Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Australia & the Pacific
Reload this Page >

Recommendations for bases for 6 weeks in South Island (Nov-Dec 2024)

Recommendations for bases for 6 weeks in South Island (Nov-Dec 2024)

Old May 4th, 2024, 12:10 AM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2015
Posts: 43
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Recommendations for bases for 6 weeks in South Island (Nov-Dec 2024)

Hello Fodorites! We've booked our trip to New Zealand South Island for 6 weeks in Nov-Dec (early Nov till before Christmas), flying in and out of Christchurch. We are a young family (kids range from newborn to 8yo), nature-loving, and happy to simply exist and live life (do not necessarily have to hit all the tourist / must-do spots). Our day could look like this -- grab a coffee in the morning, spend the day at the playground/park/lake/mountains/place of attraction, head back to the apartment for a nap/playtime and have an early dinner. We have young children with us so would preferably not move every other night, but won't be campervanning as I understand there can be a maximum of 2 car seats installed (and we have more than that). I've shortlisted these bases (not sure if I can actually realistically call them bases as there are so many of them, and am having a tough time minimizing the need to travel to and forth from a base, vs moving frequently) and would love inputs as to how to improve on the trip itinerary. Thank you!

5 nights - Christchurch (planning to stop by Akaroa during the drive to the next base)
5 nights - Marlborough Sounds (thoughts about choosing this over Kaikoura/Picton? Or is this too close to Nelson?)
6 nights - Nelson (or should we stay closer to Abel Tasman NP?)
3 nights - Punakaiki (ChatGPT suggested splitting a week at Punakaiki and Franz Josef, but unsure about that)
4 nights - Franz Josef
8 nights - Wanaka (base for Mount Cook, Glenorchy. Thoughts about skipping Queenstown?)
4 nights - Te Anau (base for Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound)
6 nights - Dunedin (should we go to Caitlins?)

Feel free to highlight anything glaring that I have missed out / should go to even though I had said it's not a priority to hit spots.

Thank you!
slothandrabbit is offline  
Old May 11th, 2024, 05:13 PM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 2,254
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
This is just my opinion, but I don't think Punakaiki would offer enough of a variety of experiences for your children and yourselves to justify a stay of more than two nights. In fact, you could probably get by with a night's stay. There are some beautiful walks here, incredible views, but not a lot of services. I just googled "population Punakaiki". I got an answer of 70. In peak tourism season, this population grows by certainly at least hundreds of tourists per day, some who stay a night or two but many more who just explore for a few hours. It's not far from the towns of Greymouth and Westport. It is one of NZ's most scenic spots, and logical place to visit if traveling from Nelson/Abel Tasman to Hokitika, Franz Josef, and Fox, with many lovely detours along the way.

There is more to do and see in Franz Josef, which is larger, but, again, it is primarily a tourism village that attracts visitors who've gone there to look at or walk on its glaciers (on foot and/or from helicopters); to walk on its rain-forested trails, visit its small but photogenic lakes, walk on its nearby beaches, etc. There is also a wildlife center, where your kids can see kiwis, local walking tracks with glowworms, and hot pools.. Please note the beaches are home to the notorious sandfly, which bite but do not carry diseases, but mosquito repellent is a must or you might end up feeling miserable.. Hokitika, which you'll pass from Punakaiki to FJ is worth a stop, maybe a stay of a couple of nights (though I know you don't want to hop around). It's a more substantial town with some interesting attactions and more services.

Your other choices seem wise to me, but I'll speak off what I know best (below).

