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caligirl56 Aug 18th, 2010 09:40 AM

north/south island itinerary help
I'm starting to work on an itinerary for February 2012 (no, that's not a typo--I'm planning for February in a year and a half). Would love some help from all of you experts! I promised my husband that we would keep this trip under 4 weeks--and I have to keep my promise. It isn't easy . . .

Here's a rough plan:

1 day: San Francisco to Auckland and then straight to Queenstown
2-3 nights: Queenstown (relaxing, Dart River Safari, and preparing for Milford Track)
4 nights: Milford Track
1 night: Queenstown
2-3 nights: Kaimata Retreat on Otago Peninsula (to see albatross; penguins; Portobello; maybe Larnach Castl; go on some walks)
3 nights: Christchurch (check out Dunedin and Moeraki Boulders on way there)(Botanical Garden and Garden City Flowers Festival; International Antarctic Center; view from Cathedral; shopping at the Arts Center)
1 night: Blenheim (we don't like to stop for just one night--but, I think Marahau is too far) (stop at Kaikorua on the way)(taste wine the next day; and stop in Nelson; arts "trail" on the way to Marahau)
3 nights: Marahau (Abel Tasman--kayak; walk; Farewell Spit for birds, Golden Bay?)
3 nights: Bay of Many Coves in Marlborough Sound (walk a bit of the Charlotte Track; do a boat ride to the dolphins--would this be almost as good as Kaikorua?; relax)
2 nights: Wellington (take ferry across) (Te Papa Museum; gondola up and walk down)
3 nights: Rotorua (stop at Huka Falls and Tongariro viewpoints on the way) (Waiotapu geo-thermal area; Mitai Hangi; Kiwi encounter; Agrodome for farm show; Polynesian Spa; Maori Pa of Ohinematu)
2-3 nights: Auckland (sky ride; Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World; sail in America's Cup Yacht; Black Sand beach (Karekare)
1 day: Back to SFO

So, I think I may already be over my limit on days with this. I could make it work if we did nothing in the North Island, but in case we don't make it back again, we'd like to see at least a tiny bit of it. Also, I know that we could fit in more if we just did more everyday. But, we like to be leisurely travelers, so that isn't really a very good option for us.

So, here are some questions:
1. Would love any feedback you can give--anything at all.
2. We really love high (kind of barren and windswept) country. I haven't even planned to drive over Arthur's Pass--should we actually be staying up there? Visiting a sheep station??
3. Are we spending too much time in the northern part of the South Island? We're actually there for 7 nights--1 in Blenheim; 3 around Abel Tasman, and then 3 at Bay of Many Coves (I thought we needed at least 3 there, because it is difficult to get to)
4. I keep reading that Christchurch is really not that great--are we making a mistake by staying there for 3 nights?
5. Is it a mistake to miss the west coast (except of course we are seeing the Fjiordlands). We had decided to skip the glaciers (mainly because we had to give up something)--we have been to Alaska, and will spend time in the Canadian Rockies (with a glacier walk) this coming summer--so we thought we could give on this--BUT--are we also missing amazing scenery all up that coast (between the north and the glaciers)?

All right. Thank you all so much. I know this is a really long involved post. Thanks for even reading this far!!

mlgb Aug 18th, 2010 11:00 AM

As far as pacing your itinerary looks good.

I love the high barren windswept places too...On the South Island that is Central the inland areas such as the Mackenzie Basin and Lindis Pass (Hwy 8), the Maniototo Plain (along Hwy 85), the Taieri Gorge train, out of Dunedin.

There are a couple different ways to access this, you can do Hwy8 between Queenstown/Arrowtown and Mt. Cook, and you can go inland from Dunedin rather than along the coast.

The area before Arthurs Pass is a bit like that (ie Porters Pass and the Craigieburn Forst Park). Arthurs Pass (where you drive) is more like a closed-in forested valley. The entertaining Kea and the view down toward the west coast (if there is a view) were my favorite parts.

I don't think it's a mistake to skip the west coast if you are going to be doing glaciers elsewhere and your time is limited. BTW there are glaciers in Mt. Cook. In fact I highly recommend giving up the Moeraki boulders and that rather dull coastal drive.

I like Christchurch, if you like museums and gardens it is worth a few nights and at least a full day. Be sure to do this on the weekend so the Arts Centre places are open. Also the new South of Lichfield (SOL)! area in Christchurch is now a bit trendy.

I finally made it to Kelly Tarletons and would give it a miss. It is not connected to him anymore and is merely an overpriced tourist trap. If you are running short on nights I would drop a night or two out of Auckland.

