Need help in planning itinerary in South Island NZ

Feb 6th, 2013, 02:25 PM
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Need help in planning itinerary in South Island NZ

My husband and I will be flying to SI from Auckland in the beginning of April. The problem is we don't know where to start our tour from - Queensland or Christchurch? We would like to see CHC & Queenstown, sceneries, a couple of wineries, Milford sound and fiordlands and hopefully Mt Cook. We have 7 nights and 8 days. We are doing a self-drive tour. Right now our travel agent proposed the following:

Day 1-2 fly Akl to CHC - 1 night in CHC
Day 2-3 CHC to Dunedin - 1 night in Dunedin
Day 3-6 Dunedin to Queenstown - 3 nights in Queenstown
Day 5-6 Queenstown to Franz Josef - 1 night in Franz Josef
Day 6-7 Franz Josef to CHC - 1 night in CHC
Day 8 fly CHC to AKL

After reading some info on NZ, that is a lot of driving and I was wondering if we should eliminate Franz Josef - So Instead of doing a loop, we are thinking of just flying AKL /Queenstown or AKL/CHC and drive from Queenstown to CHC or vice versa. Is Franz Josef worth stopping a night for?

We need some input.
jo888 is offline  
Feb 6th, 2013, 04:13 PM
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I think your travel agent is bonkers. For starters, he/she has you driving to Dunedin via the east coast, which is the least scenic route on the entire SI. Secondly, he/she has you going to Dunedin and along the West Coast, which you haven't even listed on your wish list.

It's very difficult to incorporate both the West Coast (glaciers) and the inland route (Mt Cook) into such a short trip. I'd suggest you pick one or the other, or you will indeed be spending your entire trip in the car.

It really doesn't matter if you start from Queenstown or Christchurch...either you fly into Christchurch and drive to Queenstown, or fly into Queenstown and drive to Christchurch. no real difference.

Based on your listed interests, I'd suggest something like this:

Arrive Christchurch, stay a night or two, then drive to Geraldine via Scenic road 72/77/79 - this route will take you through some pretty countryside along the base of a mountain range and alongside Rakaia Gorge, which is gorgeous. Suggest you spend a night here, and I highly recommend you book a table at Taste for dinner - lovely food.

Drive from Geraldine to Mt Cook, via Lake Tekapo. This will take you over Lindis Pass, the inland route.

Drive from Mt Cook to Wanaka, perhaps stopping to visit a few wineries near Tarras enroute (or make a small detour to Cromwell - home to several wineries and some pretty fabulous Pinot Noir

Drive from Wanaka to Te Anau, and visit Milford Sound from here

Drive from Te Anau to Queenstown

Depart Queenstown - fly to Christchurch and on to Auckland

How long you stay in each area really depends on your interests. This route is quite doable in the time you have, and will no doubt leave you wanting to revisit the SI to see even more.

Travel times/distances here:
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 9th, 2013, 12:30 PM
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After just finished self driving the South Island last week, I concur that your agent doesn't know jack about the distances in NZ.

I would highly recommend going to Kaikoura which is about 2 1/2 hours north of Christchurch-think the beauty and serenity of Big Sur in California and Maine combined!It is where the two currents meet in the ocean creating upwelling and there are whales,seals and amazing marine life in that area along with vistas that make you pinch yourself!

We took the ferry over and drove from Picton ferry with lunch in Blenheim to Kaikoura for several nights.There are numerous wineries in that area too. We then drove south through Christchurch through Timaru. From there to Mt. Cook for a few nights and back to Oamaru to see the rare yellow eyed and blue penguins and then back to Christchurch.

I have been to the very south to Milford/Dunedin on a previous trip back in 1976. I know that Milford is beautiful but feel that there are so many other places in NZ that warrant seeing besides that area. Mt. Cook has 22 out of the 27 highest mountains in New Zealand and the scenery will bear that out.

Just keep in mind that in wanting to visit the wineries you will find that the wines are cheaper in the US than in NZ-most are more than doubled in price even if you buy at the grocery store.

Do allow some time for Christchurch too.

I would fly into Christchurch and go over to Mt. Cook(drop going to the Franz Joseph glacier area) then down to Queenstown/Milford area before flying back to Christchurch or Auckland if you only have 7 days.

I would highly recommend staying at the brand new (as of Dec. 2012)Aoraki Motor Lodge-recently rated Number 1 on Tripadvisor. It has a gorgeous view of the Mt. Sheften glaciers with a beautifully appointed room and kitchen area that has everything you would ever want. It is in the middle of the Mt Cook village and close to everything.The beds are heavenly,everything is clean and new and the price is great! You won't be dealing with the tour bus crowd at the Hermitage.
dutyfree is offline  
Feb 13th, 2013, 11:14 AM
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Thank you Melnq8 & Dutyfree. I have changed our route in SI as I have read there was too much driving. So this is what I proposed:

We fly to Queenstown and stay for 4 nights.
Day 1 we explore Queenstown and go for the sky gondola & luge
Day 2 Milford sound tour by coach
Day 3 Mt Cook tour by coach
Day 4 we pick up our rental car and tour (any suggestions what we should see/tour?)
Day 5 we leave for Dunedin...arrive and look around..probably see some yellow penguins (since we have none here in the Pacific Northwest of US).
Day 6 we leave for Christchurch.
Day 7 we take the TransAlpine train from Christchurch to Greysmouth and back.
Day 8 we fly back to AKL enroute home.

