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New Zealand: Questions for the Most Knowledgeable of Travelers

New Zealand: Questions for the Most Knowledgeable of Travelers

Old Dec 19th, 2007, 10:37 PM
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New Zealand: Questions for the Most Knowledgeable of Travelers

Hi,

My husband and I were planning to go to South Africa, but since he got more days off work, we’ve now planning to visit New Zealand and Australia instead. I intend to make a separate posting for Australia in a couple of days, but for now, I have some questions (alright-many questions, ha). I did some reading on New Zealand and I am surprised to learn just how much there is to see. The landscape seems so varied and despite being a nation of just 4 million people, there seems to be a lot of pretty towns too! I guess we want to strike a good balance between urban and nature. Anyways, I have yet to finalize an itinerary and your responses will help me do so:

Auckland-With so many towns in NZ to visit and so many outdoor adventures, do visitors generally spend much time in Auckland? Do you think it is a first-class city (like Sydney, Cape Town, etc.) with lots of impressive things to see or do you think Auckland should be used mostly as transit? The reading I did didn’t give me a strong ‘impression’ of Auckland’s inspiring abilities.

Rotorua-What is the fastest way (except plane) from Auckland to Rotorua and how long does it take? In terms of distance, how far is Rotorua from Auckland? Is there some kind of 1-day tour that adequately shows the highlights of the Rotorua region (including Wai-O-Tapu, etc.)? Do any of these tours allow you-as part of the tour-to dip into one of the famous pools?

Waitomo cave rafting and abseiling-From the places I wish to visit, Waitomo seems closest to Rotorua. Is it easy enough to get to Waitomo from Rotorua? What is the fastest way (except plane) from Rotorua to these caves and how long does it take? In terms of distance, how far is Rotorua from these caves?

White Island-From the places I wish to visit, White Island seems closet to Rotorua. Is it possible to catch transportation from Rotorua to Whakatane, do an all-day excursion out to the island and then return to Rotorua by night? Is it easy enough to get to White Island from Rotorua? What is the fastest way (except plane) from Rotorua to Whakatane and how long does it take? In terms of distance, how far is Rotorua from Whakatane? Is the volcano currently active? What can you currently see if you visit White Island? In other words, is there always fascinating volcanic things to see or do such opportunities only exist after an eruption? Is what you see at White Island all that different from what you see at Rotorua?

Wellington-From Rotorua, what is the fastest way (except plane) from Rotorua to Wellington and how long does it take? In terms of distance, how far is Rotorua from the capital? Does it seem more practical to return to Auckland and then fly to Wellington or is it practical enough to take a bus or train? Also, what do you think about Wellington in terms of being a tourist destination? Is it more of a workaday city or is it beautiful in a similar sense like Christchurch, Oamaru and Dunedin are said to be?

Rugby-Are there any games from now until mid-February or is it basically impossible to see a game until on-season? Can you currently attend a match in any of these towns: Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin?

Jetboating-I know that Queenstown and Glenorchy are said to offer some exciting jetboating. However, I am wondering if Wellington, Christchurch and/or Dunedin offer decent enough jetboating opportunities as well. Do they?

Christchurch-From Wellington, I know I’d have to take a boat and then bus to Christchurch. How long does this whole journey take?

Franz Josef glacier and Fox glacier-From everywhere I’d like to visit in New Zealand, Franz Josef and Fox glaciers seem closest to Christchurch. What is the fastest way (except plane) from Christchurch to these glaciers and how long does it take? In terms of distance, how far is Christchurch from these glaciers? Is hiking on a glacier possible during this time of the year?

Oamaru- What is the fastest way (except plane) from Christchurch to Oamaru and how long does it take? In terms of distance, how far is Oamaru from Christchurch? To see all the important sights, would a ½ day, full day or 2 days suffice in Oamaru?

Dunedin-What is the fastest way (except plane) from Oamaru to Dunedin and how long does it take? In terms of distance, how far is Oamaru from Dunedin? How would we get from Dunedin to Australia (Tasmania or Melbourne)? Are there direct flights or would we need to connect somewhere?

