Queenstown Worth A Stay?

Old Mar 19th, 2023, 01:26 PM
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Queenstown Worth A Stay?

My husband and I (retirees in our mid-60s) plan to take a 3-week tour of New Zealand that starts in Rotorua and ends in Dunedin. The tour spends half a day in Queenstown, then goes on to Te Anau for three nights. After that it goes to Balcutha/Catlins and Dunedin for the last two nights. Our questions is whether it is worth leaving the tour in Te Anau and trying to get back up to Queenstown for the last two nights. The tour already includes some nice hikes, so we were not sure how we might best spend our time in Queenstown, but some thoughts we had were to just relax, enjoy the scenery/gardens/pedestrian mall and maybe take a day trip to Glenorchy. Some questions:

Is it worth trying to get back to Queenstown for two days or should we stick with the rest of the tour and see Balcutha and the Catlins?
If we decide to peel off, it appears the only way back to Queenstown is by an evening bus? Does anyone know if this is true or is anyone aware of other transportation between Te Anau and Queenstown, particularly a service that would take us back in the morning or early afternoon?

Thanks in advance for your suggestions.
JognJan
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Old Mar 19th, 2023, 01:37 PM
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Our questions is whether it is worth leaving the tour in Te Anau and trying to get back up to Queenstown for the last two nights.

It wouldn't be for me, but then again, I've been to QT many times. It's just gotten too busy and frenzied for my tastes. Given the chance, I'd much prefer Balcutha/Catlins and Dunedin, although two nights is giving that area serious short shrift - two nights is only one full day! Keep in mind that QT is a two hour drive from Te Anau, so you'd be backtracking.

Having said that, I adore Glenorchy, which is a 45 minute drive from QT, but I'd need more than a full day there. There's not much to the town, but it's in a gorgeous setting and there are some fabulous tracks there - for which you'd need plenty of time.

The Catlins are beautiful, even if you're just driving through, which it sounds like you would be.


Diamantina, a resident of Dunedin will probably weigh in soon. She's a fountain of information and will probably have some good suggestions for you.
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Old Mar 21st, 2023, 04:54 AM
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Thanks, Mel. Regrettably, Dunedin is the only place I know well in NZ. You've surely experienced the rest of the South Island more than me.

JognJan, when will you be here? Because, depending on the time of year, Queenstown can be amazingly touristy. Just yesterday, I read that in peak season Queenstown tourists outnumber locals 34:1. I assume this also includes domestic tourists.

Queenstown's locationon the shores of Lake Wakitipu overlooked by the Remarkables—is undeniably scenic. I haven't been to Queenstown for many years, but on past trips, I'd been quite happy to just soak in panoramas from my soundproof lakeview accommodation, glass of wine in hand, oblivious to the crowds, traffic and commotion outside, only slipping out later to enjoy a meal from one of its better restaurants (ideally, Amisfield Bistro).

Its Botanic Garden is not large, but pretty and beautifully maintained. Part of it, along the lakeshore, adjoins the Queenstown Gardens Trail.

Nearby Queenstown attractions include wineries in Gibbston, remnants of an old gold town in Arrowtown, and tours of Skippers Canyon Road, an old gold mining road.

I'm thinking if you're scheduled to spend a half-day in Queenstown, you'll probably go on the Gondola or take a lake cruise. Maybe a Shotover River jet boat ride. I don't know what the focus of your tour is, but these are popular Queenstown attractions.

Melnq8 has offered good advice and insight. I agree Glenorchy is gorgeous and the road to Glenorchy is highly scenic. As I said, it's been a while since I've been there, but just yesterday, I read that large bus tours from Queenstown to Glenorchy have been reduced to minimize disturbance to the community. Until I read this, I wasn't even aware large buses were taking tourists to Glenorchy and Paradise. I can't imagine large buses on that narrow road.

I also agree two days for Balclutha/the Catlins and Dunedin affords too little time to truly savor these destinations and that the Catlins are beautiful. I'm guessing at the very least you'll get to walk to Nugget Point Lighthouse, one of the prettiest spots on the South Island's East Coast. With luck, they'll also take you to Curio Bay, home to a most unique geological sight: a petrified forest. Beginning in the late afternoon, rare and endangered Yellow-Eyed penguins begin to swim ashore to their nests, though I understand their population has dropped considerably so the chances of seeing one, let alone many, has been reduced. In summer, rare Hector's dolphins frequent adjacent Porpoise Bay.

