Please help with New Zealand Itinerary - 12 days

Feb 26th, 2015, 12:16 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2012
Posts: 11
Please help with New Zealand Itinerary - 12 days

Hello all,

My husband and I will be traveling from West Coast USA to NZ for the first time. We are in our 30s and mostly interested in the beautiful NZ scenery. A few details about the trip.
- Excluding travel days - we will have 12 full days in NZ.
- We will be traveling mid-March.
- We are flying in and out of Auckland.
- We plan on renting a car and driving
- We are ok with skipping - Fox/Franz Glacier tours/treks - done glacier trekking in Argentina and given all the other beautiful places to see we would like to skip them this time, Christchurch - more interested in Queenstown and Wellington, wildlife, Maori culture related shows - saw one in French Polynesia few years back - so ok with skipping it this time around.

I have reviewed a lot of itineraries on the forum and have been able to narrow down the places we want to visit. But we would really need a very efficient itinerary to accomplish all this. So I would really appreciate any help with optimization and advice on the following.
Here are the places we want to see.

Rotorua - mostly interested in geothermal activity
Abel Tasman National Park - want to spend a day hiking/kayaking
Pancake Rocks
Aoraki Mount Cook - want to spend 1 to 2 nights here to explore the area
Queenstown - want to spend 2-3 nights
Te Anau - Milford Sound - want to do a day trip with a afternoon cruise - trying to decide if one night in Te Anau will be enough.
Other areas of interest which I don't think we can fit in are - Bay of Islands and Tongariro National Park

Tentative Itinerary
Day 1 - arrive in AKL at 10:30 pm - go to sleep - preferably hotel close to airport
Day 2 - Drive to Rotorua (3 hours) - spend day exploring - drive to Taupo in evening (1 hr). Sleep in Taupo.
Day 3 - Drive to Wellington (4.5 hour). Spend whatever time is left exploring Wellington. Spend night in Wellington
Day 4 - Take InterIslander Ferry to Picton (3 hours). Drive to Nelson (2 hours). Spend day exploring Nelson - sleep in Nelson or Marahau (1 hour away)
Day 5 - Explore Abel Tasman National Park. Drive to Punakaiki (3.5 hours)
Day 6 - Explore Pancake rocks. (Drive close to Aoraki Mount Cook - to shorten the drive the next day - which town?)
Day 7 - Finish Drive to Aoraki Mount Cook (? hours) - need help - this drive seems too long to cover in a day from Punakaiki - any suggestions on breaking it up? Sleep in Mount Cook
Day 8 - Explore Mount Cook area - sleep in Mount Cook
Day 9 - Drive to Queenstown via Wanaka (3 hours). Explore Queenstown. Sleep in Queenstown
Day 10 - Explore Queenstown. Sleep in Queenstown or Drive to Te Anau and sleep in Te Anau?
Day 11 - Head to Milford Sound (2hours). Afternoon cruise - drive back to Queenstown.
Day 12 - Explore Queenstown. Afternoon take flight to Aukland.
Day 13 - Fly back home from AKL

Does it seem doable?
Would appreciate advice with Days 6 and 7 specifically with regards to drive from Pancake Rocks to Mount Cook.
We want to drive through the Arthur Pass - as have read it is very beautiful. Is it possible with this itinerary.
Should we substitute any of the above driving for a local flight? Was debating if we should take a flight from Rotorua to Wellington or Queenstown.

Thank you in advance!
arienas01 is offline  
Feb 26th, 2015, 03:49 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 8,866
Someone did something similar:

My thoughts. We had 9 days in NZ, but didn't try to do Nelson/Able Tasman or Mount Cook or Punakaiki, so while we had less time, we tried to cover less.

I think you need to drop something. I suggest you do Mount Cook OR Able Tasman/Punakaiki, not both. Since you don't seem interested in Wellington, consider dropping that altogether.

