Driving quesitons for New Zealand in the Winter

Jun 3rd, 2015, 09:56 PM
  #1  
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Driving quesitons for New Zealand in the Winter

We are trying to understand driving in the winter (specifically late August) in New Zealand. Two questions:

1. What is the drive like between Queenstown and Te Anau? How dangerous would it be (if at all) in mid-August?

2. What is the drive like from Wellington to Rotorua? Is there anything of interest to see? Is it a fairly easy/flat/straight drive, or is it difficult to drive? Are there places to stop and rest along the way?

Thank you
TerriY is offline  
Jun 4th, 2015, 05:19 AM
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The drive between Queenstown and Te Anau is dead easy. It's straight and flat for the most part and there's nothing 'dangerous' about it, as long as one pays attention and stays on the left side of the road!

I've driven this route many times, including once during a pretty ferocious storm.

The drive between Te Anau and Milford is a different story altogether. You will be required to carry snow chains in your car for this leg, and the road is often closed for bad weather.
Melnq8 is offline  
Jun 5th, 2015, 01:25 PM
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Wellington to Rotorua is fine - it's State Highway 1 so is the main road through the North Island. In winter the Desert Road can be closed until they clear the snow.
There are lots of small towns to stop for a coffee break. Taupo is about an hour before Rotorua and worth stopping there.
Driving up the East coast is a possibility you go through Napier and Hastings and avoid the Desert Road. Napier is lovely with Art Deco buildings and is on the coast.
We have had crazy weather in New Zealand this year with snow in May which is unusual to say the least. Road closures will be on :

http://www.metservice.com/warnings/r...wfall-warnings.

August is not the best month for a driving holiday in NZ. If you want to ski then the South Island has more ski fields to chose from.
tasmangirl is offline  
Jun 5th, 2015, 02:50 PM
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If you go to Milford Sound, I would advise taking a tour from Queenstown. The road is very tough.
lauren_s_kahn is offline  
Jun 21st, 2015, 11:55 PM
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Thank you tasmangirl & lauren!

Ideally we would love to visit NZ in summer, but we are visiting from US and can only come in August, when kids are out of school. We are visiting relatives in Australia, but wanted to stop in NZ also, since we may never be in that part of the world again!

To follow up on Lauren's advice above, do you think it would be ok to catch a Milford Sound tour from Te Anau instead of Queenstown? We have heard that is a possibility.

And to follow up on tasmangirl's advice, thank you for the alternate route. How often is the Desert Road closed? Is it closed all winter, or only after major snow storms?

Thanks again for your help.
TerriY is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2015, 12:01 AM
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oops, I meant to thank Melnq8 also. I would appreciate your thoughts on booking a tour from Te Anau to Milford also. Should we even try this tour in late August? We would hate to miss it after coming so far, but also want to be safe.
TerriY is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2015, 12:06 AM
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The Milford road often closes in winter, due to snow! My son was just there and the road was closed, the tour from Queenstown cancelled, and his bus from Te Anau to Queenstown (part of that tour) also cancelled. Be prepared for that eventuality. he tried to find something to do in Te Anau, but due to heavy rain the Gloworm Caves were flooded and there were no tours.
martharap is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2015, 05:57 AM
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I would never discourage someone from visiting NZ in the winter months - it's my favorite time to go. The weather can certainly be iffy, but it can also be clear, cold and crisp. Days are short, so you'll want to plan your time well. Flexibility is key.

Milford Road gets a bad rap, but it really isn't all that difficult...more often than not it's the drivers that are bad. Yes, it's a heavy snow prone area and is often closed in winter for black ice and to blast for avalanche prevention....but they do their best to reopen it as soon as possible, often within hours. Don't worry about safety - if the road is unsafe for any reason, it will be closed.

We've driven the road to Milford many times in the winter months and I've also taken the bus from both Queenstown and Te Anau. Yes, it's possible to take it from Te Anau. You will join the bus coming in from QT, so the 'best' seats will already be taken, but don't let this deter you. You won't join the tour until about mid-morning so you'll have time to explore Te Anau and the lake before you catch the bus. You'll be spared four hours of tedious butt time, whereas the folks from QT will have a 13 hour day. Don't worry about missing any commentary - the best bits are on the drive from Te Anau to Milford anyway.

