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Self-drive Itinerary of New Zealand: Seeking Guidance

Ottawa, Canada
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Self-drive Itinerary of New Zealand: Seeking Guidance

Hello,

My hubby and I will be visiting NZ in February 2015. Our intention is to do a self-drive tour of both Islands. We are in our early fifties and enjoy the outdoors, recreational hiking, cycling, as well as beaching and soaking in life in quaint little spots. We have about 24 days to play with for our stay in NZ. We would prefer to keep most of the driving to about 3 hours between destinations, with perhaps a few exceptions. We also want to have have a mix of 2-3 days in some places which are worth a longer stay, and one night only in transitory places.

I worked with a New Zealand website to calculate driving distances, but would greatly appreciate if the time estimates were validated by folks who have driven between these destinations! We are trying to balance seeing a lot without exhausting ourselves driving too much.

Any comments and suggestions on our proposed itinerary would be greatly appreciated.

We also hope to stay in B&Bs mostly, and would love recommendations for the various destinations. We are not looking for luxury, only nice, clean and friendly places to stay. Finally, should we reserve all our accommodations before leaving, or is it safe to reserve once there, 1-2 days ahead only? We plan on arriving in NZ in early February and staying the month.

Thank you in advance for your precious advice.

Proposed Itinerary of Self-drive tour of New Zealand

Day 1-3: Arrive in Christchurch (from Canada via 4 day stopover in Dubai)

Day 4: Christchurch to Lake Tekapo - 3 hours (227 km)

Day 5: Lake Tekapo to Queenstown - 3 hours (258 km)

Day 6: Queenstown to Milford Sound - 3.5 hours (289 km)

Day 7: Milford Sound (Te Anau) to Queenstown - 2 hours (174 km)

Day 8-10: Queenstown to Franz Josef - 4.5 hours (353 km)

Day 11-13: Franz Josef to Nelson - 5.5 hours (459 km)

Day 14: Nelson to Picton to Wellington - 5.5 hours (includes ferry crossover to NI)

Day 15-16: Wellington to Napier - 4.0 hours (316 km)

Day 17: Napier to Taupo - 2 hours (142 km)

Day 18-20: Taupo to Rotorua to Auckland - 4 hours (300 km)

Day 21-23: Auckland to Bay of Islands - 3 hours (228 km)

Day 24: Bay of Islands to Auckland - 3 hours (228 km)

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Christchurch, New...
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1. Re: Self-drive Itinerary of New Zealand: Seeking Guidance

Welcome to the NZ Forum. You have seriously unestimated many of the driving times and this is certainly not a leisurely itinerary with "no more than 3 hr driving per day" - many days are more than 6 hr!!

Day 3: I would set off for either Lake Tekapo or Mt Cook a day earlier to gain some time for short walks in the NP. Many would suggest that Aoraki/Mt Cook is a better place to stay than Tekapo which is a scenic petrol stop.

You don't seen to be spending any time in Queenstown and days 6 & 7 are quite odd - how can it take you "3.5 hr" to drive TO Milford Sound and only 2 hr to drive back?? In fact it is about 5-6 hr one way, if you stop a couple of times for photo opps & 4:30 hr the other way if you don't stop. The distance stays the same (288 km)!!

Days 8-10: If you plan to spend part of day 8 in QTN, you could make it to Wanaka in the late afternoon and then Day 9 becomes a 4-5 hr drive to FJG. It is totally impossible to drive QTN to FJG in 4.5 hr - even at rally speeds. Then you would at last have 2 N in one place.

Days 11-13: Again, about 6:30hr of driving, so I suggest you stay at Punakaiki on the 11th, & 2N in Nelson or better, Kaiteriteri, close to Abel Tasman NP. This would give you one full day to take a water taxi into the park.

New Zealand
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2. Re: Self-drive Itinerary of New Zealand: Seeking Guidance

Your drive times are not accurate for much of the South Island.

I suggest you do Milford Sound by bus tour - far more relaxing as the Milford Road has high congestion in the summer months and a high accident rate.

another option - echoing Zhuhai's wise advice above;

1 arrive Chch

2 explore

3 drive to Tekapo for lunch, continue to Aoraki/Mt Cook - far more scenic

4 drive to Queenstown

5 explore

6 bus tour to Milford, cruise, scenic flight back to Q'town

7 drive to Wanaka

8 explore

9 drive to Franz Josef

10 explore

11 drive to Punakaiki

12 drive to Nelson, continue to Kaiteriteri?

13 explore Abel Tasman

14 drive to Picton, ferry to Wellington

hope this helps :)

Ottawa, Canada
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3. Re: Self-drive Itinerary of New Zealand: Seeking Guidance

Hello! This is why I always rely on Trip Advisor before finalizing plans...you get the real story here! Thank you for the reality check, and the alternatives suggested. All very helpful. I will rework my itinerary accordingly. Any thoughts on whether I am best to book all accommodations ahead, or if I can make reservations once there, 1-2 days ahead or the night itself?

