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NZ Proposed Trip Itinerary (Constructive Suggestions Appreciated!)

NZ Proposed Trip Itinerary (Constructive Suggestions Appreciated!)

Feb 25th, 2015, 09:19 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jul 2004
Posts: 159
NZ Proposed Trip Itinerary (Constructive Suggestions Appreciated!)

Hello, Fellow Fodorites! My spouse and I are planning a once-in-a-lifetime visit to New Zealand in December/January. I know it’s early, but I also know that that time period is “high season” for New Zealand, so we do want to get our reservations nailed down as quickly as possible! We are active adults in our mid-50’s, and we enjoy scenic views and historic sites. We don’t mind driving, particularly if we have fabulous scenery to keep us entertained, but we do like to get out of the car and explore a bit.

I’ve been reading some of the suggested/proposed itineraries on this site; they have been helpful, indeed! We very much want to visit both the north and south islands; my spouse is especially interested in LOTR “things.”

I have roughed out a tentative itinerary and would appreciate opinions and/or constructive suggestions. I am also interested in hotel suggestions for our overnight stops!

Day 1 (Dec 25) – Flight to Auckland
Day 2 – Up in the Air
Day 3 – Arrive Auckland (hotel in Auckland)
Day 4 – Explore Bay of Islands (same Auckland hotel)
Day 5 – Explore Coromandel Peninsula (same Auckland hotel)
Day 6 – Drive to Waitomo Caves, Glow Worm Caves, Huka Falls (hotel in Wellington)
Day 7 – Explore Wellington LOTR WETA Workshop, Botanical Garden (same Wellington hotel)
Day 8 – Ferry to South Island (Nelson Hotel; thanks, tipsters!)
Day 9 – Explore Able Tasman National Park Charter Tour (Nelson Hotel)
Day 10 – Drive to Kaikoura, Ohau Point Look Out (hotel in Christchurch)
Day 11 – Drive to Christchurch to Dunedin / Explore Otago Peninsula (hotel in Dunedin)
Day 12 – Drive to South to Dunedin & Invercargill; northwest to Manapouri and Te Anau (hotel in Te Anau)
Day 13 – Explore Fiordland National Park, Kayaking in Milford Sound (same Te Anau hotel)
Day 14 – Explore Fiordland National Park, Doubtful Sound Cruise (overnight?? still need a hotel?)
Day 15 – Explore Fiordland National Park (same Te Anau hotel, maybe?)
Day 16 – Drive to Fox Glacier, Franz Joseph Glacier (hotel in glacier area)
Day 17 – Explore visit Glaciers / Drive to Nelson Lakes National Park (hotel in park area)
Day 18 – Explore Nelson Lakes National park (same park hotel)
Day 19 – Drive to Christchurch, Botanical Garden (hotel in Christchurch)
Day 20 – Flight home

I know we are doing a lot of driving, but we expect that we’ll see a lot of lovely scenery along the way, and we are making several stops to explore some key areas.

Thank you in advance!!
DejaDeb is offline  
Feb 25th, 2015, 09:37 AM
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Posts: 159
I just wanted to add that we could add another day or two to our trip if "needed!" Also, we are hoping that the ferry trip from North Island to South Island will provide us with some nice scenery; we will be able to turn in the car at the north terminal and pick up another at the south terminal.
DejaDeb is offline  
Feb 25th, 2015, 12:45 PM
Join Date: Jun 2005
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My "constructive suggestion" is that you cut out some of your destinations, particularly on the South Island, or you will find that you are only experiencing New Zealand from inside your car.

With only 17 days on the ground in NZ, I'd be tempted to devote all of it to just the South Island. Then you can lengthen the stays at some of the places you want to visit, making this a more feasible itinerary. In New Zealand, "less" is definitely "more".

I don't recall the ferry ride from the North Island to the South Island being particulary scenic, but that could be because I was seasick the whole time. That crossing can be particularly rough. And yes, you can arrange to drop off your rental car in the north and pick up another in the south.
longhorn55 is offline  
Feb 25th, 2015, 01:15 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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I'd try to simplify your travels. You'll find driving is slow - two-lane roads, winding roads etc. so you won't cover ground as fast as you think you will (trust me, I speak from experience!). So here's some comments.

