Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (
-   Australia & the Pacific (
-   -   Please Help with Australia/New Zealand Three Week Itinerary (

jersey1977 Jan 29th, 2008 07:11 PM

Please Help with Australia/New Zealand Three Week Itinerary
I am trying to plan 3 week trip to New Zealand/Australia over Christmas/New Years 2008 (to maximize days off from work) but I having trouble getting my arms around where to go.

I know that I want to spend roughly 7 nights in Australia seeing two cities (Sydney + 1) and the remaining 14 or so nights in New Zealand.

Money is not really an issue, I am just having trouble putting together a logical itinerary that hits the main attractions, especially in New Zealand. (I normally dont have this kind of problem as I planned our trips to Cambodia/Vietnam, Egypt/Jordan, Peru/Ecuador etc with no real issues).

By the way, we like outdoor activities as well as cultural/historical sites.

Any suggestions for a sane, well paced (we do tend move quickly) New Zealand itinerary as well as second city in Australia for us to see would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks so much!

Melnq8 Jan 29th, 2008 09:13 PM

Are you interested in seeing one or both islands of NZ?

Many first time visitors to the South Island do something like this:

Arrive Christchurch
Take TranzAlpine train from Christchurch to Greymouth (or drive via Arthur's Pass)
Side trip to Punakaiki from Greymouth (or better yet, spend a day or two)
Drive down the West Coast (south) via Franz Josef and Fox Glacier
Visit (or stay) in Wanaka
Drive to Queenstown - stay a few days
Visit Milford Sound from Te Anau or as looong day trip from Queenstown
Drive from Queenstown back towards Christchurch via Mt Cook and Lake Tekapo

This is just a fast and dirty itinerary to give you an idea of the "highlights". It's a circuit which enables you to see quite a bit of the SI. I wouldn't try to do it in less than 10-12 days.

Personally, I love the north of the South Island - loads to do up there as well, such as:

Abel Tasman, hiking, kayaking, etc
Nelson, wine country, arts & crafts
Picton/Marlborough Sounds

If you hope to see this area as well, you'll need every day of your two weeks.

NZ is a small country, but it's long and it takes longer than you might think to get from point A to point B.

jersey1977 Jan 29th, 2008 11:23 PM

Thanks for the information. Its just the type of input that I was looking for.

Ideally we would like to see both islands as we probably wont make it back again for a long time; but I cant what would make a reasonable circuit balancing both seeing many places but spending enough in each location so we arent always in transit. Also, its hard to tell if its more efficient to fly between points or rent a car or perhaps even a combination of the two.

There seems to be so much to do that two weeks might not do it justice, but us Americans dont get the luxury of taking a month off!

What would be a reasonable itinerary to see the highlights of both islands without us having to run around like headless chickens? (By us we I mean two adults in our late 20s in decent shape).


Bellabird Jan 30th, 2008 01:45 AM


The issue is, you're spending a couple of weeks in a country the size of an American state, and 7 days in a country the size of the United States! I heartily agree with 2 weeks in NZ as I love the place and have been many times, but where to go in Oz will depend entirely on what your main interests are. What are you looking for specifically in your Oz experience? I mean, I love Sydney too, but basically, it's just a really nice, new city with beautiful waterways. But historically, it's young (there's not a lot of aboriginal culture to see or experience in this city).

If you're doing Sydney, I wouldn't bother with either Canberra, Melbourne or Brisbane, as they won't bring much new to the experience. My preference would be to pick a destination with a bit of natural beauty to give you a view of the other side. I'm so aware of your time limitations though ...

Personally, I'd just head up the Great Barrier Reef somewhere for a week of relaxation. Maybe even Port Douglas or the Daintree.

Give the cities a miss for next time!

But if you're determined to see the cities, why not go to Sydney and combine with some quick daytrips out to the Blue Mountains for nice day walks, the northern beaches for the seaside experience and maybe even Canberra if you want to do the art gallery, museum type scene?

Melnq8 Jan 30th, 2008 02:04 AM

I feel your pain Jersey. I've been to NZ seven times and still struggle with my itineraries. There's just entirely too much to see and do in that spectacular country!

To see both islands in two weeks,
I strongly suggest you limit yourself to either the north or south of each island.

You might consider flying into Auckland, driving south to Rotorua (thermal area) and possibly Taupo, then down to Napier (art deco town, lots of wineries) and Hastings, on to Wellington, then possibly fly out from Wellington.

