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First time to New Zealand - travel itinerary look ok?

First time to New Zealand - travel itinerary look ok?

Nov 4th, 2018, 05:26 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 30
First time to New Zealand - travel itinerary look ok?

I would very much appreciate receiving advice from the experts on an upcoming trip to NZ I am taking with my husband and five year old daughter. We enjoy being very adventurous and seeing the world from the perspective of the locals. We have been looking forwarding to visiting NZ for the outdoors, wildlife, hiking, and kayaking. We love eating good food, but we are not really into going to the wineries. Does this sound feasible - too much driving any one day? Are there places I should consider swapping out for something else?

The details:
Dates in NZ from 11/25 - 12/10
Traveling from San Francisco, CA, USA
Day 1 - Arriving in Auckland at 08:55 and taking a flight to Nelson at 11:30
Day 2 - Abel Tasman National Park
Day 3 - Flight to Christchurch at 08:05 (rent a car)
Day 4 - Christchurch – may go to Akaroa
Day 5 - Drive to Hokitika via Arthur’s Pass
Day 6 - Hokitika – leave for Franz Josef mid day
Day 7 - Franz Josef
Day 8 - Lake Wanaki
Day 9 - Lake Wanaki
Day 10 – Queenstown
Day 11 – Queenstown
Day 12 – Queenstown
Day 13 – Milford Sound overnight
Day 14 – Maybe do the glow worms in Te Anua (is this worth a stop)
Day 15 – Flight - Queenstown to Auckland – Drive to Matamata/Rotorua (night in Rotorua)
Day 16 – Flight at 15:30 from Auckland to San Francisco, CA, USA

Thank you in advance!
vertigo99 is offline  
Nov 5th, 2018, 04:12 AM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 1,874
Just clarifying: you mean this year, correct? Are your domestic flights already booked (Nelson to Christchurch, Queenstown to Auckland)? Because it would been convenient to drive from Nelson to Punakaiki, spend the night in Punakaiki, then continue to Hokitika, Franz Josef, etc. But I guess you've booked a flight from Nelson to Christchurch because you'd like to see Christchurch and drive over Arthur's Pass to the West Coast. Makes sense.

Have you booked any accommodation?

If you were thinking of visiting Akaroa on November 28, 2018, there will be a cruise ship with 2000 passengers and 924 crew stopping in the village. Not all will stay in Akaroa, some will go into Christchurch or take the TranzAlpine train. Akaroa/the Banks Peninsula is pretty, but I expect the village will be way busier than usual. The population of Akaroa is only 600.
Personally, I'd skip Akaroa. But maybe you have your heart set on seeing the village or taking a dolphin cruise (because you mentioned wanting to see wildife)? You also might be able to see some penguins swimming around from the dolphin cruise (we did, but wildlife spottings are unpredictable).
Keep in mind, it takes about 1.5 hours to drive from central Christchurch to Akaroa and the road is winding. Is your 5-year-old okay with winding roads?

Consider spending Day 4 driving from Christchurch to Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks) and spending the night here instead. It would take you 4 hours to drive from Christchurch to Punakaiki, which is north of Greymouth. So this would be one of your longer drives. But there are some nice walks around Punakaiki and the scenery is beautiful. On Day 5, your drive from Punakaiki to Hokitika would take around 1 hour 10 minutes, without stops. There isn't a lot of accommodation in Punakaiki.
Walks around Punakaiki:
Take care when pulling into parking lots, as you wouldn't want to harm the weka (a flightless native bird).

Don't forget to pack insect repellent.

What were you planning for Hokitika? You can drive to Hokitika Gorge and return to Hokitika via Lake Kaniere.
At night, after dark, you can visit Hokitika's small glow worm dell. It's free and just a few minutes walk from the main road.
Your daughter might enjoy the National Kiwi Centre.

