New Zealand South Island Alternative Itinerary

Jan 2nd, 2017, 07:16 PM
  #1  
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New Zealand South Island Alternative Itinerary

We are planning a trip to the South Island in February and have a question on 2 options:

Option 1: After leaving Abel Tasman, we drive to Christchurch (inland, not through Kaikoura due to earthquake), leave our rental car there, spend the night and take the Alpine train one-way to Greymouth the next morning, then rent another car and continue our trip along the west coast to the glaciers, Wanaka and Queenstown.
Option 2: Drive from Abel Tasman down the west coast to the glaciers, Wanaka and Queenstown.

The main reason for driving to Christchurch is to take the Alpine train. Is the experience/scenery worth it? Option 1 gives us 6 total nights between Franz Josef, Wanaka & Queenstown. Option 2 gives us an extra night, plus we see the coast between Abel Tasman and Franz Josef. A side question is that if we do go to Christchurch, should we try to go to Kaikoura via the back way, and/or is a stop at St. Arnaud/Nelson Lakes worthwhile? I know this might potentially involve an extra night stay.

Thank you for any input you might have.
Bob2010 is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2017, 07:30 AM
  #2  
 
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Have you checked the price of two short car rentals vs the one? Personally, I would skip the train and go with option 2.
deSchenke is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2017, 02:12 PM
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<>

On the train - NO.

Self-drive, definitely.

The TranzAlpine train spends much of its time in tunnels, so you don't see much, whereas the drive across Arthur's Pass to the West Coast is definitely worthwhile, but only if you have sufficient time to enjoy it.

The drive from Abel Tasman to the West Coast via Murchison and Punakaiki is long - the roads are winding and tiring - you'll see lots of trees and more of the coast this way, whereas you'll see more dry alpine scenery if you drive over Arthur's Pass.

They're both good!

If you take the route via Murchison and Punakaiki, be sure to break up the drive along the way - Punakaiki makes a good overnight stop - Westport is another option - as a town Westport isn't all that exciting, but it will definitely give you a taste of life on the West Coast.

St Arnaud and Nelson Lakes IMO is not worth the trouble to get there. I've been to both several times and just don't get the attraction - sure it's pretty, but so is just about everything on the South Island.
Melnq8 is online now  
Jan 3rd, 2017, 07:13 PM
  #4  
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deSchenke and Melnq8, thank you for your prompt response and input. I will definitely look at driving Arthur's pass instead of going by rail. What do you think of staying in Kaikoura instead of Christchurch? Probably too far, especially with the roads not in the best of shape? Anything we should not miss in Christchurch, with only being there for at most a half a day? Also, is there a relatively short day hike (up to 5 km or so) near Arthur's Pass we should consider? Again, thank you for your assistance!
Bob2010 is offline  
Jan 4th, 2017, 05:37 AM
  #5  
 
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Kaikoura would normally be a good option, but I'm not sure what the current situation is - you'll find updates and contact information here:

http://www.kaikoura.co.nz/main/produ...visitor-centre

There's lots to do in Christchurch, but as you only have half a day might I suggest a Segway tour - a great way to see quite a lot of the recovering downtown area in a short period of time. We this this a few years back as we only had a day there - we spent the rest of the day at Quake City. It was a fascinating day.

Here are some walking suggestions at Arthur's Pass - I've done the first five and enjoyed them:

http://www.arthurspass.com/index.php?page=27
Melnq8 is online now  
Jan 4th, 2017, 07:04 AM
  #6  
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Thanks, again, Melnq8. I have another question or two on our trip if you (or others) have some input. We take the ferry over from Wellington in the morning, then drive over to the Abel Tasman area that day. First, is there a certain driving route we should take, and anything along that route we should be sure to see or do? Second, we are staying in the Abel Tasman another full day, and wanted to do a combination hike / water taxi. It seems there are a few options for a hike of between 10 and 15 km. Is there one in particular that we should try to do? Thanks.
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Jan 4th, 2017, 09:07 AM
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Hi Bob,

We spent a few days in and around Abel Tasman last year. We parked the campervan at Kaiterieri and got the water taxi to drop us at Medlands beach and we hiked back to pick up the taxi at Anchorage Bay. Took around 4 hours with stops and diversions and was probably about the distance you are thinking of. Rates in my top ten hikes anywhere!

Basically the water taxis will drop you at a variety of points and you can vary the length of the walk accordingly. More info and photos on our blog @ https://accidentalnomads.com/2015/08...national-park/

Click on the destinations tab and there are some other places covered in NZ too.
crellston is offline  
Jan 4th, 2017, 04:49 PM
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As for your route from Picton to Abel Tasman (you don't say where exactly - there are several towns in the region) - I highly recommend going via Queen Charlotte Drive, a slow, winding 35 kilometer meander that leads from the top of Queen Charlotte Sound through the hills overlooking Pelorus Sound and down into Havelock. I’ve always loved this drive, and it's just stunning on a pretty day.