Is this itinerary much better than the one my travel agent has for us?

Thanks guys
jo888 is offline  
Feb 13th, 2013, 12:38 PM
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Well, at least you're seeing what YOU want to see and not what your TA randomly suggested.

Flying to QT is a good idea. Your new itinerary covers all the places you want to see, albeit quickly. It's quite fast paced and still involves alot of driving, although the coach driver will be doing most of it.

I don't see the point of taking a coach to Mt Cook though - why not drive yourself?

The drive from QT to Dunedin is four hours, the drive from Dunedin to Christchurch is 5:15 (via the most direct route, which is up the very unscenic east coast.)

That only leaves you about half a day in Dunedin, if you get an early start. The penguin tours begin around 3:15, but daylight hours are limited that time of year, so plan well.

Keep in mind, you can also see penguins in Oamaru (blue penguins), which is on the way to Christchurch from QT (also via the east coast), but it's a considerably shorter drive than via Dunedin.

I've taken the round trip TranzAlpine train and I think it's redundant, but I can certainly see why you've planned it this way...lack of time.

PS - regarding Day 4 - loads to see and do - maybe a self-guided winery tour (Cromwell is a good place to start) or a wander across the Crown Range Road to Wanaka or a drive to Glenorchy (40 minutes from QT and absolutely spectacular scenery and walks) - the options are endless.
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 13th, 2013, 12:43 PM
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Another thought - why not fly to Dunedin and begin your trip from there? You could self-drive and do all on your list, then return to Christchurch via Mt Cook. This would prevent coach tours and give you the ability to see things as you go instead of the drive there and back day trips, which just eat into your time.

Maybe Dunedin-Queenstown (and Milford)-Mt Cook-Christchurch, then the side trip from CHC over Arthur's Pass? You could even self-drive Arthur's Pass, which is much more scenic than the train IMO.

Just a thought.
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 13th, 2013, 03:11 PM
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Melnq8, thanks for the suggestion. So I can save on the TranzAlpine train and that would save us some $ and drive to Arthur Pass and back. I should have come to this site and do my homework before paying my Travel Agent (car & hotel). Now we have paid our trip.
Question: Do you think it is a better scenic drive if we go from QN to Franz Josef (on the west coast) and eliminate Dunedin. Stay one night in FJ and then continue driving from FJ to CC via Hokitika and Arthurs Pass to CC?

jo888 is offline  
Feb 13th, 2013, 03:22 PM
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QT to Franz Josef is a million times more scenic than the drive from Dunedin to Christchurch. The West Coast of NZ is a major highlight, and I'd choose it over Dunedin in a New York minute if you can spare the time. One night won't give you much time to do anything, but you'll see alot along the way.

You can sometimes see penguins near Lake Moeraki (on the West Coast route), but they're seasonal, and there is no operator like in Oamaru or Dunedin. You either see them on the beach or you don't.
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 14th, 2013, 08:33 AM
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I think now we have decided to fly AKL to QT and stay for 4 nights, then we drive up west coast via Wanaka over Crown Range road to Haast and then stay 2 nights in Franz Josef. Then continue on to CC via Arthurs Pass.

Another question, Melnq8 - can we drive from Franz Josef to Mt Cook? I would hate to miss Mt Cook after coming all this way even though we do have mountains here in the Pacific Northwest.

jo888 is offline  
Feb 14th, 2013, 10:06 AM
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Since you only have 7 days, I am trying to figure out why so many days/nights in Queenstown? Also, as far as trying to drive between Franz Joseph and Mt Cook? It's going to be a long drive even though they are closer to each other-personally I would pick Mt Cook over Franz Joseph? The drive from Christchurch via Lake Tepatu to MT COOK is gorgeous. (We used to have a condo at Mt Baker in Washington state so I am partial to Mt Cook because 22 of the 27 highest mountains are in the Mt Cook area with glaciers.)

You don't have to drive all the way to Dunedin to see the yellow eyed and blue penguins-we saw them in Oamaru on a one night stopover there. The blue penguins come in around 930pm and it is a hoot to watch them hop out of the water and run across the road to their nests . The city of Oamaru even has a penquin advocate volunteer out everynight to protect them from zealous tourists! The blue penquins are quite small and are darling the way they go in groups.
The yellow eyed penquins are only seen from a special penguin area high on a bluff that the NZ Dept of Conservation has built. The yellow eyed usually start coming in around 5pm but the vistas watching them come in is gorgeous!

