New Zealand Honeymoon: Help Us Plan
August 9, 2013 8:34 AM   Subscribe

We're honeymooning in New Zealand in mid-November this year. We have 11.5 days between our flight landing in Auckland on a Monday (early early in the morning), and our flight departing from Christchurch on a Friday (mid-afternoon). Help us plan an itinerary!

We're from the Midwestern US, and we're renting a car.
We'd like to see as much as possible, but we also want to feel like we're taking our time and having a relaxing trip.
For this reason, we're focusing mostly on the North Island and the top half of the South Island.

Things We'd Like To Do (but we're open to alternatives & changes):
- Lots of ocean, lots of mountains (especially craggy, snow-capped mountains!)
- Hobbiton tour in Matamata
- Waitomo glowworms (esp. the Black Labyrinth Tour)
- geothermal activity (both viewing of it and soaking in thermal pools)
- Maori cultural demonstration (haka and music)
- Wellington: Te Papa, cool urban neighborhoods, nightlife
- Kaikoura Whale Watch (by boat)
- Picton or Havelock mail boat tours
- Maruia Springs lodge with onsen

About Us:
- We are quiet nerds who would love to see lots of nature, science, history, and tech that we can't see at home.
- We aren't into adrenaline rushes. Helicopters are terrifying, and we don't want to add additional airplane rides.
- Boats are fine (though we're not proficient in kayaks or surfing). Trains are cool. We love bicycles and swimming.
- We plan to be prepared for many short tramps and hikes, but we'll probably skip long hikes.
- We love food. I am pescetarian. We don't care much about wine, but we like cocktails.
- We're not into really crowded, touristy stuff. November was selected in part because it is a less popular time to travel.
- My fiance loves music and would like to include a little nightlife. I love to see where people live, work, and shop.

I like to drive and will do the bulk of the driving. My fiance does not want to spend the whole trip in the car, though we want to see a lot! It's unlikely we'll get back to New Zealand again soon (if ever).
So it would be reasonable to do a couple of days of all-day driving, but most days should not exceed 1-5 hours of driving, split up with scenic stops. (By this, I mean place-to-place, highway-type driving.)

Please advise on our choices and help us plan an itinerary!
posted by aabbbiee to Travel & Transportation around New Zealand (11 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
New Zealand's tourist board actually has some sample itineraries that you might find interesting, including a 10 day tour that starts in Auckland and ends in Queenstown - so a close match for your 11 day itinerary from Auckland to Christchurch. It takes in a lot of what you've listed above and is more biased to north than south as per your preference. It doesn't include the Bay of Islands, though, which might be something to fit in early.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:14 AM on August 9, 2013

You're looking at a 17 hour time difference after an 18-20 hour flight so take it easy the first couple days.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:34 AM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

MoonOrb has it, but I want to second the notion that you simply must take the ferry from Wellington to Picton, and stay in Nelson (the YHA is seriously amazing, and so cheap!) for at least a day. It is absolutely gorgeous and the locals are awesome. It's a fairly short trek from downtown up to the geographical centre of NZ, and the view is out of this world.

Having traveled to NZ from the Midwest and done a similar itinerary over the course of 3.5 weeks, I think you should stay in Auckland overnight and get a good night's sleep -- the jetlag will be INTENSE, and insisting upon pushing yourself really hard starting the moment your plane lands will make you feel like garbage for days (ask how I found out).
If you have time, Waiheke Island is an phenomenally beautiful and peaceful place, and it's only a 40-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland.

For veggie food, HappyCow is a great resource. Have fun!
posted by divined by radio at 9:55 AM on August 9, 2013

On the north island, I really enjoyed Napier. Taupo and Rotorua are interesting. I also think Auckland is a great larger city.

Wellington is a great city. Go to the Te Papa Museum for sure.

Abel Tasman is a really cool park. I'd suggest you rent a double kayak and tour the park that way. You don't need to be proficient to do it, the rental boats from any of the outfits are tanks.

I had a pretty strong preference for South over North Island...I might just throw out as an alternative immediately flying from Auckland to Christchurch (or Queenstown or Dunedin). On the South Island, strong recommendation for Queenstown, Dunedin, Kaikoura, and Nelson. I was fairly neutral on Christchurch.

Food is much much better in the larger cities (Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch). Keep your expectations fairly low outside it. Do eat Green-lipped mussels, they are everywhere and cheap and delicious.
posted by mcstayinskool at 9:59 AM on August 9, 2013

Your question makes me so happy: we live in the Midwest and took our November honeymoon in New Zealand too. Anyway, my caution to you is not to assume that NZ's national roads are just like US Interstates where you can drive 60 mph/100 kph no problem. The lanes are narrower (often only one in each direction) and the roads curve to accommodate natural features, property boundaries, etc. That makes driving a wonderful and absolutely gorgeous experience, but plan accordingly.

Speaking of driving, if you're not comfortable with stick shifts, be sure you've reserved a car with an automatic transmission. Also, work it out with your car rental place so you don't have to take the vehicle on the ferry; they just give you a different vehicle on the other end of the trip and it's much less expensive (although a little time consuming).

