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dutyfree Jan 5th, 2013 02:15 PM

New Zealand-what cities for 15/16 days?
I just bite the bullet and bought a ticket on Air New Zealand to meet up with my daughter who will be leaving for work in Antarctica out of Christchurch in February. I have 16 days and 15 nights to plan before leaving in a week and a half. I will be flying into Auckland and then flying home to the states out of Christchurch.I plan on renting a rental car and also possibly flying between the islands?
My daughter wants to go to Rotorua,the wineries down in Wellington, Mt. Cook Lodge,etc. I am NOT a big mountain driver so would even consider flying between some of the cities in the South Island if it isn't an arm and a leg.
I would be most grateful for anyone's favorite cities to try and see-possibly any hotel recommendations,etc. Can you sense my desperation? Thanks!!!!!

Melnq8 Jan 5th, 2013 03:09 PM

I hope you're using the word 'cities' generically because the best of NZ is well outside the cities.

I suggest you spend a few days on the NI first, seeing Rotorua and Wellington and then perhaps taking the ferry from Wellington over to Picton on the SI or flying from Wellington to Christchurch.

The advantage of beginning in Christchurch is that it's easier to make a loop from there than it is from Picton. Picton is considerably further north and with so few days you might find it difficult to fit in 'the best of the SI', which most people will tell you is south, if you start that far north.

You don't need to be a mountain driver in NZ. Getting around by car is very easy as long as you remember to stay on the left side of the road and to allow yourself plenty of time, and don't get into a hurry, you'll be fine. There will be many caravans out and about and there are many single lane bridges, but certainly nothing to freak out about.

While NZ does have mountains, I can't think of anywhere on the SI that I'd consider 'mountain driving' other than perhaps the road across Arthur's Pass which is not difficult, just steep in spots. It's all about perspective I guess, I'm from Colorado where we have 54 mountains over 14,000 feet.

Mt Cook village is situated at 760 meters, while Mt Cook looms above at 3,755 meters. The drive to the village is basically flat, as you're essentially driving through a valley. The road ends near the Hermitage Hotel and you can't go any further by car. No mountain driving whatsoever.

Flying between cities on the SI only helps if you're near an airport, and there aren't many airports. It's generally much easier to get to attractions via car.

I suggest something like this:

Arrive Christchurch, drive to glaciers via Arthur's Pass with side trip to Punakaiki (40 minute detour north from Greymouth - Pancake Rocks - best seen at high tide).

Continue driving south along the west coast vis SH6, overnighting in Hokitika or push on to Franz Josef Glacier. I suggest two nights at Franz Josef, which will give you one full day to explore. You can easily explore Franz and Fox Glacier in the same day.

Continue south via SH 6 towards Queenstown, perhaps stopping in Wanaka for a night or two.

From Wanaka you could head to Te Anau for a few days. Te Anau is the gateway to Milford Sound and makes a good base from which to explore the area. It's a two hour drive to Milford Sound each way from Te Anau. The Doubtful Sound cruise leaves from nearby Manapouri.

From Te Anau, you could drive to QT for a few days (two hour drive). Plenty to see/do in QT, but do be aware it's very touristy and feels more like a city than most other places on the SI. From QT it's easy enough to make day trips to Arrowtown, Cromwell (lots of vineyards, winery lunches and some fabulous pinot noir and dry riesling) and Glenorchy, which is the gateway to Mt Aspiring National Park and one of the prettiest spots in NZ I've yet to find.

On your return drive to Christchurch, you might consider taking the the Crown Ridge Road from Queenstown to Wanaka - this will save time, and will give you a different perspective of the area. The Crown Range Road is the highest main road in NZ, but don't let that scare you, it's still only 1,121 meters:

Photos here to give you an idea:

From your second pass through Wanaka you could then work your way towards Mt Cook, via the inland route. This is a different route which will take you over Lindis Pass (don't let the word pass scare you, it's really low) . The views from here are incredibly different from the views along the West Coast and will give you an entirely different perspective of the SI. Enroute you might want to stop in Omarama for a peek at the Clay Cliffs.

After a night or two in Mt Cook Village, you can continue working your way towards Christchurch, easily making stops at Lake Tekapo en route (I suggest you make a lunch stop at the top of Mt John - there's a glass encased cafe up top and the views are incredible). Continue working your way towards CHCH, but don't go up the east coast (ugliest strech of road in all of NZ), instead work your way north via 79/77/72, the scenic road which can be picked up at Fairlie. This road leads through Geraldine, skirts the Peel Forest (great walks there) and passes alongside the Rakaia Gorge (lovely walks) and at the base of several ski areas.

End in Christchurch.

Melnq8 Jan 5th, 2013 03:28 PM

It's still school holidays in NZ, so you're treavling at a very busy time. Your top picks for accommodation might not be available, I suggest you book NOW, especially for Mt Cook, which could well be booked full already. If it is, suggest you check in nearby Twizel or Lake Pukaki.

