NZ destinations - 3 North 5 South?

Aug 14th, 2018, 02:37 PM
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NZ destinations - 3 North 5 South?

We will arrive in Auckland on February 6 and depart 5 weeks later from the South Island. Many of the suggested itineraries that Ive seen have several stops on both islands with 1-3 night stays. We usually like to stay in one spot for longer periods of time and use that as a base to explore surrounding areas. We plan to rent a car and would drive as far as 2 hours in one direction for a day trip excursion. Most people seem to suggest staying longer on the South Island than on the North so I imagine wed split our stay 2 weeks North and 3 weeks South.

Assuming we start off with 2 days in Auckland (to get over the flights), can anyone suggest just 3 spots on the North Island to stay for about 12 days? And then do the same for a maximum of 5 destinations on the South Island for 3 weeks? Wed really prefer to not move around so much but at the same time it all is SO interesting that I cant seem to settle! We like cities, oceans, wine, history and culture. Its our first time to NZ, we are 60-ish and active with biking and running, but not so much hiking and camping. Appreciate your helping me narrow down the options!
AtlTravelr is offline  
Aug 14th, 2018, 04:12 PM
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Rather than spend time on both ends of your trip on the North Island, I suggest you keep going - breaking up the journey 'to get over the flights' is more of a time eater than actual rest IMO. We find it's most efficient to connect to a flight to the SI (Christchurch or Queenstown for us), check into our accommodation and rest on that end. That way, the following day you're fresh and raring to go at your first destination - your travel is behind you. It only adds a couple of hours, albeit to an already long travel day.

Then you can explore the North Island on your return to Auckland.

As for five places to stay on the South Island - Queenstown makes a good base from which to explore the vicinity - you can make day trips to Glenorchy, Wanaka, Arrowtown and even Milford Sound from there (although the trip to Milford is a very long day - most of it in a car - some 13 hours there and back). And of course you'll need sufficient time to see all that Queenstown has on offer - the lakes, the wineries, the countryside - lots to do.

Christchurch also makes a decent base - you can make a day trip to Akaroa, as well as explore the CBD and perhaps even make a day trip to Arthur's Pass for some lovely mountain scenery.

And then there's the Abel Tasman region - it's very much a region - you can make day trips from Nelson or Motueka into Abel Tasman National Park, explore some fabulous beaches (Kaiteriteri), partake of some wine tasting, etc. The list is endless.

Diamantina will probably chime in soon about all there is to see further south in Dunediin, which also make a good base for wildlife centered day trips, but IMO Dunedin isn't at the top of my first time visitor list (sorry Diamantina!).

So, I guess my personal top five would be Queenstown (the region, not just the town), the Abel Tasman region (as in Nelson, Motueka, etc), the West Coast (glaciers), the Marlborough region (Blenheim, Picton, Marlborough Sounds) and the Catlins.

However, fitting all of these regions into just three weeks is a major challenge.
Melnq8 is offline  
Aug 15th, 2018, 01:33 AM
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Thanks Melnq8! I was hoping you'd reply as I've seen many of your posts helping others. I don't have the flight yet that departs from NZ - our return flight to the US is from Melbourne so as of now I was planning to fly from perhaps Christchurch or Queenstown to Sydney and then finish in Melbourne. But I see how it might also make sense to fly, as you suggest, from Auckland to the South Island at the beginning and end up in Auckland at the end for the flight out to Australia. We are also meeting two of our children at different points - they will each be coming with their spouses for shorter trips and will be moving around more quickly so we hope to figure out a few places where we can meet up.

Thank you for your list and for including the Catlins - it was not a region that I had put in my research so will look at that. We may have to let go of our usual way of travel and move around more frequently but at least I can get focused on what there is to see/do in each region and start making some priorities. You're right, there is too much to fit into what we thought was a fairly long trip!
AtlTravelr is offline  
Aug 15th, 2018, 03:45 AM
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Hello, you've tagged your post "NZ destinations - 3 North 5 South?" but the body of your post indicates your vacation will be 2 weeks on the North Island, 3 on the South Island.

