15 nights in New Zealand

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Apr 17th, 2018, 03:58 PM
  #1
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15 nights in New Zealand

This is a trip my husband and I have been wanting to take for years. We will be in NZ from 12/17-1/1. We love to hike - not tramp - day hikes work for us -3-6 hours, plan on doing a little kayaking, lots of taking in the views and the beauty, taking in the local vibes - I know that's tough as this is big tourist season and we'll be right in the middle of it. We just don't want to do the same things everyday. Not sure of the full itinerary yet but would love your input.
So far:
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland 6:30PM Sleep Auckland
Day 2 Visit Waiheke Island, tour Auckland, Sleep Auckland
Day 3 - flight to Nelson - stay in Nelson
Day 4 - day trip to Abel Tasman - take ferry, do hike, kayak, overnight in Mapua
Day 5 - drive to Punakaiki - hike rocks, drive south and stay near Greymouth -2 nights
Day 6 - Greymouth area
Day 7 - drive to Franz Josef - 2 nights
Day 8 - Franz Josef
Day 9 - drive to Lake Moeraki 2 nights
Day 10 Lake Moeraki
Day 11- Drive to Lake Wanaki 2night
Day 12 Lake Wanaki
Day 13-15 Drive to Queenstown- stay 3 nights
Day 16 - Fly to Auckland to home

Does this sound feasible - too much driving any one day? Are there places I should consider swapping out for something else? We plan on doing a hell hiking tour - are these worth it? If so, any recommendations. Plan on doing the fly/cruise/fly to Milford sound - again is this worth it - I know it's beautiful there but the thought of being on a boat with 50-75 people doesn't sound that appealing - not that "intimate."

We planned the trip this way so we could be in Queenstown for New Year's. Would we be better off saving our Auckland days for the end and spend New Year's there? We are a couple in our 60's so we're not partying way into the wee hours of the morning. But heard that there might be more fun and more to do in Queenstown New Year's. Any thoughts on this?

Also, is there an area where we could go biking - not mountain biking - not super hilly but could do 25-30 miles easily.

I know there will be lots more questions but your help here would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks.
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Apr 17th, 2018, 04:13 PM
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Hike = tramp, same thing.

Day 4 - by ferry I assume you mean water taxi? I wouldn't break up Nelson and Mapua for overnights - they're not that far apart and you'll lose precious time switching accommodation. One night stays can be much more trouble than they're worth.

Why Greymouth? Not that much on offer for tourists - have you considered Hokitika instead?


Heli-hikes are only 'worth it' if the weather is ideal. Do be aware that they get cancelled more often than not due to poor weather.

There are cruises in Milford that cater to smaller groups. Pancake Rocks isn't really hiking - just an easy paved stroll. There are some fabulous tracks in the area, but you'll be hard pressed to do much hiking-wise as you'll be driving quite a distance that day.

There's a network of biking trails in the Otago area (near Queenstown). Details here:

https://www.nzcycletrail.com/explore-trails/
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Apr 17th, 2018, 07:27 PM
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Hi nycmary,
Just got back from NZ. Agree w/ Melnq, stay in Nelson or Mapua but not both. We stayed in Nelson I think there will be more to do there on your first night. Also a drive from Abel Tasman to Punakaiki is about 4 hrs. if you hardly stop. Some of it is pretty curvy. I would suggest taking your time and staying in Punakaiki. IMO Punakaiki, Greymouth and Hokitika are stops on the way to Franz Josef not destinations in themselves. Take your time across SH6 maybe detour to Lake Rotoiti then see the Pancake Rocks and head right to Franz Josef the nezxt day. Also why Lake Moeraki? I drove by there a month ago, don't really remember it. Franz Josef to Wanaka could be about 5 - 6 hours if you stop at Lake Matheson. Lake Moeraki is probably only an hour out of Franz Josef.
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Apr 18th, 2018, 03:48 AM
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I agree, skip Greymouth. One night in Punakaiki or Hokitika would be a better choice and easier than driving all the way from Mapua or Nelson to Franz Josef. Hokitika is way larger and has more services than Punakaiki. Hokitika has pounamu (jade) shops, restaurants and a supermarket, the National Kiwi Centre, a free glow worm dell you can visit after dark (or you can go during the day, but you won't see glow worms), the nearby Hokitika Gorge and Lake Kaniere loop drive, and the West Coast Treetops walk. It's also closer to Franz Josef. It'll take you 1 hour, 40 minues to drive from Hokitika to Franz Josef.
Hokitika Gorge Walk: Walking and tramping in Hokitika Gorge Scenic Reserve
Hokitika West Coast New Zealand, the cool little town
Wildlife Sanctuary & Kiwi Experience - The National Kiwi Centre
Welcome to the West Coast | Treetop Walkway & Café

