Rough New Zealand Itinerary - Advice Please!
Replies: 11 - Last Post: Dec 12, 2012 4:14 PM Last Post By: nschneble
Dec 9, 2012 6:36 PM
Rough New Zealand Itinerary - Advice Please!Greetings fellow travelers!
My partner and I are going to New Zealand this coming February. We don't have a concrete amount of time set, but based on the research I've done thus far, it looks like two months (one month per island) is a fair estimate to see a lot without being rushed.
Background: We're both young adults who enjoy day hikes but not camping or multi-day treks. We love the outdoors and everything scifi-fantasy, and she'd be remiss if I didn't mention that she'd like to personally adopt at least a dozen baby penguins. Financially, we are far from our backpacker days but miles away from resorts and hotels. We travel the world using Airbnb and don't mind paying for quality activities (like heli-hiking).
Included below is a rough itinerary I've worked out for what to see based on Thorn Tree and Tripadvisor forums, New Zealand's official website and a decent amount of Wikipedia and Wikitravel searches. I'd appreciate any advice or recommendations!
Note: This is not a contiguous list of activities day-to-day. It's more a list of what to do while we're in each city or area.
● Auckland Airport (AKL)
● Day trip to Waiheke Island
● Day trip to black sands of Muriwai
● Day trip to Thames?
● Rapaura Watergardens (30 min from Thames)
● Day trip to Rangitoto Island (night sea kayaking)
● Day trip to Hobbiton; LOTR movie set tours
● Day trip to Waitomo Glowworm Caves
● Aranui Cave (5 min drive from Waitomo Glowworm Caves)
● Day trip to Tauranga?
● Katikati Bird Gardens (30 min north of Tauranga)
● Day trip to Waikato River Trails
● Day trip to Waimangu Volcanic Valley
● Day trip to Okere Falls?
Taupo / Lake Taupo?
● Day trip to Tongariro National Park
● Tongariro Alpine Crossing
● Huka Falls
● Wellington to Picton
● Pelorus Sound (more remote) or Queen Charlotte Sound (more picturesque)
● Day trip for wine tasting in Marlborough?
● Abel Tasman National Park
● Abel Tasman Coast Track
● Dragon’s Cave Rafting
● Day trip to Skippers Canyon
● Skyline Gondola (stargazing)
● Larnach Castle and Gardens
● Dunedin Botanic Gardens?
● Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony
● Tothill's Mazes
● Christchurch Intl Airport (CHC)
Some more thoughts and ideas:
● glacier hiking
● helihikes (helicopter + hiking)
● quad bikes (ATVs)
● cave rafting
● fjord tours
● boating safaris
● helicopter flights
Thanks in advance for any advice!
Dec 9, 2012 10:10 PM
Dec 10, 2012 12:06 AM
2a couple of minor points - the Waikato river trails could be included on the way from Hamilton / Matamata to Rotorua. If you are going from Auckland to Thames a scenic route is down the coast of the the Firth of Thames - apart from the scenery, the route takes you past a great fish and chip shop at kaiaua and the shorebird centre at Miranda, if thats your kind of thing. If you go to the Raupaura water gardens take a drive a few minutes further up the hill to the "square kauri" to get up close to one of these forest giants.
Dec 10, 2012 12:14 AM
3I would see Waitomo on way down to Auckland and suggest staying somewhere in Coromandel rather than Hamilton. Thames is okay, but not the highlight of Coromandel.
See katikati gardens and hobbiton on the way to Rotorua. Not much at Tauranga so skip that.
Catch the water taxi part way into Abel Tasman and do your walk there. Nice places to stay and eat at Awaroa.
Consider doing part of the Routeburn in Queenstown. I think you could make it to the saddle and back if you had an early start.
Combine helicopter and glaciers? You might get dolphins at Milford or Abel Tasman.
