There will be two of us travelling to New Zealand in December with a car for 28 days. We love the outdoors and good food. Our proposed itinerary is below along with some questions that I'm hoping I could get some advice on.
South Island: 17 days
(Brackets = approximate driving time according to newzealand.com - which is different from Google Maps or AA - to the next destination).
3 days Queenstown (2.5h to TA)
3 days Te Anau/Fiordland (2h to Inv)
1 day Invercargill/Catlins (3h to DUD)
2 days Dunedin/Otago Peninsula (4.75h to Mt Cook)
4 days West Coast/Southern Alps: Mt Cook/Fox Glacier (6.75h from Mt Cook to Fox Glacier + 7h to Motueka)
4 days Abel Tasman/Marlborough Sounds/Nelson
North Island: 11 days
2 days Wellington (6.75h to Waitomo)
1 day Kapiti Coast or Taranaki or Tongariro en route to Waitomo
1 day Waitomo Caves (2h to Mt Manganui or 3.5h to Whitianga)
4 days Coromandel *or* Northland/Bay of Islands (we'll be here over Christmas)
3 days Auckland
Notable Omissions: Christchurch, Kaikoura, Taupo, Rotorua
1. Is there anything we should change overall? Are we spending too much or too little time in one place compared to another (e.g. should we spend 2 days in Auckland instead of 3 and spend 4 days in Fiordland instead of 3?) Skipping certain places is fine with me if it gives you longer in somewhere else more desirable.
Any other general comments are welcome, e.g. you better like X if you're going to spend that much time in Y place, or this aspect doesn't make sense, or you only need 2 days there instead of 4, or why don't you go here instead of there?
2. Is that too much driving? It seems like a lot but it's also a lot less than other itineraries I've seen. We're from Canada and fairly used to having to drive long distances. Driving can be a great way to see the scenery also but we also don't want to feel we're rushing from place to place and always on the road.
3. Which is the most reliable source of driving times? Is the AA calculator you link to most accurate? The times above are drawn from the Tourism New Zealand calculator, which gives 6.75h Wellington to Waitomo where Google Maps says 5h and AA says 6h. Similarly, 7.75h to Fox Glacier from DUD according to nz.com, 6h according to Google Maps and 6.5h according to AA. I've been going off the nz.com times but maybe that's not accurate. Regardless, I'm planning to leave more time for sightseeing, bathroom breaks, sheep, campervans, etc.
4. For December, should I be booking everything ahead of time? I have our first 6 nights booked with free change/cancellation, the car, the ferry, and I'll probably end up booking the Fiordland cruise, the Christmas hotels, the Auckland hotels - but do I need to book all the hotels now to avoid being surprised with no availability or sky-high prices?
5. Should we go to Doubtful Sound or Milford Sound or both? I like that Doubtful Sound is more remote (and presumably less commercialized than Milford Sound) so we may do the cruise there then drive the Milford Highway and do some tramping another day. It also seems like if you've come out to Milford you may as well do the cruise but if you've already been to Doubtful Sound, is there much point in doing a cruise? We could also just go to Milford Sound instead of Doubtful.
6. Is it reasonable to do the West Coast in 4 days and visit both Mt Cook and the Fox Glacier? We'll be coming from Dunedin and en route to Abel Tasman, so we could skip Mt Cook and spend more time near the glaciers and the coast if Mt Cook region is not significantly different than the glaciers. Since we're going to QT for 3 days we probably don't want to drive to Wanaka, stay there, then continue on to the glaciers.
7. Is Waitomo Caves worth it? It's a long drive from Wellington and then another few hours to the Coromandel but most people say it's great. We could free up some time elsewhere if we don't do it. To what extent is it worth making the effort to get to? Otherwise we might consider driving up the east coast of the North Island.
8. Northland or Coromandel? We'll be in one of these places over Christmas and are trying to decide which. Both are prime vacation spots and the geography is somewhat different, but is one more outdoorsy, or more touristy, or more something else than the other? (Another option is to take a day away from somewhere else and go to both, spending 2 days in the Coromandel and 3 in Northland but we may prefer to stay in one place over Christmas.)
Thank you so much for any advice you have - it's greatly appreciated.