New Zealand?

I’m planning a trip to New Zealand in December, and I was wondering if anyone has any tips for things to see, places to visit.

So far I have booked:
2 days in Kaikoura
5-6 days doing the Milford Trek and around Milford Sound
3 days on Stewart Island

There’s probably a couple days in Aukland and assorted travel days somewhere in there too.

So what’s good to see and do?

Three days is probably too long for Stewart Island: it’s pretty enough but tiny, and there’s fuck all to do there. I’d suggest only a day there, and spend a couple in Otago: Queenstown is a little touristy, but fun if you like adventure sports, and the surounding countryside is gorgeous. I don’t know how long you need in Kaikoura: once you’ve seen the whales, there’s not much else. Again I’d suggest only a day there, and then head up to Nelson, which is a lovely little town: you can base yourself there and check out the Marlborough Sounds, which are gorgeous. Skip Christchurch unless you like old people, skinheads and Japanese tourists.

Wellington is always worth a stop for a night, and if you want something a bit different you could take the Tranzrail up to Auckland: it gives you a chance to check out the National Park and all that LotR Mordor scenery if you’re into that, but it’s a lovely scenic ride. Me, I’d drive up and stop off at Rotorua to check out the hot pools: skip Whakarewarewa - too kitsch and pricey - and go to Waiotapu instead, which is truly an amazing place for geysers and boiling mud pools. Then I’d hook across to the caves at Waitomo: the glow-worm caves are great, and there are some really great adventure caving packages. You could do Wellington - Rotorua - Waitomo - Auckland by car in a couple of days, with an overnight stop in Rotovegas: the distances are a lot less than you’re used to.

Auckland? I dunno, it’s a nice place to live, but probably not much to hold a visitor’s attention. I’d take a couple of days in the Coromandel instead: really laid back, a little off the main tourist trail, but lovely bush and fantastic beaches: check out Hot Water Beach, where you dig your own thermal pool in the sand and soak, then up to Hahei, Cathedral Cove and Cooks Beach. If you get the chance, I’d really recommend taking the ferry from Auckland for a couple of days on Great Barrier Island, which is utterly beautiful and so quiet it doesn’t even have mains power: it does however have a hot spring in the middle of the bush: just hike in, strip yer gear off and soak in the middle of nowhere.

And then up North to the Bay of Islands…

Yeah, what Scissorjack said.

Though if you’re into scenery and driving, taking a car across Arthur’s Pass and up the west coast is worth the effort. You still end up in Nelson and Kaikoura isn’t too arduous as a day trip from there - you could even stop at Picton on the way back and hook up with the car ferry across to Wellington.

If you do stay in Auckland, Kelly Tarlton’s and a trip to Rangitoto would fill most of a day, then the west coast beaches and walks through the Waitakere Ranges would see out another - but yeah, Coromandel and Northland are better.

What are you interested in? We can probably recommend more specific places if there’s something in particular you are after.

At that time of the year, the Abel Tasman National Park, near Nelson is good - again, hiking, kayaking etc.

I’m biased, but I prefer Wellington to Auckland, and I think it’s a little easier for a tourist to get around, but neither will probably take up more than 1-2 days of your time- still, Welly is good if you are going to take the ferry over from Picton, and it’s got Te Papa (big museum, good if you don’t know much about New Zealand), a good cafe scene, pretty harbour setting etc.

If you’re into wine, Marlborough (near Picton) or Martinborough (near Wellington) produce some good quality stuff.

Napier (middle of the east coast of the NI) was rebuilt after a major earthquake in the 20s - lots of lovely art deco buildings, and a good wine region as well - although it’s a 4 hr drive from Welly, with little else to see.

Coromandel is great - although lots of people holiday there over summer, so accommodation may be harder to get - very relaxed, nothing much to see other than lovely beaches and little towns.

Taupo is a good break in between Welly and Aucks (about half way), again popular in summer, small town, but does offer a great place to go skydiving if that’s your thing.

Hah! I say, Hah!