Dec 10, 2012 7:12 AM
kainui2 - Thanks for telling me about the Firth of Thames; we'll likely be renting a car the whole time, so scenic routes are a must! It'll be interesting to see how the giant "Square Kauri" compare to the redwoods in the Pacific Northwest of the states.
hereandtherenz - Thanks for all the great tips! Any recommendations for Waitomo beyond the caves? You're right on about combining helicopters and glaciers - I'm hoping we can do a "heli-hike" at some point in the adventure. (assuming it's not murderously expensive)
The Routeburn sounds (and looks) stunning, so I definitely think we'll have to walk at least part of it!
Dec 10, 2012 11:43 AM
5Some more thoughts:
While you're in Motueka, head over the Takaha hill to Golden Bay. There's the hole at the top (a cave you can go down, can't remember it;s name). Pupu springs are beautiful and there's lovely beaches.
If you like gardens see this post: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=2275457&messageID=20522928#20522928
With two months, you would have time to go round the East Cape of the North Island, then down through Hawkes Bay to Wellington.
Drive around the coast road from Picton to Motueka (through Havelock) - it's much more scenic.
Sorry, I haven't been to Waitomo since I was a kid so I don't have any recommendations there. And oh yes, I see helihike on your list now - didn't read it properly the first time.
Dec 10, 2012 2:09 PM
6In general, I think I'd try to keep the north island to about three weeks and make the most of a little extra time in the south island. it's a great time to be in NZ, very good timing.
Waiheke Island is nice, as are the west coast beaches (Piha or karekare are similar to Muriwai). If 'she' is into birds though, you might want to try to include a day trip up to tiritiri Matangi island - you'll see native birds there that you won't see anywhere else, and there are nesting boxes for little blue penguins along the shore line with glass tops so you can peek into the nests. Great time to be on Tiri, there'll be lots of trees in flower and it's a very scenic boat trip up and back. 360 degrees do the trip. I wouldn't prioritise Muriwai or similar over tiri, myself. Rangitoto can be done as a stop to/from Waiheke Island - a lot of the weekend ferries esp seem to stop at Rangitoto on the way out or back. but the kayak is lovely - doing it in the early evening, and then walking up to the top of the island to see the sunset, is pretty special.
Like others have said, I'd avoid Hamilton as a stop. From Auckland, head down through the eastern coast, Miranda etc. Thames is far from the best the coromandel has to offer. It's a cute small town, but it's on the estuary side. If you can make the time, driving down from Auckland and then up and over the Coromandel peninsula is well worth it - as you get further north the coastal scenery is amazing, and the beaches on the eastern side are far nicer than the west coast beaches out from Auckland. TBH I didn't find the watergardens all that exciting.
From Coromandel, you could head straight to Waitomo via Matamata for Hobbiton. I live in the eastern Bay of Plenty and agree with other posters that Tauranga has little to offer, and if you do manage to get up and around the Coromandel peninsula, then you probably don't want to take time to do the East Cape as well. the katikati bird gardens are not worth the detour.
Waikato River trails could be done on the way-ish to Waitomo. And no, there isn't much else there.
then Waitomo to rotorua; once in Rotorua Waimangu valley is lovely. Okere Falls is also nice, we have a good friend that lives there but I'm not sure why else you'd want to go there... There is a very nice store/pub type place. The falls themselves aren't really that spectacular. Maybe you could drive the very long way to Rotorua, and go across the top of the lake (stop and look at some of the really clear thermal springs on the way), through Okere, and then down the eastern side?
Then back over to Taupo, Huka falls are impressive. For anyone keen on day walks, the Tongariro crossing is a must - you should be fine for weather, but it's always worth planning to maybe spend an extra day in the area to ensure you've got the weather for it.
Kapiti Island would be a great visit on the way down to Wellies, even if you have managed to get out to Tiri.
While Pelorus Sound is more remote than Queen Charlotte, you're hardly going to be overrun by people in either place, especially compared to ATNP. I did a kayaking trip in QC Sound in late Jan and it was pretty much empty - although we did a multi-day trip and were the only ones at many of our camping stops.
wine tasting in marlborough is definitely worthwhile.
