Fine-tuning South Island Itinerary for February 2018

Old Nov 9th, 2017, 08:41 AM
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Fine-tuning South Island Itinerary for February 2018

About 8-1/2 months ago, I posted on this board asking for help on a New Zealand itinerary. With the help of Diamantina, Melnq8 and others, I came up with the following SI itinerary for February 2018:
Day 1 arrive Christchurch early afternoon
Day 2 Christchurch
Day 3 Christchurch
Day 4 Drive to Mt Cook Village via Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki
Day 5 Mt Cook
Day 6 Drive to Wanaka
Day 7 Wanaka
Day 8 Drive to Te Anau
Day 9 Te Anau
Day 10 Te Anau
Day 11 Drive to Queenstown
Day 12 Queenstown
Day 13 Queenstown
Day 13 Depart Queenstown late morning
Since February is such a busy time, I booked lodging as soon as I had an itinerary: 3 nights Christchurch, 2 nights Mt Cook (Aoraki Court Motel), 2 nights Wanaka, 3 nights Te Anau and 3 nights Queenstown.

As far as activities are concerned, Christchurch is pretty well set. After Christchurch, it seems a lot will depend on the weather. It seems that at Mt Cook there are a couple of interesting 2-3 hour walks as well as a helicopter tour with a 2 hour walk on Tasman Glacier. At Wanaka, we can explore the little town. I assume that there are walks that we can do by the lake, but do not have any information on that. There are also numerous heli-tours originating from Wanaka. From Te Anau there is the day cruise on Milford Sound as well the drive and walks along the way. There are also heli tours of Milford and/or Doubtful Sound that look interesting. From Queenstown we can do the Dart River jet-boat tour, explore the town and walk.

My main question is about booking tours in advance. With the weather so variable, it seems that this might be difficult. Also it seems that heli-tours from Queenstown and Wanaka can go pretty much anywhere, so I am wondering if we should use tours from these towns as a back-up plan.

I would appreciate your thoughts on all of this. The heli-tours are expensive, I know but we'd probably just want to do a couple and try to maximize our experiences.
Craig is offline  
Old Nov 9th, 2017, 01:44 PM
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If it were me I'd wait to see what the weather is like and go from there.

I never book more than a day or two in advance, because if the weather is shite, I know I'll be very unhappy that I forked out a lot of money for an activity in crap weather (I also never travel in high season so take that with a grain of salt).

The notable exception might be the Doubtful Sound Cruise - it fills up and is very seldom cancelled (although I also booked it just a day in advance - off season - and the weather was crap so I regretted it).

If the weather is bad enough, heli-tours will be cancelled anyway, so if you've got your heart set on something or will only have one or two opportunities to do it, it might behoove you to book those particular activities in advance.

I've visited Milford many times and have never booked a cruise (save the time I went via bus from Te Anau).

As for Wanaka - lots to do there. Take a look at the walk to Mt Iron, or the Diamond Lake/Rocky Mountain trail. Then there's the hugely popular Rob Roy Glacier walk.

If you have a car, no need to take the Dart River safari bus to Glenorchy - drive yourself - make a day of it and just turn up at the tour office in time for your tour.
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Old Nov 9th, 2017, 05:03 PM
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There are several really nice cycle trails around the lake from Wanaka so I would consider hiring bikes. You will obviously cover a lot more ground. We really liked the Diamond Lake hikes. Really want anted to do the Rob Roy but couldn’t because of the snow.

At Mount Cook the walk to the Glacier is a must do, the views are fantastic. The hike up to the "Red Tarns" also had some beautiful views even if the Red Tarns turned out to be rather brown ponds when we visited.

Not sure you would have time, but there is a terrific walk from Tekapo up to Mount St Johns observatory. If not it is a relatively short drive and the views of the alps are as good as anywhere I have seen.

We always visit NZ in winter or spring so booking tours is not much of an issue, apart from the weather. As you say, helicopter trips are not inexpensive and I would not be very happy paying for one if the weather wasn’t perfect. Yes they will not charge if the trip is cancelled but if the weather is just ok then??? For me it was a case of seeing how it goes on the day. One option that really appealed to us was the helicopter trip to Mt Cook from Glenorchy, sadly, the weather didn’t play ball.
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Old Nov 9th, 2017, 05:57 PM
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Your itinerary looks good, and that's fantastic your accommodation is all booked! I'd take that trip! Though I would've cut a day in Christchurch, but I'm guessing you'll be doing a daytrip to Akaroa or all-day TranzAlpine train. I also remember that you wanted to spend more days in each spot, "settle in" a bit and not move around too much.