Are you from the SF Bay Area? I think you will find the Marlborough Sounds look a LOT like that. (Same for Akaroa Peninsula really). So perhaps you may just want to take the ferry from Wellington and reallocate the days elsewhere such as Central Otago, continuing past Mt. Cook (Hooker Valley a nice day walk) to Christchurch.

Melnq8 Aug 18th, 2010 05:05 PM

The drive from Dunedin to Christchurch is probably my least favorite drive on the SI, particularly north of's flat, industrial and busy with truck traffic (busy for NZ that is).

When I hear 'windswept' I think Catlins. Plenty of sheep stations down that way too. Farewell Spit is definitely windswept - the only way to see the spit is to take a 4x4 tour from Collingwood - or walk, but you won't see as much that way. You'll want to allow plenty of time if you're driving to Collingwood from Marahau for a day trip - it'll take about 90 minutes to get there and there are several places to stop along the way.

When I hear 'barren' I think the inland route from Queenstown, via Lindis Pass and Omarama, sheep stations through there too.

I think the West Coast has some of the prettiest scenery on the SI, but it's not for everyone. Weather can be an issue on that side and it's certainly not barren.

I think dolphins in the Marlborough Sounds would be an ideal alternative to Kaikioura - I love the Marlborough Sounds, but I've never seen the allure of Kaikoura. The Bay of Many Coves is fantastic, my favorite place to stay.

I don't think you're spending too much time in the north of the SI, but I'm jaded, I love it up there.

caligirl56 Aug 18th, 2010 06:00 PM

Thank you both so much! So, a few more questions:

If we start our trip in Queenstown and the Fjiordlands, then, next we'd drive to the edge of the Otago Peninsula to stay at the Kaimata Retreat. Would it work to stop in the Central Otago area on the way (to see/walk near Lindis Pass, Mackenzie Basin, the Maniototo Plain, Omarama)--sounds as though they're on different highways for one thing.
Also, if we stay at the Kaimata retreat near Portobello, could we easily access these areas from there?

So, then when we're done with the Otago Peninsula we want to drive up to Christchurch. I like the suggestion of missing the industrial coastal road--but I'm not sure we want to spend the night in Mt. Cook. If we tried to do the inland route which goes by Mt. Cook, would it be too hard to get to Christchurch in one day (and of course we'd want time to stop every so often)?

Yes, we are from the S.F. Bay Area--but the chance to stay at the Bay of Many Coves just sounds too good to be true. But, now I'm not sure anymore . . . I just read that the Bay of Many Coves has been sold. I found that accidentally when I was doing a search on the web. It's hard for me to tell if it was JUST sold, or if it happened a while ago. I'm not sure what to think!

And don't get me wrong--we like other kinds of scenery than barren, windswept (we're planning to tramp the Milford Track after all). It's just that there's something special about being really really high up in the mountains, and finding a plateau with windswept grass (well, we think so, anyway!). I had come across some pictures of sheep stations that sort of looked that way, and it got me thinking in a whole new direction, I guess.

So, Melnq--to read the guidebooks, it sounds like Kaikioura is a completely amazing sight because the mountains drop straight down into the sea. Not so much?

Melnq8 Aug 18th, 2010 07:10 PM

The BOMC was sold last October - they continue to get good reviews, although I've not stayed there myself since the handover. I would though.

I've driven from Queenstown and Wanaka to Christchurch with a side trip to Mt Cook all in one day a couple of times - it's a long day, but certainly doable. I wouldn't do it from Dunedin though.

Regarding Kaikoura...I've been there numerous times, but have never seen reason to stop longer than a few hours. And this is from a slow traveller...yes, the scenery is lovely, but you see that on the entire coastal drive, not just in Kaikoura. I find the seals that gather on the rocks right beside the road (south of Kaikoura) much more interesting than anything the town offers.

Everytime I bring up staying in Kaikoura, my spouse frowns at me. I'd like to spend a few nights there eventually, but more to explore the walks. Otherwise, it just doesn't appeal to me much. BUT, many visitors seem to include it in their itineraries, more for the whale and dolphin tours than anything.

I notice that you're not staying in Kaikoura, just passing through, in which case you'll have the best of both worlds - you'll see Kaikoura and you'll see dolphins in the Marlborough Sounds.

I find the West Coast, where the glaciers meet the rainforest, much more interesting than Kaikoura, but that's just me.

mlgb Aug 18th, 2010 07:55 PM

Yes Lindis Pass/MacKenzie Basin and the Maniototo/Rt 85 are really two separate routings. I've never made it all the way between Dunedin and Queenstown in one day (maybe with two people driving it's possible). Here's an option which I've done before. Fly into Dunedin.

