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Help with an itinerary for the South Island of NZ

Old May 16th, 2014, 12:11 PM
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Help with an itinerary for the South Island of NZ

Hello all!

My husband and I are planning our first trip to New Zealand! Our plan is to go in January and we are interested in seeing the gorgeous countryside. Originally we considered a cruise, but decided we wanted to see the inland countryside more so than the coast and honestly I don't think cruising is the best way to really experience a new place anyway.

We live in the US and have mainly traveled to Europe. We don't like to rush - I'd rather really get to know a place then to run from one place to the next in a blur. We have driven in foreign countries, but never on the opposite side of the road so I am a little apprehensive of that, but we're adventurous and we're up for the challenge.

I am in a small, manual wheelchair so the beach doesn't really appeal to us - just too difficult to deal with. Also this would mean any type of hiking or "crazy" terrain (rocky, gravel, sand, mud) is out. I know I need to do a lot of my own research, but if you had 2 weeks to spend in NZ what places would you absolutely not want to miss (based on the few bits of info I've shared)? Any suggestions on towns to use as a base?

Thanks so much!
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Old May 16th, 2014, 04:17 PM
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Hi Adoc86 -

Welcome to the frustrating world of NZ planning.

You haven't said which island you're most interested in. I personally prefer the SI and can (and have) spent up to a month at a time there. The SI is spectacular, and has fewer people and fewer cities than the NI.

Don't fret about driving on the left, if I can do it anyone can. Truly, you adapt pretty quickly...it's the windshield wiper thing that seems to take a while to overcome (I've been back in Australia after five weeks in the US and I'm still hitting the windshield wiper instead of the turn signal).

Good on you for not rushing. We're the same, and we find that three nights in a given place is generally sufficient time to thoroughly explore. However, this is difficult to accomplish in NZ as most folks have limited time and want to hit all the highlights, which are quite scattered.

NZ tracks (or portions of them) may not be completely out of the question for you - some are easy and well-graded and quite possibly doable in a wheelchair. There are also some boardwalks.

As for what I'd recommend for a first timer to NZ with two weeks - I'd suggest a loop of the South Island. Perhaps something like this:

Arrive Christchurch
Drive Christchurch to Lake Tekapo/Mt Cook
Drive Mt Cook to Wanaka
Drive Wanaka to Te Anau (base for Milford Sound)
Drive Milford to Queenstown
Drive Queenstown to Franz/Fox glaciers
Drive glaciers to Christchurch via Arthur's Pass

IMO this itinerary hits the highlights of the SI.

It's quite a bit of driving, but by making a loop, you can incorporate both the inland route (Mt Cook) and the West Coast (glaciers) which is otherwise difficult to do as they're separated by a mountain range.

This itinerary can also easily be reversed, starting in Queenstown, or you could simply go one way, choosing either the glaciers or the inland route.
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Old May 16th, 2014, 04:19 PM
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If you'd rather take the base city route (which is difficult to do in NZ as attractions are so scattered), I'd suggest Queenstown as a possibility. Yes, it's the most touristy place on the SI, BUT for a reason...it's beautiful and there's so much to see and do in the area.

From Queenstown you can easily visit Wanaka (90 minutes), Arrowtown (25 minutes) Glenorchy (40 minutes). You can also be in Te Anau in two hours and Milford in four. While that may not sound particularly convenient, it's about as convenient as things get in NZ from a travel standpoint.
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Old May 17th, 2014, 08:20 AM
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Thanks, Melnq8!

Yes, we were intending on visiting the South Island so your response was very helpful. I was doing some research last night before I saw your response and I realized that staying in a base city may not be ideal, so I think the itinerary you shared is more along the lines of what we'll do.

Would you suggest 3 nights in all of the stops you listed?
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Old May 17th, 2014, 04:14 PM
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Well, with two weeks, I'd probably break it up this way:

Christchurch - one night (assuming you've arrived from an international flight) Alternatively, you might drive as far as Geraldine and stay overnight there.

Mt Cook - two nights

Wanaka - three nights

Te Anau - three nights

Queenstown or environs - three nights

Franz/Fox - two nights

Christchurch - two nights

Oops, 16 nights...you see the dilemma

In which case, I'd lose a night each at Te Anau and possibly Wanaka, although there's plenty to see and do at each.

And this, is why NZ itineraries are so problematic...never enough time!
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Old May 18th, 2014, 03:40 AM
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Have you seen these links:
http://travability.travel/New%20Zeal...uth-island.pdf
http://travability.travel/New%20Zeal...land_Blog.html
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Old May 18th, 2014, 05:15 AM
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Also
http://www.tramper.co.nz/?8334

If you look at this brochure for the glaciers, you'll see symbols indicating accessibility next to the walks:
http://www.doc.govt.nz/Documents/par...gion-walks.pdf

The above Travability South Island article does not cover Lake Tekapo or Mt. Cook. If traveling to Lake Tekapo, you might want to drive up to Mt. John Observatory/Astro Cafe. The view is fantastic. However, I believe the gravel path from the parking lot to the cafe is somewhat steep. You should contact them before you go.
http://earthandskynz.com/earthandsky...stro_cafe.html
If accessible, stargazing tours are also worth considering on a clear night. The skies above Lake Tekapo and Mt. Cook are part of an international dark sky reserve (there is very little light pollution here).
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Old May 18th, 2014, 05:46 AM
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Melnq8 has suggested a wonderful itinerary. If you have time, be sure to include the drive to Glenorchy from Queenstown. Almost all of South Island scenery is incredible but this was my favorite.
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Old May 18th, 2014, 03:53 PM
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>

It is.
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Old May 19th, 2014, 04:25 AM
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Melnq8 - wonderful! Thank you! I think we could probably manage to extend our stay a bit and meet a 16-day itinerary. Since the travel time to NZ is so long we want to really make the most of our trip.

Diamantina - thanks so much for the links!! I had not come across them yet and the info is so thorough and helpful. I will definitely be printing some of those pages to take with us

luvtravl - thank you! I'll add that drive to our list!
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Old May 24th, 2014, 10:02 AM
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Adoc, we had 13 nights in the SI last year, and followed a similar route, though we were arriving on the ferry from Wellington, so we were starting in a different place.

we did this:

3 nights Nelson, [spent one day touring wineries, the other exploring Abel Tasman]

2 nights Franz Joseph to see the glaciers

3 nights Wanaka [boat trip to the island in the middle of the lake, one day walking]

3 nights Queenstown [one day walking at Glenorchy, another day trip to Doubtful Sound]

1 night Oamaru

1 night Christchurch with very early flight out.

The drives in between places were long so we didn't generally do much on transit days except drive, take the odd walk on the way if there was time, and then explore the place we'd arrived in.
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