We visited beautiful New Zealand during February-March of 2010 for a 17 day road trip. New Zealand was a magical place- stunning scenery, friendly people, wide open spaces, a new town every couple of days, outstanding weather, delicious food & wine and an overall amazing trip. Other than right-hand driving, it’s so easy and comfortable to get around this country- from English, the NZ dollar, the culture and safety aspects. With the great exchange rates, I’d highly recommend a NZ trip for anybody & everybody. There’s no other place on Earth like it- from the landscape & geology, to the history & biology of the area- it is truly unique.
I planned all the travel myself, extensively used the Trip Advisor’s New Zeraland forums and reviews to find hotels & excursions, before booking everything online myself. We flew Continental to LAX & then Qantas to Auckland (on frequent flyer miles), spent a full day in Auckland before setting off to explore the South Island, covering more than a thousand miles in our rental car as we made a loop around the southern coast. When planning the trip, I was told it’s recommended to spend 3 weeks each on the North and South Islands. Obviously, we only had 2 full weeks to explore and chose to spend the majority of our time on the South Island exploring the beauty of the Southern Alps and Fjordland region.
After a quick city overview, I’ve organized out our itinerary day by day,with links to the relevant blog posts for each day & links directly to businesses. At the end end, I offer some travel tips & suggestions
AUCKLAND- typical big city (with only 1 million people), lovely being surrounded by water on all sides & with tons of boating activities and the Sky Tower, downtown is walkable & lots of park make it more peaceful, get out into the countryside for the best this area has to offer, including some wine regions.
CHRISTCHURCH – smaller “city” with a great downtown area, very walkable with tons of sites to see including the Avon River, Botanical Gardens, Cathedral Square and older buildings/museums. Very tranquil and laid back with tons of people out enjoying a sunny day, again I’d suggest getting out of the city and into the surrounding wine regions
QUEENSTOWN- has the feel of an adventurous ski-resort town, very young & alternative crowd of thrill seekers & workers mixed with tons of tourists. Again, very walkable with a lovely beach and wharf area, tourist shops and restaurants downtown and a great gondola to give you amazing views of Lake Wakatipu and the entire surrounding mountain ranges The real fun in this town is in the amazing outdoor activities around the region on the the Shootover and Dart Rivers with jet boat rides, fishing, bungee jumping, sky diving, hand gliding, and cruising the sounds (Milford and Doubtful).
WANAKA- Wonderful small town with enough of a community to have a sense that real people, more than just tourists, inhabit this place. Situated on a beautiful lake and surrounding by stunning mountains, this was the perfect place to relax and unwind from all the adventures in Queenstown. A great beachfront/lake front area in front of the small downtown with a few restaurants and pubs (that close early). Tons of hiking or wine tasting in the area on the ground or helicopter flights to Mt Aspiring or skydiving for the more extreme beauty.
FOX GLACIER- Hardly even a town and mostly just a launching point for trips to Fox Glacier, not much of a view from downtown proper & a few restaurants to service the dozen hotels. If staying in Franz Josef, you could probably hit the hot spring at night.
Day 1 – Sunday February 21st – Auckland
We were awed by the beautiful hills and water as we landed in Auckland. To get out on the water & see the city from a different point of view, we took the Auckland Harbour Cruise with Fuller’s Ferry, and then enjoyed some real Kiwi fun at the Devonport Wine Festival.
Hotel: The Langham (Langham Hotel Review)- Nice enough hotel, nothing particularly special or outstanding about it. Typical big hotel feel, a little older, but well kept. The breakfast was very expensive, but there is a nice wine bar around the corner for drinks. We walked easily to several areas just to check out the town, but were told it was about a 20 minute walk to the harbor. We opted for a taxi both ways. There was a minibar in the room & a converter plug for use in the room.
Day 2 – Monday February 22nd – Auckland
We enjoyed a brief stop overlooking the Waiakera Range before heading to the beautiful Kare Kare Beach. We continued the tour by hiking to the first of many waterfall we saw in New Zealand and then things go good as we visited several winery tours. After the tour, we did a big of exploring around downtown, including the view from the top of the Auckland Sky Tower.
Day 3 – Tuesday February 23rd – to Christchurch
Only 2 nights in Auckland & we hightailed it to the South Island to start our real adventure in Downtown Christchurch , where we visited Cathedral Square ,
went punting on the Avon & took the tram around town.