If you have any qualms about driving Milford Road, just take the bus - you can then concentrate on the scenery instead of the road. You can wait to see what the weather is up to and book one day in advance - no worries.

Have fun, I wish I were going!
Melnq8 is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2015, 03:24 PM
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To add to Melnq8's advice, I strongly advise you to take the bus tour, whether it be from Queenstown or Te Anau. It could cost you if you try to drive yourself.

A rockslide or avalanche can happen anytime during winter through early spring. You could blissfully be on the cruise and the road might experience one or both and be closed behind you. Your only choices will be to hope for a quick road re-opening, a bed available at the one-and-only lodge (competing with all the other folks trapped there with you), or pay big $$$ to fly you out. Then there is the issue with the rental car that you've left behind. More $$$ will be required from YOU to retrieve it once the road opens.

Simply put, it's just not worth the risk.
deSchenke is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2015, 05:16 PM
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I rest my case about Milford Road getting a bad rap.

In the above (possible, but unlikely) scenario, a bus would also be trapped. A closed road is a closed road, regardless of how many wheels were used to get there.

Do what's comfortable for YOU.
Melnq8 is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2015, 05:32 PM
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Terri -

If you Google winter driving on Milford Road, you'll find a very help brochure put out by the NZ government transport authority. I can't post the link as it's a PDF file. They mention that Milford Road is closed an average of eight days of year.
Melnq8 is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2015, 10:46 PM
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Wow - thank you all so much. Given that feedback, I think we will try driving to Te Anau and staying there a night or two, and catching a bus tour to Milford.

Does anyone have thoughts on places to stay in Te Anau, or things to do? We have 2 kids plus a grandma, so we can't do any super active things. (We were thinking about the glowworm caves, but it sounds like we need to have a lot of backup plans, in case of bad weather.)

Many thanks - your advice is invaluable!!
TerriY is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2015, 06:52 AM
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We like The Croft B&B, Birchwood Cottages and Amber Court Motel.

Don't miss Ata Whenua at the Te Anau theater - Fiordland as you will never see it.

http://www.te-anau.nz.com/attractions.aspx

Te Anau has a great Visitor's Center and a Wildlife Center (mostly birds). Some great tracks too.
Melnq8 is offline  
Jun 24th, 2015, 07:03 AM
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I agree that a bus would also be trapped. But the tour company will fly you out at their expense if the road is expected to be closed for any duration.
deSchenke is offline  
Jun 25th, 2015, 04:55 PM
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>>>They mention that Milford Road is closed an average of eight days of year.<<<

Those 8 days are probably condensed to the 5 months of Winter and early Spring, about 150 days. So that's 1 day out of 20, roughly.

I would have no issue whatsoever for someone to drive the route in summer or fall. But I'm not a gambler with those odds for late August.
deSchenke is offline  
Jun 29th, 2015, 09:37 PM
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Thank you! I did google "winter driving on Milford Rd" and found some website with a picture of an overturned bus. So...do you think a tour bus would be too dangerous also? Thanks again. Trying not to be paranoid.
TerriY is offline  
Jun 30th, 2015, 07:36 AM
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Terri -

Don't fret, just decide when you get there after checking the weather. Flexibility is the name of the game in the winter months. Otherwise, you'll just drive yourself crazy.

I suggest you don't book your accommodation in Te Anau or the Milford Sound bus until you get there and check the weather forecast. That time of year you'll have no issues winging it. If you're not comfortable with traveling without accommodation bookings, book a place with a flexible cancellation policy. Problem solved.

I've only booked a Milford bus/cruise in advance once in my dozen trips to the SI and that was only because it was the first visit for my brother and he only had one day to work with. And yes, the road was closed in the morning due to black ice, so it totally messed up our day's plans, but it worked - we lucked into a spectacular day in the sounds. You just never know.
Melnq8 is offline  
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