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First time in NZ. Need advice on Dec trip itinerary pls.

First time in NZ. Need advice on Dec trip itinerary pls.

Apr 13th, 2017, 03:28 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: May 2012
Posts: 17
First time in NZ. Need advice on Dec trip itinerary pls.

We're an active couple in our 50s and it's our first time to NZ. We only have 9 nights in mid-December so initially decided to just visit South Island. Keen on day hikes, cycling, sky dive, heli-hikes, whale/dolphin watching, good food & wine. After booking tickets, hubby says he doesn't want to spend too much time driving and interested in checking out more local, livelier scenes in North Island as he has the impression that SI is quiet and too touristy. Please assist in helping us with a good working itinerary. Should we just do SI or try to visit some NI places bearing in mind that we arrive and depart in Christchurch. To date, itinerary below is only for SI. Where/when/how to go to NI, if ever?

Day 1 Arrive Christchurch midday – overnight stay

Day 2 (AM) Drive or take bus to Kaikoura

Day 2 (PM) Return to Christchurch

Day 3 Fy to Queenstown or drive to Franz Josef

Day 4 Franz Josef heli-hike or @ Queenstown

Day 5 Drive from Franz Josef to Queenstown

Days 6 - 9 Queenstown

Activities: Chill, cycling; hiking; sky dive; options to go to Milford Sound and fly to

Fox for glacier heli-hike

Day 9 (PM) Fly to Christchurch

Day 10 Fly back home (12pm flight)

Thanks for your assistance!
mdk11 is offline  
Apr 13th, 2017, 11:30 AM
Join Date: Jul 2014
Posts: 227
I'm not sure how a place can be quiet and touristy at the same time. Nevertheless...

With flying in and out of Christchurch, you are a bit limited. In 9 days you could make your way to the northern portion of South Island and explore Nelson and Abel Tasman, then take the ferry to Wellington for a couple of days and fly back to Christchurch.

IMHO, that would be missing the more iconic scenery New Zealand has to offer in the Southern Alps. If wanting to tweak your original plan, I'd suggest you head to Akaroa to see dolphins as it's a much shorter drive than Kaikoura. And in the effort of keeping the driving limited, fly to Queenstown. Driving the West Coast to Franz Josef is a long drive and then it's another long drive to Queenstown.

Queenstown is quite lively - touristy too. But you can easily get away from the mania by heading a short way out of town to Glenorchy and/or Arrowtown. Wanaka is an hour to hour and a half away and is gorgeous, but doesn't have the touristy feel.
deSchenke is offline  
Apr 13th, 2017, 06:24 PM
Join Date: May 2015
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What does he mean by 'livelier' - does he want to visit nightclubs every night? If he's never visited NZ this is just a preconception and hard to give advice if someone already has a closed mind. New Zealand IS small and may seem quiet if you are coming from New York or some really full on city.
Queenstown is gorgeous and yes it is touristy but the lake and mountains overcome that. Rotorua is good for Maori culture and thermal parks.
You only have 9 days which is not long.
tasmangirl is offline  
Apr 15th, 2017, 02:45 AM
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Please be aware that Kaikoura whale watch cruises and dolphin swims can be cancelled due to rough seas or poor weather. More so with the whale watching trips, as they generally sail farther out. So if you're just going up there for the day, you could be disappointed. However, Kaikoura is beautiful, sandwiched between the mountains and the sea. The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway is also worth doing. It's an easy walk that offers fur seal watching:
On Sundays in summer, Kaikoura has a modest but good Farmers Market. No nightlife in Kaikoura (that I know of). It's small and mainly focused on wildlife tourism.

Between Christchurch and Kaikoura there are wineries to visit.
Pegasus Bay Winery's restaurant is a lovely spot on a sunny day:

If I were going to Kaikoura and had my heart set on the whale watch, dolphin swim or pelagic bird cruise, I'd stay overnight, in case I needed to re-schedule for the next morning. I've done the Kaikoura dolphin swim and whale watch cruises. I'd do the dolphin swim again, but not the whale watch cruise.
I'd recommend renting a car but if you'd like to take the bus:

If you take one day to get over jetlag and to see Christchurch, then you really only have 8 days for your trip. If you go up to Kaikoura or Akaroa, as suggested, then that's only 7 days, or 6 days if you overnight in Kaikoura. Both the North and South Island are enjoyable, but you don't have time to bounce around, especially if your flights to and from Christchurch are already booked and if you plan on doing the activities you've listed, because, these, too, can be cancelled due to poor weather. So you'd need leeway in your schedule.

Queenstown and/or Wanaka would be good bases for hiking, skydiving, cycling, beautiful scenery, chilling by the lake in a cafe/bistro/restaurant with a glass of wine.

In December, the weather can still be wet and windy at times in the south of the South Island. You can even get a dusting of snow on the mountains.

