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Itinerary Advice for North & South Island March 11-28

Itinerary Advice for North & South Island March 11-28

Mar 5th, 2013, 10:00 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Sep 2005
Posts: 55
Itinerary Advice for North & South Island March 11-28

My 78 year old mother & I will arrive in Auckland on 3/11 at 8am & depart at 10pm on 3/28 from Auckland. Mom is in great shape. We both like to be outside doing walks or short hikes, seeing gardens & new sights. We know we want to see the following: Milford Sound, Christchurch, Arthur's Pass, Mt. Cook, Dunedin & Queenstown not necessarily in that order. A rough itinerary for the first few days follows. We want to see the most of the country but don't want to be in a car for hours upon hours every day. Itinerary help would be much appreciated.

I have an option for a 4pm massage in Rotorua on the first day. Is this doable if we go to Mt. Maunganui? I understand Mt. Maunganui is 1.5 hours from Rotorua.
Mom is an early-to-bed, early-to-rise gal. Is one hangi in Rotorua better than another & if so, is there one that will get us home no later than 9:30?
Auto Europe has quoted $1100 for pickup on 3/11 at Auckland Airport & drop off in Christchurch on 3/26. How does Auto Europe compare to APEX in terms of service, cars,etc. ?
We had orginally thought we'd do a grand loop starting in Nelson (which is supposed to be an artisy town which could be fun) & ending in Christchurch before flying to Auckland. Instead of going to Nelson, should we go to Christchurch for the first night on the south island then take the TranzAlpine train to Greymouth the following day to pick up a rental car & start our loop there?

Abel Tasman Nat'l Park is supposed to be lovely. Can we see a bit of it if we spend the night in Nelson or are we better off reserving our time for the lower part of the island? We have a car rental already organized to pick up off the ferry but have seen from other posts that Nelson may be quite a bit farther north of the other sights on the island which would require a lot more driving.

At the end of the trip, we are trying to decide if we should fly from christchurch to Auckland later afternoon 2 days before we fly home. This would give us one full day & then the next day until our flight leaves at 10pm. Is this too much time for the important sights in Auckland?

Thanks for any advice you have to offer.

March 11: Arrive, pick up rental car (Auto Europe), stop for snacks or picnic materials, if not too tired drive to Tauranga to do a short hike up Mt. Maunganui then drive to Rotorua for the first overnight.If too tired, drive straight to Rotorua. Stay at Sport of Kings.
March 12: Tour Rotorua with hangi in the evening. Hangi has not yet been scheduled. Another night at Sport of Kings.
March 13: Drive to Tongariro National Park for sight seeing & a 2-3 hour hike. Leave the area around 3pm to drive to Palmerston North to meet a friend at 6pm & stay overnight with her.
March 14: Spend day with friend & another overnight.
March 15: Drive to Wellington. Tour museum, gardens & possibly take coastal drive. Drop of rental car. Spend night a Youth Hostel.
March 16: Take 8:30am ferry to South Island. Overnight in Nelson? Or should we go by bus to Christchurch where we can either pick up a car or take the Tranzalpine to Greymouth & pick up the car there?
debl is offline  
Mar 5th, 2013, 11:47 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,554
Regarding car rental - we like APEX because they also rent older cars and we tend to go off the asphalt. I've never had trouble with a car rental though, regardless of company. Never used Auto Europe, but I certainly would if the price and excess were right. We paid $250 less than you've been quoted for a three week rental with APEX last June, older car, low season.

Nelson is arty (the region more so than the town) and Abel Tasman Nat'l Park is indeed lovely.

Alot of your questions depend on scheduling - what time do you arrive in Picton? What time does the bus leave Picton? What time does the Tranzalpine leave Christchurch?

Since you're taking the ferry, you'll be starting in Picton. Picton to Nelson is about a two hour drive, Christchurch is a five hour drive (no stops).

I personally much much prefer the drive over Arthur's Pass to the train and you'll be more flexible driving as you'll not have to adhere to a bus or train schedule.

Nelson is about an hour's drive from Abel Tasman, and doesn't make the best base for seeing the park IMO. Kaiteriteri and Marahau are better bases, but getting a room might be an issue at this point as they're popular spots. Motueka is another good option, not exciting as towns go, but close in proximity and plenty of accommodation.

How many days do you have for the SI? Have you booked accommodation (I'm guessing not).
Melnq8 is offline  
Mar 6th, 2013, 02:28 PM
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 11,490
Be really, really cautious about driving your first day, especially if you have trouble sleeping on the plane. We drove from Auckland to Whakatane after we got to NZ and had to pull over and take a nap.

We enjoyed the evening concert and hangi at Te Puia www.tepuia.com It was well done, not overly touristy, and the food was pretty good.

Lee Ann
ElendilPickle is offline  
Mar 6th, 2013, 05:21 PM
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Join Date: Sep 2005
Posts: 55
Hi Melnq8 & Lee Ann,

Thanks for your responses & the advice about the car. I will look into changing the car if possible.