You could also take the ferry from Wellington to Picton, but that would drop you at the top of the South Island. Ideal if you want to concentrate on the north of the South Island, less than ideal if you're more interested in the West Coast, glaciers, Queenstown, and Milford Sound areas.

If you'd prefer to go north on the NI, you might consider flying into Auckland, spending some time there, then heading north to the Bay of Islands, then back to Auckland to fly to Christchurch. OR you could fly to CHC and then on to Queenstown and start at that end of the SI, perhaps working your way back north towards Christchurch.

I'm not as well versed with the NI as the SI, as I've only been there once, but I'm sure someone better informed will chime in.

For what it's worth, on our first trip to NZ we spent 14 nights on the SI - this was our itinerary on that first trip:

Christchurch 1 night
Nelson 2 nights
Franz Josef (homestay) 2 nights
Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge 1 night
Te Anau 2 nights
Queenstown 2 nights
Mt Cook 2 nights
Christchurch 2 nights

It gave us a nice taste of the SI, but involved a lot of driving.

The one and only time we combined the North and the South Islands, this was our 23 night itinerary:

Christchurch 1 night
Westport 1 night
Franz Josef 2 nights
Queenstown 3 nights
Dunedin 4 nights
Wellington 1 night
Napier 2 nights
Rotorua 2 nights
Waitomo - 2 nights
Whitianga 2 nights
Whangarei 3 nights

I'm not suggesting you follow either
itinerary, but rather that you decide what's most important to you and go from there. What do YOU want to see?

jersey1977 Jan 30th, 2008 08:54 AM

Yep, I agree the problem is one of time (or lack thereof).

Regarding OZ: I figured that Sydney would be the one city we should visit (if we only have time for one) but please correct me if I am wrong. Regarding the other destination we are definitely open to something other than a city. Would Tasmania make sense for our remaining 3/4 nights?

Regarding NZ: There just seems to be so much to see in so many different locations, especially when compared to places we have travelled previously. We would like to get a good overall feel for the country and hit the highlights or "must see places" such as Franz Joseph, Doubtful and Queenstown. I am just having serious trouble identifying what these places are since there seems to be so many wonderful choices. Any help and a logical itinerary connecting them would be so appreciated.

Finally, is going over the winter holidays a horrible idea? We are planning it that way because we can maximize the length of the trip, otherwise we might only have 2 weeks instead of 3.


mnss Jan 30th, 2008 12:22 PM

Hey Jersey,

I just did a OZ/NZ combo vacation for three weeks on this past winter break and it was just AWESOME!!

Australia: I stayed in Sydney four nights which included day trips to the Blue mountains(amazing area) and manly beach, the zoo, hmm what else.. It's a very pleasant city.

After that I headed up to the Gold Coast which has amazing beaches and stayed there for three nights. You could spend the rest of your time in OZ there, and do day trips to Byron bay and the other surrounding towns and rainforests. You could go hotair ballooning which was a fantastic experience for me but I did it up near Cairns.

You could also spend a couple of nights up at the Great Barrier reef area where I spent three nights and visited the Daintree rainforest and saw the great barrier reef on a helicopter ride and also took a cruise into the reef and viewed it via a semi submarine.

I spent my last night in OZ in Melbourne, which is nice but nothing special. It's like comparing NY to Chicago. Chicago is nice but it will never be NYC.

NZ: I spent a total of 8 nights there: two nights in Queenstown, which I really wished I would have stayed there longer. I went horseback riding, jetboating, went on a helicopter ride over the remarkables (mountains).

Two nights in Christchurch, which is nothing special. Don't waste your time at the antarctic center which sounds interesting, but is absolutely not. All they have is four tiny penguins and two small showrooms and that the entire exhibit.

Then I spent two nights in Wellington, which is a tiny version of San Francisco- really cute place with lots of cafes every where. They have a beautiful botanical garden that reminded me of the Montreal park as it is set over a hill. You can take the cable car to the top then descend to town on foot while exploring the park.

Then I headed up to Oakland from which I did day trips to Rotorua, Waitomo caves, and a nice kiwi farm where they showed us how they clip sheep wool and make wool pullovers using an ancient machine.

I don't know if it's just me, but when I got to NZ, I liked and had a great time, but wished I would have spent more time in OZ then only went to Queenstown and perhaps Oakland to do the aforementioned day trips on North island.

You will have a blast!!

