Honeymoon in New Zealand that won't kill me
July 5, 2016 7:28 AM   Subscribe

We're going to New Zealand in November. I want a relaxing, romantic honeymoon, eating delicious foods in beautiful places. My partner wants to hike for hours, go canyon-ing, etc. Itinerary help please.

We have about three weeks in early November. Here's some main highlights and activities we're planning to do. We are renting a car. I'm a bit worried we're driving too much. Happy to hear thoughts and recommendations for food places, lodging (so many places are already booked up!), or activity companies.

(North Island)
1. Auckland > Waiheke for relaxation
2. Waiheke > Auckland > Bay of Plenty for kayaking
3. Taupo for skydiving (Taupo Tandem or Skydive Taupo?)
4. Tongariro National Park for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
5. Drive to Wellington with a stop at Mt. Bruce Wildlife Center
6. Night in Wellington then next day ferry to South Island

(South Island)
7. Explore Picton and Marlborough Sounds
8. Marlborough/Blenheim wine tours by bike
9. Drive to Abel Tasman National Park
10. Kayak around Tasman National Park
11. Greymouth -- pancake rocks and Monteiths Brewery
12. Drive to Christchurch -- short hike at Arthur's Pass
13. Lake Tekapo
14. Mt. Cook -- Hooker Valley Track and Mt. Cook Alpine Salmon Farm
15. Wanaka -- Rob Roy Glacier Hike and/or canyon-ing
16. Doubtful Sound overnight cruise
17. Gleonarchy, horseback riding
18. Day kayak Milford Sound (is this worth it after Doubtful Sound?)
19. Queenstown for a day and fly home next morning
posted by inevitability to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
The best thing I did in Marlborough Sounds is spend a few nights at a backpacker hotel place we got to by boat. It's a little cold in November, but otherwise Picton is a bit Meh. We did this wetsuit thing swimming with seals, too. That was a blast.

Skip Christchurch? I would skip half of your South Island part.

The best thing I did my first trip was spend nights hiking or kyack camping, followed by nights staying at swanky (yet affordable) spa-like accommodation. Such a nice nice way to do NZ.

Wanaka makes a good base of operations for stuff. Take lessons in glacier climbing, because when will you ever get to do that again?? We did Fox Glacier.

Cheers!
posted by jbenben at 8:30 AM on July 5, 2016


Let me amend - I meant for you to spend more time in less places. Yes, that's a wee bit too much driving!
posted by jbenben at 8:32 AM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


NZ is large and yes, that's a TON of driving. Stay longer at fewer places unless you really want this to be a road trip rather than a honeymoon.

I would give Wellington more than a day: it's a really beautiful city with a lot going on. Same for Christchurch. Note that your choices for food will be best in the cities, so you might want to take advantage of that. (I was a bit disappointed in the food there, although the local beers are quite good. But I live in California so my expectations are irrational.)

Also, if either of you is interested in architecture, you'll want to spend a day in Napier on the North Island.
posted by suelac at 8:43 AM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


We also honeymooned in New Zealand in November, and we had a wonderful time! Gorgeous weather, amazing country. I think about the trip every day!

Short answer: yes, you are planning too much driving. Road tripping in NZ is not like road tripping in the US. A few notes:
  • Roads are windy and narrow. They are two-lane roads and it takes longer than you think to drive between the towns. The towns are very small, and there isn't anything in the way of services on the roads. No late-night diners, no all-night gas stations, no motels.
  • People eat early and most restaurants in the towns (even in the cities) stop serving before 9:00 PM. You will not find much to eat after that time. Also, shops close at 5-6pm, too.
  • Motel offices have operating hours, like 8am-8pm (even in the cities). Most motels are locally owned, not chains, and the operators live onsite. If you arrive outside operating hours, you may have to wake them up to check in.
I recommend you plan your trip with Google Maps so that you're not planning any more than 3-4 hours of driving per day, then give yourself 6-8 hours to accomplish that driving. It's not that Google Maps is inaccurate; it's that the country is so beautiful and there are so many things to do that you want to make sure you have time for them. A little roadside hike to a waterfall, a little walk on the beach, a short stop at the overlook; these things eat up a bunch of time and should not be skipped, but if you don't build in enough time for them, you'll end up arriving at your destination town too late for dinner.

Here are the two questions I asked (1, 2). Here is the itinerary breakdown I wrote after the trip and here is a list of notes that I hope you'll read about traveling in NZ. Metafilter was so helpful to us. I started with an ambitious itinerary too, but we ended up cutting it down by adding a domestic flight that skipped us from Rotorua to Queenstown. We missed Wellington/Picton/Nelson/Kaikoura, but we got to spend a good chunk of time in Te Anau. I think your priorities will be different from ours but I do think you need to streamline to spend way more time in fewer places so you can enjoy yourself. You will particularly enjoy more time in Queenstown, I think.

You could spend a week in every town you name and have an amazing time and still not see everything there is to see, so you just have to make choices.

