Second trip to NZ - what not to miss this time

Old Jun 11th, 2009, 09:24 AM
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Second trip to NZ - what not to miss this time

My husband and I spent one month on the south island last year and are planning another month-long trip in Feb. 2010. We spent the month circling the entire south island hiking and wine tasting. We know which areas we want to revisit (Nelson, Queenstown surrounds, Central Otago), but we are having difficulty deciding whether to visit the Catlins this trip and whether to book the TranzAlpine train through Arthur's Pass - both areas we lacked time for on our previous trip. In addition, we plan to spend some time on the north island but are seeking opinions as to how to divide our time - knowing that there will never be enough time. Input greatly appreciated.
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Old Jun 11th, 2009, 12:48 PM
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My girlfriend and I spent three days in the Catlins area last year as part of a driving trip round the lower South Island. We'd never been there before but had been to all the "usual" places like Queenstown and Christchurch.

The trip to the Catlins is well worth a few days of your time to explore the rugged beauty of the area. Heaps of waterfalls to checkout, rugged southern beaches, Nugget Point lighthouse etc.
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Old Jun 11th, 2009, 03:44 PM
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Lucky you for having another month!

I've only been to the NI once, so can't help much there, but I strongly recommend spending a few nights in the Catlins if you can squeeze it in. It took us several trips to the SI before we were able to spend some quality time in the Catlins and we both loved it. We spent three nights there and could have easily stayed longer exploring the hikes, etc. It's an area unlike the rest of the SI and made me appreciate just how diverse NZ really is.

Personally, I wouldn't go out of my way to take the Tranzalpine, I've done it both ways, and I prefer the drive over the pass myself, which allows much more flexibility. If you do take the train, sugggest you take it one way only.

If you plan to drive down the West Coast from Nelson though, there's some gorgeous scenery to be found as you pass through Kahurangi National Park and drive along the Buller River towards Westport.

Other things you might want to consider if you haven't already: Spending a few nights in the Marlborough Sounds, exploring the Golden Bay area, possibly Karamea (a tiny place bit off the beaten path - lots of hikes, including one end of the Heaphy track), Te Anau (loads of great hikes here) and Stewart Island.
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Old Jun 12th, 2009, 06:43 AM
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Thanks for this input. Some of my best travel times have been as a result of Foderite's insights.
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Old Jul 1st, 2009, 09:05 PM
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I have my proposed itinerary now and would greatly appreciate input - where might we be making big mistakes?

To recap, this will be our second trip to NZ. We are middle-age hikers who enjoy a good meal, great wine and a comfy bed at the end of the day. Throw in a view balcony or deck and we’re very happy campers. We spent a month on the S.I. last trip and have a month this time as well. We feel that we should see some of the N.I. even though there is still so much to see of the south and it is hard to give up some of the things we would like to see again.

We have hiked the Milford, parts of the Routeburn, the Queen Charlotte, Abel Tasman and we have decided to forego the west coast this time.

Queenstown – 3 nights
Te Anau – 4 nights (husband wants to know if this will be too long if it rains the whole time)
Mt. Aoraki area – 3 nights (we may put in another night in Qntn to break up the drive)
Akaroa – 2 nights (if we really need to we can shave this part)
Arthur’s Pass – 2 nights (might we be better off going to Hamner Springs instead? Any lodging suggestions that aren’t the fabulously priced Arthur’s Pass Lodge? We missed both areas our previous trip.)
Motueka – 3 nights then ferry from Picton to Welllington
Wellington – 1 night
Napier – 2 nights
Tongariro – 2 nights (should we stay here longer? We plan to do the Tongariro Crossing)
Roturua – 1 night
Coromandel Peninsula – 3 nights
Auckland – 1 night (we need to overnight here to see some friends)
Bay of Islands – 4 nights
Fly home at 7 p.m. on the last day

One thought we are toying with is to skip the Motueka portion and fly from ChC to either Auckland or Wellington which will give us more time in either the NI or a different portion of the SI. It will be a hard decision as we would love to see our previous hosts from Upper Moutere.

As always, Fodorites I’m looking forward to your opinions!
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Old Jul 1st, 2009, 09:35 PM
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While you are in the Mt Cook area, try to fit in the Glacier Explorer trip on Tasman Lake. It's worthwhile.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2009, 12:57 AM
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Hi PJTravels -

Just curious, where did you stay last time in Upper Moutere? And I apologize if I've asked you that before...my head is like a sieve sometimes.

