Im thinking of taking a short holiday to NZ sometime next year with my boyfriend - we only have between 2 and 3 weeks to explore which i realise isnt a lot considering just how much there is to see. Im after some general advice really to start off with. We are totally flexible as to what time of year we go, so any suggestions / recommendations would be gratefully received. From looking at flights and stuff from the UK they seem cheapest in April / May time. Really coming to NZ to see the scenery and take in as much of nature as possible. Ive done quite a bit of travelling before hand and am more than happy just to ahve a few days in each place rather than spending a long time in 1 city. Ive looked into the inter city buses and things and am much more of an independent traveller than one who goes on escorted trips. ideally I want to see as much as possible and am not averse to flying places to make the most of my trip.
if anyone has done a similar thing it would be great to hear from you, or if you have any suggestions of how i can make the most of my short time in NZ that would be most appreciated.
Thanks in advance.
Although three weeks is obviously far too short a time to spend in New Zealand, it's still a very decent amount of time to get a reasonable overview of the highlights of the country.
New Zealand is always beautiful, and there really is no bad time to go there. However, there's a distinct tradeoff you'd make between the seasons. December through March is summer, with the highest chance of the most gorgeous blue skied days. January and February are absolutely peak season, with even dorm rooms booked solid a week in advance.
March through May is quieter, and on the south of the South Island you get to experience glorious autumn colors everywhere you look from April on. (Almost all links in this post go to photos to illustrate what I'm talking about; nothing essential.) There's more grey and rainy days, but still a good chance of stretches of sunny days, too.
June through August is winter, and probably has the highest number of dreary days. I revisited New Zealand last June, and had only about a third of my days offer really nice weather. However, it's totally made up for by the chance of catching snow up in the Southern Alps, which transforms the world and turns the already stunning New Zealand landscapes into something completely out of this world. For me, winter is hand's down the best time of the year to visit. However, I think that's because I already know the country, and can peacefully sit in my favorite hostel in my favorite location for a week, just waiting for that one perfect day which I know must inevitably come. Since that won't hold for you, I'm going to recommend going with summer or autumn. I'd either pick February (full summer), or late April. (March/early April is too much of an in between time; the weather not as nice as during high summer, but no changing colors to speak of yet either.)
I'd recommend renting a car over travelling by bus - you will have many occasions where you want to just pull up by the side of the road and gawk at the beauty which is assaulting you - but despite that I'd say that Intercity busses make for a pretty decent way to get around, and they do stop by the side of the road every so often, too. (Sometimes scheduled, but they're known to recognize and honor unscheduled magical moments, too.)
The following is a variation of a rough itinerary which I usually recommend to people. I travelled something very close to this together with an ex-girlfriend in two weeks - which was rushing it slightly too much (only doable because I knew exactly where to go already), but it should fit perfectly in three weeks.
Day 1: Arrive in Auckland. Explore Auckland. Maybe walk the Coast to Coast Walkway, which takes you to two of Auckland's most beautiful volcanoes (Mt. Eden and One Tree Hill) and is a perfect way to get an overview of the city. You could walk it in about three hours, but I'd recommend just ambling along it slowly and taking in everything leisurely in 5-6 hours. (Also, Parnell makes for a great side-trip from the Auckland Domain on.)
Day 2: Explore Auckland some more. Maybe take a ferry to Devonport and walk to North Head (another volcano, this one complete with secret underground base). Go and visit the observation deck of the Skytower around dusk to watch the lights come on over the city.
Day 3: Travel to Tongariro National Park. (If you're renting a car, I'd recommend leaving Auckland early and stopping over in Matamata for the Hobbiton tour; the hills really are that green.)
Day 4: If the weather is good, walk the Tongariro Crossing (much better chance of this in February than in April), which is billed as the best one-day hike in the world. If you like volcanic landscapes, that's probably a pretty accurate description, too. (Note: the climb up is pretty exhausting, and the wind on top can be chilling beyond belief; be prepared!) If the weather isn't good, do some of the smaller hikes in the park.
Day 5: idem.