I hope you have an amazing time!!
posted by aabbbiee at 9:05 AM on July 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


Wow, that is A LOT for three weeks. Driving is pretty challenging in NZ, so I'd suggest like above: cut out some activities and stay longer in fewer places. Most of your South Island stuff sounds like all activities and no relaxing, so try to reduce there. Personally I'd spend some more time in Wellington and Wanaka. I wouldn't spend anytime in Te Anau except as a base to see Milford Sound. I'd highly recommend doing either the Fox or Franz Josef glacier. And lastly, Kaikoura is a must see in my opinion - you can recharge there enjoying the local seafood and relaxing on a whale watching tour.
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 11:38 AM on July 5, 2016


I agree with the others that you have planned too much driving for a 3-week honeymoon. aabbbiee has good advice regarding road-tripping. Much of it boils down to New Zealand generally feeling like a sleepy community, with the roads between developed areas feeling narrow and winding.

I lived in NZ for 4 years and saw a lot of the country during that time. The whole country is fantastic for a myriad of reasons that vary from one attraction to the next, and you'll likely find that you love everywhere you go for a different reason. Here's some of my thoughts on your proposed itinerary:

(North Island)
1. Auckland > Waiheke for relaxation

Auckland is the biggest and most American-feeling city in the country. I personally would not plan to spend much time at all in Auckland, it's too big and crowded and there is so much more to see and do while you're in NZ on vacation. Waiheke is indeed nice and relaxing though. If you fly into Auckland and will drive from there, and if you land in the morning and want to have a lowkey day to get your bearings, maybe plan a lazy trip over to Waiheke on the ferry.

3. Taupo for skydiving (Taupo Tandem or Skydive Taupo?)

Taupo is great for skydiving, I have heard good reports for both of these outfits. Head to the south shore of Lake Taupo (we really enjoyed Lakeland House) for a more relaxed atmosphere than the town of Taupo, which is kind of touristy. Huka Falls is really neat, and will definitely be pumping with runoff in November. The jet boat trips on Huka Falls are a lot of fun, or you can stop on your roadtrip to see the falls on foot.

4. Tongariro National Park for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro Crossing is a great hike with unique landscapes. Plan for it to take a whole day. If you are accomplished hikers, the 2-hour excursion to the top of Ngaurohoe (you'd recognize it as Mount Doom if you're a LOTR fan) is fun.

5. Drive to Wellington with a stop at Mt. Bruce Wildlife Center

I've never been to the Mt. Bruce Wildlife Center, but this would be a very full day.

6. Night in Wellington then next day ferry to South Island

I definitely recommend spending more time in Wellington. Welly is the cultural epicenter of New Zealand, and there are tons of great things to see and do here that are quintessentially kiwi. From the CBD, drive out around the coast to the Mauranui Surf Club for brunch. I HIGHLY recommend the Te Papa Museum. If it's a nice day out, take the Cable Car up from the CBD to get a great view of the city. There is a lot to see and do along the waterfront from Frank Kitts Park all the way over past Freyburg Pool, it's a nice walk and there's lots of cafes and restaurants as well. If you like movies, see a movie at the Embassy Theater, an historic theater that was revitalized and modernized for the LOTR premieres.

(South Island)
7. Explore Picton and Marlborough Sounds

You could easily spend days doing this. I recommend getting out on a kayak over driving. There's great mussels in Havelock.

8. Marlborough/Blenheim wine tours by bike

HIGHLY recommend bike touring the wineries in Blenheim. Very fun.

9. Drive to Abel Tasman National Park

Beautiful scenery here, definitely worthwhile. Hiking ("tramping") is the national pastime in NZ, and Abel Tasman is maybe the most popular area to hike, but there are limited passes issued so it won't be crowded, especially in November.

10. Kayak around Tasman National Park

World-class. Plan to spend a whole day, and I recommend going with a guide. It might be a little chilly in November.

12. Drive to Christchurch -- short hike at Arthur's Pass

This pretty drive will take you almost all day. Fitting in a short hike would be very ambitious.

13. Lake Tekapo

Absolutely beautiful. Definitely recommend taking this in while you're heading about the South Island.

16. Doubtful Sound overnight cruise
18. Day kayak Milford Sound (is this worth it after Doubtful Sound?)

Whether you cruise or kayak through/around the sounds, you will definitely enjoy it. Absolutely gorgeous, though it may be a bit cool this time of year. Be prepared for sand flies near the dock or if you're kayaking.

19. Queenstown for a day and fly home next morning

Queenstown proper is pretty touristy (as opposed to Wanaka which is more of a smaller mountain town), but it's right in the middle of epic terrain with lots to see and do. There's great bungee jumping and jet boat trips nearby. You can zip-line down through the trees on a guided trip, that's a lot of fun. The street luge is pretty popular, though I've never tried it. The whole area to the northeast is very pretty, and there's a quaint mountain town called Arrowtown with a lot of walkable shops, cafes, etc. There are great hikes through the hills all around Queenstown. The Ice Bar is kinda fun but pricey.

