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joannaclarehunter Jul 26th, 2017 06:21 AM

New Zealand with teenagers
Hi all

We are planning a trip of a lifetime with our three daughters - aged 14, 14 and 9 for 18 days in March/April next year and would be really grateful for some tips on the itinerary. At the moment, we are flying into Auckland for 2 days and then a quick flight down to Queenstown. Thenon, we haven't decided what to do. We were planning on hiring a car from Queenstown for the rest of our trip as we make our way back to Auckland. Our kids would love some adventure, but also the opportunity to swim with the dolphins, do some trekking and experience the beautiful beaches of NZ. We could just stick to the South Island, but my husband and I have walked the Tongariro Crossing before and experienced Rotorua and wonder wether we'll have time to fit it all in! We would love at least 4 nights at the end to relax. Any tips would be gratefully received.

Many thanks

deSchenke Jul 26th, 2017 06:36 AM

I would make my way up the middle of the island, spending a couple of nights at Mt Cook, then to Christchurch, Kaikoura (dolphins), and from there over to Nelson (beaches and hiking Abel Tasman). Then fly Nelson back to Auckland.

If I'm doing the math correctly, your 18 days is down by 2 at the beginning, and down by 4 at the end. So you really only have 12 days for a roadtrip, less the time you want to spend in Queenstown.

joannaclarehunter Jul 26th, 2017 07:02 AM

Thank you so much for this - do you think trying to fit in part of the north island is too much?

Melnq8 Jul 26th, 2017 12:53 PM

With 18 full days you could certainly fit in some of the NI, but if you want to really experience the SI (which I highly recommend you do), you'd do well to dedicate at least two full weeks to the SI.

A good balance between the two is usually three weeks - one on the north and two on the south. Four days won't give you much time to do a whole lot on the north (IMO the best of NZ is on the SI anyway - in over a dozen trips to NZ, we've only visited the NI twice, yet the SI keeps calling us back).

With a full two weeks, you could make a quasi-loop from say, Christchurch-Mt-Cook-Wanaka-Te Anau-Milford-Queenstown-Franz Josef/Fox Glacier-Arthur's Pass-Christchurch.

This is a busy itinerary, but you'd definitely see the highlights and you'd incorporate both the West Coast and the inland route, which is very difficult to do in any less than two weeks.

Or you could visit the north of the SI (such as Abel Tasman and Nelson) by heading north from Christchurch towards Kaikoura and then continue across the top of the island and down the West Coast towards the glaciers, Wanaka and Queenstown (or in reverse if you'd prefer to fly into Queenstown).

You can also swim with dolphins in Akaroa, which is about a 90 minute drive from Christchurch, and could easily be worked into an itinerary that heads up north from there.

Diamantina Jul 26th, 2017 06:05 PM

Can you change your flight from Auckland to Queenstown?

Instead of staying two nights in Auckland at the beginning of your trip, consider starting your trip in Queenstown, seeing as you're planning on ending your trip on the North Island.

After arriving in Auckland on your international flight, try to get a connecting flight to Queenstown, giving yourselves at least two hours between these flights, as it takes a while to go through customs and immigration and to wait for your luggage.

I think you'll be rushed to see both islands over 18 nights.

You'll probably want at least 3 nights in Queenstown (jet boat, gondola, drive to Glenorchy, etc.) If you start your trip in Queenstown, you'll want a day to recover from jetlag and to just do easy sightseeing around town.

You'll likely want to drive Milford Road and then take a cruise on Milford Sound, maybe do some day walks in this area. Te Anau makes the best base for visiting Milford Road and Sound, which means you should plan on spending at least two nights in Te Anau.

You noted you'd also like to fit in the Tongariro Crossing and Rotorua.

To fit this all in and the making time for dolphin swimming (in Kaikoura or Akaroa) and for relaxing at the end of your trip, I agree with deSchenke that you should add another domestic flight to your itinerary, from the South Island back to the North Island.

You asked, " you think trying to fit in part of the north island is too much?"

I'm stating the obvious: 18 days for the South Island alone would allow you to see more of the South Island, yet you could still fit in the beaches, tramping, dolphin swim, etc.

Forgetting about the North Island altogether, the below itinerary would give you a nice taste for the South Island (my itinerary is by no means definitive, maybe other folks can offer other ideas or variations):

1 arrival in AKL, connect to Christchurch (rest, explore city center on foot)
2 Drive to Kaikoura (or another day in CC)
3 Kaikoura (dolphin swim)
4 Nelson/Abel Tasman/Golden Bay
5 Nelson/Abel Tasman/Golden Bay
6 Nelson/Abel Tasman/Golden Bay
7 Punakaiki (see Pancake Rocks, tramp, break up long drive)
8 Franz Josef (glaciers, visit Hokitika Gorge enroute from Punakaiki to FJ
9 FJ or Fox (popular Lake Matheson is near Fox)
10 Wanaka (staying here cuts more than a hour off your drive; note Wanaka will be super-busy from March 30 through April 1 due to "Warbirds Over Wanaka")
11 Te Anau
12 Te Anau (drive Milford Road, then do Milford Sound cruise)
13 Queenstown
14 Queenstown
15 Queenstown
16 Mt. Cook Village (great walks, stunning setting)
17 Mt. Cook Village (stop at Lake Tekapo enroute from MC to CC)
18 CC

Note the above itinerary is 18 days, which means you'd probably have to trim a night from one or several of your destinations.