There's also a kiwi attraction in Franz Josef, the West Coast Wildlife Centre. And a free glow worm walk, The Terrace Walk:

The drive from Franz Josef to Wanaka also will be one of your longer drives, about 4 hours without stops, but you'll want to stop and probably often, as it's highly scenic. One of the most popular stops is the walk to Lake Matheson. The parking lot for this walk is 6 km west of Fox Glacier township.
If you're lucky and the weather is clear, Lake Matheson looks something like this:
About the walk:

The Te Anau glow worm cave tour is interesting and fun, if you have the time. You take a boat onto Lake Te Anau and then ride on a little boat through the darkness of the caves to see the glow worms. If you're taking the overnight Milford Sound cruise with Real Journeys, you might get a discount on their Te Anau Glow Worm Cave tour. Check their "specials" page:

You'll have a chance to kayak on the Milford Sound overnight cruise. Will you be driving back to Queenstown after the overnight Milford Cruise as you'll be flying from Queenstown to Auckland the next day? There are some easy short walks along Milford Road, such as Mirror Lakes and the Chasm, so budget time for these short easy walks.

Amisfield Bistro at Amisfield Winery (about halfway between Queenstown and Arrowtown) is one of the best restaurants in New Zealand. Reservations highly recommended.

Last edited by Diamantina; Nov 5th, 2018 at 04:15 AM.
Diamantina is offline  
Nov 5th, 2018, 06:02 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,481
Assume you mean Lake Wanaka (Lake Wanaki)?

I think you're giving short shirft to Abel Tasman - only one day (and the day after your long international flight no less).

How do you plan to get from Nelson to Abel Tasman? I've never found Nelson the best base for exploring Abel Tasman due to drive time, but I understand your need to fly into Nelson, so I guess it makes sense from that perspective. But only one day in Abel Tasman then a flight to Christchurch? Surely you can spare another day or two?

I think the first half of your itinerary is entirely too rushed, especially with a little one in tow. As is your time on the NI - fly in one day, three hour drive to Rotorua the same day, just to turn around and drive the three hours back to Auckland in time for an international flight? Yowsa.

My advice - slow down, cut back, take some time to enjoy what you've come so far to see. I'd personally give the Auckland/Rotorua section a pass, add those days to the front of your SI itinerary.
Melnq8 is offline  
Nov 5th, 2018, 02:57 PM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 1,874
Melnq8, because Vertigo99 didn't mention renting a car in Nelson, I think the family might be planning on a one-day tour from Nelson. Here are some options below.

I'm thinking the one-day walk (5.5 hours to walk 11 kms/6.8 miles) or kayaking options might be too much for a 5-year-old (but I don't know the family personally). Ocean conditions will probably be mild for kayaking, but there no guarantees. On my one-day Abel Tasman kayaking trip many years ago, the ocean conditions were rough and the skies poured down buckets of rain (it was nothing like the photos I'd seen). I wouldn't have put a child through that. A scenic cruise, perhaps with the option of a shorter walk, might be the best option.

I thought one-day for Rotorua/Matamata was extremely rushed, too, which is why I asked if they were locked in to their domestic flights and accommodation. Ideally, they should have another night or two for these activities. I hate the idea of motorists rushing on these busy roads. Or, if the flights can't be changed, just enjoy Auckland. Lots of things to do there: the zoo (with its Kiwi House); the aquarium; the Maori performance at the Auckland War Memorial Museum; or afternoon cruise to, and tour of, Rangitoto Island.

Vertigo99, what time is your flight from Queenstown to Auckland? FYI: Queenstown's Skyline Gondola offers a nightly Maori performance.

According to AA drive distance calculator, the drive from Auckland Airport to Rotorua will take around 3 hours. The drive from Auckland Airport to Hobbiton will take about 2 hours, 20 minutes. The drive Hobbiton to Rotorua will take more than an hour. You also have to factor in the the time needed to pick up the car, and the time needed for the tour of Hobbiton. I'm guessing Vertigo99 was planning a Maori Hangi dinner and performance in Rotorua, because there really wouldn't be much time to do much.

Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markle just made one-day visits to Rotorua and Abel Tasman NP, but they were flown around in helicopters.

Last edited by Diamantina; Nov 5th, 2018 at 03:06 PM.
Diamantina is offline  
Nov 5th, 2018, 05:18 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 30
I am sorry for the delayed response. I thought I hit reply, but I just noticed I do not see my reply. Let me try to reply again.

