Fine tuning my South Island itinerary. Questions....

Dec 18th, 2004, 12:21 PM
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Fine tuning my South Island itinerary. Questions....

We have five days to get from Picton to Queenstown down the west coast. I think this will give us a good chance to the highlites, but can't decide on a plan. My freind will be doing the 4 day Milford Sound trek, and I'll be doing the overnight Doubtful Sound cruise. SO should we plan on getting to Queenstown a full day (one of our 5 days) ahead of time, and enjoy this area? Or take the full five days for the trip down? And should we use one of these days to take a side trip to Abel Tasman Park?

Also we have 2 full days to get back to Kaikoura at the end of our tour. Should we take our time and enjoy the scenery and stop around Tekapo or go like crazy to get to Christchurch the first day, in order to see some of Christchurch? We are not museum people, and wonder if we should spend a day in Christchurch.

Thanks for any help.
kodi is offline  
Dec 18th, 2004, 02:32 PM
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Hi, kodi,
Not too long now for you! I hate to tell you but our weather is very unseasonal at present, although the forecasters say it should improve early January. I sincerely hope so as it is very cold today - at least 9 degrees lower than normal!!
Now, fine-tuning the South Island. I gather you don't have bookings so are fairly flexible. May I suggest the following:
Day 1:
from Picton travel through to Blenheim - about 30 minutes' driving (stop and buy some cherries from a road-side stall on the right-hand side, that is if they are still selling them when you come through. That will help counteract the chocolate and ice-cream consumption later!!)
from there head towards Lake Rotoiti, then to Kawatiri and on to Murchison - a journey of about 160 km or approx. 2 1/2 hours driving. There's a really nice cafe in Murchison whose name escapes me but has something to do with River.
From Murchison pass through Inangahua Junction, Reefton and then to Greymouth.
That is about 3 3/4 hours travelling. Stay the night there.
Day 2:
from Greymouth head north to Punakaiki to see the Blowhole, double-back and travel down to Fox. I suggest an overnight break there as the trip through to Wanaka / Queenstown is 9 - 11 hours driving time approximately. While there you could do a trip onto the glacier. Alternatively you could proceed to Haast and stay the night there.
Day 3:
On to Wanaka - 3 1/2 hours from Haast, 5 1/2 hours from Fox. On the way do stop on the Haast Bridge - you can't miss it as there should be others stopped to look. Also have a look at the two lakes - Hawea and Wanaka - as you drive past. They are beautiful.
Now, I would stay a night or two in Wanaka as it is slightly less touristy, and is only a couple of hours north of Queenstown.
Day 4 or 5: On to Queenstown. If you go Day 4 then you could have a look around Te Anau / Queenstown.

Re the Kaikoura section:
Tekapo is an interesting place but doesn't take more than half a day to look around. If you went up to Christchurch the first day you might have time to go swimming with the dolhpins in Akaroa Harbour - you need to book ahead for this. That takes care of a good half day. You could ride the tram around the city centre - an interesting experience. Although you
are not museum people I would recommend the Antarctica museum out near the airport. A fascinating record of the work on Antarctica. Sadly no penguin, but hopefully you will see some while in Dunedin!
I have been told you need to allow at least a minimum of 2 if not 3 days for Abel Tasman Park, so I'm not sure whether it would be worth you detouring through that way. Save it for your next trip!!
By the way, where are you staying in Wellington? And how long for? Maybe we could organise a tour of the sights around here for you if we are in town. We get back into Wellington on 15 January.
Hope this helps you sort your West Coast section out!
Have a great Christmas.
dotty is offline  
Dec 18th, 2004, 04:46 PM
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Dot , you are a gem!! Thanks so much for all the added info.
I have been reading about your unseasonal weather. It seems to be the same all over. It's impossible to count on any 'usual' weather any more.
(But I do hope it gets better soon). Four weeks from right now, I'll be on the plane!!
I wondered about carrying on after we get off the ferry..... so your advice to go to Blenheim is great. And if I can buy cherries along the way, I'll think I've died and gone to heaven!