HOTEL – Pacific View Paradise BB – Generally a nice place, but our room was tiny. We had a private bathroom, but had to go outside the bedroom to access it. The B&B is set up in the hills & about a 10 minute drive up to get there. The driveway is narrow & I’m glad we didn’t “meet” any of the other guests coming or going- where one of us would have had to back up down the driveway. The location is great & offers wonderful views overlooking the city & the water in the distance. There were a few flights of stairs, breakfast was great, there is a lovely yard to relax and a nice porch area for sitting outside in the evenings. We brought back a bottle of wine & some snacks for the evening. Internet was free, but spotty in our room.
Day 4 – Wednesday February 24th – to Mt. Cook
Our driving tour started by driving south in New Zealand. Our first stop was Lake Tekapo and then onto the shores of Lake Pukaki as we headed towards Aoraki and Mt. Cook National Park. It was rainy when we arrived, but we decided to hike Hooker Valley Track anyway.
Hotel: Hermitage Hotel -There are very few options at Mt Cook & I had reserved a room in the new tower. They offer tons of “upgrades” when checking in (they have flyers with them all listed out). We opted to upgrade to the deluxe room since it was only about $40USD & got a cheese and wine platter. We had a great room on the end (views out 2 sides of the room) & were on the next to the top floor. The room was lovely, it was great to sit on our couch & stare out into the mountains, I only wish the weather was better. There was no internet in the rooms & it was a 5 minute walk to the lobby. There was some confusion about the wine/cheese platter. I assumed I could pick up the phone & order it, but it was something you picked up at the bar downstairs. I just had to wait on it & then took it back to our room. Not a big deal, but I guess there is no room service. We opted for a dinner in the Panarama restaurant (I can’t remember the name..not the buffet). The food was good enough, but the service was very slow. Our waiter was great, but he just had a lot of tables. I included the buffet breakfast in our reservation & that was fairly nice. The evening we arrived, we spent 2 hours hiking the Hooker Valley track in the rain (to the 2nd swing bridge). The next morning we viewed the movies & the Hillary center before doing a trip with Glacier Explorers. I realize this is a “tourist trap” as they are a fancy hotel & pretty much have little competition. For us it was worth it to stay here out of convenience & we just accepted that we were paying resort prices.
Day 5 – Thursday February 25th – to Queenstown
After a short bus ride & a short hike, we arrived at the Tasman Glacier where we got up close & personal (tasting even!) the massive floating sculptures. We next found ourselves driving to Queenstown. (Omarama, Kawarau Gorge, Gibbston)
Hotel: Pounamu Apartments – Probably my absolute favorite place to stay on our entire trip! We had a 1 bedroom apartment with a full kitchen, living room, desk area, and patio. The views of the mountains and Lake Wapitu were wonderful, but the only drawback is that the main road is right in front of you. There isn’t much traffic at night, so the sound isn’t too bothersome. We really enjoyed the styling and decorating of the place. We had unlimited (but only 1 computer) internet access, a desktop computer if we hadn’t brught our own, a free washer/dryer right outside our main door, a fridge to store stuff, a fireplace, a stereo, TV in the bedroom. It’s about a 10 minute walk downhill into to town, but a little tougher coming back up hill- we usually took a taxi J
Day 6 – Friday February 26th – Queenstown
The next day, we headed out on a tour by Driving Lake Wakatipu to where we hiked a bit on the Dart Track to where we took an amazing ride on the Dart River Jet Boat. Downtown Queenstown is a great place & we had so much fun on the luge & at ice bar. For a nice romantic evening, we soaked at the Onsen Hot Pools.
Day 7 – Saturday February 27th – Doubtful Sound
Overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound- It was an adventure even getting to Doubtful Sound, The Waterfalls of Doubtful Sound *** were gorgeous. We sailed through the gorgeous Doubtful Sound and spent the night on the Fiordland Navigator.
Hotel: Real Journeys Boat
Day 8 – Sunday February 28th – Te Anau
Hotel: Te Anau Lodge The bus dropped us off downtown Te Anau.
We spent the night at the Te Anau Lodge – A really neat place, something very different than the ordinary. We booked the best room & it was great! We had a corner room was stunning views in 2 directions- again, just wish we’d had better weather and views. The place is fairly new (as a B&B….formerly a convent), so it was all designed with travelers in mind. It’s a pretty good walk from town, so if you don’t have a car, there aren’t any taxis in town. The breakfast was made to order & yummy in the old chapel, and there is a great living area with free wine/snacks/computer for all the guests to enjoy. Miles Better Pies had some great pies & we enjoyed dinner at Red Cliff Cafe before heading to check out the glow worm caves.
