New Zealand South Island itinerary needs fine-tuning

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Mar 12th, 2016, 08:55 AM
  #1
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New Zealand South Island itinerary needs fine-tuning

Hi fellow NZ travelers,
I have done a lot of research on our November 2016 trip to the South Island. I've used the driving distance calculator and advice from this forum as well as other sources. Now I am ready to fine-tune it some more with your help. Please see the itinerary further below.

We like to hike, we like the alpine and lake topography. We added Abel Tasman because of the beauty of the coast and the kayaking opportunities. Plus we want to see another micro climate on the island. All of the activities we plan to do will be hikes/walks, horseback ride, kayaking. We want to get to know the South Island and not race through it (tough not to do in 14 days).

We were hoping to do 14 days but that's tricky given all we want to see.
Is this itinerary too quick and ambitious? (we're trying to avoid one night in one town situations)
Is any of it redundant in terms of what we'll see?
Would you spend less or more time anywhere?
We're 3 nights in Mt Cook because we want to star gaze at the planetarium and with their guide. Three nights gives us insurance for a clear sky at least one night (we hope!). I'm thinking we should scale this back to 2 nights.

Thank you in advance for looking through it and providing feedback!

We'll be coming from several days in Australia. We arrive in Christchurch late evening.
Day 1 Christchurch [Do 1/2 day and drive to Mt Cook in the afternoon] (overnight at Mt Cook)
Day 2 Mt Cook; Edmund Hillary Center; stargazing; (overnight at Mt Cook)
Day 3 Mt Cook: Guided 1/2 day hike; Terminus Lake hike; stargazing (overnight at Mt Cook)
Day 4 Queenstown, Gibbston? (overnight in Queenstown)
Day 5 Glenorchy for the day, horseback riding 1/2 day; (overnight in Queenstown)
Day 6 Daytrip to Milford Sound with Real Journeys; (overnight in Queenstown)
Day 7 Routeburn Track hike with Ultimate Journeys
Day 8 Routeburn Track
Day 9 Routeburn Track; (overnight in Wanaka)
Day 10 Wanaka, Arrowtown? (overnight in Wanaka)
Day 11 Drive via Haast to Franz Josef Glacier (overnight near Franz Josef Glacier)
Day 12 Franz Josef Glacier visit; drive to Okarito, Hokitika, Punakaiki, (Overnight in Punakaiki)
Day 13 Drive Punakaiki to Kaiteriteri (Abel Tasman National Park); 1/2 day kayak Kaiteriteri; (overnight in Kaiteriteri)
Day 14 Abel Tasman N.P. full day hike; (overnight in Kaiteriteri)
Day 15 spend another day in Abel Tasman? Or go to Charlotte Sound instead?
Day 16 Blenheim, 1/2 day wine tour in the PM (overnight in Blenheim)
Day 17 Drive to Christchurch via Kaikoura . Late afternoon flight to Sydney, Australia

Thanks!
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Mar 12th, 2016, 10:46 AM
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Hi HubTraveler -

It's not a bad itinerary, but I do have a few concerns.

Three nights in Mt Cook is a grand idea - we've stayed three nights there on multiple occasions so we could spend two full days hiking. The only drawback is if you get three days of cruddy weather, it could be a long stay.

Day 6 is a very long day - about 13 hours on the bus/cruise/bus. It's done all the time though.

Have you considered spending the night of Day 6 - in Te Anau instead of Queenstown? If you get off the bus in Te Anau after your Milford trip, spend the night there, then have Ultimate Hikes collect you in Te Anau on their way to the Divide, you will save four hours on a bus and prevent covering the exact same route four times. The way you've currently got it, is VERY redundant.

Day 9 - what time do you get back from the hike? I assume they then transfer you to Queenstown? Will you drive to Wanaka?

Day 12 is a bit full on - say 1/2 a day exploring the glaciers, and then a three hour drive. Definitely possible, especially with the long days of November on your side, but will limit what you can do in Okarito and Hoki en route. There are lots of good walking tracks around Franz in addition to the glacier walk.

Day 13 is a bit optimistic - a four hour drive w/o stops (and I can't ever NOT stop while I'm in NZ). I suppose it's possible if you leave Punakaiki early and plan well. I suggest you make a day of the drive, and save the kayaking for Day 15. OR, do a walk/kayak combo on Day 14.

Regarding Day 15 - I'd stay in the Abel Tasman area instead of adding the Marlborough Sounds into the mix - because - there's loads to do around Abel Tasman and between Motueka and Nelson, and because you'd need at least a full day to do any serious walking on the Queen Charlotte Track.

Blenheim to Christchurch is a haul - over four hours w/o stops. Not something I personally would want to undertake if I had to make a flight. And I've been to NZ more than a dozen times.
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Mar 12th, 2016, 01:31 PM
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Hi Melnq8,
Thanks for your insights!
I'll definitely adjust the Mt Cook stay to 2 nights. Your tip about staying overnight in Te Anau is going to make a huge difference - thanks for letting me know about that option. We'll reconsider the timing we have for days 12, 13 and 15 too.

On day 9, Ultimate Journeys gets us back to Queenstown by 6 pm. Then we will get a rental car and drive to Wanaka.
However, I am not sure we want to drive at night when it's dark. It has nothing to do with our driving ability or vision but more to do with safety - the roads being narrow and windy. Do the roads have any reflective markers or similar?

One last question, after Abel Tasman we just need to get back to Christchurch for our flight. We built in time to see Blenheim and Kaikoura because they are on the way. Yet they are not high on our list to see compared to the other places we'll have come from. On Day 16 what alternative would you recommend (Nelson or Motueka as you mentioned earlier)? Should we try to drive to Kaikoura that day and overnight there so on Day 17 we have less of a drive to Christchurch?