I'm not a fan of the ATNP track. i'd rather spend more time in Pelorus or QC sound. If you do go to ATNP, I'd highly recommend kayaking rather than walking. The best stuff in the park is in the water.
and now I'm running out of steam... Just a couple more things, I'm surprised you haven't included Kaikoura? You have a high chance of seeing dolphins, lots of them, from the coast. Also seals, and depending on your timing there may still be young seals hanging out at the waterfalls near Kaikoura itself.
Larnach Castle is very underwhelming IMO. And if you want amazing botanic gardens, I'd go to the ones in Wellington rather than Dunedin.
Dunedin peninsula to see the albatross, seals and penguins is a very worthwhile trip. But Oamaru is good for penguins too.
Dec 12, 2012 2:25 PM
7hereandtherenz - Thanks for the extra info on Motueka! It sounds awesome.
LisaMNZ - What an exhaustive list, thanks so much! Took me a day to sort it out and make tweaks to my itinerary. You've definitely cemented Rangitoto as a must-do, and now I've got to decide whether the Coromandel peninsula or the East Cape would make for the better coastal drive!
Since Hobbiton and Waitomo are a couple hours from both Coromandel and Rotorua, is there anywhere nearby worth staying for a few nights?
Dec 12, 2012 3:14 PM
8now I've got to decide whether the Coromandel peninsula or the East Cape would make for the better coastal drive!
Sorry, not very helpful.
Differences: The Coromandel peninsula probably does a better line in long white sandy beaches, especially surf beaches, although there are plenty of those on the East Cape once you get round towards Gisborne.
The East Cape is much more isolated. Coromandel communities tend to be quite white middle class or retirees, with a lot of Aucklanders going down for weekends and holidays. The towns are much bigger and your chances of getting a good flat white higher.
The East Cape is sparsely populated, and is predominantly maori once you get past Opotiki. The scenery is spectacular (but so is Coromandel).
On the East Cape you'll see a lot more history - some of the oldest communities (both maori and european) were established here. There are a lot of traditional marae, and some old and cutesy european churches (it was one of the first bastions of christianity when europeans came to NZ).
If you're into unusual scenery, you might also be keen on doing the day trip out to White Island from Whakatane, which is an active volcano. And it's particularly active right now!
Although the Coromandel peninsula does have things like hot water beach and cathedral cove.
Other highlights for me on the Coromandel include the driving creek railway, Coromandel township (up the north end, lots of history there too), the Lost Springs spa, and some of the quieter beaches like Cooks, Whangapoua.
I'm sorry, I couldn't choose between the two...!
Dec 12, 2012 3:20 PM
9Oh, and on your second question... There's not really anywhere I can think of between Coromandel and Waitomo. matamata (where hobbiton is) is a very uninspiring rural farming town, as are most of the towns around that area.
I would probably just head through Matamata for the Hobbiton stuff, continue across to Waitomo, spend a couple of nights there to do the caving etc stuff, and then head across to rotorua.
and then, instead of going south to Taupo, you could do the lovely drive east through the Rotorua lakes to Whakatane, and then start your east cape trip :-)
Once you get to Wairoa (south of Gisborne) you've then got the option of taking the very slow but very scenic route through the Waikaremoana national park, or going slightly further south and taking the quick route west to just south of Taupo (SH 5).
Dec 12, 2012 4:11 PM
10LisaMNZ - Well then, guess we'll just have to do BOTH drives! :)
I was thinking along the same lines of staying in Waitomo, so I'll go with that for now. There's so much to see and do, I feel like 2 months (maybe more like 2.5 months now) is barely going to be enough!
Thanks again for all the great advice. I really appreciate it!
Dec 12, 2012 4:14 PM
11Oh, and I love my coffee, so good flat whites are a must! I got quite used to them after living in Australia for a summer a decade past.
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