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karore Apr 2nd, 2017 06:42 PM

4 weeks in New Zealand
We are planning a four week trip to New Zealand and would really appreciate your help with the itinerary. I am traveling with my wife, we are active and well traveled, and the itinerary below is based on self driving.

So far, I have managed to develop an itinerary but don't have a lot of details and I am not sure if the duration in each place is appropriate.The trip is being planned for mid Jan 2018 - mid Feb, 2018 so changes, suggestions for alternatives, lodging, ways to save money.... really, any help/suggestion that you can make would be most welcome.

Day 0-2: Arrive in Christchurch and spend time in the city
Day 3: Drive from Christchurch to Greymouth via Alpine Pass, spend the night in Greymouth
Day 4: Drive Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, don't know where to stay
Day 5: Drive to Queenstown
Day 6: Drive to Anau Downs to spend the night before Milford track
Day 7-9: Milford Track stay in huts
Day 10: End of trek, boat from Sandfly Point to Milford Sound
Day 11: take a bus from Milford Sound to Anau Downs, pick up car and drive from Anau Downs to Lake Takepo
Day 12: Drive Lake Takepo to Christchurch and spend the night
Day 13: Drive to Kaikoura and spend the night
Day 14-15: Drive to Abel Tasman Park, spend two nights and spend time on the beach and kayaking
Day 16: Drive to Marlborough and spend the night
Day 17: Take the ferry to Wellington and spend the night in wellington
Day 18: Drive to Napier and spend the night
Day 19-20: Drive to Te Urewera National Park and hike Lake Waikaremoana: Panekire Bluffs. Stay in huts
Day 21-24: Drive and stay in Lake Taupo with excursions to Rotorua - Waitomo - Tongariro Crossing
Day 26: Drive and spend the night in Tauranga
Day 26: Drive to Hahei Town and Coromandel Town
Day 27-29: Drive to Auckland stay in Auckland with excursion to Goat Island
Day 30 - Drive and spend the night in Paihia
Day 31: Drive back to Auckland spend the night and fly out

tasmangirl Apr 3rd, 2017 12:11 AM

It's a driving rally not a holiday!
You have planned far too much in your time here with driving all day only to rush off the next day somewhere else. I was exhausted just reading it! Is this an itinerary from one of those crazy NZ tourism websites who have probably not even been to New Zealand
Pretty sure you will need to make hut bookings for the Milford Track at that time of year.
Kaikoura had an earthquake in late 2016 and the road to Picton may not be fixed by then.
Tongariro Crossing needs 1 whole day for walking it with 2 nights close by. Not many tourists venture to Lake Waikaremoana as it's an awful road in and out and no cell phone reception in the area.
Cut out about half of your activities - that will make it cheaper for you.

Diamantina Apr 3rd, 2017 03:00 AM

I agree with tasmangirl's comments that your itinerary is too rushed and not allowing enough time for your destinations, and that you should make some cuts. The road between Kaikoura and Picton is supposed to fixed by Xmas, but, as she wrote, it might not be, especially if it's a bad winter.

I would spend more time, and take your time, through the South Island. You won't want to rush through these South Island drives from one town to the next, you'll want to savour these in-between drives as well as your intended destinations. You'll want to be surprised by the landscapes you didn't expect to see, and want room in your schedule for a little spontaneity.

Here's a link to drive distance calculator.

You're probably aware that, apart from around the main cities, there are few multilane roads. You can expect one lane in each direction, and might have to slow down for the occasional one-lane bridge. Because South Island roads often snake through mountain passes or hug the coast, they can be curvy and narrow, with drop-offs to one side. You'll be coming during the busiest time. You will get stuck behind slow-moving campervans, most will pull over to let those behind pass when possible, but some won't. Many tourists are not used to driving on the left and, sometimes, a few forget and drive on the wrong side of the road or cross the centre line. You might encounter careless or forgetful drivers.

A few comments about your South Island itinerary.

You might consider staying in or near Punakaiki instead of Greymouth. I can understand staying in Greymouth, as it offers more accommodation and dining options, shops and supermarkets. But at least try to see Punakaiki for the iconic rocks, the walks, the dramatic coast.