Some places we've stayed in the areas I covered above:

Wanaka - Alpine View Lodge

Franz Josef - Glen Fern Villas, Bella Vista Motel

Arthur’s Pass - Mountain House Cottage

Te Anau - The Croft B&B, Birchwood Cottages

Hokitika - Shining Star

Chirstchurch - Merivale Manor

There's also a chain of Bella Vista Motels throughout both islands which offer inexpensive rooms with basic kitchen facilities.

dutyfree Jan 7th, 2013 03:43 PM

Is our life over if we don't go to Milford Sound? Because of our time constraints,how far away it is and the fact that my daughter sees unbelievable fjords in Antarctica I was thinking of forgoing driving down all that way?

Melnq8 Jan 7th, 2013 04:37 PM

No you're life won't be over, but Milford is one of NZ's top tourist attractions. Make of that what you will.

I've been to Milford several times, and while the cruise itself has never bowled me over, the drive to Milford bowls me over every time.

dutyfree Jan 7th, 2013 05:34 PM

My daughter is a marine geologist so am thinking that the geological finds in the north island are worth the visits. We are not going to be treking;kayaking,etc. down in Milford Sound and while it is beautiful I am questioning the time and effort to get to it?

Melnq8 Jan 7th, 2013 06:46 PM

Only you can decide that dutyfree. Is this a Geology field trip or a vacation:)

lanejohann Jan 8th, 2013 01:18 AM

OH and I loved kaikoura...for the wildlife
and the otago peninsula for the same sort of thing...near dunedin
loved loved lake tekapo for the beautiful blue lake

mt cook can be hit and miss because of cloud

queenstown was beautiful and i loved the shopping after roughing it for days and days lol

i wouldnt do the mountain driving myself...OH had no problem but that man of mine has very little fear..and i have enough to share with half the nation lol...we had a huge campervan and he negotiated every bend every descent really well while i prayed to every angel available..eesh some of those roads were cranky!

we saw very few cars so i dont think id ever go out there with another woman...unless she was a car mechanic-come-megatruck driver-come-paramedic..but thats me just being cautious lol...i saw some young girls out driving lil campers and i just wanted to ring their mothers!

ill be hollered down for parading this attitude but im ok with that...ill just hide under the doona til the danger passes lol

Melnq8 Jan 8th, 2013 03:32 PM

Not hollered down lanejohann, but driving a huge campervan is not the same as driving a car! Just curious though, specifically what drive freaked you out???

dutyfree Jan 8th, 2013 08:58 PM

This trip is a vacation for the two of us but my daughter is always looking for rocks?
I cannot seem to find the Antarctic museum in Christchurch which was supposed to have some of Scott's stuff,etc. I saw the "amusement" Antarctic center by the airport but for $65 it seems very high for rides,seeing the, feed penguins,etc. Anyonebeen as it seems more for kids?
How many days would you allow at Mt. cook and doing the glaciers.

Melnq8 Jan 8th, 2013 09:24 PM

I think you're looking for this:

I've been to the International Antartic Center, but it was years ago, never felt the need to return. Not something I'd recommend to someone with a time shortage, much better choice on offer IMO.

We found the area around Takaka very interesting as far as rocks go (as did a geogolist friend), but don't want to throw a spanner in the works.

Depends on what you want to do in Mt Cook...if you're just there for a look-see, one night is plenty, especially if the weather is bad which it often is. If you plan to hike or do any activities, I'd allow at least two, which will give you one full day to explore and walk, etc.

I always recommend at least two nights at the glaciers, which gives you a full day to explore. You can walk to the terminal face of both glaciers in a day and still have time left over, or walk to one and then hike another track in the area, or take a heli-hike, or walk around Lake Matheson, etc.

Unlike Mt Cook, there are things to fill your time if the weather turns, hot pools, a Kiwi Center, educational films about the area, pubs, etc. Franz is bigger than Fox, so more to do on a bad weather day there.

There are long drive days on either side of the glaciers, so just one night doesn't allow time to DO anything.

Melnq8 Jan 8th, 2013 09:28 PM

Some info about those rocks:

dutyfree Jan 10th, 2013 08:16 AM

Thanks Melnq8 for the info. I am wondering if I should pick up the rental car in Auckland and keep it for the whole two weeks for both islands paying the high price of ferrying across the straits OR pick up in Auckland and drive to Wellington and then either fly to Queenstown or Christchurch to pick up another car? Any tips would be greatly appreciated!

Melnq8 Jan 10th, 2013 01:54 PM

I believe APEX includes the cost of the ferry in their car rentals.

Most car rental companies make you leave the car at the ferry terminal then pick up another on the other side. From what I understand it's pretty seamless.

I don't know if there are flights to QT from Wellington, but I assume there are. You might have to go through Christchurch though, and this could add to the transport time.

The ferry takes about three hours. You'd need to compare the cost/time of the flights to the cost/time of the ferry to see which works best.

One potential issue with taking the ferry is that you end up in Picton, which is way north of Mt Cook, which I'm assuming you still want to visit. <Rotorua,the wineries down in Wellington, Mt. Cook Lodge>. I'm still not clear on what you want to see and do (other than rocks:).

