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NZ - Before I get in too deep, itinerary help appreciated!

NZ - Before I get in too deep, itinerary help appreciated!

Mar 25th, 2018, 08:28 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 439
NZ - Before I get in too deep, itinerary help appreciated!

I have been poring over all the fantastic trip reports on this site and all the wonderful advice provided by so many of you. I'm trying to work out a 2-1/2 week itinerary to the south island for next March. My husband and I are in our 60s and are going to cross off two bucket list items on this trip - one, being a trip to NZ and the other, traveling in a campervan, which we have never done before. I know there are going to be many who will try and talk us out of it, but we'd like to give it a try. Ideally though, I would rather not spend the entire 2-1/2 weeks in the campervan in case we hate it.

Is it possible to pick up a camper in one location and drop it off in another so that we could just do half the trip this way? Is there an advantage timewise to flying into one airport in the south island and out of another, back to Auckland?

Our focus is on nature and wildlife. (Isn't everybody's?) So hard to pick and choose what to see and which route to take. So hard to work out that balance of seeing everything but not rushing through it all. Top priorities are scenic drives, easy hikes, seeing penguins, seals, birds, dolphins, glow worms. Not interested in wineries or high adventure.

Once I get this general information worked out, I can narrow down our itinerary.
Thanks so much for your time. I so appreciate it.
blackmons is offline  
Mar 25th, 2018, 06:18 PM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 1,752
After arrival in Auckland, catch a connecting flight to the South Island. Give yourselves 3 hours between your international arrival and domestic flight. NZ has strict biosecurity rules. Have a look at the passenger arrival card, especially section #5.

Probably best to fly into Christchurch as you'll have lots of choices in terms of campervan rentals. It's also a practical place to start your journey as you can:
1) go north to Kaikoura and continue to the north of the South Island, before traveling along the West Coast to Wanaka, Te Anau and Milford Sound, and Queenstown
2) or go west through Arthur's Pass to the West Coast (Punakaiki, Franz and Fox rainforest and glaciers) then work your way southeast through Haast Pass to Wanaka and eventually Queenstown, Te Anau and Milford Sound.
3) or go south, going inland past Lake Tekapo, detour to Aoraki Mt. Cook for a day or two, before heading east to Oamaru, Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula, Catlins, Te Anau and Milford Sound, Wanaka and Queenstown.
With 2.5 weeks, you'll have to make some tough choices. It's all beautiful.

A one-way rental is a good idea. I'm sure you can drop off your campervan at the end of your trip, providing the company you rent from has an outlet there. Queenstown should have quite a few choices. Check with the campervan company before booking.

Surprisingly, many travelers aren't interested in seeing wildlife. But, yes, everyone wants to see the beautiful scenery. So much to say! There's wildlife all around, but you might want to visit Kaikoura (dolphins, whales, fur seals, seabirds) or Akaroa (Hector's dolphins, seabirds including Little Blue Penguins), possibly Oamaru (Little Blue Penguins), Dunedin (Southern Hemisphere's only mainland albatross colony, Yellow Eyed Penguin, NZ sea lions, fur seals, many other birds). The Catlins and Stewart Island are also top choices. Many places to see glowworms, but Te Anau has a well developed glowworm tourist attraction. You'll probably see wildlife on your cruise of Milford Sound (or Doubtful Sound if you go there instead). You'll have to figure out your route and see what you have time for.

I live in Dunedin. Have a look at reviews for the Elm Wildlife Tour:
Monarch Cruise:
Royal Albatross Centre:
Orokonui Ecosanctuary:
Otago Peninsula:
Otago Peninsula, Dunedin, New Zealand

The Catlins:
Official website for the Catlins, New Zealand ? Tourism and Community Information
Catlins coastal area: Places to go in Otago

Te Anau Glowworm Caves:

Akaroa (near Christchurch):

Dolphin Swim Kaikoura, New Zealand. Watch and swim with dusky dolphins
Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway: Walking and tramping in Kaikoura area

Prepare for all kinds of weather: sun and warmth, rain, wind and cold.

Last edited by Diamantina; Mar 25th, 2018 at 06:23 PM.
Diamantina is online now  
Mar 25th, 2018, 10:38 PM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 1,752
You'll see keas, NZ's and world's only alpine parrot, in mountainous areas of the South Island, such as Arthur's Pass, Milford Road, and Aoraki Mt. Cook. Please don't feed the native birds or leave crumbs around.