Between Greymouth and the glaciers, you'll want to visit Hokitika Gorge, maybe Hokitika itself, known for its pounamu (jade) shops, Lake Kaniere, a free glow worm dell (night only), Kiwi centre, treetop walk, beach with nice sunsets. I'm not saying you'd want to see all these things, but it's an attractive town with good services. If you're staying in self-catering accommodations at the glaciers, you'll want to shop for groceries here. You can save money by staying in self catering accommodations (motels/motor lodges/hostels) instead of dining out all the time.

Two nights at the glaciers would be better. In addition to the glaciers, you'll want to see Lake Matheson (near Fox), maybe Okarito Beach and its lagoon.

The drive from the glaciers to Queenstown is long, demanding, and often stunning. You'll want to stop for the views/photo ops, short walks, comfort stops.

Only one night in Queenstown? I get how you might not care for the crowds and pace of Queenstown in peak season, but the road to Glenorchy and the areas beyond are wonderful. On the other hand, I shouldn't suggest more activities for your already jam-packed schedule.

You're not spending any time in Wanaka or visiting Mt. Aspiring National Park?
Many opt to stay in Wanaka after the glaciers, as it cuts more than an hour off the drive (as opposed to driving all the way to Queenstown). Wanaka's quieter and the traffic is not as congested (less of a bottleneck, more roads in and out of town). Also, in general, Queenstown accommodation costs more.

You'll stay in Lake Tekapo, but not visit Aoraki/Mt. Cook Village? If you opt to go to Mt. Cook Village, it's best visited over two days. Tekapo and Mt. Cook have limited accommodation. Glentanner, near Mt. Cook, also offers accommodation.
Again, I'm somewhat reluctant to point out highlights you'll miss in your rush, as you've already got a busy schedule planned.

A comment about the North Island. Forget Paihia. It's too far to drive, about three hours each way, just to spend one day/night. Bay of Islands is lovely. Save it for another trip, when you can spend more days. And, if you're economizing, consider the cost of petrol for this drive, see:
I see you're from Colorado. The above price is per litre (3.78 litres to a U.S. gallon).

Diamantina Apr 3rd, 2017 03:13 AM

For accommodation, check current ratings/reviews on Trip Advisor. In addition to the usual booking sites such as,,, AirBNB, you can also check
In high season, some will require a two-night minimum stay.

Melnq8 Apr 3rd, 2017 06:58 AM


Yet another NZ marathon. I count 16 one night stays. Do you really want to spend all of your time checking into and out of accommodation? Loading and unloading your car? Rummaging through your luggage? On the move every single day?

You've left absolutely no wiggle room for contingencies, and believe me NZ is full of potential contingencies - bad weather, poor road conditions, slow moving caravans on single carriage ways, winding narrow roads, lots of other gawking tourists ahead of you, one lane bridges...not to mention the temptation to stop every five minutes and soak up that beautiful scenery that you seem hell bent on rushing though.

My suggestion? Start over. Unlike most visitors to NZ you have a nice chunk of time to work with - take advantage of that luxury - relax, actually explore the places you most want to see, enjoy the stunning landscapes, endless walking tracks and incredible hospitality of the Kiwis - likely the most friendly and helpful people you will ever meet.

My suggestion? Start over. Dedicate three weeks to the SI and one to the NI. Spend 2-3 nights in a handful of locations. Trim that itinerary to the areas highest on your wish list. Then relax and breathe in that fresh NZ air. You'll be glad you did.

annhig Apr 3rd, 2017 01:03 PM

karore, we had 17 nights in NZ, the majority of which we spent in SI. WE started in NI and within a few days we'd realised that we'd bitten off more than we could chew [despite the advice I'd had here, though our itinerary was a lot less aggressive than yours to begin with] and we made some changes so that we cut out all the one-night stands as we realised that they were impossible.