Taieri Gorge Railway-When traveling from Oamaru to Dunedin or at least from Dunedin to wherever the nearest international airport would be (the idea is to go to Australia after Dunedin), is it at all convenient to travel via the Taieri Gorge Railway or is this railway basically out of the way?
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Old Dec 20th, 2007, 12:37 AM
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Oops!

I forgot to clarify that we do not want to rent a car for any traveling. When I used the word 'transportation' in my original posting, I was referring to trains and/or buses. Thanks!
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Old Dec 20th, 2007, 04:15 AM
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Hi Mary!
Wow! That is a lot of questions. I will try and answer what I can.
I live in Christchurch and was born and bred here. I'm very much a South Islander, or Mainlander as we call ourselves <grin>, and I tend to travel more in Australia than the North Island so my comments about the North Island may be a bit biased. And I don't really have any information about public transport up there - nor much in the south Island for that matter. I always drive!
I see you don't want to use a rental car so you will be somewhat restricted in what you can do - and everything will take longer because you will have to wait until the bus or train is going rather than traveling when it suits you. On the other hand there are a couple of superb train trips (The Coastal Pacific from Picton to Christchurch, the Tranz-Alpine from Christchurch to Greymouth on the West Coast, and, as you've mentioned, the Taeri Gorge train).
I think it's also true that as a resident here I may not appreciate some of NZ's attractions that may seem special to you. When you live in a place it's very easy to take it for granted and not "see it" with the eyes of a visitor. You probably need to get some opinions from other travellers as well.
You haven't said where you're from - nor how long you've got here. That probably affects what I would recommend too.
Now your questions:
Yes, New Zealand is not very big but it is tremendously varied. There is a lot to see but because it is small you can see a lot in a short time. By contrast, in Australia you tend to spend a lot of time travelling between attractions and flying is almost an absolute necessity if you want to visit more than one or two different places. (Incidentally, earlier this year I spent 3 months driving right around Australia, including quite a bit in the Outback. I loved it - but I've only scratched the surface. It's a big country!)
Auckland is by far the biggest city in NZ but it is very much like any other big city. It has a nice harbour, but nowhere near as nice as Sydney's, and some other unique features, but most Kiwis would not consider it the prettiest or most liveable NZ city. Auckland is renown for it's traffic problems, and public transport is not that good. In fact, depending on where you're coming from, you will probably find that public transport in NZ generally does not compare well with most overseas countries. Kiwis are strongly wedded to their cars - I believe we have the second highest car ownership rates in the world and maybe even the highest average car mileage per head in the world. We do tend to drive everywhere!
Auckland is apparently the largest Polynesian city in the world so that might be a feature you want to explore.
I wouldn't plan on spending a lot of time in Auckland.
I can't comment on public transport from Auckland to Rotorua as I've never used any. I would consider it a half day drive and I feel sure there will be buses and tours that would get you there and do everything you want. It is a major tourist place so some browsing on the net should turn up something for you. Google Maps will give you the distances - and you can get travel times on there too.
The same goes for travel from Rotorua to Waitomo. It is many years since I visited Waitomo and I did it while traveling from Auckland to Wellington by car. Again I'm sure you'll find buses from Rotorua to Waitomo, or organised tours. Waitomo is a lovely place - but there are glowworm caves at Te Anau in the South Island that in my opinion are just as good if not better. Perhaps partly because they are not as well known and not so crowded. You pass through Te Anau to go to Milford Sound - one of the most beautiful places in the country despite the huge numbers of tourists going there. If you can, stay overnight in Te Anau and take the evening tour of the caves. It's a launch trip across the lake and it's magic!
The other thing you can do from Te Anau is the trip to Manapouri and Doubtful Sound. The scenery is spectacular and it's not as crowded as Milford.
That's a bit away from the North Island! Sorry! <grin>
I've never been to White Lisland. I can't help you with that. It's a place I'd like to go to - but you have to go through the North Island to get there! <grin> (I really am a Mainlander!)
If I were driving from Auckland to Wellington I would do it in a (long) day. As a visitor you would want to allow more time than this because you would find things you wanted to visit and see along the way. Perhaps 3 days?
If you're depending on public transport you'd need at least this much time I would think. It depends on whether you like a relaxed holiday or don't mind cramming in as many attractions as possible.
