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New Zealand at a leisurely place, need help with forming itinerary!

New Zealand at a leisurely place, need help with forming itinerary!

Feb 15th, 2010, 04:02 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 866
New Zealand at a leisurely place, need help with forming itinerary!

Greetings Fodorites! My husband and I are in the initial stages of planning a 3-week trip to NZ for late 2010 or early 2011 and need some help getting an itinerary. I have reviewed a lot of itineraries here, and have looked up some tour company itineraries, but what I've found are really frantic hectic schedules with 1-2 nights per stop. My hubby and I would rather see half (or less) of what there is to see, and spend more time exploring an area in-depth. Also, we're pretty sure we're going to fall in love with NZ and return again someday, so it's not important to us to see everything in 1 trip. Ideally, we would spend 3 nights in one spot.

Also, I'm finding that I'm attracted to areas that seem rather similar, and those areas are the areas near water (Bay of Islands, Bay of Plenty, Coromandel, Abel Tasman, Dunedin, Milford Sound) . I'm worried about not having enough variety on our trip... Are some of these areas too similar to each other? Our top priorities are kayaking, beach combing, swimming, snorkeling or diving, wildlife viewing (penguins, dolphins, whales), some day hikes, and wineries. And relaxation. Given these priorities and our desire to stay at least 3 nights in one location, where would you suggest we go in our 21 days?

Also, to save time, we would prefer flying rather than long car drives to/from certain locations. Thanks in advance for any suggestions...
britomart is offline  
Feb 15th, 2010, 04:27 PM
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I think three nights in a given area is absolutely the way to go...we do exactly this on just about every trip we make regardless of destination. The added bonus of three night stays is that it gives you two full days to explore each area, plus time on the day of arrival if it's not been a full drive day.

Having said that, there could well be occasion to spend only one night enroute to break up a long journey (if you decide to drive). For instance if you want to spend time in Abel Tasman and then head way down south to spend time in Milford Sound, but have no interest in spending time somewhere in between, an overnight to break up the journey is the way to go. I realize time is always an issue, but I personally feel the best way to see NZ (especially the SI) is by car. The scenery is incredibly diverse and the drive is part of the experience IMO. I find driving to the airport, dropping off the rental car, waiting for the flight, collecting luggage and another rental car at the destination, etc, more of a headache than just hopping in the car, but that's just me.

I've made about nine trips to the SI and the only thing Abel Tasman, Milford Sound and Dunedin have in common is the water. They're definitely different enough that you'd get a good taste of NZ by spending some quality time in each.

You'll find plenty of wineries within about a 30 minute drive of Abel Tasman - just head towards Upper Moutere and Nelson via Motueka.

But for more SI variety, you might want to incorporate the rugged West Coast (seals, whales and penguins can be seen here too) or the windswept coastline of the Catlins (located between Dunedin and Invercargill). You'll find wildlife down that way too - seals, sea lions and penguins.

You may not realize it, but your SI itinerary already includes some of the spectacular lakes. If you fly into Queenstown and then drive to Milford Sound you'll definitely experience some lakes along the way.
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 15th, 2010, 05:51 PM
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Agree with Melnq8, "the only thing Abel Tasman, Milford Sound and Dunedin have in common is the water". The areas are wonderful in very different ways.

With three weeks, if you limited your time to the SI you could easily spend up to 5 days in each of the three area and drive. It is a two and a half day drive from Abel Tasman to Milford Sound. The scenery is constantly changing and stunning!.

It is an easy one day drive from Milford Sound direct to Dunedin or an easy two day by way of the fabulous south coast and the Catlins.

That's up to 15 days in the SI places that appeal to you and 4 to 5 days total drive time between them. You can fly into Nelson and out of Dunedin. If you cut down to 3 or 4 days at the SI locations, you could add some time for a location or two on the NI since you will be flying into to Auckland.

