In March of next year we will be spending 10 days on South Island (NZ) and are trying to work out the best way to see Fox Glaciers, Te Anau and Milford Sound. We fly out of Christchurch so would need to end up there. Original plan was to fly to Queenstown, get bus to Milford Sound and back then hire campervan to see Te Anau, Glaciers and go across to Christchurch. Only problem, bus seems expensive option for M Sound, does anyone know of any cheaper way of getting there or cheap tour incoporating Te Anau as well? Another option is to miss Te Anau and go to Waitomo when on North Island. Don't really fancy driving to Milford Sound as I've the roads aren't too good and manouvering a campervan around them doesn't sound like too much fun!
You can do a very decent loop by public transport that covers all those places in ten days:
day 1: Arrive Christchurch, see Christchurch
day 2: leave early in the morning on the TranzAlpine train to Greymouth - in the afternoon catch the connecting bus to Fox Glacier. (train: 8:15-12:45. bus: 13:30-17:40)
day 3: see Fox Glacier
day 4: Take the bus to Queenstown (8:45 - 16:10)
day 5: see Queenstown
day 6: take the bus to Milford Sound (which is the regular tour bus, so you'll stop off at all the touristy sights on the way there), hop off in Te Anau on the way back. (to Milford: 07:20-12:45. back to Te Anau: 15:15-17:10)
day 7: See Te Anau (if you're into hiking, I can recommend walking a part of the first day of the Kepler track, and then back; very beautiful forest scenery, and a pretty easy hike for the first two or three hours)
day 8: bus to Queenstown (16:30 - 19:45)
day 9: bus to Mt. Cook or Lake Tekapo (tough choice of where to stay for the night; Lake Tekapo would be my personal choice, but Mt. Cook has the whole highest mountain thing going for it) (To Mt. Cook: 08:00-12:00 or to Lake Lake Tekapo: 08:00-15:00 (with a 1.5 hour stopover at Mt. Cook, so you'd get to see that as well), or if you don't care about Mt. Cook at all, there's an earlier bus that bypasses it, 07:30-11:45.)
day 10: bus to Christchurch. (If you stopped at Mt. Cook: 13:35-18:45, if you stopped at Tekapo: 11:45-15:10 or 15:00-18:45)
(You can also do that loop the other way 'round.)
You can get a six-day three-in-one travelpass that covers all that travel, including the train and the trip to Milford Sound (including the cruise, as a splendid alternative for the ferry crossing) for $544. Or you could get a 35 hour flexipass for $362, and pay for the cruise at Milford (but not bus to) and train separately (which should come out slightly cheaper, I think, but you'd have to check up on the prices of train/cruise yourself - and make certain I added up the hours correctly to reach 35; even five minutes over an hour per section counts as an additional hour).
You could also do the entire itinerary yourself by car (I wouldn't really recommend campervan - it can get surprisingly cold at night in March already, and Haas Pass/Artur's Pass are perhaps not quite as bad as the road to Milford Sound, but still something that's much nicer to do in a regular car), which would make for much less time on the road. Milford Sound is still a bit of a problem - I think in that case I'd do it as the (expensive) daytrip from Queenstown and skip Te Anau (didn't think it was that nice a place to visit, other than for the Kepler track), and use the extra day to stay both at Mt. Cook and at Lake Tekapo.
You could also fly in/out of Queenstown and skip Mt. Cook / Lake Tekapo (thus having more time at the other locations), but I'd recommend heavily against that; those are my two personal absolute must see recommendations for New Zealand, more so than either Milford or the glaciers.
[ Edit: Edited at Oct 19, 2006 1:57 PM by Sander ]
Wow, thanks Sander, loads of great information! Will take a closer look at it all tomorrow, hadn't considered Mount Cook or Lake Tekapo so will check them out as well. Main reason for the campervan was to save money on accomodation, do you know the average cost of accomodation around these places? Just so we can try and work out a budget for this leg of the trip. That was a great help though, given us a fresh look at the options available.
It depends what kind of accommodation you're looking for. A twin or double room in a YHA hostel should range between $50-$65 per night (for the room), or $22-$26 per person per night in a dorm room. (Cheap in small locations like Lake Tekapo, expensive in cities like Christchurch.)
I personally can highly recommend the double/twin rooms - For two people I think it works out to slightly more expensive than staying at powered sites with a campervan (since campervan rental is so much more expensive than regular car rental, you earn back a lot of the accommodation cost), but in return you get much nicer kitchens, lounge areas, hostel cats and generally more easily approachable fellow travellers, while still having the privacy of your own room.
Homestays, B&Bs and hotels are available in all the price categories above that.
The hostels do sound easier and cheaper but my sister really wants to do the campervan thing. Can you just park up anywhere for the night and then re-charge gas, electric, water on those nights you do stay in a recognised park? I take it having a YHA card will give us discounts in the hostels though, need to weigh up both options as they both sound appealing.
Can you just park up anywhere for the night
No, that isn't allowed almost everywhere - although I hear there's people doing it and getting away with it; I think you'd risk some fines, though.
Powered sites at regular "holiday parks" cost $25-$35 per night for two people; some national parks have campgrounds with unpowered sites for an honesty fee of $5-$10 (I think I remember one such at Mt. Cook).
The YHA rates I quoted are already including the $4 discount.
Right, that settles that arguement then! Thanks for that. Would you recommend trying to book any accomodation before we go or not?
Assuming you'll want twin rooms, yes, generally speaking it's a good idea to book those at least two weeks in advance (and to be absolutely certain, as much in advance as you know you'll be there; you can cancel the bookings up to the day before without cost (assuming you call directly; online booking systems might have different rules), so there's no harm in doing this).
If you're going for dorm rooms it depends on when in March. In early March you might still be competing with the tail end of the high season, so booking two or three days ahead would be good; by late March you should be fine on the day itself, except perhaps for Lake Tekapo and Mt. Cook, where accommodation is somewhat limited.