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New Zealand Vacation Itinerary | Tina Case Photography

January 30, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

New Zealand has been on my bucket list.  When we visited Australia a few years ago we thought about combining the two countries into the same trip.   We decided to separate those trips because each country has plenty to do in the 2-week timeframe we had for each.  Also, by going during their summer (Dec-Jan-Feb) there'd be a ton of outdoor activities (and less for us to pack).  What would you do with 15 days in New Zealand?  We'd love to hear your itinerary and feel free to leave a question in the comments section.  Just be sure to include your email address.  We did use a travel agent to help us plan our trip http://www.casto.com/.  They did find things we might not have found on our own, but ultimately you can ask friends, search the internet and find all of this and more on your own if you have the time.

Rotorua, Hobbiton New ZealandNew ZealandA visit to the set of Hobbiton, Rotorua, New Zealand


Day 1: Auckland-Waitomo Caves-Rotorua

Arrive in Auckland in the morning.  Rent a car and drive about 2 hours to Waitomo Caves to see the glow worms and tour the underground caves.  Continue driving to Rotorua (2.5 hour drive).http://www.parliament.nz/en-nz/about-parliament/visiting

Visit a sheep farm while in New ZealandVisit a Sheep Farm in New ZealandSheep are plentiful in New Zealand. There are way more sheep than people in the country.

Day 2: Rotorua - Matamata

Visit the Hobbiton area and attend a great tour of the movie set http://www.hobbitontours.com/.  We stayed at the Sudima Hotel near the famous Polynesian springs.  Just be aware if you don't like that sulfur smell then you'd better stay elsewhere.

Day 3: Rotorua

Check out a sheep farm.  We also spontaneously checked out the luge which was SUPER fun.  There's also the Rainbow Springs self guided tour and Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve. Meals while in Rotorua were often at the EAT STREAT http://www.rotoruanz.com/eatstreat/.  In the evening take in a wonderful Maori Cultural show at http://www.tamakimaorivillage.co.nz/.  A wonderful cultural dinner is included.  If you've ever been to Hawaii it is very similar to the Polynesian Cultural Center.

Wellington is a windy city.Wellington is known as a windy cityWellington, the Capitol of New Zealand sits at the southern tip of the North Island.

Day 4: Wellington

It's a long drive from Rotorua, so we flew.  The tiny Rotorua airport is convenient and at this time didn't require security.  Makes you remember when times were simple.  The flight time is just about an hour, giving us plenty of time to tour the city by foot.  But you can also take in the city by bus or hire a car.  We walked to city center, St. Paul's church, the Beehive (Parliament), free maritime museum and the spectacular (free) Te Papa Tongarewa Museum.  Many folks recommended dinner at Shed 5, we weren't disappointed.  

Dinner in Wellington at Shed 5 was a treat.Dinner in Wellington at Shed 5 was a treat.Dinner in Wellington at Shed 5 was a treat.

Day 5: Wellington

My kids are big fans of Lord of the Rings, so we took a private tour of the sites in Wellington that were in the trilogy.  It was a great overview of the city itself and our tour guide from Flat Earth tours was great.  It took a full day and included a wonderful lunch at the White Swan.  

Day 6: Wellington - Picton - Kaikoura

While driving a rental car provides a great deal of flexibility, our family also likes to check out trains, boats and other modes of transportation to get a unique view of the land.  We took the Interisland ferry from Wellington to Picton, the cities that join the North and South Islands of New Zealand by the Cook Strait. The 3+ hour ride is aboard a large ferry that has wonderful views wherever you look.  We sat on deck 8 which was near the cafe. Fresh baked scones with cream were served for a lovely tea time.  Upon arrival in PIcton, we picked up another rental car from Avis.  We drove to Kaikoura, about a 3 hour drive.  The tiny seal beach town has mostly bed and breakfasts and motels.  We stayed at the Lobster Inn.  Crayfish are very popular food as is lobster.  We went for burgers at http://www.funkyfood.co.nz/ where cheese burgers are cheaper than plain burgers (go figure).  They were pretty greasy, I recommend asking to leave all sauces off since they are messy burgers.  We took our food to a park that overlooked the bay, it was a nice evening.

Go Sea Kayaking in Kaikoura and check out the seals and whales.Check out a sea kayak tour while in Kaikoura. Famous for Lobster and Crayfish.Go Sea Kayaking in Kaikoura and check out the seals and whales.

Day 7: Kaikoura - Christchurch

We spent the morning in Kaikoura which is known as a whaling town in addition to the crayfish and lobster.  The kids wanted to do kayaking so, on Christmas Day, we took 2 kayaks out and saw lots and lots of seals.  You can also see them from shore and walk the flats which is a spectacular view.  Afterwards we took our time driving down to Christchurch.  We aimed to get there by 2 pm as we had a lovely Christmas lunch planned.  Most restaurants are fully booked on holidays, otherwise it won't be necessary unless it is a popular restaurant.  We stayed at the Quality Elms Hotel.  The hotel was very clean, convenient and had free wi-fi (which the kids and I missed).  http://www.qualityhotelelms.co.nz/ the hotel had a free shuttle to the airport. So we returned our rental car and had the shuttle car pick us up.  A hired car would pick us up in the morning to take us to the railway.

