NZ - South Island Newbie! Itinerary Help Pls!!

Old May 12th, 2014, 01:54 AM
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NZ - South Island Newbie! Itinerary Help Pls!!

Hi Fodorites,

I've been doing research on SI and have read some forum threads but could really use your help with some itinerary suggestions! Many thanks in advance

This is our first time on South Island!

Background:
1. We have a total of 16 days or 14 full days if you exclude the first and last day
2. Traveling at Xmas time.
3. Given the vast distances to be covered on SI, I think it's best to do the full 14 days on SI. Alternatively, am happy to spend the last 2 days in Auckland where our international flight is based out of.
4. Love scenic drives so pls shout out for your favorite scenic route!

Question:
1. Am flexible to fly into/out of Christchurch and/or QT. What's the best route to take?

2. Of the 14 days, I have a rough itinerary which is flexible depending on the answer to question 1 above. We plan to do the following:

Mount cook - 2 nights

Te Anau - 3 nights

Wanaka - 3 nights

Total - 8 nights; where do you suggest for the remaining 6 nights? Abel Tasman? Other parts of the North Coast?

I understand that driving time in NZ is slower than expected so we don't want to rush ourselves. We prefer not to have single nights in one destination as we find this too rushed but this is flexible depending on the itinerary.

Thank you so much!
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Old May 12th, 2014, 04:53 PM
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Hi Piccolina -

You're off to a good start by taking a full two weeks to see the SI and avoiding one night stays. Well done.

<Am flexible to fly into/out of Christchurch and/or QT. What's the best route to take?>

There is no 'best' route. It all comes down to what you want to see/do and how to best fit that into a logical driving route. Flying into Christchurch is a good option as it's easy to make a loop from there, incorporating both the West Coast (glaciers) and the inland route (Tekapo, Mt Cook).

Perhaps something like this:

Arrive Christchurch

Drive Christchurch-Lake Tekapo-Mt Cook

Drive Mt Cook-Wanaka

Drive Wanaka-Te Anau (base for Milford Sound)

Drive Te Anau-Queenstown

Drive Queenstown-West Coast (Franz Josef, Fox Glacier)

Drive West Coast-Arthurs Pass (perhaps making a detour to Punakaiki)

Drive Arthurs Pass-Christchurch (or perhaps to Akaroa and then back to Christchurch)

This itinerary covers many of the highlights, and makes a loop, returning you to Christchurch for departure to Auckland. By the way, there's no need to stay in Auckland before departure. Many flights from Christchurch connect to international flights in Auckland, and push come to shove, there's a fabulous Novotel right at the Auckland airport.

It's very difficult to incorporate both the north of the SI and the south of the SI into a reasonably paced two weeks, but here's an option if you'd prefer to see the north of the SI (bel Tasman, Nelson, etc)

Arrive Christchurch

Drive Christchurch-Kaikoura (seals, whale watching tours)

Drive Kaikoura-Blenheim (wine region) or Picton (Marlborough Sounds) or Nelson (arts and crafts, nice little town) or Moteuka/Marahau (gateway to Abel Tasman)

Drive from (one of the above) to Takaka/Golden Bay (north end of Abel Tasman which many visitors never see)

Drive from Takaka/Golden Bay to Murchison/Westport or Punakaiki/Greymouth

Drive from Greymouth to Arthur's Pass - Christchurch

This route incorporates the best of the north of the SI, and still makes a logical, feasible driving loop, but misses out on the gems of the south.

Lots of options. As your wish list includes Mt Cook, Te Anau and Wanaka (all good choices by the way), you'd probably do best to concentrate on the south of the island.

If the West Coast (glaciers) doesn't appeal, you could also start in Christchurch, head down to Tekapo/Mt Cook/Te Anau and then continue through the Catlins and depart from Dunedin.
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Old May 12th, 2014, 07:37 PM
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Melnq8 - Thank you so much for your insight! I will remove Auckland from my list as I've been there already.

I was looking at nz2014's post and noted that she/he is also spending 2 weeks in SI. I noted that she is driving from Mt. Cook to Te Anau first before going to Wanaka. Upon reading your note, I noted that Wanaka is closer to Mt. Cook than Te Anau is (Wanaka is in fact en route from Mt Cook to Te Anau!). So thanks for bringing that to my attention!