I looked it up, and it seems that Te Anau gets less rain in February than any other month, so hopefully it won't be an issue. Four days of rain will only seem long if you're unwilling to hike in it. I say take your rain gear and go for it.

About Hanmer Springs - I've been there several times - mostly because we usually bypass Christchurch, and Hanmer makes a good first night's stop after a long international flight. The main draw of course are the thermal springs. There are some decent hikes in the area, but personally, I'd think you'd have more hiking options at Arthurs Pass. Maybe someone else can clarify - it's an area I have yet to explore on foot.

There are less expensive Arthur's Pass lodging options, but I have no first hand experience with any of them. Here's a list of other options:

http://www.accommodationz.co.nz/arth...modation.shtml
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Old Jul 2nd, 2009, 07:18 AM
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Thanks for the input. We're really struggling with "only" 31 nights! We feel we should give the N.I. equal time but it is really difficult to let go of places to see on the S.I.

Melnq8 - In the Upper Moutere area we stayed at Larchwood House (near Mapua) http://larchwoodhousetasman.co.nz/ The accommodations were extra comfy and the hosts were extraordinarily gracious - they surprised my husband with a glorious birthday cake. Even though they are right off hiway 60 their road leads up to many wineries. If you go tell Peter and Noelene that Marty and PJ sent you. We will really regret not seeing them if we opt to skip the area this time.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2009, 08:18 AM
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Arthurs Pass..I stayed at Mountain House, which are the shared cottages just behind the village, they were one of my favorite spots to stay in all of NZ. It's associated with the YHA, but you want to stay in the cottages, not the hostel. There are easily a day's worth of short hikes, 2 nights sounds fine. www.trampers.co.nz for information. I'm not sure if they still do "shares" on the cottages or if you now must rent the entire cottage. You can see my review from several years ago at http://www.hostelz.com/hostel/25903-...n-House-Hostel

Coromandel Peninsula
I stayed at a great little homestay B&B, in Kuaotunu, the Drift In. The host is an excellent cook! The beaches nearby are wonderful, and it was a fairly easy day trip to the Cathedral Cove area on the east side of the peninsula. I liked it much better than the more touristy areas of Hotwater Beach and Whitianga. You also might want to spend one night at Thames or Coromandel, if you have a late start from Rotorua or if you want to go see the north tip of the peninsula (which I didn't).

I think 4 nights is too long in Te Anau myself, especially if you aren't going to one of the sounds.

Looking at your north island itinerary I might even add more time to that (especially in the middle section around Rotorua/National Park) and take it from the Te Anau bit.
http://bnb.co.nz/coromandel/results.html?town=kuaotunu
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Old Jul 2nd, 2009, 09:32 AM
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There's nothing like the input of Fodorites to help one think through all the options.

Thanks mlgb for the tips. We are beginning to rethink the number of days in Te Anau. I am thinking 1 day for that end of the Routeburn and 1 day for part of the Kepler. We did the Milford Track in 2008 and summited McKinnon Pass in the first rain they had had in 6 weeks so when we hit the sound all we saw were waterfalls. It was incredible, but I was thinking it might be nice to actually see Mitre Peak if the sun shines. However, now I realize that if the sun is shining I would rather be hiking than driving to Milford Sound.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2009, 11:22 AM
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The first time I saw Mitre Peak was as you described, cloud covered at the top. I returned when I hiked the Milford Track, (and we hit McKinnon Pass on the first sunny day in two weeks) and not a cloud in the sky at Milford Sound.

As for the Catlins, I've been through there a few times. It can be very very windy. There are a few good lookouts such as Nugget Point (and beautiful (but often sandfly infested) beaches on the southwest coast). I would do the Catlins if you are also going to Dunedin, but otherwise I wouldn't detour down there.

