2-week NZ Itinerary Questions


Aug 7th, 2017, 11:55 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Aug 2017
Posts: 6
2-week NZ Itinerary Questions

I have spent oodles of hours here trying to settle on an itinerary that will allow for diversity as well as relaxation in a 2-week trip to New Zealand, and now I have a few questions for all of the lovely Fodorites out there. First, here is the draft itinerary for 14 nights, starting in Queenstown (note my husband and I are both avid wine tasters and foodies from California, and have tried to tailor the trip to get the most out of NZ's scenery and culinary delights without doing too much. I hope I've succeeded!)

Leg 1: Queenstown - 5 nights. Must dos in the area:
****overnight cruise at Milford Sound (thinking of doing this on the 3rd or 4th night, not sure yet),
****one full day wine tasting tour in Otago region
Leg 2: Wellington pit-stop - 2 nights.
****We will fly QT to Wellington, mostly stopping here to (1) save time from driving between QT and the norther part of the Southern Island, and (2) I have been told that Wellington is a foodie city in NZ (as well as a great place to find coffee and craft cocktails).
Leg 3: Marlbourough/Queen Charlotte Track - 5 nights.
****Planning to ferry from Wellington to Picton, then pick up a car in Picton. Spend 3 nights on Marlborough Sounds along the QCT (thinking of splurging on Bay of Many Coves or the like to relax and be pampered between day hikes/biking during the day) and 2 nights somewhere in Blenheim or surrounds on a vineyard.
Leg 4: Auckland - 2 nights
****Will fly Nelson or Blenheim to Aukland for the last 2 nights. Ferry over to Waiheke island for a last day of wine tasting. Then likely to proceed to cry the remainder of the day/night because we will have to go home the next day.

My main questions are:
1) Re QT/Wellington legs: Should we keep schedule as is, or should we dump a day in Wellington (making it just an overnight stop for a nice dinner and pub crawl), adding another day to the QT leg?
2) Re Marlborough/QCT leg: is the 3 night QCT/2 night vineyard a good split? Or should it be the other way around?
3) Does anyone have any recommendations for restaurants/wineries/bars in QT/Wellington/Auckland (or general comments) they'd like to share?

Thanks a million to everyone for any feedback!
havewinewilltravel is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 7th, 2017, 12:37 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 13,868
Interesting itinerary.

You do realize you'll not be getting "the most out of NZ's scenery" by flying from QT to Wellie and then ferrying back to the SI?

Do you plan to visit Cromwell and Bannockburn from QT - South Island Pinot Noir central? It's a bit of a trek from QT, closer to Wanaka, and even better if you base yourself right there - Mt Difficulty Winery is one of my absolute favorites in the area (for food and their dry Riesling).

Speaking of QT - don't miss Amisfield, in Arrowtown - fabulous food and Pinot Noir.

Not to confuse matters, but have you considered Martinborough on the NI? Some of the best Pinot Noir we've ever had (outside of Willamette Valley anyway) and some very nice winery dining experiences.


Yes, I'm a bit of a wino myself - did you happen to run across my food and wine trip report during your research? Maybe it will help, maybe it won't.


We've stayed at Bay of Many Coves on two trips - it's very nice, and will fit the bill for relaxing and good food, but do be aware it's not on the Queen Charlotte Track.

It is accessible by boat only and you will need to take a water taxi to/from an access point on the QCT track for walking/biking.

Once you're at the resort, there's not much to do - there are a few short walks in the area, kayaking and general lazing about.

As for the split - it depends on what you want to accomplish. Blenheim has fabulous Sauv Blanc and many vineyards, but it's not the prettiest place in NZ - it's very flat. The town itself is nothing to get excited about, but there's plenty to do in the area, especially when it comes to wine.
Melnq8 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 7th, 2017, 01:01 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Aug 2017
Posts: 6
Thanks for the reply melnq8. I guess I should have acknowledged that by "getting the most out of NZ's scenery" I meant getting a balance of fiordland/hikes (5 nights around QT) vs places just for culinary/wine (Marlborough/Wellington/Auk). I have struggled with doing the drive between QT/Wanaka area and flying, but for our purposes, we decided to opt for more time in each "base" (QT area and QCT/Blenheim area) than being on the road and stopping for a night or 2 at each place in between. I'd fly straight from QT to Blenheim or Nelson, but there are no direct flights that I can tell, so I figured a pitstop in Wellington wouldn't be a bad thing.

