My husband and I are planning our third trip to NZ. On this trip, the plan is to experience places we haven't been before as well as revisit some of our favorites more in-depth. We will be arriving in Auckland immediately soon after Waitangi Day in 2014, so that puts us there early February to early March. We like to be outside doing walks, etc. as much as possible, but nothing too strenuous. (I have learned that an "easy valley walk" in NZ is a different kettle of fish than in the US). We are "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" fans. On previous trips, we have gone from the Top of the North Island to the bottom of the South. We took a great excursion out of Queenstown to many LOTR sites. In previous trips, we did a lot of point-to-point driving to really see the country. For this trip, we are using a more "hub and spoke" approach. This is what we are thinking:
Arrive Auckland/Stay 3 nights - Day trip to an island, either Rangitoto or Waiheke. (Have been to Devonport). Pick up rental car from Apex. This will be the third time we have used them. They have been great.
See Hobbiton at Matamata - Where would be a good place to stop for a couple of nights to see Hobbiton and the surrounding area? We will be driving from Auckland. I was thinking the Papamoa Beach area as a base, but we live in a beach town in Florida in the US. We stayed in Tauranga on our first trip. Is there a better place?
Tongariro/Taupo area for 5 nights. Walks, kayaking
Napier 3 nights - yes, we will be there for Art Deco weekend. We were there 4 years ago for it and it is truly a great experience.
Craggy Range/Te Mata area 2 nights
Drive to Wellington/Stay 2 nights. (We have been to Martinborough and the Mt. Bruce Nature Center on previous trips, so we decided to drive straight through without stopping for the night.) Is the WETA mini-museum worth a look? We have been to Te Papa and the Botanical Gardens.
Ferry To Picton/Stay Nelson 2 nights. Explore surrounding area/artists (Stayed Abel Tasman last trip.)
Drive to Renwick/Blenheim area 3 nights. Wineries,walks, bike tour
Drive to Hamner Springs. Stay 2 nights in area. Any "not to be missed" experiences here?
Drive to Christchurch/Akaroa. Stay 4 nights in area. Excursion to Mt. Sunday
Return to US from Christchurch
Given this itinerary, are there any things you especially recommend we do or see in these areas? Also, any glaring flaws in this plan?
Thank you all so much. TripAdvisor has been an invaluable resource for us, both in the reviews and the forums.