Google estimates driving time from Auckland to Bay of Islands as over three hours, so not much sightseeing time left. Instead of doing a day trip there, I'd stay for two nights and have a good look around.

Don't stay in Christchurch twice - stay at Akaroa instead. About an hour south of Christchurch, it's a pretty place on the water with a very French accent.

Make sure you visit Te Papa museum in Wellington.

This website has a helpful driving time calculator - www.newzealand.com
marg is offline  
Feb 25th, 2015, 01:17 PM
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 11,469
If your husband wants to see LotR sites, get a copy of Ian Brodie's Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook. We found it invaluable when we visited New Zealand.

I've only been to the North Island, but IMO your day 6 drive is going to be pretty long. I might add a night in Taupo or Tongariro National Park (Mt. Ruapehu was used in LotR) before driving to Wellington.

Lee Ann
ElendilPickle is offline  
Feb 25th, 2015, 07:38 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 14,894
Hi DejaDeb - greetings from sunny Wanaka, where we're winding up a six night stay!

I'm not particularly well-versed with the NI, but my alarm bells are ringing with days 4-7. I strongly suggest you look into drive distances and times and add a several hours, then take into account jet lag, the time it takes to get oneself logistically sorted upon arrival and your personal energy level. I'm in your age range, and I find your pace exhausting. Please understand that driving in NZ can be quite challenging even for those of us who've done it many, many times.

I'm similarly concerned with your SI plans.

Expect Day 10 to be a VERY long drive day, particularly with your planned stops.

Regarding Day 11 - I assume you'll be taking the shortest route which is via the east coast - FYI this is the least scenic drive on the entire SI.

Day 16 is just not a good idea - Te Anau to the glaciers is a very long slog - at least 8-9 hours of flat out driving.

You've completely lost me with Days 17-19, this makes no sense to me and I have a pretty good feel for the SI. What is your planned route? Have you looked at drive distances? I must go outside and get the atlas from my car. Will check back in if my internet access holds out.

I have many hotel recommendations, I'd happy to share as well.
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 25th, 2015, 08:48 PM
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Okay, atlas in hand -

Where exactly in the Nelson Lakes do you plan to stay? Most of this area is wilderness, so I'm assuming somewhere near St Arnaud?

The glaciers to St Arnaud is too long a drive for one day. Likewise, Nelson to Christchurch is a haul and why on earth would you do it twice?

I suggest you rethink your entire itinerary.
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 25th, 2015, 09:06 PM
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 7,941
You are back tracking dejadeb, I don't think there is a lot of hotel choice near Lake Rotoiti or St Arnaud. We take visitors to the area quite often but do it as a day trip from Nelson. I wouldn't drive back that way when you have already been in the Nelson area earlier.

You definitely need to spend at least two nights in the Bay of Island, just so you have at least one full day to explore. It is a beautiful area. I think a day trip to the Coromandel is a lot of driving also.

Endorsing the ferry crossing providing it is a nice day. It should be in December. The scenery is very picturesque especially when you are in the Marlborough Sounds.
nelsonian is offline  
Feb 26th, 2015, 12:37 PM
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Thank you for your suggestions so far! I suspected our itinerary was a bit ambitious; you've confirmed it! I will re-work our itinerary and make some of the changes several of you have suggested!
DejaDeb is offline  
Feb 28th, 2015, 10:15 PM
Join Date: Feb 2015
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Hello Dejadeb,

We are from the US and currently in New Zealand. It's amazing and you're going to have a great time! We've been here for almost 6 weeks and have done a lot of the things on your itinerary.

Just a couple of quick notes from our experience:

Driving is definitely going to take longer than you expect. If you are like us, you probably are using Google Maps to figure out drive times and although it's very accurate in the US it's typically off by quite a bit as it doesn't take into account how windy the roads are. We've downloaded an app called CoPilot. It's an offline GPS that is very accurate and you can download your first map for free. This has saved us getting around from place to place.

