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3 days from Wellington to Queenstown, West or East coast ?

Denver, Colorado
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3 days from Wellington to Queenstown, West or East coast ?

Hi Everybody,

My family of 3 (myself, wife and 9yr old son) will be spending 9.5 days in NZ, arriving Feb 15 to Auckland, leaving Feb 25 from Queenstown (to Sydney).

We are planning to spend 4 days on North Island and 5.5 days on South Island.

Arriving on South Island on Feb 20, InterIslander ferry 8.25-11.35AM, renting a car from APEX so no luggage/car rental hassle, should be ready to go around noon.

I mapped the route for 3 days -- it goes through Westport, Franz Joseph, Haast. Here is the map:


Each of the days is roughly 4-5 hrs of pure driving, which should give us plenty of time to stop by and soak in NZ nature and culture (we'll have around 14 hours of daylight during this time of the year).

We are quite used to long drives (I do understand that driving in NZ is quite a bit slower compared to US) and treat driving in new places (particularly as beautiful as NZ) as part of the overall experience of the country, rather than a chore to get from one place to another. We’d rather spend 2 hrs on the road than in a restaurant or shopping :)

The most important criteria for us when selecting the route is:

1. It should be scenic.

2. Visiting National parks and taking short hikes (1-1.5 hrs).

3. We prefer nature made to man-made attractions, so mountains, volcanoes and ocean scenery are on top of the list.

Restaurants/wineries/shopping are not our primary goal when visiting NZ, although we would gladly visit them if it does not affect our other plans.

We are going to spend 3 nights in Queenstown and planning to do:

1. Milford Sound

2. Catlins

3. Glenorchy drive (half day on the day of departure)

We are also considering East Coast route through CC and Mount Cook. I would appreciate any feedback on the route we are considering as well as any tips you might have.

Thanks for your help !

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North Island, New Zealand
North Island
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Fox Glacier
Mountains, National Parks, Nature & Wildlife Areas
Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve
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1. Re: 3 days from Wellington to Queenstown, West or East coast ?

A glaring misunderstanding is that the Catlins can be as a day trip from Queenstown. You don't have time for the Catlins. Picton to Westport, after the ferry ride, is going to be an incredibly long day. Why not break up the trip in Nelson and cut a day from Queenstown. Stay in Punakaiki instead of Westport. There's a great hike about half hour north of Westport called Charming Creek Walkway, and several hikes around Punakaiki itself (Fox River, Pororari River, Truman Track).

Denver, Colorado
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2. Re: 3 days from Wellington to Queenstown, West or East coast ?

Can't break the trip, already have hotel ordered in Queenstown. It is a 4 hour drive to Westport (via SH63) or 5 hrs through Nelson, which one is more scenic to drive ? Its not too much driving for us, we'll just relax/enjoy the scenic ferry ride followed by nice scenic drive :)

Is there anything you can recommend for a day trip from QT instead of Catlins ? Is Mt Cook NP doable as a 1 day trip ?

Thanks for your help !

Wellington, NZ
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3. Re: 3 days from Wellington to Queenstown, West or East coast ?

I think the route via Nelson will be more scenic, although I love the Nelson Lakes area (Lake Rotoiti). Queen Charlotte Drive is really pretty, and the noise from the cicadas can be deafening!

New Zealand
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4. Re: 3 days from Wellington to Queenstown, West or East coast ?

Google times are unreliable for NZ and shockingly inaccurate for much of the South Island.

If wanting the West Coast you would need 4 days

1 ferry to Picton (allow 4 hours), drive to Westport (4 hours)

2 drive to Franz Josef (4 hours)

3 drive to Wanaka (tourists average 6 hours for this drive)

4 drive 1 to 2 hours to Queenstown, depending on route

if wanting the centre of the island, go

1 ferry to Picton, drive 4.5 hours to Christchurch

2 drive 4.5 hours to Aoraki/Mt Cook

3 drive 3.5 hours to Queenstown

driver fatigue is a killer in NZ. Please plan wisely and travel safe :)

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Christchurch, New...
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5. Re: 3 days from Wellington to Queenstown, West or East coast ?

I would also vote for the more direct route as recommended by WL. Picton to Kaikoura to Christchurch is a good afternoon drive via Kaikoura (about 5 hours). You could stop to see the seals at Ohau Pt.

Chch to Aoraki/Mt Cook is a lovely drive, via Lake Tekapo ( 5 hours). You'd have time for some short walks in the afternoon or the Glaciers Explorer tour.

Mt Cook to Queenstown is another lovely drive, mostly straight, level roads, apart from the Lindis Pass. You could detour through Wanaka if you wish. Do stop at one of the salmon farms.

3 nights in QTN sounds like only 2 full days, one of which will be your coach/ cruise/coach tour to Milford Sound (13 hours) & the other will be any of the many QTN attractions - glenorchy/paradise tour, jet boat ride, gondola/luge or TSS Earnslaw cruise & Farm tour.

6. Re: 3 days from Wellington to Queenstown, West or East coast ?

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