You will miss so much not driving around the South Island. It is has the most incredible scenery. The roads are good, with little traffic. The places you have listed have what you are looking for in activities
cwn is offline  
Feb 15th, 2010, 08:27 PM
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I'm sure that you will want to return to NZ for a second look, so I agree that you should aim the spend all of your time in the South Island as cwn has suggested. I also agree that you should drive between locations. In NZ, there are very few boring drives, and the scenery can change dramatically very quickly, so driving gives you every opportunity to take advantage of this.
Three weeks would give you a great chance to do a decent loop of the South Island. You wouldn't regret doing this.
kiwi_rob is offline  
Feb 16th, 2010, 05:34 AM
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You've all made a very compelling case for the SI only, but I have my heart set on Coromandel/Bay of Islands/Bay of Plenty...!! What would you propose for a 3-week itinerary of the SI? Is it a pain to get from the NI to the SI, is that part of why it's better to pick one or the other?

Part of not wanting to drive is due to back problems and I just can't sit for long distances (the flight over is going to be very, very difficult). I guess if we were stopping every hour or so to take pics it wouldn't be too bad.

We're also not really interested in Mt. Cook or the glaciers... Can we skip these or are they "must see"?
britomart is offline  
Feb 16th, 2010, 10:50 AM
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Of the three North Island locations, I would visit Coromandel as a 4-day side trip from Auckland (either at the beginning or end of the stay), and fly to the South Island from Auckland. I stayed 2 nights at the Drift In homestay/ BnB in Kuaotunu, found it pleasant and a good location for beach combing (the beaches east along Black Jack Road) and visiting Cathedral Cove (where there is kayaking). Plus the owner is an excellent cook! http://www.bnb.co.nz/coromandel/resu....html?lid=1324

You might also stay on the west side or tip of the peninsula for a night (I didn't have time) either coming to or from Auckland. I'd avoid Whitianga as a place to stay (beach is muddy and it's a bit too crowded.)

After Coromandel, I'd return to Auckland and fly to Queenstown. You should find some very competitive airfares for a oneway flight (but stick with Air NZ).

I think a good fit for your interests would be the Catlins. Try to find an overstay around Nugget Point. Lots of wildlife and big beaches around the south coast of the South Island. The weather, even in "summer" can be quite windy, though.

If you really don't like long drives, you might pay for a coach excursion to Milford Sound from Queenstown(or a coach/fly combo).

I recommend against the drive along the West Coast to the glaciers if you are going to Milford Sound. I've been once, got lucky with weather, and haven't returned. Plus with their "shrinkage", they aren't as impressive as they were, unless you do a trek onto the ice.

My suggested itinerary
Auckland to Coromandel,return
Auckland to Queenstown
See Milford Sound, day trip to wineries
The Catlins, drive to Dunedin
Dunedin and Otago Peninsula
Fly Dunedin to Nelson
Abel Tasman
Fly Nelson to Auckland

There are a few ways to get between Dunedin and Nelson (for access to the Abel Tasman) but I'd recommend flying (you'll probably connect via Wellington) and you should find some inexpensive Smartsaver fares for this if you check Air NZ.

You can fly back to Auckland from Nelson (or if you'd like to take the ferry crossing, drive or transfer to Picton, then fly from Wellington).
mlgb is offline  
Feb 16th, 2010, 11:51 AM
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Hi again,

"Is it a pain to get from the NI to the SI, is that part of why it's better to pick one or the other?" NO...there is just so much to see it is hard to do it all!

From the States, we flew ANZ to Auckland and changed planes to fly on to Wellington. We then took the ferry to the SI. Later we flew ANZ from Christchurch to Sydney. When planning our trip, I found the cities in NZ are well connected by ANZ. Where will you fly into NZ?

"I have my heart set on Coromandel/Bay of Islands/Bay of Plenty"

If so, include ticket to Auckland, spend a three to five days seeing that area and then fly on to either Dunedin or Nelson(for Abel Tasman) working your way to the other by way of Milford Sound. You really have enough time, IMO, to easly see the areas you have mentioned.