Are your flights set in stone? I feel obliged to mention—and you might be aware of this—that you'll be arriving during one of the busiest times of the year. Chinese New Year will fall on Tuesday, February 5, 2019, Spring Festival Golden Week, Feb. 6 through 10, and Lantern Festival, Tuesday, February 19, 2019. Chinese workers don't get many days off, so they have to take advantage of what little vacation/public holidays they get, and often travel with families and friends. NZ doesn't rank that high on the list of preferred Chinese traveler destinations, but we still get a boost in tourist numbers in February. There's also a NZ major public holiday on Feb. 6, Waitangi Day, marking the historic signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Expect higher accommodation costs during this period.

February is the second busiest month of the year. My guess would be because this is when we tend to get the warmest, driest weather, from north to south. NZ school holidays also end between Monday, January 28 (at the earliest) and Thursday, February 7 (at the latest). This February, there were 123,008 visitor arrivals from Australia, 68,928 from China, 51,248 from the U.S., 39,456 from the UK and many others from many other countries, making a total of 423,456 visitor arrivals in February 2018 (according to Statistics NZ). Compare this with April 2018, also a popular month (autumn leaves, school holidays, more settled weather), during which NZ received 283,910 visitor arrivals. To put these numbers into context, NZ only has a population of 4.693 million (as of 2016).

It's also peak cruise season, so port cities will be especially busy during their cruise ships days. Cruise ship passengers don't just stay in these port cities, but often take excursions from them. For example, those on cruise ships docking at Akaroa (near Christchurch) might take a one-day trips on the TranzAlpine Railway. Please note: a new cruise berth at Lyttelton Port is expected to be rebuilt in time for the 2019-2020 summer season. Here in Dunedin, where I live, two cruise ships will dock on Feb. 6, the Noordam with a passenger capacity of 1,916 passenger and Celebrity Solstice with a passenger capacity of 2,852 passengers. Downtown Dunedin will be super busy on this day, but where I live, 10 minutes from the city center, I won't even notice. By 5 p.m. or so, the cruise ships will have sailed to their next destination.

Anyhow, don't be surprised by how busy Auckland will be on your arrival as the most visitors arrive at the airport in Auckland, followed by those in Christchurch and Queenstown. This February, 303,776 visitor arrivals touched down in Auckland as compared to 65,072 in Christchurch and 21,248 in Queenstown. On the upside, I don't see any cruise ships docking in Auckland on Feb 6 or 7.

Consider connecting to an onward domestic flights after your arrival in Auckland. Maybe connect to Christchurch, which offers a wide range of car rental choices and start your trip in the South Island. Or you could connect to someplace like Nelson, which will be even less busy, though you would have fewer car rental choices.

I'm not sure your idea of staying in base cities for and making 2 hour long maximum one-way drives from it would allow you to see NZ's best bits. This could work with Nelson, Queenstown, Rotorua or Auckland, as you could make side trips from these towns and cities. With Auckland as your base, you can see the city, visit its West Coast, take ferries to various islands in Hauraki Gulf (among these Waiheke, Rangitoto, Tiritiri Matangi), But the Bay of Islands is 3 hours from Auckland, Coromandel, 2.5 hours from Auckland. As you're interested in "cities, oceans, wine, history and culture", I think you might enjoy staying a few nights in Paihia, so you could visit historic Waitangi (again, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed), Russell (Old Russell was NZ's first capital), and its other attractions.

What if you want to see Aoraki Mt. Cook? It's more than a 4 hour drive from Christchurch without stops, more than a 3 hour drive from Queenstown without stops. Or Fox, Lake Matheson or Franz Josef Glacier, or Hokitika? Franz Josef Glacier is more than 5 hours from Christchurch without stops (you'll have to cross the Southern Alps), and nearly a 5 hour drive to Queenstown without stops. Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks) is 4 hours from Christchurch without stops, more than 3.5 hours from Nelson without stops. Or Milford Road and Sound? From Queenstown, it's about a 4 hour drive without stops. Mind, these are minimum drive times because you will want to stop, also remember the roads are often winding.

