Flights vs. Trains

Dec 28th, 2010, 01:41 PM
  #1  
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Flights vs. Trains

Hi there, we're planning to be in New Zealand in November of 2011. I first need to try to book my international flights (using American Airlines points) and am mulling over whether I should just go round trip into Auckland (easier to book), or to fly into Auckland and out of Christchurch. American's website (partnering with Quantas) is only giving options to head back through Syndney overnight from Christchurch (although I do love Sydney, it's a longer journey). But I am intrigued by the idea of taking the Tranz Scenic trains using their scenic rail pass. It sounds like a good price, and you can get on and off the trains and see some great scenery without having to drive all over, so leaving from Christchurch would be great for that option.

Anyone have any thoughts on this? I guess I should start pricing in country flights too.
sealstep is offline  
Dec 28th, 2010, 05:36 PM
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Hi sealstep -

Other than the Tranz Alpine from Christchurch to Greymouth and back, I've not personally experienced train travel in NZ, so please take this with a grain of salt.

My impression is that train service is very limited and not a particularly convenient way to see NZ. There's not a whole lot of track, and therefore you'll be limiting yourself to a very small portion of the country.

You don't say how much time you have or specifically what you're interested in seeing. If you're a train buff, have limited time or are just hoping to get a glimpse of NZ, it might work for you, but you'll also be missing some of the best bits of NZ. "Driving all over" is the best way to see NZ IMO.

By the way, I suspect that flight out of Christchurch goes back to Auckland anyway. Where are you flying from?
Melnq8 is offline  
Dec 28th, 2010, 06:09 PM
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sealstep on Dec 28, 10 at 10:01pm The scenic rail pass includes three basic routes - Auckland to Wellington (stops include Hamilton and Tongariro Natl Park), and includes the ferry ride to Picton. The next leg is Picton to Christchurch, I would be looking at a stop at Kaikoura. The last is the Tranz Alpine you've taken. Here's the link, you can do 7 or 14 day passes:

http://www.tranzscenic.co.nz/service...crailpass.aspx

We're flying out of Washington DC. The return from Christchurch goes not through Auckland, but through Sydney then on to LA (at least in a preliminary look at the AA website). You spend a night in Sydney.

We want to hike (looking at the Queen Charlotte Track, the Milford Track and the Routeburn Track). Probably 14-16 nights total, we want to visit wineries, love food but don't care about nightlife. I'm not opposed to driving, but wanted to make sure we didn't spend all our time in a car. It's hard to narrow down the must sees.

Any advice would be great, I'm just starting to plan...
sealstep is offline  
Dec 28th, 2010, 09:54 PM
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Some things to consider:

How much time do you have? How do you plan to get between Greymouth (where the TranzAlpine will deposit you) and points further south (where the Milford and Routeburn tracks are located)? Does the train from Picton to Christchurch connect with the TranzAlpine to Greymouth, or must you spend a night? Is transport included to/from the hotel to the train station in Christchurch? Do you plan to walk the tracks independently or guided? Is transport to the tracks included?

As you can see, there are some logistical issues you'll need to overcome if you plan to travel by train and walk the tracks mentioned.

Most walkers begin the Queen Charlotte Track at Ship Cove, which can be reached via water taxi easily enough from Picton. The track ends at Anakiwi, which has vehicle access. If you plan to walk the entire 71 km track, (guided, unguided?) you'll need to arrange transport for both ends.

Water taxis aren't cheap, so I suggest you keep this in mind if cost is a consideration.

The Milford Track is accessed via boat from Te Anau Downs, located on the Milford Road between Te Anau and Milford. Te Anau is a 10.5 hour drive from Greymouth, the final stop on the TranzAlpine train journey.

The boat takes about an hour and is the only way to access the Milford Track. The boat ride isn't cheap either. You must book for the Milford Track, and it fills up quickly, so you'll want to do that as soon as you've got things sorted.

The Routeburn can be accessed from The Divide, located between Te Anau and Milford or from Glenorchy, which is about a 40 minute drive from Queenstown.

Lots to think about.

