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Feedback on 8 week OZ/NZ Itin

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We got lots of helpful suggestions from Fodors several months ago when we started thinking (again!) about making our annual Jan/Feb trip this year to OZ/NZ. Now we've decided to go in March/April instead - though we're depressed at the idea of hanging around for a DC winter. but oh well. We decided we liked the idea of going in a shoulder season when crowds and prices were lower. That and the fact that one of the friends traveling with us is due to have a hip replaced - so this gives her more recovery time. .

Here is our initial ambitious itinerary. We welcome all kinds of opinionated critical feedback!! We're mid range diy travelers who enjoy cities, nature/birds, good food, unusual experiences (though we're not liable to be signing on for any extreme sports in NZ. We do like walking though - lots of it!

We 4 plan to rent cars and drive as possible, and will obviously be doing some flying as well.

This has us departing for Auckland Feb. 26 and returning from Sydney April 22
54 nights
North Island
2/26 – depart
2/28 – Arr Auckland (3) Tiratiri Island (?)
3/2 – Northland (1) [Paihia 3:30]
3/3 – Rotorua (2) [5:03] – hot springs, etc.
3/4 – New Plymouth Egmont NP (1) [4:14] – driving; Mt. Taranaki (Dawson Falls); gardens
36 – Lake Taupo/Tongarira (2) [4:00] – 3 active volcanoes
3/8 – Napier/ Hawke's Bay (1) [2:00] – art deco; gannet colony; wineries
3/10 – Palmerston North (1) [2:30] – Whanganui River Road; nice town; museums
3/11 – Kapiti Island (1) [1:30] – must see
3/13 – Wellington (2) [1:00] – Te Papa museum; cable car

South Island
3/16 – Marlborough (2) [3:00 ferry to Picton] – boat tour; wineries
3/19 – Kaikoura (2) [1:47] – whale watching
3/21 – Christchurch (2) [2:35]
3/23 – Punakaiki (1) [3:45 to Hokitika] – pancake rocks
3/24 – Glaciers (1) [from Hokitika appx 3:00]
3/25 – Queenstown (1) [ 8:00 ]
3/25 – Te Anau (3) glow worms; Milford Sound
3/26 – Otago (1) driving
3/27 – Christchurch (1)
3/28 – Fly to Sydney
28 nights
3/28 – Sydney (4)
4/2 – Cairns (3)
4/4 – Melbourne (3)
4/7 – Hobart – Tasmania (5)
4/12 – Adelaide (2)
4/14 – Kangaroo Island (2)
4/16 – Alice Springs (3)
4/19 – Sydney (1)
4/22 – Home
23 nights

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    Glover, didn't realize that we are "neighbors". We are going to Australia/NZ for 5 1/2 weeks in October/November, almost the reverse itinerary but not nearly as much time and fewer places (lucky you). Happy to share some of the planning challenges (offline - maybe at a local starbucks).

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    I'm exhausted just reading this, but I wholeheartedly agree with your choice to travel in March/April instead of Jan/Feb, for many reasons, including potentially very hot weather, school holidays, etc.

    We lived in Australia for seven years and Jan and Feb were the months we most wanted to get out. We're from CO, and never did toughen up to Australian standards when it came to the heat. Or flies.

    Your SI itinerary is very rushed - too much driving, too many one and two night stays. It's very difficult to fit both the far north of the SI and the far south of the SI into such a short time, unless you plan to live in your car.

    You need time to walk the tracks, and one night stays just won't cut it.

    You only have one full day in Picton - time enough for a boat tour sure, but what about walking a section of the Queen Charlotte Track accessed via water taxi? A full day and a great way to spend it if the weather is nice - especially for those of us who like to walk! The wineries are located around Blenheim, 25-30 minutes from Picton and on the way to Kaikoura, so why double back on your only day there?

    Likewise one night at the glaciers leaves you very little time to explore them. This is all well and good if the glaciers (or the numerous wonderful walking tracks) don't appeal, but you're in Westland National Park - why rush?

    Only one night in Queenstown? Really? So much to see and do, such a beautiful place (and this from a jaded visitor). Yes, it's touristy, but there's so much on offer on the fringes...including some pretty fabulous walks.

