30 Day Itinerary: Wellington & SI - Any suggestions?


Sep 11th, 2017, 12:23 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jun 2014
Posts: 6
30 Day Itinerary: Wellington & SI - Any suggestions?

Hi All,
We’re in the early planning stages for a one-month March or April trip to New Zealand. A little about us and our priorities. Both in our 60s, recently retired, and active walkers/hikers (but no longer backpackers). Our passions are nature, photography, art and archaeology. Whenever possible, we try to select quieter, less visited sites where we can spend some time absorbing the surroundings. We’re probably not interested in big ticket activities such as the Doubtful Sound overnight cruise or glacier helihikes (we’ve done a lot of glacier-related stuff in Alaska). We’d like to start our trip in Wellington because it sounds like a great place to visit and we enjoy walkable cities. After Wellington we’ll fly to Christchurch, pick up a rental car, and start our tour of SI. Any suggestions or comments would be appreciated, especially where we should be spending more time on the ground and less in the car (right now we’re at 23 days but that could be expanded to 30). Also we’d love to know about any obscure (i.e. tranquil) places on SI that might warrant a detour.
-Wellington – museums, dining, general sightseeing (3 nights)
-Arthur’s Pass – walks: Devil’s Punchbowl (1 night)
-Punakaiki – sightseeing: Pancake Rocks and Motukiekie Beach, canoeing, walks (2 nights)
-Fox Glacier – walks: Lake Matheson, Gillespie Beach (1 night)
-Wanaka – walks, biking, kayaking, sightseeing (3 nights)
-Glenorchy – walks, sightseeing, e.g. Paradise Road (1 night)
-Te Anau - Milford Sound daytrip, glow worm caves, walks (3 nights)
-The Catlins – Curio Bay, Purakanui Falls, Nugget Point, wildlife viewing, etc. (2 nights)
-Dunedin – art gallery, RR station, Otago Peninsula (1 night – maybe 2?)
-Oamaru - Moeraki Boulders, Katiki Pt, wildlife viewing (1 night)
-Aoraki/Mt Cook – walks, kayaking, etc. (3 nights)
-Timaru - museums, art gallery, rock art center (1 night)
-Christchurch – general sightseeing (2 nights)

Thanks for sharing your experience and insights!
Sonoraman is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 11th, 2017, 06:02 PM
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 309
One month ... excellent! But there are so many one-nighters in your itinerary. I've had to do several one-nighters before because the most I ever had there was 14 nights, but with 23-30, I'd eliminate all or most one-nighters and make some longer drives and/or day trips. But that's just me ... I'd rather drive a little more than be packing up all the time.

For example, CC to Punakaiki is 4-5 hours (we did this drive on our last trip), so I'd rather make a day of the drive with stops around Arthur's Pass but get an extra night elsewhere.
paulg is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 12th, 2017, 04:06 AM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 1,467
I'd add Zealandia and its Botanic Garden to Wellington attractions.

Definitely at least two nights for Dunedin/Otago Peninsula.

Consider three nights in the Catlins as it's spread out.

I'm guessing you haven't included Stewart Island because it's a big ticket item (cost of getting there).

No Picton, Nelson, Golden Bay, or Kaikoura?
Diamantina is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 12th, 2017, 06:31 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jun 2014
Posts: 6
paulg - I understand what you're saying about one-nighters. I'm just having a hard time eliminating things to see. We could, I guess, just focus on the southern half of SI. Or maybe do a few longer drives so we can spend two days versus one day at a place. Your CC to Punakaiki is a good idea.

Diamantina - We plan on doing both Zealandia and Botanic Garden. Good suggestions re: Dunedin and Catlins. are now considering dropping Arthur's Pass and instead take the ferry from Wellington to Picton, rent a car there, and tour Nelson, Abel Tasman NP and Golden Bay. Seems like a lot of driving however.
Sonoraman is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 13th, 2017, 01:12 AM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 1,467
If you can extend to 30 days, do. You can see more and/or go at a more relaxed pace. Spending more time in each place increases your chances of enjoying good weather while there.

