First Trip to New Zealand

Old Jan 5th, 2020, 10:25 AM
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First Trip to New Zealand

I am planning our first trip to NZ for February 2021. I definitely want to visit in summer, but wonder when the best time is to visit in summer and yet not be as crowded due to school vacations. I am overwhelmed! We can spend up to 4 weeks, but wonder if it is best to stick to the North Island or try to see both? We love easy hikes, kayaking, and definitely wine! I am interested in farm or home stays as we love to become immersed in the culture. We will definitely rent a car. Would love to see the All Blacks, but understand that is typically in the winter. Is that correct? If we stay for a week in a home base, does anyone have a suggestion where a good base is with a lot around that area? Any advice is welcome! Thank you so much!
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Old Jan 5th, 2020, 10:51 AM
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With four weeks, I'd suggest three on the SI and one on the NI.

Because the SI is long and narrow, and attractions well spaced, it's not a good place to apply the base city concept. It's more of a see as you go kind of place, using many bases en route for 2-3 days at a stretch. Having said that, you can see quite a bit from a Queenstown or Wanaka base.

For example from Queenstown you can visit Wanaka, Arrowtown, Milford Sound (via very long day trip, which I don't recommend), and Glenorchy.

From a Wanaka base you can visit Queenstown, Arrowtown, Glenorchy, the wine growing areas of Cromwell and Bannockburn and even a bit of the West Coast if you're so inclined, but that means quite a bit of driving each day.

NZ school holidays can be found here:

You might also take a look at Australian school holidays, which are listed by state, as NZ gets plenty of Australian visitors too.
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Old Jan 5th, 2020, 12:26 PM
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Also consider that the Lunar New Year will occur on Feb. 12 so the two weeks following it will be busy with Asian tourists, especially in Queenstown.
tripplanner001 is online now  
Old Jan 5th, 2020, 01:09 PM
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Oh yeah, forgot about Chinese New Year - crazy busy.
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Old Jan 5th, 2020, 03:24 PM
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Thank you so much for replying. I will check out the links you suggested. I want to make the most of our time and am happy to hear that seeing both islands is doable.
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Old Jan 5th, 2020, 06:13 PM
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New Zealand is an ideal country for driving trips.

I'd suggest you visit in March, maybe all of March or from the second week of March through first week of April (school holidays start April 17, 2021, but the long Good Friday,-Easter Sunday, Monday, Tuesday precedes this). March is still a popular month, but crowds will have thinned out a lot as compared to super-busy February. The weather should still be pleasant (for the most part, though rainstorms can occur any time of year), and the summer winds will have died down. You'll begin to see the autumn leaves toward the end of March/beginning of April. Keep in mind, daylight savings time ends at 2:00 am on Sunday 4 April 2021 (which will be Easter). This is when we'll roll back the clocks an hour and the days will grow suddenly shorter. Good Friday falls on April 2 and Monday, April 5, and Tuesday, April 6 will also be school holidays. So it'll be a long weekend, with lots of traffic around Auckland. (For example: So if you extend into this week, you'd have to plan well.

Late November through mid-December is not at bad time, either, though it would likely be wetter and windier than March.

On arrival in NZ, I'd recommend catching a flight to the South Island, beginning your trip here. If you'll be coming from the U.S., it's likely your flight arrive in Auckland early morning. Because accommodation check-in times are generally around 2 or 3 p.m. you might not be able to get settled, though most places will accommodate you if the accommodation has already been vacated and cleaned or, if you can't check in, they'll watch your luggage until you can (though if you'll be arriving on a long flight, you'll probably want to freshen up, shower, change into a fresh outfit, etc.) FYI: I should mention there are also free showers in Auckland's International Terminal. So this is why I say you might as well continue on to the South Island, rather than wait around. If you do so, please give yourself 2 to 2.5 hours between the time you arrive in Auckland on your international flight and your connecting flight to the South Island. There's a free bus between the two terminals or you can just walk; it takes 10 minutes and luggage carts are free. It's a nice, easy walk that'll help wake you up.

Also, the South Island will start to get cooler by the end of March/beginning of April. So start in the south when it's still reasonably comfortable, then work your way north. I've been on Waiheke Island (in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf) in both March and April and found the weather still pleasantly warm and dry (though when it comes to NZ weather, there are no guarantees).

A final thing to consider is, if your flight departing New Zealand will be from Auckland, you'll be closer if you end your trip in this area. If your flight won't be leaving until later, you can most likely get the hotel or motel to watch your luggage for you while you do some last minute sightseeing, shopping or have lunch. There's also a very fine winery with a lovely restaurant near Auckland Airport, where you can do a last-minute wine tasting and lunch, Villa Maria.

Accommodation check out is usually at 10 or 11 a.m.; some hotels will allow for midday check-outs, if possible, or even a few hours later for a charge.