"Part of not wanting to drive is due to back problems and I just can't sit for long distances (the flight over is going to be very, very difficult). I guess if we were stopping every hour or so to take pics it wouldn't be too bad."

I have had 2 major back operations and work done on both knees...I have to get up/out and move around every hour or so or I can't get up with out help. I also use a cane to walk. Even so, driving the SI loop was fine for me. much easier than the looong plane ride!

You will want to stop often to take pictures, or if not a photo hound, just to get out and look, we did. The scenery is stunning. Click on Melnq8's name in this thread...she has been to the SI several times and has some great info on short walks and long walks along the route between your SI points of interest. I can't walk much, but we did stop alot and did a few short walks she mentions.

"We're also not really interested in Mt. Cook or the glaciers"

OK, skip them...we weren't either. We have seen glaciers in Norway, Antarctica, Alaska and Canada and S America so we skiped them on the SI. We did spend the night at a great B&B, Misty Peaks (dinner and breakfast...great NZ home cooking!!!) in the village of Fox Glacier on our way from Nelson (Abel Tasman) to Queenstown (Milford Sound). The West Coast drive is very worth while...it is a wild, rugged, arid to rainforest coast with two glaciers thrown in for good measure! You get a glimpse of one nestled in the rainforest from the highway as you drive by!

As for Mt Cook, we took the inland route from Dunedin to Christchurch (our departure point from NZ to Australia). It is a nice drive also, but Cook was hidding in the clouds so we didn't see it. However, I really think the drive from Nelson to Dunedin by way of the West Coast, Milford Sound and the South Coast is the most outstanding "must do"! You will not be sorry.

Just a side note if you fly between the SI to Australia on your travel, be sure to look out the window. We had a fabulous view of the SI from sea to sea with a great view of Mt Cook, the Lakes anf the Glaciers!

If it were me:
Day 1 & 2, Fly to Auckland-depends on where you are coming from...
Days 3-7, Visit Bay of Islands plus any other must see.
Day 8, Fly to Nelson
Day 9-11, Abel Tasman...kayaking, beach combing, swimming...wine area for the soul...do the Eco Tour trip late afternoon trip out on the Spit.
Day 12, Drive to West Coast, overnight(took us an easy 6 hours with many stops and a couple of short walks)
Day 13, Drive to Queenstown area, overnight about the same as the day before time wise with more walks and stops to poke around)...stunning scenery the whole way.
Day 14 - 16, Two hour drive to Te Anau, starting point for time on Milford and Doubtful Sound...hiking and boat rides/kayaking/wildlife...do the underwater viewing at the research station, we are divers and found the underwater world interesting.
Day 17, Drive to some point on South Coast
Day 18, Drive to Dunedin (we did the whole distance in about 10 hours, but there is so much to see, you should take at least 2 days (there is a much shorter drive direct to Duniden, about 4 hours as I recall, that would save a day on the road)
Day 19 & 20, Dunedin...wildlife
Day 21, Fly home

I haven't visited the Bay Islands yet, hear that is a beautiful area too. I didn't put anytime in the cities, but you don't seem interesred in that either.

We did like Queenstown, we stayed at the Novotel Lakeside. It was very nice, newly redone and we had a great view out over the lake from out forth floor room. Had one of our two best meals in NZ at the Britannia Bar abd Grill. Queenstown is small, compact and lively...easy to walk around.

In Dunedin, we stayed the Bella Vista Motel, had a studio (kitchenet) with a laundry room...also nice and very budget friendly! We had our other great meal here at Etrusco, downtown near the Cathedral. Dunedin is different from Queenstown. It has a stately feel about it and some nice buildings.

This is just an idea, that I know would be easy to do based on our trip. You would see some of the best NZ has to offer, but no where near all there is to see...have a great trip!

Hmmm..I may just have planned our next trip!