Taking the ferry from Wellington to Picton, renting a car there, then touring Nelson, Abel Tasman NP and Golden Bay will involve more driving, for sure. But what are the chances of your coming back for another visit? This is a lovely part of the South Island, a favorite for Kiwis, settling expats, and visitors. It has some of the sunniest weather in New Zealand, and a wide variety of activities and landscapes.

Are you using the AA Drive Distance Calculator?

There are a lot of curvy roads on the South Island. Most just one lane in each direction. Some are narrow and steep, often with drop-offs to one side (and usually safety barriers). You'll encounter some one-lane bridges. As you drive, you'll be alerted to passing lanes ahead, if you'd like to pass. If you like to go slowly, pull over when it is safe to do so, to allow those behind you to pass. Here's a link to the road code, if you're interested:

You're planning on driving on Milford Road to Milford Sound. Here are tip sheets for driving Milford Road:

If you extend your trip to 30 days, you can take your time, stop enroute for more scenic breaks, detours or to get out and stretch. You'd have more time to overnight in some "tranquil", "obscure" places in between major destinations. Because the places you'll be visiting are popular with visitors, except for Timaru.

March vs. April. March will be warmer, the days will be longer. While NZ's weather is generally unpredictable, the weather starts to get colder and wetter in April, but it's also a lovely time to travel. More tourists in March, but many in April, too, especially here in Otago. See school holidays for NZ below. Many Australian children also enjoy school holidays in April, coming "across the ditch" with their parents.

Sunrise/sunset times:

Some events to be mindful of:

Motutapu Queenstown (Wanaka to Arrowtown, off-road multi-sport event)
March 10

Wanaka A & P show
March 9 & 10

Hokitika Wild Foods Festival
March 10

Havelock Mussel Festival (between Picton and Nelson)
March 17

Warbirds Over Wanaka
March 30, 31, April 1

Good Friday, March 30
Easter Sunday April 1
Easter Monday April 2 (school holiday)
and Easter Tuesday 3 April (school holiday)

NZ school holidays: Saturday 14 April - Sunday 29 April (includes ANZAC day 25 April).

Arrowtown Autumn Festival
April 19 through 25
Diamantina is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 13th, 2017, 04:47 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jun 2014
Posts: 6
Thanks, Diamantina. I'll make use of all this information.

I have used the travel calculator you mention. It's supposed to be more accurate than Google I hear.

Although I'm not used to driving on the left, I at least have a little experience, having driven on Scotland's Orkney Islands where there were single track winding roads with blind curves, sheer drop-offs, sheep, and some insane drivers. White-knuckle driving for sure, but we survived!
Sonoraman is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 13th, 2017, 05:30 PM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 1,467
And avoid Dunedin on March 29, 31, April 1.
I doubt there'll be accommodation available due to Ed Sheeran concerts at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Driving on the Orkney Islands sounds like driving on the gravel roads of the Otago Peninsula (the peninsula's two main roads, the harbor-hugging Portobello Road and the high road, Highcliff Road, are paved and were recently improved).

Areawise, Dunedin is NZ second largest city, after Auckland, and larger than Rhode Island. It includes the busy, densely populated city center (radiating from the Octagon), surrounding suburbs, and rural and wilderness areas (among these, the Otago Peninsula).

Attractions at the Octagon or a few minutes walk from it: Dunedin Public Art Gallery, St. Paul's Anglican Cathedral (photograph its stained glass window depicting local wildlife), First Church of Otago (plain interior, pretty setting), the Railway Station (popular Saturday morning Otago Farmers Market, home to Taieri Gorge Railway), Speight's Brewery (tours), Cadbury (chocolate tours), and Toitu Settlers Museum, which tells of human settlement in Otago, from the first Maori arrivals to 19th-century Scottish/other European/Chinese settlers to current migrants; it's across from the Old Prison and sandwiched between the Railway Station and Chinese Garden (Dunedin Botanic Garden is way larger and more interesting).

The 27-hectares (67-acres) Dunedin Botanic Garden is in the city center, but too far to walk from the Octagon (I walk this distance often, but you won't have time). City center attractions farther out from the Octagon: Olveston House, Otago Museum (its "Southern Land, Southern People," "Nature," and "Tāngata Whenua" galleries are fascinating). University of Otago is across the street; its clocktower complex is beautiful.