In Dunedin, you'd have time to see little more than the city center and/or the Otago Peninsula's albatross colony at Taiaroa Head or Larnach Castle. Apart from rare wildlife (such as NZ sea lions, Northern Royal albatrosses, Yellow Eyed penguins, Otago shags, and more common Little Blue penguins and NZ fur seals), Dunedin is known for some of the country's best preserved Victorian and Edwardian buildings. However, the city center is currently a mess. Its famed Railway Station and its Town Hall in the Octagon are both surrounded by scaffolding. Several downtown streets are being pedestrianized (torn up) and construction has begun on Otago's main public hospital (Dunedin Hospital) on the former Cadbury Chocolate Factory site. There are still lots of fantastic murals to look at and the Saturday Farmers' Market is fun (especially in summer when it offers the region's best produce).

Downtown Dunedin is very walkable and convenient for shopping. Shops mainly cater to locals, but there are many tourist shops around the Octagon, for last-minute souvenirs or NZ knitwear. There are also a couple of large supermarkets, if you'd like to bring home NZ food or wine, and several specialty wine and liquor stores.

If you're interested in NZ history, there are two excellent midsize regional museums in the downtown area: Toitu Museum and the Otago Museum. There's also a public art gallery at the Octagon. General admission to the museums or art gallery is free, though "gold coin" ($1 or $2 coin) donation is appreciated, or more..

A short bus ride (5 to 10 minutes) from downtown, Dunedin's 28-hectare Botanic Garden is delightful (especially in early spring when the kowhai trees fill with tuis and bellbirds) and mid-to late-spring when the rhododendrons are in bloom. Decidous trees show off their fall colors from April through May. Admission is free.

Apart from Intercity bus, you might try contacting Tracknet Transport for transport between Te Anau and Queenstown.

Last edited by Diamantina; Mar 21st, 2023 at 05:42 AM.
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Old Mar 21st, 2023, 08:02 AM
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Thank you so much

Wow! You two are a wealth of information! We so appreciate your input. We were originally planning to do the trip this past February/early March with Road Scholar, but the cyclone caused us to postpone. We could not get a refund but we did get a credit towards another trip. So now we are looking at doing the same tour mid-January/early February 2024, which is the height of the tourist season. So I think, based on your respective comments, we will continue on to the Catlins rather than trying to backtrack to Queenstown. They do spend a full day in the Catlins, "passing through rural heartland to ancient podocarp forests, overlooking rugged and dramatic coastlines, and walking along native bush tracks to hidden lakes and waterfalls." They also go to Nugget Point/Tokata Lighthouse for sightings of fur seals and seabirds.

The entire tour is pretty awesome, with good hikes and scenery We won't see Nelson and the Tasman Bay or go through Arthur's Pass or hike a glacier, but you can't fit everything into three weeks. We won't have much time in Dunedin, unfortunately, unless we opt to extend our trip a day or so. So that is something we could consider. Thanks again for your detailed feedback and the great links. JognJan
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Old Mar 21st, 2023, 04:42 PM
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January 2024 will be the busiest time of the year, but by Feb. 7, school holidays will be over and the kids will have returned to school. Keep in mind, Australian families also visit NZ at around this same school holiday period (and NZ families visit Australia, too).

In NZ, university students will not yet have returned to classes. A few attend summer classes, but most start up in late February. Dunedin is a university town--it's home to NZ oldest university, so it empties out a lot during summer. Though we're on most cruise ship itineraries. Cruise ship passengers return to their ships at around 4:30 p.m They're not here every day, or even ever other day. They also stop at ports in Auckland, Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, Picton, Christchurch (Lyttleton) or Akaroa, and Milford Sound.

If you're retired and don't need to return to work or other commitments, why not extend for more days on your own? i don't know where you'll be coming from, but unless it's Australia, you're bound to be on a long flight to NZ and a long flight back. It will be a pity to not see Abel Tasman National Park.Will you be visiting Aoraki Mt. Cook/Lake Tekapo, or Wanaka or Akaroa? Luckily, you'll have plenty of time to think about it.

If you'd d like to return to Queenstown from Dunedin, buses leave daily. This same bus would also take you to Wanaka (transfer to another bus in Cromwell). On Sundays, two buses leave for Queenstown, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. There used to be two bus companies that offered this route but one went out business over the time NZ closed down to most international tourists due to Covid. Maybe by next year, we'll again have more choices.

I know you are already aware of NZ's changeable weather. We never know what to expect. This summer, Dunedin was the sunniest and driest place in NZ! Very out of the ordinary!



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Old Mar 22nd, 2023, 03:59 AM
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FWIW here is a link to our blog , entry # 4 covers the first day of one of our trips down in the Catlins https://accidentalnomads.com/category/new-zealand/ unfortunately I didn't get around to blogging about the other six days we spent there!. We really enjoy it there but it is incredibly quiet even by NZ standard (though we have always gone in winter). There is a lot to see there, mainly involving short walks off od the "Southern Scenic Route" . It is nice down there but it wouldn't be high on my list for a short trip.