BTW I'm not aware of any wineries in Wellington, but I've not been there for years, so I might be wrong. Are you referring to the Martinborough Region about an hour's drive from Wellington?

Regardless, there a loads of wineries on the SI, and if that interests you, Picton is about a 25 minute from the massive wine region of Marlborough.

dutyfree Jan 10th, 2013 06:52 PM

My very rough game plan is arriving in Auckland,going to Rototua and hopefully Waitomo Caves then over to Napier and down to Wellington. From there would like to include Mt. Cook and the glaciers for a few days and including the Marlborough area for wine;Christchurch and further north there?

lanejohann Jan 10th, 2013 11:31 PM

just responding to your query melnq re my most hair-raising drives in nz
lol...oh where to start?

ok..well all the flat bits were fine--i could actually just relax and oxygenate my depleted body for a bit but there were certainly some breath-taking (literally!) minutes?hours spent on some of our routes:

we started in Christchurch and headed north to Kaikoura then off to picton nelson and up to cape farewell in abel tasman..
the road just after limestone ck reserve just before getting within koo-ee of kaikoura was steep and winding but ok
and so was the ascent to the kaikoura lookout- really blustery too
there were warnings of rock falls around ohau- near the ohau pt lookout- that was a bit spook-some lol for a greenhorn like me

around mahakipawa reserve on the way to havelock it got twisty again and then again after the rai valley ..good road but lots of curves

the next challenge was taking the campervan to marahau..only 8km but it felt a lot longer and after all that they were felling trees so we had to go via takaka
there were hairpin bends round that harwood bend lookout and finally the road flattened out after the takaka river crossing

another stretch of silent eeking and praying was on route from pohara beach when we decided to explore the remote totaranui beach.. the road was crumbling on the passenger side and so were my nerves..the road was unsealed from the coastal track entrance and it took us almost an hour to get from pohara to totaranui..then we had to do it all again to get out of there...yikes!

now im not a screamer cos i know better not to spook OH... so i developed a tactic- if i found it too scary id pretend ( yes i know deceit should not be part of any relationship..) that i wanted to take a fabulous pic..and generally i that he would slow down even more..and unless there was another vehicle behind us hed oblige and my nerves would get a little rest lol lol

all around upper takaka it was steep with hairpin bends too as we headed to motueka with the target being st arnaud

the next notable bit was through arthurs pass...the otira gorge which welcomed us with a very steep descent ( no tow zone apparently)and after that it was winding for 11km..i had to laugh at the very name ' deaths corner' where we saw keas for the first time - a real comfort to see that on a sign!

lindis pass was ok..winding of course and it was super windy so the van was being wiped across the road at times

again very winding road around wanaka lake lookout and later there was another steep descent for 2km in the haast pass ( run away vehicle ramps added for comfort lol)

more rock falls round knights point that we had to skirt! yay!

more hairpin bends around the waikakupa river...16km of winding road just 20 odd kms out from franz joseph

the next enchanting bit for me was the crown range drive..i was the one who bravely suggested to go to queenstown via this route ...couldve gone the tamer/saner road through wanaka and lake dunstan but we drove the very winding steep descent to frankton...saw a flim crew (mightve been the amazing race i think)
i thought this mightve been the worst of it but

i hadnt yet encountered the drive to sandfly bay on the otago peninsula near dunedin..that was remote and narrow and we got lost a few times trying to find the carpark that would signal the entrance to the bay ( lots of sea lions on the beach there)

but the piece de resistance i think would have to be the summit drive route from akaroa...again i suggested this route acting on some subconscious deathwish i think

i have pics of the road ascending and descending so steeply that it disappears on the horizon like some half-finished rollercoaster track

being a passenger watching the van crawl along these crazy roads was not fun...cowardy-cat that i am

and the roads are generally in very good condition so big clap to the nz road maintenance authority and of course to all those nutty engineers who thought of building those awesome roads

hey dont let this put anyone off

we are back without incident and off to canada in a few weeks to have a turn at winter driving...eyes closed shut for me..ill just buy some postcards i think lol the sounds of it ..youd be able to traverse nz on a unicycle balancing a glass of red on your knee..alas im not made of such stern stuff lol

Melnq8 Jan 11th, 2013 12:21 AM

What a weenie lanejohann:)

Those rockfalls are freaky, and those twists and turns can make one motion sick, I'll give you that.

You haven't lived until you've driven the road to French Pass though - I reckon you should include it on your next trip to NZ.

Good luck in Canada, sounds like you'll need it!

lanejohann Jan 11th, 2013 08:23 PM

no no French Pass for me...ever..i saw the warnings ! same for skippers canyon

i dont get motion sickness unless im on a ferry in rough seas...i just get the sickness that comes from thinking that ill be trapped upside down in a vehicle...with a leaking fuel tank...and maybe with bears lurking..just to add a touch of the extra freaky
( ive seen a lot of

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