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April 2 ~ April 12 South Island: Outdoors, hiking, road trip

Penrith, Australia
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April 2 ~ April 12 South Island: Outdoors, hiking, road trip

Hi Everyone! I've been looking through so many of the very useful responses here on tripadvisor regarding visiting the South Island. I've been trying to piece together a trip, but I feel very intimidated and over my head. I thought maybe it would be worth asking advice before I get any more lost.

I will be flying in to Christchurch the night of April 2nd (arriving just after midnight, so the trip itself logistically begins in the morning of April 3). I will be flying out of Queenstown around 9am on April 12th.

I am an avid hiker, runner and camper, and love the outdoors most of all. I'm in good shape and can typically cover a lot of ground. I'm not interested in things like wine tasting, although the pictures look beautiful, or much of the cities (except to take a brief look at them passing through), but primarily my goal is to see as much of the beautiful land of the south island as I can. Actually, my dream would be to bike the south island, but that will have to be an adventure for the future. Unfortunately I can only afford to travel for a regrettably short time right now.

I suppose I have a couple questions. First: I am weighing the benefits of car rental vs. bus. Given the short time that I'm there, I'm leaning towards car rental. But then again, as I want to do a lot of hiking and outdoor activity, I won't really be IN the car all that much and it will mostly be parked! Which leads me to consider busing. Still, the convenience of setting my own schedule is also a benefit of a car.

Second: I am not entirely certain of what route I should take to see and do the most. I've been looking at some road trip itineraries. What I was considering is making two loops, one circling about the northern half of the south island (Christchurch to Nelson then to Greymouth). I really enjoy mountains and was considering going through Arthur's Pass somehow, possibly back towards Christchurch. From there, I would maybe head down towards Dunedin then towards Queenstown. (I'd like to see the Fjordlands as well, if possible?) Alternatively, I could go down the west coast from Nelson or something such as that. I'm originally from Minnesota myself (a state that I love) but it is lacking in dramatic and varied landscape like New Zealand, so I would like to absorb as much as I can.

I'm feeling very overwhelmed about what places I should absolutely prioritize. Because although I want to try to cover a lot, I would prefer to make it meaningful. If I have to chose only a few places, I would rather do that I suppose than barely see anything from going too quickly.

I keep reading about the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers. But I'm also on a VERY limited budget. I don't know if I can afford a lot of the most popular places. I have very little money, and I'll have to spend it wisely. At the same time, I'm willing to spend that money on experiences that I should not miss. I would regret it years later if I didn't, whereas the price I will forget with time! You only live once, after all! What I've done in the past is try to do as many free hikes and free outdoor activities as I can. I've done lots of solo mountain hiking up in Hokkaido where I lived for a year and camping around, 400km+ biking, sleeping outdoors, etc. My aim would be to either stay at campsites or stay in hostels during the trip--probably a combination. Maybe a couple more remote sites I can hike to, as well? Are there any hikes (mountain, coastal, anywhere you think!), for example, that I absolutely should not miss? What areas should I prioritize, in your opinion?

I know it is an utterly short time to try to see a lot. I am more than willing, though, to do early mornings each day and make the most of the time. I can relax some other day! Thank you so much in advance for your patience and your help. Any advice is truly appreciated.

Christchurch, New...
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for Zhuhai, Christchurch, South Island
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1. Re: April 2 ~ April 12 South Island: Outdoors, hiking, road trip

Welcome to TA. You would need more than 2 weeks to do the figure-8 you describe but could probably manage the 3/4 circuit. Normally the cheapest/easiest route over 10 days is a CHC-CHC circuit of the lower half of the SI. Here is one suggestion:

2/3. Arr CHC; sleep; pick up rental car & drive to Kaikoura

4. Whale watch; drive to Nelson/Abel Tasman NP (2N)

5. Water taxi/hike/kayak

6. Drive to Punakaiki

7. Drive to glaciers; PM explore

8. Drive to Wanaka

9. Drive to Te Anau (2N)

10. Milford Sound day tour

11. Drive to Queenstown

12. Fly out.

This route could be done by bus but you would have less time for sightseeing & would probably need to drop Te Anau and do a full day coach tour to Milford Sound from Queenstown.