Two nights Lake Moeraki. Will you be staying at the Wilderness Lodge? I've not stayed there, but I think Melnq8 has. Are you aware that the West Coast of the South Island is favorite haunt of the notorious sandfly? They're not always around and not active at night, but when they're around, you'll want to run and hide. They're slow, so if you're walking you can usually outrun them. Insect repellent is a must. They don't carry disease, they just bite, leaving marks that sometimes itch and swell.
https://www.stuff.co.nz/travel/trave...-its-yearround
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/trave...dfly-89681424/

If using Queenstown as a base to visit Milford Sound, consider coach-cruise-fly. Because the drive is scenic. For many, the drive becomes the highight of their trip. Consider doing the Milford Sound overnight trip. At capacity, Real Journey's Milford Wanderer only accommodates 36 people, not so many that you'd feel claustrophobic, but enough so you could enjoy some interesting conversations with fellow travelers. The Milford Mariner is a larger boat that accommodates 60 people, but it gives you a chance to kayak for an hour or so (which won't that appealing if it's raining, but wonderful if it's not). You'll spend the night on Milford Sound when no one else is there. If the night is clear, you'll be treated to spectacular stargazng (if the moon is not full).
https://www.realjourneys.co.nz/en/ex...ses/more-info/
https://www.realjourneys.co.nz/en/ex...night-cruises/

Another popular option is to self-drive, using Te Anau as a base. Te Anau is a small town on Lake Te Anau with good accommodation and restaurants, walking tracks, and a major glow worm attraction (boat ride across Te Anau to another boat ride through underground caves festooned with glow worms). Self-driving offers you the option of going at your own pace, on your own, and stopping when and where you like for photos and walks. I recommend two nights in Te Anau, if you choose this option, before and after your Milford Road drive and Milford Sound cruise. Here's more about MIlford Road:
Milford Road tips for drivers: Plan and prepare
http://www.doc.govt.nz/Documents/par...-factsheet.pdf
Of course, spending two nights in Te Anau would only be possible if you dropped two nights elsewhere (one of these could be Greymouth).

A portion of the drive from Queenstown to Te Anau (the Devil's Staircase along Lake Wakitipu) is also scenic.
https://www.queenstownnz.co.nz/stori...in-queenstown/

Plan on making a half day or full-day trip to Glenorchy while in Queenstown. Given your itinerary, if you'd like to cycle, your best bet is to do a trip with one of the Queenstown operators, You'd cycle out and then they pick you up when done.
https://www.queenstownnz.co.nz/thing...ng/bike-tours/

I actually like the idea of connecting to the South Island after arriving in NZ, but if you are arriving at 6:30 p.m., this is not practical. Where are you flying in from? Most flights from mainland USA arrive early morning. Flights from Hawaii might arrive early evening.

I haven't spent NYE in Queenstown, but it is a popular NYE destination.
https://theculturetrip.com/pacific/n...n-new-zealand/
Here's Auckland's Sky City New Year's Eve (not been there on NYE either):
Kiwis celebrate a new year: 2018 - NZ Herald
https://theculturetrip.com/pacific/n...d-new-zealand/
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Apr 18th, 2018, 05:51 AM
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Tdiddy -

Lake Moeraki is home to Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge - you've not have seen it from the road. It's a wonderful spot - google and you'll know for next time.

