Help with 4 weeks on South Island!


May 9th, 2013, 05:38 PM
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Help with 4 weeks on South Island!

Greetings... we just booked flights; 4 weeks in South Island, in and out of Christchurch in February/March 2014. First trip. We could use lots of advice! We are active 60ish who love to hike, bike, kayak. We’d like to do one or more multi-day hikes in Fiordland, Abel Tasman and Queen Charlotte. Not sure yet if we’d go with a guided group (since we don’t want to carry gear, unless someone knows where we can rent it). Where is the best place to base ourselves for several day hikes? Considering Routeburn, and others... Glenorchy, Queenstown and/or TeAnu?

We want to route ourselves south first, finishing north, beaches, wineries, Kaikoura and back. here’s our first stab at an itinerary. We plan to take buses, maybe rent car in Marlborough. We have 28 nights. We also want to include some cycling (not mountain biking) and thinking Wanaka and Marlborough for that. Not sure how best to route ourselves to Mt. Cook and Aspiring...??

This doesn’t include Mt. Cook or Aspiring. How can we fit these in? Should we omit Stewart Island? Do we have enough nights in each place to do hiking, etc? Where should we stay/stop on the way north to Abel Tasman? I know this is a first draft and surely need advice of experience folks to advise us.
If we see Tasman Glacier can we omit Fox/Franz Josef?

Christchurch/Akaroa 1-2 nights
Dunedin/Otago 2-3 nights
Stewart Island 2 nights
TeAnu, Queenstown, Glenorchy 8 nights
Wanaka 2 nights
Abel Tasman 2 nights - maybe Nelson Saturday market on the way to QCT
Queen Charlotte 4 nights
Marlborough, 3 nights, cycling, wineries, mussel tour
Kaikoura 2 nights. side trip to Hamner Springs (or stay there 1 night?)
Christchurch last night.

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May 9th, 2013, 09:33 PM
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Wow, so much to talk about!

Is there a reason you don't want to self-drive? IMO it's the absolutely best way to see the SI and allows the ultimate in flexibility as you can stop and explore whenever the spirit moves you and not be strapped to the schedules of a bus.

There's absolutely no reason to take a guided tour of any track (unless you just want to), but you will need to book huts well in advance.

IMO the trip to Stewart Island is only worth it if you have a minimum of three nights to spare. It takes some doing to get to/from Stewart, doing it via bus will be even more challenging and time consuming.

>If we see Tasman Glacier can we omit Fox/Franz Josef?<

They're like chalk and cheese and the drive along the West Coast is one of the highlights of the SI. It's very easy to incorporate a visit to Mt Cook on the return drive from Queenstown/Wanaka to Christchurch. In fact, it can be done in a day.

With a month to work with, I highly recommend you try to stay at least three nights in any given area - we've been using this approach for years on our numerous trips to the SI and it works well for us. Three nights will give you two full days to explore before moving on; this is particularly important if you plan to explore the tracks.

Some areas need less time of course, such as when in transit between two destinations, but generally three nights works very well.

Just an FYI that the drive down the east coast to Dunedin is the least scenic drive on the whole SI. If you can, I'd suggest approaching Dunedin from the south, via the Catlins. It's a beautiful, windswept area with lots of tracks.

Regarding biking - you might be interested in biking a portion of the Otago Rail Trail:

Glenorchy, Te Anau and Wanaka make fabulous bases for walking tracks. Glenorchy is tiny, which is apart of the appeal as far as I'm concerned. You can access Mt Aspiring National Park from Glenorchy and Wanaka and both are well worth the effort.
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May 9th, 2013, 09:50 PM
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Just a few more random thoughts...

You can walk a section of the Routeburn as a day walk from both sides - it can be accessed from Glenorchy and the Milford Road between Te Anau and Milford. From the Glenorchy side, it takes about four hours round trip to get as far as Routeburn Hut, which makes a good picnic and turnaround spot. On the Milford side, you can walk to Key Summit on the Routeburn and return (beautiful on a clear day) AND take a cruise on Milford Sound on the same day if you plan well. Te Anau makes the perfect base for this day trip.