    Three nights in Te Anau? GOOD FOR YOU! Fabulous!

    Otago? As in Dunedin? For one night? Over four hours of driving for one night, just to turn around and drive five hours to Christchurch the next day (via the least scenic road on all of the SI no less)? Please tell me I've misunderstood.

    If you must drive all the way to Dunedin, why not fly back to Christchurch and onwards from there?

    That's my opinionated critical feedback.

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    Having learnt the hard way that Mel knows what she's talking about, I have to agree with her whole-heartedly that your trip is too rushed. Yes I know that that sounds daft with a trip this long, but trust me, those one night stays are going to be very hard work. We realised this only a couple of days into the NZ leg of our trip and took advantage of having booked through to use the free cancellation terms and rearranged our stays so that we had two three day stays rather than a one - one - 4 - which worked a lot better.

    your problems start right at the start of the trip, IMO - 3 nights in Auckland, then 3 ⅓ hours to go to Northland, followed by 5 to go to Rotourua. What are you going to Northland for that warrants inflicting that on yourselves?
    Rather than do that, you could have two nights in Auckland, then 2 nights on the lovely Coromandel peninsula which puts you not very far from Rotorua.

    then a few days later, you're going all the way to Napier for just one night - when you really won't have long enough to do anything except look round a bit.

    BTW you cannot rely on Google driving times - driving in NZ can be very slow going with few dual carriageways and overtaking places, many stretches that have restricted speed limits, and an overall speed limit of 60mph.

    My other comment is to ask if you cannot fly straight to Cairns from NZ so that you consolidate all of your time in Sydney at the end of the trip rather than splitting it up - did you know that you can fly to Sydney and Brisbane from Queenstown? either would give you a one-stop connection to Cairns. [look at for flight options]. That would mean that you didn't need to g back to C/C and free up two more nights to spend in NZ.

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    I'm having the dickens of a time trying to make sense of your itinerary. Your number of nights don't line up with the dates in a number of places.

    One in particular (but there are others):
    3/25 – Queenstown (1) [ 8:00 ]
    3/25 – Te Anau (3) glow worms; Milford Sound
    3/26 – Otago (1) driving

    So, on the 25th you are going to Queenstown, or is it Te Anau? And you stay in Te Anau for 3 nights, but the next day, the 26th, you are going to Otago?

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    deSchenke - I think that the numbers in square brackets may be driving times but I agree that that doesn't solve the problem you have identified.

    in fact that makes the itinerary even worse than i thought - our plan, pre trip, was 2 nights on the glaciers, one in Wanaka, 2 in Te anau, and 3 in QT.

    By the time we got to Napier [only our 2nd stop in NZ] we had realised the folly of this and dropped Te Anau, opting instead to spend 3 nights in Wanaka and to do Doubtful Sound as a day trip.

    This worked a treat. 2 and 3 nights we could manage, a succession of 1 and 2 night stays soon becomes really hard work.

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    54 days seems a lot, but I think you'll need to extend your trip by a week to 10 days or eliminate some destinations. Or start planning your second trip to Oz and NZ. I agree with others your one-night stays will leave little time for exploring, birding or walking.

    It's not worth driving 3-plus hours from Auckland to Paihia to spend one night. Will you have two nights in Napier? And three nights in Picton/Marlborough?

    I agree two nights at Franz and/or Fox is better. You can see glaciers, Lake Matheson, do a Kiwi Tour out of nearby Okarito or visit the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef (backstage tours of kiwi chicks through March). The White Heron Sanctuary is in Whataroa, 32 km from FJ (chicks fledge by mid-March and adult birds begin to disperse). Rare in NZ, more common and known as Eastern Great Egrets in Australia, they're closely related to North America's Great White Egret.

    Keep an eye out for Weka, NZ's native flightless rail, along the South Island's West Coast, such as in the parking lots for Punakaiki or Hokitika Gorge.