Diamantina - Yes, we stayed at Lake Moeraki on our first visit to the SI many moons ago - it was a highlight and a memorable experience. I've not stayed there for years, but would happily do so again (it's a real budget buster).
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Apr 18th, 2018, 07:44 AM
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Oh, I figured there had to something that I was missing. We missed Hokitika because it was pouring rain! Also nycmary, I remember we left Nelson at 11AM because we went to Queens Gardens and the Suter Art Gallery. If you left Nelson earlier, you could easily take a leisure drive over SH6, maybe stop at Nelson Lakes, see the Pancake Rocks and make it to Hokitika.
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Apr 18th, 2018, 07:53 AM
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ncymary,
Two other things as I re-read your post. Waikeke is almost a full day if you want it. Not much time to explore Auckland. I liked Auckland, but liked Waiheke more. It will be the first experience of the beauty of NZ. Again, completely agree with Diamantina, that the drive to Milford Sound is half the fun. We did an O/N in Te Anau and got a early start toward Milford and took the Wanderer overnite trip. It was the best. Then I guess you could fly back. Sounds like budget may not be an issue. We drove Wanaka to Te Anau, not a bad drive and caught Queenstown on the way back. Are you leaving your car in Queenstown?
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Apr 18th, 2018, 03:01 PM
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Thanks everyone. Based on all your recommendations, I have switched things up a bit.:
Day 1- stay in Auckland overnight (we arrive 6:30PM)
Day 2 - fly to Queenstown, rent a car and drive to Te Anau
Day 3 Te Anau
Day 4 drive to queenstown stay 3 nights
Day 5 Queenstown
Day 6 Queenstown
Day 7 drive to Lake Wanaka
Day 8 Lake Wanake
Day 9 Drive to Franz Josef
Day 10 Franz Josef
Day 11 Drive to Punakiaki rocks, stay in area
Day 12 drive to Nelson
Day 13 Nelson (Abel Tasman hikes)
Day 14 ?
Day 15 Auckland

My question is should I stay in Nelson 1 more night or somewhere else - I think Picton/Blenheim are far for just an overnight. Also, are 3 days in Queenstown too much? If so, I can add another day somewhere else. Thanks again everyone - great help!
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Apr 18th, 2018, 04:11 PM
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Have you considered just going on to Queenstown from Auckland once your arrive? It'll free up that night and you're going to be wrecked either way.

We always just keep going - allows us to wake up fresh at our destination even though that last flight can be pretty tortuous after the big flight - at least the flying is done that way. I'm not encouraging you to drive upon arrival in Queenstown though, but if you can arrange a shuttle to your transport, then return to the airport the following day to collect your rental car - food for thought anyway. Otherwise I suggest you look into staying at the Auckland Airport Novotel - you just walk across the street and you're there. Easy and convenient - then walk back across to the airport for your flight to QT the next day.

I assume your plan is to spend your Te Anau day driving to Milford?

Nooo, three nights in QT is not too much - loads to do in the area. Three nights is only two full days. The time will fly.

I'd add that extra night to Nelson or whatever your Abel Tasman base might be. You won't regret it.

I think you're on the right track.
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Apr 18th, 2018, 04:32 PM
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Melnq8, I don't know if there are late night flights from Auckland to Queenstown. NYCmary will arrive 6:30 p.m. and then have to go through immigration, pick up luggage and then go through customs, so the connecting flight would have to be around 8:30 p.m. or later. If the weather is clear, this flight can be scenic during the day.

I agree with Melnq8, you can easily spend another day in Queenstown or Wanaka. Queenstown will be pretty busy at this time of year, Wanaka less so, but busy, too. But lots to do in both. If you have a nice Lake Wakitipu and Remarkables view room in Queenstown, and the weather is fine, it's very easy to just sit out on your balcony or terrace and stare at the view. Wanaka has some wonderful walks, if you don't mind walking up steep slopes, because I think most of them are steep. The drive out Mt. Aspiring Road into the Matukituki Valley is beautiful, though some cars are prohibited from traveling on the unpaved portion beyond the Treble Cone turnoff. But you don't have to go that far on it.