Baldwin Street (world's steepest street) and Signal Hill (views) are in the north of the city, close to the Botanic Garden.

The popular beach suburb of St. Clair is in the south of Dunedin.
Tunnel Beach Track is nearby. If you take the "Southern Scenic Route" from the Catlins, you'll go by it.

Many Otago Peninsula attractions. I highly recommend the Elm Wildlife Peninsula Encounters Tour. Or the Monarch Cruise, possibly with an add-on visit to Penguin Place. What ever you do, don't miss Taiaroa Head (home to a lighthouse, Pukekura Blue Penguin colony, the Southern Hemisphere's only mainland albatross colony and Fort Taiaroa). The Elm Tour will take you to Taiaroa Head (if you don't have time or want to drive yourselves). The Monarch Cruise will sail up to the rocks below it.

Reviews for Elm Tour:
Reviews for Monarch Cruise:
Larnach Castle is also popular.

There are attractions on the West Harbor, near Port Chalmers (across from the Otago Peninsula) too, among these Orokonui Ecosanctuary (great views from its cafe on a clear day) and many beautiful beaches.

When driving from Dunedin to Oamaru, get off the main highway (SH1) and take the scenic Coast Road from Warrington to Karitane (walk around Huriawa Pa if you have time).

Stop at Shag Point, south of Moeraki. "This area was used by the early moa hunters. Nearby, Shag/Waihemo River Mouth yielded important archaeological evidence of Ngai Tahu lifestyles dating back to the 12th century. Moa skeletons and many artefacts found here are displayed at the Otago Museum."
Diamantina is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 13th, 2017, 10:22 PM
Join Date: Aug 2017
Posts: 14
Wellington - you must visit Te Papa Museum, Weta workshop and Zealandia. It's a great City to spend time in.
CultureClub is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 14th, 2017, 04:38 AM
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 309
Driving in NZ is not that bad, especially compared to Scotland. And I'm in the minority but I've found Google maps to be just fine in both locations for both directions and predicted driving times. You can't go wrong with adding buffer to any schedule, however.
paulg is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 14th, 2017, 06:48 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jun 2014
Posts: 6
Diamantina - Thanks so much for the detailed information on Dunedin and Otago Peninsula. We have decided to extend our stay to three days. We also intend to spend three days in Wellington, one of which will be our jet lag recovery day. After spending time in those two cities do you think we need to devote much time to Christchurch, or should we take that time and devote it to more nature-related things?

CultureClub - Good suggestions. We intend on doing all three of those things. Nice to hear that you like Wellington.

paulg - We are both avid photographers so no matter what drive time calculator we use, it always takes us much longer. Interesting, though, that Google maps has worked for you.
Sonoraman is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 14th, 2017, 08:33 AM
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 309
Sonoraman, most definitely it always takes longer. You can't drive NZ without stopping every couple of miles.

If you actually compare google to AA, they are within a few minutes of each other even for typical routes. Even on a ridiculous route like Auckland to Dunedin they are within 16 minutes of each other. I just think people have a stigma about Google Maps when in fact it is a very good tool with probably a larger datebase than any alternative tool and/or a much faster learning/updating rate than the others. So maybe a few years ago something like viamichelin was better in Europe, but I think they are all basically the same now.

But like I said, I'm in the minority, so don't listen to me.
paulg is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 14th, 2017, 07:21 PM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 1,467
Sonoraman, for planning, I should remind you coastal Dunedin's weather is generally better in March, and by mid- to late-April will start to get much colder. Although just as far south, Central Otago (Wanaka, Queenstown, etc.) is more sheltered from coastal weather and tends to stay warmer and drier at this time.

In general, March-April is considered to the most "settled" time of year, meaning it's less variable, less likely to swing from one extreme to the other, and brings little rain. These are my favorite months for traveling around NZ. Central Otago, North Otago (Oamaru and Waitaki Valley), and South Canterbury's Mackenzie Basin are especially beautiful in April.