You can see kiwis in captivity in several wildlife centres, including those in Hokitika (Wildlife Sanctuary & Kiwi Experience - The National Kiwi Centre), Franz Josef (The Centre ? West Coast Wildlife Centre), Queenstown (Welcome - Kiwi Birdlife Park), and Christchurch (Kiwi at Willowbank - Willowbank Wildlife Reserve & Restaurant). These centres play an important role in conservation by incubating the eggs of wild kiwis until hatching and/or caring for kiwis until they're big enough, 1.2 kg., to defend themselves from stoats. When big enough for release, they'll live as wild birds in a few forests.

If you'd like to see kiwis in the wild, your best bets would be on a kiwi tour of Okarito Forest (near Franz Josef) or on Stewart Island and Ulva Island.

Another native bird you might see is the weka. It's easy to see along the South Island's West Coast. Like the kiwi, it's flightless:

You can read more about the native wildlife on the Dept. of Conservation site:
New Zealand native animals: Conservation

The Dept. of Conservation website also had information on walking tracks and camping sites.
Walking and tramping: things to do
Camping: Things to do

Last edited by Diamantina; Mar 25th, 2018 at 10:48 PM.
Diamantina is online now  
Mar 26th, 2018, 12:39 AM
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 7,199
Have you any specific concerns that make you feel you may not take to life in a camper van?
we have taken several long trips on both the north and South Islands and loved every second (well almost).

The freedom a camper van s=affords is second to none. although is is essential to plan in advance where you want to go a camper van allows you to vary your planes at will. if you like somewhere, stay longer, not os keen? Move on. a added bonus is that you donít have to worry about packing and unpacking every time you move.

We have woken up to some of the most amazing views on the planet

Lake Paringa at dawn from the DOC Campsite

For us as keen cooks, have the ability to cook for ourselves using the amazing NZ produce is a major plus.

We always use a combination of tended to use a combination of Freedom/Wild camping, Commercial campsites and DOC Sites. we only used Commercial sites when absolutely necessary to charge batteries etc. We would also take advantage of all their facilities. the luz=xury of a long full shower cannot be understated after the short water conserving showers in the van! Use of a full communal kitchen was also a bonus (although if you see groups of young Chinese in the kitchens IME they are best avoided!

Diamantina has already provided a lot of great suggestions to meet your needs, re wildlife etc. most of which can be met on the South Island. we have tended to spend a larger proportion of time on the SI than the north, usually picking up our van in CHC and dropping off in Auckland. 2.5 week is a great amount of time to cover the highlight of the south but I do think you would be spreading yourself too thinly if you included the north.

I did start writing a few blog posts re our penultimate trip but never got around to finishing them those that I did are here https://accidentalnomads.com/category/new-zealand/

I am in the process of writing up and sorting the photos from our 50 day trip in Aug-October last year and will hopefully get around to posting these in the next month or two
crellston is offline  
Mar 26th, 2018, 07:11 AM
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Posts: 439
Thank you, thank you, thank you for this wealth of information. I think I will just go ahead and commit to the campervan for the full trip, except for the first couple of days to get our bearings. Now to get to the hard work of picking our route and seeing how much we can reasonably fit in in 2-1/2 weeks. Thanks, Diamantina, for all the resources. Wow. Crellston, I love your blog and hope to see more about the rest of your trip. I envy your lifestyle.
blackmons is offline  
Mar 27th, 2018, 01:21 AM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 1,752
Laurie, if you're not renting a campervan the first few days while you're catching up on sleep, getting over jetlag, etc., I'd still recommend connecting to the Christchurch after arrival. You can spend your first low energy day walking around Christchurch's Botanic Garden, visiting the Canterbury Museum, which is next to the Botanic Garden, walking to the Cardboard Cathedral, maybe catching the tram, having an early dinner and getting to bed earlier than usual.

If you decide to spend a second day and night in Christchurch without a car, you have the option of taking a same day trip on the TranzAlpine Railway to or through Arthur's Pass, or catching a shuttle into beautiful Akaroa/the Banks Peninsula for a wildlife cruise. Or you could see more of Christchurch.
About the TranzAlpine:
Shuttle to Akaroa:
Again, here's that link for Akaroa wildlife cruises.
Diamantina is online now  
Mar 28th, 2018, 01:37 AM
Join Date: Mar 2009
Posts: 151
Hi Blackmons,
We are in Te Anau at the moment and just finished glow worm tour here w/ Real Journeys. It was great, it may be further south than you were thinking of going but it was really well done, a little pricey maybe but worth it

Tdiddy12 is offline  
Apr 9th, 2018, 09:44 AM
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 17,460
Are you from the US blacmons? I would consider whether I wanted my first campervan experience to be driving on the "other" side on twisty two-lane roads in a country I've not been to previously. Since you've got a year to prepare, at a minimum I'd do a test-run of a camper van here in the US, on a similarly twisty two-lane road.