I think it would be better to move around more, maybe spending 4 nights in some locations, but three, or as little as two, in others, as you tour both islands.
Diamantina is offline  
Aug 15th, 2018, 04:26 AM
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Thank you Diamantina! To clarify - what I was hoping for was 3 destinations/hotel stays during two weeks on the North Island and 5 destinations/hotel stays during three weeks on the South island. We have a total of 5-ish weeks to visit New Zealand with the inbound flight set for Auckland (arriving Feb. 6). The outbound to Australia is not set yet, but will need to be sometime around March 13 so that we can fly to the US from Melbourne a week later. Thank you for ALL the details on holidays and such in February. We understand that NZ is no longer a "hidden" destination by any means. I'm liking the idea of heading to the South Island first - perhaps it will help some with the crowds. And I guess there really is a reason that I haven't seen any itineraries that have fewer stops with longer stays - we usually have the thought in mind that we can always come back to a place so aren't concerned with "seeing it all", but the distance that we will travel for this trip makes it seems more in line with a "once in a lifetime" experience. I'm working with google maps and a list of places that we want to see (yes, I think Paihia/Waitangi is very much up our alley) to get a better feel for distances. I really appreciate all the insight as I start to plan this itinerary!
AtlTravelr is offline  
Aug 15th, 2018, 11:26 PM
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There's a lot to see around Auckland and put Waiheke Island high on your list.
Coromandel has lovely beaches, Thames is a cute old heritage town and there are great walks in the Karangahake Gorge. A bit further on is Waihi Beach which is one of my favourites.
I really can't beat Diamantina's fabulous post except to agree with all her suggestions! In the Nelson are consider staying in Motueka. It's handy enough to visit Nelson for a morning or afternoon, close to the wineries in the Brightwater/Moutere areas, close enough to Kaiteriteri and Abel Tasman National Park for a day trip. If you don't mind the winding road over the Takaka Hill then Golden Bay is worth exploring for a day. It would be about 1 hour to 1.5 hours depending on exactly where you went.
tasmangirl is offline  
Aug 16th, 2018, 04:51 AM
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AltTravelr, as you run and bike, you might be interested in the schedule for "park runs", weekly runs held in town and city parks around NZ that you can join in on (for free, I think, you just have to register first). I believe these are generally 5k runs.
events | parkrun New Zealand
NZ Running Calendar lists running events around NZ. Some of these, such as the Motutapu Marathon (March 9) and Challenge Wanaka Triathlon (February 16), are major competitive events. But others are more casual. If you'll be in Wellington (the vibrant capital), there's a weekly 5K waterfront fun run. The Auckland Domain 10K series might appeal to you if you'll be staying in Auckland for a few days. The 75-hectare Domain, Auckland's oldest park, has beautiful gardens and is located in the city center. It's also home to the Auckland War Memorial Museum, which has outstanding Maori and Pacific Islander/Oceania collections, and many other interesting collections.
Here's a link for cycle trails (scroll down):
The best known off-road cycling trails on the South Island are probably the Central Otago Rail Trail,
Alps2Ocean, and Queen Charlotte Track (also a walking track).

Great advice from Tasmangirl, who lives in Auckland!
Diamantina is offline  
Aug 16th, 2018, 12:40 PM
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Tasmangirl - thank you for your post about both Nelson and Auckland! Nelson will definitely be a stop for us and I am looking at Waiheke as a possible winery stop - thus the problem of too much to see and always not enough time...

Diamantina - thank you again for all your information and the great links for running & riding. We have made a few trips with races/rides as a reason to be somewhere so will put the various events into the calendar and see if we can be there when something is happening. Really appreciate all the great ideas. Of course one way I thought of getting more time was to NOT stay too long in Auckland - now its back on the list of priorities!
AtlTravelr is offline  
Aug 18th, 2018, 01:42 PM
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I have done a quick first pass at JUST the North Island Itinerary and have some specific questions and would welcome any other input. Here goes:

2/6 - 2/10- Auckland (4 nights)
We are pretty wimpy when it comes to long flights so would need at least a full day to do nothing. The remaining days would be to see Auckland and go to Waiheke.

2/10-2/12- Paihia (2 nights, 3 hrs drive) - We would pick up a rental car and would like to visit Paihia and Waitangi. Is this enough time here? And is Paihia the place to look for accommodations?