Melnq8 Jan 30th, 2008 04:13 PM

Jersey -

Regarding your question about Tasmania - same problem here - 3-4 nights in Tassie just doesn't do the place justice and will barely allow you to cover Hobart and environs. We've visited TAS twice, spending well over two weeks each time and still want to go back. But if you just want a taste...

The wildlife in Tassie is just incredible - loads of walking opportunities, wonderful food and wine, tons to see and do if you enjoy the outdoors.

However, if you have your heart set on two areas in Australia, Sydney and Hobart would be good choices.

I'm not a city person by any stretch, but we absolutely loved Sydney and YES, if you can only visit one, Sydney would be the one to see.

Have you considered concentrating on Australia and possibly leaving NZ for another time? I completely understand the temptation to squeeze in as much as possible (I've done it), but I truly believe you'd get more out of your visit if you scaled back.

Have you checked flights yet? I suspect you might find that the cost of flying between areas won't be cost effective if you only spend a few days in each spot.

Traveling over the winter holidays means that local kids will be out of school and residents will also be traveling. Strongly suggest you book your lodging and activites you don't want to miss out on so you're not disappointed.

As far as South Island NZ "must sees" - these are the usual suspects:

West Coast (Pancaka Rocks, glaciers, etc)
Doubtful and/or Milford Sounds
Mt Cook, Lake Tekapo
Queenstown (adventure activities)
Glow worm caves (several spots to choose from)

jersey1977 Jan 30th, 2008 05:03 PM


Regarding travelling over Xmas/New Years, will everything feel overwhelmed since all the locals will be off as well?? For example, I live in Los Angeles, and almost everything I would want to visit as a tourist here is absolutely overrun with locals over the Holidays, so I could never recommend a tourist coming to Los Angeles over the Holiday Season. Is it similar in OZ/NZ or are things a bit calmer and not crazy with crowds?

Regarding wildlife, I am sure my wife would want to see kangaroos and koalas (perferrably in their natural habitat though some sort of preserve (not zoo) would be OK). Is there the ability to do that in the areas we are travelling.

Thanks so much for the help!

Melnq8 Jan 30th, 2008 07:19 PM

Jersey -

I'm afraid I don't have an answer to your question, as I've never traveled to OZ or NZ during Christmas/New Year.

I do know that Sydney will be packed during New Year - people book Sydney hotels months in advance and hotel rates skyrocket.

I seriously doubt that anywhere in NZ will be "overwhelmed". It's a sparsely populated country (especially on the SI), so there just aren't that many residents to begin with. I assure you, it won't be anything like LA!

I've been in NZ and Tasmania around Easter, which is a much bigger deal there than it is in the US - by that I mean it's a nice long weekend - Good Friday, the weekend, Easter Monday and sometimes Easter Tuesday - NZ and TAS were considerably more busy during that time than on my previous off season visits and much of TAS seemed closed for the entire weekend. I think it might vary by state in OZ.

Perhaps a local will chime in and clear this up for you.

Here's a site that lists NZ school holidays and local holidays:

There are similar sites for OZ holidays by state. Just do a search.

As far as wildlife - we saw lots of koalas along the Great Ocean Road (Victoria). Kangaroos too.

Tasmania is an excellent spot for viewing the unique wildlife of Australia - Cradle Mountain is packed with critters (not koalas though).

Too many choices, not enough time.

Susan7 Jan 30th, 2008 08:16 PM

December/January are peak season for local tourists in Australia as that time frame correlates with many people's summer holidays as well as School holidays and University Holidays. I don't think you would find Tasmania overrun, but you'd need to book early to get the places you wanted to stay.

January in Sydney can be very humid, as it is right now (68%), so although the temperatures don't look that high it's fairly sticky and unpleasant. If you can come in December it's often much nicer weather.

jersey1977 Jan 30th, 2008 08:32 PM

Thanks for the replies so far, its definitely bringing things into focus and helping me work this trip out.

I might actually be offended by leavingsooon if I didnt see the quality of his 4 other posts on Fodors. Some people...

Thanks again everyone!

kimbobb Jan 31st, 2008 07:15 AM

We were just on the South Island of NZ from 12/21 to 1/7, and we were surprised to find very few people anywhere we traveled!

The beaches were only sparsely populated and the roads were quiet EXCEPT for the day everyone was going back home, which in our case was the Sunday after New Year's.