I was less than a huge fan of Akaroa and would recommend Kaikoura instead. I was surprised at the scenic mountain backdrop of the ranges. Also since you mentioned wine, you'll be within easy reach of some pretty good wineries in the Waipara area between Christchurch and Kaikoura (Pegasus Bay is a top pick, there are also some boutique wineries). Waipara is fairly good for pinot noir as well as the aromatics such as Pinot gris, riesling, and SB. As for Hanmer Springs, it isn't really a top sight in my opinion.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2009, 11:32 AM
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Here is a resource I found for Northland (food and wine trail). I recommend a stop at the Kerikeri Farmers Market if you are there over a Sunday. I made it as far as Doubtless Bay, the Karikari Peninsula and Matai Bay last time. Stunning beaches, more beautiful than the area round Pahia and Russell.

http://www.northlandnz.com/food_and_..._trail_map.htm
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Old Jul 5th, 2009, 08:36 PM
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Thanks for the ongoing tips, mlgb. I've been away for a few days but will be settling on an itinerary in the next few days. We spent a night in Kaikoura last time - beautiful spot and very well thought-out B&B - the Bush and Sea. http://www.bushandsea.co.nz/index.htm
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Old Jul 21st, 2009, 12:04 PM
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OK folks, we have our itinerary pretty much in place and most of our accommodations determined. A few opinions sought:

Lake Tekapo/Aoraki - we have 3 nights planned for this area. any opinions as to whether at least one of them should be spent in Mt.Cook? We were thinking to just drive up from Tekapo or Pukaki if the weather were nice.

Coromandel Peninsula - it all looks incredible. We are torn between staying around Kuaotuno Bay - a bit off the tourist track - or somewhere around Whitianga. I have located pretty spectacular looking accommodations in both areas that are still available.

BTW - for those of you planning to go to Akaroa mostly to dine at C'est la Vie, it burned. A local innkeeper told me that the owners don't plan to reopen. Given our time contraints and that fact, we no longer plan to drive to the Banks Peninsula this trip. This allows us to take in the Marlborough Food and Wine Festival before heading to the North Island.

Here's our itinerary for those who may be interested.
4 nights - Queenstown
3 nights - Lake Tekapo/Pukaki/Aoraki area
2 nights - Arthur's Pass
1 night - somewhere in the bush on the way to Motueka
3 nights - Motueka to spend time again at a favorite B&B
1 night - Blenheim - Marlborough Food and Wine Festival
2 nights - Wellington
1 night - Martinborough
2 nights - Hawkes Bay area
3 nights - Lake Taupo/Tongariro Nat'l. Park
1 night - Rotorua
3 nights - Coromandel Peninsula
1 night - Auckland meet with buddies from Milford Track 2008
4 nights - Bay of Islands

I promise I will try to submit a decent trip report. However, I am still working on my notes from our trip to Spain in Oct. 2008.
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Old Jul 21st, 2009, 12:35 PM
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I think I already commented on K vs W on Coromandel. The beaches along Black Jack Road near K are spectacular. Whitianga is not really all that attractive and is much more developed in feeling, and as I recall the beach at the town itself was more like a mud strip. Matarangi was much less than I expected. Looked like southern Florida, not NZ. But do visit Cathedral Cove, no matter where you stay.

It is nice to spend a night inside the park at Mt. Cook. The conditions are so changeable that your only peek at Mt. Cook might happen early or late in the day.

If you were hesitating about staying at the Hermitage, there is also the simpler Alpine Lodge..I think longtime poster Melissa5 stayed there.

http://www.aorakialpinelodge.co.nz/accommodation.htm
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Old Jul 22nd, 2009, 02:19 PM
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I agree with mlgb that Whitianga is not that attractive. But Cathedral Cove should not be missed. Also be sure to check out Hot Water Beach. It's only a few miles from Cathedral Cove and if you get there with the tide is right, you can dig a hole in the sand and have your own beach-front jacuzzi (nearby stores sell shovels or you can borrow from other tourists, don't worry the holes are easy to dig).

Also, you mentioned that you are wine enthusiasts. If that's the case than Waiheke Island is a MUST DO. The island is a 40 minute ferry ride from Auckland and is covered in wineries and beautiful beaches. Mudbrick Vineyard has great Merlot and Cab Sav and views of Auckland from the deck. I know your itinerary is pretty much set but I would recommend taking a day or two away from Bay of Islands and going to Waiheke Island. You won't regret it.
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Old Jul 22nd, 2009, 03:48 PM
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Thank you mlgb and kjost25. We have decided to book somewhere around Kuaotuno on the peninsula.

kjost25 your point about Waiheke Island is one that we have been tossing around. It would mean staying two nights in Auckland so we might switch the last week of our trip around some. If we stayed in Auckland at the end there would be less angst about getting to the airport after a day's drive down from Bay of Islands and we could turn in the rental car a few days early.

There's still plenty of time to make changes, although we are finding lots of places already booked up.
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