Here is nz2014's final itinerary from her/his thread:

Day 1 Christchurch
Day 2 Drive to Mt. Cook, stay Mt. Cook
Day 3 Mt. Cook
Day 4 Drive to Te Anau, stay Te Anau
Day 5 Te Anau
Day 6 Te Anau
Day 7 Wanaka
Day 8 Wanaka
Day 9 Wanaka
Day 10 Drive to Fox Glacier, stay Fox Glacier
Day 11 Do Fox glacier hike, stay Hokitika
Day 12 Drive to Bronte (near Abel Tasman)
Day 13 Bronte
Day 14 Bronte
Day 15 Kaikoura
Day 16 drive to Christchurch and fly out


A couple more questoins for you, if you don't mind:

1. Should I make both Te Anau and QT as a base? or would Te Anau suffice and then do a day trip to QT?

2. What are your thoughts of combining some North Coast with South coast gems? If so, what is feasible to see on the north if my main focus is the gems inthe south? Although as you said, it's hard to cram in so much in only 2 weeks time!

Thanks so much!
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Old May 12th, 2014, 08:29 PM
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Te Anau and QT are two hours apart, not suitable for a day trip as it'd be a four hour return trip, and rather pointless as you'd have to drive back to QT anyway (unless you plan to continue south from Te Anau on the Southern Scenic Route towards Invercargill and the Catlins).

There are only so many roads on the SI - you must skirt QT to get to Te Anau and you must pass through Te Anau to get to Milford.

Te Anau is a two hour drive from Milford Sound, so it makes the perfect base from which to explore Milford and the wonders of the Milford Road. Allow at least one full day for this (two nights).

The advantage of visiting Milford Sound from Te Anau is that you can get a head start on the buses from QT. Many first time visitors see Milford as a day trip from QT. I discourage this, as it's a 13 hour day, most spent on a bus (or in a car if you self-drive) and it leaves virtually no time to explore en route.

QT makes a great base for seeing the lakes district, Glenorchy and Arrowtown. There is so much to see in/around QT, that it warrants much more than a day, even if you're not keen on adventure activities. It's one of the busier places you'll find on the SI, and while I personally dislike the chaos of QT, there's no denying it's a beautiful place and has a heck of a lot going for it.

Regarding seeing both north and south - it's difficult to do at a reasonable pace with two weeks and avoiding one night stays (I find even two nights a bit rushed, but that's just me). You'll need to narrow your options, and decide specifically what you want to see and do and how quickly you want to travel. You will not see the entire SI in two weeks unless you plan to live in your car.

Having said that, Indiancouple made a whirlwind visit to both islands and posted a very helpful trip report here. You might do a search and see if his/her travel style fits with yours.

Likewise, I have several SI trip reports posted here. The most recent included a two week introductory visit I planned for my brother. You'll find it here if you're interested:

http://www.fodors.com/community/aust...-island-nz.cfm

Welcome to the confusing and often frustrating world of NZ trip planning!
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Old May 12th, 2014, 08:37 PM
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Thanks so much for your help again!

Re: Queenstown, do you suggest to stay in Queenstown or a surrounding village? If you have a favourite B&B and don't mind sharing, I would love to hear your recommendations!

I was thinking the following of the following overnight stops:

1 - Christchurch (arrival day)
2 - Mt Cook
3 - Mt cook
4 - Wanaka
5 - Wanaka
6 - Wanaka
7 - Te Anau
8 - Te anau
9 - Te Anau
10 - QT or a close-by village
11 - QT or a close by village
12 - ??
13 - ??
14 - ??
15 - ??
16 - Christchurch (for an early morning flight next morning to Auckland

What are your thoughts on the time allocation to the first part of the trip? This leaves about 4 nights free before having to spend the last night in Christchurch for an early morning flight to Auckland the next morning on day 17. IF I have to shave off some nights for the first part to leave more nights for the latter part, where would you suggest I shave off?

Thanks again!
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Old May 12th, 2014, 09:20 PM
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Regarding accommodation in QT -

I prefer the surrounding area. I can highly recommend Villa Del Lago on the outskirts of town (quiet spot by the lake, about a 25 minute flat walk to town, which solves the QT parking problem).

http://www.villadellago.co.nz/

I can also recommend this place in Arrowtown (we've stayed in the cottage 2-3 times, have not stayed in the other rooms):

http://theorchardcottage.co.nz/

I can also highly recommend a B&B in Glenorchy, but it's a 40 minute drive from QT and very much out-of-the-way, may not be ideal for a first timer.

