Must-see, New Zealand - South Island?
September 3, 2016 12:48 PM   Subscribe

We are seeing the South Island of New Zealand in 5 days. (We do not have more time.) Current itinerary is: KiwiRail Coastal Pacific from Picton to Christchurch, overnight in Christchurch, KiwiRail TranzAlpine Explorer from Christchurch to Greymouth, rent car in Greymouth, drive to Queenstown (stops dependent on advice). Where should we spend lots of time (and where should we skip out on) to make the most of our five days? Are the trains worth it? Should we bus rather than drive to Queenstown? Also, hotel and wine tour recs? More inside.

We're going in early October. Have already booked ferry to Picton on Sunday and Picton overnight stay. Am considering a three-hour Marlborough wine tour on Monday morning before we board the train to Christchurch (leave Picton 1:25pm arrive Christchurch 6:45pm). Is the train the right way to go?

The TranzAlpine leaves Christchurch at 8:15am Tuesday. I have heard this is one of the best train rides in the world so I'm keen to do it - will it live up to expectations? Some Kiwi friends have said, "You should spend a full day in Christchurch!" while others have said "Really, a few hours is enough." Votes?

Greymouth: If we stick with the above, we arrive at 12:45pm (Tuesday or Wednesday depending on the voice of the crowd). Should we plan to spend time here? Just grab lunch? Eat lunch on the train?

Drive from Greymouth to Queenstown. We know we could technically do it in a day, but should we split it into two? We are aware that if we do it in two we will lose a day in Queenstown. Should we stay in Fox Glacier or Wanaka if we split it into two?

Queenstown: We are not adventure sports people. We are wine people in a big way. Best Central Otago wineries or wine tours?

And BONUS ROUND: We fly back into Wellington and then on to Napier. Are we better off flying to Napier/Hastings and renting a car there or renting a car in Wellington and driving to Napier?

This will be my partner's first trip to New Zealand and my first trip to the South Island. Thanks for your help. I look forward to all your tips!
posted by rednikki to Travel & Transportation around South Island, New Zealand (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My brother and I drove around the bottom of the South Island from Christchurch to Greymouth a few years ago. In and around the area you're planning to cover, Fox Glacier and Milford Sound are the spots I remember best and enjoyed most. What ever you do, do not miss Milford Sound.

Pretty sure we were two days between Queenstown-area and Greymouth; we had a bit more time to play with than you do, though, and only one of us was driving. If you do spend two days, there are certainly enough interesting and beautiful sights to stop for to make the extra day enjoyable.
posted by snorkmaiden at 1:46 PM on September 3, 2016

Perhaps Christchurch for a day, depends on how much you like looking at empty building sites. Greymouth has nothing. Wanaka is pretty nice, Fox and Milford sound are the things you don't want to miss but you might not have the time to drive there. You can helicopter from Queenstown to Milford Sound if you're trying to do it in one day.

The drive from Wellington to Napier is pretty good, but will be a bit of a let-down after you've driven through the alps.
posted by tillsbury at 2:47 PM on September 3, 2016

Best answer: Advice from a Kiwi, and given your limited time... :)

Train trip from Picton to Chch is lovely and scenic, so worthwhile. I haven't taken TranzAlpine train, but have driven the route and that's definitely worth it.

Get outta Christchurch ASAP ;) Given how little time you have, there's better places to spend it. Same for Greymouth.

The drive from Greymouth to Queenstown is SPECTACULAR. West coast of the South Island is possibly my favourite scenic place. DO NOT do this in one day. It's way longer and slower than you think, but, more importantly, you want as much time as possible here. I would stay at Fox in preference to Wanaka.

Don't have any wine advice beyond drink it!

If you can swing the time, or another day, the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is utterly beautiful.

The drive from Wellington to Napier is pretty nice. I don't think flying would save you that much time over driving.

Have fun!
posted by maupuia at 4:22 PM on September 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: (I live in Christchurch).

I wouldn't spend a whole day in Christchurch if you only have five days. The city got smashed, we've tidied up the mess, but the rebuild is partial at best. Not a great city experience for the visitor IMO, although the botanical gardens will be looking great by then and I have a soft spot for the city art gallery.

Greymouth has nothing to commend it, get lunch if you want, but the point is the train ride. You might want to investigate whether deviating north to see the pancake rocks at Punakaiki fits your schedule.

The drive to Napier is cool if you like driving. Since you're wine people though, investigate flying, use the hours saved to visit a Hawke's Bay winery.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:35 PM on September 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Milford Sound is not to be missed.

I gather it can be hit-and-miss, but I really enjoyed a meal in the White House in Wanaka. I think the trick is to be there a little early, before it gets busy, as service can be slow later.
posted by Grinder at 12:35 AM on September 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Haast Pass road is just ... incredible. Get as much out of it as you can. I'd recommend stopping off at Franz Josef or Fox Glacier as well; well worth a visit and just awe-inspiring. But yeah: don't waste your time in Greymouth.
posted by Sonny Jim at 4:06 AM on September 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

I agree with most of what's been said above.

The train journeys [I've done both] are great, go for it.

Christchurch & Greymouth? Nothing to see there.

Drive from Greymouth to Queenstown. We know we could technically do it in a day

Do not do this in a day, take your time - it is the best part of the trip. Any time I've done it, I've always regretted not taking longer.

Milford Sound is not to be missed.

Milford sound is good, but in my opinion Doubtful Sound is better, so given a choice, I'd go to Doubtful.

The Haast Pass road is just ... incredible. Get as much out of it as you can.

Cannot repeat this often enough.

rent car in Greymouth, drive to Queenstown

Do you have this booked? Greymouth is TINY - I'd definitely book in advance for a 1-way hire.


Is an overpriced tourist trap [albeit a scenic one]. If your interests lie elsewhere, maybe you should too.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 9:18 PM on September 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

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