    There is so much to see and do in and around Queenstown it deserves at least three nights, which gives you two full days. The view from the top of the gondola. Queenstown Botanic Garden and lakeside track. Nearby Arrowtown, Amisfield Winery, Gibbston Valley wineries, perhaps farther-flung wineries of Cromwell and Bannockburn. The Skippers Canyon Tour (and jet boat ride) is thrilling. The 45-minute scenic drive to Glenorchy is a must. Glenorchy's walkway winds through wetlands frequented by waterfowl. Drive 20 minutes beyond Glenorchy to the Dart River valley to reach the Lake Sylvan Track, an easy 2 to 3 hour walk and a sanctuary for rare Mohua (Yellowhead).

    As you enjoy cities and birds, three nights in Dunedin is better, which allows one full day for the city center (Railway Station, Toitu Settlers Museum, Otago Museum, Speight's Brewery, Cadbury Chocolate Factory, Olveston House, Botanic Garden, Public Art Gallery, Baldwin St., Signal Hill, maybe Physio Pool for your friend) and a day to tour the Otago Peninsula independently or to go on a wildlife tour (Elm Wildlife's Peninsula Encounters Tour or Monarch Cruise plus afternoon visit to Penguin Place). Taiaroa Head is home to the Southern Hemisphere's only mainland albatross breeding colony (they normally breed on islands). I also recommend walking the steep but short Tunnel Beach Track and seeing St. Clair Beach. Orokonui Ecosanctuary has rare birds, skinks, tuatara, and beautiful views on nice days.

    Take Melnq8's advice to fly from Dunedin to Christchurch then onto Sydney. Or start your vacation on the South Island and work your way north, so you can fly directly from Auckland to Sydney at the end of your New Zealand trip. You'll have to look for a car rental company with offices in both Dunedin and Auckland, such as Jucy. Thrifty, Ezi, Europcar, etc. Some rental companies will allow you to take your car onto the Interislander ferry, others will make you drop off one car on one side and pick up another on the other side.

    I believe you meant Tiritiri Matangi in Hauraki Gulf, a 70-minute ferry ride from Auckland. A must for birders. 360 Discovery Ferries leave at 9 a.m. from Auckland or 9:50 from Gulf Harbor and returns to Auckland at 3:30 from Tiritiri Matangi. With little effort you'll see rare Takahe, Saddlebacks, Whiteheads, Red-Crowned Kakarikis, Stitchbirds, North Island Robins, plus common birds, such as Kereru, Tui, Fantail, Silvereye, Bellbird, Tomtit, Grey Warbler, Pukeko, Paradise Shelducks, Gray Faced Herons, Oyster Catchers, Pied Shags, Fluttering shearwaters, and non-natives such as Australasian Brown Quails and Eastern Rosellas. With patience and/or luck you might see Kokako, Fernbird, Rifleman, Brown Teals, and the native owl, the Morepork, which can be found resting in trees during the day. Guided walks upon arrival cost $5. There are no food outlets, just a visitor centre, where you can buy drinks. So you must bring lunch and drinks, and take your rubbish with you when you leave. Avoid visiting on a weekend or a holiday.

    Best to familiarize yourself with the birds' appearances and calls before your visit. Makes it easier to find hard-to-spot birds such as Kokako and Rifleman.

    Besides birdlife, its walking tracks have tremendous distant views of Coromandel, Great Barrier Islands, Rangitoto Island and downtown Auckland. Native plants abound. Look for Eagle Rays in the waters off the wharf. There's a beautiful lighthouse at the top of the island, near the visitor centre. It's a great spot for a picnic.

    If your friends are not interested in birds or walking, maybe they can visit the wineries and beaches of lovely Waiheke Island instead. It's easy to get around the island by local bus.

    If you're mainly taking in the sights of central Auckland and exploring the islands of Hauraki Gulf, you won't need a car for the city.

    Wellington's Zealandia Ecosanctuary is also worth visiting for birds, tuataras, and walking tracks. If you time it right, you can go on a guided tour (free with the price of admission). You catch the cable car to the top, then walk down through Botanic Garden or catch the free shuttle to Zealandia. When done at Zealandia, you can catch a free shuttle to the CBD and then walk a few blocks to Te Papa.