I live in Dunedin and the town is known for its awful weather, but when it's nice it's great. But we have a wild variety of indoor and outdoor attractions that will be of interest to your entire family. There is an extremely family friendly city. I have met so many families from different parts of NZ and the world who moved to Dunedin because it was a great place to raise kids. It has lots of playgrounds, wonderful beaches with wildlife; indoor and outdoor public swimming pools; some with "kiddie pools" and water slides; lots of cafes and restaurants; three famiily-friendly museums, a fabulous Saturday morning Farmers' Market at the historic Dunedin Railway Station; a wonderful Botanic Garden with a playground, aviary, and duck pond where kids (or adults) can feed the ducks with pellets dispensed free of charge from visitor center. Orokonui Ecosanctuary is one of my favorite spots, where you can see rarer native birds and skinks, a tuatara, and, if you are lucky, a jeweled gecko. Another favorite spot is the Otago Peninsula. The question is, what part of the city would you like to stay in? This is a university town, and it attracts a lot of tourists from cruise ships and others who arrive by land or on planes to see the city's wiildlife (penguins, sea ions, albatrosses, fur seals, and more) and heritage architecture. So dowontown can get busy, but the city is compact.For example, we live near St. Clair Beach, yet we can drive to the downtown area in 12 minutes.

Please note throughout NZ, the weather in November-December can still be wet and windy, but also qutte nice. You'll know when you get here. Check forecasts on Metservice every day.

Last edited by Diamantina; May 11th, 2024 at 05:15 PM.
Diamantina is offline  
Old May 12th, 2024, 03:38 PM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 2,254
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Sorry for the typos yesterday, as I was rushing off. I should have taken more time to check for spelling and other errors! I should have written:

"Your other choices seem wise to me, but I'll write of what I know best (below).

I live in Dunedin and the town is known for its awful weather, but when it's nice it's great. Yet, we have a wide variety of indoor and outdoor attractions that might be of interest to your entire family. There is an extremely family friendly city. I have met so many families from different parts of NZ and the world who moved to Dunedin because it was a great place to raise kids. It has lots of playgrounds; wonderful beaches with wildlife; indoor and outdoor public swimming pools; some with "kiddie pools" and water slides; lots of cafes and restaurants; three family-friendly museums; a fabulous Saturday morning Farmers' Market at the historic Dunedin Railway Station; a wonderful Botanic Garden with a playground, aviary, and duck pond where kids (or adults) can feed the ducks with pellets dispensed free of charge from its visitor center (and ultra-steep Baldwin Street is nearby). Orokonui Ecosanctuary is one of my favorite spots, where you can see rarer native birds and skinks, a tuatara, and, if you are lucky, a jeweled gecko. They also have a cafe that offers wonderful views on a clear day. Another favorite spot is the Otago Peninsula. The question is, what part of the city would you like to stay in? This is a university town, and it attracts a lot of tourists from cruise ships and others who arrive by land or on planes to see the city's wildlife (penguins, sea lions, albatrosses, fur seals, and more) and heritage architecture. So downtown can get busy, but the city is compact. For example, we live near St. Clair Beach, yet we can drive to the downtown area in 12 minutes.

"Please note throughout NZ, the weather in November-December can still be wet and windy, but also quite nice. You'll know when you get here. Check forecasts on Metservice every day."

You also asked about the Catlins. Try to fit it in between Te Anau and Dunedin. Three nights would give you enough time to see and enjoy this area at a leisurely pace.

I wouldn't skip Queenstown. It's busy, but you can stay in the more relaxed suburb of Arrowtown or if you prefer something more isolated and rural, Glenorchy (though accommodation choices are more limited here). Alternatively, if staying in Arrowtown, you could easily check out Queenstown and Glenorchy on your day drives. Please note, I'm not trying to make your schedule more hectic, but just making you aware of some of your options.

You mentioned Akaroa village. It's lovely and has an amazing harbor where you can see Hector's dolphins. Be aware that the drive from Christchurch to Akaroa is winding, so make sure you're well-rested before driving there.


