Note: I spent many hours on Trip Advisor and found so many valuable tips on this forum, that I felt obligated to share the details of my trip. I hope someone else can benefit as much as I have from this great service.
Itinerary summary (December 4-11, 2005)
Day 2 Kaikoura – swam with Dolphins, saw seal rock (could have spent a lot more time here exploring), drove back to CHC
Day 3 Tranzalpine to Greymouth, drove to Fox Glacier, hiked around Lake Matheson
Day 4 Fox glacier heli hike (absolute highlight of the trip), drove to Wanaka
Day 5 Puzzleworld, on the way to Te Anau stopped in Queenstown for a few hours of shopping and lunch
Day 6 Drove to Milford Sound, overnight on a boat (another unforgetable experience!)
Day 7 Drove back to Te Anau and had a day of rest
Day 8 Drove to Queenstown and flew out of it (to Auckland and Seattle)
• From a US driver’s perspective, it was easy to drive on opposite side of the road except in roundabouts and making sure to go to the far left side of the road when making right turns – just took a little practice and helped to have a navigator reinforce the situation. Really enjoyed the freedom a rental car (car for hire) afforded us – allowed us to stop along the road whenever we saw great scenery.
• Unexpected fabulous dining experiences.
• All hotels were good – would recommend all places we stayed (we were in the $100-150NZ/night range). There seems to be a basic standard in NZ – nothing fancy, but all functional and clean.
Detailed Itinerary (with links to hotels and activities)
• 8am arrive in Christchurch
• Rented car from Avis for $108NZ/day, plus an additional $20 or so a day for extra insurance (check with your insurance to see if you are covered, we were not for international driving).
• Airport Arctic Exhibit just near the airport. Interesting if you don’t know much about Antarctica.
• Visited Art and Crafts center – small to medium sized craft market.
• Took the Gondola just outside of the city – excellent views – we had a very sunny day!
• Drive to Kaikoura (2.5 hours) – stopped at a great roadside café a little less than an hour outside of Christchurch called the Pukeko Junction also had a wine shop and a small craft shop associated with it who helped us select local wines.
• Hotel: Anchor Inn http://www.anchorinn.co.nz/ - great hotel, across the street from the ocean and nice views if you get there before dark.
• Dinner at The Pub at the Pier – fabulous food (not pub food at all – slightly gourmet).
• 8:30 am swim with the Dolphins through the Dolphin Encouter (3.5 hours) – they recommend going in the morning in case the weather/wind change in the afternoon.
o Bring swimsuit, and towel and clothes to change into after – they have showers you can use after if you’re not staying in a hotel.
o Had breakfast & lunch at the restaurant in the Dolphin Encounter building – definitely recommend.
• Visited the Seals just up the road (did not do the whale watching as we were a tad bit seasick from the dolphins – they use high power boats to get out farther)
• Drove back to Christchurch (2.5 hours). Ate at Tutto Benne – excellent Italian food.
• Hotel: Copthorne Central – (booked through www.lastminute.com) would definitely recommend central location to downtown. Dropped off rental car downtown (Avis had a downtown location so didn’t have to go all the way back to the airport).
• Took taxi to train station, and took 8:15am Tranzalpine to Greymouth. Nice scenery and a nice break from driving. I had the best coffee I’ve ever had, however, on the train. www.tranzscenic.co.nz/services/alpine.aspx
• Rental car thru Avis ($334USD plus $94USD total additional for insurance for 6 days), but actually booked through www.ginz.com. The only issue was I thought I had requested an automatic, but I got a manual (probably why we got such a good rate). Avis was able to get an automatic their sister company, Budget and it worked out fine.
• Drove to Fox glacier (2.5 hours)
o Did the Lake Matheson walk in the early evening – very pretty and very easy (1 hr.).
• Hotel: Westhaven http://www.thewesthaven.co.nz/default.asp. The only complaint was that the walls were a little thin.
• 9am helihike with Alpine Guides (3.5 hours). Highly recommend this guide operator – and also recommend going in the morning in case the weather gets worse in the afternoon (weather does come into play with this activity as they won’t fly if it’s too rainy or foggy). This was the highlight of the trip for us – as we had beautiful weather http://www.foxguides.co.nz/default.asp
• Drove to Wanaka (4 hours). At the end of a very large lake – small, quiet town. Great place to stay during ski season our hosts told us. It was nice to break the driving up and stop here for the night.
• Hotel: Collinsons Cottage http://www.collinsonscottage.co.nz/index.htm
• We arrived rather late, so we weren’t able to catch a movie at Cinema Paridiso, but we heard it was an experience!
• Spent an hour or so at Puzzleworld – interesting and fun exhibits I don’t think you’ll find anywhere else! Worth a quick trip if you have time.
• Drove to Te Anau
o Via Queenstown (1.5 hours)
Shopped for a few hours and ate a great pizza place - Cooks Saddle Café and Saloon. Very bustling, younger, ski-lodge feel of a town. LOTS of little shops.
o To Te Anau (2.5 hours)
Another very small town on a lake – beautiful walks and a FABULOUS restaurant – the Olive Tree. The lamb wrap was to die for, and the deep fried banana was like nothing we’d ever tasted.
• Hotel: Campbell Auto Lodge - very old (although well maintained) and had a 1960’s feel, but the free high speed internet access, large rooms and great location made up for it. Beautiful rose garden, and a deck to watch the sunset on the lake. tourism.net.nz/region/…16603
• Drove to Milford Sound (2-3 hours) – left at noon to avoid the tour buses that leave in the morning and apparently clog the roads.
• Overnight on boat (arrive by 4pm). Another highlight of the trip – we had beautifully sunny weather so we missed all of the natural waterfalls, but it allowed us to kayak off the ship and see seals. Met wonderful people and the Captain was a hoot. https:/…
• Drive back to Te Anau (3 hours) for a day “off” – rested, but if you’re on a tight timetable, you could go straight back to Queenstown in the same day.
• Hotel: back to the Campbell Auto Lodge. tourism.net.nz/region/…16603
• Drove to Queenstown (2.5 hours) - flew out to Auckland and back to Seattle.