We are trying to keep a balance between flexibility and firm plans. We've booked ahead for the nights where we know for sure we have to be somewhere,and want to keep the rest loose. and easy to allow for freedom along the way.

I like your plan for the west coast heading south.

Heading north, I don't think we were particular about staying around Tekapo, so I like your idea of heading straight for Akaroa and on to Christchurch.

Unfortunately, we won't have much time in Wellington. (oh, the choices we had to make!)
Our tour will start in Auckland on the evening of Jan 20 and we have to be at the ferry by noon on Jan 25.
So we are thinking of this....

day 1 (Jan 21), Auckland
day 2 and 3 (Jan 22 & 23) . Rotorua and area.
day 4 (Jan 24) drive to Wellington
day 5. ferry at 1 PM.

So, at most , we'll have one evening and one morning in Wellington.
I'd love it if you could arrange something...
My email is [email protected]
Drop me a line when you have a chance.
kodi is offline  
Dec 20th, 2004, 09:42 PM
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I'll give you our itinerary (going the other way) to give you an idea off driving times...

We left Te Anu one morining; about an hour and a half to Queenstown (or was it two?). We've been there before, so we just spent a bit of time there. One thing we couldn't do last time was the Shotover Jet. The river was high the year before - so we did the jet this time. The total time is about and hour and a bit from downtown Queenstown and back.

We left Queenstown about 2PM, and got to Franz Josef about 8:30. It was getting dark. Fortunately, we had booked a hotel through the "i" Tourist info office in Queenstown. (Hint - in a lot of these small towns, everything closes early and there's not a lot of choice to begin - so you better not be a fussy eater.

The next day, we spent all day on the Franz J Glacier. (Fantastic!) After,we drove to Hokitika where we phoned ahead for a room.

(We'd picked up a brochure for a chain of hotels called "Bella Vista" that had an 800 number. They were higher priced - $90 to 125, but very nice! Some even had spa baths, while you'll find most motels have only showers). PS. If you do pick up a NZ "mobile" (Or take a European phone and buy a SIM card there - you'll find coverage "spotty" outside the towns except on the eastern plain).

The next day, we drove Hokitika via Lewis Pass to Kaikoura to Blenheim, with a 3 hour stop in Kaikoura for whale-watching. Picton was about 30 minutes north of there...

So you can do the drive as quick as you want. It depends what attractions you want to see, and whether you are a 10-hour a day driver or if a couple of hours is your limit. But, don't make the North American assumption 100km (=62 miles) = 1 hour. The roads and the traffic will not usually stand up to that.

Both times I've been at Milford sound cruises (late Nov. 2004, and early Dec. 2003) the weather has been pouring rain. It makes for spectacular waterfalls, but the cloud is about 500 feet up and you wont see the peaks easily, and you won't stand on the outside deck very long. (Fortunately, it's cozy inside). And, it's been wet snow on the east side of the tunnel.

But do stop before the tunnel (east side) and see the Kia birds - watch they don't eat your car's rubber windshield wipers or windshield edging!
MD is offline  
Dec 21st, 2004, 01:09 PM
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MD, Thanks so much for sharing your itinerary. It really helps to plan, when someone else has done it and can give their times.
And thanks for the tip on places closing early. I'll make sure we have food in the car with all times!
I'm a bit of a muncher anyway.
Did you find that you needed a phone? I hadn't really thought about having one ( although I wouldn't be with out one at home). I was planning on using pay phones. Did you rent a cell phone?