The Earthquake was in 1931. There’s Art Deco and Speedline buildings here and 20 minutes away, Hastings was rebuilt in Spanish Mission style, though it’s mostly limited to the inner city, whereas Napier’s Deco district extends out into the suburbs.

It’s a 90 minute drive from Taupo (good stopping point between Rotorua and Waitomo caves) which is another recognised ‘destination’, on the main highway from Wellington to Auckland, but which doesn’t have the Wineries.

There’s way more to Napierthan booze and buildings - Silky Oak Chocolate Factory and Museum for one.

Wellington doesn’t have a chocolate museum! Neither does Auckland. Though I also prefer Welly to Akkers for a visit (I couldn’t *live *in either place again) - a central hotel means you can walk to most places of interest, or at least walk to the connecting bus.

Apologies, my Hawkes Bay pal! I should have been more clear - there is nothing much to see on the way to Napier from Welly. Napier itself is great for a weekend visit.

Better nightlife in Wellington than Auckland, too: I always have fun down there. That said, probably better for an overnight stop than an extended stay: you can walk everywhere you’ll want to go - unlike Auckland where you’ll need a car - but once you’ve “done” Te Papa, there’s not a whole lot else for the casual visitor.

Seems unlikely they’ll get a chance to go to the North Island, considering all the other stops are in the South.

I recommend keeping to Fiordland, the West Coast, and Central Otago, and maybe taking the TranzAlpine Express. Greymouth used to be a really dull place, but it’s improved recently.

There is nothing in Kaikoura except whale-watching; you might want to look at spending a night in Christrchurch instead. The central city is very pretty and has a restored tramway running around it; punting on the river Avon is also a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

There’s bugger all in Auckland except the War Memorial Museum, but if you’ve got a car Rotorua is very nice and geologically fascinating place to visit. Geysers ahoy! :slight_smile:

You’re also aware that none of the places you’ve mentioned are anywhere near each other and that Auckland is on a different island to the things you’ve listed, right?

ETA: The TranzAlpine express is a must-do; one of the world’s great train journeys and the scenery is breathtaking.

I beg to disagree; one of the highlights of our honeymoon on the South Island was walking the Kaikoura Coast Track. We also did a “swim with the dolphins” afternoon that was fantastic.

Instead of bombarding you with piecemeal advice, I’ll just give you a link to my travel-journal, if you feel like perusing it: A Month in New Zealand. But I will say: the Milford Track is awesome in the most literal sense of the word, but bring good rain gear!


The trouble with New Zealand is that there are so many great tracks, and s/he may be a little tracked out after Milford: if not, there’s the Tongariro Crossing through the National Park in the central North Island, which is about 20k and can be done in a good day’s tramp, followed by a nice soak in the nearby hot pools at Tokaanu.

Oh, and buy sunscreen. Lots of sunscreen. You can get really burnt here with no effort whatsoever, even on cloudy days.

I’ve been to South Island a couple of times. Basically, I drove around the top half on my first trip, and the bottom half the second time. A wonderful country with marvelous scenery and friendly people.

I took tour of Doubtful Sound that included a bus trip to Manapouri Power Station, 200m underground…pretty cool. The Sound was amazingly calm that day–we got to go into the Tasman Sea a bit to check out the seal colonies. We also encountered a pod of dolphins that played around the boat for about 15 minutes.

Yeah… tho kinda fun if you havn’t been there before…

Another very cool destination in the area is Waimangu valley.

Like the ones where you float through glow-worm caves in the dark on an inner tube. :cool:

I agree that the TranzAlpine is a great trip. But as for Greymouth? I was there in February for the first time in 15 years or so, and it didn’t seem to have improved at all to me.

I was in Wellington in February. We spent three days there and had a great time looking around the city: Botanic gardens; old buildings; galleries; Parliament; churches; driving round the coastline; Mount Victoria walk; shops etc. We didn’t even get to Te Papa.