Am considering doing helicopter tours to help reach places a little out of reach for driving day trips from QT to help get a little more of the scenery.

Thanks for your comment about Wanaka - I had thought about doing 2 nights QT - 1 night Milford (cruise) - 2 nights Wanaka, but wasn't sure it would be necessary since there are several day tours to Otago wineries that include Mt. Difficulty Winery from QT, but perhaps I'll take a look at that again.

And I had forgotten about Martinborough (I was originally trying to fit in Hawkes Bay, but that was just too much). Looks like we could do that one during the day while in Wellington?

Also good to know about Bay of Many Coves, as the QCT webpage actually says that the Bay of Many Coves Resort is the perfect place to start/end the track...I have a few others near the start of the QCT we're looking at.

I've tried to plan this trip for several years and due to demands of the day job, have always given up and gone to Hawaii (since it's familiar and our happy place). Not that that's a bad option, but I'm just trying not to overdo it with "adventure" if that makes sense.
havewinewilltravel is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 7th, 2017, 01:07 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Aug 2017
Posts: 6
Also, thank you for directing me to your trip report - very helpful
havewinewilltravel is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 7th, 2017, 01:28 PM
Join Date: May 2015
Posts: 587
Hawaii is my happy place as well (only been 3 times)and I like the fact it's even more remote than NZ is.
However great you are coming to NZ and can try our fabulous wine and food.
I think I'd spend more time in Blenheim, drinking that gorgeous sav.
On your next trip you can hit the wine spots of Nelson, Napier (Hawke's Bay)and around Auckland like Kumeu and Matakana.
Waiheke is truly gorgeous and I hope you get lovely weather for your day there. It's another happy place of mine and only a ferry trip away so one of the benefits of living in Auckland. Te Motu make the best sav I have ever tried and it's aged in stainless steel (whatever that means I am not big on wine production just the drinking of).
tasmangirl is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 7th, 2017, 01:34 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 13,868
It's always a struggle - spending quality time in a given area, vs trying to see as much as possible, I certainly get that. I always opt for longer stays in fewer places myself (with the exception of a recent trip to Iceland which was exhausting).

I've only taken an organized wine tour once, in Blenheim as it happens, otherwise we self-drive, so basing ourselves in the actual wine region makes sense for us.

A day trip from QT to Cromwell will be a long one, but certainly doable, especially if someone else is driving.

While Martinborough is close to Wellington, I'd opt for a tour if you plan to partake - crossing the Rimutaka Range after a tipple is not a good idea. If you do go, be sure to fit in a nice winery lunch (or better yet, overnight and have dinner at Tirohana Estate on the 'golden mile').

You probably read this about Bay of Many Coves:


Note this bit: <>

We did this several years ago from the Bay of Many Coves - here is what I wrote about that 'very steep access track'.

We enjoyed this section of the track, and found it more challenging and scenic than the walk from Ship Cove. It was also different; at times we felt like we were in the mountains surrounded by pine trees, and then we’d find ourselves back in the rainforest. Wild pigs had torn up the track in spots and we saw firsthand how destructive those beasts really are.

We reached the Craglee Lodge sign some 3.5 hours later, and began that steep, 1,400 foot descent down to the water. Oh baby, this section was tough – very steep, slippery and treacherous. The ropes tied between trees and the steps cut into the earth helped a little bit, but we found ourselves clinging to anything we could get our hands on to keep upright. Walking sticks would have really come in handy. This portion of the walk was rough on the old knees, and my left knee was swollen for three days afterwards. But, we made it, arriving at Craglee Lodge, 4.5 hours after leaving Punga Cove (12 km, 7.7 miles). We didn’t see another soul on the entire walk.>>>>

PS - This very walk lead to my first of two knee surgeries and I'm facing a third as I type. You've been warned
Melnq8 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 7th, 2017, 01:35 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 13,868
tasmangirl -

FYI - most Sauv Blanc is aged in stainless steel. There's the odd wooded version out there, but it's not common.
Melnq8 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 7th, 2017, 01:52 PM
Join Date: Jul 2014
Posts: 227
FWIW, we really liked Scopa Caffe on Cuba St. in Wellington. Very fresh and flavorful and won't break the bank. We lucked out and got the corner table at the windows and watched the street scene.