We ended up with this:

Day 1 - arrive Aukland. drive to Coromandel. one night. [should have been two]
Day 2 - drive to Napier. [the drive was far too long. Stay 2 nights - we toured the town, did some wineries, and saw the gannet colony]
Day 4 - drive to Wellington. Again far too long. stayed overnight and most of the next day before catching ferry to Picton. Drive to Nelson.[3 nights]
Day 6 & 7 - in and around Nelson; included one day abel Tasman.
Day 8 - drive to Franz Joseph. Long drive but actually less tiring than most other other long days. stay 2 nights.
Day 9 - glacier walk [you can only do helihikes now] and drive to Lake Mateson. Day 10 - drive to Wanaka. stay 3 nights. [originally it was only going to be one night followed by 2 in Te Anau but we dropped them and stayed in Wanaka for 3 nights instead. time spent in and around Wanaka - walking, boat trip, wineries,
Day 13 - drive to QT. 3 nights there. same as Wanaka plus day trip to Doubtful sound.
Day 16 - drive to Oamaru. not booked in advance but it was where we ended up en route to Christchurch. Great place - lovely old buildings, botanical gardens and penguins.
Day 17 - drive to C/C; stay night and fly to Oz on day 18.

Even so we could perhaps have done with longer in Coromandel, Wellington, and QT; probably another week overall.

Diamantina Apr 3rd, 2017 05:03 PM

You'll be flying to NZ in high season. If you plan on buying a ticket on Air New Zealand (flights out of LAX, SFO and Houston), you might be able to cut your costs by signing up for Air New Zealand low fare alerts, so you'll learn about these low airfares ASAP.
Qantas also sometimes has good deals on flights from the U.S. to New Zealand. Last year, they sold US$250 return flights from Los Angeles to NZ. These were for off-peak travel, still, what a deal, and, as you can imagine, they sold out fast.
Fiji Airways has a sale on flights from Los Angeles to Christchurch now:
I've never flown with Fiji Airways, so I can't comment on their performance record.
A number of U.S. airlines also now fly to New Zealand during the busy summer season, including United, Hawaiian Air, and American Airlines.

To your great credit, it's wise you're checking "if the duration in each place is appropriate" now, because once you've booked the Milford Track (and, I'm sure you know, for the popular summer season you'll have to book as soon as you can), you'll be committed to being there at that time, and have to work your schedule around those fixed dates. It seems bookings have not yet opened for next year.

Diamantina Apr 3rd, 2017 05:08 PM

Oops. The link I gave for Air New Zealand low fare alerts was for the NZ site as that's what my browser defaults to. I'm sure you can find low fare travel alerts on the U.S. website.

karore Apr 5th, 2017 08:23 AM

Thank you so much for the feedback. We don't want a driving rally, and I was not aware of road conditions.

I am really thankful for all the suggestions. So, I will have a rethink and make it more manageable. I will post an updated itinerary for your comments.

karore Apr 5th, 2017 10:54 AM

ok, so I have revised the itinerary by extending the stays in some places and also excluding the nelson-wellington-napier drive. Let me know if this makes sense.

Day 0-2: Arrive in Christchurch and spend time in the city 
Day 3-5: Drive from Christchurch to Abel Tasman Park, spend 3 nights
Day 6: Drive to Punakiki and spend the night
Day 7-8: Drive to Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, stay 2 nights
Day 9-11: Drive to Queenstown stay 3 nights
Day 12: Drive to Anau Downs to spend the night before Milford track
Day 13-15: Milford Track stay in huts
Day 16: End of trek, boat from Sandfly Point to Milford Sound
Day 17: take a bus from Milford Sound to Anau Downs, pick up car and drive from Anau Downs to Lake Tekapo 
Day 17-19: Spend time in Tekapo and around Mt Cook
Day 20: Drive Lake Tekapo to Christchurch and spend the night
Day 21-23: Fly from Christchurch to Napier spend two nights in Napier
Day 23-27 Drive and stay in Lake Taupo with excursions to Rotorua - Waitomo - Tongariro Crossing
Day 28: Drive and spend the night in Tauranga
Day 29-30: Drive to Hahei Town and Coromandel Town spend 2 nights
Day 31-33: Drive to Auckland stay in Auckland with excursion to Goat Island

tasmangirl Apr 5th, 2017 12:57 PM

Day 9 - Queenstown is still too far for one day. Most people stop in Wanaka.
Day 23 to 27 give you just TWO DAYS for the excursions planned and they are all in different directions so just pick two.
If you are walking the Tongariro Crossing you should stay nearer the start of the track and this option will take up the 2 days.
Waitomo is about 2 hours drive in another direction.
Day 28 - stop in at Rotorua on your way to Tauranga. If you go the Pyes Pa road they are only about 45 minutes apart.
Or forget Tauranga and go from Taupo to Hahei. Hahei is very small but a lovely beach.

