordland National Park
  • Franz Josef/Fox Glacier (on the fence)
Trying to map this out has proven difficult due to the length of time needed to drive to some of these places. On the map, they look so close, but may actually be a five hour drive! For first timers to New Zealand, any guidance would be much appreciated on what we can't miss, what can be saved for next time (already planning to go back and we haven't even been!), and the best way to hit most of these places. We want to hit up most of the big things, but also like off the beaten path, less touristy, destinations.

After a few passes at this, we thought this might be a decent route: Nelson>West Coast> Franz/Fox Glaciers>Wanaka>Mount Cook>Queenstown>Milford>Queenstown, then fly back to Auckland. But that misses Arthur Pass.

Any recommendations to hit all our must haves are appreciated, or any recommendations on what we should leave out and those things that can't be missed!

Thank you, thank you in advance!
kdg2990 is offline  
Nov 10th, 2019, 07:18 AM
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As you've discovered, its near impossible to see both the north and south ends of the SI in two weeks. One really needs three.

I'm confused about how many days you'll have on the ground, as 14 days isn't 2.5 weeks. Please clarify.

If 14 days, I suggest you make a quasi figure eight loop - for example traveling from Christchurch over Arthur's Pass down the West Coast to the glaciers, then on to Wanaka, Te Anau (excellent base for Milford) then back to Queenstown, up to Mount Cook and then back to Christchurch for departure (or in reverse).

This will give you the most bang for your buck, but you'll need to leave Nelson and the north of the SI for your next trip.

There are two main routes on the SI that lead south - the West Coast, and the inland route via Lindis Pass. There are two main ways to cross from east to west - Arthur's Pass and Lewis Pass. There are only so many ways to get from Point A to Point B, which adds to the driving distances as you've discovered.

In all my trips to the SI, I've found that flying into and out of Christchurch works best.

As far as being on the fence about the glaciers - if you travel down the West Coast, you will drive right through Fox and Franz Josef. It makes a good stopping place if nothing else, as there are very few other options between there and Wanaka. Unless one is arriving at the glaciers from Hokitika, it generally takes a full day to reach the glaciers and a full day to drive from the glaciers to Wanaka or QT, so it makes sense to spend at least a night there, even if not interested in the glaciers. FWIW, the West Coast is my favorite drive on the entire SI and a highlight. And that's just the drive!

As for your proposed itinerary - Neson>West Coast> Franz/Fox Glaciers>Wanaka>Mount Cook>Queenstown>Milford>Queenstown, then fly back to Auckland. But that misses Arthur Pass.

This route is doable, but will involve some backtracking.

Last edited by Melnq8; Nov 10th, 2019 at 07:24 AM.
Melnq8 is offline  
Nov 10th, 2019, 08:48 AM
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To clarify, we will have 14 days on the ground on the South Island.

I like this route! I see your point that flying in and out of Christchurch will work best.

Do you see any way to spend time in Nelson/Abel Tasman area? We're travelling for our honeymoon and want to have a day or two of beach time before moving on to the mountains, glaciers and fjords. Sounds like we will definitely have to forgo one of the other destinations on our list if we want to make time in the Nelson area work. Do you have any thoughts on how we could do that, and what we would need to give up?
kdg2990 is offline  
Nov 10th, 2019, 10:59 AM
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Well, you might consider Christchurch-Nelson or another area closer to Abel Tasman, which I'd personally recommend. Keep in mind this is a long drive and there's quite a lot to see en route, so you might want to split it up.

Then from Nelson/Abel Tasman area you could head towards the West Coast via Murchison and then work your way south. I'd suggest breaking this drive up in Punakaiki.

Then head down the West Coast towards the glaciers and continue on the above itinerary from there, perhaps flying back to Christchurch from Queentown. Or try to make the loop back to Christchurch from QT, but you're really going to be pressed for time and will spend a lot of your time in the car,

Or cross back from the West Coast at Arthur's Pass, then head south towards Mount Cook, and then on to Wanaka, Te Anau and Queenstown, perhaps flying back to Christchurch from QT. You'd see some of the West Coast this way, but would miss the glaciers.
Melnq8 is offline  
Nov 11th, 2019, 07:07 AM
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Definitely skip the glaciers, in no way a must see and there are glaciers all over the world. The coastline north and south of Punakaiki should not be missed and Iíd recommend that over the glaciers.