Penrith, Australia
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2. Re: April 2 ~ April 12 South Island: Outdoors, hiking, road trip

Thanks so much for your advice. I really appreciate it. I think I will definitely go with renting the car...the only trouble then is that I sure do love gazing out the windows! But I would really like to maximize the short time I'll have. Are there any specific hiking routes that you really recommend? I feel very naive about everything (fortunately I do have a few more weeks to do research). I'm very sorry if I end up sounding well...rather silly in my questions, so I'm really grateful for the guidance.

My experience with mountain trails and forest trails in Hokkaido (Japan) was always that there was a trailhead (usually a few options of trailhead), and then up you would go. There were chains of mountains that you could extend into many days (or weeks) of traversing and camping. There was never any need for a guide (at least not during mostly-snow free times), yet most travel sites I have noticed really emphasize guided tours. Maybe that's just because they are aimed at tourism. I prefer to avoid them, except when necessary for safety or for efficiency.

I've been looking at as well such as the Dept of Conversation which outline a number of hikes. One I've been looking at is the Mount Fox Route, for example. I'm a very strong hiker. It says the elevation is 1345, and that many parts are very steep up to the peak. Most of the mountains I've climbed before have been between 1345m and 2200m (though Fuji was 3000+, although not exactly what I would call remote!).

I'd like to throw in some long hikes such as that, as well as some simpler day hikes, through out the island but of course prioritizing those that might be most worthwhile--although it is hard for me to imagine that anything in NZ is NOT worth while. Are there ones that you would emphasize in various places?

In Milford Sound, for example, do you suggest a day tour? I suppose that they would perhaps make everything most efficient and provide many beautiful views. But I really do love hiking around. Also, I've found that my own two feet tend to be the cheapest transportation to beautiful spots.

I guess I'd like to make my goal to cover a few good hikes in various places throughout the south island, but prioritizing the most scenic. Are there a few campsites you would recommend, as well?

Thanks again! I've thrown a bunch of questions in there, so I'm very sorry if I'm being a bother. I'll keep doing research on my own, of course, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to see if you have any input.

New Zealand
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3. Re: April 2 ~ April 12 South Island: Outdoors, hiking, road trip

Hi Jamie, keep the questions coming - we will help where we can :)

The element you need to be most careful of when tramping/hiking in NZ is the weather. A sunny summer's day can change to a snow blizzard with no advance warning in under an hour. Ditto for a dry creek bed which can become an impassable raging river in minutes. So while some distances or elevations might seem minor, you need to allow for weather contingencies. Always take emergency clothing, shelter and food.

An emergency locator beacon can be hired from DOC at low cost and they do save lives. Whenever possible let someone know where you plan to go and when you plan to return - have them call the police if you don't return by a set time. Your accommodation can do this for you - harder if you plan to camp.

A car will offer the greatest flexibility to reach trailheads.

re milford, there is no hiking at Milford Sound, but the Milford Road has some good options.

And yes, you can hike most trails unguided. Just be aware that the vast majority of visitors who come to grief on our trails are solo hikers/mountain climbers. Many are very experienced, it is a combination of weather and over-confidence which does them in. Take care on tussock grasses and scree slopes - both are treacherous and slippery, the tussock especially so when wet.

Many great day hikes and multi-day tramps in the Wanaka area as well as at Aoraki/Mt Cook. Great beach and bush hikes at Abel Tasman National Park. So many options :)

Christchurch, New...
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4. Re: April 2 ~ April 12 South Island: Outdoors, hiking, road trip

Altitude is not the main issue, but rather the altitude GAIN. For example, the highest "mountain" in urban Christchurch is Mt Herbert on the Crater Rim, at only 919m. But you usually begin the climb from absolute sea level, so it is more strenuous than climbing a 2000m peak that you begin at 1200m!