I can't emphasize enough how unpredicable NZ's weather is. Whether you decide on March or April, bring a wind- and water-resistant jacket (overlayer), and fleece, especially as you plan on moving from north to the south, watching wildlife and tramping (hiking). A gloriously warm and sunny day can turn bitterly cold once the sun goes down, or if the wind picks up (southerly winds can carry cold air up from Antarctica). We are in the "Roaring Forties."

Metservice (http://www.metservice.com/national/home) forecasts are reliable for about two days out. It'll state the temperature, what it actually feels like, how many layers you should wear, etc.

You'll have no problem finding outdoor clothing here in NZ, if you need to pick up extra items.

Another thing to keep in mind when planning: cruise ship season. Avoid downtown Dunedin on cruise ship days, passsengers fill the town from about 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Cruise ship season winds down in April.

If you want more tranquil surroundings, stay on the Otago Peninsula. http://www.otago-peninsula.co.nz/
If you prefer to stay closer to town, yet want quiet, rural and rustic, consider Blackhead Cottages:
You'll find lots of other great deals at www.holidayhouses.co.nz
If you enjoy the beach, rain or shine, consider staying at St. Clair Beach (10 minutes drive or 15 minute local bus ride to the Octagon).

I'm no Christchurch expert and have little to offer. It's also interesting and lovely (especially in autumn), with its own character and attractions in and around it. The Botanic Garden, Canterbury Museum, Christchurch Art Gallery, restored Arts Centre, Container Mall, Cardboard (Transitional) Cathedral, and Tram are walking distance of one other. This part of the city is conveniently flat.

Many people are interested in how the city has bounced back from the 2011 earthquake. The Christchurch Cathedral (and also close to above attractions) still lies in ruins, but is to be restored:

Like Dunedin, Christchurch has loads of colorful street art.

Many Antarctic scientific expeditions depart from Christchurch. The Canterbury Museum has an interesting Antarctic Gallery. The International Antarctic Centre tourist attraction is next to the airport (I've been, it's a great attraction for families).

Christchurch has the nice coastal suburb of Sumner:

From Christchurch, you can reach Akaroa (on the Banks Pensinsula) in an hour and 20 minutes. The route is winding. Akaroa Harbor is beautiful and wildlife rich, especially known for its year-round population of rare, endemic Hector's Dolphins, one of the world's smallest dolphins. Melnq8 has posted information on this forum about its Pohatu Blue Penguin Tour.

As with Dunedin, you'll have to consider the cruise ship schedule:

Akaroa is historic (with a history of Maori, English, and French settlement), pretty, quaint, scenic situated, and small (permanent population 624), so it can be overwhelmed when the cruise ship visits, though many take day excusions outside of Akaroa.

Christchurch is a good base for Tranzalpine train Christchurch-to-Arthurs Pass day excursions. I've not taken this train.

Kaikoura is few hours drive north of Christchurch. It's best visited as an overnight or two-night trip. It's a great place for viewing seabirds and marine mammals, and has a stunning setting.

Christchurch has an informative tourism website:

There's nature throughout NZ, even in and around the larger cities. Fiordland, Stewart Island and other offshore islands, and national parks are probabaly the most pristine, however, even in Greater Auckland, a city of nearly 1.4 million, you'll find impressive natural attractions, particularly in the West and on the islands of Hauraki Gulf (some of which are now predator-free).
Diamantina is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 15th, 2017, 09:42 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jun 2014
Posts: 6
Diamantina - I really can't thank you enough for this information. Much of this I would never would have thought of, such as cruise ship schedules. The accommodation suggestions are also very much appreciated.

Christchurch/Akaroa sounds appealing, although I wonder if, after 28+ days of travelling, we won't be suffering from traveler fatigue where lazy walks on the beach or easy hikes might seem more appealing than negotiating a new city. We're quite comfortable with public transportation, our preferred way of exploring foreign cities (and meeting locals!). Unfortunately Christchurch, I believe, is not known for good public transportation. This may have a bearing on how much time we spend there.

Great links, buy the way. Thanks!
Sonoraman 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 09:29 AM.