We will take the 8:15am ferry from Wellington to Picton, with arrival at 11:40am on March 16.

We'll fly back to Auckland from Christchurch late afternoon at a time yet to be determined on March 26 so that we can have March 27 & March 28 to have a look around Auckland before our flight leaves at 10pm on March 28.

With 11 days on the South Island, is it wise to stay with the original plan of driving down the West Coast? Perhaps something like the following where the dates refer to where we will spend the night. NELSON, KAITERITERI or MARAHAU (3/16) -> HOKITKIA (3/17) -> FOX GLACIER (3/18) -> WANAKA (3/19) -> QUEENSLAND (3/20)-> TE ANAU (2 NITES 3/21 & 3/22)-> DUNEDIN (3/23)-> MT COOK (3/24)-> CHRISTCHURCH (3/25 and most of the day on 3/26)-> AUCKLAND (2 NITES 3/26 & 3/27).

Which would be a better place to stay: KAITERITERI or MARAHAU? We will have the rest of the afternoon after arriving (approx 4pm after picking up car with no stops) & some of the next morning to do some exploring. Or should we just skip Abel Tasman & stay in Nelson?

We have not booked accommodation yet. We are youth hostel members & may try to stay in those if available. Our goal is to always have our lodging set up 2 days before we will arrive at the next destination. We may do more than 2 days ahead for Te Anau because we will be there on a Thursday & Friday. This is our #1 place to visit for the tour of the Milford Sound. We are also thinking of splurging in Dunedin by staying in the Larnach Castle, which will be a Saturday nite so another place where we'll need a reservation much earlier.

I had heard the views are better by taking the train through Arthur's Pass vs. driving your own car. Do you know if this is true? If we go with the above itinerary, we could take the train round trip to just the middle of the pass for a nice hike. Alternatively, we could drive but I wouldn't want to miss good scenery if the train does have better views.

Thanks for your help with this!

debl is offline  
Mar 6th, 2013, 06:18 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,554
Firstly - from what I understand, APEX also covers the cost of taking the car on the ferry, so worth a look.

Driving down the West Coast is a good idea, however, with only 11 days you'll likely have to cut back on your itinerary.

For example - If you drive from Picton to Nelson after arriving by ferry, you'll need to drive two hours to Nelson then another 50-60 minutes if you plan to head to Kaikeriteri or Marahau. And for what? To spend one night and then get in the car the next day and drive five hours to Hoki? You've left virtually no time to DO anything once you get there, let alone see things enroute.

If you're going to make the effort to go to te Abel Tasman area, give yourself at least one full day (as in two nights) to see it.

Your current itinerary has you driving EVERY single day, except for the one full day you'll be in Te Anau, and I suspect you'll be driving that day too - to Milford Sound - which is a four hour return trip from Te Anau.

You've just not left yourself any time to enjoy the places you're visiting.

It's near impossible to include the far north and the far south in such a short trip, let alone include the West Coast and the inland route (Mt Cook).

Pare back.

My suggestion - forget Nelson and Dundin this trip. Give yourself two nights at the glaciers and at least two nights in QT.

Maybe something like this:

Arrive Picton - drive to Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks) - this is about a five hour drive - overnight

Drive from Punakaiki to Franz Josef (3:15) You'll have time to visit Hoki on the way, perhaps drive out to the Hokitika Gorge, have a nice lunch, make all the scenic stops enroute - two nights

Drive from Franz Josef to Wanaka (this takes well over four hours, much longer with stops, and you should definitely stop - Blue Pools, Lake Moeraki - walk out to the beach to look for penguins, etc - two nights

Drive from Wanaka to Te Anau (3:20) - two nights, one full day at Milford and along Milford Road

Drive from Wanaka to QT - two nights

Drive from QT to Christchurch, leave early in the day and made the detour to Mt Cook, stop at Lake Tekapo, etc - continue on to Christchurch for a night before your departure.

OR fly out of QT and free up a day but miss out on Mt Cook.

Like I said earlier, I prefer the drive over Arthur's Pass to the train - I've done both - but it's your trip. Definitely don't take the train both ways - I've also done this - it's redundant and a waste of time as you're backtracking and then have to drive back to Greymouth - you just don't have time to do any backtracking.
Melnq8 is offline  
Mar 6th, 2013, 07:09 PM
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Join Date: Sep 2005
Posts: 55
Melnq8 -- I feel like you're my own private travel agent. I'm grateful to you for your help with this.

Mom & I have both been to Alaska on separate trips. We've seen & walked on glaciers there. If we spend 2 nights in Franz Josef, will there be enough to see & do?

We've been told QT is great but can be a bit touristy. We're not big into touristy. If we only stay 1 night in QT where would you recommend the other night? Mt. Cook or Dunedin? Or somewhere else? We're outdoorsy skiers & walkers from Vermont. I'm really keen on seeing the wildlife like penguins, albatross & others. And would love to see glow worms too!
debl is offline  
Mar 6th, 2013, 08:05 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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No worries debl, happy to help.

