New Zealand self drive

Jan 30th, 2013, 09:54 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 19
New Zealand self drive

We are planning a trip to New Zealand North and South Island from Dec. 1 to Dec. 25, 2013.
We want to spend most of our time on the South Island (about 6 days on the North Island). Can we rent a car in Auckland and take it by ferry to the South Island dropping off in Christ Church?
We hope to do a lot of hiking and basically spending time outside of cities.
Please write itineraries that would work in this time frame. If you have hotel suggestions, please add as well.
stoler is offline  
Jan 30th, 2013, 03:08 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,767
Hi stoler -

You'll find loads of info on this forum about both islands if you do a search, including lots of detailed trip reports.

It's difficult to answer a question that's so vague, so if you can elaborate a bit, posters can be of more help.

For example, I can recommend several great hikes and accommodation, but until you have a basic itinerary there's really not much point.

Are you interested in any particular areas? Any particular hikes that you might have read about? Do you have an idea of what you absolutely don't want to miss?

Some rental car agencies allow you to take your car on the ferry (I think APEX is one, and they'd be the company I'd recommend anyway), others require that you drop off your car and collect another one on the opposite side.
Melnq8 is offline  
Jan 30th, 2013, 04:21 PM
Join Date: Jul 2010
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As you are only spending a short time in the North Island and you are interested in the outdoors. White Island by helicopter is a must do. They leave from near Whakatane north of Rotorua
peterSale is offline  
Jan 31st, 2013, 09:29 PM
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I have so many questions, but my greatest concern if we do a self drive on the South Island from Picton on to Queenstown and around to Christ Church in about 14 days, will it be difficult to get accommodations in December, 2013? I would like the freedom of booking a day or so out and the more I read that Dec. is peak season...the more nervous I get about this. Thanks.
stoler is offline  
Feb 1st, 2013, 12:08 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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New Zealand summer school holidays begin Dec 18-20, which means there will be quite a lot of locals traveling after those dates. Add to that the usual summer tourist traffic, and the public holidays of Christmas and Boxing Day and yes, accommodation could be problematic, particularly in popular small villages with limited accommodtion, such as Mt Cook, Franz Josef and Fox Glacier, etc.

Prior to school holidays, winging it probably won't be a major issue.
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 1st, 2013, 08:00 AM
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Wow, thanks for your help. Since we will be almost done with our holiday by the 20th, this should not be an issue then. We plan to start on the 1st and leave by the 25th.
I am thinking that staying in one place and taking side trips everyday would be a good idea. Coming from the states, driving is not an issue. Can you suggest base cities on the South Island from where we can sightsee and come back to in the evening?
I am looking at Westport, Mt. Cook area and then Queenstown before driving to Christ Church. The fjordlands and glacier areas seem to be the most interesting. Thanks for any help.
stoler is offline  
Feb 1st, 2013, 04:00 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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It's very difficult to use the base city concept in NZ. Attractions are well spread out and day trips often don't make the best use of your time, let alone logistic sense.

Although it looks small on a map, the SI is long, and it takes more time than you might expect to get from Point A to Point B. Add to that the winding and narrow roads (usually just one lane in each direction), the numerous single lane bridges, and the overall undulating landscape, and drives can become quite long.

For instance, it takes a good six hours to drive from the glaciers to Queenstown. It takes about four hours to drive from Queenstown to Mt Cook, etc.

This travel time distance calculator will help in your planning:

A more feasible idea is to make a circular route, or a figure 8 route through the SI. This can be done easily by allowing 2-3 nights in each location, or doing an opccasional overnight to break up a particularly long drive.

If the base city idea still appeals to you, Queenstown makes the best base, and that's only because it's relatively close to places like Milford Sound (four hours each way), Te Anau (two hours each way), Wanaka, (60 minutes), Arrowtown (20-30 minutes), the wine growing region of Cromwell (35 minutes).

From Christchurch you can make day trips to the Waipara Valley (40 minutes, wine region), but Akarora is 90 minutes away, and Kaikoura is 2:45 away). You could drive Arthur's Pass to Greymouth, but it makes more sense to do that on your way down the West Coast to the glaciers. Doubling back just wastes precious holiday time.

So, it really boils down to what you want to see. If you hope to see the best of NZ, it'll be quite difficult to do using base cities.

FYI - Westport and Mt Cook don't make good base cities (actually Westport is a small town and Mt Cook is a tiny village). Westport isn't all that interesting from a tourist standpoint and it's not really near anything - it's basically a town that folks detour through on their way elsewhere.