I'm afraid I don't share the same enthusiasm for Martinborough as Mel. You don't mention what time of year you are traveling. We were in Martinborough in February and everything was dry, brown and flat. The wines we tasted were good, but didn't make up for the desolate scenery.
deSchenke is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 7th, 2017, 01:54 PM
Join Date: Jul 2014
Posts: 227
If you utilize street view on googlemaps for Martinborough, most are from February 2015 -- same time we were there. You can see for yourself.
deSchenke is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 7th, 2017, 02:03 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 13,868
We were in Martinborough in February too. My least favorite month to visit anywhere in NZ. We don't care for the NI in general, but we loved the food and wine scene in that tiny little town.
Melnq8 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 7th, 2017, 02:32 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Aug 2017
Posts: 6
melnq8 - hah! well then, if we end up at Bay of Many Coves, we'll consider it more as a vacating spot rather than as part of QCT. We do usually plunk ourselves as central as possible for wine country, and the time in Marlborough was really "the" wine region we wanted to explore. But we'd get a driver or tour for any other areas because yes, we do love to partake and the cost for a driver/tour is worth the peace of mind of not having to drive. Living a stone's throw from many California wine regions has taught us that!

FYI, we'll be going late Oct/early Nov. So perhaps it won't be quite as brown as Feb. Thanks for the recommendations, deSchenke!

tasmangirl - Hawkes Bay and Nelson are definitely on my radar, as is Canterbury near Christchurch. Another trip...perhaps a middle-SI trip to loop in Mt. Cook too.
havewinewilltravel is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 8th, 2017, 03:53 AM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 1,467
New Zealand's Cuisine Magazine puts out an annual "Good Food Guide" with a panel of 40 judges selecting the year's best restaurants. Here's a link to an article about this year's winners (dated today, Aug. 8):
Here's a link to the complete list:

For Queenstown, they've picked Amisfield Bistro and Rata. You'd need reservations for both. The "Trust the Chef" dinner with matching wines at Amisfield is terrific, but pricey (just think of the US-NZ dollar exchange rate as you dine). The atmosphere and setting are wonderful, relatively serene, rural. Rata also has good food, small portions, high prices. The decor is attractive and stylish, and has a city feel; it was bustling the night we were there. It's in central Queenstown.

My personal Queenstown favorite is VKnow, a ways out of central Queenstown on Fernhill Road. It feels like a family-owned neighborhood restaurant and I think it is.

Cuisine Magazine also publishes a wine guide, which you can access for free online:

I agree with Melnq8, Mt. Difficulty in Bannockburn is lovely and great place for lunch (terrific views), but you might have to shop around for a tour that will include this option (or take a private tour). The wineries closest to Queenstown are Amisfield (on Lake Hayes Road, about 14 km from downtown Queenstown or 8 km from Arrowtown) and those of Gibbston Valley (Peregrine, Brennan's, Chard Farm, Gibbston Valley, among them). You don't have to travel far for good Central Otago wines.

To get from Gibbston valley to Cromwell, you'll drive through Kawarau Gorge. There's a nice winery with a lovely restaurant in Kawarau Gorge: Wild Earth.

If you make it to Cromwell, I'd recommend Rockburn, Quartz Reef and Wooing Tree. Aurum is a little ways out of town.

Bannockburn is about a 10-minute drive from Cromwell. In addition to Mt. Difficulty, you'll want to visit Felton Road (you might have to arrange a visit):
I also like Akarua, Terra Sancta, Carrick and Domain Road. Bannockburn's Desert Heart vineyard was acquired in 2014 by actor Sam Neill, whose flagship winery is the excellent Two Paddocks in Alexandra (open by appt. only and too far for a visit).

Wanaka's Rippon Winery has great views.

Here's a map to some of Central Otago's wineries:
There are plenty I've not visited.

