Our First Trip to New Zealand

Oct 27th, 2014, 05:16 PM
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Join Date: Oct 2014
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Our First Trip to New Zealand

Our son is living Queenstown, NZ for the next year and we want to go see him. The plan is for my wife, me and 2 friends to travel to NZ in Feb/Mar 2015. We are very middle class, so we do not have unlimited funds...but we can afford to do this trip properly also. We are pretty average working class people all around 60 yrs. old and in good shape, so outdoor activities are welcomed. We are limited to 3 weeks time and know that travel to and from the US will consume 3-4 days.
Obviously we want to spend some extra time in Queenstown to be with our son, but would like to see both islands. It seems like Auckland is where most international flights arrive, so we would probably start there and work our way south.
We have been planning this for a while, but have not committed to anything yet. I understand that even though NZ is relatively small, auto travel is slow, due to roads and terrain.
Questions we have are:
Should we fly into Auckland, travel around NZ and return to Auckland or should we try to fly out of Christchurch to save time?
We love to camp, but RV Campers are pretty expensive. Is an RV worth it or should we rent a car and use B and B's instead? Are there other options?
We want our schedule to be as flexible as possible. For the most part, are B & B reservations needed in advance to insure a place to stay or are there enough so this is not a real issue?
Is late Feb and early Mar. a good time or will it be too cool?
For activities, we are open to almost anything. Some of our interests are hiking, bungy jumping, wineries, the mountains, ferry/boat rides, Rotorua, Maori. Almost anything. We do enjoy going "off the beaten path" also, so roughing it a bit is fine also.
Any help, suggestions or experiences will be greatly appreciated. We want to do this right.
MinnesotaSteve is offline  
Oct 27th, 2014, 05:46 PM
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Hi Steve -

It sounds as if you've done some research and are on the right track.

I suggest you consider a week on the North Island, and two on the South, with an emphasis on the Lakes District since your son is down that way.

Auckland is the gateway for flights to/from the US. From there you can fly to Christchurch or Queenstown easily enough.

Regarding booking accommodation in advance, February/March is high season, yet you can still be flexible other than in areas with limited accommodation, such as Mt Cook and the glaciers. These places do fill up and as nearby alternatives aren't particularly close, you could be caught out of you don't book at least a few days in advance.

Given the expense and space issues for four adults, I can't help but think you'd be better off avoiding campervans.

There's a wide assortment of moderately priced accommodation throughout NZ. It's not difficult to find two bedroom units, house and apartment rentals and all manner of unique accommodation, although not booking in advance will limit your options somewhat.

B&Bs, farmstays, homestays and cottages are abundant and a great option. Hostels are another possibility as there's no age limit for staying in one in NZ. Motels are inexpensive and well equipped, most offer basic to extended kitchen facilities, laundry facilities, etc. NZ is a great place to be a tourist!

This site might help get you started:

I wouldn't worry about being too cool, Jan/Feb/March are the warmest months in NZ.
Melnq8 is offline  
Oct 27th, 2014, 08:57 PM
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I can only add a big DITTO to all of Melnq8's excellent advice.

When we (family of 4) traveled on our 3 trips through NZ, we almost always stayed in motels, which as Melnq8 said, you can find with kitchens and laundries. Those certainly came in handy to prepare breakfast & picnic lunches and to get some clean clothes!
longhorn55 is offline  
Oct 28th, 2014, 05:38 AM
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Does 17 days in country give us enough time to start at Auckland, circumnavigate both islands and return back to Auckland to leave or would it be best to start at Auckland and fly back to the states from Christchurch?
It also seems like renting an auto and staying in a motel/B & B, etc will fit our needs better than renting an RV/camper.
Any recommendations on rental companies, places to stay and must go places to see? Again, we are not against roughing it, if there are places worth seeing or things worth doing off the beaten path.
Thanks for your info.
MinnesotaSteve is offline  
Oct 28th, 2014, 09:43 AM
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You will probably find it least expensive to fly in and out of the same city (Auckland or Christchurch, but Auckland has many more international flights). You can of course return to Auckland via a flight from Christchurch. You don't want to try to see the whole country in 17 days - otherwise you will spend your holiday in the car. My favourites are

North Island
Coromandel - beautiful beaches like Hahei, kayaking etc
Taupo (with volcanoes Mt Ruapehu and Tongariro National Park nearby, natural hot springs etc)
Hawkes Bay - great wine, good climate, sun, golf, Maori cultural experiences

South Island
Nelson, beaches, walks in Abel Tasman Park, kayaking
The West Coast and Glaciers (Franz Josef and Fox) - the most beautiful drive in the country
Wanaka, Queenstown and the Southern Lakes - stunning alpine scenery, lots to do, good climate, wineries
Fiordland - must see, do an overnight boat cruise on Doubtful Sound.

