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New Zealand resources and recommendations

We've got a long awaited work trip to New Zealand coming up. After years of knowing it would happen at some point, it looks like mid-May (just a little over a month away!) is the timeframe, so I am limited on time to plan and could use some help.
tl;dr, these are my main questions, but I have a few more details below:
1) any resources you found useful (guidebooks, YouTube channels, blogs, websites, etc) I don't use Facebook, so I won't be hitting up any Facebook groups.
2) Recommendations for dressing for the fall weather in the North and South, so we have an idea of what to pack. I'm used to four seasons, but we live in the desert so we don't deal with a ton of rain.
3) What part of the south island would you recommend we focus our attention on, given weather and road conditions and how amazing the whole island is? (We've got 5-7 days to work with)
4) What are good evening activities around Auckland that we can do after work, and what would you recommend for a solo traveler during the day while everyone else is working?
(We will make our way to Hobbiton no matter what, but any museums, walking tours, or short hikes/walks close to Auckland would be nice!)

The actual work requires a few days in Auckland, but the boss has no problem with us padding our trip with vacation days, so we'll likely have about 10 non-travel days to work with.
There's no way we'll be able to see it all in 10 days, especially with some of the time spent on actual work, so I want to focus in on a couple regions and just assume we can someday come back to see the rest.
This trip includes myself, my husband, and one co-worker will be sharing a rental car with us for the working days, and after the official working days are over we'll be doing our own thing.
We're all relatively young and active and would enjoy hiking. We're also all big Lord of the Rings nerds, that figures very prominently in my mind as we're planning. I love history and would love to learn about Maori history and culture as well.

My rough plan so far:
3 days in Auckland: working with some evening sight seeing and activities.
2 days: visiting Hobbiton and possibly glowworm caves or Rotorua. We'll return our company funded rental car and part ways with our co-worker. My husband and I would fly to Queenstown or Christchurch and rent our own car.
5-6 days: driving around the south island, enjoying some of the natural beauty, going hiking. We won't try to see the whole island, so which region should we focus on?

Thanks all! I've had to plan a similar trip before, only to have it postponed/cancelled 20 minutes after we bought our tickets. I'm crossing my fingers that nothing goes wrong with the paperwork this time!

Posted by
315 posts

There is a website called New Zealand Travel Tips that has a blog that may provide useful information.

I realize you don’t have facebook, but for those that read this and do, the NZTT fb page has a lot of fantastic information from moderators, as well as members of the group (free to join).

For Māori history and culture, I found the Waitangi Treaty grounds (north of Auckland) had a wealth of information. I started my trip there and was glad I did as it provided context for the rest of my travels.

Posted by
16878 posts

I hope a local will come along and explain the weather—-I am thinking that in mid-May you might encounter snow in the Southern Alps and maybe around Queenstown. May is the start of their winter.

Posted by
496 posts

Local here. It's been unseasonally cold this year - it should still be late summer but I have got winter clothes out here in Wellington. We drove the South Island in May 2020 - totally unplanned because we just booked as soon as the lockdown finished and sat on the ferry looking at weather forecasts - the weather looked good on the West Coast so we went that way 7 days of fine, clear, weather in part of the country with the highest rainfall (think Washington State) - magical . The coast has also had record rain and road closures in FEbruary some years (supposed to be summer). It's completely and totally unpredictable TBH

May is a great time to visit - it's between season - there shouldn't be any snow, the ski season doesn't start until June at the earliest and there no major school or public holidays. You could do what we did - book your rental car ex Chc - and look at the weather forecast and decide whether to drive to the West Coast over Arthurs Pass and back to Wanaka over the Lewis pass . Or you could stay on the east side (in theory drier) and head to Mt Cook via Tekapo and to Queenstown via the Linds Pass. You should have no issue booking motels/hotels for that night as you go.

All of it is absolutely stunning - but the reality is that when it rains NZ is fairly tough going particularly in small towns there is very little to do inside.

Lonely Planet would be my guide book recommendation.

For Auckland - if the weather is nice grab a ferry over to Waiheke - wine tasting, pretty, but limited bus service. Or Devonport (part f Auckland but has its own character). Weta workshop has an Auckland branch - might be worth checking out . Sky Tower is over-hyped IMHO. Auckland Museum is not a bad intro to NZ history/culture. MOTAT is cool if you like old transport things: planes, trains etc. If you like hot pools worth visiting some in Rotorua. If you like fear then the luge is popular amongst thrill seekers.