I'll toss this out.
Day 2 - Fly to ZQN/Queenstown (3 nights) Explore Queenstown.
Day 3 - Take a bus/fly or bus/bus day tour to Milford Sound.
Day 4 - Pick up car, explore Glenorchy, etc.
Day 5 - Drive to Twizel/Mount Cook (2 nights).
Day 6 - Explore Mount Cook.
Day 8 - Drive to Christchurch, drop car.(1 night)
Day 9 - Fly to AKL, pick up car rental number 2, drive Taupo (2 nights) via Rotorua but don't visit thermal parks except maybe public free one.
Day 10 - explore Tongariro national park, Taupo
Day 11 - Drive back to Auckland (2 nights) via Orakei Korako thermal park.
Note that this round trip from AKL looks like backtracking but you can do different stuff on the outbound/return
Day 12 - Explore Auckland.

This gives you 6 stops instead of 9 in 12 days.

OR day 2 - Fly Auckland to Nelson on south island, pick up car, explore Nelson, drive to overnight lodging - 2 nights
day 3 - Abel Tasman
Day 4 - Punakaiki (1 night)
Day 5 - Fox glacier (to break up trip)(1 night)
Day 6,7,8,9 - Queenstown (4 nights, drive from Fox will take most of day, drop car at some point.
Day 10 - Fly AKL, pick up car, drive Taupo(2 nights) via Rotarua
Day 11 - Tongariro or do a thermal park
Day 12 - Back to Auckland via thermal park or just straight back to Auckland to relax
Day 13 - fly home

This is 7 stops instead of 9 in 12 nights

I can't figure a way to work in the Arthur pass in such a short time, you will have lots to do as it is.
Sue_xx_yy is offline  
Feb 26th, 2015, 06:02 PM
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Thank you so much Sue! I will definitely review your suggestions and edit the itinerary. Following is a second version - where we fly from AKL to ZQN. Will appreciate your feedback on this.

Itinerary Revised Draft

Mar 14 Sat Day 1: Arrive AKL 10:30 PM ( Book Hotel)
Mar 15 Sun Day 2: Fly to Queenstown; Explore and Stay in Queenstown (Book Hotel for 2 nights; Book Car)
Mar 16 Mon Day 3: Explore Queenstown
Mar 17 Tue Day 4: Explore Queenstown (All Day) - Drive to Te Anau in the evening (2.5 hrs. Drive) - Book Hotel in Te Anau
Mar 18 Wed Day 5: Drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound (2 hrs. Drive) - Milford Sound Cruise (Book Tickets) - Drive from Milford Sound to Queenstown or Wanaka in the evening (5.5 hrs. drive) - Book Hotel in Queenstown or Wanaka
Mar 19 Thu Day 6: Morning in Wanaka. Drive from Wanaka to Mount Cook. (Book Hotel for 2 nights)
Mar 20 Fri Day 7: Spend day in Mt Cook area
Mar 21 Sat Day 8: Mount Cook to Arthurs Pass. Book Hotel for 1 night (Any suggestions on where to stay?)
Mar 22 Sun Day 9: Arthurs Pass to Punakaiki - explore - drive to Nelson in the evening. Book hotel in Nelson for 2 nights
Mar 23 Mon Day 10: Spend day at Abel Tasman National Park. Sleep in Nelson.
Mar 24 Tues Day 11: Nelson to Picton. Ferry to Wellington. Spend night in Wellington.
Mar 25 Wed Day 12: Wellington to Taupo. Stay in Taupo.
Mar 26 Thurs Day 13: Taupo to Rotorua. Explore Rotorua. Drive to Auckland. Flight back home.
arienas01 is offline  
Feb 26th, 2015, 09:19 PM
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Your revised itinerary looks a heck of a lot better than your first two, but I strongly recommend to forget about driving at night. Not only can it be dangerous on NZ's narrow, winding, and very dark roads, but you'll miss all the scenery, which sort of defeats the purpose.
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 27th, 2015, 05:02 AM
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Thanks Mel! I have read your wonderful advice on various postings on this forum, so really appreciate your comment/feedback. I too want to completely avoid any travel in the dark. What time does it typically get dark in March - I was going with the assumption of around 8 that correct? Which of the days in the itinerary would you advise changing to avoid any night time driving. I am a bit concerned about the amount of driving on Day 5 and Day 9. Would appreciate your advice! Thanks again.
arienas01 is offline  
Feb 27th, 2015, 09:53 AM
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We're currently in NZ and it's not getting dark until about 9 pm, so you should have lots of daylight to work with.