Diamantina Jul 26th, 2017 07:18 PM

I meant to include this link for "must-see walks and tramps":

If you had more time, I'd add a day to Wanaka to the above itinerary. It has a beautiful setting, offers lots of activities, including some excellent walks, is quieter and less hectic than Queenstown.

Diamantina Jul 26th, 2017 07:25 PM

And family friendly walks:

tasmangirl Jul 26th, 2017 11:05 PM

Hard to squeeze in the TAC. You really need to get there the day before and doing the walk takes a full day. Would the 9 year old be up to a 19 km walk?
Diamantina has good advice. The beaches of Abel Tasman are just gorgeous and some of the best in NZ.
While in Auckland you could do a day trip over to lovely Waiheke. Lots of adults go for wine tasting but there are some activities for kids. There is ziplining at Ecozip and Wild on Waiheke has fun things to do. But then if you just want to chill out then Oneroa Beach is lovely and there is an awesome gelato shop in the village.

joannaclarehunter Jul 27th, 2017 10:05 AM

Thank you so much everyone. This is all so helpful! I think we are going to stick to the South Island only and now plan the following:-

Day 1 Auckland
Day 2 Auckland
Day 3 Queenstown
Day 4 Queenstown
Day 5 Queenstown
Day 6 Queenstown
Day 7 Queenstown
Day 8 Tekapo
Day 9 Tekapo
Day 10 Kaikoura
Day 11 Kaikoura
Day 13 Kaikoura
Day 14 Abel Tasman
Day 15 Abel Tasman
Day 16 Abel Tasman
Day 17 flight back to Auckland
Day 18 return home
I think this works well as gives a mix of mountains, beaches and lakes, plus we aren't moving around too much so we can explore the areas properly. Any other feedback on this much appreciated! Thx!

Diamantina Jul 28th, 2017 12:51 AM

Aoraki-Mt. Cook village is considered by most travelers to be more interesting than Lake Tekapo because of its setting and wonderful walking tracks.

Aoraki Mt. Cook is NZ's highest mountain, with its summit being at 3724 metres, but the village is at an elevation of 747 metres. So you're in a little valley surrounded by more than 20 peaks that rise to 3000 metres (or 10,000 feet). Kiwi Sir Edmund Hillary prepared for his historic Mt. Everest Climb by practicing on Aoraki-Mt. Cook and these neighboring mountains.

Some of its walking tracks traverse swing bridges over fast=flowing rivers, offer views of glaciers and glacial lakes (with icebergs) and fauna and flora unique to NZ's alpine ecosystem. Here's a link to a brochure for its walking tracks.

You can take a Zodiac boat ride or kayak onto Tasman Glacier Terminal Lake at the base of Tasman Glacier. Here's a link to one of the tour operators:

The 45-minute drive from the main highway (SH8) along Lake Pukaki to Mt. Cook Village is as beautiful as is the village itself. Looks like this photo (in clear weather):
Lake Pukaki, along with Lakes Ohau and Tekapo, is an alpine lake, colored a distinctive blue due to its content of glacial flour (finely ground rock particles from the glaciers).

Lake Tekapo is also lovely, but on the main highway (SH8, which passes through the center of the South Island, from Central Otago to Canterbury), so during the day it gets busy with passing traffic (it's popular as a photo-op and toilet stop).

The main attraction in Lake Tekapo — besides the lake itself, the photogenic lakeside Church of the Good Shepherd and nearby working dog statue — is Mt. John Observatory, known for its awesome 360° daytime views and its nighttime stargazing tours. During the day, you can drive up to Mt. John Observatory or walk from the lakeside:

Other attractions include Tekapo Springs (Hot Pools) and its Ice Rink (open from mid-April to September).

Both places have limited accommodation and dining options and are extremely popular. Both places also offer scenic helicopter rides (the ones from Mt. Cook Village operate out of nearby Glentanner).

Of course, by staying in Lake Tekapo, you'll cut time on tour drive to Kaikoura, but it's still going to be a long drive. I would overnight in Christchurch (you can visit the Botanical Garden, the Canterbury Museum, any number of other attractions).

But if you're arriving later in the day to Kaikoura, then maybe three days and nights is not too many. In addition to the dolphin swim, you can walk the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway. You can see many seals and pups on the rocks near the start of this walking track.
Kaikoura is also NZ's top whale watching and a pelagic bird cruise destination, but be aware the ocean can be really rough.