While there are advantages to not needing to packup every night, I'm sure, that is also a lot of adjusting to do in one trip. My old boss (who used to drive a big Lincoln) turned his campervan in after the first day.

I think you might enjoy your first trip more without needing to deal with all of that.

Lots of accommodations have cooking facilities (such as motels) if your reason for the camper is wanting to self-cater.

Last edited by mlgb; Apr 9th, 2018 at 09:51 AM.
mlgb is offline  
Apr 10th, 2018, 12:31 PM
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We saw a lot of camper vans on our trip, we are also in our 60's and saw a variety of ages using them, although, we decided that we were happy coming back to a hotel for a nice shower etc. That being said, Crellston is right that you can't capture that feeling of waking up looking at Lake Paringa when you are in a hotel. As for driving, it took me a little time to get used to being on the left, the roads are very curvy and depending on the campervan, a Jucy or a big Mercedes they do look top heavy. #1 advice, be prepared to pull over even if you have one car behind you. Most places are fairly easy to pull over. Some of course not, last few miles into Milford Sound for example. You might consider doing the campervan for a part of the trip as you said. I drove from Auckland to Milford Sound, sometimes we drove for miles and miles with no one around us, but people will want to pass you.
Tdiddy12 is offline  
Apr 10th, 2018, 07:14 PM
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Thanks for your advice regarding renting a campervan. I think we will try and rent one this summer for a quick getaway, just to see what it's like. I am hoping that we can find beautiful places to camp in NZ, surrounded by nature, and aren't crammed into crowded RV parks with no privacy. That's the whole idea. Are there any roads or areas that you suggest we avoid in a camper? It's been a very long time, but we have driven in England and Ireland. Are the curvy roads on sheer drop offs with no guardrails? I don't do well in situations like that, although my husband, who will be driving, isn't bothered by it.
Looking forward to reading your report, Tdiddy! Welome back.
blackmons is offline  
Apr 11th, 2018, 02:25 AM
Join Date: May 2004
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You may find this link re driving in NZ helpful - https://www.wilderness.co.nz/guides/...in-new-zealand

There is even an online test you can take! . Personally, we don’t find driving in NZ any better or worse than many other places we have driven around the world. However, we are from the U.K. and are used to driving on the left so it was no big deal for us. I find it takes a day or two switching from a manual to auto gearbox. Two pedals instead of three invariably means my wife being thrown forward as I forget that the brake is not a clutch!

Most camper rental companies will set out which roads are not permitted pretty clearly in their rental agreement. Wilderness have far fewer restrictions than most. As I recall the only no no was 90 mile beach. Some do not allow travel on gravel roads which is quite limiting in NZ.
crellston is offline  
Apr 11th, 2018, 11:18 AM
Join Date: Mar 2009
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In my experience there were no death defying drops and depending on which way you are going, south for instance, you may be on the "inside" of the road close to the mountain vs. the coast. My only close call was with a large bus on the Milford Sound road, got pretty tight. There are a number of places where it has gotten down to a one land road so you have to keep your eyes open. Usually very well marked. If you've driven Ireland, NZ will be easier. There are no delightful looking hedges on the roadside which are actually solid rock with a veneer of greenery!
Tdiddy12 is offline  
Apr 11th, 2018, 01:39 PM
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 17,460
One lane bridges always fun!
mlgb is offline  
Apr 11th, 2018, 08:35 PM
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Am I the Black Arrow or the Red Arrow? (Inside joke)
Tdiddy12 is offline  
Jul 5th, 2018, 10:12 AM
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Posts: 439
I've been working hard, trying to figure out the best itinerary in our limited amount of time. Certainly isn't easy. Would you please comment on what I have so far? We are not going to be visiting the glaciers, but will be driving the west coast for the scenery. No adventure sports, but after I get this part nailed down, I'll look into easy day hikes (walks). Thanks so much for your help!

