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.