Queenstown and/or Wanaka are also good bases for visiting nearby wine regions (Cromwell, Bannockburn, Gibbston Valley). Mt. Difficulty Winery in Bannockburn is a great place for lunch on a nice day, with views over the valley. Wild Earth Winery in Kawarau Gorge (on SH6 between Cromwell and Gibbston Valley enroute to Queenstown) has a restaurant with a wonderful riverside location. Rippon Winery in Wanaka has a fabulous view over Lake Wanaka (no restauarant as of yet). Amisfield Winery, very close to Queenstown on Lake Hayes Road enroute to historic Arrowtown, has a terrific bistro.

Instead of driving from Christchurch to the West Coast/Franz Josef then down to Queenstown or Wanaka, you could instead consider driving from Christchurch to Mt. Cook Village (close to the center of the South Island) to Wanaka and/or Queenstown. Spend a night or two in tiny Mt. Cook Village to do some hiking and a heli-hike. Phishears filed a trip report about her helihike out of Mt. Cook Village with Alpine Guides:
In December, you can't expect the weather in Mt. Cook Village to be perfect, but it might be. This also applies to Franz Josef. NZ weather is unpredictable and changeable. Mt. Cook is part of NZ's International Dark Sky Reserve, so if you're lucky enough to get a clear night sky and not a full moon, the stargazing can be magnificent, otherwise, there's not much else to do at night here.

Will you pass on seeing Milford Road and Sound, then? If so, then you might have to re-think your schedule again.

For cycle trails near Queenstown look at:

The NZ Dept. of Conservation website offers track info.:
For Queenstown walking tracks:
The 45-minute drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy is popular as are the walking tracks near Glenorchy:
For Wanaka walking tracks:
And near Wanaka:

Christchurch is a regular city that's not just focused on tourism. Here's a link for its bars & nightlife:

Most tourists come to the South Island to be close to nature. You can be with hundreds of tourists on a track, but, you're right, it's fairly quiet, with the exception of a few exuberant children and the very occasional boisterous group. Nearly everyone is focused on being in the natural environment, looking and listening rather than making noise.
Diamantina is offline  
Apr 15th, 2017, 06:58 PM
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Melnq8 is offline  
Apr 19th, 2017, 07:34 AM
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Thanks for all the suggestions. Lots to consider and agree that we don't have time to cover both North and South Islands. We would definitely spend more time in SI. So before flying out to Queenstown from Christchurch, we would like to visit either Kaikoura, Nelson/Abel Tasman or Wellington. This all depends on which place is less quiet on Sundays and Mondays. Are Sundays normally very quiet, i.e., restaurants, shops are closed or have limited working hours? As it stands now, our itinerary is still the same except for Days 1-4.

Please kindly suggest what's the best place to be at for Day 2-4 from Christchurch. We would like to be somewhere where it's bustling, fun and have some lovely people/activity watching with NZ's gorgeous backdrop. This is our description of something lively, no nightclubs and nothing loud or crowded - just not a very quiet, deserted feel of a place. See below:

Day 1 (Sat) Arrive Christchurch midday – overnight stay.

Day 2 (Sun) Go to Kaikoura, Nelson/Abel Tasman / Wellington? If long drive will most likely fly to one of these places.

Day 3 (Mon) overnight stay in wherever we are in Day 2

Day 4 (Tues) extend?

Day 5 (Wed) Fly to Queenstown from wherever we are on Day 4.

Days 6 - 9 Queenstown

Activities: Chill, cycling; hiking; sky dive; options to go to Milford Sound and fly to Fox for glacier heli-hike

Day 9 (PM) Fly to Christchurch

Day 10 Fly back home (12pm flight)

Thanks so much!
mdk11 is offline  
Apr 19th, 2017, 02:53 PM
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I can't think of many places that would close on a Sunday or Monday in December...unless on an actual holiday. December is high season and will be plenty bustling.

I don't understand why you'd fly into Christchurch then head north to go to Wellington??? You'd either have to fly, or take the ferry from Picton - I thought you already discounted the North Island?

The drive from Christchurch to Picton is a VERY long day. The ferry to Wellington will add at least three hours.

Wellington isn't a day trip from anywhere on the South Island. Perhaps I misunderstood your intention?

Abel Tasman is all about scenery, kayaking and hiking - it's one of the most popular national parks in NZ, and will be plenty bustling in December (which is why I never go there in the height of the season!). You'd need at least two nights there to even get a tiny taste of it.

For Day 2, why not make a day trip to Akaroa? It's about a 90 minute drive from Christchurch - it's plenty bustling, and also very pretty. There are dolphin tours, nice little cafes along the waterfront, penguin tours, lots of hiking in the area, etc. It's a reasonable day trip from Christchurch.

So, after two nights in Christchurch, perhaps head to the West Coast via Arthur's Pass, then work your way down the West Coast to Queenstown.

Wanaka is very bustling that time of year, as is Queenstown.