Regarding food, don't forget to eat a lot of mussels. If your husband-to-be eats meat, he may enjoy the abundant lamb and venison (you'll know the deer farms when you see the 12-foot tall fencing). It's not a tipping culture (although it will be appreciated) and it's nice to know that wait staff are paid a livable wage. Have fun!
posted by carmicha at 10:05 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

One thing that my partner and I did during our last trip to NZ (in 2011) that we are still shoehorning into conversations whenever someone says "New Zealand" is a day trip to Tititiri Matangi Island. (This would have to be part of the Auckland portion of your trip.) The entire island is a biosecure bird and reptile sanctuary, and home to several species that you won't find outside of NZ. Unless you want to boat out there yourselves, you'd need to book round-trip tickets on a ferry (linked through the site), which only makes the trip once a day. Once you're there, you'll have from about 10:00 - 3:00 to wander the island, sticking to whatever landscape suits you - forest, beach, meadow - spotting birds and taking pictures as you go. The island is just large enough to allow you to drift away from everyone else who came over on the ferry with you, so you won't feel crowded.

We packed a light lunch and just tried to see as much as we could; we saw that others packed more hard-core picnic feasts and hung out around the beaches all day. It's also possible to stay overnight, if you'll be bringing the supplies for it (like a sleeping bag) on this trip. Returning to Tiritiri Matangi and staying overnight is now on our bucket list, so that we can see more birds during the twilight and early morning hours.

(Also, in case it hasn't been emphasized in things you've been reading: bring lots of your preferred sunscreen, and apply it liberally throughout your trip. I don't usually burn and am often kind of loosey-goosey about sunscreen, but I got the nastiest, scared-me-straight sunburn of my life during that trip. The ozone is much, much thinner there than what you are likely used to.)
posted by Austenite at 11:55 AM on August 9, 2013

MoonOrb has a great itinerary for you, but I have some alternate suggestions.

- I don't think Wellington is that cool. I mean, it's cool, but not cool enough that I'd spend a day of my precious 11.5 days ever to be spent in NZ on it. If you're going to go the whole way driving from Rotorua to Wellington area, then I recommend you go to Mount Bruce, which is a bird sanctuary where you can see kiwi and other rare NZ birds. If you decide to stay in Auckland at all, Tiritiri Matangi is another option for this which is an island, but it's a bit of a ways outside of town. The NZ birds are one of the country's greatest sights to be seen, and I strongly recommend you see them. There is a new one right in Wellington called Zealandia, too - I haven't been but I've heard great things.

- The other drawback I see to this itinerary is that you spend half your time on the north island and most of the rest on the least scenic parts of the South Island, i.e. Kaikoura to Christchurch. The most dramatic and mind-blowing scenery in New Zealand (and some of the greatest scenery used in Lord of the Rings, since you're into that) is on the western coast of the South Island, mostly in the Queenstown area. In my opinion the Fiordland National Park is one of the wonders of the world. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and rightfully so. Therefore, I would give a strong push for hopping on a cheap flight down to Queenstown and seeing it, however you can fit it in. You don't have to love adventure sports to love this incredible place. You won't regret it.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:58 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

On the driving issue, I used to take the Auckland to Wellington route a couple of times a year for uni. It's about 640km which would usually take you about 7 hours if you could travel at the 100km speed limit. However, in reality it was more like 10 hours (including short breaks). If you're a very strong driver, you might be able to push it down to 8.5 or 9 hours, but if you're new to driving sharp turns then I'd budget about 12 hours (...although you probably would be able to drive faster than an 18 year old with no real driving experience.)

Ignore what google says the driving time should be (it estimated 7 hours 37min for the Auckland to Wellington route). This one looks more accurate:

I like Auckland and Wellington both, but I wouldn't recommend them over any natural attractions. As a tourist, I think Wellington is a lot more interesting because you've got the the Beehive (the tour is pretty interesting - I've been twice), the Old Government Building (now the Law School and also the largest wooden structure in the Southern Hemisphere!) the museum, the NZ Supreme Court (highest court in NZ), the waterfront and it's all within walkable distance. As long as you book a stay somewhere within 2 kms of the CBD you can't really go wrong.
posted by fallsauce at 4:33 PM on August 9, 2013

Accomodation in Christchurch is relatively scarce and expensive at the moment owing to the earthquakes three years ago. Don't delay in arranging it. I would like to put in a word for these guys and the pub next door: my office is upstairs and my out of town co-workers stay there when visiting.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:21 PM on August 9, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you all for your input! All of it has been helpful!
I think we're going to change up what we thought we wanted in order to see more of the South Island, which will involve an additional flight (even though I didn't think we wanted to do that!)

I will post back here with a final itinerary after the trip.

Thank you!!
posted by aabbbiee at 1:12 PM on August 15, 2013

Response by poster: We returned from our trip last week, and it was an amazing time! Thank you again for all of your input.
Our rough itinerary was 3 days on the North Island (Auckland and Rotorua), then a flight from Rotorua to Queenstown, and then 8 days on the South Island with time spent in Arrowtown, Te Anau, Wanaka, and Fox Glacier before we made the trip to Christchurch to fly out.

I wrote up long responses with lots of trip and flight information and posted them in this other MeFi post that I made, which you can read here. I used Trip Advisor and Priceline to research and book all flights, motels, and rental cars in the weeks before the trip. I did not book any of our short trips or tours that far in advance, but instead used the i-SITES in most towns to make these bookings 1-2 days in advance (so that we could use the weather as a guide, etc.)

In all, it was a wonderful trip and I really appreciate your help in the planning process!
posted by aabbbiee at 8:22 AM on December 2, 2013

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