Havelock is the greenlipped mussel capital of the world, so if you like mussels...

This route will also take you through the Rai Valley (good place to stop for a coffee is Mt Richmond Estate, much more laid back than it sounds) - they have a nice little cafe.

If you're looking to spend the bulk of the day exploring en route, you might want to make the detour into the Moutere Hills, perhaps pop into a winery or two or have a beer at The Moutere Inn, NZ’s oldest pub at 156 (?) years.

I've walked all but one section of the Abel Tasman track over the years, always as day trips.

The most recent was walking the section from Medlands to Anchorage (10.6-11.5 km depending on who you believe).

Like crellston, we met the water taxi at Kaiteriteri - we went with Wilson's, and while they got us there safely, I'm not sure I'd go with them next time. The boat was very small and felt overloaded, which made me a bit uncomfortable.

The Medlands to Anchorage section of the 54 km Abel Tasman Track is said to be the most varied, and it includes the swing bridge across Falls River; it’s easy yet slightly undulating,

We had plenty of time to make the side trip to Cleopatra’s Pool, a 20 minute detour that led up a stream bed to a swimming hole, and still arrived at Anchorage with 30 minutes to spare before our return water taxi.
Melnq8 is online now  
Jan 4th, 2017, 06:14 PM
  #9  
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Thanks, Crellston & Melnq8. We are actually staying in Motueka, mainly just for convenience of getting an early start on the road after the 2nd night stay. Sounds like the Anchorage-Medlands section of the ATNP track will be a good one. Melnq8, we will consider your tips on the trip from Picton to Motueka as well.

Since you folks have been so accommodating, I have another question you might help with for later on in our trip. We are currently planning on only staying in Franz Josef one night, and then 2 nights in Wanaka before heading to Queenstown. I really want to see Mt. Cook, and was wondering if we should pay the price to do a helicopter ride of the glaciers and Mt. Cook, or do a day trip driving from Wanaka to Mt. Cook from the other side. Any comments on this would be much appreciated.
Bob2010 is offline  
Jan 4th, 2017, 11:41 PM
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We didn't do any helicopter trips whilst in NZ but, having just watched the BBC series "New Zealand: Earth's Mythical Islands" I really wish we had! It would certainly save a lot of driving and the views from above would be spectacular but the weather could perhaps be a major factor?

We drove fro Lake Tekapo as I recall and it was a very long drive. We stayed at the DOC site overnight hike to the glacier that afternoon and to the Red Tarns the next morning.
crellston is offline  
Jan 5th, 2017, 06:30 AM
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Herein lies the problem with NZ itineraries and lack of time.

You've not specified exactly how many days you have, but keep in mind that it's very difficult to see the north and south of the SI in a short trip, let alone see those AND the West Coast and inland routes (Mt Cook).

To do all of these you'd need at least three weeks.

It's possible to see Mount Cook from Fox Glacier on a clear day, but I doubt that's what you mean.

If it's that important to you, you'd probably do best to take a scenic flight from Franz - but only if the conditions are perfect, and with only one day allocated to Franz, you'd have to be pretty lucky to get a perfect day.

Driving from Wanaka will only eat up one of your Wanaka days - it's a 207 km drive each way - that's about five hours total - and there's no guarantee you'll even see Mount Cook anyway as it's often shrouded in clouds. I've been to Mount Cook a dozen times and have rarely actually seen it.
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Jan 5th, 2017, 08:48 AM
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>>>from Medlands to Anchorage (10.6-11.5 km depending on who you believe). <<<

I think it depends on if you take the high tide route or the low tide route at Torrent Bay.
deSchenke is offline  
Jan 5th, 2017, 11:01 AM
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Thanks, all, and Melnq8, yes there is never enough time! I definitely would have liked to have added a few days now that I have closed in on what we want to do. Right now, the itinerary looks like this (SI only, after spending time on the NI - one other option by the way might be to drop a day from the NI...):
Day 1 Wellington ferry to Picton, drive to Motueka
Day 2 Abel Tasman, stay in Motueka
Day 3 Drive to Christchurch, stay in Christchurch
Day 4 Drive or take Alpine train over Albert's Pass to west coast, stay in Franz Josef
Day 5 Drive to Wanaka
Day 6 Wanaka (instead of Mt. Cook, maybe just hang out??)
Day 7 Queenstown (just local stuff)
Day 8 Queenstown (hike Routeburn track - full day hike)
Day 9 Queenstown (Milford or Doubtful Sound - drive or tour)
Day 10 fly from Queenstown to Auckland and back home

This is why I am still considering skipping Christchurch and Alfred's Pass, and just driving down the west coast from Motueka to Franz Josef or Hotikita or further up the coast. My family did like the idea of the train ride as a way to break up the driving and doing something different and chilling a bit, but as I mentioned to them, it actually adds a bunch more driving than we would be doing otherwise.

