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early planning for NZ South Island trip - please provide feedback

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Jan 9th, 2018, 03:53 AM
  #41
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Thank you for this, Diamantina. I'm hoping to have everything finalized in the next several weeks.
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Jan 9th, 2018, 02:37 PM
  #42
 
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Having taken the bus myself, I understand the difficulties in planning a vacation through so many towns on public transportation. Best of luck. I know you'll have a wonderful time.
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Jan 9th, 2018, 05:16 PM
  #43
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Diamantina, thank you. I know we will have a great time, especially if the Auckland area and Waiheke are any indicators? Besides, I have a soft spot for your corner of the world.
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Jan 14th, 2018, 12:34 PM
  #44
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I must say, New Zealand is a very difficult place to put together an itinerary that comes with time limits. Our continuing research makes the task even harder, as we keep on reading about bits and pieces that pique our interests. Typically, we try to aim for 3 nights at each place; if 3 nights seem too many, we try to include as a day trip from somewhere else, visit it between destinations, or eliminate it together. This strategy seems less useful here. So after much back and forth, the four of us agreed to limit our exploration to one coast of the South Island - the West Coast - with the additions of Wellington and Dunedin. This will mean that Christchurch, Kaikoura, the Marlborough wine region, Mount Cook, and so many other places of interest will await another return. In the itinerary below, we hope to capture a few highlights of New Zealand including its landscape and wildlife while giving us enough time to enjoy each place we visit. Here goes:

- Arrive in Wellington connecting via Sydney or Auckland from the U.S. East Coast
- 3 nights in Wellington, which gives us the afternoon and evening of the first day to acclimate and 2 full days in the city
- Ferry to Picton and bus to Nelson area, 3 nights (Our goal is to spend at least one day hiking in Abel Tasman Natiomal Park and perhaps another seeing it from the water. Would you recommend staying in Nelson, Motueka, Kaiteriteri, or even one of the lodges in the park? We will be relying on ahuttles to get to the park wherever we stay.)
- Bus to Punakaiki, 1 night (Pancake Rocks, perhaps other walks if weather permits)
- Private day tour from Punakaiki to Franz Josef Glacier, stopping in Hokitika along the way (I came across a couple of options in my research but haven't contacted anyone yet. If unavailable, we would go by bus straight from one to the other.)
- 2 nights at Franz Josef Glacier (glacier helihike weather permitting, Okarito kiwi tour, Lake Matheson)
- Bus to Wanaka, 2 nights (Is the Rob Roy Glacier Track the recommended one for a day hike of the options available? We would also try a visit to Rippom Winery if we have time.)
- Bus to Queenstown, 4 nights (some time in town, day hikes, Arrowtown, perhaps a winery)
- Overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound, using the offered transfer from Queenstown and getting off in Te Anau on the way back
- 3 nights in Te Anau, for a cruise on Milford Sound and 2-3 day hikes
- Private or small group tour from Te Anau to Dunedin via the Catlins (perhaps something like this: https://www.privatediscoverytours.co...ours/#-Option2)
- 3 nights in Dunedin / St. Clair (some time in the city but most of it on the Otago Peninsula viewing wildlife)
- Fly home

The longest bus trip seems to be 6.5 hours, from Franz Josef to Wanaka. We really had a hard time thinking about longer bus trips given the amount of time we have.

Looking forward to your comments. We hope to finalize plans and begin looking at flights and accommodations.

Thank you once again.
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Jan 14th, 2018, 02:07 PM
  #45
 
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I always recommend staying closer to the park than Nelson, and this is what I do myself. I have a soft spot for Upper Moutere and Tasman, but Kaiteriteri also makes a great base from which to explore Abel Tasman and the water taxis leave from there, so you could just walk from your accommodation. Marahau is right at its doorstep, so you can walk right into the park or take a water taxi from there too.

Ruby Bay and Mapua also make good bases, but only if you have a car. From Nelson, you'd have an hour's drive to get to a park access point, but this might work well for you since you won't be driving - buses run in connection with the water taxis which leave from Kaiteriteri. It's just not where I'd personally choose as a base.
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Jan 14th, 2018, 02:26 PM
  #46
 
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How will you get to Lake Matheson from Franz Josef and to Rippon? I'm not a huge fan of Rob Roy Glacier (too popular), but you can probably get there easily enough via shuttle, whereas you'd need a car for other options I might suggest.

Does the bus from Franz Josef to Wanaka stop en route? There's a load of things to see and do along the way, but with only 6.5 hours allocated, I don't think you'll see many of them.

I've visited many places in Europe without a car, but I just can't get my head around doing that in NZ.
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Jan 14th, 2018, 02:40 PM
  #47
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Thank you for your suggestions in the Abel Tasman area, Melnq8.