Because NZ is far from most places, it's easy to find cuisine based on locally produced, seasonal produce. If convenient, try to visit a local farmers market, where you can buy direct from producers. Each market is unique, but ready to eat food is often available. You'll have to check for opening hours on a case by case basis, as some are only open during summer. Here's a link to Farmers Markets NZ:
And a Link to Queenstown area markets:

If you enjoy fish and shellfish, the South Island is known for its Blue Cod, with most of it caught in the Deep South. It's also caught in Marlborough Sounds, but only through December 20 through August. The top of the South Island is home for the freshest Green Lipped (or Greenshell) Mussels (70% of mussels are grown in Marlborough Sounds and about 20% around the Coromandel Peninsula). Havelock, between Blenheim and Nelson, bills itself as the Greenshell Mussel Capital (and hosts an annual Greenshell Mussel FestivaL).

Marlborough Sounds is also home to salmon farms and oyster beds. The salmon farmed in New Zealand is introduced King Salmon (also known as Chinook salmon), native to the Pacific Northwest. It's also farmed in Canterbury and Stewart Island. The oysters grown in Marlborough Sounds, Hauraki Gulf, and Coromandel are Pacific Oysters, native to Japan's coast (and also farmed in California's Tomales Bay).

NZ also has its own native oyster, found off Bluff, near Invercargill. They're smaller and more delicately flavored than Pacific Oysters, but only in season from March through August.

Other native shellfish that you might try include NZ Scallops (small scallops grown near Nelson), paua (abalone), crayfish (NZ red rock lobster).

You'll be here during whitebait season, so you might find whitebait fritters in some of the restaurants:

If you're red meat eaters, you might try NZ farmed-raised venison. New Zealand is the world's leading source for farm-raised venison. Most are red deer introduced from Europe. But North American elk, known here as Wapiti, are also farmed. Venison medallions are the top choice, but you'll easily find meat pies with venison fillings.

New Zealand has no land-based native mammals, other than bats.

NZ is known for its dairy industry and you'll find lots of wonderful artisan cheese in New Zealand.

NZ honey makes for a great present. My friends in California have become addicted to NZ's rata honey (similar Hawaii's Lehua Blossom honey).

You can easily visit several Waiheke wineries by catching the local bus that meets the ferry at Matiatia Wharf. Loads of day trippers pop over to Waiheke each day, but at least you won't be here during peak cruise ship season when it gets super-busy. The best stop if relying on the local bus is the stop for Wild on Waiheke. From Wild on Waiheke, you can walk to Stonyridge, then Te Motu, then Tantalus. They're near to one another. They all have restaurants.

Or you can just walk up from Matiatia ferry terminal to Cable Bay Vineyard, takes 15 minutes along a lovely track through the edge of the Atawhai Whenua Reserve. Mudbrick Vineyards is up the hill from Cable Bay Winery. Both wineries have restaurants with impressive views.
Map of track from wharf to wineries (see blue dotted line):
Waiheke, Island of Wine:

Fullers Ferries goes to Waiheke with some ferries stopping in Devonport.
Bus route map:

The bus also goes to Oneroa village, where there's a great wine shop, Waiheke Wine Centre, that has some very nice Waiheke wines on tap.

Or you can take a tour:

Or you can rent a car on Waiheke, to get to out of the way wineries such as Te Whau, Passage Rock or Man O'War.

You might find this article, "An Immigrant's Guide to Kiwi Food," amusing. Mind you, I'm not endorsing his choices:
Diamantina is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 8th, 2017, 09:54 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Aug 2017
Posts: 6
WOW - Diamantina - so much awesome info! Thank you so much, this is making me so excited for the trip
havewinewilltravel is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 8th, 2017, 06:12 PM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 1,467
Glad the info helped. I meant to include the below link to the Waiheke bus schedule, to give you a rough idea of when and how often buses run. I don't think it'll change much by Oct./Nov.

To get to the wineries I mentioned, you'd want to take the #1 bus that goes from Matiatia Wharf to Onetangi Beach (gorgeous beach with distant views of Little Barrier Island and the Coromandel). You could, if you got off to an early start, take the bus to Onetangi, spend a little time here, then catch the bus back to Wild on Waiheke and three other nearby wineries (Stonyridge, Te Motu, and Tantalus). Here's Wild on Waiheke's webpage (note the map doesn't show Tantalus Estate, as it's relatively new).