Mt Cook is a destination and a perfectly fine option to plop oneself down for a few days, BUT it's not a good place to make day trips from for several reasons 1) It's very expensive with limited lodging 2) it's not on the way to's isolated at the end of a valley - there is only one way in and out way out - you must backtrack to leave Mt Cook, and then the only nearby places to go would be Tekapo, which you'd have already driven through if you'd made a circuit.
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 1st, 2013, 06:22 PM
Join Date: Jun 2005
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Stoler, I think you will find driving "an issue" in New Zealand. First, you are dealing with driving on the left which I am supposing is unfamiliar to you. It's not hard to get the hang of it, but it will be a bit of challenge because of the driving conditions that Melnq8 described in the 2nd paragraph of her last posting. We have done 3 driving trips in New Zealand and even though we we were used to driving on the left, driving there required our full attention. I'm sure you'll do fine, but don't underestimate the differences between driving in the States and driving in NZ.
longhorn55 is offline  
Feb 1st, 2013, 06:47 PM
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I forgot to mention this is another must do place at Rotorua.

We will be spending a week in/around Rotorua at Easter if you have anything you want us to find out for you.
peterSale is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2013, 12:49 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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I am leaving today from New Zealand back to the states after spending the last 16 days driving around NZ with my adult daughter. I rented from Avis in Auckland and dropped the car in Wellington at the Islander ferry terminal then picked up a new car(under same contract) in Pictonon the South Island returning in Christchurch. It is well run and easy to do so don't worry.

I am from the states and found that the driving was easy although every road including the motor highways are two lane with occasional passing lanes. I rented an automatic and got a Foed Mondeo on the North Island and a Camry on the South Island. I would strongly recommend getting the full insurance as a rock flew up and cracked our windshield from a passing truck and some of the roads were under repaired and on a gravel surface for a few miles.

Since I am leaving and packing, I cannot go into a full report at this time but want to encourage everyone to do BOTH islands as each island has its own beauty and things to do.

Our itinerary was:
2 nights in Auckland
2 nights in Rotorua
2 nights in Taupo
1 night in Wellington
3 nights in Kaikoura
2 nights at Mt Cook
1 night in Oamaru
2 nights in Christchurch

Our traveling itinerary was based on my daughter and I wanting to do the thermal areas,whales,lakes,glacier areas,penguins,etc. We didn't include Milford Sound as I have been there before and my daughter works around glaciers and fjords in Antarctica. Kaikoura was a favorite area and it is a combination of Big Sur and Maine in the states so would encourage you to spend some time there!
I would love to share some of our fav hotels when I get back home tomorrow!
dutyfree is offline  
Feb 8th, 2013, 02:21 PM
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Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 19
First of all, thank you all for your suggestions and advice. We are pretty set with our driving portion and hotels, etc. I have one more question...should we spend an extra last day in Auckland or Christchurch? Which city is more interesting? I understand CC has suffered because of the earthquake, but we will have two full days in Auckland at the beginning of our tour and actually 2 half days in CC. Due to airline schedules, we need to make a decision on staying in CC for a full day and flying back to Auckland for connections home or going into Auckland and having the day there.
Any recommendations?
And again, many thanks to all of you who have responded.
stoler is offline  
Feb 8th, 2013, 05:58 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,525
I actually was in Christchurch in 1976 so was saddened to see it this past week even though it was two years after the earthquake and the destruction.The city is on the rebound and it is open for business! The people are appreciative for the tourists and thank you for coming back!

I have to say that if you can a visit there it is definitely worthwhile and would be important to the economy and people of Christchurch

I would suggest going into Christchurch and include going to the Canterbury Museum by the Botanic Gardens which are gorgeous. There is a wonderful full time exhibit in the museum that features Antarctic exploration(Scott,Shackleton,etc.) which is quite interesting.Christchurch is the departure point for many nations to leave for Antarctica.

The Canterbury Museum also runs an interesting bus tour called THE RED ZONE tour for $15 NZD. It is a 50 minute bus tour that leaves in front of the museum and goes "behind the fenced area" of the earthquake destruction areas in central CC. The bus has video screens along with a tour guide that shows you what the buildings used to look like on screens and then you see what it is now.
The RESTART area in Christchurch is definitely worth a stop too. They have put shipping containers of varied colors/sizes together and made them into a shopping area with restaurants,shops,etc. in the central area (parking lot area is by the Ibis hotel which recently opened). There are some cute shops,street entertainment on the weekends and you can see that everyone is upbeat about the rebuilding and new life in Christchurch.
dutyfree is offline  
Feb 15th, 2013, 09:45 PM
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 8,241
Definitely stay in Christchurch, there will be more than enough to see if you are only staying a day.
nelsonian is online now  
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