You can also walk a portion of the Milford Track as a day trip - you'll need to take the boat from Te Anau Downs to Glade Wharf (takes about an hour and isn't cheap). We also did this while based in Te Anau; we managed to walk about 16 km of the track (return) in four hours. You can do this guided or'll see more of the track if you do it unguided; the guided tour provides commentary, plant identification etc, but doesn't go very far along the track.

You can walk sections of the Queen Charlotte Track and Abel Tasman as day trips too - you can take a water taxi to one point, walk to another and then catch the water taxi back, or do walk/kayak combos.

Lots of options.
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May 14th, 2013, 02:49 PM
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May 14th, 2013, 05:45 PM
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Thanks so much Melnq8 for all this valuable info! This one seems by far the hardest trip to plan on our own.
My husband would prefer not to drive (on the other side than we are used to) if the buses are easy enough. I know its a trade off. We will look into the specifics of the schedules and see how convenient it is. Seems like it would be.

We thought we'd finish our last week to 10 days on the north side by the water, beaches and it'd be a more relaxing end of a busy month. That's why we would go to Dunedin/Otago first.

I saw many itineraries went Christchurch to Mt. Cook, then Dunedin, then Fiordland area. Is that a good idea?

If as you suggested we stayed in "Glenorchy, Te Anau and Wanaka make fabulous bases for walking tracks" I suppose we wouldn't need to stay in Queenstown at all...?

How might this routing be?
to Lake Tekapo/Mt Cook
to Oamaru/Dunedin/Otago Peninsula
to Invercargill – Te Anau
to Milford Sound
to Glenorchy
to Wanaka
to Fox/glaciers
to Greymouth
to Abel Tasman
to Queen Charlotte Track
to Marlborough/Blenheim
to Kaikura/Hamner Springs
to Christchurch and home to Colorado!

Is this a logical routing? Hmmm already too many places for 3 nights each!

Once this is down we can start the hotel search.

thanks so much
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May 14th, 2013, 08:53 PM
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Oh, you're from CO! Me too.

Regarding Queenstown - it's only 90 minutes from Wanaka and 45 minutes from Glenorchy, so technically, no, you'd not need to stay there, but it's more about personal preference than anything. There's plenty to do in QT, but it's quite a bit more touristy, so depends on what you're after. There are very few services in Glenorchy, so if you're in need of restaurants and nightlife after a day of hiking, you might prefer Queenstown.

It's as good an idea as any. I'd suggest taking the longer more scenic route via 77/79 to Geraldine and then on to Mt Cook though - much prettier. You'd miss the ugly bits of SH 1 that way, especially if you were to work your way back up north via the West Coast and glaciers as you plan.

I think your routing is a good one, but I might suggest you forge on to Punakaiki rather than Greymouth, which will make your drive to Abel Tasman a bit shorter the following day.

Now comes the hard part, the allocation of time.
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May 14th, 2013, 09:49 PM
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Although I have visited the SI a number of times I can't give you the in depth and helpful information the Mel can. But I would like to just say that I totally agree with Mel's 3 night theory. We travelled around Australia for 12 months and honestly 3 nights was our average as well. It's a good base anyway.

Also totally agree with Mel's suggestion of driving yourself. It's just not that difficult to drive on the other side of the road.
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May 15th, 2013, 04:26 AM
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is it necessary/a good idea to book accommodation in advance in November/December?

we would prefer to travel on spec and find accommodation as we go. [and I've floated the idea of a motorhome with DH but he prefers a proper bed!]

I like the idea of spending 3 nights or so in each base.
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May 15th, 2013, 05:32 PM
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annhig -

NZ school holidays begin around Dec 20 this year. Generally speaking, if you're traveling prior to that I'd not worry too much about booking accommodation in advance, unless you're particular about where you want to stay. However, there are exceptions - if you plan to stay at Mt Cook, Franz and Fox Glaciers, I'd definitely book ahead (at least by a few days), as these areas get very busy and accommodation is limited.