Hobbiton is further out from Rotorua than many tourists realise - so time it so you can visit eithe ron the way there or back from Rotorua. It is worth booking those tickets in advance.

I think underrated in Rotorua is - its just south of the city - check opening hours. Its a short easy walk but very beautiful through natural hot springs and bush, and fascinating explanation of the Pink & White Terraces destruction (Rotorua's original tourist attraction). The boat tour is worthwhile too. Its good combo of history, culture, geology and nature. You can't swim in these pools Also in the area is - which is the archaeological dig of the village that was completely destroyed in the eruption. More history orientated than nature

Hope some of this helps

Posted by
5687 posts

Before you buy Lonely Planet, make sure you look at the new format. It is not the tried and true and useful format that they had in the past. The latest version of Lonely Planet New Zealand (2023) has been completely redesigned and I found the guidebook pretty worthless. It contains virtually no practical information with sections written like magazine articles for instagrammers. It might be helpful for dreaming about where to go, but it contains no info that will help you plan once you get there. The 2021 version of Lonely Planet and the 2023 Frommers Guide were better references for me (although I ended up relying more on internet sources).

Posted by
496 posts

Damme I hadn't realised they had mucked up the NZ guide too - the new Sciliy one is useless but I was hoping that was a one off

Posted by
96 posts

Thank you all for your replies! This is great information, it gives me a good start for my planning.

It sounds like I should pack my rain gear! I'm thinking if I pack similarly to what I did for summertime in Iceland, I'll be prepared for the wet and cold.

LIssie- Would you be willing to share what are your preferred grocery stores or budget food options? I like to be able to cook some meals and get picnic supplies and snacks, but I don't know which chains are more budget friendly. And are there any local snacks I should make sure to try?

Posted by
4472 posts

Definitely Queenstown-and from Queenstown, you can take a Lord of the Rings Tour to Glenorchy and see Isengard and Lothlorien and the tour provides some swords and costumes. A solo traveler might enjoy going to Tirritirri Matangi Nature Preserve-an easy ferry ride from Auckland, not far from the Hilton where we stayed. Be sure to pay the small extra fee for the guided tour. The Thermal area at Te Puia (Rotorua area) also has a Maori educational center which I would have liked to have spent more time in(we were on a tour).

Posted by
96 posts

Cala- that nature reserve in Auckland is exactly what I'm looking for! And I'm severely tempted by the LOTR Tour too..
Thank you!

Posted by
496 posts

@Claire89 - I was in Iceland last summer -your comparison is fair - and yes wet weather gear..

NZ has an unfortunate situation where the supermarket chains are all owned by one of 2 Australian companies - so they price fix and the government doesn't do anything about it. The names you'll see are Countdown, New World and Big Fresh (South Island only). They also vary in price - so they will be more expensive in Queenstown/Wanaka and slightly less expensive in Christchurch. Smaller towns though will only have a Four Square or local "dairy" (what we call a convenience store or 7 111) . They will cost more. You'll get better prices for fruit and vegetables and local farm gates - sometimes just an honesty box literally a the gate sometimes bigger stalls. Unfortunately in May there won't be much about.

NZ has traditionally been more fish & chips (fries) and meat pies as fast food - but now burgers are everywhere of course. Classic NZ meals include roast lamb and pavlova - neither of which will you be whipping up in your motel. Look out for them though in country pubs. If you like chocolate Whitakers is by far the best found in all supermarkets and many local stores - made in Wellington.

To US tastes you'll find our coffee strong - we invented the Flat White (Australians claim it of course) - sort of a less fluffy capuccino but not as milky as a latte. I've never found bread I like in the USA - all of it seems very sweet - in NZ I buy Vogels (any supermarket) - which is robust and will last quite a few days if you keep it cool. It's worth buying an Chilly Bin (cooler) if you are going to self cater - ice is available at any petrol (gas) station.