Queenstown is way, way too busy for me. We have passed through several times but always end up staying elsewhere. Again, this may be because we go in winter when it is full of skiers etc. Great restaurants, some of the most incredible scenery I have seen anywhere in the world, superb restaurants serving the best food NZ has to offer. As a place to stay, I prefer Wanaka . Glenorchy is also a favourite but very small.Maybe iQueenstown is for you, only you can decide.

If I read your post correctly, two days for the Catlins & Dunedin is incredibly short and hardly seems worth the effort.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2023, 08:01 AM
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Is the tour leaving Queenstown to go to Milford Sound from Te Anau? If it is then do not leave.

If the tour ends in Dunedin, I would just add days there.

There are flights out of Dunedin to wherever your international flights would leave from.

Is there no way to go at a less busy time, if there is such a thing?

Last edited by mlgb; Mar 22nd, 2023 at 08:35 AM.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2023, 08:38 AM
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Thanks all. Maybe we should have rebooked our trip for later in the NZ summer. We were actually scheduled to go this February/March until the cyclone and earthquake hit. But since we are with a relatively small tour (probably about 15 people), I'm hoping that does not impact our enjoyment. The itinerary has us spending almost a week on the North Island (mostly Rotorua and Wellington with a stop at Huka Falls and Lake Taupo). On the South Island, we stay in Picton (Kaipupu Point Sanctuary, Marlborough Sounds Cruise, and Queen Charlotte Track hike). We also visit the Omaka Aviation Heritage Center, a sheep farm, and do a wine tasting in Blenheim. Then we head to Greymouth via Reefton. We see the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, Truman Track, Pororari River Walk. Enroute to Fox Glacier/Weheka, we stop at Hokitika and Treetops. We hike around Lake Matheson (which has reflections of Aoraki/Mt Cook but we do not hike it), then traverse the Haast Pass to Wanaka. We stay there for 2 night and hike on Mt. Iron. We have a morning in Queenstown on our way to Te Anau. There we do the Kepler Track and the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary. We also have an all-day trip/cruise to/on Milford Sound. the tour basically ends in Balcutha/Catlins. We only have a half day walking tour of Dunedin before flying home.

We could extend, but three weeks is a long time to be away. When I was planning my own trip (without a tour), I had us staying in Nelson/Tasman Bay area for a few days, also visiting Twizel, but our tour would not do that. It is possible we could fly up to Nelson for a few days at the end, then home. I just don't want to be gone too long, as we would have two or three different people doing doggy care.

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Old Mar 22nd, 2023, 08:40 AM
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Great Blog and Lovely Pictures, Crellston!
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Old Mar 22nd, 2023, 09:45 AM
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I was astonished at how crowded most of New Zealand had become. It doesn't really matter how big your tour group is, you are on the tourist trail. The owner of our company was our guide (only 6 of us plus him) and he cooked for us three nights just to get a break from 2-hour dinners. Hopefully by your trip they will have sorted out some of the staffing shortages.

Weather in New Zealand is unpredictable. It all depends on which direction the fronts are coming in from. When I used to visit more frequently I found that the austral fall (our spring) was the most "settled" time.

We got hit by weather, but were lucky to avoid the road closures. Packing list should include a VERY WATERPROOF lightweight jacket, waterproof walking shoes and a spare pair of slipons for back at the hotel, flip flops for when both are wet, a collapsible umbrella and few plastic bags (you can't find them in retailers).

Last edited by mlgb; Mar 22nd, 2023 at 09:52 AM.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2023, 11:47 AM
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Thanks for the tips. This will all come in handy when we finally do go there!
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Old Apr 10th, 2023, 01:32 PM
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Queenstown is definitely worth visiting! It's so beautiful. You can take a day trip to one of the nearby towns. As you only have a couple of days, I highly recommend visiting Arrowtown. It's an easy 20-minute drive with lots of great eateries and you can take it a bit of NZ history and pan for gold while you're there. If you want to take a drive over the majestic Crown Range, stop by the Cardrona Hotel (it's an iconic Kiwi landmark with great food and stunning mountain views). From there, you can drive another 20 minutes to reach the beautiful Wanaka.

The only thing I would say is that Queenstown is very expensive. There's not a lot you can do for free. But, if you're not on a tight budget, I say go for it!
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Old Apr 11th, 2023, 04:57 PM
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Thank you, EmmamacKenziej, for the tips of places to go around Queenstown.
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