I'm also glad to hear that Picton is only 30 minutes north of Kaikoura. We are going to go whale watching on our final day on the south island in the early morning and then will drive up to the ferry. It sounds like we'll have lots of time.
I'll expect rain on my overnight cruise of Doubtful Sound, and be pleasantly surprised if the sun shines.
I appreciate your help.
kodi is offline  
Dec 21st, 2004, 04:22 PM
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Oops. Picton is 30 min. NORTH of BLENHEIM. It's 130km Blenheim to Kaikoura, which would be under 2 hrs. drive. (winding roads, slower drivers, no passing lanes...) We got there about 2PM, still had time to do the whale-watch thing, and drive on to Blenheim.

All the brochures advertised only the dolphin cruise (last sailing about 12:30PM?) but there's a Maori-backed business that has 2 fast catamarans with all the modern sonar equipment to track whales. The "I" tourist place hooked us up. After the whales were gone (they surface for 5-10 min. and dive for 50; only 2 or 3 humpbacked that day) they found a pod of playful dolphins, then we went around the seal rock.

But when we got to Blenheim, only a few cafes and the fast food places were still open, Which beats Franz Josef, where we had dinner in a bar because nothing else was open. And, one of the bars sold me a litre of milk,because not even the gas station/convenience store was open at 8:30. (fill up early!)

BTW, most motels seem to have a kitchenette - which translates to a small fridge, sink, microwave and set of dishes. This was convenient, because we bought a box of cereal (mmm... Hubbard's granola!). Some places will also give you a pint of milk (for tea) which may stretch to fill two bowls of cereal, or buy your own. That and/or some muffins or bagels will solve the "what's for breakfast" dilemma.

Also you'll hear stories about speed radar cams, usually in the urban areas, or on big motorway areas - although Avis didn't tell us we got anything (yet). So everyone goes the limit or under usually. Keep eyes peeled for odd boxes on poles, parked vans, etc.
MD is offline  
Dec 21st, 2004, 06:32 PM
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That makes a bit more sense. WE have booked a whale wathing tour in Kaikoura for 7:15 AM , which is supposed to take us out for 2 and a half hours, then we have til 7 PM to get to Picton for our ferry, so we should be ok. I sure hope we see the whales.
I had no idea everything closed so early, so thanks for the heads up.
WE'll be sure to keep our tank full and our cooler full. I'm planning on buying a cheap cooler when we arrive.
We will be staying mostly at hostels, and I understand they have kitchens. It will be a first for me.

I've been warned not to speed, so I'm prepared to do the limit. What a change!! Not that I'm a speed demon, but I must admit I do keep up with the traffic on the highways!
Did you book ahead, or look for placed along the way? We want to stay fairly flexible.
kodi is offline  
Dec 21st, 2004, 07:18 PM
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Mostly we booked in the morning for that night, when we had a good idea where we wanted to end up.

Hostels are good. However, my wife preferred private facilities. (I did use the hostel when I was on my own at Ayers Rock... $40 versus paying $400-plus a night for my own room)

Some roads can get very (VERY) winding. There is a stretch on the Blenheim -Nelson that reminds me of some back-roads passes in Idaho... Some stretches - Milford Sound road, Haast Pass, the Cardrona shortcut to Queenstown - these all have stretches of 15mph curves. (Ever done the California coastal highway?)

There's a small beige-brown tavern in Cardrona that appears in some Speights beer ads if you're passing through...
MD is offline  
Dec 21st, 2004, 07:49 PM
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Ahhh, I can relate totally to your wife wanting private facilities. I wish we were staying in motels. However......hostels it is!

No, I haven't driven the coastal road in California, but have driven some winding roads in the Black Hills of SD and in the Rockies last summer. (We were driving up one switchback road, and could not believe our eyes. There was a big tour bus BACKING up the switchback because there wasn't enough room for him to make the turn) But the worst, (or best) was in Ireland, and in particular, Connor Pass.
So, I'll be sure and go slow and enjoy it all!
I'll have to watch the beer ads.
It sounds like you had a good time.
I'm really looking forward to all of it.
Thanks again for the help.
kodi is offline  

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