So even limiting yourself to these areas will take quite a bit of time to get around. Queenstown has a great airport with lots of flights in and out, so a good base to do excursions from down south to Fiordland or up north to the glaciers, West Coast, Nelson etc. In some ways I would suggest limiting yourself to the south island and just flying in and out of Auckland.

As Melnq8 says, Feb and March are peak summer and heavily booked - so make some accommodation bookings in asap and check out flights and rental car availability. It is good weather generally right to the end of March and first week April.

The following are a few more useful links for planning your holiday:

www.airnewzealand.co.nz - fly London-LA-Auckland
www.newzealand.com - official tourism website
www.doc.govt.nz - excellent information about national parks and hiking tracks.
www.aatravel.co.nz - travel routes, motels and backpackers
www.greenjourneys.co.nz - holiday planning and small luxury lodges.
www.bed-and-breakfast.co.nz - bed and breakfast collection
River_Trails is offline  
Oct 28th, 2014, 09:51 AM
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Steve, we did our first [hopefully not our last!] trip to NZ last year and by co-incidence we had 17 days [actually nights] to spread between the north and south islands.

we split it 4 in the north [not long enough even for our very limited itinerary] and 13 in the south which was nothing like long enough.

I don't think that flying into Auckland and out of CC is likely to add much to the cost, and it's a lot more time effective. However, given that you want to spend extra time with your son in QT, if you really only have 17 days, I would question whether you want to try to fit in both islands, or on this occasion to concentrate on the south.

in 17 days you could do a really lovely and well-paced tour - you won't see everything but you'll certainly have a great time. perhaps save the NI for next time!
annhig is offline  
Oct 28th, 2014, 11:39 AM
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On our 3rd trip to NZ, we spent an entire 2 weeks just on the South Island and we could have easily spent more time there. Since your son is based in Queenstown and you only have 17 days for this trip, I'd recommend you go straight to the South Island for your whole trip. You won't lack for things to see and do in those 17 days.

If you haven't already done so, I'd pick up a Rough Guide or Lonely Planet guidebook for New Zealand to give you some ideas of what to see and do there. Those were the most useful guidebooks for me when I planned our trips.

Here's two suggestions for "off the beaten trail" activities. One year our family did a 3-day self-guided hike of the Kaikoura Coast Track. The scenery was amazing and the hosts at each of the stops could not have been more accommodating. The next year we did a guided hike of the Hollyford Track. Again, more fabulous scenery and the guides were quite knowledgeable. I recommend them both.


longhorn55 is offline  
Oct 28th, 2014, 04:24 PM
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I want to thank everyone for their suggestions and hope I get more. Every bit of info helps.
Limiting this trip to just the south island, would simplify many things and also make things a little more economical.
Living in the states and the vastness of it in size compared to NZ, we originally thought it'd be no problem to see both islands. Between the terrain, roads, bridges and sights to see, that isn't as do-able as we first thought. I do have an excellent travel guide, which is helping a lot.
Our son will meet people and gather intel from the locals to further assist us in our plans.
What should we look for in the weather this time of year. I imagine it is kinda like being in the mountains of the US. Down low it can be hot and cooler the further up you go. Then there is the ocean which is unique to itself.
Keep the suggestions coming!!
Thanks Again.
MinnesotaSteve is offline  
Oct 28th, 2014, 04:30 PM
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Hi again Steve -

Generally speaking, in NZ the further north you are the warmer it is.

This site might give you an idea of what to expect:

Melnq8 is offline  
Oct 29th, 2014, 09:33 AM
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Steve, I can't stress enough the problems of driving in NZ - as a Brit living in Cornwall I thought that I was pretty well inured to difficult driving conditions but NZ takes them to a whole new level. That said, what we found best was to have a long driving day, followed by a day, preferably two, of rest. if you try to move on every day, that could become very tiring.

if you can possibly limit yourselves to the SI, that is definitely a good start.
annhig is offline  
Oct 29th, 2014, 08:53 PM
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February is the best month weather-wise normally hot and settled. As you get in to March it will start to cool down a bit but should still be warm. A nice time to visit as children will be back at school, so not that busy.
nelsonian is offline  
Oct 31st, 2014, 03:39 AM
Join Date: Jun 2010
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Word of caution about air arrangements. If you are flying from South Island back to Auckland to make your connection back to the States on the same day, make sure and book that flight when you book your RT flights to and from Auckland. The reason is if you have travel problems on the first intra-NZ flight (delays, cancellations, etc.), your airline will not charge extra if things have to be changed. If you wait and book that intra-NZ fare in NZ, they are not responsible for "getting you to the church on time." Also watch Air NZ fares carefully - they just had a sale on premium economy seats, and they may have another.
kathy_from_texas is offline  
Nov 4th, 2014, 05:12 AM
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In looking at rental car companies, there are many "economy" type companies that appear to be much less in cost because they use late model cars instead of brand new ones.
Has anyone out there had any experience with any of these?