2/12-2/15-Whitianga (3 nights, 5.5 hrs drive) - our intent is to see things on the Coromandel including Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove. Again wondering if Whitianga is the place to stay.

2/15-2/19-Rotorua (4 nights, 3 hrs drive) - everything here sounds fascinating! Is it too far to go to Lake Taupo for a day trip to see the Maori carvings?

2/19-2/23-Napier (4 nights, 3 hrs drive) – main purpose here is to cycle Hawk’s Bay and visit wineries. We will also probably visit wineries on Waiheke and in Marlborough region. If I need to cut some time somewhere, does anyone have opinions on their favorite wine regions? I know each one will be a little different and I have already read/heard great things about all 3, so just trying to decide if this stay is a good idea. Napier itself sounds very cool, but then this is my problem…

2/23-2/27-Wellington (4 nights, 4.5hrs drive)-no specific questions on Wellington right now.

This is a total of 3 weeks so I may have to cut it down as I get into the logistics of visiting the South Island and how much time to allow for our short Australia visit. Appreciate any comments/suggestions!
AtlTravelr is offline  
Aug 18th, 2018, 05:09 PM
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If I need to cut some time somewhere, does anyone have opinions on their favorite wine regions?

What kind of wine do you like?
Melnq8 is offline  
Aug 18th, 2018, 05:31 PM
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What kind of wine do we like? Wow - tough question! We usually drink red wine- of ALL sorts, but really we enjoy learning about wine in whatever area we are visiting! It also seems to be true that the wine we get in the states is not necessarily representative of all the wine that is grown in a region. We have LOVED the wine we drank in Croatia and can't get it anywhere at home. We had fabulous wine in Portugal this past spring and it was nothing like the cheaper wine that seems to find its way into our area. So really, we are open to almost anything. I probably think of New Zealand as having only good sauvignon blanc, but I'd love to discover what else is there.
AtlTravelr is offline  
Aug 18th, 2018, 07:17 PM
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Sav Blanc is the tip of the NZ iceberg - you'll find fabulous Pinot Noir in Martinborough (65 km northeast of Wellington) as well as in Central Otago on the South Island. You'll also find some wonderful dry Riesling in Central Otago along with the usual suspects - Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, etc

You'll find chewy reds in the Hawke's Bay region (Merlot, Cabs, etc), but I have no personal experience with them - never made it that far north

Regardless, you're spoiled for choice, so pick a region based on your favorites and go from there.

Wairarapa Wine Region | Martinborough Wineries | Wines of NZ

Central Otago Wine Region | Wineries | Wines of NZ
Melnq8 is offline  
Aug 19th, 2018, 06:46 AM
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AltTraveler, I know you'll be tired on arrival in Auckland, but please keep in mind Auckland will be the major point of entry for Chinese New Year tourists, which will probably make the city busier than usual from Feb. 4 though 10. If you'll be arriving on an early morning flight from the U.S., you might have to wait to check into your accommodation, which might not be ready until 2 p.m. or later. Instead of waiting, you could be continuing onward. My guess is most Chinese New Year tourists will spend a day or two in Auckland then travel to Rotorua, Waitomo, Matamata (Hobbiton), and Taupo. Some may take tours to the Bay of Islands, but probably not staying long in the area. So your idea of heading north to the Bay of Islands for a few days at the start of your trip could be a good one.

Also, it might be more practical to finish up your trip in or around Auckland, when you'll be flying to Australia. There are more flights out of Auckland and it'll be easier to get to the airport if you're already in or near Auckland. I find it convenient to stay in a self-contained apartment within a few minutes walk from Queens Wharf, to be near ferries, buses, the airport bus, restaurants, supermarkets, the Auckland Art Gallery, etc. I can just walk or take public transportation. Greater Auckland holds about a third of NZ's entire population. While many parts of Greater Auckland are relaxed and lovely, its city center is bustling, crowded and often traffic-choked. If relaxation is what you seek, you might want to spend a couple of nights in Waiheke instead.