Day 8: Christchurch - Greymouth - Fox Glacier

We were picked up by hire car to take us to the Christchurch railway.  We had a wonderful 4 hour ride amidst the beautiful and breathtaking scenery of New Zealand.  The train is very clean with wide windows to take in the view.  And something I've never experienced before is the open air carts that you can wander and take in the full vistas.  Simply spectacular.  There's a decent cafe on board serving all sorts of goodies, coffee and tea and beverages.  We became quite accustumed to the Ginger Beer made in NZ.  Everything was clean and charming.  Upon arrival in Greymouth we had our rental van awaiting right at the train station.  From there we drove to Fox Glacier taking in the sites along the way including Franz Joseph Glacier.  Our hotel was the Heartland Hotel Fox Glacier. I'd give this hotel 2 stars as it seemed musty, older and the restaurant had rude staff.  Our least favorite hotel during our vacation.  Also NO FREE WIFI, what gives? We did have a decent meal at the White Pub, right next door to the hotel.

Looking out from Fox Glacier.A view from Fox Glacier, just south of Franz Joseph Glacier.Looking out from Fox Glacier.

Day 9: Fox Glacier - Queenstown

If you take in the drive in 2 to 2.5 hour increments it's not too bad.  With no set itinerary, especially since the sun doesn't go down until about 10 pm, we took our time getting to Queenstown.  The drive is lovely, with lots of vistas, waterfalls (we HIGHLY recommend stopping to see Thundercreek Falls and the Blue Pools at Haast Pass

A view of Queenstown from atop the Gondola.A view of Queenstown from atop the Gondola.A view of Queenstown from atop the Gondola.

Day 10-15: Queenstown

There's plenty for a whole week to do in Queenstown.  We also loved our hotel, the Crowne Plaza off Beach Street in the heart of town.  There's free WiFi if you are a member. If you're not, join so you can get it!  It was the fastest WiFi we had along our journey.  Whilte in Queenstown we took a day to try the DART RIVER JET BOAT and FUNYAKS. This might have been one of our highlights.  HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT. There's also Arrowtown, a quaint location for pie, beer and a simple dinner.  We discovered a little restaurant called Slow Cuts and it was wonderful.  The only thing to remember is there are still folks to smoke cigarettes and you will find them at restaurants and bars.  Hard to get used to once you've been away from that for years.  If you don't have plans on a rainy day, take in a movie like we did on our only cold rainy day of our stay.  We had to see Star Wars, so we did it in Queenstown!  A must do is Milford Sounds - or any of the "Sounds" - is worth a trip.  The fiord are incredible.

Tham Nak Thai, our favorite restaurant in Queenstown.Tham Nak Thai, our favorite restaurant in Queenstown.Tham Nak Thai, our favorite restaurant in Queenstown.


We flew in on Air New Zealand on a non-stop flight from San Francisco.  We left on a Thursday evening and arrived on a Saturday morning.  The flight was over 13 hours long so it's key to get enough sleep on the flight so you are alert enough if you plan to rent a car.  We paid more to get Economy Plus which means it's a bit like Business Class, but without the fully horizontal seats.  Definitely worth considering if you want to catch a few "Z's" on the way.

Car Rental

We heard about a company called https://www.jucy.co.nz was an economical way to hire a car when in NZ.  We opted for both Budget and Avis as our mode of transportation for the most part.  We were glad we opted for a rental as it gave us lots of freedom to stop and see the sights along the way.  And we did frequently stop to check out small towns, take our time and view the vista points.

Trans Alpine Train

In addition to renting a car we also took the very scenic Trans Alpine Train from Christchurch (east coast of NZ) to Fox Glacier (West Coast).  

Best ice cream Ever at Patagonia, QueenstownMore scenes from New ZealandBest ice cream Ever at Patagonia, Queenstown Salmon FarmMore scenes from New ZealandNew Zealand Salmon Farm - VERY FRESH FISH Mt. CookMore scenes from New ZealandLooking at Mt. Cook with a Lowepro Backpack! Mt, Cook, Glacier, New ZealandMore scenes from New ZealandMt. Cook, New Zealand Milford Sound, Milford FjordsMore scenes from New ZealandMilford Sound, New Zealand

New Zealand funyaks on the Dart River in Glenorchy.A "funyak" tour was one of our favorite highlights. We took a jetboat down the braided river and then met up with our kayaks and did this amazing chasm tour. New Zealand funyaks on the Dart River in Glenorchy.

And check out this video I made about the highlight of our trip, our Dart River boat and Funyak trip in Glenorchy, about 45 minutes from Queenstown.  AMAZING!


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