Overall your South Island itinerary is very ambitious, personally I'd feel rushed just trying to hit half of the itinerary during your trip.
posted by hootenatty at 12:02 PM on July 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is really helpful everyone, thank you so much. I did have a suspicion that we are driving too much--but what to take out?? So difficult.
posted by inevitability at 2:15 PM on July 5, 2016


Don't bother about the Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre. Go to Zealandia in Wellington instead. You can catch the cable car up and a shuttle bus picks you up from the top. Or you can catch a regular bus. Plan for half a day or more.

I've heard good things about the mail boat cruise in the Marlborough Sounds.

Greymouth to Christchurch is a 3-4 hour drive so a short hike at Authur's pass is doable although I agree with the suggestion to skip Christchurch. Instead of going there continue down the West Coast to the Glacier and then go across Haasts Pass.

If you make your driving days shorter then you have time for things like stopping off at the walk on the side of the road that seems interesting. Most walks should have signs at the start of the trail with approximate distance and time.
posted by poxandplague at 2:41 PM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


I did four weeks in NZ some years back and drove almost as much as you are planning. The drive is as gorgeous as being up in it while hiking, in my opinion, so I ended up doing more car miles that I would have normally when touring by car. Other than Abel Tasman permits it looks like the rest of your itinerary is very flexible so you can figure that out on the fly if you aren't booking hotels 100% in advance.

Only one specific comment - I did the Tongariro crossing hike in early November, and the trail had been closed due to a blizzard for three days before I did it, and I just lucked out with timing (it was fucking glorious in the snow) so have something else ready to go if the weather is poor and the route is shut down.
posted by MillMan at 6:20 PM on July 5, 2016


Slightly oddball but two friends did this and enjoyed it in Australia with similarly intensive driving schedule for relaxed trips, have you considered a caravan? You can rent them in NZ for holidays and it's still pretty common to caravan trip around which means you go at a slower pace driving but can cut out checking in and out of hotels, unless the hotel part was a highlight of the trip for you.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:55 PM on July 5, 2016


You do have a lot of driving, which can be tiring as well as time-consuming. Internal flights are pretty cheap in NZ (www.grabaseat.co.nz and www.jetstar.co.nz; there are other smaller airlines too). And some places (Wellington and Queenstown in particular) are just stunning to arrive into by air.

Seconding poxandplague to skip Mt Bruce and go to Zealandia instead. Mount Bruce is great but there isn't much else to see between Tongariro and Wellington. I'd consider doing the Tongariro crossing as a day trip from Taupo, and then catching an early flight to Wellington the next day. Bonus: you get a Wellington Airport arrival in a small plane, which is an adventure in itself! Then you can catch the Picton ferry as foot passengers, and pick up a new car in Picton.

In Wellington, Monsoon Poon and Chow are both good for Asian fusion food (Chow will also give you a discount voucher for its sister dessert/cocktail restaurant, The Library). Hippopotamus does a fantastic high tea. For a quick lunch, Midnight Espresso has a lot of personality.

If you need somewhere to stay between Blenheim and Nelson, I like Smiths Farm (specifically, they're super friendly and I like their giant pig).

And if you need a coffee stop on the way from Nelson to Abel Tasman, Jester House is a great cafe and you can feed its resident eels (definitely memorable, if you're new to eels). They also have accommodation in the shape of a giant boot, if that sounds appealing.
posted by superfish at 7:04 PM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Instead of going there continue down the West Coast to the Glacier and then go across Haasts Pass.

Seconding this. Spending a few days driving down the West Coast is far better than anything you'll find on the east.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:58 PM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


And remember, you don't need to tip in NZ - ever.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 8:18 PM on July 5, 2016


Ok, I hear you all. Thanks so much for the advice. We've revised so far (still working on it slowly)--

(North Island)
1. Auckland > Waiheke for relaxation
2. Waiheke > Auckland to pick up car > Taupo skydiving
3. Tongariro National Park for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
4. Flexible day to stay in Tongariro or go to Wellington
5. Wellington (Zealandia!)

(South Island)
7. Morning ferry to south island. Explore Picton and Marlborough Sounds
8. Marlborough/Blenheim wine tours by bike
9. Drive to Abel Tasman National Park
10. Kayak around Tasman National Park
11. Punakaiki
12. Drive and short hike in Arthur's Pass, stay just pass this area on the way to Tekapo
13. Lake Tekapo
14. Mt. Cook -- Hooker Valley Track
15. Flexible day to do canyoning or Rob Roy hike or Gibbston wineries
16. Doubtful Sound overnight cruise
17. Gleonarchy, horseback riding
18. Glenoarchy, hiking or relaxing
19. Queenstown for a day and fly home next morning
posted by inevitability at 10:34 AM on July 12, 2016


I want to say I also wanted to do Hassts Pass, but couldn't figure out how to do that plus Lake Tekapo (my partner's top pick).
posted by inevitability at 10:36 AM on July 12, 2016


That's Haast pass.

You can't do both without looping back, but I have to ask, WTF is so special about Lake Tekapo that makes it a must-see?

I've been there many times, it's OK, I don't get why it would be anyone's top pick.

Also Glenorchy, not Glenoarchy.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 9:23 PM on July 13, 2016


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