You'll have no trouble finding easy hikes all around New Zealand once you've decided on a plan and itinerary.

As New Zealand is surrounded by ocean and dotted with lakes and traversed by rivers, you'd have many kayaking options. Milford Sound and Abel Tasman National Park are popular with kayakers. Mt. Cook, Kaikoura, Glenorchy, Marlborough Sounds, Akaroa Harbour, and Lake Taupo are also popular kayaking destinations. Below are some operators offering kayaking tours. | Home
More ideas here:

Likewise, wine regions are distributed throughout the country. Here's a link to a map showing you where the wine regions are.
This link has more details about the wine regions:
You can find wineries by regions here:
Wineries - Cuisine Wine

If you'd like to get a taste for both islands, without knowing about the specific places you'd like to see, I'd recommend approximately three weeks on the South Island and a week on the North Island.

Here's a rough suggestion for a 4-week itinerary. I've mentioned only a few attractions of the many in each of these places.
1 Arrive AKL, fly to Christchurch
2 Christchurch (maybe day trip to Akaroa, or do TranzAlpine Train)
3 Drive to Aoraki Mt. Cook (easy walks, glacier heli landings, kayaking or small boat tours of glacial lakes, en route to Aoraki Mt. Cook make a stop at Lake Tekapo)
4 Aoraki Mt. Cook
5 Drive to Queenstown (lots of activities here, and on Lake Wakitipu, the Shotover and Arrow Rivers, but do visit Glenorchy and take a day trip to the nearby Gibbston wine valley)
6 Queenstown
7 Queenstown
8 Drive to Te Anau (Lake Te Anau, gateway to Milford Sound, also Kepler Track day walks, and glow worm caves)
9 Te Anau (early morning self drive Milford Road to Milford Sound cruise, maybe walk to Key Summit on return to Te Anau)
10 Drive to Wanaka (lakeside resort, less busy than Queenstown with many fine day walks, book a visit to Rippon Winery, NZ's most scenic winery)
11 Wanaka
12 Drive to Fox or Franz Josef (Lake Matheson walk near Fox village, glacier heli hikes available from both Fox and Franz Josef)
13 Fox or Franz Josef
14 Drive to Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks and many other easy walks), stop at Hokitika Gorge enroute
15 Drive to Nelson-Tasman region
16 Nelson-Tasman (hike or kayak in Abel Tasman National Park)
17 Drive to Havelock then along scenic Queen Charlotte Drive to Picton (gateway to Queen Charlotte Track and trips onto Marlborough Sounds) or Blenheim (Marlborough wine region)
18 Picton-Blenheim
19 Ferry or flight to Wellington
20 Wellington (Te Papa Museum, Oriental Parade and Waterfront, Wellington Cable Car, Botanic Garden, Zealandia Ecosanctuary, craft breweries, if you're a Lord of the Rings or Hobbit fan, visit Weta Workshop)
21 Drive to Napier (Art Deco Architecture, Hawkes Bay wine region, National Aquarium)
22 Napier
23 Drive to Lake Taupo or Rotorua
24 Rotorua (geothermal attractions, Maori cultural attractions and hangis
25 Drive to Auckland (many attractions in and around the city and on the islands of Hauraki Gulf)
26 Auckland
Note I've left a couple of days of leeway.

I say "rough" suggestion because there are many other locations that might interest you more than those I listed, for instance, Kaikoura on the South Island or Coromandel, Bay of Islands, or Tongariro National Park on the North Island. Or maybe you'd want to add a day or two here or there. But I hope this itinerary shows that you would see more on a driving trip than if your based yourself in one place.

Here's a link to a touring map of both islands:
Here's a link to a driving distance calculator:
Here are some tips for driving on our narrow, often winding roads:

I only know a little about rugby. You might not be able to see an All Blacks game in summer, but you can certainly see a provincial Rugby Union game. Many of the provincial teams, such as the Crusaders, Blues, Chiefs, Highlanders, etc. have All Blacks players among their ranks. You can get an idea of the provincial rugby schedule by looking at the 2020 schedule:

I believe Rugby Sevens (Men's and Women's) games are also held in summer, but the venues are international. I don't know if the Rugby Sevens are held every year.

Last edited by Diamantina; Jan 5th, 2020 at 06:54 PM.
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Old Jan 7th, 2020, 02:13 PM
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You have time to visit both islands.

Id avoid anywhere famous around Chinese New Year.

if you are going to drop something choose the glaciers.
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Old Jan 7th, 2020, 04:00 PM
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Thank you all so much! I would never have known about the crowds near Chinese New Year. All the suggestions and ideas certainly make it easier to begin planning for this trip.
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Old Jan 8th, 2020, 10:35 AM
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Our tour guide for Milford Sound mentioned that the area sees 200 tour buses per day during the 2 weeks over Chinese New Year going to the one place alone. Most stay in Queenstown and make the long day trek.
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