Look at Avalanche Peak in Arthurs Pass, Rob Roy Glacier nr Wanaka, Roberts Point nr Franz Josef Glacier, Key Summit on the Milford Rd etc.

Penrith, Australia
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5. Re: April 2 ~ April 12 South Island: Outdoors, hiking, road trip

I'd really like to thank everyone for your wonderful comments and excellent advice! It has really helped me so much over the past weeks as I continue to plan!

I decided to rent a car from April 3rd ~ April 11th in order to maximize my time. I've come up with a possible plan for the route and possible activities to do most days. I'm still pretty naive about it all, and so I'd definitely appreciate your kind input once more on what I've outlined. (For example, while I have looked at google maps and other maps etc. to consider driving times and roads, I am sure that there are logistical issues that I might be missing or unaware of. Perhaps the roads take longer than I am expecting, or there are spots along the way that I should explore more.) I do intend to be waking up very early each day, preferably with the sunrise in order to make the most of the light.

I have some ideas of places and possible hikes I'd like to do along the way. I think the first few days are planned alright, with some flexibility depending on how slow or fast I move along. I've left things pretty open towards the end, with the exception of April 11th when I decided to do a horseback ride. Expensive, but hopefully worth it!! And at that point, my own legs will likely be pretty worn out!

Also, I've decided to bring my camping gear now that I am renting a car. If I had done busing, it would've been a burden to carry around. But now I have the option of packing it up and leaving it in the car on days that I want to do shorter or lighter walks. I am hoping to stay primarily at campgrounds along the way. (I'd love to hear suggestions of favorite campgrounds!)

Here's what I have:

Fly on April 2nd, and arrive just after midnight. Spend the night in Christchurch.

Day 1 (April 3): Pick up rental car in Christchurch in the early morning. Get groceries/misc supplies/etc.

Drive up to Kaikoura (2.5~3 hour drive). Walk Peninsula Walkway, then head towards Picton/Nelson. Spend night at campground. I've looked at a few potential campsites, including Robin Hood Bay Camping Area and Onamalutu Camping Ground. Perhaps there are others spots you would recommend?)

Day 2 (April 4): Depending on which campsite I stay at, I could perhaps stop by Waikawa if this is recommended or other sights, otherwise continue on towards Nelson. End in Abel Tasman. Do a day hike or overnight hike if possible? Are there any short hikes that you might recommend? I would love to do the whole coastal hike, but don't have the time. Maybe a day hike or possibly camping the night, then hiking out in the morning.

Day 3 (April 5): (If camping in Abel Tasman, hike out in the morning.) Start driving towards Punakaiki (approx. 4 hr drive). See the Pancake Rocks and the glow worms. Spend the night near Greymouth? Either hostel or campsite, preferably camping if there is a nice campground. Ideally, I would end up farther south, as I'd like to hike the Mt. Fox Route the next day.

Day 4 (April 6): Wake up very early and drive to Mt. Fox Route trailhead (7-8 hr return hike). Camp the night at Lake Paringa or other nearby campground?

Day 5 (April 7): Head to Wanaka area. Hike the Rob Roy Track (3-4 hr return hike).

Day 6 (April 8): Drive towards Queenstown and onwards to Te Anau. Spend the day/night in Te Anau.

Day 7 (April 9): Wake up extra early to beat traffic, and drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound. Hike Gertrude Saddle (4-6 hr return hike). Camp at campground (any good suggestions?)

Day 8 (April 10): Some easy hikes or good spots to see? I don't have anything particular planned for this day, and could use suggestions! Start heading back towards Queenstown. Campground?

Day 9 (April 11): Dart Stables horseback riding in Glenorchy at 8:30AM (3 hour ride). Have a calm afternoon near Glenorchy and head back to Queenstown. Return the rental car. Spend the night in hostel in Queenstown.

Day 10 (April 12): Go from hostel to airport. Fly out of Queenstown at 9AM.

Does this sound at all realistic? I do hope so. If not, I definitely appreciate your critique or alternative ideas. Mostly I just want to be outside soaking up the landscape. Everything except for April 11th is still very flexible.