Mostly checking out some of New Zealand’s excellent natural and wilderness areas. I’m particularly interested in birds, marine mammals, and good hiking and/or kayaking. I do have some limitations in terms of being in cities, so I might as well enjoy that while I’m there too…

Surprisingly, it was actually cheaper to fly into Auckland and then fly south to Christchurch, catching a flight back from Dunedin to Auckland, than it was to fly directly to the South Island. shrug We don’t anticipate getting a chance to go back to New Zealand anytime soon, so we may be trying to spread ourselves a little thin, but the travel days we’ll deal with OK, I think. :slight_smile: At least this way we get to see some different parts of the country.

Seeing the whales is the primary point of going to Kaikoura for me – I love whales. I’ve got a weekend job guiding whalewatching trips run out of San Francisco, so the interest is partly personal and partly professional. Two days should give me a pretty good chance, especially if there are weather cancellations. Incidentally, what’s weather in that area like in December – especially sea states – am I likely to face weather cancellations?

I’m also led to understand there’s some excellent birdwatching around Kaikoura. Anyone know anything about that?

That sounds good! What are the distances like? I can look at the map, but it doesn’t tell me much about whether these are small mountain roads or freeways.

Wevetlady and I thought pretty hard about Abel Tasman, and decided we would either do Tasman or Milford, and Milford won out. I wish we had enough time to do both.

Cool pics! Thanks for the links!

Sounds awesome! There’s a section in the David Brin novel Earth about those caves, I think.
Great suggestions, everyone, thanks for your help! :slight_smile:

Seriously. I have dark skin and never, ever, ever worry about burning. After my first (gorgeous, but not particularly hot) day in the Bay of Islands, I was peeling.

When I went (and drove everywhere), the distances and times on the official site were very accurate.
And once I was there, with one glaring exception, all of the tourist information stations in the cities were incredibly helpful.

Well, a straight drive from Auckland to Wellington will take about 10 hours up State Highway One, if you allow an hour or so break in the middle: it’s not one of your big freeways or interstates - it’s often winding and scenic - but it’s pretty easy driving. If you look at the map, you’ll see Lake Taupo right in the middle: that’s pretty much the half-way mark, with Rotorua an hour or so north. Call it five hours fairly relaxed driving from Wellington to Rotorua. Waitomo - again a pretty easy drive - is about an hour and a half from Rotorua, and from there another 2 and a half hours to Auckland.

If I were planning your trip and had two days to get from Auckland to Wellington, I’d probably leave Wellington at 8am, be in Taupo for an hour of lunch at noon, then at Waiotapu, just outside Rotorua, by early afternoon. A nice stroll around the thermal wonderland for a couple of hours, then 20 minutes to Rotorua, where I’d stop for the night for a feed and a nice soak in a hot pool {the Polynesian Spa is lovely}. Then head off to Waitomo at 8am, be there by midmorning, do some caving and sightseeing for the day, and up to Auckland by evening. Busy, but not too hectic.

Mind you, three days Auckland to Wellington would give you that extra window of relaxation for poking around: you can easily spend a couple of days exploring the sights around Rotorua, or an overnight stop at Waitomo is nice {try the hotel: it’s supposed to be haunted}.

Them’s the ones! The cave abseiling is fantastic, too: fortunately for the adventure tourism industry, you can’t sue for personal injury here.

If you’re pushed for time, one thing you could consider is flying part of the journey, since distances and times here are so short: there are some really cheap one-way domestic packages going. For instance, you can fly Christchurch to Wellington in an hour, then hire a car from there to drive up to Auckland.

Course, then you’d miss the Cook Strait ferry, which is a spectacular trip in its own right. Trouble is, for such a small place we’ve got an awful lot to see.

And be aware that the roads are generally 2 lane only, the whole way up both islands (i.e. one lane in each direction), other than between Aucks and Hamilton, and you have to pass into the oncoming lane to overtake. The roads can also be windy - and we drive on the other side of the road. So be conservative with your driving times and plan plenty of breaks, since it can be tougher driving there than you may be used to.