Day 9 – Monday March 1st – Milford Sound to Wanaka
Bright and early the next morning, we hopped about the Real Journey’s bust on the road to Milford. The Waterfalls of Milford Sound are worth all the hype & are amazing in the midst of a rain storm. To save time, we took a Heliflight from Milford back to Queenstown so we could start our evening drive to Wanaka and enjoy the sights before it got too dark.
Day 10- Tuesday March 2nd – Wanaka
Day 11 – Wednesday March 3rd – Fox Glacier
We were finally able to take our flight- starting over the gorgeous sights of Wanaka Valley,to the cloudy Mt. Aspiring from above and then we landed at gorgeous Private Alpine Lake (very first photo on page) and enjoyed the view of sites above Wanaka on our return to the airport.
We then set out for a day of driving from Wanaka to Fox Glacier, stopping at the Blue Pools Hike. We broke up the long drive with stops the Gates of Haast on our way to the West Coast, then at was Knight’s Point with beautiful views up and down the rugged coast. Driving NZs West Coast was awesome, and we did a bit of exploring on our Ship Creek Walk, before arriving in the tiny town of Fox Glacier .
Day 12 – Thursday March 4th – Fox Glacier
One of the most spectacular things we did on our entire trip was the helihiking on Fox Glacier.
The Heliflight to Fox Glacier was gorgeous as we approached the beuaty & then even more stunning as we were flying over Fox Glacier, and then Hiking on huge expanse of ice was surreal Later that afternoon, we drove over to see the neighboring Franz Josef Glacier.
Hotel: Te Weheke Inn – Of the 8 places we stayed in NZ, I was probably the most disappointed with this one. The hotel, rooms, breakfast, and staff were all fine in and of themselves, but I think it was way overpriced. We paid $400NZ per night for an ordinary room & it was pretty ordinary. No spectacular views, no extra amenities. It was clean, nice, spacious, newer, with a beautiful bathroom. There were only a few channels on TV, the internet access was free but limited to a very low amount, there was a single washer-dryer for the whole hotel which cost a few $$. It’s about a 3 minute walk to town, which was convenient, but it would be very easy to drive and park from anywhere. Looking around at some of the other places, I’m sure you can probably get a better deal & might even have a hotel/motel with a view of the glaciers.
Day 13 – Friday March 5th – drive to Christchurch
Friday was our longest day of driving- from Fox Glaicer back to Christhcurch. We passed through the little town of Arthur’s Pass and generally enjoyed driving the West Coast and stopped in at the Sandihurst Winery. Back in ChCh we did some more strolling around.
Hotel: The Heritage Hotel – Although it’s a typical big hotel, you couldn’t ask for a better location in Christchurch- just across from the Cathedral. We booked a penthouse studio room for $NZD 270 & really felt it was a great value for the money . We were on the top floor (which required an extra set of stairs & long walk), but had a full separate living room which was great & a big balcony/patio area to see Christchurch. Unfortunately we were facing away from Cathedral Square & the sunsets, but we still enjoyed the views. There were so many restaurants in the area, we didn’t eat any meals here. The internet is $$ for a 2 hours or a certain data transfer limit.
Day 14 – Saturday March 6th – Christchurch
We were up early to complete something on our 101 list, a ride in a hot air balloon. We were lucky enough to experience our second wine festival of the trip and we went to a rugby game on our very last night.
TIPS & SUGGESTIONS
Driving- Bring CD’s or MP3 cord as there are many places without radio signals or poor coverage in the mountains, get a GPS rental from your rental car company….it’s just a helpful reminder which turn to take on a round-about & how far/how long your have to go on any give drive
-we stopped at a grocery store & bought a big jug of water that I used to refill my various water bottles, but we had free water in most of our rooms with water & sometimes wine glasses
-check out the walking distance to town & if it’s a town you’d like to walk to for dinner at night,
-check into their wi-fi, if it’s wireless, what the cost is, if there a data limit or if you have to purchase a set time (an hour or two)
-some/many have laundry facilities available, sometimes free & sometimes at a cost, many of the B&B’s included detergent , but we’d occasionally have to wait on other guests to finish their laundry
Packing- jackets (preferable that can be layered), rain gear(poncho or waterproof jacket), waterproof shoes, camera rag to keep lens clean on the boat rides in the Sounds, insect spray (we only ran into bugs really bad at one place), back pack (great for short hikes & excursions), waterproof camera, power plugs (2 & 3 prong if necessary for your laptop cord), sunglasses, sunscreen, no corkscrew necessary as almost all NZ wine is twist off lid
Books- Drive Around New Zealand by Thomas Cook Was a great guide to tell you a tidbit about each of the small towns and regions we were passing through.