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planning a trip to NZ's south island

Baron DirigibleBaron Dirigible Registered User regular
Hi all,

I'm planning a trip to NZ's south island this coming April, and looking for any thoughts / suggestions / help / advice regarding my current itinerary.

Basically: I'm flying in from Melbourne to Queenstown, then driving out to Wanaka -> Haast -> Franz Josef / Fox glacier -> Arthur's Pass, and then doubling back a bit to get to Greymouth and take the TranzAlpine to Christchurch, from where we're flying out to Wellington before taking the ferry back to the south island and bumming around Picton / Blenheim / Nelson drinking wine for a few days. Flying out again via Wellington.

My goal is basically to see as much nature as possible while leaving plenty of time for actual relaxing holiday times, and not spending too much time heading from each place to the next. We probably won't spend too much time in QT in favour of getting up north quicker, and neither of us are really into bungee-jumping etc which seems to be its main drawcard.

I've found a few other threads here that are more focused on the east coast, which I was hoping to explore a bit more instead of flying from Ch'ch->Wellington, but the Kaikoura earthquake (and road closures between Kaikoura -> Blenheim) makes that a bit impractical. Has anyone here travelled more extensively up the west coast?

Appreciate any thoughts! Nothing is locked in yet so I can be swayed by convincing arguments, but obviously I'm hoping to start booking stuff soon.


  • firewaterwordfirewaterword Satchitananda Pais Vasco to San FranciscoRegistered User regular
    edited January 2017
    I've spent a bunch of time going up and down the west coast. It's one of my favorite places on earth, hands down.

    Are you planning on visiting Fiordland? If you're into nature, I totally recommend it. Milford sound is obviously one of the hugest tourist draws for a reason, and I'd recommending the trip in a heartbeat. However if you really want to get out into nature, look at doing a boat trip out on Doubtful sound.

    Wanaka is beautiful, and a bit more laid back than QT. The lake is gorgeous, and the town is pretty cute. Definitely worth an afternoon walking around. I'd also recommend a trip out to Arrowtown if possible. It's an old mining town with a lot of character, and there are some shorter but very nice walks you can take from there.

    As for Haast, there's really not much there to do unless you're planning on a proper excursion. I did a 4 day rafting trip up the Landsborough valley leaving from there via helicopter, and it was easily one of the best rafting trips of my life.

    From Haast north, there are some cool, very rugged beaches if that's your thing. I'd recommend stopping at the Knights Point lookout on the way if the weather is nice-ish. There's really not much between Haast and Fox, but the drive will take you longer than you'd think when looking at it on a map. Just before hitting Fox, I'd SERIOUSLY recommend taking a detour to see Lake Matheson. It's one of the famous mirror lakes, and on a calm day, you'll get a beautiful view of Aoraki / Mount Cook. A hike around the lake is highly recommended, and doesn't take too long.

    Fox and Franz are pretty similar, with Fox being a bit smaller and Franz being more of a party town, since every tour bus in the country stops there. I haven't been on Fox Glacier, but have climbed Franz, and that was a blast. Even if you don't do a guided tour on the glacier itself, I'd recommend walking up the valley to the base of it.

    North from there, there's not much until you hit Hokitika. I've got love for Hoki based on the people I know there, but there's not a lot to see from a tourist perspective. Fun town though. Same goes for Ross, a little former mining town to the south of Hoki. I've never spent a ton of time in Greymouth, but I hear the mining tour in Blackball is fun if that's something you'd find interesting.

    I'm afraid I've never been to the east coast, so I can't help you much there. I hear the tranzalpine is amazing though.

    Nelson is one of my favorite cities ever, and if I had to move somewhere in NZ tomorrow, that would be the place. I'd recommend taking a half day to hike up The Grampians - the views are amazing, and you can hike to the center of NZ which is kind of neat. Definitely make a trip out to Abel Tasman if possible. I did a 6 day backpacking trip there and it was incredible, but even if you don't have that much time, see if you can take a day trip to Marahau or Kaiteriteri.

    There's not much to see in Picton at all.

    Hope that stuff is helpful. Please feel free to @ me with any questions or if you want more detail about any of those spots.

    firewaterword on
    Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
  • Baron DirigibleBaron Dirigible Registered User regular
    Thanks, that was really helpful.

    Re: Fiordland, I'm a bit conflicted as it does look amazing but feels like a holiday all in its own, and I'd prefer to leave that for a future holiday and not rush through this one. (Current itinerary for a second holiday would be Queenstown -> Fiordland -> Wanaka -> Mt Cook -> back again).