As Tasmangirl mentioned, you'd enjoy Waiheke for its wineries, dining options, pretty beaches and sea views. In addition to the usual accommodation booking sites, you might want to check
You can catch a passenger-only ferry from Auckland's downtown waterfront (40 minutes each way, $38 return fare) or from the wharf in the Auckland suburb of Devonport.
A car ferry sails from Auckland's Wynward Wharf or Half Moon Bay, but it isn't cheap. If spending a night to two on the island, it'd be easier to just catch the passenger ferry to Waiheke and rent a car there, or do without a car, as it has decent bus service. Because of the cost of the ferry, Waiheke would not make a good base for visiting Auckland city center attractions.

If you reconsider and decide to continue to the South Island upon arrival in Auckland, avoid flying into Queenstown, as Queenstown and Wanaka are popular with Chinese New Year holidaymakers. These popular places will be a lot less crowded and busy after the Lantern Festival on February 19. Christchurch is the second busiest airport, but my guess is most Chinese New Years travelers would just stay a night before continuing south to Lake Tekapo, Aoraki Mt. Cook, Queenstown/Wanaka, Milford Sound, or continue west to the West Coast glaciers then southward. Some go north to Kaikoura for whale and dolphin watching cruises.

I would recommend at least 3 nights in the Bay of Islands because, as you mentioned, it will take you three hours to drive there from Auckland. From Paihia to Whitianga will be 5.5 hours. (Maybe Tasmangirl can suggest someplace nice along the way to break up this long drive.) So you might as well stay up in the Bay of Islands for a while. On our first trip to Bay of Islands we drove, on our second trip we flew into Kerikeri and rented a car for a few days before flying back to Auckland.

The walk from Paihia to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds takes 25 minutes or you can drive. Russell is a short ferry ride from Paihia.
I would suggest driving to Hokianga Harbour and Waipoua Forest (a popular tourist attraction, but home to NZ's majestic and rare kauri trees).
We also enjoyed the drive north to the fishing village of Mangonui and Doubtless Bay.
Popular tours from Paihia included Dolphin and Hole in the Rock Cruises, and coach tours to Cape Reinga and 90-Mile Beach.
Believe or not, the Hunterwasser toilet in Kawakawa is a tourist attraction.
While in Paihia, you might want to have a look at Haruru Falls. It's not large but only 10 minutes drive from Paihia, right off the main road.
And Kerikeri has Rainbow Falls.
This is where we stayed in Paihia:
But there are also many nice motels along its waterfront.
A couple of my friends stayed at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel last February and loved it:
Russell is charming.
There are a couple of places where you stand a chance of seeing kiwis (the birds) during a nocturnal tour: Aroha Island Eco Centre near Kerikeri, and in Russell on the Russell Nature Walk.

You'll find great wine regions everywhere, from the north (near Auckland) to the deep south (Central Otago). There are even wineries in the Bay of Islands. I find the most scenic wine regions to be Waiheke Island, Hawkes Bay (Napier is known for its Art Deco architecture and good food), and the Central Otago wine region (near Queenstown and the Central Otago Rail Trail). You'll find cycling tours from Queenstown to the Gibbston Valley (part of the Central Otago wine region), from Napier to wine-trail-cycle-map.pdf, and from Blenheim. Marlborough, the country's largest wine region (and consisting of many sub-regions), is fairly spread out. It's known for sauvignon blanc, but you'll find many outstanding pinot noirs, rieslings, chardonnays, and sparkling wines. Have a look at:
The Marlborough Food and Wine Festival will be on February 9.

Apart from its wineries, Hawkes Bay is known for its Art Deco architecture and Cape Kidnappers gannet reserve (there's another gannet colony at Muriwai on Auckland's West Coast). You might enjoy the views from Te Mata Peak. We haven't visited Hawkes Bay in years, but we enjoyed Craggy Range, Mission Estate (NZ's oldest winery), Te Mata, Vidal, Trinity Hill, and Esk Valley. If I were to go back, I'd also visit Elephant Hill and Alpha Domus. We also visited Napier's museum and art gallery, the National Aquarium, and Arataki Honey. The Napier Art Deco Festival is on from Feb 13-17.