Our trip was much faster than you want to travel, but we did spend time in the places you want to stay. If you are interested in pictures of the areas and our day by day report check out our blog:


Click in Jan on the righthand side and scroll down to Jan 14 for Nelson reading up to Jan 19 for Dunedin.
cwn is offline  
Feb 16th, 2010, 01:33 PM
Join Date: Jan 2005
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Bear this in mind...if the weather is bad on the West Coast, you won't see anything. It's pure luck if you're able to see the Southern Alps on either side (Mt. Cook or the west coast).
mlgb is offline  
Feb 16th, 2010, 02:58 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,772

The same holds true for Milford Sound (and Mt Cook for that matter).

I guess I've been lucky...many times....as I find the drive along the West Coast spectacular, rain or shine.
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 16th, 2010, 03:41 PM
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True but I don't think I'd recommend it given the OP isn't interested in either glaciers or long driving legs.

At Milford, if it rains you at least will have all of the waterfalls on the sides of the fiords. Plus it's only a day trip out and back, from Queenstown, Wanaka or Te Anau, if you don't lock into an overnight excursion. Easy enough to switch around with a rainy day activity in Queenstown (such as wine tasting). Once you set out for the glaciers, you're giving up going somewhere else, it's a multi-day commitment.

With Mt. Cook, I've always been lucky, and the Mackenzie basin and glacial lakes add to the Southern Alps views, even if you can't see the tops.
mlgb is offline  
Feb 17th, 2010, 03:02 AM
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Sooo much great advice!! Thank you all! I love the 2 suggested itineraries but think cwn's is an excellent fit. I am interested in Queenstown and Christchurch, there's just too much to see in 3 weeks! And cwn, I admire your determination to keep traveling despite physical setbacks. Your blog looks really interesting and I will be devoting some time to reading about your travels. Thanks again for the great advice!
britomart is offline  
Feb 17th, 2010, 03:33 PM
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Hi again,

britomart, If you are still reading your post, or if you have read our blog, (thanks for the nice comments) you know we were on the West Coast in less than wonderful weather. It was sunny the morning we left Nelson and still somewhat sunny when we got to the coast, but by the time we got to Misty Peaks at Fox Glacier it had clouded over, we did get a glimpse of the Glacier from the road that afternoon, but it started raining as the sun went down and rained on us off and on through the night and until we got to Hasst Pass the next day. Even so we thought it worth the drive as it is so different an area.

We actually only saw the Sothern Alps in all their glory as we flew out of Christchurch. The peaks were in the rain clouds on the West Coast and they were in white fuffy clouds the day we drove by Mt Cook on the way back to Christchurch even though it was a beautiful sunny day otherwise.

Though the weather wasn't ideal, the West Coast was interesting and scenic...it is just so rugged and the road was real hoot! I had never been on a one lane bridge that served two way car and rail traffic...a step back in time! Actually they are building a new bridge so it won't be that way much longer, but least we saw it and got to drive across it. I collect memories of neat bridges...there use to be a neat car bridge across the Mississippi River at Vicksburg, unfortunatly it is closed now....

My one other suggestion is to watch the weather in the Queenstown, Milford sound area. If the forcast for the Sound area is rain, you might want to adjust your time in Te Anau to two nights and stay another night in the Queenstown area. There is loads to do and see around Queenstown including a very nice wine area.