You might consider doing your accommodation research in advance and making a short list of places you'd consider, then call ahead from the road. Or you could just rock up to an I site in the town you plan to stay and ask them for help finding accommodation. Or you could pick up a copy of the AA Travel Guide (free within NZ) and just book on the fly.
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May 16th, 2013, 02:16 AM
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One thing you surely have to do is that advance book your accommodation.
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May 16th, 2013, 10:07 AM
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thanks, Mel for the link to the aa site, and Victor for your advice.

it's clear then! we definitely/probably/possibly ought to book accommodation in advance.

or not.
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May 16th, 2013, 05:50 PM
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Yep, clear as mud.

We always book annhig, regardless of time of year, but that's just how we like to do things. We've been to the SI enough that we know how much time we want to spend in most places.

I'm particular about accommodation and I dislike spending precious holiday time trying to find a place to stay. I'd prefer to do it all in advance.

I've already booked accommodation for QT and Wanaka for a trip in August/Sept...because it's ski season. I've also already booked the B&B we adore in Glenorchy...because there's only the one room. I've selected all the other accommodation and will book as soon as I've booked flights.

In fact, I'm thinking I should book Mt Cook right now.
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May 17th, 2013, 06:11 AM
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I have come round to being of the pre-booking persuasion, but DH hankers after the days when we used to set off in our car round France/Italy/Spain, booking rooms as we went. Once we even rocked up in Florence and found [at a 2nd attempt] a fantastic hotel with on street parking about 5 mins from the Duomo.

However, as I point out to him, that was then [about 30 years ago] and this is now.

i can certainly see the virtue of having the means of booking in advance as we go along, perhaps a week in advance in most places.

BTW, we are going to be starting off in Auckland and ending in Christchurch. Do we need to pre-book the ferry and is it necessary to return our hire car before we get on the ferry and get a new one the other side [as I have read in some guide books] or can we now have the same car all the way through? [as I have read in others].
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May 17th, 2013, 05:03 PM
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I would definitely pre-book the ferry. APEX is the only rental company I'm aware of that will allow you to take your rental car on the ferry - in fact, I think they cover the cost in the rental.
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May 18th, 2013, 04:06 AM
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thanks again, Mel. It is so helpful to be able to consult the locals when planning a trip!
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Jun 2nd, 2013, 09:28 AM
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Thanks to all who replied. We've been trying to hone the plan, and finding it impossible to keep to 3 nights in each place! In order to see everything (not sure we'll ever make a return trip here with a whole world to see)... we would love some advice on which locations can be 1 or 2 nights. Here is about our 5th version... We want to find one more night to spend in Queen Charlotte. Can you help?? We are thinking trim one night in Southland... consider it a drive by and see, spend one night, and add that night to QCT. We now plan to rent a car and drive.
Melnq8 - nice to know you live in CO - we're in Boulder. You??

Thanks in advance!

Feb 11. Arrive CC. late
Feb 12. to Akaroa. overnight 1 night. Akaroa shuttle bus or car.
Feb 13. return to CC. pick up rental car. Drive to Mt. Cook. 2 nights in Mt. Cook.
Feb. 15. to Dunedin/Otago Peninsula. 3 nights.
Feb 18. to Southland/Catlins. 2 nights. (change to 1 night?)
Feb 20. to Te Anau. 3 nights.
Feb 23. to Glenorchy. 2 nights.
Feb.25 to Wanaka. 3 nights.
Feb 28. to Fox Glacier. 1 night. 1/2 day glacier hike.
Mar. 1. to Punakaiki. 1 night.
Mar. 2. to Abel Tasman. 3 nights.
Mar. 5. to Queen Charlotte Track. 2 nights
Mar. 7. to Marlborough/Blenheim. 2 nights.
Mar. 9. to Kaikoura. peninsula walk. drive to Hanmer Springs. 1 night.
Mar 10. to CC. last night.
Mar. 11. depart 7am.