Melnq8, glad to know my memory has not failed me. I thought I'd read your comments about the Wilderness Lodge. I've checked out their rates. Sadly, it's out of my price range. But I'm sure it is a memorable palce. How were the sandflies?
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Apr 19th, 2018, 01:09 AM
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NYCMary, to add to my earlier response, in Queenstown, you can enjoy the city itself, walk around the Botanic Garden and its lakeside path, take a cruise onto Lake Wakitipu, or ride the Skyline Gondola for a great view from the top. You could explore the shops, have a drink or meal by the lake. There's also a walking path from the top of the Gondola, the Ben Lomond Track, but I can't comment on it as the weather was inhospitably rainy and grey both times I've taken the Gondola, but the Dept. of Conservation website describes it as a "demanding climb". FYI: In NZ, a trail is called a "track".
https://www.realjourneys.co.nz/en/ex...mship-cruises/
https://www.realjourneys.co.nz/en/ex...et-bbq-dinner/

Again, I recommend a drive to the small community of Glenorchy, which is a 45-minute drive from Queenstown along Lake Wakitipu. In fine weather, this drive is breathtaking. Glenorchy has a lagoon boardwalk. There are severals tracks beyond Glenorchy. If you feel like a gentle walk though native beech forest, continue along this road to the Lake Sylvan Track. The track is nearly level, or gently rolling, and well-maintained. The forest floor is dotted with patches of green moss. After walking 1.5 hours, you'll reach Lake Sylvan. You might also see rare native birds in this area. You'll definitely hear them.
Glenorchy Walkway: Walking and tramping in Glenorchy area
Lake Sylvan Track: Walking and tramping in Mount Aspiring National Park

Arrowtown is about a 20-minute drive from Queenstown. This is an historic gold mining town that was also home to a small related Chinese settlement. The town center is touristy, but these businesses are housed in the original buildings that date back to the Gold Rush era (1860s). Arrowtown is spectacular in autumn (right now) and holds an annual Autumn Festival. There are some nice restaurants in Arrowtown, but one of NZ's best restaurants is about half-way between Queenstown and Arrowtown, Amisfield Bistro at Amisfield Winery. You didn't mention wanting to go wine tasting, so perhaps you don't drink wine, but if you enjoy fine dining, you'll want to make a reservation for Amisfield.
Then & Now » Arrowtown
http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/otago/places/arrowtown-area/things-to-do/arrowtown-chinese-settlement/

https://amisfield.co.nz/bistro/

If you do drink wine, the wineries of Central Otago are close to Queenstown, with Amisfield and those of Gibbston Valley being the closest. Gibbston Valley is also home to NZ's original bungy jump, the Kawarau Bridge Bungy, where you can watch people jump. There aren't many wineries in Gibbston Valley, but they're beautiful, with Chard Farm probably being the prettiest (the short road to it is an adventure in and of itself).
The Farm » Chard Farm

I enjoyed the Skippers Canyon tour, which picked me up from central Queenstown. In the 1860s, gold was discovered in Central Otago. The Shotover River, which flows through Skippers Canyon, was then one of the richest gold-bearing rivers in the world. The drive into Skippers Canyon is a bit of an adventure. The road is narrow and rental cars are prohibited from driving it, however the scenery is spectacular. The story behind this road is also interesting. On some tours, you'll enjoy a fun Shotover River jet boat ride.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skippe...aori_Point.jpg
https://www.skipperscanyonjet.co.nz/...jet-boat-tour/

Last edited by Diamantina; Apr 19th, 2018 at 01:16 AM.
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Apr 19th, 2018, 08:12 AM
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Hi everyone: Again, great suggestions. Diamantina I am in awe of your thorough knowledge of the country and the many links that I find so helpful! We do drink and love wine, Initially I thought we would forgo the wineries as we have visited many not only in the US but in Argentina and Chile, France, and Italy. However, if we have the time, I'm sure we'll have a drink.Your suggestions around Queenstown sound great and I'm sure we'll fill our time with wonderful adventures. Thank you.

What I have found in making reservations in Wanaka is that it's VERY crowded Christmas - which is when I'll be there. Finding accommodations was not easy but I was able to find a place. Further north in Nelson it doesn't seem to be that difficult. What I'm thinking of doing is staying an extra night in Nelson, use it to drive around the lake or perhaps take another hike in Abel Tasman. If Picton drive is not too far then we might go there for the day - and try some of that wine I've heard so much about. What I'm trying to decide is whether to stay in Mapua - as it's nearer Tasman or stay in Nelson in case we decide to go to Picton.