We didn't go into Queenstown, as we heard that would be one of the busy places. We did pre-book all of our accommodation, as a precaution. But compared to holiday time in LA or Florida, you will not have to fight any real crowds to see the sights.

At the Pancake Rocks, for example, there were only two tour busses on Christmas Day at lunchtime. Normally, we were told, there would have been 10. And most of the people were eating in the restaurant, NOT actually taking the hike and looking at the beautiful scenery, even at high tide, when the crashing waves are the most spectacular!

It's a lot more expensive to fly there over the holidays. Otherwise, we felt no remorse at going then.

jersey1977 Jan 31st, 2008 08:23 AM

Hi Kimbob,

That is quite encouraging! Would you mind sharing your itinerary and your thoughts about the different locals? Thanks!


angelnot1 Feb 1st, 2008 12:59 AM

Hi jersey 1977

Terrific suggestions there and melnq8 is a veritable treasure of knowledge.

We were in South island in February 2007 and are itching to get back for the nth time. If interested see my trip report or write my nick in the search tag -it is titled my famliys trip to South island (bad spelling!)

You wouldn/t by any chance be from New Jersey US??- my daughter is on a 6 month law school exchange at Rutgers University?

markop Feb 1st, 2008 02:03 AM

Someone suggested earlier that the Gold Coast was great. It's not. It's OK, but not great. And at that time of year, it will be very humid if not very wet.

Sydney is humid in January so you may want to spend about 4-5 days there.

NZ has plenty of natural beauty, so as one of the first contributors suggested, why not do something different and go to the Great Barrier Reef. You won't get to do things like that in NZ.

Tasmania is beautiful but may not be enough of a contrast with NZ.

If you like the tennis, you could be in Melbourne in January for the Australian Open. Melbourne is one of those places that doesn't have an outstanding outer beauty. But it does have plenty going on underneath - with bars, cafes, art galleries etc.

If you do decided to go to Melbourne, you would be absolutely crazy not to visit the Great Ocean Road. The scenery along this very very long road is stunning.

For day trips in Sydney, check out

It recommends some very good day trips and gives details on how to get to them with public transport.

kimbobb Feb 1st, 2008 06:35 AM

Hi, jersey1977 -

Here is the link to my TravelPod report. I'm not completely done, but the itinerary and the map of where we went are there.

Since winter is continuing to blast us in Wisconsin, I am taking my time writing the journal, so as to take myself back to Paradise each time I come in from shoveling!

I will soon have a Picasa site up and running for the pictures, too. There are some in the Pod to whet your whistle......

Keep the questions coming - we all LOVE to go back and remember what a wonderful country we visited....and I for one plan to go back again soon.

jersey1977 Feb 1st, 2008 02:04 PM


Thanks for the link. I will start digesting it all over the weekend!

Angelnot1, yes I am originally from New Jersey, USA (About an 45 minites from Rutgers in New Brunswick) but have been in Los Angeles, California almost 10 years now. I hope your daughter is on the main campus, its a heck of a lot nicer than either Newark or Camden.

mrwunrfl Feb 2nd, 2008 11:36 PM

No you won't feel overwhelmed there. I live in L.A. (O.C. actually). Went to NZ Dec 24 - Jan 5. It is just not that busy.

Yes, Queenstown doubled in size, they said, but that meant 30,000 people instead of 15,000. How many visitors do they get in a day at Disneyland?

I drove into the center of Queenstown at 10:30 PM on New Year's Eve and found a parking spot a block or two from the fun.

Auckland 3 nights
Fly to Blenheim and train to Christchurch
Christchurch 3 night with day trip to Arthur's Pass
Bus tour one-way Christchurch to Queenstown via Mt Cook
Queenstown 4 nights
Tour bus to Milford Sound and fly back to Q-town.
Fly to Rotorua
Rotorua 2 nights
Fly to Auckland and connect to international flight.

I rented a car in Queenstown. Rental agencies didn't want to rent for less than four days. I did manage to pre-book a car for 3 days but it was old (power antenna).

sally_bee Feb 3rd, 2008 08:05 AM

I have been to NZ,i can advice about some interesting places there may be.
if you are looking for adventure tours so you should do:Cave Tubing in Waitomo
Skydiving Lake Taupo
Heli-Hike - Franz Joseph Glacier.
Bungy Jumping
Shotover Jet boat ride.
in southland also i made Milford Sound Cruise and you should also visit Te Anau is GREAT

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 09:20 PM.