Wellington is a nice city - certainly nicer than Auckland in my opinion. It is quite pretty and has more of a "heart" to it than Auckland. I have a daughter living in Wellington - she plays in the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra - and she quite likes it but says that Christchurch is prettier. It's all a matter of opinion I guess!
Rugby - You'll be struggling to see any sort of decent rugby game at this time of the year. The major competitions won't have started and if there is a game it will only be a pre-season match. You can attend rugby matches in any city - or even the smaller towns - but not much at that time of year.
There are jetboat trips run out of Christchurch. The rivers on the Canterbury plains - The Rakaia, the Waimakariri and the Waiau - are all excellent for jet boating. Lot's of choices there.
The Interislander Ferry from Wellington to Picton is a great trip - it takes a bit under 4 hours I think - as is the train to Christchurch. You can do the whole thing in a day but if you've got the time stop in Kaikoura and do a whale watch or other nature tour. I can recommend the early morning tours - they are spectacular - although I've always been in the winter.
The glaciers are on the other side of the island from Christchurch - it's a days drive. My son, who lives in Melbourne, brought a mate over and drove there and back in one day from Christchurch but that's pushing it! Again, if you're dependent on public transport you'd probably want to go over on the Tranz-Alpine train and then take a bus down to the glaciers from Greymouth. I'm sure there will be tour buses doing that trip. You could probably get there in one day very comfortably and stay overnight at Franz Joseph or Fox glacier before returning.
Better than returning from there though would be go on via the Haast Pass to Wanaka and Queenstown. That's a bit of the country that's worth seeing.
As far as I know you can walk on the glacies at all times of the year. You can also take a helicopter flight up onto them - but if you get the chance take a ski-plane. I've done both and while they're both great I prefer the ski-planes. At least when I've gone the helicopters don't stop their engines while on the glacier while the ski-planes do. The stillness up there is awe inspiring. It made me realise why people climb mountains!
Oamaru is about 230km from Christchurch. We have a bach (holiday home) in South Otago, about 80km south of Dunedin and travel that way frequently. Oamaru it about half way. The travel time to Oamaru by car is about 2hrs 30 minutes - probably at least 3 hours or more by bus.
Oamaru a lovely little town but it's not big. I'd find half a day enough to have a look around there but you might prefer to take longer. It has some lovely old buildings built out of Oamaru stone and if you want to see the penguins you might need to plan on being there in the evening when they come ashore. It's a pleasant place to relax and unwind and has all the facilites you might want in terms of good accomodation, restaurants, etc. It has a population of about 13,000.
Oamaru to Dunedin takes about an hour and a half to drive. It's not that far. But lovely country! When I'm driving down to our bach the first bit - Christchurch to Oamaru - I find quite tedious. It's quite flat (by NZ standards) and the roads are generally straight. From Oamaru on it's a much nicer drive. Beautiful country and rolling hills. And always green! Really nice!
Although there are not a lot of direct flights from Dunedin to Australia there are some. Freedom Air, a subsidiary of Air New Zealand, fly to Sydney and the Gold Coast from Dunedin. Check out www.freedomair.com.
There are also direct flights from Queenstown to Australia by both Air New Zealand and Qantas I believe.
The Taieri Gorge train is worth a trip - but it doesn't actually go anywhere. It is just a tourist ride really. Up through the gorge and back! Although you can get off and bike or hike the Rail Trail into Central Otago from the top end of it's trip if you're that way inclined.
Depending on how much time you have available you may find that it's hard to do both the glaciers, on the West Coast, and Oamaru and Dunedin, on the east coast, without a lot of back tracking. The best way to do it is as a loop. In fact, the South Island is well suited to a trip down one coast and then back up the other. But that depends on how much time you've got.
NZ is quite small - but don't rush it! There's lot's to see and the scenery changes constantly. That's the main difference between travelling in Australia and NZ. Australia is an amzing country and I love it over there. But you can travel 1000km and the scenery won't have changed. In NZ you can't travel more than 100km without a dramatic change in scenery - and that's in the boring bits! <grin>
I hope you have a great trip!
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Old Dec 20th, 2007, 06:07 AM
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Donc, wow! You've provided super information. It will be helpful for my upcoming trip. We're spending just 9 of our 22 days on the NI and in some ways, feel that's too much! But, there really is nowhere else to experience Hobbiton, Maori culture or zorbing! I keep trying to find one more day because I'm shortchanging ChCh (we're there only the night before we fly back to the states). But there's too much to see in too little time...Thanks, nola.
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Old Dec 20th, 2007, 02:20 PM
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Donc,

