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Advice on Itinerary for New Zealand-12 full days

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Hello all,

My husband and I will be traveling from Mumbai, India to NZ for the first time. We are in our mid 30s and are interested mostly in the beautiful NZ scenery. Would appreciate if you could help us plan and advice the itinerary based on your experiences. A few details for the trip:-
- Excluding the travel days - we will have 12 full days in NZ. Inclusive of Travel days it comes to 14 days.
- We will be traveling mid-October.
- We are looking at flying into Auckland and flying out of Christchurch
- We plan on renting a car and driving but are open to flying/ or taking a train where required
- We are definitely more inclined towards the South Island but are excited about Geothermal attractions in the North Island. Also excited about the seeing Hobbiton but not able to gauge if it is worth it or are we just feeling excited seeing the photographs?
- Want to know if we can give the Waitomo caves a miss? Or is it a must do?
- Are there good Maori cultural tours and wine tours in South Island? Any recommendations?

I am aware that 12 days are not enough to cover both South and North Island hence want to make a conscious decision if we do have to skip the North Island.

Would appreciate any advice on the above and how to go about building the best possible itinerary for this trip!

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    My husband and I spent around 2 weeks in NZ on our honeymoon so I can give you some ideas.
    North Island
    Waitomo Caves are lovely, take the time to see all 3 main caves if you go. We spent most of a day there. If you like caves, I'd recommend. The glow worms are very cool.

    Hobbiton is fun and the tour interesting - I loved it. It's worth it! You could go on your way to Rotorua. In Rotorua a MUST DO is the zip lining in the forest. Amazing!!!

    The geo thermal stuff is definitely interesting.

    You could do s loop from Auckland - Auckland to see these things in a few days, then fly to Queenstown.

    The South Island is STUNNING, and def our favourite!
    Queenstown is gorgeous. If you like adventure sports there's a lot to do, and even if you don't, there's still plenty!! Glenorchy is gorgeous. Arrowtown is quaint, with gorgeous food. Mt Cook is imposing and the museum fascinating if you like mountaineering stories. We didn't get to the glaciers as there were closed roads, but from all accounts they are very cool. I'll keep an eye on the post - if you want accomodation or restaurant ideas let me know.

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    With only 12 days on the ground, I suggest you stick to one island. It's no secret that I'm a fan of the South Island, so you can guess what I'm going to say...go south.

    As your travel style probably differs from mine, I suggest you search here for Indiancouple's trip report. They managed to fit both islands into very little time, a trip that made my head spin, but it could very well work for you.

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    Oh and I meant to say, we enjoyed Milford Sound very much . We did an overnight cruise there, which was lots of fun. Seeing Milford in the very early morning is incredible. Flying back rather than taking the bus is an option, and the flight is amazing.

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    Day 1 - arrive AKL and sightsee. Stay outside and be gently active until at least 7pm

    Day 2 - hire car noon-ish and drive to Hobbiton for late afternoon tour. Stay Matamata

    Day 3 - drive to Rotorua (2 nights)

    Day 4 - explore

    Day 5 - Fly to Queenstown, drive to Te Anau (2 nights)

    Day 6 - explore Milford Sound, stay Te Anau

    Day 7 - Glowworm cave tour in morning, drive to Queenstown (3 nights)

    Day 8 - Explore

    Day 9 - more

    Day 10 - Drive to Mount Cook (2 nights)

    Day 11 - Explore

    Day 12 - Drive to Christchurch

    Day 13 - fly out

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    @LakesideChick- thank you so much. Although after reading your experience, I am tempted not to skip North Island as much as before :-) Any recommendations on accommodation and restaurants will definitely be very helpful.
    @Melnq8-yes you are right that 12 days is too ambitious to cover both Islands. I did start reading the Indiancouple's report and haven't been able to finish it as yet. Its quite detailed and will definitely be helpful in planning the trip. However they did have 16 full days so it was perhaps easier for them to take on both the Islands. We too want to go at a leisurely pace and not be rushed on a holiday but just being greedy at the planning stage to see what can we cover in an ideal case scenario. We are only thinking of the North Island for three things- the waitomo caves, the hobbiton and the geothermal attraction. And after LakesideChick's reply, i am still not a 100 percent sure if i want to drop it as yet. So a little torn there.
    @DeSchenke- thank you. Will try and flesh out your itinerary suggestion basis what we want to do and maybe start tweaking it.