Melnq8 - We are planning on driving to Milford on our full day in Te Anau. I have been reading about the short cruises - 1-1/2 hour ones - and although they are beautiful I'm just wondering if I could spend the time better some other way - hiking. Anyone has thoughts on this? We don't plan on an overnight cruise - I'm not one to spend hours on a boat, too confining and too sedentary.

tdiddy12: One of the decisions I have to make is whether to stay the 3rd night in Nelson or fly to auckland and spend the next day on Waiheke. My question is: will I need a car there to explore it or will we have as good a time without one? Wasn't planning on renting a car for just the one day. And, always with FOMO on my mind - is it worth the trip and car rental if I need it so as not to miss anything? Otherwise we plan on flying out of Nelson on the 31st and have the rest of that day and the entire next day in town- our flight out is 10:30PM on Jan 1. Is that too much time there? Should we consider going the 30th and renting a car?

Also, I know it's way early (not for making room reservations as I've already learned) for making tour reservations but I did want to tee up a few places we might look into and use as we get a little closer. Any heli/hike companies you have experienced and liked or that I should avoid? Milford cruise?

I know I'll be back to you all with questions on what to see on our way from one place to another so I thank you all for your help.
I know this trip will be fantastic! Thanks again!!
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Apr 19th, 2018, 08:18 AM
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One more question. As we arrive in Auckland at 6:30 and probably won't get out of the airport til 8:30 I thought we would stay at the airport. However, it seems such a shame to waste an evening at an airport hotel. Is it crazy to go into town, have a nice meal and stay there only to have to go back to the airport the following morning? I can take a flight at 9:30 or 10:30AM - how long does it take to go to/from the airport? And how much would this trip cost in a taxi? Thanks.
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Apr 19th, 2018, 09:06 AM
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nycmary -
Given your new adjustment to your trip, which will be fabulous, I would spend an extra night in Nelson. Waikeke is great, if you did go, I would say rent a car, Fuller's has a package called Wheels on Waiheke, but I think with the traveling you are doing you are better staying in the SI, IMO. Waiheke is great but as I think back on it, it was the contrast between Auckland and the island that was part of its charm. Given all that you are going to see, and I don't say this lightly, you can probably miss Waikeke. There are a number of wineries around Nelson, I would stay local. After all the driving you are going to do, take a breath, decompress. Also I would take a day cruise in the Milford Sound. It is worth it.
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Apr 19th, 2018, 09:08 AM
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The bus trip took us about 40 minutes from the airport into downtown Auckland. You're going to hit a wall about 10PM, anyways, I might stay at the airport and get a good jump on the next day. Taxi would probably be quicker not sure of the cost
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Apr 19th, 2018, 10:06 AM
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Good point Diamantina - forgot about the scenery factor on the flight to QT. Our stay at Lake Moeraki was back in the early 90's, but yes, I still remember those freaking sandflies. Some things never change.

FYI - a return lunch at Amisfield was high on my list for our upcoming trip, but I've contacted them and they only offer their Trust the Chef menu these days - not going to work for this PITA picky eater. I've booked Mt Difficulty though, curious to see if it's still good since the handover.

nycmary - there aren't any walks in Milford - just a short stroll around the wharf. There are however, loads of walking opportunities along Milford Road, and if you plan well and drive yourself, you can easily incorporate these into your Milford Day and still take a cruise.

I always suggest people head to Milford very early, arriving before the bus traffic (they usually get there around 11 am), take a cruise and then spend the rest of the day exploring the tracks along Milford Road on the way back to Te Anau. Days are long in summer and you'll be going opposite of the majority of the traffic.

Or, take your time getting to Milford, walk along the way (the hike to Key Summit is a great one - take a picnic lunch) and then take a late afternoon cruise. You'll be rolling up the streets on your way out but will still get back to Te Anau in time for a late dinner.

I have several trip reports here regarding the walks along Milford Road, but the DOC website will tell you all you need to know.

