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New Zealand Itinerary Review

My husband and I are planning a 16-day trip to NZ this November. We are from the US and are have traveled throughout the US and Europe - this will be our first trip to NZ. Interested in seeing the glacier (planning Franz Josef, but either is fine), Milford Sound, and (for my husband) some Lord of the Rings attractions. We like a mix of relaxation & activity (light hiking, horse ride, or similar - not extreme sports) and a mix of city & country (scenic spots for photography).

After reading many of the itineraries posted online, I drafted one for us -- I tried my best to limit the number of 1-night stays and drive time for any particular day. We plan to rent a car - my husband is comfortable driving on other side of road after some time in the UK and loves a scenic road. From my research, it seems November is the tail end of Spring and weather should be around 60 degrees F. I would love any suggestions on the schedule:

  • Is the drive time reasonable?

  • Are there any cities I should swap out, other places we have to see?

  • Any suggestions for attractions, short hikes, or activities for the places we have selected?

  • Do the attractions make sense for the season?

  • Is staying in Wanaka and then Queenstown the best option to get from Franz Josef to Milford Sound?

The only criteria for the itinerary is that we fly into Auckland and out of Queenstown, and have tickets to do the Hobbiton evening tour on Sunday 11/13 (only offered on Wednesdays and Sundays).

Wed. Nov 9: Arrive in Auckland and stay the day (early flight after red eye). Overnight in Auckland.

Thurs. Nov 10: Explore city. Overnight in Auckland.

Fri. Nov 11: Drive to Coromandel Penninsula (2 hours). Overnight in Coromandel.

*is this a nice place to visit in November? Or should we swap out for another city/area?

Sat. Nov 12: Explore Coromandel (Cathedral Cove, horse ride, beach). Overnight in Coromandel.

Sun. Nov 13: Drive to Matamata (2 hours). Hobbiton evening tour. Overnight near Hamilton (1 hour).

Mon. Nov 14: Fly from Hamilton to Christchurch in morning. Explore city in afternoon. Overnight in Christchurch

Tues. Nov 15: Explore city. Overnight in Christchurch.

Wed. Nov 16: Drive Arthurs Pass (5 hours plus 3 hours for hike/lunch/photos). Hike either Punchbowl Falls or Bridal Veil Falls on way. Overnight in either Greymouth or Franz Josef.

Thurs. Nov 17: Drive to Franz Josef (1 hr). Heli-hike. Overnight in Franz Josef.

Fri. Nov 18: Drive the Haast Pass to Wanaka (5.5 hours plus 3 hours for hike/lunch/photos). Hike Blue Pools or Fantail Falls. Overnight in Wanaka.

Sat. Nov 19: Morning in Wanaka. Drive to Queenstown (1.5 hours). Overnight in Queenstown.

*Or should we stay in Glenorchy?

Sun. Nov 20: Drive to Milford Sound (3.5 hours plus time for caves). Stop in Te Anau and visit Glow Worm Caves. Overnight near Milford Sound

Mon. Nov 21: Explore Milford Sound. Overnight in Milford Sound (perhaps night cruise?)

Tues. Nov 22: Drive to Queenstown (3.5 hours). Explore city in evening. Overnight in Queenstown.

Wed. Nov 23: Explore city. Overnight in Queenstown.

Thurs. Nov 24: Spend morning/afternoon in city. Flight departs in evening from Queenstown.

Thanks for any feedback!

Posted by
438 posts

An overnight cruise on Milford Sound is a nice experience. We had sunshine and clear skies for our afternoon departure, then rain, wind and mist the next morning. It was interesting to experience the opposites and the boats have very nice accommodations.
It is north of Greymouth, but Punakaiki is very scenic and interesting geology along the coast. We hiked up to the glacier face at both Franz Joseph and Fox, which were both very nice walks. I did an "adventure" tour at a glow worm cave in Waitomo on North Island. Don't know how the Te Anau caves compare, but the glow worms are really cool. Not sure you are near enough to visit on your itinerary but the thermal areas around Rotorua are very interesting. New Zealand has gorgeous scenery with beautiful coastline, mountains, lakes and waterfalls around every corner and is every bit as green as Ireland. There seemed to be constant wind when we were there in April. Don't know if that holds true all year. Hope you have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
75 posts

We visited New Zealand last fall, which was NZ springtime, for 12 days. We flew into and out of Christchurch and drove a large loop around the South Island only. You will thoroughly enjoy your trip.
If you are planning to take lots of photos don't plan more than 4-5 hours driving distance per day. New Zealand is beautiful and offers so many photography opportunities. FYI, when we were there much of Christchurch was still under construction, repairing the earthquake damage. A bus tour for a couple hours is a good way to see it. Look into doing a tour to Akoara on Paua Bay from Christchurch. It was one of our favorite areas., much more so than City of Christchurch. We also enjoyed Wanaka more than Queenstown. Wanaka is just as beautiful and less congested. Quite a few wineries in the area, also. A Milford Sound cruise is a great day trip from Te Anau. Glenorchy is a pretty drive to make, but there are more hotel and restaurant options in Wanaka or Queenstown. I will try to find my trip notes so I can give more specific info for you on the South Island. I obtained good information for planning our trip on Trip Advisor.

Posted by
95 posts

Just a few tweaks and suggestions...

Coromandel - this is where the locals holiday at Christmas. The other option suggested above is Rotorua - which is very geared up for and busy with tourists. Affectionately known as Rotovegas. Go coromandel if you want something a little more n'natural' and Rotorua if you want the option for the full on cultural extravaganza, thermal pools and mud.

I'd definitely recommend you consider a day trip over to akaroa from Christchurch on your second day there. If you wanted a day off from driving there are guided day tours. Lots of history around this area which would be great to hear from a guide while you can enjoy the scenery.

I'd plan to stay in hokitika rather than greymouth - driving Chch to Franz is do-able but a long, windy driving day if you also want to spend time to do walks.

I'd stay both nights in wanaka rather than 1 in each on the way south. I wouldn't recommend staying in Glenorchy unless you are budgeting for a night at blanket bay. It's very out of the way for just one night, but that may be exactly what your after...

Your drive times look fine for someone driving a to b non stop...You'll need to build in some fat for the unfamiliarity, twists and turns, slow traffic that you can't pass, photos, wandering, coffees...etc. Please learn the road rules, we seem to have a disproportionate number of horrible road accidents which involve tourist drivers.

Weather is typically very changeable....be prepared! Mountains on an island in an ocean can make exciting weather!

It will be light in the evening until 8.30-9ish.

I hope you enjoy.

Posted by
75 posts

I also recommend staying in Hokitika. This was a great little town and was a good breaking point in the drive.

Lake Matheson near Fox Glacier has a beautiful hike with photo opportunities.

Posted by
2 posts

Wow, thank you all for such thoughtful responses! What a great community. I love the suggestions and will certainly check out the places you recommended.

We did decide to skip Rotorua on this trip as we recently spent a week in Yellowstone. We will save it for a (fingers crossed!) future trip!

Kiwi - any recommendations for websites or other literature that detail out road rules? I have a couple of travel books, but they gloss over the driving part. We obviously want to be cautious and respectful.