NZ South Island itinerary
October 1, 2017 10:29 AM   Subscribe

Ms. Outfielder and I need a quick sanity check on an admittedly sort of rushed South Island of NZ itinerary.

We'll be there in Feb 2018. Our current plan is to fly into Queenstown from the North Island, rent a car and drive 2 hours to Te Anau and spend 2 nights there doing Fiordland stuff. Then drive 3 hours to Wanaka, stopping in Queenstown to check it out for a bit, and spend one night there. The next day, drive 4 hours to Franz Joseph, stopping along the way to see sights and maybe go for a short hike. One night there, then drive 2 hours to Greymouth, stopping a lot along the coast to see beaches and sights. One night there, then 3+ hours to Christchurch, flying back to the North Island that day. Is this insane? We want to do some short hikes and other sightseeing in and around all the towns where we spend our nights. We're quite seasoned drivers in the US and regularly do 7-10 hour drives on road trips, but have never been to NZ before.
posted by outfielder to Travel & Transportation around New Zealand (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would delete at least one of your stops to give yourself more than one night in a lot of your places, mainly because I personally hate feeling really rushed. Driving in NZ between towns is lovely, and I think your distances are sane. Be mindful that it can feel more exhausting to drive on the "different" side of the road than the side you're used to, so be nice to yourself and take a break, swap driver, etc.

Queenstown will be very crowded and touristy, I recommend waking rather than driving when you're in the town. Take a ride on the TSS Earnslaw for some gorgeous views.

We went to Doubtful Sound over Milford Sound, and did a kayak overnight trip up the Hall Arm. It was gorgeous there... many bloodthirsty insects :) bring rain gear!!
posted by Drosera at 11:09 AM on October 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: That seems a pretty realistic itinerary to me. The drive from Queenstown to Te Anau is on good roads. I'd recommend driving to Milford Sound on one of the Te Anau days. It's an absolutely stunning drive.

The drive to Wanaka is fine. Make sure you take the Crown Range road. You may or may not want to stop in Queenstown on the way. It's stunning, but as Drosera said, very touristy and crowded.

Wanaka to Franz Joseph will take longer than 4 hours, especially with stops and perhaps a hike. But that's fine - again, it's a stunning, beautiful drive. Beaches and forests and mountains. Even if it's raining, which is very possible, it's still lovely.

The rest of the trip seems fine.

So yeah, a rushed trip, but you're seeing some great scenery and it's not at all over the top in terms of driving times and distances.
posted by maupuia at 1:44 PM on October 1, 2017

I did this in reverse last year - similar timelines - The drive between Wanaka and Franz Josef has lots of amazing places to stop, I budgeted 6 hours for this drive and instead spent 12. I found Queenstown ok, but if you're not into adventure sports it's very touristy - Arrowtown nearby has a great river trail that you can ride on rented mountain bikes if that's something you enjoy. Kayaking Milford Sound is spectacular - you often have to arrive before sunrise though, but the drive back is stunning.

Other note: February is sandfly season. Be prepared. Have plenty of DEET containing insect repellent, avoid wearing the colour blue, and have some bite cream in your bag. Have long pants/long sleeves on hand if you're going to be near water. They are really not fun.
posted by cholly at 3:15 PM on October 1, 2017

Best answer: I think this is realistic and doable. The trip from Wanaka north via Haast is awesome - take your time.

Something to consider as an alternative to Milford sound while you're at Te Anau is to visit Doubtful sound. The trip [via boat/bus/boat - you can't drive there] will take all day, but is worth it.

Queenstown is in a pretty location, but is an overpriced tourist trap. Arrowtown is much more low key & worth a short visit.

If you're not used to driving on the left, you'll probably find an automatic easier to handle, as not having to shift with the other hand is one less thing to think about. If you want an automatic, be sure to specifically request an automatic when you book the car, as the default is manual and there may not be an auto available if you ask at the last minute.

Also make sure both the driver an passenger stay alert when pulling out onto the road at isolated spots - it is really easy to start off on the wrong side of the road when there is no other traffic around.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 6:34 PM on October 1, 2017

Best answer: Seems reasonable itinerary to me. I also would not prioritise Queenstown, it is indeed an overpriced tourist trap. There's not exactly a lot to do in Greymouth either so I hope you're treating it as a place to sleep, not a place to do things.

It's good that you're seasoned motorists: make sure your expectations are set for wiggly single lane roads without barriers. There are many places with blind corners, no shoulder, nothing between you and a steep gorge, etc etc. Take it easy and pay attention. There has been an unfortunate spate of accidents with tourist drivers in the South Island in recent years. The locals are also pretty terrible drivers and represent a hazard in their own right (I can say that because I am one).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:22 PM on October 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just got back to the US today. We ended up having to drive from Wanaka to Greymouth in one day because we couldn’t find any accommodation near the glaciers when booking 5 months ago. It was fine, 11 hours total including stops and hikes. Driving on the left was no problem, and we found the roads to be well marked and well maintained. We did a Milford Sound tour (in the pouring rain, which was gorgeous) and got chased out of Greymouth at first light on Tuesday by Cyclone Gita, but we made it off the South Island in the nick of time. Thanks for all the answers!
posted by outfielder at 10:35 AM on February 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

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