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NZ 1 week

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short notice, but we will be visiting NZ for 1 week (I know - I would love to spend more time...) next week, arriving in auckland on sunday Oct 29 morning from the US. we will have 7 nites in NZ before flying to melbourne for 1 week in australia, flying out of sydney 2 weeks later on a monday. we are 2 moderately active 40 somethings (but no extreme sports) who want to see as much of NZ without running ourselves ragged. We are not big on museums though we do enjoy cities also. Tentatively we will spend the first 2 days in the auckland area and then head towards the south island, spending the last 4 days of the week there. A few questions:

1) should we pick up the rental car upon arrival in auckland, or pick it up when we are leaving auckland
2)should we keep the car the entire time (ferry crossing?)or should we drop it off before departing for the south island and pick up another car there (if so, where?)
3)if we drop off the car before heading to south island, which airports should we fly out of and into
4) there appears to be a nonstop flight that leaves christchurch in the evenings about 8pm. Is this the most convenient airport in south island to fly to melbourne?

thanks for any advice...

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