Some sites to help get you started:

Drive times/distances:

http://www.aatravel.co.nz/main/td-calculator.php

The NZ Department of Conservation site (everything you ever wanted to know about NZ tracks):

http://www.doc.govt.nz/
Melnq8 is offline  
Dec 28th, 2010, 10:34 PM
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I would recommend driving rather than taking the train, sealstep. As Mel has said, the rail system in NZ is rather limited but, on the routes that it does cover, there are lots of places where you will want to make side detours and stop to spend a few moments taking photos, etc, or longer to have a walk on a beach or a mountain track. There are no revenue-gathering "Pay and Display"s here, and you can stop anywhere for as long as you like. NZ is best seen with the freedom that having your own car presents.

Rob.
kiwi_rob is offline  
Dec 29th, 2010, 05:20 AM
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Good points to think about. I know even if we do take the train we'll have to rent a car to get to Te Anau or the Queenstown area. I'm still struggling to try to narrow down where exactly we'll be able to go in the time we have.
sealstep is offline  
Dec 29th, 2010, 10:37 AM
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The larger cities in NZ (Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch and even Queenstown) have public bus systems and you can do without a car there.

I've often booked car rentals for a week or so at a time sandwiched between places that don't require a car. EG fly first to Queenstown, do all the activities where they pick you up as part of the package (including the Milford Track if you decide to book that) and then rent the car.

For Christchurch and Auckland I check on the Avis website to see if they are running the airport to city 24 hour car rental, this allows me to see a few things that are less convenient without car and perhaps pickup some food supplies.

I've done most of those rail legs and a few that don't exist anymore. The coastal one to Kaikoura and Picton is nice.

Overall though, if you can afford it (and don't forget to factor in gas) driving is really the best way to go.
mlgb is offline  
Dec 29th, 2010, 10:39 AM
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PS, be sure to check for inexpensive airfares on select routes where there is still competition. You may decide to reroute an itinerary to take advantage of that.
mlgb is offline  
Dec 29th, 2010, 03:44 PM
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We might be of more help if you'd tell us how much time you have.
Melnq8 is offline  
Dec 29th, 2010, 04:46 PM
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14-16 nights total. Probably 5-6 nights of that out on hikes (we're leaning toward guided, but it's still up in the air). Here's a random list of places that have caught my eye, obviously we'll have to narrow this down quite a bit once I do more research:

Auckland
Waiheke Island
Hamilton
Rotorua area
Lake Taupo/Tongariro
Waitomo (glow worm caves)
Wellington
Picton
Queen Charlotte Track
Marlborough wine country (other wine areas could be possibilities as well)
Kaikoura (whales)
Christchurch
Greymouth
Mt. Cook
Mt. Aspiring Natl Pk
Fiordland Natl Park
Fox or Franz Joseph Glaciers
Queenstown
Milford Track or Routeburn Track

So much to see, so little time!
sealstep is offline  
Dec 30th, 2010, 02:42 PM
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Keep in mind that you can walk sections of The Queen Charlotte, Milford and Routeburn as day walks...walking all three to completion will eat up a big chunk of your time on the SI.

Queen Charlotte - 3-5 days
Routeburn - 3 days
Milford Track - 4 days
Melnq8 is offline  
Jan 1st, 2011, 10:26 AM
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Yes, one decision made. We will do the Queen Charlotte Track and day hikes elsewhere. Trying to make some painful decisions on what to cut. Will we be missing too much if we never head as far south as the Te Anau/Fiordland Natl Park area? With the time we have, I'm thinking we may not have time to get farther south than Mt. Cook. I'm already struggling with too many one night stays and we don't like to spend more than 4-5 hours driving in a given day.
sealstep is offline  
Jan 1st, 2011, 02:56 PM
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At a minimum I would visit Milford Sound. It can be done as a very long day trip from Queenstown, best to book a coach excursion if you don't like to drive.

Auckland, Hamilton, Picton are places I would cut.
mlgb is offline  
Jan 1st, 2011, 03:26 PM
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sealstep -

It never gets easier. I'm currently planning my 9th trip to the SI (22 nights) and I'm already running into time issues.

Fiordland is a highlight, don't cut it if you can avoid it.

I'm going to go a step further and suggest you limit yourself to one island, the SI. It might help if you think of this as your first trip to NZ, not your only trip.
Melnq8 is offline  
Jan 2nd, 2011, 06:33 AM
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Okay, so at least two votes for not cutting Fiordland. You know, I might have to at least look at only doing the SI and see how I feel about that. Thanks!
sealstep is offline  

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