You could then reboard the bus in the direction of Matiatia Wharf, get off at Oneroa village (shops, restaurants, wine shop), or the stop closest to Cable Bay Vineyard, which is just beyond Oneroa village (the bus driver should be able to tell you). From this stop, it's an easy uphill 10-minute walk to Cable Bay Vineyards. Mudbrick is another 8- to 10-minute walk up the road. Not much traffic on this road; it's pleasant walk in good weather. When done, just walk down to Matiatia Wharf (the pretty walking track through Atawhai Whenua Reserve starts near Cable Bay Vineyards).

Or you could take the Hop On Hop Off Explorer bus:
Some of the buses used are double-decker buses, which have been protested and blocked by some Waiheke residents. Fuller's has pledged to replace them.

Fantastic wines on Waiheke!

Like Melnq8, I enjoy Martinborough, though I wasn't impressed with my dinner at Tirohana Estate. If you go for the just the day — and again, like Melnq8, I recommend a tour, as curvy and steep Rimutaka Hill Road (SH2) can be hairy especially in wet or windy weather — maybe go for a lunchtime vineyard platter at Poppies Martinborough.
Sounds like you'll just miss Toast Martinborough on Sunday, Nov. 19.

I don't find Blenheim particularly scenic either and prefer prettier coastal Picton, a 25-minute drive away.

Marlborough wineries are widely dispersed. I'm sure you've seen their website.
But many of the wineries themselves are quite attractive. Brancott's Cellar Door and Restaurant has panoramic views.
Yealands, which is in farther-out Seddon, has a vast, impressive coastal location:

Marlborough is NZ largest wine region and many of the wineries themselves are large. At a large winery like Villa Maria, for instance, you won't just be able to taste wines of Marlborough, but wines from throughout NZ, such as Gisborne Albariño, Hawkes Bay Malbec, etc.

Marlborough is best known for its Sauvignon Blanc. But I favor its Pinot Noirs. You'll find so many other varietals here.
Diamantina is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 8th, 2017, 06:22 PM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 1,467
Forgot again! Here's the bus schedule link:
Diamantina is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 9th, 2017, 01:30 PM
Join Date: May 2015
Posts: 587
I wouldn't hire a car for the Waiheke wineries. That means one of you can't drink as you are driving. Waiheke roads can be pretty narrow and windy and the road out to Man O War is not sealed all the way.
Stick with a tour or catch the bus to outside Wild on Waiheke. From there you get 3 great places all together as Diamantina suggests.
Peacock Sky is up a steep narrow road but lovely when you get there. The Batch (in the same area)run a free shuttle from the ferry up and back so that's an option as well.
tasmangirl is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 9th, 2017, 04:33 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Aug 2017
Posts: 6
Again, thank you so much!! I just bought our plane tickets today, so now I can make this all happen for real!
havewinewilltravel is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 10th, 2017, 01:08 AM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 1,467
Congratulations, havewinewilltravel!

Regarding car rental, tasmangirl, I was just mentioning various options.

I agree local bus, Hop On Hop Off bus, or tour are easiest options for a day visit to wineries. When we were at Mudbrick, four men flew in for their tasting on a helicopter from Auckland, but I suspect this isn't an option for most of us.

Renting a car worked well for us, as my husband drives while I wine taste (good arrangement). It made it easy to get to beautiful Te Whau Winery; Peacock Sky (didn't visit), Ecozip (didn't zip) and fantastic Trig Hill views were enroute (though Waiheke abounds with fabulous views). I thought the road was good.
A car also gave us the freedom to drive around the bays, get to Onetangi Forest Reserve, and Casito Miro for dinner. Such a pretty island!

I could see how drivers not used to unpaved roads might be uncomfortable on the road to Man O'War. But there were few cars on it and, compared to the roads we regularly drive on the Otago Peninsula (and some Northern California backroads), the road was okay. I'd wanted to visit Man O'War for years and wasn't disappointed by the wine, setting, or friendly wine servers (they only charged a tasting fee for one of their wines and it was reasonable, otherwise tastings were free). At Stonyridge, I paid $18 for a tasting of its "La Rose" on top of regular tasting fees. Reputedly one of NZ's best reds. It's good, but $290 a bottle!!! In my opinion, lots of equally good reds on Waiheke.

I noticed most visitors at Man O'War were also having lunch platters, some were enjoying picnics on its beach. Everyone seemed to be taking their time, enjoying the ambience. We opted for lunch at Passage Rock, which I also loved.
Diamantina is offline  
Reply With Quote

Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 03:08 AM.