Mt. Cook in late June

Old Feb 21st, 2020, 06:49 PM
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Mt. Cook in late June


I am in the process of figuring out our 15 night NZ itinerary starting June 15th. We are a family of three. Looking for a mix of stays in cities (to the extent one can get a sense of NZ's society/culture) and outside. I understand that outdoors is the place to be in NZ.

Thinking of spending maybe 4 nights in the north, and 11 in the south. Of the recommended spots in the south, Franz Josef/Fox glaciers are ones I could skip. I have done several trips to glaciers in the past. I love mountains/mountain communities. Although, aside from once in Austrian Alps I have always done mountain trips in summer. My favorite outdoor activity is to do long walks/day hikes (not super strenuous ones.)

So, given this context, how much time would you recommend for Mt. Cook? If it weren't winter I wouldn't even ask, haha. Have heard great things about Wanaka as well. I am willing to spend up to 3 nights EACH in Wanaka and Mt. Cook so long as enough snow/ice free walks/trails are available.

Any comments/advise that will help me resolve this aspect of our trip will be highly appreciated.


PS: I have gone through a post further down in this forum regarding a 2 week trip to NZ in June. But looking to confirm what might be appropriate for me/in my context.
vishalg99 is offline  
Old Feb 21st, 2020, 11:02 PM
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We generally visit NZ in winter, mainly to avoid the crowds, and have generally been fairly lucky with the weather. We have been to Mt Cook, three times, once in June an a couple of times in August. The weather can and does change in an instant So you clearly need to go prepared with the right gear. Two reasonably easy hikes we enjoyed were to the Hooker Valley and Red Tarns, both of which I covered in our blog @

The Hooker Valley was great, if exceptionally windy one time we went. The Red Tarns themselves were disappointing, more like brown puddles, but the views of Mount Cook were exceptional. You could do both in a day but two days and three nights would afford a greater chance of reasonable weather.

Whilst the glaciers in NZ are receding and perhaps don’t compare well with say those in Patagonia, there are some beautiful hikes nearby. Lake Matheson is close to Fox Glacier and is one my favourites on the South Island.

Your choice of course, but I would think carefully about splitting your time between the north and south. 15 days is barely enough for one island, never mind two.
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Old Feb 22nd, 2020, 05:36 AM
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We also visit NZ in the off season and have visited in June a few times.

We've seen Mount Cook in all kinds of weather (and haven't seen it at all a few times as completely socked in by clouds/fog). Mount Cook is spectacular on a pretty day....but if the weather is bad - and it can be very bad, raining for days on end - one can easily feel 'trapped' as there's not much to do other than hike and explore the outdoors.

Having said that, three nights will give you two full days, which is sufficient time to walk pretty much every track in the area. Two nights will give you one full day, and you can fit in more than you might think in that one day.

With only 11 days on the SI to work with (which isn't much), I'd suggest you spend two nights in Mount Cook. This will allow you to hedge your bets with the weather and give you more time to spend elsewhere with potentially better weather.
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Old Mar 4th, 2020, 03:42 PM
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Thank you for your replies @crellston and @Melnq8
Much appreciated.

I went through your blog, crellston -- very informative. Amazing pictures.

If I could start over I would fly to Christchurch and make this only a SI trip. Unfortunately I ended up booking my flight that has us flying into Auckland and flying out of Sydney. I will have 19 nights. It seemed reasonable to do 15 nights in NZ and 4 nights in Sydney. Given this, and reflecting on your feedback, I am thinking of the following:

Auckland -- 3 nights. One of the two full days would be a day trip that covers Waitomo Caves and Hobbiton. Perhaps you might recommend another day trip...maybe to Rangitoto island, or maybe even to Bay of Islands?
Wellington -- 1 night. We would take the Northern Explorer train, and use Wellington as simply a night stop.
Nelson -- 1 night.
Hokitika -- 1 night.
Franz Josef -- 1 night.
Wanaka -- 3 nights.
Mt. Cook -- 2 nights.

Queenstown -- 3 nights. One of the days would be a day trip to Milford Sound.

Not ideal, some trade-offs. Some of those 1 night stops are not by choice. What do you think? Any feedback on this itinerary would be highly appreciated.

All of these stops are connected by Intercity. So we could potentially just use public transport. Or rent a car from Picton to Queenstown. Guess that will give us more flexibility, although we are not big fans of driving -- it stresses us. Only time we have driven outside US is in Iceland out of necessity. North Island, we might just do public transport also because I want to experience the Northern Explorer train. I love train travel. Sitting by a window with a book in hand, especially in trains, is one of my favorite travel activities. In fact if the Coastal Pacific train was still open that time in June, I would probably take it to Christchurch from Picton, and then catch the TranzAlpine to Greymouth. After which I could switch to a rental car.

[After posting this reply, since it is now an inquiry into a full itinerary, I started to wonder if I should create a separate thread for it. Maybe I will do so. Don't know if there is a way to simply change the title of this thread...]

