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Scrapping my 3 week itinerary in New Zealand

So many of you kindly and helpfully responded to my last topic. And with your knowledgable and insightful replies, I am scrapping my whole 3 week itinerary and starting over. And hoping you can help me again!

We will start from Atlanta, using points on Delta One to arrive in Auckland.

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland - jet lag day, fly to Queenstown. When we travel overnight to Europe, we find if we can make it to lunch, take a 2 hour nap, wander around, dinner, and bedtime at 10ish - we can wake up and be pretty much on local time. Hoping we can do something similar here. Also hoping the lay flat beds in Delta One make us less tired/irritable when we arrive.

Day 2 - pick up a rental car and drive to Te Anau. Maybe glow worms boat ride?

Days 3 - ? boat tours of Doubtful Sound and Mildfort Sound. We understand it will probably be COLD and need to bring layers and rain gear. Would kinda like to do an overnight tour on one or the other. On another forum, someone said the overnight on Doubtful Sound "made more sense" but did not explain why. Thoughts?

Day 5 or 6 - drive to Wanaka with a stop for lunch in Arrowtown.

This is where I get stuck. We eventually want to end up in Picton to take the ferry to Wellington. I need you to help me figure out this segment before I hit you up for help on the Wellington to Auckland segment.

Chatgpt came up with Franz Josef glacier to Punakaiki to Nelson.

Please keep in mind I have new, nifty knees. I can hike, but a couple of hours max and not strenuous.

I'm early on the planning. So, happy to modify number of days in any location.

Posted by
6106 posts

I have terrible knees, jealous of your nifty knees. Think about bringing hiking poles.
For after Wanaka, a couple things to look at perhaps, Mt Cook and the Hooker Valley Track. It's about 6 miles, round trip, relatively flat, not a lot of shade. Stunning. From there, Arthur's Pass for a night or two, some short hikes available. From there, stop at Pancake rocks and drive up to Nelson and then Picton. If you can fit it in, consider a stop at Hokitika Gorge.

And, I'm sorry you are having to change your itinerary, but I think you will be happier.

Re. Jet lag, etc. When we go to Europe our "clocks" are off by about 7-8 hours, For us, New Zealand was easier to adjust to. We did not have flat seats. When we arrived New Zealand, we were quite tired, but our own body "clocks" felt less disrupted. I would play it by ear. If I were you, my inclination would be to set yourself to New Zealand time right away, eat meals at New Zealand time and stay up until about 9pm.

Posted by
138 posts

Thank you, Jules.

We are definitely taking the hiking sticks!

I'm not unhappy at all about changing our plans. For me, the planning is half the fun. I'll spend hours upon hours planning our trips and enjoy every hour. I appreciate you for sharing your knowledge with me to make our trip even more enjoyable!

Posted by
5690 posts

I thought your first itinerary looked pretty good. Don’t overthink it too much. Decide what you are most interested in and prioritize first. Then you can try to decide the best order to see them. You really can’t go wrong with whatever you choose.

I took the Mondumo tour (you can see itinerary here ) and also spent 13 additional nights on my own. Of the places we visited on the tour, Franz Josef was my least favorite because it poured rain all day long (they get about 200 days of rain per year in Franz Josef).

With regard to jet lag, I actually found adjusting to the time in New Zealand easier than Europe since I was flying west.

Posted by
138 posts

Thank you, Laura.

My family would tell you that overthinking is my hobby. LOL.

200 days of rain? Yikes? I think I'll look at other options!

Posted by
38 posts

In my research, since it takes so long to get to Doubtful (across the lake, then a bus ride; around two hours one way), it makes more sense to spend overnight; otherwise you spend more time getting there than on the water. Also, some people say that you get more time exploring in Doubtful. We ended up doing the Milford overnight, and it was wonderful for the solitude and seeing the sunrise. I don’t think you can go wrong with either as an overnight.

Loved Mount Cook/Aoraki, and if you can get a room at the Aoraki Court, take it.

Have you looked at the TripAdvisor forum for New Zealand? It’s very active, and the hosts are very informative (and opinionated) and there is a great top question section.

Posted by
6106 posts

No matter how you do Doubtful its lovely. It depends on your budget and time. I have heard the overnight is fun. We just did the day. IMO, the boat ride fantastic. The bus ride past rushing waterfalls was great, too. So, if for budget or time reasons, if you do the day doubtful sound trip, it will still be awesome.