Lastly, it may be another silly question, but what sort of weather is typical for this time of year? It should be the end of summer, start of fall, correct? I typically prepare for all sorts of conditions--especially since I'm usually out in the elements hiking. So I'm planning to bring an assortment of warm clothes, rain gear, hiking gear, as well as lighter clothes for nice days.

Thanks again!

Singapore, null...
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6. Re: April 2 ~ April 12 South Island: Outdoors, hiking, road trip

Hi I'm neither a frequent hiker nor a kiwi but I've been researching SI for the past few months. As I'm planning for my trip this may (also ten days) it feels to me that you're really trying to squeeze in as much as you can. Like many have said, the weather there changes very easily, and what you seek (outdoor adventures) is really very weather dependence. I would suggest you to give up some places and give priority to those activities that you really want to do. Since it's only your first trip, I'm sure you'll be back to that amazing place in the near future. Since you seem to like hiking ALOTTTTT why don't you try maybe 2 or even 3 Multi-days great walk (they are called great walk for a reason)? You can do Kepler and Milford and even squeeze in routeburn if you're fast enough. Then again, I myself is from a foreign land, this is how I feel! Let's hear what the authentic kiwis have to say :)

Singapore, null...
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7. Re: April 2 ~ April 12 South Island: Outdoors, hiking, road trip

Oh btw, fox/franz gives me a feeling that it's a very "tourist" place. Everything talks money there.. I've yet to decide to go there or not.. Is it really that nice that one must go there? No offense but even the photos online doesn't justify me to go there comparing with many many other places on SI like mt cook, te anau, wanaka,Milford..

Nelson-Tasman...
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8. Re: April 2 ~ April 12 South Island: Outdoors, hiking, road trip

Nelson has three National Parks on its doorstep. Abel Tasman is the smallest but most popular, and has stunning beaches. Nelson Lakes National Park is more rugged and alpine. Kahurangi National Park boasts the heapy track and many other walks.

However, throughout NZ there are many stunning walks and hikes. so whereever your iternary takes you, you will have some amazing walks to do.

Christchurch, New...
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9. Re: April 2 ~ April 12 South Island: Outdoors, hiking, road trip

Weather: Jamie, your profile says you are from Penrith, so you know it is autumn (not "fall" ;-) here now. Think Katoomba - possibly some early frosts at altitude. DLS ends on the 6th so days will be shorter.

I feel you are trying to drive too much for your interests, and you need to plan for a few more hostel nights as the nights are getting cold. The original itinerary I gave you didn't allow for full day hikes apart from ATNP.

Why don't you drive straight to the West Coast:

3rd. Chch to Arthurs Pass; climb Avalanche Peak; camp or hostel in AP Village

4th. AP to Glaciers region. Hike eg Alexs Knob (5hr return). Mt Fox is not recommended for a solo tramper.

5th. Consider the Copeland Valley to Welcome Flat Hut track - a 2 D/1N tramp with hot springs.

6th. Return from Welcome Flat.

7th. Drive to Wanaka with short walks along the way.

8th. Rob Roy Glacier

9th. Drive to Te Anau

10th. Milford Sound + half day hike

11th. Te Anau to QTN; horse trek in the PM;

12th Fly home.

New Zealand
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10. Re: April 2 ~ April 12 South Island: Outdoors, hiking, road trip

Ditto what Zhuhai suggests. You haven't allowed sufficient drive times and with the shorter daylight hours, plus overnight frosts, you shouldn't be driving in the dark on icy roads.

and you do need a full day to drive Franz to Wanaka (many great short walks) and another full day to drive the one hour to Rob Roy trailhead and then hike, followed by one hour back to Wanaka.

If bringing your own camping gear best buy new or make sure your current gear is spotless - no mud, no dirt, no grass seeds - check any velcro for seeds and ensure hollow tent pegs are spotless. Also your hiking boots should be cleaned thoroughly and the treads scrubbed with a stiff brush. Tent and boots will be inspected on arrival and steam cleaned if needed - and steam cleaning isn't much good for decent boots or waterproof tent.

happy travels :)