Nelson is a fun town to walk around in, and Abel Tasman is equal to Te Anau/Milford with scenery and nice beaches so if you want to substitute feel free. Look at the various boat access options with overnighting in tent or hut.

Famous places in NZ are unpleasantly crowded these days so finding you own places (like Mt Sunday) makes a nice break. Try for half your time in less well known places.

The airport in Queenstown will probably serve your needs better than the one in Christchurch, and that city can be skipped anyway.

Edit: re-reading above, note that there are MANY daily large jet nonstops between Auckland and Queenstown. Flying Queenstown to Christchurch doesnít make sense. Queenstown and Nelson can be purchased as extra legs on one ticket open jaw North America>>Auckland>>Nelson then Queenstown>>Auckland>>North America on either airnz.com or United.com. This one-way itinerary with no days lost in Auckland or Christchurch gives you a more relaxed 2 weeks.

Transferring international to domestic at Auckland is a cumbersome process involving both an ag inspection, a mandatory re-check of bags at the check in counter with new luggage tags just like starting a new flight would be, and a 15 minute open-air walk or bus ride to the domestic terminaló you need at least 3 hours.

Last edited by tom_mn; Nov 11th, 2019 at 07:37 AM.
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Nov 11th, 2019, 10:14 AM
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We're going to skip the glaciers
Appreciate the info on the flights! We are planning on flying from Queenstown, back to Auckland and back to the US. We couldn't get a flight direct into Christchurch anyways. We'll look into just adding Nelson onto our the end of arrival flights, great idea.
Any other recommendations on worthwhile, less busy/less touristy destinations we should hit?
kdg2990 is offline  
Nov 11th, 2019, 10:19 AM
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Melnq8 thanks for the advice, this really helped us determine where we should hit. Going to skip the glaciers altogether to give us time in Abel Tasman, then cut inland at Punakaiki over Arthur's Pass. At the end flying back to Auckland via Queenstown!
kdg2990 is offline  
Nov 11th, 2019, 02:12 PM
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Just an FYI that you can't cut inland at Punakaiki, but rather south of Greymouth, which is about 45 minutes from Punakaiki.
Melnq8 is offline  
Nov 13th, 2019, 07:20 PM
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tom_mn Melnq8 Punakaiki to Mount Cook is a dauntingly long drive, any recs on places to stop to break it up? Something off the touristy beaten path?
kdg2990 is offline  
Nov 13th, 2019, 08:54 PM
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i donít think it is so far, maybe 6 hours? We stayed in Geraldine (and drove all the way to Nelson via Arthurís pass in one day). Geraldine is a nice little town known for jams or candles or something.

Look for a place near Mt Sunday or Ashburton Lakes since itís very scenic and not touristy. Also in this area are some big totola trees at Peel forest Discover Peel Forest - ancient native bush just 15 mins from Geraldine
quick walk near highway, very impressive.

Due to heavy rain we improvised and drove to Timaru which is somewhat interesting, thereís a small penguin colony and some Maori rock paintings at Frenchmanís Gully Road, free, you will be the only ones there.

Only mentioning some of these things because itís a pretty and interesting country and you donít have to just tick off touristy Instagram sites one after the other.
tom_mn is online now  
Nov 14th, 2019, 07:45 AM
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Yes, you'd definitely want to break up the Punakaiki to Mount Cook drive, which is about 6.5 hours without stops, and there are lots of reasons to stop.

Possible overnight locations - Arthur's Pass (limited accommodation options, but lots of nice hikes and a great visitor's center). Staying in Arthurs Pass would trim two hours of the next days drive to Mount Cook.

Or if you take the back way to Mount Cook (via 77/73, which I highly recommend), you could overnight at one of the small country towns (Darfield, Methven), or the larger town of Ashburton.

I like Geraldine too, which we've stayed in a few times - its about two hours from Mount Cook so would shorten the drive from Punakaiki as well.
Melnq8 is offline  
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