As you are flying into and out of Christchurch, consider driving from Dunedin to Oamaru (exploring some natural attractions along this coastal drive, such as Shag Point, Moeraki Boulders, Katiki Pt. Lighthouse, Moeraki village), then take Waitaki Valley to the Aoraki Mt. Cook-Tekapo area (also known as Mackenzie Region). Some travelers use Twizel as a base instead of Aoraki Mt. Cook or Lake Tekapo to see Mackenzie attractions.
.
You could also consider staying 2 or 3 nights in Oamaru, a nice town that's home to a Blue Penguin Colony (that's also involved in conservation and research), a beautifully preserved Victorian Precinct, a well-known cheese factory, Whitestone Cheese; and an attractive botanic garden. It also has many cafes, restaurants, a couple of craft breweries, and a Sunday morning farmers' market. Waitaki Valley also has some interesting attractions. The little town of Kurow offers fine wine tasting (Valli, River-T and Ostler), and a short detour from Kurow will take you to the immense boulders known as Elephant Rocks.

Last edited by Diamantina; May 12th, 2024 at 03:54 PM.
Diamantina is offline  
Old May 13th, 2024, 06:52 AM
  #4  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2015
Posts: 43
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks very much Diamantina, and for even taking the time to re-read and correct the typos - I didn't mind that at all! Could make sense of them Your local experience sharing is truly invaluable.

I've tweaked the stays a little based on your inputs (I think we might be ok with some long bases peppered with some 1-2 night stays). How does the revised split look to you? Does it weigh too heavy on one or the other?

Some questions that I have if you have any insights to them -

1) would Wanaka warrant a long-ish stay? My original intention was to also use that for a base for Queenstown if we wanted to head in but it seems like you'd base yourself in Arrowtown/Glenorchy instead. Besides distance, any reason why you would choose one over the other?

2) Nelson vs Marlborough Sounds - would they be so distinct enough to warrant 2 decent length of stays?

Christchurch - 5 nights
Marlborough Sounds - 4 nights
Nelson - 5 nights
Punakaiki - 1 night
Franz Josef Glacier - 3 nights
Wanaka - 7 nights
Arrowtown / Glenorchy - 4 nights
Te Anau - 3 nights
Catlins - 3 nights
Dunedin / Otago Peninsula - 5 nights
Oamaru - 2 nights
Christchurch - 1 night (before catching the flight)

Thanks so much again!
slothandrabbit is offline  
Old May 15th, 2024, 05:50 PM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 2,254
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Yes, I think you would enjoy Wanaka for the week you've planned. You wrote you wanted to "grab a coffee in the morning, spend the day at the playground/park/lake/mountains/place of attraction, head back to the apartment for a nap/playtime and have an early dinner." Wanaka checks all the boxes. It has playgrounds, cafes and restaurants, supermarkets, and plenty of attractions. It's also incredibly scenic and not nearly as busy as Queenstown.

I hope you'll find Arrowtown more practical as a base to explore the area around Queenstown. For instance, if you were to drive from Wanaka to Queenstown, it would normally take around an hour and 15 minutes over Cardrona Valley-Crown Range Road, the most scenic route, which is pretty winding. To get from Wanaka to Glenorchy would take about 2 hours. This would be a lot of driving in a day. Arrowtown is a suburb of Queenstown, but it has an historic village center with original buidings that date back to the 1860s Central Otago Gold Rush. The exteriors of these buildings have been beautifully maintained and today house shops, cafes and restaurants. I don't think Arrowtown has a large supermarket, but they have a large grocery, Four Square. Check out this link for playgrounds. Nearby, along Lake Hayes Road, you'll find wineries, most with restaurants. It would take you about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on traffic, to drive from Arrowtown to downtown Queenstown, where you'll find the wharf, a pedestrian shopping area, the highly enjoyable botanic garden, the Gondola and a Kiwi Wildlife Park. It would take about an hour to get from Arrowtown to Glenorchy, but this beautiful drive, along Lake Wakitipu, is well-worth doing. In Glenorchy, you might enjoy an easy walk on the Glenorchy walkway. Another thing you might enjoy as a family would be a Lake Wakitipu cruise to Walter Peak High Country Farm. I've not done this, but it sounds like an 8 year old would enjoy it (and probably an 8 year old's parents). You'd catch the cruise from Queenstown's wharf. "magrose" wrote a nice trip report about her visit to Queenstown, including a cruise to and tour of Walter Peak Farm; the Queenstown portion starts at post #15.