We were afraid that Milford was going to be a washout for us, but we took the chance since we only planned to do the boat ride...it was rainy/foggy at times, but we did get a bit of sun while out on the sound, so it was OK for us. Plus I got a great photo of the Peak in a very misty setting, one of our favorite pictures out of the 7000 we took over the 5 month trip!
cwn is offline  
Feb 20th, 2010, 03:07 PM
Join Date: Jan 2010
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Hi, My husband and I were in New Zealand for almost 3 weeks in November/December 2009. It was awesome. We flew in to Auckland and kind of made it our base, one reason being I have a lot of cousins in Auckland! We rented a car and drove up to Bay of islands and stayed at the cutest B&B in Russel, the Arcadia lodge. Found it on Fodors, and loved it! Very clean, lovely breakfasts, the hosts were amazing! Don't forget to do the "hole in the rock" boat tour on the Bay of islands....fantastic! We saw about 100 dolphins. We drove back to AKL via the Kauri forests and stopped on our way to see the "Tane Mahuta" the giant Kauri tree! it is something like the giant redwoods in CA, and the oldest tree i NZ, about 1100 years!
We also did a 2 night trip to Rotorua. If you need a place to stay highly recommend "Regal Palms five star resort". We has a wxecutive suite and it was very clean, comfortable and the bathrooms were huge with large fluffy towels. They give you cookies, fresh milk for tea and coffee when you arrive and the staff is wonderful! One thing that struck us about NZ is the amazing people! Everybody is kind, helpful, friendly, you wonder if you are on another planet!!!
We flew to Queenstown, Christcurch and Wellington.That saved us a lot of time. Air New Zealand had some great prices and flying domestic in NZ is a breeze and a pleasure! We stayed at Crown Plaza's in both Queenstown and Christchurch and they were both very good, centrally located.
We took the "Kiwi Discovery" tour to Mildford Sound, amazing place not to be missed! Queenstown was one of our favourite places and we were very lucky with the weather!
Have a wonderful trip and I am sure it will be your favourite destination of travel!!
Oh, don't forget to have dinner at the revolving restaurant in Auckland.....wonderful view of Auckland, a bit pricey, but worth it for the view!!
ranmalie is offline  
Feb 21st, 2010, 06:52 AM
Join Date: Apr 2007
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My wife and I spend a leisurely month exploring the SI this past Oct/Nov.
Below is our general itinerary. It spans 30 days, but that includes travel time from the US and a short stay-over in Sydney. I think you could easily adapt what we did for a slightly shorter, but still well-paced trip. For example, I'd cut one day off of the stay in Christchurch, Fox Glacier and Nelson.
We had a wonderful time and will never forget the beatiful sites and people of New Zealand.

1.We visited only the South Island.
2.We tried to limit one-nighters.
3.We rented a car for most of the trip, giving us the flexibility we wanted.
4.We mostly stayed in motels, a common accommodation in NZ which allows you to do some cooking in your room, as well as laundry. The exception was a splurge to stay at the Wilderness Lodge at Arthurs Pass. Well worth it and wonderful introduction to NZ.

New Zealand Itinerary

Day 1epart Charlotte. Fly to San Francisco. Depart SF at for Sydney, Australia.

Day 2,3:Arrive Sydney. Recover jet lag and explore Sydney area. Hotel: Sir Stamford at Circular Quay. Phone:011-61-2-9252-4600.

Day ,5,6epart Sydney for Christchurch, NZ. Arrive CC.Motel: CentrePoint on Colombo Motel. Explorer CC area.

This first half of our trip focuses on the southern half of the island.

Day 7,8epart CC on TranzAlpine train for Arthurs Pass. Hotel: Wilderness Lodge. Phone:011-64-3-318-9246.

Day 9,10:Continue on TranzAlpine to Greymouth. Pick up car and drive north to see parts of coast along Tasman Sea. Drove to Punakaiki Beach and the Pancake Rocks. Really beautiful. Turned back south to Fox Glacier. Motel:The Westhaven Motel. Phone:011-64-3-751-0084. Hiked to glacier. Also went to Lake Mattison for views of Mt. Cook.

Day 11,12,13rive to Wanaka. Lakeview Motel. Phone:011-64-3-443-6955.Hiked, visited winery. Mount Aspiring National Park and hike up to a glacier.

Day 14,15,16,17rive to Te Anau. Asure Amber Court Motel. Phone:011-64-3-249-7230. Lots of hiking in area. Base for tour of Doubtful Sound. Glow Worms boat trip.