We plan to do our own self-guided hikes everywhere and try to fit in a few days of biking. Possibly biking QCT although we have never mountain-biked.

Any and all advice is welcome! Thanks...
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Jun 3rd, 2013, 12:19 AM
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Hi changemaven. I live in Perth, Australia. Colorado Springs is my hometown, but I haven't lived there in years and years. Just visited Boulder last month!

Good on you for renting a car, I think you'll be glad you did.

You've fallen into the trap of trying to fit the entire SI into your itinerary, and that's just not going to happen unless you want a driving itinerary, instead of an exploring/walking/smell the roses kind of itinerary...even with a month...

My initial thoughts, cut Akaroa. It's pretty, but not a SI highlight.

I'll take a closer look and post back shortly.
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Jun 3rd, 2013, 05:50 PM
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A few more thoughts:

You could get by with one night in the Catlins if you don't plan to walk or explore in depth. It's a nice drive, and some natural attractions are easy enough to access via the main road so you could explore a bit as you go. Suggest a night around Owaka or Papatowai. I can recommend a nice place to stay if needed.

I always recommend at least two nights at the glaciers. Franz and Fox are somewhat isolated, and getting to from the area involves a long drive day on either side. One night doesn't even give you a full day to explore the area, and there's loads to do, particularly if you want to walk/hike. Don't rush through this part of the SI.

Other than some beautiful walks and Pancake Rocks, there's not a lot to Punakaiki. You could cut this night and forge on to Abel Tasman, but how long your drive will be depends on exactly where in Abel Tasman you're headed, any particular plans at this point? This will be a very long day, so you'll have to reign yourself in on stops, but you'll have the long days of summer in your favor. If you do this, I suggest you stay in Franz instead of Fox, as it will cut the drive by 40 minutes or so. You can see the highlights of Punakaiki in under an hour. This isn't something I'd usually recommend (in fact I just warned against it on another thread), but we've done it. As you'll have been on the SI for several weeks at that point, you'll have adjusted to driving conditions, etc.

So, if you cut Akaroa, add a night to the glaciers, cut the night in Punakaiki and/or cut a night at the Catlins, you'll have your extra night for Queen Charlotte.

I can make some accommodation suggestions for several of your stops if you'd like.
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Jun 6th, 2013, 05:54 AM
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I agree you should cut Akaroa. If you were hoping to see the Hector's Dolphins or Blue Penguins there, you'll have opportunities to see them elsewhere in NZ

During summer, endangered Hector's Dolphins can often be seen in playing in the surf of Porpoise Bay in the Catlins. PB also offers beachfront accommodation. Adjacent to PB is Curio Bay, with its fascinating stumps of ancient petrified trees and endangered Yellow Eyed Penguins (YEPs) that come ashore beginning in the late afternoon.

Two nights in the Catlins is ideal. This allows time for both north and south Catlins: hike through the forest; visit Nugget Point; visit Cathedral Caves (which can only be visited at low tide); spend some time at Porpoise and Curio Bays (most accessible at low tide); visit the small but photogenic Purakaunui Falls; and view wildlife on various beaches, including fur seals, endangered Hooker's Sea Lions, and penguins. In February-March, you might see YEPs throughout the day as it will still be molting season, a particularly stressful time (as they can't swim or eat). Please give the penguins a wide berth, as the presence of humans has been shown to increase their heart rate and cause stress. If one walks toward you (you might be in its path to its nest), it's best to back away.

In summer, you can see as many as a couple of hundred Blue Penguins come ashore at Pilot's Beach below the Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head on the Otago Peninsula (OP), beginning when the last bit of daylight is on the horizon (late-Feb/early-March the sun sets at about 8:30 p.m.). Lights below the viewing platform allow you to see and photograph them without a flash. The charge is about $25.

