Advice for my 20 day New Zealand trip

Old Feb 5th, 2024, 01:41 PM
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Advice for my 20 day New Zealand trip

Hello everyone,
I'm planning my 20 day trip to New Zealand March 23 to April 10. I especially need help how to do both western coast of SI. This will be our first time to New Zealand and probably don't have time to do much hiking, maybe just a few hours short hikes. We are not adventure sports type of person and can rent a car whole trip. My tentative plan is like below:
March 23: arriving Queenstown 9:50am, rent a car drive to Te Anau
March 23,24, two nights Te Anau, explore Milford Sound, Doubtful sound etc
March 25 one night queens town to give flexibility in exploring the nearby area
March 26 leave Queenstown to Wanake/ Twizel, stay Twizel or Mt. Cook, stay one night in case the weather not good to see Mt. Cook
or drive from Wanake to Franz Josef Glacier?
March 27 and 28 if stay at Twzel before we can drive to Christchurch and stay two nights, then drive or take train to westcoast?
March 29, 30 Picton, Marlborough sound
March 30,April 1, Wellington, Napier
April 2, 3,5 Tapao, Tapau Crossing
April 6, 7 Waitomo, Hobbiton, Rotorua
April 8, Auckland or North
April 10, leave early morning
If we drive from Wanake to Franz Josef Glacier we can add extra day in the west coast and drive to Christchurch? Skip mount cook?
Please let me know which way makes sense.
Thank you very much!
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Old Feb 5th, 2024, 02:17 PM
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Are you arriving in Queenstown after a long international flight? If yes, please do not drive to Te Anau your day of arrival, especially if you are not accustomed to driving on the left.

Two nights in Te Anau will only give you one full day, so you'll need to choose between Milford and Doubtful - not possible to do both in the same day. Milford Sound is a two hour drive each way from Te Anau. Doubtful Sound is in the opposite direction near Manapouri.

Likewise, one night in Queenstown won't give you much time to explore "the nearby area". QT is a two hour drive from Te Anau. The drive from QT to Wanaka will take just over an hour.

The drive from QT to Mt Cook will take 3.5-4 hours, so you won't have much time to see it either with only a single night stay.

Alternatively, the drive from Wanaka to Franz Josef will take about four hours, many more with stops, and there are many reasons to stop.

Mt Cook or Twizel to Christchurch will take about four hours without stops.

Here your itinerary gets a bit lost.

It is very difficult, if not near impossible, to incorporate both the West Coast route and the inland route (Mt Cook) with so little time. They are separated by a mountain range, and there are very few roads, so one must choose between the two, especially if you also want to incorporate the top of the South Island and the North Island into such a short trip.

Yes, 20 days is a short trip for both the North and South Islands. NZ only has so many roads, so getting from Point A to Point B will take much longer than you might expect. Don't underestimate the travel times, and don't overlook the fact that there is a lot to see en route, which makes the suggested drive time much longer than you might expect.

It it were me and I had only 20 days and wanted to see both islands, I'd do something like this:

Arrive Queenstown
Queentown to Te Anau
Te Anau to Wanaka
Wanaka to Franz Josef (West Coast route)
Franz Josef to Punakaiki, Westport or Murchison (to break up long drive to Picton)
Then on to Picton
Picton to Wellington via ferry
Then whatever on the North Island (I'm not well versed on the NI).

Or better yet, I'd spend every one of those 20 days on the South Island and incorporate more of the north of the south, such as Abel Tasman, the Marlborough Sounds,Takaka, etc.

Last edited by Melnq8; Feb 5th, 2024 at 02:24 PM.
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Old Feb 5th, 2024, 05:42 PM
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Hello, Melnq8
I read many of your replies to other posts and really appreciate your inside knowledge and experience!
We used to live in London so driving on the left is not a big trouble for us. I want to go straight to Te Anau so we can rest and relax there. Two nights at Te Anau + 1 night at Queenstown should give us enough time to explore both Milford and Doubtful?
I think your suggestion make a lot of sense for what I want to do. In this case I have to give up Mt. Cook and Christchurch. My husband is a Lord of Ring fan so we probably have to go NI this time. I think I can come back to do the rest next time.
Thank you very much for great advice!

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Old Feb 6th, 2024, 05:37 AM
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Two nights at Te Anau + 1 night at Queenstown should give us enough time to explore both Milford and Doubtful?

The problem is the backtracking - if you want to see both Doubtful and Milford, just spend three nights in Te Anau. Otherwise, you'll be driving from QT to Te Anau several times - this is a two hour drive each way and will just eat into your limited time.