Melnq8 Apr 5th, 2017 03:29 PM

I respectfully disagree with tasmangirl.

Driving from the glaciers to Queenstown is doable - we've done it many times. It takes us all day - 7-8 hours with hiking and sightseeing stops. It is a long day, no doubt, but certainly possible.

You will have lots of sunlight- long days - in your favor in Jan & Feb which will help tremendously.

The trick is to leave the glaciers early and choose your stops wisely. For instance, if you stay in Franz Josef for two nights and want to see both Franz and Fox, you'd do well to visit both glaciers from your Franz Josef base on your one full day there.

This means backtracking from Fox to Franz (about 40 minutes or so) and then driving through Fox again on your way to Queenstown, but by doing this you can sail right through Fox on your way to Queenstown and prevent making your day even longer, as you'd have already seen what you want to see there.

OR, because you're driving from Punakaiki, you might prefer to visit Franz en route, then spend two nights in Fox. This will trim some time off the drive to QT the next day and still allow you to see both glaciers.

Stopping in Wanaka for a few nights is even better of course, but not essential.

I also prefer to drive to Te Anau from Wanaka, which is about an hour shorter than Te Anau to Queenstown.

If it were me, I'd go glaciers-Wanaka-Te-Anau-Queenstown-Mt Cook-Christchurch.

Also, Mount Cook makes a better base than Tekapo IMO - you can see Tekapo on the way in or out of Mount Cook. No reason to spend the night in Tekapo unless you're there specifically to visit the observatory.

I'll leave the NI to those who know it better.

Diamantina Apr 5th, 2017 07:09 PM

Your itinerary looks much more relaxed, with more time to check things out along the way.

As in my earlier posting, I still think Wanaka, for the reasons I gave before (shorter drive, quieter, less congested and a little cheaper than Queenstown), would be a better choice after the glaciers, if only for a night. Though two nights would be ideal, if you'd like to do some hiking/tramping, or simply care to drive into the beautiful Matukituki Valley. I would add Wanaka also has a more relaxed feel than Queenstown, and it's just as beautiful but with less commercial development.

Here are links to some popular hikes near Wanaka:

Queenstown is only a little more than an hour's drive from Wanaka via Crown Range Road. so you'll be able to make the most of your first day in Queenstown (if you decide to stay in Queenstown after Wanaka). If you were to drive to Queenstown from the glaciers, you wouldn't be arriving until late afternoon, especially if you're stopping along the way (and you will).

Queenstown has a beautiful setting and many attraction. It's a busy resort town, especially in January (school holidays). Its center is full of shops, restaurants, tour agencies, hotels, and more. It's an action-adventure-thrill centre, known for jet boat rides, bungy jumping, so forth. It also attracts young partiers. The main road leading into its center can be clogged with traffic, including trucks and tour busses. If this sounds too busy for you, you might prefer to stay in Glenorchy or Kinloch (beyond Glenorchy).
Wanaka to Glenorchy would be a two-hour drive without stops, but you'll want to stop. Here's a link to a brochure for walks around Glencorchy:

The exit off SH8, to Mt. Cook village is to the south of Lake Tekapo, so you'd go there first. You'd need to spend two nights here, because the drive from Te Anau Downs would be a long one. You'd need a second day to do some of the hikes here. This is another small popular village and accommodation is limited. Luckily, you're planning well ahead! From SH8, it's approximately a 45-minute drive from on SH80 (also known as Mt. Cook Road). Mt. Cook Road is incredibly scenic, and passes Lake Pukaki, which, like Lakes Tekapo and Ohau, is a unique turquiose because of fine rock particles washed down from the glaciers.