Just a thought-fly into Queenstown then up to Mt Cook over to Oamaru and then to Christchurch?
dutyfree is offline  
Feb 14th, 2013, 10:48 AM
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Hi Dutyfree, I have paid our Travel Agent for this SI leg of our vacation and the only thing I can change is to eliminate Dunedin and drive on the west coast from QT to CC. I know I was stupid to agree to the itinerary put out by our travel Agent without checking it out first. As you will read from another post by Neuman605, we are also on going to NI using the Groupon deal and then extending 7 nights to SI.

My hubby and I are thinking of Queenstown is the hub of lower SI and we can drive to lower Fiordlands. So this is what I think we do in Queenstown:
Day 1 - sky gondola & luge & bumming around the city
Day 2 - Coach to Milford Sound & cruise tour
Day 3 - drive to Mt. Cook (I just read that day trip -QT to Mt Cook Village is doable - about 163 mls one way)
Day 4 - haven't plan yet
Day 5 - proceed to Franz Josef and now we are thinking of staying 2 nights in FJ
Day 7 - proceed to CC via Arthurs Pass
Day 8 - fly back to Auckland and continue our journey back to Pacific NW

I think this is better than what our TA has proposed earlier. I welcome any suggestions you or anybody else has to offer.


jo888 is offline  
Feb 14th, 2013, 04:01 PM
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The West Coast and Mt Cook are separated by a mountain range. As I mentioned earlier, seeing both the inland route (Mt Cook, Tekapo) and the West Coast (glaciers) is very difficult to do in such a short trip. You'll spend all your time driving if you try to do both. Pick one or the other (I thought you wanted Mt Cook?) The drive between the two is 485 km/301 miles, seven hours w/o stops.

Do check the penguin viewing times in Oamaru, as the time the penguins comes in varies with the time of year - it can range anywhere from 5:30 pm to after 9 pm.
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 14th, 2013, 04:14 PM
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BTW - that 163 miles from QT to Mt Cook may not sound like alot, but it's close to a four hour drive, EACH way. You'll see Mt Cook (assuming it's not concealed by clouds as it often is), but you'll not have time to do much else. If you're making the drive to Mt Cook from QT, you might as well drive on to Lake Tekapo as it's only another 63 miles (90 minutes), but it will make for an even longer day.

Don't underestimate drive times in NZ (or jet lag if you're flying from the US).

Your latest itineray is doable, but it's alot of driving, and not much time to do things.

You mentioned you'd like to visit some about a winery tour (or self-drive) on Day 4? I highly recommend Mt Difficulty in Bannockburn (near Cromwell) for a nice lunch - you might need to book.
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 15th, 2013, 10:03 AM
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Thanks Melnq8 for all your advises. We are flying in from AKL to QT. We are doing 8 days in NI (same route as Neuman605 in another post) but then extending our tour to SI (7 nights)before flying back to US.

We also be doing a lot of driving in NI too and that's why we are not driving the 1st couple of days when we arrive in QT. I figure we bum around QT on the 1st day; 2nd day - take coach/cruise tour to Milford sound and on the 3rd day, we could take a day trip drive to Mt Cook or take a coach tour there.
I am so stressed planning this SI trip because I realized that road conditions in NZ is not the same as in US. NZ roads are winding and only 2 lanes and driving times are much much longer than driving in US. We did do a driving tour of Northland in NI is 2002 but I think Northland driving is much easier since it does not have mountain ranges like in SI. So my hubby suddenly realized that too and bearing this in mind, we may have to take a coach tour to MT.Cook and let someone else do the driving. Then on the 4th we may do a local tour of QT and its surrounding towns. I think this is doable.
Day 5 we will be driving up the west coast and hopefully catch a glimpse of the penguins near Lake Moeraki like you suggested. So we eliminate Dunedin on the East coast and stay 2 nights at Fox Glacier/Franz Josef and then on to CC via Arthur's Pass.

We are flying into AKL by Hawaiian Airlines. The NewZealand Air from AKL to QT is quite a bit more expensive than JetStar. I just have to learn to pack extremely light and use laundromats this time as you suggested (on another post).
jo888 is offline  
Feb 15th, 2013, 04:41 PM
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The penguins are actually at Monro Beach which is a 20-30 minute walk from Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge. Expect sandflies.
Melnq8 is offline  
Nov 6th, 2016, 01:33 AM
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Hello, can you help me with a 7day iteneary from auckland in Jan2017 . We want to do the Milford soundscruise, TranzAlpine journey,Franz Josef Glacier,Queenstown, and Shotover Jet Ride.
Can you suggest how I go about it... will be really helpful.
sjm65 is offline  
Nov 6th, 2016, 06:17 AM
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Stell - I responded to your question on another thread. FYI for future reference, it's best to start your own thread rather than top multiple old threads.
Melnq8 is offline  
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