Day 6: Travel on to Wellington. Explore Wellington. (I don't know if it's possible to take the bus out before early afternoon; if it isn't, and you do want to explore Wellington (it's a nice city, but nothing more), maybe leave on day 5 already if you managed to do the Tongariro Crossing on day 4.)
Day 7: Take the ferry to Picton. (Walk to the village "bakkerij" to buy some delicious Dutch buttercake; you should have time to head there and back before the bus leaves.) Travel on to some place in the Nelson Lakes region. Get off the bus and explore the area. (I don't have specific advice here, as I always stupidly rushed through; but every time I did that, I noticed how gorgeous the area was, and resolved the really stop and explore next time.)
Day 8: Travel on to Franz Josef glacier, marvelling at the scenery of the west coast. (If you're by car, time things so you'll be at Punakaiki at high tide to see the blowholes perform. The bus will stop here as well, but I don't know for how long.) Stay at the YHA in Franz Josef; that's a gorgeous building.
Day 9: Hike to the glacier. Be certain not to miss Peter's Pool and the gorgeous rainforest along Robert's Point Track. If the weather is nice (there's never good odds for this, but it does happen occasionally), consider doing a helicopter flight with glacier landing.
Day 10: idem. Maybe take a glacier hike, or just relax and catch your breath for a bit.
Day 11: Travel on to Queenstown.
Day 12: Explore Queenstown. (I recommend the One Mile Creek track hike, following the old waterpipe. You can take the gondolas down, or continue on to Ben Lomond. (Note, that's a pretty long hike; leave early.))
Day 13: Do a Milford Sound daytrip. (Note: even if you rented a car, you'll want to do this by tourbus; you'd otherwise just be stuck behind them anyway, and it's a really long day.)
Day 14: Head on to Mt. Cook village. Have lunch sitting on the balcony of the hermitage, gazing out toward Mt. Cook. Walk the Hooker Valley track, where you turn a corner and suddenly have Mt. Cook looming large as life over you.
Day 15: Travel on to Lake Tekapo [insert twenty pages of raving about Lake Tekapo, the most gorgeous place in all of New Zealand, with its ever changing colors]. Sit behind the huge windows of the YHA, sip a cup of tea, and marvel at the view. Eat carbonara pizza at Pepe's. Mmmmmmmm.
Day 16: Stay in Lake Tekapo and relax. Listen to the silence. Climb Mt. John for 360 degree views of eternity and the Southern Alps. Have a delicious cup of hot chocolate in the observatory cafe.
Day 17: Remain in Lake Tekapo. It's easily that good. Maybe climb Cowan's Hill, or if the weather is good here and wasn't at the glaciers, see about doing that helicopter flight over the Southern Alps.
Day 18: Travel on to Christchurch. Explore Christchurch.
Day 19: Explore Christchurch. Ditch plans to fly home and apply for residence permit.
That's not quite three weeks there. You could use the two extra days that a full three weeks would give you to go up to Kaikoura from Christchurch and do a whalewatching trip or walk the peninsula walkway and see seal colonies (careful that you don't step on them; they often like to lie just around the corner or on the other side of that small bump), or you could spend an extra day in Queenstown (especially if you climbed Ben Lomond, you wouldn't have had much time to see the city itself), or maybe do a daytrip to Doubtful Sound as well as Milford Sound. (I've never visited Doubtful Sound myself, but I hear it's perhaps even nicer than Milford Sound, if not quite as "spectacular".)
If you're travelling by car, you could also spend an extra day between Auckland and Tongariro National Park exploring the volcanic area around Rotorua. Places like Wai-o-tapu are quite nice. (But hard to get to when travelling by bus, and Rotorua itself is definitely not worth your time; it stinks, both literally and figuratively.)
If you manage to scrounge together a day or two more still, you could also start by going north from Auckland to see the Bay of Islands and Cape Reinga. That's always really nice and beautiful, but it's a sidetrip which takes a minimum of three days (and probably four to see it properly), which is a wee bit too much time for me to really recommend it when you only have three weeks.
absolutely beautiful country. in twizel, on the south island, there's a hike spot 45 minutes away where you can go almost to the foot of mt.cook. the quietest, most peaceful place i've ever been on earth. I loved it.