You are very kind, really. We are from the US and have approximately 2 weeks in New Zealand. As for the caves and abseiling at Waitomo, if there are other caves closer to Wellington, Christchurch or Dunedin where we could do rafting and abseiling, then of course we much rather base ourselves in 1 of these 3 towns and simply make a 1-day excursion out. Anyways, I am going to run with the info you provided me. Thanks.
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Old Dec 20th, 2007, 06:09 PM
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White island puts Rotorua in the shade..DO IT!
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Old Dec 20th, 2007, 06:48 PM
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Hi,

Thanks to you guys, I really have been able to pull this itinerary together. There are, however, some remaining questions:

1. Are buses from Auckland to Rotorua frequent and is it easy to get to the bus station from the Auckland airport?

2. At this point, visiting Wellington would be completely out of my way (currently it looks like I’d want to fly from Rotorua to Christchurch). However, I don’t want to miss an urban gem. I still welcome input on this one. Is Wellington reputed to be beautiful like Christchurch and Dunedin or is it more of a workaday city? If I came to New Zealand and didn’t see Wellington, would I be missing out?

3. Are you sure you can do jetboating from Christchurch? I am getting mixed responses on this one.

4. I was told that from Christchurch, I could make a 1-day excursion out to the Franz and Fox glaciers via Greymouth Day Excursion, which apparently offers a direct train service leaving at 8:15am and returning at 6:15pm. I looked this up online and did not find anything that supported this. Can you confirm whether I could take a direct train ride to the glaciers from Christchurch and return in the evening?
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Old Dec 21st, 2007, 03:20 AM
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Hi Mary!

I can't answer 1) for you. Hopefully someone else can.
2) I don't think I'd call Wellington an "urban gem" but everybody has their own likes/dislikes. It's a nice city but imho I don't think you'd be short-changing yourself if you missed it.
3) Check out these sites:
www.jetthrills.com
www.alpinejet.co.nz
There may be others.
Also this site for things to do in or around Christchurch: www.ki-wi.co.nz/christchurch_things_to_do.htm
4) No, I'm sure you can't do Christchurch to the glaciers by train and return in one day. If you check this site - www.tranzscenic.co.nz - you will see that the Tranz Alpine leaves Christchurch at 8:15am and arrives in Greymouth at 12:45pm. That's a 4 hour 30 minute trip. It departs Greymouth again at 1:45pm to return to Christchurch.
According to Google Maps Franz Josef, the closer of the two glaciers to Greymouth, is 172km south - about a 2 hours 20 minute drive. And that's before you allow time to walk up to the glaciers, take a ski-plane flight, or whatever you want to do while you're there. Even for a minimal trip to the glaciers you need to allow 2 or 3 hours there, and a half day would be better.
Nope! You're not going to manage all that in one day! You could do it very comfortably in 2 days though.
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Old Dec 21st, 2007, 04:46 PM
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Hello everyone,

I've pretty much figured out the itinerary. Thank you all so much. At this point, I continue to welcome new thoughts on Wellington and whether you think it is a 'must-see' destination. Otherwise, again, I am done. Thank you so much with this posting.
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Old Dec 21st, 2007, 05:15 PM
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Hi again,

For my Wellington inquiry, I've decided to launch a new posting titled, "Wellington: Opinions." Although I will no longer use this specific thread, please feel free to continue interacting on it if you wish. Again, you guys helped so much. You saved me tons on travel agency costs among other things.
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Old Dec 28th, 2007, 08:52 PM
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The Super 14 season starts on the 15th February. See here http://www.super14.com/fixtures/

This is the southern hemisphere competition each year and is where you will see the best rugby outside an international match. Some teams sell out (others don't) so you may wish to buy tickets in advance if you are interested.