Day 5 is busy. You're at an advantage beginning in Te Anau, but you're pushing your luck trying to get all the way to Wanaka, particularly if you hope to explore the Milford Road en route, It's six hours of driving just from Te Anau-Milford-Queenstown, so that doesn't leave a lot of time to explore.

Day 9 is entirely too long IMO. I recently drove from Motueka to Punakaiki and it took pretty much all day. The roads from Greymouth to Murchison are very winding and slow going.
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 27th, 2015, 05:40 PM
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Hello again ariena.

Melnq8 rules when it comes to ideas about NZ itineraries. I am going to make a suggestion about Arthur's pass, subject to what Melnq8 has to say.

We caught a flight from AKL to ZQN leaving around 10, arriving around noon (check schedules.) If you do that on day 2, you can pick up your car in the early afternoon, pick up a few provisions in Queenstown, and head straight to Te Anau. TA is only 2 hours away,

Next day you do your self drive to Milford Sound, but return to Queenstown instead of Wanaka. This I promise will be quite enough. Since you then have 2 nights (night of day 3 and 4) in Queenstown after your Milford Sound thing, you have a bit of a chance to relax after that big day to Milford.

Okay, now for day 5. note i am cutting a day in qtown. i don't like that you have so little flex for the unexpected bump ( ferry delay or whatever). instead on d5 drive to tekapo.

Queenstown to tekapo is 3 hours according to Google, maybe longer IRL. you can grab a quick peek at Wanaka en route, and I do mean quick. Stop for a view of mt cook on this day.

by staying in tekapo you have to backtrack for your day (6) in mt cook but it is an option for lodging and shortens your day to hanmer springs.

I still don,t like your pass idea, without another flight there will be a lot of driving. However since you asked...

Day 7. tekapo to hanmer springs. 4.5 hrs
day 8 hanmer to nelson 3.5 hrs over the pass.
day 9 abel tasman/nelson
day 10 ferry to wlg
day 11 wlg to taupo
day 12 taupo to akl, thermal park en route.
day 13 'flex' day, relax in akl, fly home.

1,1,2,2,1,2,1,1,1 - pattern of nights, total 12.
Sue_xx_yy is offline  
Feb 27th, 2015, 10:48 PM
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Agree with Sue's suggestion to arrive in QT early and head directly to Te Anau, particularly as you'll have been to the NI first, so should be somewhat rested from the long flight. Just an FYI that there's a big Fresh Choice grocery store in Te Anau though, so no need to shop first in QT,
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 27th, 2015, 11:24 PM
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notwithstanding the above post of mine ariena, it's your trip. itineraries look like jigsaw puzzles, but of course in real life, there are many possible solutions, as many as there are people. so have fun with your planning and be sure to post a trip report, i,d love to hear about it. s'cuse typing i broke my arm today.
Sue_xx_yy is offline  
Feb 27th, 2015, 11:28 PM
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hi there melnq8. lol,of course there's grocery stores in ta, it may be small but not that small, apologies to the good folk of ta.
Sue_xx_yy is offline  
Feb 27th, 2015, 11:38 PM
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Sue - Ouch! I hope you heal quickly.
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 28th, 2015, 10:38 AM
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Thank you so much Mel and Sue! This is all so helpful. I am going to carefully review your suggestions and revise my itinerary accordingly.

Sue - I hope your arm is not in too much pain. So sorry to hear that you broke it. Hope it heals soon. Thanks so much for writing despite your arm. It is really very considerate and sweet of you.