Larger wineries such as Craggy Range and Elephant Hill will feature wines not just made in Hawkes Bay. Craggy Range's Te Muna Road Pinot Noir, for instance, comes from Martinborough, Elephant Hill's Pinot Noir comes from Central Otago. Speaking of large wineries featuring wines from around various NZ regions, try to make it to the Villa Maria cellar door. One is near the Auckland Airport, the other in Marlborough.
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Last edited by Diamantina; Aug 19th, 2018 at 07:41 AM.
Diamantina is offline  
Aug 19th, 2018, 05:35 PM
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I'd cut a night from Wellington, or two (depending on your planned activities). The city's wonderful, but compact and walkable so you could see a lot in a short time.

Te Papa Museum, on the waterfront and near Oriental Parade, is just blocks from the City Art Gallery. The Wellington Cable Car that goes up to the Botanic Garden is a 15 minute walk from Te Papa. You could catch the Cable Car back down again to Lambton Quay or walk down through the beautiful Botanic Garden.
I like visiting Zealandia, an ecosanctuary in the heart of the city, home to rare native birds and tuatara. You can drive there or take their free shuttle from the top of the Botanic Garden or from the I-Site Tourist Information office. You might want to drive to Mt. Victoria Lookout, but I don't see this as a must.
Lord of the Ring/Hobbit fans visit the Weta cave Workshop.
Wellington is known for its cafe culture and lively dining scene, from fine dining to inexpensive ethnic restaurants. Around dinner time, you might want to walk along Cuba Street, check out the many restaurants around Courtney Place, or visit one of the Night Markets.
The link to a tourist map will give you an idea of how compact it is:
You can search for Wellington running events on that earlier link I posted:
For a glimpse of a quieter side of the city, my husband and I enjoy driving along the coastline of the city's eastern suburbs or in the opposite direction of Eastbourne and Days Bay, not a must by any means.
A visit to Matiu/Somes Island is on my wish list for my next visit to the city.
I'm not suggesting you do all these things, just mentioning activities I've enjoyed while in the city, as you might enjoy some of these, too.

Whiie we enjoyed it immensely, we felt three nights was enough for Hawkes Bay, but we weren't biking around. Getting around from place to place would take a lot longer on a bike.

You can stop at a couple of wineries or break for lunch in Martinborough on your drive from Napier to Wellington. I'd recommend the designated driver "sip and spit". Or spend a night here (but you won't have time to spare). Because this wine region is relatively small and flat, it'd be easy to cycle here. Part of the road, which you'll drive on from Martinborough to Wellington is steep and winding (Rimutaka Hill). In late February you'll enjoy the advantage or long days, with the sun rising before 7 a.m. and setting after 8 p.m.

I'm not a huge fan of Rotorua because it's very touristy and smells of sulphur (though I suppose one gets used to both), so I'd cut a day here, but lots of people love it for its geothermal attractions, redwood forest, Maori culture, and more. So I shouldn't sell it short, as sometimes the key to loving a place is taking the time to learn about it and explore. It's home to some of NZ's top Maori artists and we especially enjoyed our visit of Te Puia's Maori Arts and Crafts Institute. The Rotorua Museum was interesting, but it's currently closed for earthquake assessment, so you'll have to check on its progress.

Last edited by Diamantina; Aug 19th, 2018 at 05:51 PM.
Diamantina is offline  
Aug 20th, 2018, 02:37 AM
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Again, thank you so much Diamantina for the very detailed response. This is exactly what I'm looking for. I am not ignoring the suggestion of moving onward immediately upon landing in Auckland. We do arrive very early in the morning but have solved this problem before by actually booking our accommodation/AirBnb for the prior night (thank you for the mention of the Queen's Wharf area). Moving quickly to Waiheke might be an easy way to start the trip.

I am interested in your comment about Rotorua and wondered if this would be "too touristy" for us. The area does looks fascinating and sometimes things that a local considers touristy is exactly what tourists (like us) want to see. If its a matter of being crowded, that is one thing but if its a "Disney-fied" atmosphere, especially around the Maori cultural experience, that is something we might not like. I'll do more research into what might appeal to us and whether there are other areas for us to consider.