Mt. Cook Village has walking tracks, a few motels, hostels, the large Hermitage hotel wtih tourist attractions/services (Sir Edmund Hillary Centre, night sky tours, etc.). The village itself has no commercial center, no petrol station or grocery store. Even though you're from mountainous Colorado, I think you'll find Mt. Cook impressive. It's in a valley surrounded glaciated peaks. The village sits at 2,450 feet, but Mt. Cook itself rises to 12,316 feet, so you'd be looking at a vertical gain of almost 10,000 feet (though the apex is often obscured by clouds). Sir Edmund Hillary, the NZ beekeeper who climbed Mt. Everest, practiced for his historic climb on these peaks. Mt. Cook, also known as Aoraki or Aorangi, is considered a sacred ancestor by the South Island's Ngai Tahu tribe.

Many people view Lake Tekapo as nothing more than a place to use the toilet, top up petrol tanks, and take a few photos of the Church of the Good Shepherd and the dog statue. I find it more Interesting than that, when the night stars are out or at sunrise. The views from Mt. John Observatory are fantastic. This being said, Tekapo is tiny, the town centre, if you could call it that, is a commercial strip along SH8, near the lakeshore with a few shops and restaurants, motels, public toilets, tourist info centre, the aforementioned church and dog statue, nearby a holiday park, hot pools, and holiday homes. In summer Tekapo will be overwhelmed by bus tours and other visitors. Just something to be aware of. Without knowing what you specifically hope to do or see in Tekapo, you might to just visit it for an hour or so enroute from Mt. Cook to Christchurch.

tasmangirl Apr 5th, 2017 11:27 PM

Melnq8 - disagreeing is fine! Good to get different opinions so the posters can make their own decisions.
Karore - driving here is quite hard work really. It requires concentration and focus and there are no wide highways (least not in the South Island)so you can just cruise along. In fact there is about 200 km of motorways in all of New Zealand. Try and plan your driving to about 4 hours per day.

karore Apr 6th, 2017 09:03 AM

Thank you, so so, much for taking the time to share your thoughts. A special thanks to Diamantina for the very detailed explanation.

I get the point that with a little planning the drive to Queenstown is possible, but I agree with everyone that we would prefer the quieter, tied to nature Wanaka. I didn't realize that Queenstown was so commercial. We had selected Tekapo as a stop-over to break the drive, but since we are spending time, we will ignore Takepo and just goto Mount Cook.

So, the adjusted itinerary for this part is now:
Day 9-11: From Glaciers, drive to Wanaka stay 2 nights
Day 12: Drive to Anau Downs to spend the night before Milford track
Day 13-16: Milford Track back to Milford Sound
Day 17: take a bus from Milford Sound to Anau Downs, pick up car and drive from Anau Downs to Queenstown. spend the night in Queenstown
Day 17-19: Drive to Mt Cook and spend 2 nights
Day 20: Drive Mt Cook to Christchurch

Btw, thoughts on 3 nights in Abel Tasman.. is this the right amount of time.

For the north-island, we will keep the Rotorua excursion till later, spend the day in Rotorua and the night in Tauranga. So, the adjusted itinerary is:

Day 23-26 Drive and stay in Lake Taupo with excursions to Waitomo - Tongariro Crossing
Day 26-27: Drive through Rotorua and spend the night in Tauranga
Day 27-29: Drive to Hahei Town and Coromandel Town spend 2 nights
Day 29-32: Drive to Auckland stay in Auckland with excursion to Goat Island

Is this about right? We still have an extra day in the plan, which might be useful once we start booking the itinerary.

Thanks again for sharing your opinions. I will definitely have more questions as I start booking the itinerary.

Melnq8 Apr 6th, 2017 01:58 PM

Looking much better.

I assume you're staying at Fiordland National Park Lodge? Is that part of a tour? If not, you might prefer staying in Te Anau - more choices, and not that far a drive from Te Anau Downs.

Re: Abel Tasman - three nights (two full days) will give you a taste, but there's tons to do in the area, depending on your interests of course.

Diamantina Apr 6th, 2017 06:16 PM

Your revised itinerary looks good.