With so few days, I suggest you make a one way trip to Queenstown from Christchurch, spending nights at the glaciers and Wanaka en route.

Or, if you're set on seeing some of the north of the South Island, you could drive from Christchurch up to Nelson, spend several nights there and then fly from Nelson to Queenstown.

The problem with this plan is that you miss the middle, which IMO is the best part.

Or you could spend a few nights in Christchurch, make a day trip to Akaroa, then head down south via the east coast and spend a few days at Mt Cook en route to Wanaka and Queenstown.
Melnq8 is offline  
Apr 19th, 2017, 06:49 PM
Join Date: May 2015
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Agreed - why are you in Christchurch just for 1 night?
Nelson, Abel Tasman and Wellington are not day trips from Christchurch as Mel points out.
I'd stay in Chch and do one day to Kaikoura and the other Akaroa. Or go earlier to Queenstown.
"We would like to be somewhere where it's bustling, fun and have some lovely people/activity watching with NZ's gorgeous backdrop." sounds like Queenstown to me! Have a drink at one of the waterfront bars and cafes and the whole Lake Wakatipu panorama is in front of you with the historic TSS Earnslaw steaming into the wharf if you are lucky.
It's not really quiet on a Sunday anymore in New Zealand. Maybe in small places that tourists visit but malls, shops, restaurants and attractions are all open. Some places are closed on a Monday but weekend opening hours are everywhere now.
tasmangirl is offline  
Apr 19th, 2017, 06:50 PM
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Oops - should read tourists DON'T visit.
tasmangirl is offline  
Apr 20th, 2017, 02:24 AM
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Posts: 17
I don't know why a local from Christchurch says there's nothing to do in her town and would be too quiet for us and suggested to go to the NI as SI is touristy and all landscape?! Was given the impression, too that Sundays are semi-ghost town in most places and hard to get bookings. Good to know that's not the case. Anyway, agree that Wellington would be too far and understand that Nelson/ Abel Tasman aren't day trips. If going there we would fly, not drive. If going to Kaikoura and Akaroa for dolphin and whale tours do we need to book way in advance? In general, can we book last minute for any activities/tours in December?

Mel, your itinerary suggestion of driving from Christchurch to Queenstown is my preference but unfortunately, hubby doesn't want to drive that long/far and most of SI middle lovely spots will be missed. How different is Abel Tasman from Queenstown?

mdk11 is offline  
Apr 20th, 2017, 02:47 AM
Join Date: May 2015
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Christchurch is still recovering from the earthquake in 2011. A lot of people have suffered with familt and friends who died, their homes not being rebuilt, insurance hassles, maybe loss of jobs etc. It was a devastating tragedy when it happened. All of NZ expected the 'big one' to be in Wellington but it was Christchurch that copped it.Perhaps it is a bit quiet at the weekends there.
Abel Tasman is a national park with beautiful bush, golden sand, blue water and great for walking. There are no roads, shops or anything commercial.
Queenstown has the mountains and lake and is quite different. No less gorgeous but definitely more commercial.
tasmangirl is offline  
Apr 20th, 2017, 05:46 AM
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They're like apples and oranges.
Melnq8 is offline  
Apr 20th, 2017, 08:53 AM
Join Date: Jul 2014
Posts: 227

They're like apples and oranges.***


Abel Tasman is a national park. There's a coastal walk that runs the length of it and would take a few days to complete. You could take water-taxis into it and kayak trips can be booked, if that's your wish. But there are no restaurants, ATMs, cafe's for people-watching. There are beautiful coves with white sandy beaches and crystal blue waters. Nelson is a moderately-sized city about an hour's drive away.

Queenstown is the very definition of "lively". But it's lively with tourists. It's located on a lake with the Southern Alps as a backdrop. There are a range of activities, too numerous to list and only your budget confines you. LOTR tours, jeep tours, winery tours, horseback tours, old mining sites to explore, jetboats, rafting, parasailing, hang-gliding, segway tours, a gondola, zipline course, golf course, frisbee golf, bike rentals, "ice bars", bungy jumps, canyon swings...
deSchenke is offline  
Apr 25th, 2017, 08:05 PM
Join Date: Feb 2017
Posts: 33
I would highly recommend staying in arrowtown in lieu of queenstown--- it's slightly quieter, feels less touristy, and has absolutely amazing restaurants and bars--- it's also an easy drive (about 20 min) into queenstown for activities. On the activity front I highly recommend white water rafting on the shot over and horseback riding in glenorchy. There are also a multitude of great hiking (tramping tracks) in the queenstown area---I would also factor in a couple of days in Mitford sound (the key summit hike (part of the routeburn track) is stunning and kayaking in the sound isn't to be missed..if you can, stay in milford itself.
trailandtide is offline  
Apr 26th, 2017, 02:49 PM
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I think the OP might die of boredom.
Melnq8 is offline  
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