And yes, I will definitely post a trip report once I am back Thanks again!
arienas01 is offline  
Mar 1st, 2015, 02:10 AM
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hello again. thx to both of you for well wishes. i have to learn to type with left hand, writing is way harder! so this is good practice.

thank YOU ariana for accepting suggestions as being just that. as my recent mishap illustrates, the unexpected can happen. so long as you have tried to leave some wiggle room you should be able to adapt to what comes. bon voyage!
Sue_xx_yy is offline  
Mar 1st, 2015, 09:55 AM
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Thank You! Just a quick follow up question. I love your suggestion of driving to Te Anau from Queenstown on our arrival and and spending the night there and doing the Milford Sound cruise next day. But here's my dilemma. What if the weather does not cooperate. I am struggling with whether I should pre-book accommodations in Te Anau and in Queenstown for the subsequent 2 nights and the Milford cruise or choose the best day for Milford cruise based on the weather after our arrival. Struggling with not booking any accommodations in Te Anau/Queenstown till our arrival there versus pre-booking and losing flexibility. Would appreciate any words of advice! Thank You again!
arienas01 is offline  
Mar 1st, 2015, 11:04 AM
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In all my visits to Milford, I've only booked a cruise in advance once.

If you have the luxury of waiting for the perfect weather day, by all means do so.

The problem lies not within booking the cruise, but booking accommodation. I'm in NZ right now and I see No Vacancy signs every where we go.

Of you can find accommodation that offers no penalty for cancellation, that might be the way to go, then you can decide on the day.

Another option is to take a risk, and then check in with the I Site upon arrival - they're the best option for last minute accommodation.
Melnq8 is offline  
Mar 1st, 2015, 11:35 AM
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Thanks Mel! I am going o try to book accommodations with no penalty for cancellation and then pick the best day for cruise once we are there! Thanks a million! Enjoy your time in New Zealand
arienas01 is offline  
Mar 1st, 2015, 03:49 PM
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I am currently in New Zealand, just finishing an 18 day trip, so I haven t read the replies above thoroughly. But I have a few comments. If you are interested in scenery, why the long drive over the north island and going to Wellington? I admit, we spent most of our time on the South Island, but what we've seen here so far, I'd spend most of your time on south island, and I'd fly there from Auckland. We flew on Saturday from Queenstown to Rorotrua via Christchurch, so if you really want to go to the thermal area, I suppose you could do the reverse. Note, however, that the thermal areas here pale in comparison to Yellowstone if you have been there, and are more developed. So OK, but not a highlight of our trip. The one thing I would say has been a highlight of our time on the north island was Tongariro National Park. We did he scenic flight, as opposed to the all day hike.

Like you, we skipped the glaciers for the same reason, and skipped the west coast because it just seemed to take too long to get anywhere there as well as having the worst weather. We liked Mount Cook/Aoraki, but unless you are doing some long hikes, you don't need two nights in my opinion. We arrived about 10 in the morning, took two walks as hey call them (as opposed to tramps) total about two hours, saw the visitor center, had lunch, and we're on the road before three p.m.

We took a Milford Sound cruise, spending the night inTe Anau. We liked the drive a bit better than the cruise, because it was sunnier. May not always be the case, but the weather got cloudier and eventually rainy as the day wore on. Morning cruises had better conditions. The drive with a couple stops took us just over two hours from Te Anau. The sand flies were bad there, so be warned.

We thought the Queenstown/Glenorcy/Wanaka area was the most spectacular, especially Glenorchy and beyond.

Two final observations. First, we like to get a early start and typically prefer to go out to breakfast rather than prepare it ourselves. We often found cafes don't open until 8, especially on weekends. Second, how to say this nicely--we think the challenging driving conditions are oversold if you are confident drivers at all. We have typically kept up with our GPS estimates, or gotten there a tad faster, and the Google map times were usually slower. Now, if you've never driven in a left drive country, it may take a few days to get comfortable, but I think most people from the west coast of the U.S. like us (Californians) won't find it difficult. Roads are well marked, and we've really only used the gps to navigate in towns or to give times for alternate routes.

Well, one more final thing--I assume you mean March 2016, not now...right? Most places we have stayed have been fully booked. Only today have I seen any vacancies at hotels, so it may be better in March than Feb. We've been here over Chinese New Years, and that has a huge impact on crowds.

Have a great trip.
traveler318 is offline  
Mar 4th, 2015, 10:21 AM
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Hi traveler318,

Looks like you had an awesome trip! Thank you so much for your tips and advice! Just curious - did you book hotel in Te Anau in advance or once you decided the day for Milford Sounds cruise? i.e. did you take the weather into consideration?

Thank You!
arienas01 is offline  

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