Then you can take the Maniototo route to Queenstown. I've overnighted in Cromwell and Clyde the two times I did it in this direction. South of Cromwell around Bannockburn etc is prime Pinot Noir country (Mt. Difficulty etc).

After you are done with Queenstown and Fiordland, then you can take the Lindis Pass/Mackenzie country road to Mt. Cook. You actually can make it in a day, but I would recommend an overnight if the weather is good. Hooker Valley is agreat little hike, you may be able to take a launch on the terminal lake of the Tasman glacier, and the night sky viewing is supposed to be some of the best in NZ (of course that assumes no clouds!) Also they run glacier overflights from the airport in Mt. Cook.

I like Kaikoura, although in February the range is not going to have that snow capped top that makes it so impressive. Generally the reason to stop in Kaikoura is not dolphins, but to take a cruise to view the sperm whales and/or the pelagic birds (albatross, mollymawks etc). In fact you'll probably do better to see albatross flying there rather than the breeding center on the Otago Peninsula).

Melnq8 Aug 19th, 2010 12:44 AM

How's this for windswept? (no mountains though):

Near Kaikoura:

Bay of Many Coves:

Marlborough Sounds:

mlgb Aug 19th, 2010 09:24 AM

I match you and raise you!!!

Mackenzie Country/Lindis Pass


caligirl56 Aug 19th, 2010 10:17 AM

melnq and mlgb--

Love the pictures. They are amazing--they make me wish our trip would come up much sooner!!

So, I think it is probably a good idea to fly into Dunedin--spend a few days relaxing on the Otago Peninsula, then on the Queenstown--etc. as you suggested. I like the idea of taking a nice drive along the Maniototo route to Queenstown.

Looks like on Air New Zealand, anyway, you have to fly Auckland to Christchurch to Dunedin. Does that sound correct?--no non-stops?

It says that it is a one hour drive from the Dunedin Airport to Kaimata Retreat (near Portobello). Any idea what that drive is like? We've driven on the left before (for 5 weeks in Australia)--and it was fine, but I'm a little worried about flying for 20 hours and then driving through lots of traffic, when we're not completely alert. I'm assuming there really won't be much traffic around the airport, and then it will just get easier and easier once we get on the peninsula. Is this true?

I'm glad the new owners have been in place at BOMC for a while. That's encouraging!

Melnq--I notice on one of your trip reports that you self-drove to "Cape Farewell"--is going out on the spit "overkill"--would we be just as happy with the self drive--or is the walk you refer to a walk out onto the actual spit?

Also, your "glaciers meet the rainforest" comment is tugging at me. While I don't think we need to go out on the actual glaciers (or even get near them, necessarily--looks like they're pretty far from anywhere we'd planned to be)--is there some beautiful glacial/snow/rainforest scenery on the western side that we just shouldn't miss?

I also found information on the Arthur's Pass Wilderness Lodge. Now I'm wondering if we should incorporate a stay there (on our way to Christchurch, I guess). Any thoughts?

Thank you so much!!

caligirl56 Aug 19th, 2010 10:24 AM

Oh, one more question. Now, after seeing pictures, the Hooker Valley hike is looking tempting. According to the sign, it's and hour and 35 minutes--is this each way? Do you see the lake with the ice floating in it along the hike?

mlgb Aug 19th, 2010 11:08 AM

Yes, the Hooker Valley time is oneway. It's quite a generous time, not a fast hiker time.

My video of the walk! The end shows the lake with floating ice bits.

Be careful my friend says all exploding pics make her nauseous

You will see the west coast/Fiordland when you go to Milford Sound and Te Anau. There are some areas along the way that give you a flavor, or you can do a longer walk out of Te Anau if you want to, across the lake.

mlgb Aug 19th, 2010 11:16 AM

There are direct flights Auckland to Dunedin. You might call ANZ and ask what they schedule is on those, they may only run certain days of the week.

Melnq8 Aug 19th, 2010 05:32 PM

Love the photos and video mlgb. Your video inspired me to buy my first Gin Wigmore CD a few months back.

Caligirl56 -

The road to Cape Farewell ends just past the Puponga Visitor's center. You can walk to Wharariki Beach on Cape Farewell (seals). The spit extends some 35 km and begins about 1.5 km from Puponga. Public access to the spit is limited to the first 4 km, as it's a protected area.

The best way to see Farewell Spit is through a tour, as only they can access the spit and the surrounding overlooks by vehicle. They take you all the way to the tip, where there's a lighthouse and a gannet colony. It's a wonderful tour and something not many visitors to NZ do because many people never make it this far north. It's truly unique, but you'll need a whole day for the tour (it leaves from Collingwood).