You can get seasick on the dolphin swim (as you are in the open ocean), so, if prone, take seasickness medication. I got seasick on the dolphin swim, but got far more seasick on the whale watch trip. Of course, every trip is different. Note: if conditions are too rough, trips are cancelled.

FYI: Akaroa offers dolphin swims in a protected harbor. The main dolphin species seen in Kaikoura is the Dusky Dolphin. The main dolphin seen in Akaroa Harbor is Hector's Dolphin, which is endangered and only found in NZ waters. It's possible to see other marine species on dolphin trips out of Kaikoura and Akaroa, such as blue sharks, albatrosses and penguins (Akaroa).

Try to visit Wanaka on one of your days in Queenstown:

Do you intend to visit Milford Sound from Queenstown? It'll make for an extremely long day.

What time is your flight from NZ back to your home country (the U.S.?) If it leaves later in the day, why not get a morning flight from Nelson to Auckland that same day? This way you can spend another night on the South Island.

Were you planning on just staying near the airport on this last day? If not, then you'll have to get from the airport to the city and then back to the airport the next day.

joannaclarehunter Jul 28th, 2017 03:16 AM

Hi Diamantina

Thank you for your feedback. It is so helpful! I'm going to take your advice and stay in Mount Cook instead of Tekapo. It sounds like it's more interesting and scenic and better for the kids.
We have a morning flight on the 12th unfortunately, so have to get back to the north island on the 11th. I'm just stuck on the last part of our holiday now. Would like to go somewhere where we can completely chill out - preferably on the beach - but with activities around to do for at least 3 nights. We've currently got Abel Tasman down, but also considering Marlborough Sounds or even getting a flight up to the north island and going around the Coromandel area as weather might be better up there. I'm keen to keep to less places as with 3 kids, it would be exhausting moving around all the time. What do you think?

New itinerary:

Day 1 Auckland
Day 2 Auckland
Day 3 Queenstown
Day 4 Queenstown
Day 5 Queenstown
Day 6 Queenstown
Day 7 Queenstown
Day 8 Mount Cook
Day 9 Mount Cook
Day 10 Kaikoura
Day 11 Kaikoura
Day 13 Kaikoura
Day 14 Abel Tasman/Marlborough Sounds/Coromandel?
Day 15 Abel Tasman/Marlborough Sounds/Coromandel?
Day 16 Abel Tasman/Marlborough Sounds/Coromandel?
Day 17 flight back to Auckland
Day 18 return home

deSchenke Jul 28th, 2017 10:14 AM

Mount Cook to Kaikoura will be all day in the car. I highly recommend you reduce your 3 nights in Kaikoura to 2, and stay a night at Christchurch.

The logistics of getting to Coromandel will mean you have to drive from Kaikoura back to Christchurch (~3 hours), fly to Auckland, drive to Coromandel (~2.5 hours). Then return to Auckland (~2.5 hours) to get your flight back home.

I think I would rather drive the 5 hours from Kaikoura to Kaiteriteri or Marahou. Then drive the hour to Nelson for the flight to Auckland.

Abel Tasman has white sandy beaches. Marlborough Sounds has rocky beaches in a few places. Mostly the landscape drops dramatically into the water.

tasmangirl Jul 28th, 2017 11:44 AM

Can you put actual dates in?
Day 14 to 16 stay in Abel Tasman NP.
Marlborough Sounds beaches are too rocky for enjoyable swimming mostly. Coromandel is nice but ATNP is better and closer to get to.

Diamantina Jul 28th, 2017 08:23 PM

I see how with a morning flight you'd need to get up to Auckland the day before.

Stick with beach/activity days at Abel Tasman NP. This area is known for being one of NZ's sunniest places.

This being said, NZ's weather is highly unpredictable. You might have noticed this on your last trip. You'll be here in March/April. In March/April of this year, the North Island was hammered by a couple of rainstorms that caused flooding in many places including Coromandel (with sunny days in-between the storms). So you never know.

You'll enjoy Aoraki Mt. Cook Village, especially if the weather is fine. You'll still want to stop to have a look or stretch your legs in Tekapo enroute to Christchurch or Kaikoura.

I had suggested you overnight in Christchurch between Lake Tekapo and Kaikoura as this is a long drive. Leaving from Aoraki Mt. Cook Village will add another hour, 20 minutes onto this drive. So an overnight stop in Christchurch is still a good idea. Here's a link to the Christchurch tourism website:

Here's a link to a drive distance calculator:
Please note some the routes to/from Kaikoura will change after SH1 north of Kaikoura is repaired (NZ Transport Agency is aiming for a Xmas deadline).

joannaclarehunter Jul 31st, 2017 10:34 AM

Brilliant! Thank you so much everyone for giving up your time to give me some great advice. Much appreciated! Can't wait for our trip!

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