For the first couple of days of your trip it looks like you plan on staying in Auckland and driving to The Bay of Islands and Cormandel and then returning to Auckland the same day. If this is you're plan you are going to be spending most of your day driving. It's about 3 hours each way from Auckland to Bay of Islands. If you're looking for something maybe a little closer to Auckland, we stayed in Matakana which is about 40min to an hour north of Auckland and has lots of great things to do. We actually wrote a post about it on our blog if you want to check it out:


As for Cormandel, we spent a couple of days there and would suggest visiting the Mussel Kitchen! It's a bit of a drive (about an hour from Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach) down a windy road but they had the best green lipped mussels we've had so far. Highly recommend the mussel pot with bacon and parmesan cream!

In regards to LOtR things to do, we did both the Weta Workshop and Hobbiton and would suggest passing on Weta and doing Hobbiton instead. Weta was more about how the props are made and they do show you some cool things but it's a 45 minute tour in an oversized garage and the majority of the things they show you are for other movies and not LOtR related. Hobbiton is literally the entire Shire and 100% LOtR. Plus you get to drink a complimentary beer at the Green Dragon.

If you have any questions please shoot us a message and we'd be happy to go into more detail of our experiences.

Safe travels!
TalkTravelToMe is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2015, 01:20 PM
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Posts: 159
I want to thank everyone again for the constructive comments; I really hate taking things off the travel list, but I know it’s something we have to do to make the most of our time without killing ourselves. After rethinking some of our priorities (scenic drives, natural wonders, LOTR sites … although not so much the latter for me ;-)), I have come up with a new, hopefully more manageable itinerary. Once again, I am open to your thoughts and comments!

Day 1 – Depart
Day 2 – In the air
Day 3 – Arrive / Explore Auckland (hotel in Auckland)
Day 4 – Drive to Bay of Islands (4 hours) / Take a boat tour around Islands; hotel in area
Day 5 – Explore the Bay of Islands; same hotel
Day 6 – Drive to Waitomo Glow Worm Caves (6-1/2 hours); hotel in Waitomo

Day 7 – Morning: Waitomo Glow Worm Cave Tour; drive 1 hour to Matamata
Afternoon: Hobbiton Movie Set; drive 1 hour to Te Puia; visit the mud geyers and/or drive around Lake Rotorua, drive 1 hour to Huka Falls; hotel in Taupo. (I realize the “visit mud geyers” etc., may be too much, but it’s enough just to do the Cave and the Movie Set tours, then drive to Taupo.)

Day 8 – Morning - Huka Falls, Tongariro National Park (maybe) – Afternoon: Scenic Drive to Wellington via Kapiti Coastline (4 hours); hotel in Wellington

Day 9 – Wellington: LOTR WETA Workshop Tour (although this is subject to change based on TravelTalkToMe's comments!), Botanical Garden (maybe); same hotel (If we don't do the LOTR WETA Workshop, we might just head for the South Island on this day ... or possible "rework" Day 7???)

Day 10 – FERRY to South Island (4 hours); Scenic Drive from Picton to Marahau via Havelock & Kaiteriteri (3 hours); Hotel in Marahau
Day 11 – Explore Able Tasman National Park with a Charter Tour (same hotel)
Day 12 – Scenic Drive to Akaroa via Kaikoura/Ohau Point Look Out (8 hours); hotel in Akaroa
Day 13 – Scenic Drive to Dunedin (5-1/2 horus); explore Otago Peninsula; hotel in Dunedin
Day 14 – Scenic Drive to Catlins Forest Park (2-1/2 hours); explore Park; hotel in area
Day 15 – Scenic Drive to Te Anau via Invercargill & Manapouri (3 hours); hotel in Te Anau
Day 16 – Explore Fiordland National Park, kayak in Milford Sound (same hotel)
Day 17 – Explore Fiordland National Park, boat cruise in Doubtful Sound (same hotel)
Day 18 – Scenic Drive to Fox Glacier & Franz Joseph Glacier 6 hours); hotel in glacier area
Day 18 – Explore Glaciers
Day 20 – Scenic Drive to Christchurch via Greymouth (5 hours); lunch in Greymouth?; hotel in Christchurch
Day 21 – Depart for home

I HAVE been "Google" maps to get approximate times, but I'm hoping that I've built enough "extra" time to reach/enjoy our destinations. When I get our itinerary nailed down, I will be looking for hotel recommendations! Thanks again, everyone!
DejaDeb is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2015, 02:17 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 14,894
I still think your SI itinerary is way too much driving - you will be spending most of your time in the car.