I live in Wellington and IMHO don't worry about missing cities in NZ as the best parts of NZ are never the urban areas.

Public transport is not great. The main intercity bus services are
http://www.intercity.co.nz/ and http://www.newmansbus.co.nz/. The coaches are fine but it takes a bit longer and you can't usually stop for photos at scenic places.

Please remember that travelling takes longer than you imagine when you look at the map. We do not have 6 lane motorways.

Hope this helps

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Old Jan 1st, 2008, 09:11 PM
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Mary, the best parts of NZ are found off the beaten track, ie small villages, local people, farms, small isolated bays/beaches, mountains, fishing rivers.
After seeing the cultural shows put on for tourists in Rotorua, many people don't return. The same goes for Waitomo Caves....coachloads of tourist pull up constantly, with heaps of people going through the glow worm caves. If you want to see glow worm caves, might I suggest doing the one at Te Anau (the boat crosses Te Anau Lake each afternoon)
The North Island....is good and has some great attractions, but for my dollar, the south island, blows you away with its scenery, eg.
Southern Alps, Mt.Cook, the mountain passes, the trout/salmon rivers, Milford South & drive to the sound, Lake Manapouri, Abel Tasman National Park, Queen Charlotte DRive from Picton to Nelson, cruising the Marlborough Sounds, sipping on a Marlborough region Sauvignon Blanc whilst eating a Blue Nose Cod for dinner.
If you get to Nelson or Picton, pop into the Old Pub just above the waterside park, and try a Macs Black Ale. Or if driving from Picton to Nelson, pop into the Mussel Pot Inn Restaurant at Havelock and try a pot of steamed green lipped mu
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Old Jan 12th, 2008, 04:40 PM
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Regarding White Island:

Yes, you can go to White Island on a day trip from Rotorua. There are helecopter flights (some which land on the volcano, and some which just circle over it) which depart from Rotorua, and also a boat trip to the island which departs from Whakatane, but offers shuttle service from Rotorua. Here are a couple of links which you might find helpful: Vulcan Helicopters (www.vulcanheli.co.nz/whiteisland.html)and White Island Tours (http://www.whiteisland.co.nz)(this is the boat trip).

I did the boat tour, and loved it. Yes, White Island is an active volcano - so active, in fact, that there's no guarantee you'll be able to land on it. The tours are both weather and geologic activity dependent, so if you really want to see the volcano, it's best to plan a stay of at least 2 days in either Rotorua or Whakatane, to maximaze your chances of a successful tour. You won't see any lava. What you will see are incredible smoking fumaroles, a nasty-looking acidic crater lake, lots of ash and sulfur deposits, and the remains of an old sulfur mining operation. If you take the boat tour, you may see both seabirds and dolphins on the trip out and back.

I don't know the distance from Rotorua to Whakatane, but I do remember the bus trip taking about an hour and a half. (Like you, I used public transportation rather than renting a car.)

Oh, and as for Waitomo Caves - you might consider spending a night in Waitomo. Because it's about a 2 1/2 hour drive between Rotorua and Waitomo, most of the bus tours are pretty rushed - you don't have time to see more than one cave (which is a pity, since both Aranui cave and especially Ruakuri cave are well worth touring, but fewer tourists get to check them out). For glowworms, consider going with Spellbound (www.glowworm.co.nz/); they offer small group tours, and I can attest from personal experience that they are incredible - much better than the more famous and popular Waitomo Glowworm Cave. As for how to get to Waitomo - consider the Waitomo Wanderer shuttle (www.waitomotours.co.nz/packages.htm). Unlike most of the other bus services, they'll sell you a ticket which will allow you to stay overnight in Waitomo if you wish, and their departure time is later in the afternoon than most of the others.
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Old Jan 13th, 2008, 03:37 AM
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Hello
We will be in Auckland for three days before our cruise and would love to see the Waitomo Caves. We need to travell from Auckland to Waitomo and back in the same day.I read about Spellbound tours but they are in Waitomo. We are a group of 10 and we do not want to rent a car. I tried to look for the regular bus but they leave early from Waitomo.Could you give us some advice about the best way to work this out?
Thank you .
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Old Jan 13th, 2008, 08:36 AM
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Hello marymaniaci:

Well, you certainly got a lot of information.

My wife and I were in NZ last winter, our fourth trip to this beautiful country.

We rented a used vehicle from APEX at www.apexrentals.co.nz They were very good to deal with and I would not hesitate to recommend them. I wanted a used car for several reasons. First, they cost less, leaving me with more money for the rest of the trip. Second, when [not if] I put a scratch on the car it will have company already there. And finally, I did not want to stand out in a new rental from one of the international majors.

I planned our travel by distance and time required to drive from one point to another. Estimate about 70 km/hr and you will be pretty close.

The Auto club, AA have a web site that will give you driving time and distance between towns. find the AA at www.aatravel.co.nz You will have to look around a bit on this site but it also has a lot of information that you should find will answer many of your questions.

Jasons is a good site for accommodation as well as the AA. Do a Google search and you will find them.

Our first trip took us to both north and south islands and we had a slow general look. Our second trip was north island mostly at the Coromandel Peninsula. I don't remember where we went on our third trip but our fourth, last year, was to Christchurch, the southern scenic route and passing the glaciers with most of our time in Nelson. We then drove to Auckland via Lake Taupo and went home from Auckland.

After four trips, we still find places we want to see [for the first time] and look forward to a return in the future.

Each of our trips lasted 2 months, so yes there is a lot to see and the countryside changes after driving short distances.

The people are generally honest and reliable. We never felt unsafe.

You are bound to have a good time where ever you go.

One thing you should be sure to experience --Lamb shanks for dinner. UMM YUMM!

Have a great trip.

Woodie
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Old Jan 13th, 2008, 10:23 AM
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Carioca, can you find two drivers? Then you should be able to rent two minivans or a car and minivan for the day. You don't need to hire a guide, the caves have their own guides.
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Old Jan 13th, 2008, 10:39 AM
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Hello
The problem is the driving in the
right side.
Our drivers say they do not feel at easy with this.
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Old Jan 14th, 2008, 01:28 AM
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hi

I live in Sydney but have travelled in NZ for years now so hopefully my comments will be useful.

I support the other posters' comments re Franz Joseph -there is a day trip on transalpine but why would you want to do that?

Rather, take the Transalpine trip from Christchurch to Franz Joseph and then organise/use public transportation onwards.

I realise you do not wish to drive (we did as the road rules are the same as in Australia) but we did see quite a few accidents where people from other countries found themselves in difficulties.

One thing to remember is that while NZ appears to be a small country with small population the distances travelled are in fact quite long.

When combined with the rush of impressions at the beautiful scenery it is very easy to underestimate the time -and the level of tiredness. I believe it is better to take your time to check out a few locations well than try to rush too much.

If interested see my trip report - click on my name and look for our familys trip report south island february 2007

Enjoy NZ - however you choose to traverse it
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Old Jan 14th, 2008, 11:57 AM
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You should be able to find a commercial day tour Auckland to Waitomo (it would leave early morning Auckland and return that night). Using the newzealand.com (official tourism website), I found this tour, but there might be others, or you might do better hiring a private bus transport and driver with so many people.

http://www.greatsights.co.nz/luxury-...+Auckland.aspx
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Old Jan 15th, 2008, 02:24 PM
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Hello
Thank you for your help.Actually I think it would be better to have a car with a driver to take us to Waitomo , as we are a group of 10. I understand that when you reach there you just visit the caves with their own guides.
Would you know any good service for this transport?
Also what else could we see in the same day while travelling to the caves?
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