Your drive to Te Anau will also be a shorter if traveling from Arrowtown or Queenstown. If you have trouble finding accommodation in Arrowtown, you might want to look in Frankton. It's not got that historic charm, but it's scenically situated by Lake Wakitipu and closer to downtown Queenstown. It's also has a couple of playgrounds and it's home to the Remarkables Shopping Centre and the Saturday morning Remarkables Market. The airport is also in Frankton.

I hope you wouldn't find Oamaru boring. As I previously wrote, I wanted to make you aware of some options and you still have lots of time to research these destinations. The main Oamaru attraction is its Blue Penguin Colony, which must be enjoyed at night, as this is when the penguins swim ashore and waddle to to their nests. The Victorian Precinct is also quaint and it's right next to the penguin colony. However, if you plan to stay on the Otago Peninsula while in Dunedin, it, too, has a blue penguin colony at Pilot Beach (it's next to the Taiaroa Head albatross centre). It's been many years since I've been there, but I think there are still no places to sit at the Otago Peninisula colony. So it might not be as comfortable for a family with young children as the Oamaru colony would be..

Oamaru also has lots of other wildlife. I like the town a lot, but the Mackenzie is more scenic; it's gorgeous. Its glacier lakes, particularly Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo, are dazzling. The road to Aoraki Mt. Cook is another one of those drives you'd love--providing the weather isn't awful and it sometimes can be. If I had the choice of two nights in Oamaru or two in the Mackenzie Region, I would go for Mackenzie. Ideally, if you can tweak your schedule some more: one night in Oamaru to see the penguins and this sweet small town and then two nights in the Mackenzie, in hopes that the weather would turn out fine. Twizel, Lake Tekapo and finally Aoraki Mt. Cook would be the best choices for accommodation. The latter has more limited and expensive accommodation. The Mackenzie is an International Dark Sky Reserve, so the night skies, if clear, should put on a good show. There is very little light pollution here. Also, November-December is lupin season. These are non-native flowers, which are considered a pest by some, but a treat by others. You'll see them elsewhere but the Mackenzie region blooms are said to be the best. There are also salmon farms in the Mackenzie; High Country Salmon near Twizel is a fun one to visit.

The drive from Tekapo to Christchurch or Christchurch Airport, would take around 3 hours. The drive from Oamaru to Christchurch would take about 3 hours, 20 minutes and is not scenic at all.

I will write more later. I hope Melnq8 can comment on your destinations and itinerary as well. She certainly could advise on Christchurch, Marlborough Sounds, Nelson much better than I can. I've stayed in Nelson city, Upper Moutere (close to Mapua Wharf), and in Kaiteriteri. I prefer Kaiteriteri, but this is because I wanted easy access to Abel Tasman National Park. This might not be your preference. I have never stayed in Marlborough Sounds (though I'd like to!), but stayed instead in Blenheim or Picton because I wanted to be close to the wineries. Again, this might not be your priority. Marlborough Sounds is incredibly scenic, as is Kaikoura, which you will pass through on your way from Christchurch to Marlborough Sounds.

Last edited by Diamantina; May 15th, 2024 at 06:16 PM.
Diamantina is offline  
Old May 19th, 2024, 04:54 AM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 2,254
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
The Otago Peninsula is lovely, rural and natural with pretty beaches, walks, gardens and wildlife. In my previous post I mentioned the Blue Penguin Colony. It's next to the Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head. You can actually see the albatrosses flying overhead without going into the center.. NZ sea lions can usually be spotted resting on the sands of Allans Beach; which is best visited at low tide. There's good birdwatching at Hoopers Inlet, which is also a top spot for viewing the night sky. If lucky, you might also see Yellow Eyed Penguins on the Otago Peninsula.