I think you're off to a good start itinerary-wise.

Perhaps a third night in QT vicinity, which will give you two full days to explore. Then perhaps work your way back to Christchurch via the West Coast, spending 2-3 nights at Franz Josef or Fox Glacier. Then perhaps a second night in Christchurch to give you a full day to explore - plenty to do in post-earthquake Christchurch, such as Quake City, perhaps a Segway tour of the earthquake ravaged city, a visit to the Botanic Gardens and Hagley Park...lots on offer.
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Old May 12th, 2014, 09:21 PM
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Gotham City...as in Batman?
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Old May 13th, 2014, 12:36 AM
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Hi there,

Your plan so far is looking pretty good. I think you definitely need the third night in QT and two nights it either fox / franz - so that you have a day to explore the glaciers / lake Matheson.

Where are you travelling from? What kind of scenery interests you?

Note that at Xmas / New Years some places may require several nights booked. This was the case when I spent New Years in franz josef - awesome!!! Part of a three week road trip...

North Island, don't rush there. And don't spend any more time in Auckland that you have too. Auckland is a ghost town at Xmas / New Years and the beaches surrounding (coromandel / bay of plenty) are packed with all the aucklanders...Abel Tasman would be the most similar SI desination to the types of beaches you get up north, but quieter...

Have fun planning...
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Old May 13th, 2014, 12:43 AM
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Oh, mt cook what are you planning to do there? And do you actually mean mt cook or mt hutt? There is absolutely nothing at mt cook other than the hotel, Tasman glacier is there but the west coast glaciers are better IMO??? Lake tekapo is beautiful. If you enjoy walking I believe that you could have enough to do or if you just want to chill in the hotels spa. Just a thought to skip mt cook and add on west coast side if you still want time for Chch... Someone else may have another opinion on mt cook but I don't think I missed what was there (we detoured up to mt cook on our way from queenstown to Chch)...

Melnq8 do you have an opinion on this ? I may have missed something on my road trips down South...
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Old May 13th, 2014, 01:46 AM
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Osteorach - thanks for your info! Good point raised re: mount cook. I haven't done a lot of reading yet (have been spending more time doing research on this forum) but I thought Mount cook is a must see? Am looking forward to Melnq8 or other NZ experts' thoughts!

If I scrap Mount Cook out of the way, then maybe I can fly into QT and out of Christchurch?

Were the tourist attractions open over xmas and on new years day (e.g. glaciers tour, milford sound cruise)?
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Old May 13th, 2014, 01:51 AM
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Sorry Osteorach, I forgot to answer your above questions. I'm originally from British Columbia, Canada, so I've seen my fair share of beautiful mountains (Rockies!!) and the coast line. So that means I do have high expectations! Haha. Now that I'm based in Hong Kong, I'm really missing nature so that's why we're planning a trip to SI!

If I have to choose between the coast vs. mountain, I would say I would prefer seeing the ocean (e.g. we went to Brittany a few years ago and loved driving around the coast).

Which part of your trip was your favorite? And do you have any recommendations for accomodation in Franz Josef/Fox Glacier?

Thanks!!
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Old May 13th, 2014, 03:28 AM
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<There is absolutely nothing at mt cook other than the hotel, Tasman glacier is there but the west coast glaciers are better IMO???>

Mt Cook is the highest mountain in NZ. It's a 'must see' for many visitors. There are some excellent tracks at Mt Cook, and I've personally filled several days there just hiking.

If you're not into walking or if the weather is bad and Mt Cook is socked in by clouds, well, it can be a let down (as can be the West Coast in similar conditions). However, it's a shortish detour from Lake Tekapo, and if you're there anyway (as one would be when driving between Tekapo and Wanaka), it's something you shouldn't miss, even if you just drive there for a quick look see and then back out.

There are 3-4 motels/hotels at Mt Cook, and 2-3 restaurants. It's no longer all about the Hermitage. It's the type of place where you'd do best to take some food with you and perhaps self-cater a few meals; options are slim.

Yes, there's not much at Mt Cook in the way of infrastructure, but who goes to the SI for infastructure?

I too, prefer the West Coast to the inland route (Tekapo, Mt Cook), but as the OP has sufficient time to do a proper loop of the SI incorporating both, I think it's a good idea that he/she does exactly that. However, if he/she had to choose between the two, I'd suggest the West Coast.