Hope this helps

Posted by
4 posts

Hi Claire,

Here are some useful resources for planning your trip to New Zealand:


Dressing for Fall Weather in New Zealand:
Fall (Autumn) in New Zealand is generally from March to May. The weather can be variable, so it's important to pack layers.
Here's a general guide for what to pack for the North and South Islands:

North Island:
Long-sleeved shirts and T-shirts
Light sweater or jacket
Rain jacket
Comfortable walking shoes

South Island:
Long-sleeved shirts and thermals
Jumper (sweater) and fleece jacket
Waterproof jacket and pants
Warm hat, gloves, and scarf (especially if you're planning on spending time in the mountains)
Sturdy walking boots

Recommended Areas to Visit in the South Island:
The South Island has so much to offer, so it can be hard to decide where to go. My few recommendations based on the weather and road conditions in the fall:

Marlborough Sounds: This is a beautiful region with stunning scenery, great food and wine, and plenty of outdoor activities. The weather in fall is usually pleasant, with mild temperatures and plenty of sunshine.

Nelson Tasman: This region is known for its beaches, national parks, and Abel Tasman National Park. The weather in fall is similar to Marlborough Sounds, with mild temperatures and plenty of sunshine.

West Coast: The West Coast is a great place to see glaciers, rainforests, and Punakaiki pancake rocks. The weather on the West Coast can be wetter than other parts of the South Island, but it's still beautiful.

Otago: Otago is home to Dunedin, one of New Zealand's most historic cities, as well as Central Otago, which is known for its vineyards and autumn colors. The weather in Otago in fall can be variable, with warm days and cool nights.

  1. There are plenty of things to do in Auckland after work and during the day. Here are a few ideas: Evening Activities:
  2. Sky Tower, Auckland
  3. Auckland Museum: Learn about the history of New Zealand and the Maori people.
  4. Night markets: Visit one of Auckland's many night markets, such as the Night Markets at Takapuna or the Glen Innes Night Market.
  5. Waiheke Island: Take a ferry to Waiheke Island for a winery tour or a meal at one of the island's many restaurants.

Daytime Activities

  • Walk the Auckland Domain: This is a large park in the heart of the city with walking tracks, gardens, and a museum.
  • Take a walking tour: There are several walking tours available in Auckland, which is a great way to learn about the city's history and culture.
  • Visit the Auckland Art Gallery: This is one of New Zealand's largest art galleries, with a collection of New Zealand and international art.
  • Hike Rangitoto Island: Take a ferry to Rangitoto Island and hike to the summit for stunning views of the Hauraki Gulf.
  • Explore Devonport: Take a ferry to Devonport, a historic village with several shops, cafes, and restaurants.

I hope this helps :-) with planning your trip to New Zealand!

Posted by
3 posts

Just returned from NZ last month where we did 17 days visiting Auckland, Waiheke Island, Rotorua, Taupo, Hobbiton, and the Marlborough region. Couple thoughts.

Car rental - Don't expect to use your credit card for rental insurance. Nearly all CC's will not cover car rental insurance in Australia, Italy and New Zealand. Expect to get CDW insurance from your rental company (had very nice experience with Ezi Car Rental).

Uber: I was surprised to find Uber (no Lyft) is a very viable option in and around Auckland. That saved having to rent and find parking while in Auckland. We waited to get a car rental once we left Auckland

Domestic Air: Biggest surprise was domestic air travel. The domestic terminal is separate from international. No security checks for domestic! Meaning no need to worry about that water you have on your person. Great way to cover more of the country when you don't have a lot of time to drive.

Best Places: Waiheke Island is beautiful! Just take a 45 minute ferry ride (usually every hour). Pre-book a wine tour (recommend Waiheke Wine Tours). No need to rent a car. Let the tour guide take you around . Another great spot is Rotorua. It can be a bit touristy, but the area is very beautiful and many different things to do. We visited the Redwood Forest and also did a zip line adventure over Okere Falls that was outstanding. Finally, if you like wine. Blenheim and the Marlborough region is outstanding.

Best Food: Meat Pies!! They're everywhere. Even on the ferries and in the airport. I loved the variety. If you like coffee be sure to order a flat white. A NZ original! With more sheep than people, you should try the lamb. Seafood is a no brainer and if you make it to Waiheke be sure to try The Oyster Inn. The best oysters I had while visiting and everything else was excellent.

Hope there's a nugget you can use!
Kia ora!