    You'll be missing Wanaka, Mt. Cook Village, Lakes Pukaki and Tekapo, Stewart Island (a birders' delight), the Catlins, Nelson and Golden Bay. Yet you'll still see so many beautiful places.

    By staying in self contained accommodations, you can save a little by not having to dine out all the time. You can find many such accommodations on the international booking sites, such as,, and so on, but for New Zealand, you can also check:
    Check that linen is included when renting from holiday houses.

    You have three nts. for Alice Springs. Will you be going to Uluru? it's 450 km from Alice Springs, a 4.5 hour drive or a 50 minute flight.

    Will you be in Cairns for only two nts.? Time to do a day trip to GBR, Kuranda Scenic Railway, but not for visiting Daintree Rainforest. I believe the direct flight from Sydney to Cairns takes about 3 hours, a little longer for Cairns-Melbourne. Plus, transfer to hotel, check-in, getting settled. This will eat up a good portion of the day.

    There's much to do in and around Melbourne. Three days will go by fast. Do you plan on visiting Phillip Island's Little Blue Penguin colony? They swim ashore beginning in the early evening, so you'd be getting back to Melbourne late. I took Bunyip's Phillip Island afternoon wildlife tour and got back to my hotel in central Mebourne at 11:30 p.m. You don't need a car to explore central Melbourne because of an excellent tram system. Melbourne has great museums. The Satin Bowerbirds and Tawny Frogmouth in Melbourne Museum's Forest Gallery are real!

    If visiting Yarra Valley. I recommend the Winebus tour. Several companies offer day tours of the Great Ocean Road. Makes for a long day, but saves you from driving, plus you'll be short on time.

    If you fail to see Little Blue Penguins on Phillip Island, you can visit smaller colonies on Kangaroo Island, South Australia, in Bicheno, Tasmania, (near Freycinet National Park) and on the Otago Peninsula's Taiaroa Head, Dunedin, NZ.

    There are some holidays you should be aware of. While you are in NZ: Good Friday, March 25. Easter Sunday, March 27 (most shops and businesses close) and Easter Monday, March 28 (schools, govt. offices close). I believe schools will also remain closed on Tuesday. March 29. So it'll be a four to five day holiday. While you are in Australia, some school holidays will take place in April, these vary from state to state. See:
    Should you extend your vacation, ANZAC day will be on April 25.

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    This is wonderful feedback. Thanks all of you so much.

    Based on your great suggestions, we've whittled the itinerary down to the one below (so far). We'll have lots more specific questions as we continue to plan! One that we have so far is - is Palmerston North worthwhile enough that we should stay there one night and depart very early for ferry to Kapita - or would we be better off staying the night somewhere closer to the ferry departure point?

    New Zealand/Australia

    North Island
    2/26 – depart
    2/28 – Auckland (4)
    3/3 – Coromandel (1)
    3/4 – Rotorua (2)
    3/6 – Lake Taupo/Tongarira (2)
    3/8 – Napier/ Hawke's Bay (2)
    3/10 – Palmerston North (1)
    3/11 – Kapiti Island (1)
    3/12 – Wellington (2)

    South Island
    3/14 – Marlborough (3)
    3/17 – Kaikoura (2)
    3/19 – Christchurch (2)
    3/21 – Punakaiki (1)
    3/22 – Glaciers (2)
    3/24 – Te Anau (3)
    3/27 – Queenstown (3)
    3/30 – Fly to Cairns from Queenstown


    3/30 – Cairns (3)
    4/2 – Ayers Rock (2)
    4/4 – Adelaide (1)
    4/5 – Kangaroo Island (2)
    4/7 – Melbourne (3)
    4/10 – Hobart– Tasmania (5)
    4/15 - Canberra (2)
    4/17 – Sydney (5)
    4/22 – Home

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    my immediate reaction is that it's a lot better, however I would try to squeeze another night for the Coromandel peninsular if at all possible. Also, you cannot, I think, drive all the way from FJ or Fox to Te Anau in a day. FJ to Wanaka is a good 5-6 hour drive, without any stops [we made loads and it took us virtually all day] and Te Anau is another 3-4 hours further south.

    our original plan was to spend 2 nights at the glaciers, 1 in Wanaka, 2 in Te Anau, and 3 in QT. This was the bit we changed dropping the 2 nights in Te anau, and staying in Wanaka for 3 nights instead.