I have read through many NZ threads, and I am amazed at how helpful and willing Diamantina and Melnq8 are to help all of us traveling to their wonderful country, with our questions. I genuinely appreciate your suggestions and thoughts.

I should have mentioned that we really want to see penguins. We are not committed to Christchurch. I mainly selected Christchurch because of Akaroa (wildlife opportunities) and initially I thought we would take the TranzAlpine train. After reading many threads on Fodors I decided we would drive instead of take the train. Is it even worth us going to Christchurch?

I had thought of going to Punakaiki, but after reading some of the threads, it seems that it is not as highly recommend as maybe other sights. Also, Punakaiki was not on our way from Christchurch, I thought we could skip it. I am open to adding Punakaiki though.

Yes, in Hokitika, I was thinking of the glow worms and gorge. It also seemed like a good place to stop after going over the pass from Christchurch.

Yes, in Fox glacier, I was thinking of Lake Matheson, and a glacier hike if weather permits.

Yes, we are doing the Real Journeys tour, and you are correct, the more activities you purchase the better a discount! Thank you for mentioning the discount.

Amisfield Bistro has openings the days we are in the area. Thank you for the recommendation! This place sounds amazing!

Melnq8, Thank you for your recommendations. I am adding a day to Abel Tasman, and considering taking out Christchurch.

I have hotels booked via booking.com which allows changes/cancellation the day before check-in without any charges/penalties. So I have a lot of flexibility with the hotels. For the domestic flights, I am booking them this week. Basically, as soon as I can get this itinerary finalized I will book them. Therefore, I have flexibility with them too.

I will for sure add another day in Abel Tasman thanks to Melnq8's recommendation. I am seriously thinking of taking Christchurch out and the NI portion. With the extra couple of days - any recommendations on where to spend the extra time?

BTW, I noticed another reply from Diamantina. Yes, I was planning to rent a car in Nelson and return it in Queenstown. I also have noticed if I take out Christchurch, this itinerary is starting to look a lot like nycmary's itinerary.

Again, thank you!
vertigo99 is offline  
Nov 6th, 2018, 03:32 AM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 1,874
That's good that you haven't yet booked your domestic flights and that your accommodations can be changed. I'd cut the North Island for sure. Save it for when you have more time to see it properly.
Diamantina is offline  
Nov 6th, 2018, 07:46 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 30
Hi Everyone,

I have made some adjustments to my itinerary based on your recommendations. I kept Christchurch in the plan and double checked the cruise ship schedules for Akaroa. It all looks good, but I do have some concern that I might be pushing it too much with Christchurch still in the mix. If this looks like I am packing in too much - please advise. thank you.

The details:
Dates in NZ from 11/25 - 12/10
Traveling from San Francisco, CA, USA

Day 1 - (Nov 25) - Arriving in Auckland at 08:55 and taking a flight to Nelson at 11:30 go straight to the Abel Tasman NP area
Day 2 – (Nov 26) - Abel Tasman National Park
Day 3 – (Nov 27) – Abel Tasman National Park
Day 4 - (Nov 28) - Christchurch
Day 5 – (Nov 29) – Christchurch - Akaroa
Day 6 – (Nov 30) - Drive to Punakiaki rocks via Arthur’s Pass
Day 7 – (Dec 1) - Punakiaki rocks
Day 8 – (Dec 2) - leave in the am for Franz Josef
Day 9 – (Dec 3) Franz Josef
Day 10 – (Dec 4) Lake Wanaka
Day 11 – (Dec 5) Lake Wanaka
Day 12 – (Dec 6) Queenstown – Te Anau
Day 13 – (Dec 7) Queenstown - Milford Sound overnight
Day 14 – (Dec 8) Queenstown
Day 15 – (Dec 9) Queenstown
Day 16 – (Dec 10) Flight from Queenstown in the am then Auckland flight at 15:30 from Auckland to San Francisco, CA, USA

Thank you all for your help. I could not have done this without your recommendations - not just on this thread but the many other threads you have commented on. thank you so much!
vertigo99 is offline  
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