I'm fine tuning the North Island part and starting to line up South Island. So far the places/things that interest us most are Nelson, Marlborough region, Milford Sound overnight cruise, Christchurch, and Dunedin. I have mixed feelings about Queenstown. Everyone I know who has been to NZ absolutely rave about it but I wonder if things have changed since they were there 4-10 years ago. I'm reading again about the hordes of tourists (and yes, I realize that we add to that horde!) and all the "adventure" activities and wonder if its become too much. I'd love observations on either side.

And my husband will be happy to know that there are some Pinot Noirs to explore. That is really his favorite grape. Looks like we'll have a hard time choosing which wine areas to eliminate. Either that or make the entire trip about wine!
AtlTravelr is offline  
Aug 20th, 2018, 07:23 AM
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Regarding the hordes in Queenstown - February will be swamped, but you might consider staying in/around Arrowtown, a 25 minute drive from QT - perhaps making a day trip into QT instead of vice versa - Arrowtown gets busy with day trippers, but is generally quiet at night.

You need not stay IN Queenstown to enjoy what the area has to offer.

Or stay somewhere 'along the fringe' - the countryside between Arrowtown and Cromwell, along the Kawarau River - this is where most of the wineries are located anyway.

Glenorchy used to be our favorite place, but sadly, it's been discovered too - it's still quiet at night, but gets a lot more day traffic than it used to.

Lots of options if one is willing to dig a little deeper.
Melnq8 is offline  
Aug 20th, 2018, 11:36 PM
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Paihia is a good place to stay. There is more there than at Waitangi and they are very close together anyway. The Treaty Grounds and museum are the main attraction at Waitangi.
Paihia to Whitianga is quite a trek and you are doing it on a week day so the traffic will be bad on the Auckland motorway. It's a very spread out city and virtually no other route to take as the motorway goes right through the city. But with some planning it will be fine.
Orewa would be a good stop for the night and there's a lovely beach there as well. Head off to Whitianga after 9 am when the rush has gone. Whitianga is a good choice and ideal for a day trip in one direction to CC and HWB (they are quite close together) and another trip north to Matarangi and New Chum's Beach. Or just catch the passenger ferry over to Cook's Beach.
Taupo is about 1 hour from Rotorua so that is an easy drive. If you like thermal areas you could visit Orakei Korako on the way.
tasmangirl is offline  
Aug 22nd, 2018, 12:52 AM
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Thank you again all for the continued suggestions. Though many of these places can be found in guidebooks (or on this forum), it is so helpful to see the answers in relation to our individual trip. I really appreciate all the help and am finally starting to get a feel for what is where and the distances between things. Itinerary version 2 is in the works!
AtlTravelr is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2018, 02:50 AM
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AltTravelr, that's great planning that you can immediately check into your Auckland accommodation. Remember, it'll be Waitangi Day, a public holiday.

Regarding your concerns about touristy Rotorua and/or Queenstown. You'll probably have an interesting time in Rotorua, and find it worthwhile. It's a unique, historic place. You can check out online reviews of attractions. It'll help knowing in advance that there will be many other tourists, so you won't be surpised by this, but can just enjoy it for what is. The same holds true for Queenstown, Wanaka, or many other popular places in NZ. It's all relative. When compared to popular destinations in other countries, NZ's not bad. Many visitors are on road trips, savoring scenic journeys from one tourist hub to the other, thus widely dispersed throughout NZ's urban and rural areas.

While I now live in Dunedin, I'm from northern California. My husband and I first traveled to NZ in 1996, like you, as independent travelers, but, unlike you, not in peak season. We spent two to three days in Auckland, Rotorua, and Wellington, and made two day-trips, to Coromandel and Marlborough (unplanned). From Rotorua to Wellington, we drove through Taupo then along the Kapiti Coast.

Our 1996 experience was different from yours in that we didn't know anyone who'd been to NZ and based our trip on info from guidebooks, newspaper and magazine travel articles. These emphasized positive things: scenery, food, wine, pleasant accommodations, etc., not unpredictable and changeable weather, crowds, or smelly air. Some, if not most, of the information was out-of-date or incomplete/wrong. I can't recall accessing travel websites sites such as this (Fodor's website was launched in 1996).