The Doubtful Sound cruise leaves from Manapouri which is a 20 minute drive from Te Anau in the opposite direction of Milford Sound. The Doubtful Sound cruise itself takes three hours, but the entire journey across Lake Manapouri, the bus ride over Wilmont Pass, the cruise on Doubtful Sound and the cruise back across Lake Manapouri will take seven hours. This is a full day trip.

There's also an overnight trip.

The Milford Sound cruise leaves from Milford Sound, which is a two hour drive from Te Anau or a four hour drive from QT - each way. The cruises on Milford run from 1:45 to three hours.

You will really need the better part of a day for each one, especially if you're driving from elsewhere.

Another issue is the weather - weather in NZ is unpredictible and you may want to wait to see what the weather is up to before committing to a cruise.

This is not an area to rush through. For me, the best part of Milford Sound is the drive to get to it.
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Old Feb 10th, 2024, 06:24 PM
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Thank you for so much detailed information! Yes, I will plan three nights at Te Anau!
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Old Feb 12th, 2024, 03:28 PM
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Do you know the best website to book so many accomodations and car rentals in New Zealand? I normally use Kayak, agoda and airbnb.
Thank you.
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Old Feb 13th, 2024, 06:28 AM
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We use Apex for car rentals in NZ.

You might also take a look at vroomvroomvroom, which compares car rental prices from several car rental companies.

I use a combination of accommodation sites, but have had good luck with the local sites such as, note these are for cottages and apartments, not hotels. I've also used

You'll also find accommodation on the usual sites -,, Air BNB, VRBO, etc and of course on the sites for specific properties.

Last edited by Melnq8; Feb 13th, 2024 at 06:32 AM.
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Old Feb 24th, 2024, 10:43 AM
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I, too, will be a first timer and am wondering how many days you would recommend. My husband and I are 73 and 68 years young. You sound quite
knowledgeable. We are not big hikers but would not want to miss the highlights of this beautiful country.
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Old Feb 24th, 2024, 10:55 AM
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Irtayloe -

It's probably best if you start your own thread, and specify how much time you have, where you're flying from, your particular interests, time of year you plan to visit, etc.

When you ask "how many days" it depends on what you want to see, if you plan on visiting one or both islands, etc.
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Old Apr 11th, 2024, 04:59 AM
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These are some of my suggestions to optimize your experience for the South Island's West Coast considering you want to avoid extensive hikes and prefer scenic drives.

March 23-25: Queenstown & Te Anau

This looks good. Queenstown is a great place to arrive and Te Anau is the perfect base to explore Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. Milford Sound is the more popular option, but Doubtful Sound is equally stunning and offers a more overnight wilderness experience on the fiord itself.

March 25: Te Anau to Wanaka

Instead of going back to Queenstown, consider driving directly to Wanaka via Glenorchy. This scenic route will give you stunning views of Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains. Wanaka is a laid-back lakeside town with a great atmosphere. You can enjoy short hikes to Roys Peak or Wanaka Tree , scenic boat trips on Lake Wanaka, or visit the Wanaka Lavender Farm (depending on the time of bloom).

March 26: Wanaka to Franz Josef Glacier

This is a good option. Since you're skipping Mount Cook, you can add an extra day on the West Coast. Franz Josef Glacier is a popular tourist destination, but there are shorter walks you can do to get up close to the glacier without needing extensive hiking. You can also take a scenic helicopter flight for a more dramatic view.

March 27-28: Franz Josef Glacier & Punakaiki Pancake Rocks

Franz Josef Glacier.
Drive to Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and spend some time exploring the fascinating rock formations. There are short walks to various viewpoints.

March 29: Punakaiki Pancake Rocks to Westport

This section of the West Coast is known for its rugged beauty and wild beaches. There are several short walks you can do along the way, such as the Truman Track and the Lake Mahinapua Track. Westport is a historic town with a relaxed atmosphere.

March 30: Westport to Picton

Drive through Nelson Lakes National Park, another scenic area with short walks like the easy walk to the lookout at the top of the Spooner's Tunnel or the historic Nile River Track. End your day in Picton, the gateway to Marlborough Sounds.

March 31- April 2: Picton & Marlborough Sounds

Explore the beautiful Marlborough Sounds by boat. There are various options available, from day cruises to overnight kayaking trips. The scenery here is stunning, with native bush, hidden coves, and abundant wildlife.

The rest of your itinerary looks good. Be sure to book your Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound cruise in advance.
The weather on the West Coast can be changeable, so be sure to pack for all conditions.
Allow plenty of time for driving on the South Island. The roads can be windy and narrow, and there are often stops to be made to enjoy the scenery.

This revised itinerary allows you to see both the West Coast and the beautiful Marlborough Sounds without sacrificing too much time on long drives. You'll still have plenty of time for the North Island. If you are looking for more suggestions on New Zealand tours, please visit

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