Ottawa, Canada
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112 posts
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4. Re: Self-drive Itinerary of New Zealand: Seeking Guidance

Hi! Thank you for this, it does help a lot. I'll rework my itinerary based on your suggestions and that of others. Any thoughts about the need to book all accommodations before I leave, vs doing them as I go, providing the most flexibility to itinerary? My fear is to have to spend hours trying to find a room to stay once there, or only having really expensive rooms, if I don't reserve ahead. But I would love the flexibility to reserve as we go, if booking last minute is not going to be a problem in February.

Ottawa, Canada
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5. Re: Self-drive Itinerary of New Zealand: Seeking Guidance

Hi again, so after comments here and on Lonely a Planet,I have revised significantly our itinerary. Your thoughts on the accuracy of the driving times, which are now essentially averaging 60 km/hour, as well as the destinations chosen and the time spent in each, would be most appreciated! I never finalize an itinerary without validating it with other experienced travellers on this site!!

Day 1-2:

Arrive in Christchurch from Dubai, for two nights

Day 3:

Christchurch to Lake Tekapo - 4 hours (227 km) stop for lunch and explore a bit, then drive to Aoraki/Mt Cook - 2 hours (104 km), for overnight

Day 4-5:

Aoraki/Mt Cook to Queenstown - 4.5 hours (264 km), for two nights

Day 6: (very long day, early start)

Queenstown to Te Anau - 3 hours (174 km), take tour bus to Milford Sound (2 hours), take afternoon cruise (2 hours), and take tour bus back to Te Anau (2 hours), for overnight

Day 7-8:

Te Anau to Wanaka - 4 hours (228 km), for two nights

Day 9-10:

Wanaka to Franz Josef Glacier - 6 hours (285 km), for two nights

Day 11:

Franz Josef to Punakaiki - 3.5 hours (218 km), for overnight

Day 12-13:

Punakaiki to Kaiteriteri - 4.5 hours (281 km) to visit Abel Tasman National park, for two nights

Day 14:

Kaiteriteri to Picton - 3 hours (167 km) then ferry to Wellington - 3.5 hours, with overnight in Wellington

Day 15-16:

Wellington to Tongariro National Park - 6 hours (333 km) for exploring, then to Taupo - 1 hour (71 km), for two nights

Day 17-18:

Taupo to Rotorua - 1.5 hours (81 km) to visit and then drive to Waihi Beach - 2 hours (113 km), for two nights

Day 19-20:

Waihi Beach to Coromandel - 2 hours (119 km), for two nights

Day 21:

Coromandel to Auckland - 3 hours (169 km), for overnight

Day 22-23:

Auckland to Bay of Islands - 4 hours (228 km), for two nights

Day 24:

Bay of Islands to Auckland - 4 hours (228 km), for flight to Australia or overnight

Christchurch, New...
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6. Re: Self-drive Itinerary of New Zealand: Seeking Guidance

This is looking a lot better, with plenty of 2 night stops (good for a sleep in, doing laundry etc). The only dya I would question is Day 6. Since you are trying to beat the bus to Te Anau, why not simply take the bus from Queenstown and delete the night in Te Anau?

New Zealand
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7. Re: Self-drive Itinerary of New Zealand: Seeking Guidance

the bus tour leaves Te Anau early morning so to get there in time you need to depart Queenstown 2.5 hours before the bus!

Take the bus all the way from Queenstown - or stay Te Anau 2 nights. You have the bus tour from te Anau taking 6 hours - it is an 8 hour tour as it stops along the way. The same tour from Queenstown takes 13 hours.

the rest of your trip looks fine :)

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8. Re: Self-drive Itinerary of New Zealand: Seeking Guidance

Day 15 - Tongariro NP is an awesome area, perhaps stay overnight in Whakapapa village, or National Park village to gain more from this portion of your journey? This will allow you more time to explore Tongariro and do some of the short walks.

Day 16 - I'd explore Taupo first then continue on to Rotorua. There is much to see and enjoy in Rotorua, otherwise your current itinerary only suggests a very short visit to the thermal city. Continue to Waihi Beach on day 18.

Driving times now appear accurate. Like others on TA, I also refer to AA driving times and distances, having greater accuracy compared to google. Good idea to allow for a little flexibility in case traffic is heavy driving north and returning back to Auckland.

One option is to drive north through Auckland using SH16 which takes you through Helensville and rejoins SH1 at Wellsford. More scenic road driving north (as opposed to driving south on SH16 - lookout over Kaipara harbour is on the left). But also to rejoin traffic flowing north on SH1 at Wellsford.

The tunnel - toll route from just south of Warkworth (north Auckland) is the quickest route driving to Auckland on day24. Toll fee is $2.20, payable at small kiosk before the tunnel. Signposted well-beforehand.

9. Re: Self-drive Itinerary of New Zealand: Seeking Guidance

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