I personally love the scenery along the West Coast. Some photos here:

Don't stress caligirl, when it comes to the SI, you really can't go wrong.

HLucy Aug 19th, 2010 05:58 PM

Whew! What at trip. By the time you get to Marahau you'll be ready to relax and no better place than the Abel Tasman National Park. It has to be the one of the most relaxing places on this planet with lots of sun, mild weather and sheltered golden beaches. As noted by Melnq8, it's quite an expedition from Marahau to Farewell Spit but as also noted, well worth the trip if you go with the tour operator all the way along the spit. It's a beautiful drive through the alternative lifestyle capital, Golden Bay.

However, if you feel like relaxing with a bit of indulgence by the time you get to the top of the South Island, take a look at an overnight trip into Abel Tasman National Park. There are operators who will take care of you either camping out or staying at Lodges within the Park.

mlgb Aug 20th, 2010 09:18 AM

Ah great, you bought the CD! She is quite a talent. The album had just been released in NZ when I was visiting and was playing all over the place.

caligirl56 Aug 20th, 2010 09:31 AM

mlgb: Love the video! And, no, the explosions don't make me nauseous! You're right--there are direct flights from Auckland to Dunedin. Somehow they just don't come up when I start the itinerary in San Francisco. I'm sure that can be easily fixed if I call them.

melnq: Thank you for sharing the pictures. They are stunning. What a beautiful country. Definitely too much to fit into 4 weeks!

The Farewell Spit link was really helpful--I think we'll probably plan on doing it.

hlucy: Do you have any recommendations for lodges within Abel Tasman?

Or if we decide to stay outside the park (maybe around Marahau) does anyone have suggestions? Or would it be nicer to go all the way to Golden Bay and stay out there?

susncrg Aug 20th, 2010 12:14 PM

Hi Caligirl. We stayed at both the Wilderness Lodge at Arthur's Pass and at Moeraki. We also did the Milford Track and went to other places you've mentioned. For more details check my trip report (you'll find it if you click on my screen name). I'm also from the Bay Area so I was less inclined than some others to go to areas very similar to home. Happy to answer any questions you might have.

caligirl56 Aug 20th, 2010 04:51 PM

What a great trip report! Now I'm truly convinced that we should go to Arthur's Pass Wilderness Lodge! And now between you and melnq--I'm starting to wonder if we should somehow add in the Catlins. I'm just not sure what we'd give up.

Which are the areas that you consider similar to home? Is it Marlborough Sound? Staying at that Bay of Many Coves is just so tempting though . . .!

susncrg Aug 21st, 2010 02:13 PM

Thanks for the compliment!

We didn't do any of the Queen Charlotte, but we may do that on our next trip there (cuz we definitely want to go back), but we did get to see a lot of it from a distance as we took the ferry back to the NI. What we ended up cutting from the trip was Kaikoura, as even though it's supposed to be a lovely drive, we figured the Big Sur coast was somewhat similar,and whale watching was something we could do here, too. Besides, we had snorkeled with Atlantic Humpbacks in the Dominican Republic some years ago.

We enjoyed the Catlins, but it's clearly a more laid back kind of place for walks, beach, penguins and the petrified wood. So it depends on what you are looking for.

I never finished the report about the NI, but if you are going to Rotorua, and you don't mind a funky hotel, we were told by our Kiwi friends to stay at the Silver Oak Geyserland Hotel. I meant to remember the room number, but forgot. We looked directly out over the bubbling mud pots and the Pohutu Geyser, which went off constantly. We ended up having wine and cheese for dinner in the room so we could stare at the geyser for hours. Most people pay big money to see it for a few minutes, but we had it whenever we wanted it. It's on the right side of the building, 2nd or 3rd floor and about 2 rooms in from the stairway. I think it had about the best view of all. But...the hotel is very tired, so be warned.

Also, if you are into sculpture at all, the (if I remeber the name correctly) Brick Bay Winery has a lovely sculpture trail so you can combine art, wine tasting and a lovely spot for lunch all into one and still hit Sheepworld on the same day, in case you don't make it to the Agrodome!

Whatever you decide, I'm sure you'll love it.

caligirl56 Aug 22nd, 2010 09:35 AM

susncrg--Thanks so much! Yes, we are going to Rotorua, so I will definitely look into your suggestions. I think that we have pretty much decided to give Kaikoura a miss. At most, we'll drive through it on our way north from Christchurch. Brick Bay Winery looks interesting--thanks for the idea. Sculpture and wine all in one!

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