Just my two cents.

Accommodation suggestions in Franz Josef:

Glen Fern Villas
58 on Cron

Fox Glacier:

Lake Matheson Motel
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Old May 13th, 2014, 03:30 AM
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As for accommodation in Mt Cook, I highly recommend the Akoraki Court Motel. Lovely.
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Old May 13th, 2014, 06:37 AM
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Melnq8 - thanks again! I'll be looking up your accommodation recommendations - many thanks for that

Another option is if we don't spend the 2nd and 3rd night at Mount Cook, do you think it would make more sense to fly into QT and out of Christchurch? This route would look something like this:

1 - Queenstown (arrival day)
2 - Queenstown
3 - Queenstown
4 - Te Anau
5 - Te Anau
6 - Te Anau
7 - Wanaka
8 - Wanaka
9 - Wanaka
10 - Fox Glacier
11 - Fox Glacier
12 - ?? Arthur's pass or vicinity?
13 - ??
14 - ??
15 - Christchurch
16 - Christchurch (for an early morning flight next morning to Auckland

Does the ordering of QT, Te Anau and then Wanaka make sense for this intinerary?

And how to incorporate Lake Tekapo / Mount Cook detour in this itinerary?

Thanks again!
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Old May 13th, 2014, 06:55 AM
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Oops - I meant Day 10 and 11 could be Franz Josef OR Fox Glacier. I've just read on another thread that FJ is a better town in comparison to Fox Glacier so it might be better to be based in FJ instead.
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Old May 13th, 2014, 09:43 AM
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Te Anau and QT are two hours apart, not suitable for a day trip as it'd be a four hour return trip, and rather pointless as you'd have to drive back to QT anyway (unless you plan to continue south from Te Anau on the Southern Scenic Route towards Invercargill and the Catlins).>>

we did a day trip from QT to Te Anau, but in order to see Doubtful sound, not Milford, which makes a difference, as instead of the drive from Te Anau to Milford, there is a boat trip, so the only driving is from QT to Te Anau. Better in the summer when there is daylight to drive back to QT though.

I agree about the Villa del Largo in QT - we stayed for 3 nights and liked it a lot, though it wasn't our favourite place - that was Criffel Peak BnB in Wanaka which was outstanding.

http://www.criffelpeakview.co.nz/

FJ is bigger than Fox though not necessarily better; if you want to do a 1/2 day walk on the glacier you have to go to Fox as the glacier at FJ has retreated too much.
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Old May 13th, 2014, 04:18 PM
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<Does the ordering of QT, Te Anau and then Wanaka make sense>

Yes, it makes sense.

<And how to incorporate Lake Tekapo / Mount Cook detour in this itinerary?>

As I've tried to explain, the best way to incorporate both the West Coast and the inland route (Tekapo/Mt Cook) is by making a loop. They're separated by a mountain range. If you do a one way vs. a loop, you'll need to choose between the West Coast and the inland route.

The only other way to do it would involve backtracking and given the large distances, that just doesn't make sense.

Further to annhig's comment about the glaciers - you can freedom walk to the terminal face of both glaciers, but if you want to walk ON a glacier (organized tour only), Fox is currently the only option.

Both villages have their strong points - Franz is slightly bigger which means more accommodation options and services. Yet 'more' is relative - Franz has as tiny grocery store and a petrol station. Franz is also closer to Okarito, which is the only place on the SI that offers Kiwi tours.

Fox has a DOC office and a Visitor's Center, and it's closer to Lake Matheson. There are also glow worm dells around Fox.

As also mentioned by annhig - the Doubtful Sound cruise leaves from Manapouri (about 20 minutes drive from Te Anau in the opposite direction of Milford Sound). Many visitors make this journey from QT for the cruise - it's a full day commitment, as is the day trip to Milford from QT, but involves less driving and more boat time.
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Old May 13th, 2014, 04:40 PM
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Not much in the 'vicinity' of Arthur's Pass, and services up there are quite limited. It's a worthwhile drive - Otira Viaduct is an engineering marvel and a sight to behold. If you enjoy walking, Arthur's Pass is a good place for a few days to explore the tracks, but keep in mind that accommodation is very limited, you'd need to book well in advance.

Regarding those empty days 12-14.

