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South island itinerary - Please advise

washington dc
Level Contributor
1,023 posts
103 reviews
South island itinerary - Please advise

We are a family of 4 visiting beautiful NZ first 2 weeks of March 2018. We are trying to cover S and N island and I know it is not enough time.

We recently completed a trip to Norway fjords and also beautiful Oregon coast in USA so we are trying to see something different in NZ and of course, this is the land of LOTR that my kids love :-)

Really appreciate the expert opinion. I can change the itinerary and accommodation if needed.

My Qs in (...)

day 1: arrive at Queenstown airport at noon, pick up car, drive to Glenorchy and paradise (Toyota corolla should be able to navigate road to paradise, correct?), stopping along the way Bennet's bluff, Mt Alfred (which other scenic lookouts?) evening gondola ride, overnight Queenstown

day 2: drive to Remarkables ski area, then Te anau - Te anau glow worm cave tour (2 pm) with Realjourneys, 6 PM (1 hr) flight over doubtful sound overnight Queenstown

(what are scenic spots/short walks along the way to Te anau? Read about Mavora lakes road (Re: LOTR) off hwy 94 - is that good scenery? twilight until 9 pm, we should be back at the hotel by 9:30 pm. Since it would get dark when we are closer to Queenstown on hwy 6, would that be a problem?)

day 3: start at 7:30, drive to Chard farm vineyards (LOTR views?), kawarau gorge (how far to go on this road? is it better to turn around at suspension bridge). Mt Cardrona summit, Makarora blue pools walk, thunder creek falls, overnight wanaka

day 4: start early, mt iron walk, glendhu bay lookout, mt cook village (which are the best side trips and short walks along the way?), Kea point walk (2 hrs?) overnight mt cook village

day 5: Hooker valley walk OR Tasman valley walk (4 hr walk? which one is better scenery? is one much more challenging than other?), lake Tekapo, mt john drive to summit, then walk, by evening, reach Ashburton for overnight (which are scenic side trips, walks along this road? currently booked Ashburton as overnight to be closer to CHC airport for next day, Is there any other place that might work better?)

day 6: drive to Christchurch airport, return car for 11 am flight (how soon does one have to get to the airport? will have only carry-on bags)

Thank you so very much for sharing your experience to help us, tourists!

10 replies to this topic
Preston, United...
Level Contributor
5,189 posts
6 reviews
1. Re: South island itinerary - Please advise

One immediate point - Where are you flying in from, as you really don't want to be driving straight from the plane on what is the "wrong" side of the road for you jet-lagged?

I don't think the road from Queenstown is particularly scenic after the pass the lake - most people go to Te Anau to get access to either Doubtful or Milford Sounds, neither of which you plan to visit.

Have you got somewhere to stay at Mt Cook? Rumour has it that is pretty much completely booked up to Easter.

How long you need at CHC depends on where you are flying to - domestic less than international.

Christchurch, New...
Destination Expert
for Zhuhai, Christchurch, South Island
Level Contributor
39,662 posts
443 reviews
2. Re: South island itinerary - Please advise

I think you are over-planning.

1. Please do not drive ANYWHERE if arriving from the US.

2. In March sunset will be closer to 7:30pm-8pm; Stay in Te Anau!!

4. Better to do the Hooker Valley Track on the afternoon you arrive as you'll have more time. Tasman Valley is a collection of short walks - 1 to the top of the lateral moraine & on down to the lake shore & can be done when you are ready to leave Mt Cook.

5. Do Kea Point as soon as you check out; then Tasman Valley ; have lunch & head for Lake Tekapo. If the weather is bad have lunch in Fairlie. Lake Tekapo is often very busy with tour buses. In Geraldine do stop at Barkers Jams & Preserves for tastings.