Much of the Otago Peninsula accommodation is around the village of Portobello, which is about a half hour drive from the Dunedin Railway Station in the heart of Dunedin's city center. But there's also accommodation around Macandrew Bay, which is closer to the city center and its services and attractions.. Macandrew Bay has a couple of playgrounds, a cafe/restaurant, and a small, calm beach, though it might not yet be "beach weather" in December, at least, not in Dunedin. Macandrew Bay is also close to the pretty Glenfalloch Restaurant and Gardens; it's nice to take a walk around its grounds. The harborside road that goes from Macandrew Bay to Portobello is fairly winding. There aren't many services on the Otago Peninsula, no supermarkets or petrol stations, and only a few cafes and restaurants, but it's beautifully serene.

If staying on the Otago Peninsula, consider taking the Monarch Cruise, but only if the weather is sunny.

Here a link to a brochure for Dunedin walks. Here is a link for the Otago Peninsula. Here is a link to the Northern Royal Albatross livestream webcam. About Taiaroa Head wildlife.

Dunedin can be very windy in December.

In my previous post, I neglected to mention that the Oamaru Penguin Colony is larger than the Dunedin colony. Blue penguins can be found all around New Zealand's coastline, but they are vulnerable to attacks from ferrets, stoats, feral cats, dogs, and road accidents, except at predator-free conservation sancturies and at tourist attractions like those in Oamaru and on the Otago Peninsula, which offer on-going monitoring, predator removal, and medical care for injured, sick and underweight birds. They can also be seen on the Banks Peninsula.

When driving from Christchurch to Marlborough Sounds, do stop at the Ohau Point fur seal colony just north of Kaikoura.

Last edited by Diamantina; May 19th, 2024 at 05:08 AM.
Diamantina is offline  
Old Jun 26th, 2024, 02:03 PM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Jun 2024
Posts: 7
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
PLEASE do not base any itinerary on decisions made by a computer! Ask real people on forums like this. I grew up in Nelson (years ago now!) and just visited in January for a West Coast road trip with hubby.
5 nights in the Marlborough Sounds is far too long. It's a lovely area but more for the fishing/boating type of person and boring for kids. There's no cute little town either other than Picton. You could pop over to Wellington which is very family friendly and many cool things to do plus a ferry ride would give you a good look at the Marlborough Sounds.
5 nights in Nelson would be amazing. Richmond is quite central to get a nice Air BnB. Founders Park is fun, Pic's Peanut Butter World, Mapua, pick your own boysenberries, have an Abel Tasman day trip from Kaiteriteri. And Tahunanui Beach is awesome.
One night at Punakaiki is more than enough. We stayed at the Punakaiki Rocks Tavern and while not flash it was fine and we had a nice meal in the pub. Try and time your walk up the hill to see the sea rush around the rocks at high tide.
Maybe add a couple of nights at Hokitika? We stayed 2 nights and it was such a cute place to visit. Make sure you try a whitebait fritter. Hubby found the South Westland Machinery museum and he was happy. There is a Kiwi experience small 'zoo' which the kids would like. The Hokitika Gorge is spectacular and worth the 30 minute drive. We did not do the Treetops walk but it looked fun.
We visited the Catlins in 2021 and it was amazing. I loved the area and Owaka was another cute little place to stop. Some accommodation, restaurants/cafes, a very nice little museum and close to Kaka Point Light house.
Tarakona is offline  
Old Jun 26th, 2024, 02:17 PM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Jun 2024
Posts: 7
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I'd stay more centrally in Queenstown and have a 'day trip' although it's not far to Arrowtown and then Glenorchy in the other direction. Queenstown is expensive but fantastic. A trip on the Earnslaw (Southern Hemisphere's oldest working steamship) is a must as well as a ride up in the gondola.
You are short changing Christchurch by just having the one night. For the type of family friendly slower paced holiday you are after there's plenty to do in Christchurch. The Antarctic Centre would be amazing. We are visiting Christchurch in September so I can post more ideas then.
Tarakona is offline  
Related Topics
Thread
Original Poster
Forum
Replies
Last Post
TravelinArkansan
Europe
14
Aug 1st, 2022 07:26 AM
introvertadela
Europe
6
May 18th, 2018 05:55 AM

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On


Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Manage Preferences Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Your Privacy Choices -