How about Fox-Arthur's Pass-Akaora? A long drive yes (6 hours), but Akaroa is only 90 minutes from CHC, so depending on how early that early flight is, you could spend your last two nights before your flight to Auckland there, or as mentioned earlier, just stay in Christchurch, plenty to do there.

OR perhaps spend a night or two in Hokitika - you could make the drive from Hoki up to Punakaiki to see Pancake Rocks and then back before crossing Arthur's Pass. Hokitika Gorge is worth the trip, and there are some things to do right in town, such as the National Kiwi Center, several jade shops, a glass blower, etc. There's a nice lake nearby and several walks, the beach and a glow worm dell.

OR even Greymouth - not a tourist mecca, but a nice enough little town, and you could make that drive to Pancake Rocks on your free day there, maybe take the Monteith's tour or take a hike in nearby Blackball.

OR - Cross at Arthur's Pass, veer north, take the backroads to Christchurch, visit Rakaia Gorge, maybe spend a night in one of the small towns en route, or even head to Waipara for a night or two (wine growing area, 40 minutes north of Christchurch, good base for a night before the airport, easy drive, not much traffic).

So many options, it just depends on you, your traveling style and what you want to see and do.
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Old May 13th, 2014, 05:52 PM
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Annhig, Melqn8 - thanks for getting back to me.

I think I just need to accept that it's not possible to see everything on SI in a 2 week window. Luckily this means I need to come back to SI in the future!

My travel agent was able to find a good connection both in and out of ChCh so I think we will stick with the circular route (also recommended by Mel).

So the itinerary (as it stands today!) is as follow:

1 - Christchurch or somewhere en route to Mt Cook(arrival day)
2 - Mt Cook
3 - Mt cook
4 - Wanaka
5 - Wanaka
6 - Wanaka (shave a day off??)
7 - Te Anau
8 - Te anau
9 - Te Anau
10 - QT or a close-by village
11 - QT or a close by village
12 - QT or a close by village
13 - Franz Josef / Fox Glacier
14 - Franz Josef / Fox Glacier
15 - Hokitika/Greymouth/Christchurch (TBC)
16 - Christchurch (for an early morning flight next morning to Auckland

A few more questions if you don't mind....

1) Day 1 - Melqn8 - do you have any recommendations for en route villages for an overnight en route from Christchurch to Mt Cook? If we're spending the last 2 nights in ChCh, then I think it's not necessary to stay in chch on the first night.

2) Day 6 - Is 3 nights in WAnaka too much? If I shave off a night in Wanaka, then this leaves one extra night towards the latter leg (between FJ to ChCh).

3) Can FJ and Fox Glaciers be done on the same day? Is it too much to see both Glaciers? Just wondering if people usually choose one or the other?

Thanks so much for your help - looks like my SI itinerary is finally coming into shape!

Re: Criffel B&B in Wanaka - unfortunately they're closed over xmas from 23-26 which coincides with our days in Wanaka! Would have really loved to stay there.

Re: Villa del Largo in QT - already sold out for the 2 person room over our days as we're there right over New Years. I've booked the Chalet Queenstown for now as the price is reasonable and the B&B looks nice. Happy to take other recommendations on QT and vicinity though!
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Old May 13th, 2014, 06:04 PM
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Sorry, I made an error in counting my nights. I actually only have 15 nights in total (vs. 16 noted above). This doesn't leave the extra night en route from FJ back to ChCh. So it could make for a very rushed last day driving back from Fj to ChCh and also doesn't leave much time to explore ChCh.

So I'm wondering if it's worthwhile to shave off a night in Wanaka or elsewhere? Or alternatively, is it too ambitious to drive to Mt Cook on the day of arrival (note: we won't have much jet lag as we're flying in from Asia but it is still a long travel day with a long haul red eye to Auckland)

Revised itinerary (amendment on Day 15)

1 - Christchurch or somewhere en route to Mt Cook(arrival day)
2 - Mt Cook
3 - Mt cook
4 - Wanaka
5 - Wanaka
6 - Wanaka (shave a day off??)
7 - Te Anau
8 - Te anau
9 - Te Anau
10 - QT or a close-by village
11 - QT or a close by village
12 - QT or a close by village
13 - Franz Josef / Fox Glacier
14 - Franz Josef / Fox Glacier (too rushed to drive back from FJ to chCh??)
15 - Christchurch (for an early morning flight next morning to Auckland
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