When we did Milford, it was partly cloudy. When we did Doubtful it rained for the first half of the day. Don't let that deter you. The waterfalls were gushing! Then about 45 minutes into the cruise it stopped raining and the sun started to poke at and it was spectacular. Go in any weather. That said, if it were me and it rained during the freetime on the overnight cruise, that would be irksome, because then you'd be doing the kayaking, etc., in the rain.

Posted by
4 posts

We loved the overnight Doubtful Sound cruise. Milford Sound is smaller and we just did a day cruise there. Another highlight for us was staying at Lochmara Lodge near Picton. You can day hike from there, kayak or paddle board, or just walk around looking at the animals. They also have a small glow worm area.

Posted by
131 posts

Consider whether you need or want to drive yourself on day 2 and instead take a bus tour which combines boat and drive:
- flexibility to stop where you like and take as much time as you like
- jet lagged driving on the left hand side of the road is dangerous
- Curvy, single lanes each direction, tight turns all require concentration (as well as watching out for other unpredictable tourists -view points require crossing the oncoming traffic when driving south.)
- concentrating on driving means you can’t look at the scenery
- No commentary telling you what you are seeing, history, flora, fauna etc

I would advise to look at for departures ex Queenstown and pick up the car when you leave Queenstown for wanaka.

Ps. Fuel is expensive and this corner of NZ has some of the most expensive in the country!

Posted by
6106 posts

If OP stays in Te Anau and does the drive/sound from there it is a much shorter drive. I should think after a good night's sleep, most travelers are safe to drive. The drive to Milford Sound from Te Anau was one of the easiest in New Zealand.

"as well as watching out for other unpredictable tourists"

New Zealand was wonderful and almost all the locals were kind and friendly. But, to be honest, we grew weary of people blaming tourists for accidents and the signs telling people to pull off to let people (speeders) pass. We actually had more problems with locals on the roads than tourists. A truck driver barreling towards us was one foot over the center line and forced us into a barrier, and then didn't stop. We also had issues with people following us so close that we couldn't pull over when we saw a safe place to do so.

I commented at the rental car counter that New Zealander's have a different personality when they get behind the wheel of a car and they commented that they've heard it before.

I feel its appropriate to point out that people need to be rested to drive safely, but please don't blame unsafe driving on tourists.

Posted by
4641 posts

Remember that NZ is primarily an Australian getaway, so for them glaciers are something special since they can't see them at home. Really, if you have seen glaciers in Alaska or Canada or elsewhere then you can skip these NZ glaciers, they are unremarkable.

Back to my recommendation from your previous topic, take Arthur's Pass to the West Coast then see Punakaiki and continue up to Nelson for the wines and Abel Tasman NP which I think is the nicest one in the country, although not on Americans' radar. You can get a boat tour to a nice hike, bring a swim suit, looks a bit like Tahiti.

The viaduct inside Arthur's Pass is very pretty, turn out to photograph it is unmarked and short but steeply uphill

Right off the highway to Arthur's Pass near Geraldine, I like huge trees in general and these are so easy to see

It's a dead end trip into the mountains, but Mt Sunday is in a gorgeous valley pretty easily driven and mostly away from tourists

Posted by
4641 posts

My point was that for a one way driver, Wanaka to Picton, the eastern slope of the southern portion of the Alps, not just the places I mentioned above but also including Mt Cook and Lake Pukaki, is far preferable than forgoing all that for Haast Pass and 2 average glaciers.

Posted by
6106 posts

I understand Tom's point. With limited time and a beautiful country with endless opportunities for sightseeing, a traveler needs to make choices. For me, I like to see new things. I've been to Yellowstone at least five times so we didn't go to New Zealand's geothermal area even though I'm told its beautiful. I did see some geothermal sites in Iceland, as well, and when I was in Iceland at a stop for geysers, my first reaction was that Yellowstone had more dramatic features. Likewise, we didn't go see the redwoods in New Zealand because we've been to see the redwoods in California several times. We tried to do things that were more unique. For example, we did both Milford and Doubtful Sounds as well as hiking in that area. That said, even though we've seen lots of glaciers, we did do the Hooker Valley Track and thought it was lovely and time well spent.

And as Tom said, Wanaka, Lake Pukaki, and Mt. Cook are lovely.

Posted by
4641 posts

Adding as an aside: many towns in NZ have a grove of redwoods, there's one in Arrowtown, free to walk through, although the tōtara trees at the Big Trees walk I linked above are trees that can only be seen in NZ. Also note in Arrowtown there is a Chinese historic area at the edge of town, not well marked, it keeps going a ways.