My boyfriend and I will be in New Zealand about February 2006.
Now, I have heard that New Zealand is just amazing and wonderful, but when looking at a map of the place to plan our route around the North and South Islands, we just don't know what to do and where to go.
We fly into Aukland and will be flying out of Christchurch - we are planning on staying in New Zealand for about 3-4 weeks.
How is best to get around: by bus? rent a car? even rent a camper van?
Any MUST SEE places and MUST DO activities?
Any suggestions, comments and information about New Zealand would be greatly appriciated!!!
This is mostly copy pasted from a response I wrote a couple of weeks ago for someone else, though adapted for what you're asking:
I did a two week trip from Auckland to Christchurch in early March together with a friend. I had the luxury of 10 previous months of experience to draw upon, so we could just go and (re)visit the best bits, but with that in mind, this was (roughly) the itinerary:
day 1: exploring Auckland, doing the coast to coast walk (recommended; ask at visitor center for a map).
day 2: driving to Ohakune (Tongariro National Park), by way of Matamata ($50 Hobbiton tour - sounds expensive, but totally worth it, especially when the weather's nice).
day 3: walks in Tongariro.
day 4: drive to Wellington, exploring Wellington.
day 5: Ferry to Picton (stop for dutch buttercake at the "picton village bakkerij"), drive to Greymouth by way of Punakaiki blowholes (try to plan to be there at high tide).
day 6: drive to Franz Josef Glacier.
day 7: drive to Queenstown.
day 8: Milford Sound daytrip.
day 9: exploring Queenstown, drive to Lake Tekapo.
day 10: Climbing Mt. John to get a view of the Southern Alps and infinity. Sitting behind the big windows in the Lake Tekapo YHA, relaxing, finding one's self, eating Carbonara Pizza
day 11: idem. (Yes, Lake Tekapo is that good.)
day 12: daytrip to Mt. Cook (based on "not bad" weather)
day 13: drive to Christchurch, exploring Christchurch.
day 14: exploring Christchurch, flight back to Auckland.
We rented a car for this. In hindsight there were slightly too many days of driving for slightly too long. Especially the drive from Picton to Greymouth is too long - I'd see about taking an extra day for that, staying around the Nelson Lakes area perhaps to explore that.
The drive from Franz Josef to Queenstown was very long as well, but you don't have much choice there. (Other than perhaps stopping in Wanaka.) We were tired enough that we skipped Milford Sound (as that's 10+ hours sitting in the bus) and just recuperated in Queenstown for a day, souvenir shopping and doing some short walks and such. (I had planned for the recuperating in Lake Tekapo, which is _perfect_ for that, but yeah, it was too much.)
Since you'll have one or two weeks more, I think the above makes a very good starting point. Take it slower than we did. You won't know all the best places and will want to explore. At the very least add in an extra day of 'rest' (not-driving) in Frans Josef before heading to Queenstown, and one in Queenstown before heading to Milford sound. Also add in a stop around the Nelson Lakes area, and a day or two more in Auckland and Christchurch (and perhaps Wellington).
Perhaps on the North Island you could head north from Auckland to the Bay of Islands and especially Cape Reinga for three or four days. Or head east from Tongariro National Park to see the area around Napier.
I've traveled both by bus, by campervan and by rental car, and although all have something going for them, for a 3-4 week period covering both islands, I'd recommend renting a car. A campervan just doesn't make for very pleasant driving, and the added cost for renting it doesn't weigh up against the questionable 'benefit' of staying on campgrounds rather than in hostels. Busses are really good (especially if you get a flexipass or travelpass), but somewhat slow, and they lack the really important ability to just stop by the side of the road whenever you see something so beautiful that you _need_ to stop and properly marvel for a few minutes. (A frequent occurence in New Zealand.)
If you rent a car, I can recommend Ezi-Rent as a 'cheap' and very decent company. Rented from them twice, and was very pleased with them. They're renting out slightly older cars - so every side of the car will have little dents and scratches from the gravel on some of the last remaining unsealed roads in New Zealand, all of which they'll carefully mark down for you when you pick up the car. And then when you return it, they barely give the car a second glance to ascertain that you haven't been in any major accidents, and that's it. They also provide the service where you drop off the car in Wellington so you don't have to pay to take it on the ferry, and then pick you up from the Picton ferry terminal and give you a new car.
Can't really tell must do places and activities until you tell a bit more on what you like to see and do. The above itinerary was made for two people who like hiking and love gorgeous scenery, and couldn't care less for bungy jumping or skydiving. Obviously if you don't fit that profile, you'd go and make Queenstown a higher priority, maybe even add in such otherwise boring places as Taupo or Rotorua, and put less emphasis on Lake Tekapo.
Doing a whale watch tour in Kaikoura is also a major attraction in New Zealand. Just make certain not to get stuck in the town itself, as it's utterly devoid of anything worthwhile otherwise. (Well, the peninsula coastal walk is pretty good, but still, you could do that and the boat trip in a day, and still have time to drive there and back again from Christchurch.)
Bay of Islands.
Coromandel Peninsular - Cathedral Cove, Hot Water Beach, Hahei
Orakei Korako - Little island between Tokoroa & Taupo, it is a Geo-Thermal wonderland, that is simply stunning and somewhere I have always taken overseas visitors.
Taupo - not as boring as Sander seems to think!! Largest Lake in NZ which has the stunning backdrop of the Volcanic Plateau. Heaps of hiking, trout fishing, kayaking, white or black water rafting, water skiing & the list goes on, Craters of the Moon, Huka Falls...
Hawkes Bay - you could drive from Taupo to Napier & Hastings, one of NZ's largest wine & fruit growing areas.
Wellington definately.. no bias here of course, its my home city.. check out Te Papa the national museum, try & see a Super 12 Rugby game at the Stadium, great cafes & pubs, good shopping too
Ferry Crossing - no matter how many times I make this crossing, I still LOVE it, you just can't beat coming through the Marlborough Sounds.
Picton - Greymouth, drive is about 4.5 - 5hrs, stunning scenery along the way, stopping in the Nelson Lakes somewhere is a good option, the drive through the Buller Gorge is great.
Punakaiki - Pancake Rocks, high tide means the blow-holes should be operating.
Okarito - about 30km's before Franz Josef you turn off the beaten track to this place, the drive in takes about 30mins but is so worth it. You come out at a small settlement which is a conservation sanctuary, the Kereru (White Heron) breeds here on the Lagoon. There is hiking, walking, kayaking etc. A very wild beach, can't swim, but its great to walk along.
Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers
The Haast - the drive from Franz to Queenstown, a personal favourite..
Queenstown - Adventure Capital. Bungy, Rafting, Skiing, Shotover Jet (worth the ride), The Remarkables
Fiordland - have to admit I haven't been here YET.. seen them in Norway though if that counts
Christchurch, Akaroa, Kaikoura, Blenheim/Marlborough (Sauvignon Blanc Land)
You'll find your way... have a look at this http://www.tourism.net.nz/
Renting a car is the way to go. February is the high season down here, but at least school will have gone back, so you don't have to contend with all the rug-rats
Any questions send me a PM & I'll try to help.