    That may not work for you, but your current plan for this bit of your itinerary is too much driving for one day.

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    I wouldn't have added another destination in Australia. On our first trip to Australia, we spent 3 nights in Cairns and 5 nights on Tasmania and felt that we should've allotted more time to both.

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    TAS is worth 3-4 weeks easy, as is the South Island of NZ. But, barring that...

    As mentioned by annhig, the glaciers to Te Anau is not even a remotely good idea - 510 kms, much of it narrow and winding. This is NZ we're taking about, you need to pay attention to the road and if you're smart, you'll make a lot of stops en route - lots to see on this stretch.

    I've driven from the glaciers to Wanaka many times and it's an all day affair - please take your time, stop at the waterfalls, the Blue Pools and avail yourself of some of the many fabulous walking tracks en route. You'll be glad you did. Spend that night in Wanaka then drive the remaining three hours to Te Anau the next day.

    Have you considered continuing from Kaikoura to Punakaiki instead of going to Christchurch? It's about a five hour drive, give or take. Or is your intention to see Arthur's Pass?

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    Thanks. Melnq8. I hope your return to CO is proceeding smoothly. I'd like to imagine you sipping Talijancich Liqueur Veldelho while looking out at the Rockies and planning your next trip to NZ. I enjoyed reading about your trip to southern Colorado. Brought back memories for me. My husband and I did an autumn drive on the San Juan Skyway more than 20 years ago (too long ago). Golden aspens flanked the roadway, it was breathtaking.

    Glover, I agree with Patty, don't add another destination in Australia. I'm sure Canberra, the nation's capital, is worthy of exploring for days to weeks, but because of your limited time and already busy itinerary, if you feel compelled to see it, do what we did: take a all-day coach tour from Sydney. It wasn't ideal, we would have liked more time in the National Gallery, but were content with visits to the Parliament House, Australian War Memorial and scenic lookouts.

    I agree with Annhig and Melnq8: (1) spend another night in Coromandel and (2) don't drive from the glaciers to Te Anau in one go!

    Without knowing what your specific plans are for Auckland, I'd say you could probably leave it to three nts. and add the extra nt. that you gain to nts. in Coromandel. If you'll be arriving from the U.S., chances are you be getting into Auckland early. You might not be able to check into your hotel until 2 p.m. (in some cases, 3 p.m., which is another reason you might want to just continue on to the South Island and start your NZ trip there—just a reminder, please no driving on your first day). If you can't yet check into your Auckland hotel, they'll store your luggage for you while have you have brunch or take a walk around, but you'll be jet-lagged and you'll probably feel like a shower and change of clothes.

    So if you're arriving in Auckland early, then you'll have three full days in Auckland, time enough to visit museums, do a trip or two into Hauraki Gulf. Then, again, I'm not privy to your specific plans, so maybe it won't be enough time.

    The drive from the glaciers to Te Anau will take you through Haast Pass and over Crown Range Road (there is an alternative to this through Cromwell, but CRR is the most direct and scenic route). This is not only a challenging drive, and potentially slow-going (imagine being stuck behind a line of cars with a motorhome/caravan at the head of the line or being here during a heavy downpour), but this is also a drive to be savoured as Melnq8 says. In the case of NZ road trips, the journey isn't just about getting from one destination to the next, but just as much about admiring the beautiful landscapes in-between. The drive past Lakes Wanaka and Hawea is fabulous, especially if the weather is clear. From the glaciers to Te Anau, you'd definitely want to stop for photos, many times. Best to break up this journey with a nt. in pretty Wanaka, which everyone loves.

    You can get a sense for what the drive is like by looking at videos on You Tube, such as these:

    It's good you eliminated Paihia and my town of Dunedin from your itinerary if you haven't enough time to see the best that they offer. Trying to jam them into your schedule, could have made your overall trip less restful. Though I'm sorry you'll miss out seeing a Yellow Eyed Penguin, the world's rarest penguin, and NZ's Hookers Sea Lion, the world's rarest sea lion, particularly as populations of both species have been plummeting.