In talking to many people, both personally and on-line, since we only have 21 days total, the concensus seems to be stick to the South Island only.
I am leaning towards this myself, but it ould sure be nice to at least see a some of the north one also.
MinnesotaSteve is offline  
Nov 4th, 2014, 07:08 AM
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You previously indicated that you would have 17 days "on the ground" in NZ and you got some excellent advice, especially from Annhig who also had 17 days in NZ, to limit yourself to the SI.

If you actually have 21 days "on the ground", you could spend 7 days on the NI and 14 days on the SI.

Yes, it would certainly be nice to see some of the NI, but not at the expense of being rushed and limited in your sightseeing on both islands. Sometimes "less is more" and this is one of those instances.
longhorn55 is offline  
Nov 4th, 2014, 07:55 AM
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Thanks Longhorn. We will be gone 21 days total, but with travel, we figure 17 days to see NZ.
MinnesotaSteve is offline  
Nov 4th, 2014, 10:03 AM
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if you decide to see the NI, I can recommend the Coromandel peninsular as a first stopping off point. It's about a 2 hour drive from Auckland so makes a good stop-over if like us you've decided not to bother with Auckland. We wished that we'd stayed 2 nights though - seeing the peninsular AND getting to Napier in the same day was very hard work, not something we would have embarked on if we'd had any sense/listened to all the good advice we got here.

A night somewhere on the way to Wellington and then another in Wellington itself is probably the max you should think of on the NI if you only have 17 days in total, but on the whole, I would give it a miss and concentrate on the SI.
annhig is offline  
Nov 7th, 2014, 11:23 PM
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We've used Rental Cars New Zealand out of Christchurch three times. Much, much cheaper & the car was definitely an older model ( in fact we got the very same car two years apart!) but mechanically very sound and the company were very easy to deal with. On one of the trips we drove the Nissan Bluebird to the top of Cardrona (in a blizzard) and were the only car to get off the mountain that day
If you do decide to take in the NI, don't leave Rotorua out! But really, it's a long way from Nth to Sth and as all the experts above have said, you are probably better maximizing your time in the SI.
Kwaussie is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2014, 11:53 AM
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Thanks for the responses. Right now, from the advice received, I am leaning towards limiting our trip to the South Island only. But, I am only one of 4, so majority will rule. It would be great to see both islands, but with our son in Queenstown, we don't want to short change our time with him. Plus it seems like there is more than enough to occupy our time on the SI.
MinnesotaSteve is offline  
Dec 9th, 2014, 06:42 AM
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Well we pulled the trigger and will be spending 3 weeks in NZ starting March 1.
We plan to rent a car and spend 5 days on the NI and then fly from Auckland to either Christchurch or Queenstown and spend the remainder of our time there.
Any suggestion on things to do and see during our limited time on the NI? We plan to rent a car to travel the SI also. Are there any advantages to flying into Christchurch versus Queenstown, or is it "a horse a piece"? Are there any "can't miss" places to stay on either island? Are the NZ airlines pretty much equal?
Enough for now.
Thanks in advance
MinnesotaSteve is offline  
Dec 9th, 2014, 01:45 PM
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Air NZ is the only national carrier - NZ also has a few smaller commuter/regional services that work with Air NZ on less traveled routes on prop planes (Mt Cook Airlines, etc), but Air NZ is the big one.

I've flown Air NZ many, many times and they'd be my choice for the international portion as well - if you can swing it, they have an incredible Premium Economy service, which is a nice compromise between cattle class and Business.

Flying into Christchurch makes sense as it's such a great starting point for making a loop, figure 8 or even a one way trek of the SI. Most flights from Auckland stop in CHC first anyway.

But where you begin really depends on your intentions and whether you plan to see as much as you can vs. if you plan to spend most of your time in the QT area.

I've only been to the NI once, so I won't be much help there, but in planning a trip to the NI myself for February I found it quite difficult to stretch my week very far as I wanted to avoid a lot of driving. So, we've booked three nights in Martinborough (wine region that spouse is determined to visit) and four nights in Wellington. I have no doubt we'll find plenty to do.
Melnq8 is offline  

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