Many thanks,
HubTraveler
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Mar 12th, 2016, 03:53 PM
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Sunset in November is around 8:30 pm, so assuming you don't dawdle getting your rental car, you should still have plenty of daylight - Wanaka is just over an hour's drive.

You might want to take the Crown Range Road - really pretty as the sun drops and a bit shorter than the other route.

http://www.newzealandtravelinsider.c...ns-lookout.htm

Yes, there are reflective markers, at least on the more travelled roads. Here's what to look for:

https://www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/r...night-driving/

Regarding that last night before your flight - Kaikoura is a much better choice IMO - only about 2.5 hours from Christchurch, so you can take your time. You might even be able to fit in breakfast in Amberley at the Nor'Wester Café on Day 17. That's what I'd do.

http://www.norwestercafe.co.nz/

As for Day 16 - the drive from Kaiteriteri to Kaikoura will take about four hours w/o stops. I'd just make a leisurely day of it - stopping to explore as the mood strikes you, or leaving some time to explore Kaikoura once you arrive. Lots of seals around Kaikoura and some lovely walks and coastline.
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Mar 12th, 2016, 04:12 PM
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Wonderful suggestions Melnq8! Many thanks again.
-HubTraveler
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Mar 12th, 2016, 04:55 PM
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We really enjoyed our overnight in Kaikoura. We did the Albatross Encounter but there are lots of choices. Lovely town, beautiful views.
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Mar 12th, 2016, 05:43 PM
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The Kaikoura Peninsula walk is very nice. You can do the entire loop (~ 4 hours) or just part of it and double back. We found 4 hour drives between destinations to be very doable even with a couple of short stops (meals, short hikes, overlooks, etc.), and not at all stressful, but it all depends on what you're comfortable with. If you plan on long hikes or other excursions along the way, certainly plan for longer, but if you really need to get to the end destination 4 hours is easy. Have fun!
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Mar 12th, 2016, 11:45 PM
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Your itinerary sounds similar too ours from this past November, only in reverse. If you haven't read my recent trip report, you might want to check it out. We had a few more days to work with, but the bones are quite similar. Great trip.

Mel has good advice as usual. Here are a few other points:

--Mt Cook: stargazing might be iffy. We had fairly decent weather there but there were lots of clouds, making stargazing difficult. At any rate, you can easily do the Hillary Center and a good hike on the same day, so I would drop one of the days there. You might want to consider stopping overnight at Lake Tekapo before you get to Mt Cook--only because the Mt. John Observatory there is famous for its stargazing opportunities and it might well be less cloudy in that area. (I know that adds a one-nighter to your trip, so it depends on what is more important to you.)

--Glenorchy day trip: You will actually be in Glenorchy at the end of your Routeburn Track walk with Ultimate Hikes. (That walk was definitely the highlight of our trip--you will love it!) The Ultimate Hikes bus picks walkers up at the end of the walk and takes them to the pub in Glenorchy for refreshments before heading on to Queenstown (where we arrived at 4:30 pm). So if Glenorchy is important to you you might consider having UH leave you there instead of going back to Queenstown that day, and then taking a public bus (or some other means) the next day to get to Queenstown to pick up your car. Are you leaving it there when you go to Milford Sound? If so, it will of course be sitting unused for 4 or 5 nights. Ours sat for the 3 days we were hiking, which seemed a waste but a necessary one since we didn't want to turn it in and then pick up another on our return to town. Something to think about, anyway. It might be an argument for self-driving to Milford (though you wouldn't be able to take advantage of a Te Anau pickup by Ultimate Hikes in that case).

--Milford Sound: if you love kayaking, I highly recommend the wonderful half-day kayak trip there with Roscoes. May have been the best kayak excursion we've ever taken.

--Abel Tasman: you will be tired after driving from Punakaiki to Kaiteriteri. There are some nice short hikes in Abel Tasman you could do on that afternoon (walk to Split Apple Rock, for example); better to leave the kayaking to the next day, when you can do a kayak/hike combo.
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Mar 13th, 2016, 05:44 PM
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FromDC and paulg - thank you for your "thumbs up" on Kaikoura. We plan to overnight there and do the peninsula walk.
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Mar 13th, 2016, 05:51 PM
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aprillilacs -
I did read your trip report about 2 weeks ago! It was a worthwhile read for us.

Your comment about St John is a good one. We actually thought about staying one night there and one night in Mt Cook and then decided to do everything at Mt Cook since it had the hiking, kayaking and stargazing.

Thanks for the info on Glenorchy/Milford Sound. We will have rental car and plan to leave it in Queenstown while we're away at Milford Sounds and Routeburn Track. I saw that you stayed at the Novotel and they have a deal with UH. We'll consider that hotel now.

What were the temperatures during your November visit?

Of the places you visited on the SI, were there any that you would have liked to spend more time visiting or less time?

Thanks!
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Mar 13th, 2016, 06:11 PM
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Weather while we were in the South Island ranged from about 50-60 Fahrenheit (10-15 C) during the day, though it felt warmer than that when we were in the sunshine with no wind. Night-times were much cooler--say, 38-47 F (3-8 C). On the Routeburn the mornings were cold but we quickly warmed up as we hiked. Of course the lodges kept us toasty at night.

We would loved more time in Abel Tasman. Our time in Mt Cook wasn't as productive as we had hoped, because of the showery, cold weather. So although we loved going there, we had some unexpected downtime in the motel while we waited out the worst of the weather. Otherwise, the times we allotted to various places were just about right for us.

Glad you found my trip report useful!
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Mar 14th, 2016, 05:53 AM
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Glad to hear you were pleased with your timeframes. We added an extra day at ATNP based on reading others' feedback and based on how beautiful the area seems to be.

All the best!
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