The glaciers in NZ emerge from the rainforest and extend towards the sea, so they're going to be quite different from Alaska.

There is quite a bit to do, but it depends on your interests. You can walk to the terminal face of both glaciers within a day if you plan well (and have the energy - they're a 30 minute drive apart). There are manmade hot pools and a Kiwi center in Franz Josef...I've not done either, as I prefer to spend my time outdoors.

There's a very good visitor's center that shows films on the area (good wet day activity).

There are loads of walks, many quite easy. There's the well know walk around Lake Matheson (near Fox Glacier), there are countless roads to explore and soak up the wonderful scenery, there are organized tours and helihikes, etc.

There's an evening Kiwi tour in nearby Okarito (book ahead) and Okarito is well worth a poke about too - more walks, more lovey scenery, the lagoon (think birds), etc.

As your Mom is 78, she may not be up for much hiking, but the West Coast is such a pretty place (especially on a sunny day) it seems a shame not to spend at least one full day there, but that's just me.

Queenstown is the epitome of touristy, no doubt, but for a reason...it's gorgeous. The township itself has lost it's way IMO, but for me it was never about the town anyway. It's about the surrounding area - the water activites, the lake and mountain walks, the wineries, the bungy jumping bridge, the gobsmacking scenery....then there's nearby Mildly Interesting Arrowtown and Glorious Glenorchy, which is a 40 minute drive around the lake - Glenorchy is my new favorite place on the SI - it's at the doorstep of Mt Aspiring Nat'l Park - the scenery is just incredible. In fact I've just booked a four night stay there for August!

I'm not a fan of Dunedin and seldom suggest it as it's just antoher big town as far as I'm concerned. And touristy. But yes, it's probably the best place to see penguins and albatross easily.

Diamintina (another poster here) lives in Dunedin and she's a fountain of knowledge for the area - just search for her posts.

You can see glow worms many places on the SI. There's a small glow worm dell in Hokitika). There's the organized glow worm tour out of Te Anau. There's a glow worm dell at Lake Moeraki. They're best viewed at night unless they're deep in a cave.

I suggest you ask your accommodation owners - they can usually direct you to the closest (and free) glow worm dells.
Melnq8 is offline  
Mar 7th, 2013, 11:26 PM
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Join Date: Sep 2005
Posts: 55
Once again, thanks so much for the wonderful suggestions. My mom may be 78 but she seems to have more energy than I do!

Thanks also for the tip about APEX. I was able to change my car reservations to APEX & saved nearly $300. What's also nice about APEX is that they pay to have the rental car shipped on the boat with you so there's no need to leave one car on the north island & pick up another on the other side.

I've read of free places to see the glow worms & hope that they will be in top form when we are there.

Thanks again for all the advice. I will check out Diamintina's postings for the Dunedin area.
debl is offline  
Mar 9th, 2013, 08:07 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,525
You will love Sport of Kings hotel in Rotorua! The hosts are amazing and anything that you need they will try and accomodate you.
We were there in January and were upset that we didn't have the time to get over to see the glow worms at Waitaimo Caves.Pete, the host took my daughter and I out with another couple out for an amazing experience. We drove in his 4 way drive for about 30 minutes to a camp in the middle of nowhere and walked about 10 minutes in the woods to a waterfall to see the most amazing and beautiful experience of glow worms all around us at the waterfall. It was a truly magical moment and I will always treasure the evening. Words cannot begin to describe the experience and he wouldn't take anything for his effort!
Pete is an outdoorsman who is well versed in everything New Zealand and his love of his country and the surrounding countryside is evident in everything he does and says. Both he and Tristan, his partner (and soon to be wife) are like old cousins who want you to love their part of New Zealand. Tell him that Debbie and Amy from Chicago send their love!
dutyfree is offline  
Mar 9th, 2013, 08:14 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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I forgot to add that you should try and get the JASONS coupons for each city from the ISITE site at Auckland airport.

We got the one for Rotorua and found a great restaurant that we ended up going to twice as the prices with the coupon were great and the food was fabulous-it is called CAPERS. The coupon is usually good for two dinners plus two glasses of wine for $40 NZD and the entrees are usually around $20-25 apiece. The presentation and food was wonderful-I can see why it is rated number 4 out of 104 restaurants on Tripadvisor.
dutyfree is offline  
Mar 9th, 2013, 08:25 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,525
I would also recommend you book at the new Aoraki motor lodge at Mt. Cook. It just opened in December and is fabulous. Check it out on Tripadvisor for the rave reviews.
You literally can sit on your patio and have fabulous views of the mountains and glaciers. It is totally self contained so you can cook in your unit which has every imaginable cooking utensil you would need and enjoy the alpine views. The prices are great along with the beds which are so comfy-seriously cannot say enough for this special place at Mt Cook!You are in walking distance or a 5 minute drive to the Hermitage and its museums.
Be sure and drive your car on the 8KM gravel road to the Tasman glacier-it is about a 35 minute walk up for a view of the Tasman glacier and lake with glaciers., Fabulous!
dutyfree is offline  
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