In its defense, Queenstown is gorgeous, on Lake Wakitipu and backed by the Remarkables. The area around is also beautiful, more so as the commercial development gets left behind. But it's good to know for what to expect. The first time I visited Queenstown, about 19 years ago, I didn't expect traffic or so many shops. Now I when I go there, I enjoy it for what it is: busy but still pretty and with lots of activities on offer.

Queenstown has a lovely Botanic Garden and an attracive waterfront with lively bars and restaurants. Its Skyline Gondola has great views from the top. You can also pick up the Ben Lomond Track near the top of the Gondola, or start this walk from down below. See:

Never walked Ben Lomond myself. Planned to twice but the weather turned ugly. New Zealand has unpredictable and changeable weather, even in summer. This January there was dumping of snow in the south of the South Island:

If you enjoy wine tasting, there are some great and beautiful wineries close to Queenstown. The closest is pretty Amisfield, on Lake Hayes Road to historic Arrowtown.

There are more wineries in pretty and compact Gibbston Valley. Chard Farm has the most scenic approach. The turn-off for Chard Road is close to NZ's original bungy jump, the Kawerau Bridge Bungy. You might want to view the bungy jumpers. Peregrine and Brennan's are among the Gibbston Valley wineries worth visiting.

Central Otago wineries are world-renowned for their Pinot Noirs. Their rieslings and rosés are among my favorites.

The aforementioned Glenorchy is only 45 minutes from Queenstown, but feels a world away. The road to it is one of the South Island's prettiest drives.

There are great views from the road to Queenstown's Coronet Peak Ski Resort. The road to the Remarkables Ski Resort is also supposed to be scenic, but I've not been there. Maybe someone else can chime in about it.

You'll have many options for your one day in Queenstown. There's many reasons it continues to grow in popularity.

I didn't mean that you should ignore Tekapo. I just wanted to alert you to its popularity in summer and small size. Because you need to drive through it, you can't ignore it. The views from its Mt. John Observatory are great, but I believe you must pay to drive up this special access road as it's privately maintained.

Regarding Abel Tasman, as Melnq8 says, "there's tons to do in the area." She knows it far better than me. I'd add the Abel Tasman/Nelson/Golden Bay area has some of New Zealand's sunniest weather. Since you're going all that way, maybe you should spend another day. You'd probably enjoy the drive over Takaka Hill to Golden Bay then to Wharariki Beach. There are some nice short walking tracks along the way.

For Christchurch, you wrote "Day 0-2." Does this mean two or three nights in Christchurch?

Tdiddy12 Apr 6th, 2017 07:56 PM

Hi Karore,
This string is very informative, we are going to NZ in March 2018 for a month. I don't know if it's cool to butt in on your post but I thought since you were getting such great info, I could tag along!
We have two timeshares that we will be staying at and taking daytrips. Would you kind folks give me some feedback also?

0-3 in Auckland, first day we will be zonked!
4-5 in the Coromandel Rapaura Gardens and Whitianga
6 -11 Rotorua Timeshare, will do day trips
12- Napier - I'm an Art Deco fan
13 - 14 Wellinton
15 - Nelson
16 - Greymouth, but checking out the other option mentioned
17 - Franz Joseph Glacier
23 - 29 - Wanaka Timeshare
30 - Timaru - Need alternative suggestions
31 - Christchurch and then home the next day.

Thanks for any input!

karore Apr 6th, 2017 09:50 PM

Hi Melnq8
In Te Anau Downs we were planning to stay in the Fiordland National Park Lodge so we can take the first ferry in the morning for the hike. This is not part of a tour, we are doing the trip our selves and plan to book the hike through the park system.

Thanks again for the information, very useful as usual. I guess there something for everyone in Queenstown.

Day 0 is arrival day and we plan to spend two nights in Christchurch. We haven't booked flights yet, so we might change this to three nights if the flight arrives late in the evening.

Based on the feedback I have received (see above) day 12-17 will be a rush and probably more exhausting then fun. what are you doing between 17-23?

Tdiddy12 Apr 6th, 2017 10:24 PM

Hi Karore,
I screwed up somehow!

Day 6-12 Rotorua which pushes everything up a day after that

Day 19-25 is in Wanaka not 23 -25 ( those are the actual dates!)

26 Timura

27 Christchurch
28 fly home from Christchurch

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