It's very difficult to include both the north of the SI and the south of the SI in so few days, let alone the far south and far north!

It's a six hour drive from Queenstown, add two more hours for the trip from Te Anau, plus time for stops. WAY too long IMO.
Melnq8 is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2015, 03:29 PM
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 11,469
I would still visit Weta Workshop - they have done such excellent work on a wide variety of movies, and the level of detail they put into everything is just amazing.

Lee Ann
ElendilPickle is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2015, 04:56 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 8,859

have a look at the above trip report.

1 arrive akl, fly christchurch on same day, o/n cchurch
2 twizel
3,4,/te anau
5,6 queenstown
7,8 fox glacier
9,10 greymouth with daytrip to see part of arthur pass or
11,12 marahau
13,14 ferry wellington, lotr tour wellington, te papa
15,16 ohakune or taupo, daytrip tongariro (great lotr locatiom)
17 waitomo
18,19,20 auckland/bay of islands area
21 fly home

cut akoroa, dunedin,catlins
Sue_xx_yy is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2015, 07:46 AM
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Posts: 159
Thanks again, everyone, especially *traveltalktome* for directing me to their blog (I have e-mailed you!), *Melnq8* who pulled out her atlas, and *Marg* who provided a link for a driving calculator! I guess it's time to use that calculator!
DejaDeb is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2015, 09:51 AM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 52,380
Debs - looks as if you are already thinking along the right lines, but just in case you wobble, I can back up everything the others have said about driving times.

We live in [very] rural Cornwall but even so, that had not prepared us for driving in NZ which we found pretty taxing. Not very long into our trip, we decided that we had to change our itinerary and luckily we were able to take advantage of the free cancellation terms on our bookings [thanks to booking.com] so instead of driving from Franz Joseph [2 nights] to Wanaka [I night] Te Anau [2 nights] and QT [3 nights] we cut out the Te anau leg and extended our stay in Wanaka.

We were so glad that we did - I think that we would have been exhausted if we'd stuck to our original plan.

Do listen to Mel - we thought that we had but when we got there, we realised that we should have paid more attention!
annhig is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2015, 12:54 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,097
Obviously you are prepared for long days of driving and you will be tired, but if you are prepared for that, then it's do-able. Particularly since you say this is a once-in-a-lifetime visit. We've done lots of long road trips and we would do this one.
We usually carry breakfast things with us and have a quick breakfast in our room and get going early in the day. Have breakfast in your motel restaurant or a café and there's an hour taken out of your day. Stop for lunch and get to your destination before dinner. You'll probably carry drinks and fruit in the car, and will be stopping for photos and walks along the way to break up the driving.
Good luck - hope you have a great holiday.
marg is offline  
Mar 4th, 2015, 09:01 AM
Join Date: Mar 2015
Posts: 7
We too are working on our itinerary and trying to balance time, sites, distance and my wife's definition of "long drives". To overcome some of this and help with avoiding some backtracking, we're looking hard at flying from Wellington back to Auckland or even ChCh or QT to Auck. If you can work it into your budget, it'll give you more time to maximize the time that you do have.

Just a thought.
SBloom9387 is offline  
Mar 4th, 2015, 09:24 AM
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 17,541
A good rule of thumb to estimate drive times, I use 60 kilometers per hour (not mph). Most of the drive time calculators are not accurate and also do not account for the fact that you are a tourist, likely to be pulling over frequently for photo stops, etc. You would do better to get kilometers point to point and do the math.

If you have not yet found indiancouples excellent trip report that is a good place to start for a fast-paced but doable itinerary.

BTW if you have not booked anything yet, you might look into flipping the itinerary, by flying south at the start of the trip. The first day you arrive you are a bit lost due to jet lag anyways. I find that continuing on to Queenstown (or other point on the South Island) is a good way to spend that down day. Then work your way north. Queenstown is a good start point if you want to ease into driving, also, since many of the excursions include pickup and dropoff. Plus, it does tend to have drier weather during that time frame than many other parts of NZ.
mlgb is offline  

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