Milford Road/Milford Sound area: Fiordland National Park
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Apr 19th, 2018, 10:07 AM
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Thanks Tdiddy12. I think I came to the same conclusion as you regarding Nelson. 40 minutes sounds too long after our flights to drive into Auckland. Probably airport is the best bet. Too bad. As for the Milford cruise - yes, I think I agree with you - especially since we will be making the trip all the way out there, why not do it all. Thanks for your suggestions.
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Apr 19th, 2018, 10:17 AM
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Fantastic tramping info Melnq8. We were planning on going early to try to beat the buses but never thought of taking an afternoon cruise instead. That might be nice and most likely less crowded as well. Just took a look at your travel logs - Wow is all I can say. Working my way through them I found the one that detailed a trip you planned for your brother -somewhat similar to ours - a kind of "best of". Will definitely follow your suggestion. Thanks!
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Apr 19th, 2018, 10:38 AM
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Excellent, nycmary, hope they help.
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Apr 19th, 2018, 08:32 PM
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NYCMary, don't miss doing the Milford Cruise. The fiord is a small gem. In wet weather, it might be a little grey and cloudy but waterfalls tumble down its sides. In sunny weather, I can't even describe how pretty it is. You might see some wildlife on the fiord, NZ fur seals, possibly bottlenose dolphins, albatrosses or Fiordland crested penguins.
The days are long in late December. In mid-December the sun will rise before 6 a.m. and set at 9:30 p.m.! If starting off early from Te Anau, you can easily drive to Milford Sound (2 hours without stops, but stop briefly at Mirror Lakes), catch a morning cruise on Milford Sound (2 hours or so), and then walk Key Summit (3 hours return) on your way back to Te Anau. You'll also want to do the short walk to The Chasm.
You wouldn't be gaining much spending your first night in Auckland's city center. Just get a good night's rest near the airport and save on the costs of getting into the city. I like the Auckland area very much but the downtown area (CBD) is not that interesting or exciting at night (parts of it are even a bit dodgy). In my opinion, the waterfront is much more enjoyable during the day. Wellington is much more fun at night, but you're not going there. Unless it's a weekend or holiday or there's something special going on, NZ cities wind down much earlier than big cities in the US and Europe.
Personally, I wouldn't bother with renting a car on Waiheke. You can buy an all day bus pass for Waiheke with your ferry ticket. Or you can take the Hop On Hop Off bus. The passenger ferry from downtown Auckland will drop you at Matiatia Wharf. If it's a nice day, from there you can catch the #1 bus to Onetangi Beach. The buses will be waiting for the ferry. Onetangi Beach is beautiful on calm sunny day and it's 2.5 km long so great for walking. There are also some cafes along The Strand.
https://www.waihekeunlimited.co.nz/about/beaches/
My husband and I spent 4 nights at Onetangi Beach last year. We rented a car for a couple of days, but just to get to areas not served by public transit or tours (Man O'War Winery and some others).
You can take the same bus back to Matiatia Wharf, but instead of going all the way to the wharf get off at at the stop for Wild on Waiheke. This is actually the stop for 4 wineries (Wild on Waiheke, Stonyridge, Te Motu, and Tantalus). It's easy to walk from one to the other and the walk is scenic. Te Motu's Restaurant is highly rated and popular. It's a sweet winery. Tantalus is the newest, highly attractive and has a restaurant. Stonyridge produces one of NZ's top red wines ("Larose"), but charges a lot for tasting it, and I thought they were pretty snobby. But the winery has nice views and it was pretty busy when I was there. I've never visited Wild on Waiheke.
Or you could take the bus to the stop closest to Cable Bay Winery and walk about 5 to 10 minutes uphill to Cable Bay Winery. Mudbrick Winery is another 10 minute walk up the hill. This is a quiet road with little traffic on it. Both of these wineries are gorgeous and have great views. When done, there a pretty walking track from Cable Bay Winery to Matiatia. It goes through a nature reserve. The walk is downhill and takes about 15 minutes.
Or you get off the bus at Oneroa village (and Oneroa Bay).
https://www.fullers.co.nz/destinations/waiheke-island/
Tasmangirl is the expert on Waiheke. She lives in Auckland.
That's right, Melnq8, Amisfield only does Trust the Chef these days. When I last ate there, I gave them a list of what I don't eat and they were happy to oblige. We "picky eaters" are hardly alone these days and restaurants are usually happy to accommodate us. Have you eaten at Queenstown's Vnow? If not, I think you'd like it, it has the casual feel of a corner bistro and good food.

Last edited by Diamantina; Apr 19th, 2018 at 08:38 PM.
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