6. Assuming from your earlier posts, that you are flying to WLG, you won't need to be at the airport until 10am; but where is your rental car return located? If off-campus you will need to allow 30 min to include waiting for the shuttle to the airport and if you elect not to buy their insurance excess there will be a more thorough inspection of the car. If coming on a week day you'll need to add a little bit more time for traffic on the ring road around Chch between 8am & 9am. I would rather stay in Chch overnight!

Edited: 16 January 2018, 15:18
washington dc
Level Contributor
1,023 posts
103 reviews
3. Re: South island itinerary - Please advise

Well, we were going to Te anau for the flight over fjordland (something we didn't do in Norway) and glow-worm caves.

Yes, we already have booked at alpine lodge at Aoraki village.

We are arriving from the US but have driven on "wrong" side before in India and UK. We are generally good with sleeping on the plane. But point well taken - we will see how we feel when off the plane. I thought it is about an hr one-way to Glenorchy. Is that right?

Noted: the Mt cook walks logistics

We are renting car from Gorentals. I think it is a shuttle ride away and will factor that in.

BTW I researched a bit more and perhaps we might spend last night on S island at Methven. It is about 1 hr from CHC, a scenic location and we might have time for walk to Mt Sunday before getting to the lodging. Any opinion?

Maybe I am overplanning - that is the OCD in me!!


Derbyshire, United...
Level Contributor
39 posts
3 reviews
4. Re: South island itinerary - Please advise

My wife and I are traveling from England to the South Island in the next few days, we are lucky enough to be traveling in a camper van and we will be seeing some of the towns you have mentioned , when we return home I will give you some tips. Cheers Paul.

Preston, United...
Level Contributor
5,189 posts
6 reviews
5. Re: South island itinerary - Please advise

I'll look out for you Morenosh. We are flying out on Sunday and will be on the South Island until 15th Feb, although we are lucky enough to be in a car!

OP - for Day 2 I think I would be looking at a day trip to Milford Sound from Queenstown, coach out and fly back. You get the benefit of the beautiful drive from Te Anau to Milford with some sightseeing stops and then the aerial view on the way back with no rushing in the car. No glow worms though if that is a priority for you.

washington dc
Level Contributor
1,023 posts
103 reviews
6. Re: South island itinerary - Please advise

Morenosh and JohnEW,

Look forward to hearing about your experience

have a wonderful trip!

Savage, Minnesota
Level Contributor
7 posts
201 reviews
7. Re: South island itinerary - Please advise

If you see the glowworm caves (so great!) you MUST go to Hobbiton, but get tickets now as they sell out quickly. Plus, we drove quite safely while in NZ and we are from the US.

The Netherlands
Level Contributor
781 posts
8. Re: South island itinerary - Please advise

Regarding a walk out to Mount Sunday when staying at Methven: that won't work. It's a nice drive out there and it's a lovely walk, but you don't have enough time. You need at least 3-4 hours for this outing and you're starting the day at Mount Cook... with several walks and stops planned, plus half a day of driving to even get to Methven. It's quite a full day as it is.

washington dc
Level Contributor
1,023 posts
103 reviews
9. Re: South island itinerary - Please advise

Gosh! I know we are rushing through this :-(

If we have good weather in Mt cook we will focus on the walks there - kea point and then Tasman valley, have lunch and head out. Skip Mt Sunday altogether and after Mt John summit trail, head to Methven for overnight.

If the weather at Mt cook is not great, we start from My cook in the morning and go to My Sunday (hoping that has good weather) and then head to Methven for overnight.

Would that work?

Thanks zhuhai for the excellent food reco. We will skip lake Tekapo if it is busy with tour buses.

New Zealand
Destination Expert
for South Island
Level Contributor
30,065 posts
93 reviews
10. Re: South island itinerary - Please advise

Lots of tourist drivers having accidents in the Queenstown area by tourists who claim to never get jet-lag.

please don't drive ANYWHERE after a long haul flight. Day 1 explore Queenstown on foot and collect the rental the following day.

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