I concur with Melnq8, if the weather is too poor to fly and do to a glacier landing, helicopter flights will be cancelled anyhow. If you were to take a helicopter flight and the skies were cloudy and mountaintops obscured, would you regret having spent the money? Or would you still find it thrilling? Have you carefully read Trip Advisor reviews? For instance, for "The Helicopter Line Mt. Cook":

Under Reviews, you can check/filter Time of Year:"Dec. to Feb" and search under Show Reviews That Mention "weather".

You'll find no shortage of great views at Aoraki Mt. Cook, even without taking a helicopter ride. The walks at Aoraki Mt. Cook offer impressive views (though in February you'll be sharing the tracks with many). Hooker Valley takes 3 hours round-trip, features swing bridges over fast-flowing glacial rivers, and ends at a glacier lake with small icebergs. It's easy, flat or gently climbing. I also like the Kea Point Track, which is shorter but the track is a bit steep in places (but not treacherous by any means).

Another fun thing to do is the Glacier Explorers trip:

The Hermitage Hotel offers stargazing tours at night (only worth if it's clear and the moon is not full). Though there's always the cheaper option of just going out and looking at the stars from your room.

By the way, ask in advance for an outer room at Aoraki Court Motel, as these have unobstructed views. Like this one:
I've stayed there three times. The last time, we got a room close to the office and our views were blocked by other units, but the room cost just as much. It was disappointing. In this room, the only good views were from a small clearstory window.

Even the 45-minute drive from the main highway into Aoraki Mt. Cook rewards with incredible views, more so if it's sunny and clear.

Because you are coming at such a busy time, I would book tours you have your heart set on. I would book the Dart River Safari. Though I'd agree in part with Melnq8, that you might want to drive yourselves to Glenorchy to join the tour from there. Because the road to Glenorchy is beautiful and you can stop when and where you'd like. When done with the Dart River Safari, if you have time, you might want to have more of a look around Glenorchy or environs and return to Queenstown when you're ready. I've not done the Dart River Safari, but after reading ElendilPickle's trip report, I've pretty much decided I'll do when and if I have the chance. Here's a link to her report.
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Old Nov 9th, 2017, 06:10 PM
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Here's a link to a brochure for Aoraki Mt. Cook walks:

About that Dart River Safari. The weather in February tends to be great, but would you mind getting rained on and a little wet? I think it would be fun anyhow. Just yesterday, my husband and I were reminiscing about walking the Lake Sylvan track (about a half hour from Glenorchy) in the pouring rain. We enjoyed walking through the wet forest. The moss on the forest floor was vivid green and there was special scent of damp forest. We walked the track on another occasion when it was sunny and clear and it wasn't the same, the forest looked dried out and paler.

I'm sure you know the famous quote by Alfred Wainwright: “There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” If you keep this in mind, you'll be comfortable and enjoy yourselves.

Did you ask the helicopter companies what they recommend? And what their cancellation policies are?
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Old Nov 9th, 2017, 11:52 PM
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I agree with Melnq8 and Crellston, Diamond Lakes in Wanaka is beautiful (some steps to climb to get to the summit). It's only a 20 minute, all-paved drive to get there from downtown Wanaka, and you can stop at Rippon Winery along the way (fantastic views and wonderful sculptures on the grounds).

It's also nice to walk around the Wanaka lakeshore, from the center past the famous "willow tree" to Wanaka Station Park, which has beautiful old trees. The walk will take about 10 to 15 minutes.

I again agree with Crellston that the view from Mt. John Observatory in Tekapo is stunning (360 degree view). As you'll be driving from Christchurch and headed to Aoraki Mt. Cook, I'd suggest driving up to Mt. John Observatory.

On Milford Road, stop at Mirror Lakes, do the short walk to The Chasm, and if you have time and don't mind walking uphill stretches, walk to Key Summit.
These links are useful for Milford Road:

If you don't do the Dart River jet boat, consider the Skippers Canyon jet boat from Queenstown. It takes you on historic Skippers Canyon Road, which unlike the road to Glenorchy, you can't do with a rental car. The scenery is entirely different from the road to Glenorchy.
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Old Nov 10th, 2017, 08:02 AM
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Wow! Thanks for all of this great info, Diamantina. I will start to sift through it all this weekend...
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Old Nov 11th, 2017, 09:46 AM
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Craig, it looks like you're pretty well set with all of this information you are getting. I forget how adventurous you are, but I highly recommend a Canyoning tour in Wanaka if you are up for some high adventure. My wife convinced me to do it and it was one of the most fun things we did on that trip.
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Old Nov 17th, 2017, 09:19 AM
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Aloha Craig!
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