    If I did stick to only the South Island- then the things we would like to cover for sure (any suggestions on how to plan it and how many days to spend where would be helpful), would be:-
    1. Queenstown- thinking of doing the skyline gondola and the Luge. Sounds fun. Also wanted to know if the stargazing and the restaurant trip there is worth it. Also heard its a beautiful place and worth spending a few days here.
    2. Arrowtown or Glenorchy- if i had to choose one, which one should it be?
    3. Milford sound- not able to understand if one needs to spend a night here or is it good enough to do the half day cruise or take the doubtful sound overnight cruise instead?
    4. Franz Joseph Glacier/ Fox Glacier- should we do both and we need to choose one, which one should it be?
    5. Wanaka or Mt. cook-?
    6. And if one wants to skydive-any suggestions?
    7. Wine Tours?- what would be the top 3 best wine tour experiences from which we could choose one?
    Gosh, there is so much to see here! I am thinking would extending by one day help at all?
    Thank you once again for all your replies and advice!

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    So now my long answers:

    1. The gondola and luge are great for the first day (or any day). Queenstown is very walkable, although it will depend how far away your accommodation is. Contrary to what people might think, it is not a city, but a town. I've only been at the top of the gondola in the daytime. I think the view at nighttime would be spectacular, but I've heard that the food is buffet. If you are a foodie, there are better meals in town.

    2. The drive to Glenorchy is definitely one of those, "take your breath away" kind of drives. I'd put it in my top 3 drives of all of New Zealand. If there is nothing in Glenorchy itself that interests you (horseback ride, jetboat, tramping, LOTR tour), at minimum drive as far as the pullout (about half an hour from Queenstown) and take in the stunning view. We did the kayak trip across the head of Wakatipu to Kinloch lodge for dinner. Seeing that area in twilight made me gasp - truly.

    Arrowtown is really busy in the daytime - too busy for me. The Chinese settlement is interesting, but small. We rented bikes in Arrowtown and bicycled along the Arrow River, watched the bungy jumpers, then up to Chard Farm Winery. After our tastings and picnic, we called the bike company and they picked us up. It was a perfect half-day outing.

    3. No reason to spend the night on land at Milford Sound and the sandflies are the best reason not to. Overnighting on the cruise is fine, as the sandflies don't follow the boats. It's about 5 hours on the road from Te Anau and back to Te Anau if doing a self-drive daytrip. So, if staying in Te Anau, you need 2 nights. If wanting to depart/return Queenstown, take the coach. It will be a long 13-hour day. It's is often stated that if wanting to do a daytrip, do Milford. For the overnight, do Doubtful.

    4. As for actual glaciers, pick one or the other. You can walk up to the terminal face of either one. But to walk ON the glacier will require a helicopter. What is different is the towns. Franz Josef is more of a town with many shops and dining options. There are also hot pools there (not natural springs, just heated water). Fox is about 1 block long, or so it seemed. There's a glowworm track a few steps from town and also Lake Matheson. If going to Lake Matheson, morning is best for reflected views of Mounts Tasman and Cook. Hope for a clear, still, morning.

    5. Both? Not sure what you are asking here. But if arriving Queenstown and departing Christchurch, you will have to make a decision which side of the alps to drive on. Mount Cook village is on one side, Fox/FJG on the other. It is a two-day trip to get from one to the other. Either direction, you will either pass through Wanaka, or it is an easy detour to include it.

    6. I've never been. We did hang glide in Queenstown. I've read that Wanaka has great skydiving.

    7. My idea of wine tasting is to go to one winery and take a picnic lunch. So haven't done any "tours". The area you are closest to for wine is Gibbston Valley (remember my bike trip?) just outside of Queenstown. Further on about 40 minutes is Bannockburn, south of Cromwell. Both these areas have fantastic Pinot Noirs! Other winery areas are north of Christchurch and near Nelson. There is a winery in Wanaka that has a fabulous view, but the wines are just okay.

    My favorites in Gibbston Valley: Chard Farm and Peragrine. Favorite for Bannockburn - Mt Difficulty.

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    <<2. Arrowtown or Glenorchy- if i had to choose one, which one should it be?>>

    For me it would be Glenorchy hands down, but we're hikers, so we go there to hike. There's not much to it other than some pretty spectacular scenery and the activities mentioned above.

    I also find Arrowtown too busy during the day but that's just around town and near the Chinese settlement. If you're there to hike, there are some fabulous trails and very few people on them.

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    Hi again :-)
    Here are some further thoughts....

    The Rotorua Ziplining: - if you go to Rotorua you MUST do this!!! Sensational.

    In Queenstown, we stayed here - was lovely, great spot halfway between Queenstown and Arrowtown. Lovely couple who own the place, awesome breakfast, felt like home.

    In Arrowtown, we ate here and it was DELICIOUS:

    12 days is tight to do both islands, but if you fly between them you can see a lot.

    On your other questions, I'll answer where I can:

    1. Queenstown- thinking of doing the skyline gondola and the Luge. Sounds fun. Also wanted to know if the stargazing and the restaurant trip there is worth it. Also heard its a beautiful place and worth spending a few days here.