    Good to see that you've added nts. to Queenstown. It's touristy, as Melnq8 says. And trying to find street parking in the center can also drive you partly crazy (though there is a large parking garage down by the lake and free parking at the base of the gondola).

    But Lake Wakitipu and the surrounding areas are beautiful. Without knowing what activities would most appeal to you, it would be hard to advise you on a place to stay. But, if you plan on just walking or taking tours, staying in the center by the lakefront is convenient (though avoid busy roadways as these can be noisy). As you'll have a car, you'll have the freedom of staying away from the center, where it'll be quieter, more serene. You even could stay in Arrowtown, which is about a 20 minute drive from central Queenstown, or along Arthurs Pt. Road.

    What do you have planned for Melbourne? Three nts. might not be enough. It's at least as interesting as Sydney. Like Patty, on leaving Cairns and Tasmania, I regretted not being able to spend more time there. I spent a two nights in Cairns, two nts. on a scuba liveaboard boat on the GBR, and three nts. up in Cape Tribulation and it still wasn't enough to see the area. I spent only 7 nts. in Tasmania and missed so much I'm thinking of planning a return trip within the coming year.

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    Thanks all for the continuing feedback. We've made some more changes so the proposed itinerary now looks like the following. Given that several people have mentioned that we'll be around Wanaka/Queenstown/Milford around the time of Warbirds Over Wanaka (not to mention Easter), do you see any reasonable way we ought to juggle things (without doing still MORE driving) to avoid that area during that congested time?

    North Island
    2/26 – depart
    2/28 – Auckland (3)
    3/2 – Coromandel (2)
    3/4 – Rotorua (2)
    3/6 – Lake Taupo/Tongarira (2)
    3/8 – Napier/ Hawke's Bay (2)
    3/10 – Palmerston North (or Levin) (1) (night before Kapiti Island)
    3/11 – Wellington (2)

    South Island
    3/13 – Marlborough area (3)
    3/16 – Kaikoura (2)
    3/18 – Christchurch (2)
    3/20 – Punakaiki (1)
    3/21 – Glaciers (2)
    3/23 – Wanaka (1)
    3/24 - Te Anau (3)
    3/27 – Queenstown (3)
    3/30 – Fly to Cairns from Queenstown

    __________ ____________________________________________________________

    3/30 – Cairns (4)
    4/3 – Ayers Rock (2)
    4/5 – Adelaide (2)
    4/7 – Kangaroo Island (2)
    4/9 – Hobart– Tasmania (5)
    4/14 - Melbourne (4)
    4/18 – Sydney (4)
    4/22 – Home

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    Glover, looks like a great trip. We're moving in the opposite direction from you - - first to Australia, then to SI, then to NI. With less than 6 weeks, we are not able to do as much as you.

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    <<Given that several people have mentioned that we'll be around Wanaka/Queenstown/Milford around the time of Warbirds Over Wanaka (not to mention Easter), do you see any reasonable way we ought to juggle things (without doing still MORE driving) to avoid that area during that congested time?>>

    As you'll be in Te Anau and Queenstown during Warbirds over Wanaka, I'd not worry about it too much, so long as you have your accommodation booked already.

    We were in NZ during Warbirds one year...we were headed north to Christchurch, the traffic was headed south to Wanaka, so it wasn't an issue for us, although there was definitely plenty of traffic. The event attracts about 50,000 people to Wanaka.

    One solution would be to visit the SI first, and reverse your trip, ending on the NI, but you'll have similar issues up there over Easter.

    OR you could head to Queenstown after Wellington, but only if you fly. That'd mean giving up the ferry, or taking the ferry from Picton to Wellie and then flying to Auckland from there for departure... probably not the best logistic sense. Or you could fly Wellie to Christchurch, then head north to Kaikoura and Marlborough, then keep driving to Punakaiki via Murchison, then on to the glaciers. But, you'd be giving up Arthur's Pass and the ferry, although drive times would be similar.

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