Last edited by vishalg99; Mar 4th, 2020 at 03:51 PM.
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Old Mar 5th, 2020, 08:58 AM
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Do I understand correctly that you are flying into Auckland, and then flying from QT to Sydney?

If so, why not skip visiting Auckland and just add a one way flight to Christchurch from Auckland upon arrival and spend all that time on the SI - perhaps I'm missing something?

Why are you starting from Nelson? Is there a flight or ferry in there that I'm not aware of?

You're making your life more difficult by trying to fit the north of the SI and the south of the SI into one very short trip.

I'll wait to hear your response regarding the transportation logistics before I address the itinerary, because I'm not sure I've understood your plan.

Last edited by Melnq8; Mar 5th, 2020 at 09:00 AM.
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Old Mar 5th, 2020, 11:39 AM
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Glad you enjoyed our blog- if only I could find the time to post about the rest of the palces we have covered in NZ!

Even if you have booked your flight into Auckland, I wouldn’t spend that amount of time there and would, ideally just hop on a flight straight to Christchurch. Trains aside (and I love train travel) I don’t think I would bother with Wellington either. To me, it seems a shame to be going all that way and splitting your time between the north and south islands and not really doing either justice. Like Melnq8 I and not entirely sure I understand your itinerary. One night stops like that in a campervan may be ok as you don’t have to worry about packing, unpacking, checking in, finding somewhere to eat etc. But I can’t imagine doing it in a self drive car + hotels, let alone on public transport.

i assume there is nothing that can be done re changing your flight from Auckland to Christchurch? If not I would consider doing as I suggested above and hop straight on to CC. The other alternative is to stay on the north island where and concentrate your time there. That is for another post perhaps.

I appreciate that driving is not your preferred method of transport but there is no doubt that it is by far and away the best way to see New Zealand. Alternatives may be to consider some sort of coach tour (anathema to me but some love them) or maybe choose a couple of bases and look at doing organised tours from there to different places. Sorry I can5 be of more constructive help but as my late Irish grandfather was fond of saying when asked for directions "well I wouldn’t start from here"..

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Old Mar 5th, 2020, 07:17 PM
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Yes we are set to fly into Auckland. Haven't bought our flight to Sydney yet. But we are flying back to US from Sydney.

Since we are in Auckland it seemed to make sense to do a little bit around there. After which we could take the Northern Explorer (NE) train which seems a very convenient way to traverse NI all the way down to Wellington and on to SI. NE is described as one of three great train journeys in NZ. Of course if it isn't quite as good then that would be a waste of time. The earliest we can catch NE from Auckland is three nights after our arrival.

After ferrying over to Picton (from Wellington), it was a matter of going down the east or west coast. I have heard west coast is far more scenic. If going down the west coast then Nelson, Hokitika, FJ seem to be the places to break your trip at. Nelson, I gather, is a wonderful small town.

The itinerary I outlined can be done using Intercity Buses or renting a car.

I hope that clarifies things.

Since you have been to NZ in June a few times I value your opinion/feedback. If SI is the superior destination (and mountains/lakes do appeal more to me than volcanic landscape/geothermal spots/beaches) then I can certainly consider pulling more time into SI.
vishalg99 is offline  
Old Mar 5th, 2020, 07:30 PM
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I was clicking around your blog for other posts on your NZ trips, especially in SI. I could tell you were intending but couldn't quite get to completely blogging those trips.

Since you have also been to NZ multiple times in winter, I would be interested in what your 15 night itinerary in SI would look like -- just of the top of your head, only in terms of places and nights to spend there. As in: Place X, 2 nights; Place Y, 3 nights, etc... Don't bother if it's too much trouble.

Using a camper van would be beyond us. We will probably rent a car.

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Old Mar 6th, 2020, 01:40 AM
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Vishalg - I am not sure my 15 day itinerary would be particularly relevant to you as I would only ever consider touring by self drive ( campervan or Car + Accomodation ), but based on previous visits, these are the places that would be top of my hit list and, I suppose, are reasonably accessible in a couple of weeks.

You don’t have to split things 50:50 but, if you did, maybe;

North of Christchurch

Nelson could be a good base to head to Abel Tasman from Kaiteriteri ( I did manage to post about our time there which I believe was in July or August) even though it was winter, Abel Tasman does seem to have its own micro climate and we had good weather. Kaikoura is more or less on the way and is good for whale watching. Do check how viable the roads are post earthquake. I think it has all been resolved now. Also great for seals and other wildlife as I recall. Blenheim is also in the same area and good for wine if you have any interest in that direction.

South of Christchurch

I would normally drive from Christchurch via Lake Tekapo to Queenstown but, given you are not a fan of driving, I would fly there from Christchurch. You could base yourself there and take trips out to Glenorchy, Kinloch, Arrowtown, Aoraki. Perhaps split your time with Wanaka. Queenstown will be busy with skiers but there are a lot of activities other than skiing which can be done from there. Even a helicopter trip to Aoraki.