Under the current schedule, if we did the helicopter tour, we would have to try to fit it in either on the afternoon of Day 4 or the morning of Day 5. Luckily the days are still somewhat long! If we dropped Christchurch, we would have a bit more flexibility. By the way, don't you have to sign up for the helicopter tour ahead of time, and then just risk having bad weather, or can we wait and see what the weather is going to look like? I imagine the weather is pretty variable anyway! And any recommendations on what tour company? Thanks again for all the help!
Bob2010 is offline  
Jan 5th, 2017, 11:30 AM
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A few potential issues -

The drive from Christchurch to Franz Josef via Arthur's Pass is about five hours, w/o stops for hikes, etc.

The drive from Franz Josef to Wanaka will take about six hours, allowing for some stops.

What time is the helicopter tour offered? Can you make it fit within these parameters without putting yourself and others at risk by driving at break neck speed? I'm afraid it's going to be a real challenge.

It's been several years since we did the helihike, but when we did, we signed up for two different times on different days, which gave us the flexibility to choose the better weather. BUT, we were in town for a few days, so we could do that. I don't know what current policies are regarding flights, but keep in mind they often get cancelled by the operator if conditions aren't ideal.

Have you checked the difference in car rental rates for dropping off in Christchurch and collecting in Greymouth, vs renting once as mentioned above by deSchenke? This might be the deal breaker.

Do you plan to hike the Routeburn from the Glenorchy side or the Milford side? Have you taken into consideration the time needed to drive to both?

It makes more sense to hike the Routeburn from the Glenorchy side on Day 8, then spend the entire day going to Milford on Day 9. Day 9 will be a very full day, no matter which you choose, Milford or Doubtful. You will want to book Doubtful well in advance.

If it were me, I'd skip Arthur's Pass and the Tranzalpine and just go down the West Coast from Motueka, with an overnight break in Punakaiki.
Melnq8 is online now  
Jan 5th, 2017, 01:56 PM
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Traveling in February is peak holiday time. You don't have the luxury of waiting to see what the weather is like before you book the helihike. Everything will be booked out already. But as you have it, and Mel has already stated, Days 4 and 5 are full on travel days.

It will be a much more relaxing trip, AND you'll have time for the helihike, if on Day 3 - drive to Punakaiki (or upper West Coast location of choice), Day 4 - drive to FJG/Fox (helihike)

There's only one operator for Franz Josef and only one operator for Fox that do the helihikes. Sign up for an afternoon hike at the location you are overnighting at. If it is cancelled by weather, you'll get a full refund.

>>>Day 9 Queenstown (Milford or Doubtful Sound - drive or tour)<<<

TOUR, definitely tour, if heading to Milford Sound. Otherwise it is 10 hours behind the wheel.
deSchenke is offline  
Jan 5th, 2017, 03:57 PM
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Just wondering if You're seeing much evidence of last year's very damaging bush fires in and around Cradle Mountain? We're trying to decide how to spend our 5 days in Tas.....

Really enjoying your report!
glover is offline  
Jan 5th, 2017, 04:43 PM
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Oops, just realized My above posted on the wrong thread.
glover is offline  
Jan 5th, 2017, 08:00 PM
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Melnq8 and DeSchenke, thanks again! You have definitely talked me into dropping the trip to Christchurch, unless I am able to grab an extra day from the North Island. Your suggestions are spot on, I am sure. I will check right away on any availability on the Heli hike as well. Any preference for Fox vs. Franz Josef glacier? By the way, I did talk with the rental car company, and I probably would have saved money originally on 1 car vs. 2, but now that time is short, at least they will let me change from 2 cars to 1 without additional cancellation fees. I should point out that I love driving, especially when seeing country I have never seen before and so driving trips do not daunt me in the least. Plus my family is plum happy sleeping away much of the drive! My daughter, who will accompany us, has already done the Milford tour from Queenstown a couple times, and thought it might be nice to have more flexibility in making different stops. Melnq8, yes, we were planning on doing the Routeburn track from the Glenorchy side, perhaps all the way up to Harris Saddle, if we feel up to it and the weather holds. If we drive to Milford, I had thought it might be nice to hike up to Key Summit as well. This planning phase is part of the fun, but I now know I need to finalize all plans by this weekend. Thanks again for all your input, and I am always open to more!
Bob2010 is offline  
Jan 6th, 2017, 07:27 AM
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I think the walk from the Routeburn access point (about 20 km from Glenorchy) to Harris Saddle and return is about 27 km!

As for which is better Franz or Fox - Franz is bigger and has more food and restaurant options as well as the hot pools, the wildlife center and easier access to Okarito.

Fox has easier access to Lake Matheson and Gillespies Beach (seal colony).

So, it depends on what interests you more than anything. I've stayed in both and like both, but give Franz a slight nudge as there's more on offer, which is handy if the weather is bad.
Melnq8 is online now  
Jan 7th, 2017, 12:45 PM
  #20  
 
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Personally, I think Lake Matheson and Gillespies Beach should not be missed (but then there is so much in NZ that should not be missed!) so I would opt for Fox.
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