    Definitely a beautiful place to spend a few days. I wasnt fussed with the Luge but others find it fun. I didnt do the star gazing.

    2. Arrowtown or Glenorchy- if i had to choose one, which one should it be?

    Glenorchy is a sensational drive and a lovely day out if you like short walks and good food. I really like Arrowtown as well, very quaint and cute, awesome restaurants.

    3. Milford sound- not able to understand if one needs to spend a night here or is it good enough to do the half day cruise or take the doubtful sound overnight cruise instead?

    I haven't done Doubtful Sound so cant comment. You dont need to spend a night in Milford, it would be enough to do the 2 hr cruise. We spent the night on a boat though and enjoyed the experience.

    Your other questions covered things I didnt see or do, except I did go to Mt Cook and enjoyed the museum there.

    Keep the questions coming :-)

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    Thank you Lakeside Chick, Melnq8 and DeSchenke. Im going to now apply all that you have told me into making an itinerary and customize it. Will work on it this weekend when i get time off from work!! :-) Please do let me know your thoughts when i share it!
    You guys are great. Thanks!!

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    ok, here is a slightly ambitious itinerary. Have increased 1 day and made it for 15 days inclusive of travel. Tried figuring distances on the net so not sure actually if these make sense or not. This is just a first cut- have tried to pack all things we wanted to do. Please help us polish this.

    DAY 1/ 31st Oct Sat Depart Mumbai (11:50 am)

    DAY 2/ 1st Nov Sun Arrive Auckland (11:45 am)

    DAY 3/ 2nd Nov Mon- Auckland-waitomo/ hobbiton-stay at matamata

    DAY 4/ 3rd Nov Tue- Matamata to Rotorua thermal springs

    DAY 5/ 4th nov wed- Rotorua- Queenstown (flight)

    DAY 6/ 5th nov thur- Queenstown stargazing/ gondola/luge/ (skydiving?)

    DAY 7/ 6th Nov Fri- Queenstown (arrowtown and lake wanaka day trip)

    DAY 8/ 7th Nov Sat- queenstown-glenorchy (skydiving here instead?)

    DAY 9/ Nov 8th Sun- glenorchy-te anau

    DAY 10/ Nov 9th Mon- te anau-milford sound (thinking of heading back to te anau for the night as per DeSchenke's advice)

    DAY 11/ Nov 10th Tue- te anau to gibbston valley (winery)

    DAY 12/ Nov 11th Wed- gibbston valley to franz josef

    DAY 13/ Nov 12 Thu- franz glacier

    DAY 14/ Nov 13 Fri -franz glacier to christchurch

    DAY 15/ Nov 14 Sat -depart christchurch arrive mumbai

    Let me know what you guys think. Is it realistic. Keeping in mind we will be self-driving to most of these places.

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    Hello Lakeside Chick, Melnq8 and DeSchenke,

    Have cleaned up the itinerary a bit more and reduced days. How does it look?

    DAY 1/ Depart Mumbai (11:50 am)

    DAY 2/ Arrive Auckland (11:45 am)

    DAY 3/ Auckland- Queenstown (by flight) stargazing/ gondola/luge/.

    DAY 4/ Queenstown-Arrowtown-Queenstown (day trip)

    DAY 5/ Queenstown-Glenorchy-Queenstown (day trip)

    DAY 6/ Queenstown- Te Anau

    DAY 7/ Te Anau- Milford Sound- Te Anau

    DAY 8/ Te Anau-Gibbston Valley (winery)

    DAY 9/ Gibbston Valley- Wanaka (skydiving)

    DAY 10/ Wanaka-Franz Josef

    DAY 11/ Franz Josef

    DAY 12/ Franz Josef- Christchurch (only half a day in christchurch)

    DAY 13/ Depart christchurch Arrive mumbai

    So- 13 days inclusive of travel; 11 full days in NZ.

    1 night- Auckland

    3 nights- Queenstown

    2 nights- Te Anau

    1 night- Gibbston valley

    1 night- Wanaka

    2 nights- Franz glacier

    1 night- Christchurch

    Shortlisted the following places to stay. Any other suggestions are welcome:-

    1. Skycity Auckland (not GRAND Skycity)

    2. Queenstown B and B (is the location convenient for the things we want to do?)

    3. Blue Thistle (Te Anau); location convenient to go back and forth from milford sound?

    4. Kinross cottage (Gibbston Valley)-not sure about this since I haven't thoroughly researched this.

    5. Edgewater (Wanaka)- again is this a convenient location to explore Wanaka and go sky diving?

    6. Any suggestions for Franz Josef and Christchurch?

    Also, is it advisable to pick a car from the airport (queenstown) or reach the main city center and pick it up from there? Where will we get a better choice of cars and a good deal from?

    Thanks in advance!! :-)

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