I would consider the driving around Queenstown to be pretty straightforward so maybe that would be the place to rent a car .
The website has a lot of useful information on what to do, where to go etc. For planning where to go I find their maps very useful. You can download and request a free copy here

NB I have not suggested specific nights in each place but from Queenstown you could stay put for a week and see a lot with day trips out of there. To the north, that would be more difficult. We travel a lot and as a rule, I avoid one night stays simply because even two nights only allows for one full day of sightseeing. The more you move on the less you end up seeing. NZ is slightly different in that there is so much to seek along the way between the various locations but packing up, unpacking, checking in, checking out each day is a real pain.

crellston is offline  
Old Mar 6th, 2020, 11:45 AM
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Most guide books are written in context of typical tourism season so feedback from those who have visited in winter is very helpful even though I gather that NZ retains most of its charm even in winter. So thanks much for your input.

Nelson, Abel Tasman, Kikoura, Blenheim north of Christchurch.
Queenstown, Glenorchy, Kinlock, Arrowtown, Aoraki, Wanaka south of Christchurch.

Thanks for those recommendations -- I'll dive into them. Interesting that you did not specifically mention spots along the west coast. That might of course be because of my expressed lack of interest in glacier visits since I have done a bunch of them.

I am now nearly certain that we will rent a car so based on that if something comes to mind let me know.

Maybe the way to connect from Nelson in the north to Queenstown in the south would be to drive down the west coast. I just have to see what sort of driving distances we are looking at.

I know it's quite hard to compare NI and SI, each has its own charm/attraction. On the whole, though, might it be fair to say that, all said and done, SI is a superior destination even though it's colder over there?

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Old Mar 6th, 2020, 11:49 AM
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Thanks for clarifying your itinerary.

I too, would only consider visiting NZ with a car. I have no experience with the Northern Explorer - the only train I've been on in NZ is the TranzAlpine, and I think it's highly overrated, as the road across Arthur's Pass is far more scenic than the train (which travels through tunnels).

Using public transportation will limit you considerably and really eat into the very limited time you have. A car adds complete flexibility - allowing you to stop when the spirit moves you to take a hike, explore a beach, stop at a cafe, take a gazillion snaps...

I'm not a fan of the NI in general - I've only been there twice in some dozen plus visits to NZ, because it just doesn't call me back the way the SI does, so I'm always going to say the SI is 'superior' to the NI, but that's just me. I've also never considered the ferry a 'must do' but more just a means of transportation. Again, just me.

Yes, the West Coast is much more scenic, but it's also longer, and because you're starting from so far north, you'll be spending quite a bit of time in the car along some pretty squiggly roads. I don't say this to discourage you, it's spectacular, especially in good weather.

Yes, Nelson is a nice town, but the area surrounding it is of much more interest to me personally. The Abel Tasman region can easily fill a few weeks alone - so much to see and do in the area. Most people choose to base in Nelson, but I find the Tasman/Motueka/Ruby Bay/Upper Moutere area a much better base for exploring Abel Tasman. And then there's Kaiterteri - another fantastic option much closer to the park.

I have many NZ trip reports posted here and they provide distances, actual travel time with stops en route and various other tidbits that may or may not help with your planning.

In your first post you said Franz Josef/Fox glaciers are ones I could skip, but as I'm sure you're aware, they're along the West Coast. Mount Cook is along the inland route.

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Old Mar 6th, 2020, 10:39 PM
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I didn’t include anything on the West Coast, partly because you said you had little interest in Glaciers, partly because of the distances involved and partly because I prefer the places I did mention. However there is a lot to see and do along that coast you really need to spend some time on which does have a huge amount of information and some really useful tips for getting around. All a question of ones subjective opinion but for me, the highlights of the west coast include the walk around Lake Matheson

Lake Matheson nr Fox Glacier
or waking up looking at Lake Paringa

Lake Paringa

Lake Paringa

Ro the far north of the west coast we also loved Karamea but that is a very long way and not practical in the time you have.

if you did want to see the west cost glaciers combined with Mt Cook then you could consider a flight from QT or Glenorchy on the other side of the mountains. Although the flights are weather dependent.

Glenorchy is a stunning location close to QT and has a lot of te benefits of the scenery with few of the disadvantages of being in a busy ski town.



Wanaka is a quieter alternative to Queenstown but also with amazing scenery on the doorstep. There are literally endless choices and even with visiting for a couple of months at a time I have always struggled to narrow it down. If you are now happy to use a rental car then you could do a lot worse than to select a couple of those driving routes I linked before. If you delve further into that site it does provide the facility to create a wish list of the suggestions and recommendation they cover on their site.

crellston is offline  
Old Mar 8th, 2020, 12:48 PM
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That link to the Getting Around pdf is beyond useful, crellston. Love those stunning pictures. Thanks for your recommendation of those highlights around the west coast. I have decided based on all this feedback to limit myself to SI and also consider the glacier region -- clearly there's much more beyond the glaciers themselves. Once I have redone my itinerary I will return to this thread for further feedback.
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