The 6.5 hours was in reference to the bus ride from Franz Josef to Wanaka; we are planning 2 nights in both places.

For Lake Matheson, we're looking at: http://www.glaciervalley.co.nz/tours-franz-josef.html

Are there better alternatives to Rob Roy reachable from Wanaka? Diamantina's helpful links and my research confirm the availability of shuttles. To and from Rippon, we're thinking walking if the weather is good and taxi if it isn't.
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Jan 14th, 2018, 03:36 PM
  #48
 
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I've just found this link online. The option "Coach, Cruise, Walk" looks like a good choice if you'll be staying in Nelson:
https://www.scenicnzabeltasman.co.nz...rips-packages/

Here's that track transport link for Wanaka:
Tramping shuttle for hikers to Mt Aspiring National Park tracks
The Wanaka I-Site or DOC office, which is close, will have info on current track conditions. I expect Alpine Connexions might as well. I mention this because the weather can sometime be unruly at this time of year.

Option 2 for the Catlins Discovery Tour looks great, if they'll pick you up from Te Anau and reverse the direction (Te Anau to Dunedin). You'd want to make sure you see the Yellow Eyed Penguins swim ashore in the late afternoon/early evening at Curio Bay. The Catlins are wonderful.

I live in Dunedin's St. Clair and it takes us 2.5 to 3 hours to drive down to Curio Bay, only 90 minutes to drive down to Nugget Pt. Lighthouse.

Elm Wildlife Tours runs a one-day trip to the Catlins from Dunedin, that can be extended to two days. Minimum number required is 6 people, but you might try contacting them anyhow. I would think they're not as busy in November (depending on if there's a cruise ship in town).
https://www.elmwildlifetours.co.nz/o...ins-encounters

Several Dunedin-based tour operators offer one- or two-day trips to the Catlins. The smaller companies might customize these tours for you.
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Jan 14th, 2018, 03:51 PM
  #49
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So much appreciated, as always, Diamantina. Our trip is now coming together and we are very excited.
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Jan 15th, 2018, 12:56 AM
  #50
 
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I wondered why it would take so long to get from Franz Josef to Wanaka because it normally takes about 4 hours (without stops). Maybe the service offered by Intercity will be on their Great Sights sightseeing coach tour from FJ to Queenstown (only you'll be getting off a little early in Wanaka). They seem to stop for at a "boutique salmon farm on the Paringa River" and tea in Makarora. I hope you'll have some other photo op stops along the way.
https://www.greatsights.co.nz/new-ze...o-franz-josef/

If Elm Wildlife won't do a tour out of Dunedin to the Catlins for you, ask them for a recommendation for another company that might. What I like about Elm is that they are specifically a wildlife tour company. Their guides are knowledgeable about wildlife, and they're passionate about protecting wildlife and viewing wildlife responsibly.

NZ's Dept. of Conservation has a list of approved commercial operators:
Commercial operators: Bird and wildlife watching

4NatureTours offers customized tours from Dunedin to wildlife viewing areas and other interesting sites north of Dunedin (the coast between Oamaru and Dunedin). Maybe you could work out a one-day tour with them that would take in Orokonui Ecosanctuary (views are great when the weather is clear), the scenic Coast Road from Warrington to Karitane, Shag Point (fur seals), Moeraki Boulders, lunch at Fleur's in Moeraki village (one of the South Island's top restaurants), and finishing off at Katiki Point Lighthouse (Yellow Eyed Penguins and more fur seals).
I've never taken a tour with them, but they get good reviews.
https://www.tripadvisor.co.nz/Attrac...th_Island.html

You can see how many Dunedin companies offer customized wildlife tours on this TA link:
https://www.tripadvisor.co.nz/Attrac...th_Island.html
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Jan 15th, 2018, 01:44 AM
  #51
 
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Bottom Bus/Headfirst is another company that does the route through the Catlins. However, I think you'd have to overnight in Invercargill (not a must-see town, though they do have a good museum with tuatara, NZ's ancient reptile). See the Catlins Spectacular tour:
Bottom Bus - New Zealand Tours
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Jan 15th, 2018, 04:14 AM
  #52
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Thank you Diamantina. I cannot say it enough. Good to know that some tour operators are more thoughtful about conservation, even if it does wind up costing a bit more to choose one of them. I'll be contacting them as soon as I firm up my dates this week. I suppose starting earlier or later in November doesn't make much difference given that weather is unpredictable; not sure if there is something else I'm missing.
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Jan 15th, 2018, 12:43 PM
  #53
 
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Great thread - signing on since we may go to NZ in 2019.
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Jan 15th, 2018, 01:36 PM
  #54
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Welcome to the party, yestravel. Be warned though that there will be more to see and do than we'll have time.
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