    Haast is mostly on the itinerary as a stopover between Wanaka and Franz Josef, since I wouldn't want to rush the trip in one leg and Haast looks like the most convenient / promising place to spend a night. Disappointing to hear there's not much to see, though -- is there anywhere else worth stopping overnight en route?

    Hokitika looks pretty interesting, thanks for that. Will be a good way to break up the FJ -> AP drive. Not planning to spend any time in Greymouth -- it's just there as a place to drop the car off and take the train from.

    Definitely going to check out the Grampians, and Kaiteriteri is also on the list while we're up around there.

  • firewaterwordfirewaterword Satchitananda Pais Vasco to San FranciscoRegistered User regular
    Yeah, depending on what you want to see, Fiordland can be a day trip or a week+. Most people do a day trip to Milford Sound out of QT, which I'd recommend if you have the time, even if you plan on coming back. Doubtful Sound definitely requires more time - getting there involves two-three bus trips and a ferry trip, but it's totally worth it if you really want to get away from the world and spend a night or two on a boat.

    I don't want to seem like I'm bagging on Haast too much but there's just really not much of it - last time I was there, (2013 maybe?) it was a fish and chips shop, a few small hotels and camps, and a grocery store. But yeah, it's not a bad place to stay overnight en route I suppose. There's also a short but fantastic walk in Ship Creek you can do. You might want to look into spending a night in Makarora, which is on the east side of the Haast pass between Wanaka and Haast. It's even smaller than Haast, but I liked it more, as the scenery is much nicer. It would leave you with a longer drive to Fox/Franz though.

    Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
  • djmitchelladjmitchella Registered User regular
    It's worth thinking seriously about going to Stewart Island if you can make it, too; we went there for a couple of days while we were at the bottom of South Island, and it was even more new-zealand-y feeling than other bits of NZ, if you see what I mean. (and from Stewart Island, the trip to Ulva is well worthwhile, especially if you're looking for nature).

  • firewaterwordfirewaterword Satchitananda Pais Vasco to San FranciscoRegistered User regular
    Yeah if you end up heading down that way for whatever reason, check out The Catlins as well if at all possible.

    The boat ride to Stewart Island across the Foveaux Strait can get real gnarly though, fair warning.

    Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
  • OrestusOrestus Registered User regular
    I spent a couple of months in NZL for work but was mainly in Wellington, only got to the South Island for a day trip via the same plan you have (ferry from Wellington to Picton). The ferry ride itself was awesome (last 3rd is through a bunch of straits w/ the hills on each side, views are incredible) but there wasn't much to see or do in Picton itself. Some great wineries to ride around and visit if you are into that, but we didn't find much else to do other than winery tours in that part of the South Island and pretty quickly headed back to Wellington.

    Maybe plan to spend a day or so in Wellington? They have some nice museums/cultural things and its a great if small city.

  • firewaterwordfirewaterword Satchitananda Pais Vasco to San FranciscoRegistered User regular
    Yeah Wellington is a really fun place. If you're into bars hopping or clubbing, Courtenay Place was a pretty good time when I was there last. There's also Te Papa Tongarewa, NZ's national museum and art gallery. Definitely worth checking out if you have time.

    Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
  • Baron DirigibleBaron Dirigible Registered User regular
    edited February 2017
    Thanks for the responses, all!

    I've formulated a new itinerary which takes most of your advice into account. (I've planned a day trip out to Milford sound, but anywhere further south of Queenstown will have to wait.)


    Fly in to Queenstown as before. Take the next day to see Milford Sound. Then drive out to Makarora via Wanaka -> Franz / Fox glacier -> Hokitika -> TranzAlpine via Greymouth to Christchurch. From there we'll fly out to Nelson, stay a few nights there (and maybe head out to Kaiteriteri) before heading out to Picton and then to Wellington via the ferry.

    Wineries are the primary reason we're heading up to Marlborough, so if there's nothing to do around Picton but drink wine that's not an issue. Right now I'm unsure if we're staying the night in Wellington or going straight home -- we're probably the least likely candidates to go clubbing, but if the ferry + flight home is too much for one day we can probably amuse ourselves with a museum and a cocktail or two.

    Baron Dirigible on
  • firewaterwordfirewaterword Satchitananda Pais Vasco to San FranciscoRegistered User regular
    I'd suggest the areas between Renwick, Woodbourne, and Blenheim for wineries. Give yourself a decent amount of time to get up to Picton before the ferry (the drive is pretty windy and can be really slow if you get a logging truck in front of you et cetera) but I don't think you'll find much to do there except wait for the ferry. There are a couple nice cafes and such though.

    Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
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