New Zealand consists of North and South Island, from which South Island is better with regards to places to visit. We did both islands by road independently to save time. We flew between Auckland and Christchruch, there are tourists who drive into South Island by taking a ferry from North, it all depends upon time. Also driving from North into South will take you through Marlborough wine region, which is an added benefit, although there are great wineries near Queenstown in South Island as well. We flew into Christchurch in the South Island first and later we did North Island. South Island is more beautiful and lot many places to visit.
Transportation Around New Zealand
Between North to South Island
Cheap Air Fares, but you can also drive with ferry that connects the two islands.
They have great metro system
THE ROUTE AND PLACES
The best way to see New Zealand is driving, there are gorgeous mountains, glaciers, lakes, fish fries and rolling hills full of sheep. Summer (Nov. to Jan) is the best time to visit New Zealand, winter has it’s own merits for skiers though! The roads are very safe and very well marked. People are amazing and very helpful along the way. Most helpful people on the road, are people of New Zealand (esp. South Island).
We independently drove in North and South Islands and connected the two islands using Air New Zealand airlines inbound and Jetstar outbound. The air fares connecting the two islands are inexpensive. The flight from Auckland to Christchurch is about an hour and a half (1:25) vs. driving time with ferry (check on Ferry schedules) of about 20 hours.
Rented a car here, no need for a GPS, get a South Island map from the rental car company or from the first gas station you hit after leaving the airport. There are hardly any roads in South Island, its so pure. We headed towards Kaikoura on Hwy 1, the northern eastern side of South Island. Christchurch is a base town for Antarctic missions and one of the big towns in South Island with lot of tourist flow. The drive to Kaikoura is about 2.5 hours, but stop by at some great Fish & Chips places, doesn’t matter, just pick one. Fresh fish from Southern Oceans.
Ocean city, beautiful coast and absolutely gorgeous whale watching tours and marine wildlife – Sperm whales, Fur Seals and lots of Dolphins. Lazy town to spend a relaxing time after a long journey traveling into NZ from US with 3 long layovers. Left Kaikoura the next day and headed south. Whale-watching as well as Fish and Chips are must.
Stop -3 Mt. Cook National Park (Hermitage Hotel, Aoraki)
Cross country drive, but well worth it- lots of rolling hills with sheep on every corner and 2 blue glacier lakes. Stop anywhere and you can get great pictures, especially on Hwy 8. Pass through Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki, both are splendid. The ride is about 6 hours , but we took close to 9 hours, stopped for lunch (wonderful lamb) & pictures. Reached Hermitage Hotel by mid afternoon and the place is in middle of Mt Cook National Park. All the hiking trails and treks are in close proximity.Most of Hwy 80 is on the coast of Lake Pukaki and the scenery mixes the color of mountains, sky, clouds, lake shore and the lake in different shapes of grey and blue. Stayed in Hermitage (Mt. Cook) for 1 night. Trek to Tasman Glacier & galaxy view of the night sky are must.
Stop -4 Lake Wanaka
Great mid-point stop, about 3 hours drive from Mt. Cook. Really liked the small town atmosphere. Great New Zealand lamb places. We stayed in a Bed-and-Breakfast place and loved the New Zealand hospitality of home-grown home-cooked food. If in crunch of time, then skip this place and move on to Queenstown, one day is more than enough, but we spent 2 days, which was an overkill. Must try honey from Lake Wanaka area.
Stop -5 Queenstown
Spent about 4 days here. Lots of shopping, adrenaline activities – Bungee Jumping, Para Gliding, Luge, etc. Must do – One complete day for Milford Sound; one complete day for shopping & wineries – Handmade Maori artifacts to Lamb-Merino sweaters.
Stop -6 Milford Sound
Kept Queenstown as base, parked the car and took a bus with a tour company and guide, morning till evening. A must visit place with Clear blue sky, Snow peaks, coniferous forest, rocky outcrop, tropical fern forest, sandy beach, waterfall, ocean and marine wildlife all in one spot, all you have to do is – look from top to bottom.
Stop -7 Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph Glacier
The road from Queenstown to Franz Joseph on Hwy 6, is inspiring, with Southern Ocean on one side and dense fern tree forest on the other. A hike to Franz Joseph Glacier with a view of Fox is worth a visit. Both these glaciers are on the western end of Mt. Cook National Park. We spent a day here because we had to.
Stop -8 Arthur’s Pass
Cut across the continent on Hwy 73 via Arthur’s Pass into Christchurch. Great places to see the natural beauty and take pictures.
Stop -9 Auckland
The very next day we flew into Auckland from Christchurch. 3 days are enough in Auckland with one of the days to visit Rotorua. Book a city tour from your hotel. There are some nice restaurants along the harbor.
Stop -10 Rotorua
Old Faithful of New Zealand; Rotorua is famous for hot water geysers that sprout into fountains. A day is more than enough, although we stayed over night. its a 3 hour drive, so leave early from Auckland to get back the same day.