6:30 AM – Arrival into Auckland
Fly to Christchurch

Saturday, Feb 23
Pick up campervan
Drive to Kaikoura (2-1/2 hours)

Sunday, Feb 24
Seal Swim

Monday, Feb 25
Lewis Pass to Hamner Springs (2 hours), Punakaiki, Greymouth (4:20), or Westport (4:20)

Tuesday, Feb 26
Hokitika (3-1/2 hours from Hamner Springs if we skip Punakaiki)

Wednesday, Feb 27
Hokitka to Okarito (1:40)
White Heron Tour
Okarito Kiwi Tours

Thursday, Feb 28
Lake Matheson
Wanaka via Haast pass (3:40)

Friday, March 1

Saturday, March 2
Te Anau (2 hours)
visit glow worms

Sunday, March 3
1:50 pm Mitre Peak cruise (read somewhere that this is advisable.)
Milford Sound cruise (2-1/2 hours from Te Anau)

Monday, March 4
Te Anau to Arrowtown (2:45)

Tuesday, March 5

Wednesday, March 6
Mt Cook (3:30)

Thursday, March 7
Lake Tekapo - Stargazing

Friday, March 8
Aokora (4 hour)
Farm tour if we get there early enough

Saturday, March 9
Penguin or kayak tour
Christchurch in the evening

Sunday, March 10
Return campervan and fly back to Auckland
blackmons is offline  
Jul 5th, 2018, 05:00 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 14,781

You've got a lot of options listed for Feb 25/26 - what do you hope to see/do?

The White Heron tours leave from Whataroa, which you'll drive through on the way to Okarito, is this what you have in mind? I assume you've checking the tour timing?

Wanaka to Te Anau is well over three hours, longer with stops.

I always suggest the first or last cruise of the day (Milford). Less bus traffic, and easy to accomplish if you're coming from Te Anau, as you'll have a two hour head start on the bus traffic if you get an early start.

You've not even allowed a full day in Mount Cook - what are your plans for your short time there?
Melnq8 is online now  
Jul 5th, 2018, 07:14 PM
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Thanks, Melnq8. I haven't really worked out the details yet. I just wanted to make sure that this was basically doable.
I'm not sure what we'll do in Hamner Springs. I only know that we drive through Lewis Pass to get from Kaikoura to the west coast.
After further research regarding the kiwi tours, although the reviews are wonderful, I'm not sure we would have the patience -- especially if it's buggy out.
As far as the herons, they may be finished nesting by the time we're there. We'll just have to wait and see.
I can see that we haven't allotted enough time to Mt. Cook. I only added Lake Tekapo for the star gazing, but maybe we should just stay in Mt Cook that night and just see Tekapo on our way back to Christchurch. If we find that we want to stay longer in Mt. Cook, we can always skip Aokora -- except I really, really want to see penguins.
Good advice about timing to avoid the tour buses when we cruise Milford Sound.
blackmons is offline  
Jul 6th, 2018, 09:37 AM
Join Date: Jan 2005
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You can check various websites but I don't think March is the ideal time to see penguins anyways. So you might want to drop the Akaroa Peninsula if that is your only reason for including it.

Given the relatively short time you have planned, I might look at a one way rental with returning the van to Queenstown. And if you have the van there you might look at staying around Glenorchy or Kinloch, rather than Arrowtown. Or both. You should be able to fly back from Queenstown to Auckland.

It always is interesting to me how many people do their itinerary from north to south. You might also look at flipping it..fly into Queenstown and travel north. My theory is that the first day is lost anyways with jetlag. I liked to fly into Queenstown and spend a few days there without a car to recover. There are lots of tour options such as Skipper's Canyon or the Dart River which include transportation. Pretty easy to shuttle into a hotel in town and then pick up your vehicle later.

Last edited by mlgb; Jul 6th, 2018 at 09:50 AM.
mlgb is offline  
Jul 6th, 2018, 04:31 PM
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Thanks, Mlgb. You're right. No penguins in Akaora at that time so we'll probably just skip that.
I was thinking of planning our itinerary one-way, but I wanted to include Mt. Cook, and by that time I'm already half-way back to Christchurch, aren't I? The reason I planned it North to South is I've read that it's better to drive counter-clockwise, especially along the west , although I do like the idea of not having to rent a campervan for a couple of days in Queenstown. I'll check out Glenorchy or Kinloch too. Thanks!
blackmons is offline  
Jul 7th, 2018, 08:40 AM
Join Date: Mar 2009
Posts: 151
We flew from Queenstown to Auckland with Jetstar and even with all of the bad reviews of Jetstar, it wasn't a bad flight. Left on time and somewhat comfortable for a short flight. Personally I didn't find Arrowtown all that exciting. I don't know if you need to spend a whole day there unless there is a good camping sight. We went North to South but started for two weeks in the North Island.
Tdiddy12 is offline  

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