Day 18rive to Queenstown. Explorer Queenstown. Lunch at Vudoo Café. Dinner at Finz. Stayed at Alexis Queenstown Motor Lodge

Day 19,20,21:Fly to Christchurch. Rent car and drive to Kaikoura on the north east coast. Lots of hiking in area. Whale watch boat trip. Lavender farm. Seals. Winery.

Day 22,23egan trip north through Marlborough wine country. Stopped at several vineyards. Drove to Nelson. Pallazzo Motor Lodge. Drove up to Abel Tasman area to check it out.

Day 24rove to Moteuka. Base for a day and decided to spend one night here instead of Nelson.

Day 25,26:Abel Tasman boat and hike day. Stayed at Kaiteriteri, closer to Abel Tasman. Torlesse Coastal Motel.

Day 27eft Kaiteriteri and headed for Havelock and mussels. Picked up Queen Charlotte Drive here and drove along northeast coast through Blenheim and Picton. Headed south down coast back to Kaikoura. Stayed at a Lavender Farm.

Day 28:Continued south through Christchurch and out to coastal peninsula, staying in Akoura. Oinaka B&B.

Day 29rive to Christchurch Airport Hotel for our last night. Sudima Hotel. Visit Antartica Center and see penguins.

Day 30epart Christchurch to Sydney. Depart Sydney for San Francisco. Arrive San Francisco. Stayed in SF at Orchard Hotel. Phone: 415-362-8878.

Day 31epart SF for Charlotte. Arrive Charlotte.
brdcollie is offline  
Feb 21st, 2010, 08:07 PM
Join Date: Feb 2010
Posts: 2
You've been given some fantastic insights from everyone - we spent the last 2 years photographing the whole of NZ from the air and the ground culminating in http://www.eyeballnz.com - with over 5000+ images linked to googlemaps this will help you compare the different areas. Each of the towns in the directory have a slideshow and information about attractions and activities. The explore tab has all the images linked to the map - hope this helps. Happy travels
eyeballnz is offline  
Feb 22nd, 2010, 03:45 PM
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cwn: I was going to book a Milford sound overnight cruise beforehand, so I'm not sure if we can watch the weather and go when it's nice... Right now we are discussing going in Feb 2011, we should definitely book all our rooms ahead of time, correct? I read that it's still high season although not as busy as Dec or Jan.

I'm also thinking that B&B's are the way to go for New Zealand... The Kiwis that I have met in my other travels have been so nice and I would really love the opportunity to stay with locals. Do you all agree that's the best way to go?
britomart is offline  
Feb 22nd, 2010, 03:52 PM
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I agree that B&Bs, homestays, farmstays and privately owned cottages are the way to go in NZ. Not only is the accommodation unique, but as you've mentioned, it's the perfect way to meet the locals. The same can be said of small family run motels.
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 22nd, 2010, 06:29 PM
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Actually I was told that February is really busy...worse than January..Can any kiwis weigh in?
mlgb is offline  
Feb 22nd, 2010, 06:38 PM
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Apologies I should have said Kiwis.

Yes I do like the small homestay B&Bs and motels, but they do need to be booked ahead.

If you're going to Dunedin to see the Otago peninsula, look for lodgings at that end.

In Dunedin central, I've enjoyed staying at Hulmes Court, which is a good fit for me (because I love their cats), great library of books, mags & NZ videos. I like the owner, Norman, who usually visits for morning breakfast. It has free onsite parking as well, although you can walk down the STEEP hill to the Octagon quite easily. There are some good sights in central Dunedin, Cadbury factory, Speights, some of the museums are excellent, as well a the train station where the Taieri Gorge train, a good rainy day activity.

mlgb is offline  
Feb 22nd, 2010, 08:22 PM
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Posts: 764
I think that the B&Bs are probably a bit busier in February. January is still prime local holiday time, so the motels and other holiday accommodation tend to get more local use as well as overseas visitors. February and March seem to be more popular with visitors from overseas, and this usually runs through Easter as well, particularly if it is early (as it is this year).
kiwi_rob is offline  

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