So we weren't prepared for the many tour buses along Rotorua's main street, crowds around Te Puia's geysers and mud pools, or sulphur stench, nor did we attempt or have time to get off-the-beaten-path. Yet we still found it interesting.

My husband, who enjoys all kinds of cuisines, wanted to attend a hāngī (not at Te Puia), which included a Māori performance. This was most disappointing. The performers lacked enthusiasm and energy, and seemed jaded, like they couldn't wait to leave. When done performing, they rushed to the hāngī, ahead of paying guests. To make matters worse, a day or two earlier, we'd seen a highly spirited and energetic Māori performance in the Auckland War Memorial Museum, and didn't have to pay extra for this (there's now a charge, though we wouldn't have minded paying for this performance). Waitangi Treaty Grounds also offers a hāngī with performance.

In our present era of social media and travel review websites, subpar performances would not be tolerated or the businesses offering them would fold, so I doubt you'd see a performance as disappointing.

At any rate, Rotorua would be a good place for breaking up your drive from Coromandel to Napier.

More info about tourism in Rotorua:
Half the cruise ship passengers landing in Tauranga make day trips to Rotorua, so you might want to check the cruise ship schedule (popular attractions would be heavily booked on these days):

On our first visit to Queenstown about 20 years ago, in shoulder season, we were surprised by traffic and crowds. We've returned many times since, knowing what to expect, yet enjoyed ourselves. I'd say Queenstown is well-worth seeing for yourselves. If you get good accommodation--sound-proof, with a view of the lake and included parking, but close enough to the center so you easily can walk to shops, restaurants and attractions like the Botanic Garden or Gondola--you might not be bothered by how busy it is. It's a good base for seeing the surrounding area. You can take a tour of Skippers Canyon, take a cruise onto the lake, cycle to Gibbston Valley. You've mentioned not being not hikers, but maybe you can find a run on Map My Run or the Trail Run Project. But if you would be interested in doing some hiking, check out this DOC website (scroll down and choose the region of interest from the drop-down menu).

You wrote your adult children and spouses would be joining you for a few days along the way. I don't know their interests or how much time they'll have, but they might enjoy the variety of activities and landscapes in and around Queenstown or nearby Wanaka. Queenstown to Te Anau is only a 2 hour drive. Te Anau is the gateway to Milford Road and Sound. Milford Road is one of NZ's most scenic roads, with many places to stop and walk. This Queenstown/Wanaka and environs- Te Anau-Mliford Road and Sound mini-itinerary would give you wineries, lakes, mountains, fiords, native forests, glow worm caves. Te Anau is also not far from the quieter Catlins (coastal scenery, wildlife, and more). Aoraki Mt. Cook is a little more than a 3-hour drive from Queenstown (without stops), Wanaka to Aoraki Mt. Cook about 2.5 hours.

If they'd enjoy coastal scenery more, they might prefer to join you for Nelson-Abel Tasman NP-Golden Bay-Blenheim-Picton.

You wrote: "And my husband will be happy to know that there are some Pinot Noirs to explore. That is really his favorite grape. Looks like we'll have a hard time choosing which wine areas to eliminate. Either that or make the entire trip about wine!"

You won't have to go out of your way to taste pinot noir as you'll find great examples in Martinborough on the North Island and in all the South Island wine regions. For the oenophile, a South Island road trip is a wine trip (this recent article just scratches the surface, but will give you ideas):

Last edited by Diamantina; Aug 23rd, 2018 at 03:20 AM.
Diamantina is offline  
Aug 24th, 2018, 10:28 PM
Join Date: May 2015
Posts: 631
I don't think Rotorua is Disney-fied at all. Do you mean it's like a giant theme park?
We really enjoyed visiting Disney World in 2016. There was a lot of 'Disney' of course but it was all so well done I was impressed. Epcot is a wonderful park and Magic Kingdom was delightful.
We visited Queenstown in June and it has enough natural beauty to outweigh the commercialism that has crept it. We were last there in 2015 and it has grown quite a lot. We stayed at the Novotel mid week and got the room for half price ($213).
I drink mainly sav blanc and the best one I have ever had is from Waiheke's Te Motu winery. Passage Rock had some great reds.
tasmangirl is offline  

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