If you like birds, you'll want to visit the Royal Albatross Centre, too. The tour is interesting and during summer you might see the enormous chicks. The best place to view YEPs is at Penguin Place, also on the OP, near Taiaroa Head. If you're in Dunedin during fine weather, consider taking a Monarch Wildlife Cruise that includes a Penguin Place tour. The Elm Wildlife Tour is also highly recommended. Tour operators will pick you up from your accommodation. Penguins can be seen for free on most of the OP beaches, but it's hit-or-miss. Hookers Sea Lions and NZ fur seals are often seen, as well as spoonbills, black swans, herons, terns, petrels, shags, and other bird species.

There are beautiful hikes (tracks) and drives you can do on the OP, and they're best appreciated on a sunny day. You can walk down the sand dunes and along the beach to the penguin watching hide at Sandfly Bay (no sandflies, just flying sand); hike the loop to Lover's Point & the Chasm and back; walk on Allans Beach or Victory Beach (beach walks are best at low tide); walk the Karetai Track. Drive the high road, Highcliff Road, inbound to the OP and the harborside road, Portobello Road, outbound from the OP, and drive along Hoopers Inlet. Many enjoy staying at or visiting Larnach Castle.

IF it's sunny, don't miss walking down to Tunnel Beach at Dunedin's southern end (it's on the Southern Scenic Route). The drive along the West Harbor to Aramoana is also beautiful. On sunny days, it's fun to watch surfers and swimmers from Dunedin's main inner city beach, St. Clair (hopefully the seawall will be repaired by then). Or you can drive (or after 3 p.m., walk) along John Wilson Drive to the lookout above St. Kilda Beach for a lovely city/ocean view.

Dunedin's other inner city sights include NZ's oldest university, Otago University, NZ's oldest botanical garden (free admission), the Otago Museum (free admission), the City Art Gallery (free admission), Speight's Brewery, the Cadbury Chocolate Factory. The city was founded in 1848 so it has some lovely old buildings. The Railway Station is the most photographed railway station in the Southern Hemisphere and home to the Taieri Gorge Railway and a lively Saturday morning farmer's market. The Toitu Settlers Museum (free admission) is next door. Be forewarned, Feb.-March will be busy, so the downtown area will be crowded.

Switching gears here: when you pass through Lake Tekapo, don't miss the drive up to Mt. John Summit/Observatory--the 360 degree view is fabulous. There's also a cafe there. Another option is to hike from the lake up to Mt. John Summit.

The NZ Dept. of Conservation (DOC) website offers a wealth of downloadable hiking brochures/maps. These can also be picked up at NZ I-Sites (NZ tourism offices), though they can sell out of popular ones. Here's some of what you can find on the DOC website:

To get from Mt. Cook to Dunedin, you'll drive down to Omarama and then through the beautiful Waitaki Valley to Oamaru. I recommend an alternate route to Oamaru by turning left at Duntroon, 42 km. from Oamaru (it takes no longer). This will take you past the oddly shaped Elephant Rocks and through a valley of scenic limestone cliffs (Island Cliff Road). There are also some Maori rock paintings along here. A bike trail, Alps2 Ocean, goes from Mt. Cook to Oamaru. Some of it is off-road, eventually it will all be off-road. I think it is mainly for mountain bikes.

Oamaru is known for its Blue Penguin Colony, Yellow Eyed Penguin viewing hide, and whitestone Victorian architecture. If you like cheese, you must try those made by Oamaru's Whitestone Cheese Company. A popular stop between Oamaru and Dunedin is Moeraki--known for its spherical boulders at Moeraki Beach, its lighthouse and penguin viewing at Katiki Point, and Fleur's Restaurant in Moeraki village.

I agree with others that it's best to book and pay for accommodation early, just make sure that you have the option of free cancellation 24 to 48 hours before your stay.

If you are still thinking of a guided multi-day tramp, you might be interested in looking at the below link. They are expensive, but instead of sleeping in a hut, you'll sleep in a bed, eat chef-prepared meals, and they will provide all the gear, etc.
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