Many travellers planning a holiday to New Zealand ask themselves. Should I visit the North or South Island New Zealand?”,Where shall I go?”, “How long do I stay at each location?”, “What can I do in the time I have? And often the more travellers go into the details, the more confused they become. This blog shows the best way to go about planning your visit to New Zealand North & South Island.
Time is the key. The more you have, the better (naturally). Seriously, this is the most important subject when planning a trip to New Zealand. So, what I recommend to travellers is this:
5-10 day itinerary: focus on one island – either North or South Island New Zealand. Use either Auckland, Christchurch or Queenstown as your airport of arrival. See sample itinerary South Island.
11-18 day itinerary: it’s possible to include both the South and North Island, by using domestic flights in between. This will save you serious time. See sample itinerary North & South Island.
18+ day itinerary: for this length of stay, you can drive most of the way, though I would still consider arriving in Auckland and departing from Christchurch. Don’t make the mistake of driving all the way back to Auckland (doing a ‘loop’). You will spend 5000 kms on the road! You’d rather much be spending this precious time on exploring Mother Nature, right?! See sample itinerary North & South Island in 18 days.
Write a few things you’ve already researched on New Zealand. I recommend checking out the New Zealand website with lots of good information. From weather/ climate, to location information, road information, things to see and do etc. The more research you do, the longer your list will become. How about you do this:
1 – make a list with “top 10 things to see + do” according to your interests.
2 – check out the locations for your top 10 list (see Tourism NZ).
3 – use a Google map (see sample below) to pin down those key sites.
Getting excited? You see, the more ‘homework’ you do, the more enjoyable planning your vacation. Getting the most out of your holiday, is the key. If you require some local advice on New Zealand travel planing contact us and we’ll point out your options.
Now that you have a better idea on what to do and see, its time to get serious on locations. Ask yourself: “Can I really do it all in the 10 days I have available in New Zealand”?.”Shall I cut back? Should I travel ‘faster” (one night each place)?
1 – travel ‘slow’: try to base yourself for 2+ nights at as many places as possible.
2 – less is more: focus on the ‘must-dos’ as your first priority.
3 – make key decisions now: be realistic with travel distances and avoid the unworkable.
New Zealand is a paradise for self-drive travellers. Breathtaking scenery invites many stops on the way. One of our favourite routes is the stretch of road from Nelson via the Buller Gorge to the gorgeous West Coast of the South Island. Today we drove the Nelson to West Coast self drive touring route
After leaving the Buller Gorge approach, we entered ‘The Great Coast Road‘ regarded as one of the Top 10 Coastal Drives in the world! This drive actually starts in the north near the remote village of Karamea, along the ancient limestone cliffs of Paparoa National Park.
At this time of year during Autumn, the roads are mostly empty.
Today, our first stop was as Cape Foulwind near Westport. Cape Foulwind has a stunning coastal walkway where you can view fur seals and their little pups. A fellow traveller took this photo of us showing the ocean backdrop.
Contrary to what the name would suggest, Cape Foulwind is a pristine piece of New Zealand and a great place to refresh the mind and stretch the legs.
I think it should be made compulsory to stop at PR’s Cafe in Westport. Their display cabinet groans with gigantic homemade cakes, savoury ciabatta rolls and salads. We hope the owner stays around for a long time.
Next stop was at beautiful Punakaiki. Overall the the drive from Nelson to Punakaiki is 265 kms and takes about 4 hours. This is allowing for plenty of stops on the way!
Punakaiki is a beautiful place to relax, trail-walk or kayaking. These sensational views are sure to sweeten the senses.
Hokitika was our final destination for the day. We have a soft spot for this town, famous for it’s Pounamu (Jade) and gold. Hokitika has a great history and a stop at the museum is highly recommended.
Further inland we found more local highlights – Lake Kaniere with the Westcoast cycle trail and Hokitika Gorge, both well-worth seeing.
As nearly everywhere in New Zealand there are lots of local walks from 5 minutes to 5 hours. Or maybe try a cycle day tour in the area. Well worth it!
Lance and Wendy are both in their 70’s. They booked a water taxi into the Abel Tasman National Park to enjoy a track walk. They were told the track walk was ‘easy peasy’. At low tide, it is, but an entirely different story at high tide! What should have been a great day, turned into an ordeal. Here’s some Abel Tasman National Park tour options to suit your budget and fitness.
This is probably the most popular option into the Abel Tasman National Park. Take one of the water taxis from Kaiteriteri and get dropped off in one of the bays alone the shoreline. Stay on the beach to sunbath, or take a walk on the Abel Tasman Track. Get collected by water taxi at another bay. If you want to walk between bays, make sure you check the tides beforehand. You’ll need good walking shoes, food and bottled water. See more details.
Join a sea kayaking tour for a half day, full day or overnight stay. Many visitors to New Zealand are trying this activity for the very first time in their lives. It’s safe, fun and no previous experience is required. However, your feet will get wet and the sun is strong. Take sun cream and a wide brimmed hat. If you don’t want to sit for a long period in a kayak, the good alternative is the kayak/walk option. See more details.
If you really want to learn more about the area, Abel Tasman Eco Tours is suitable for everyone, including children and seniors. Read our blog. You’ll get a wider range of experiences that larger boats don’t offer. Imagine a world of golden sands, majestic native New Zealand forests and private inlets. See more details here.
This option suits the leisure traveller. Imagine cruising on a yacht or a 14 metre full-displacement cat, with a beautiful timber interior. Little physical effort is required and you relax in comfort to enjoy the turquoise blue of the ocean. You’ll explore remote beaches and be able to take the kayaks out for a short paddle. A highlight is the tasty lunch with local fresh seafood and wine. It’s perfect for the soft adventure explorer. See more details here.
Abel Tasman Eco Tours has a great company slogan “Open your eyes” Owner, Stew Robertson, has these words written on his boat and t-shirts. It’s a great way to show his passion for the Abel Tasman National Park .
Abel Tasman Eco Tours has gained popularity with international travellers genuinely interested in eco adventure. There are 4 different tours on offer. We chose the Golden Future Boat day tour, starting from the Marehau boat ramp. This is a small group tour with a maximum of 14 people.
The photos in the Abel Tasman Eco Tours brochure are true to life. Heading out to the open sea, the emerald green of the water was striking! We came across a school of curious Dusky Dolphins. What a moment that was.
Larger boats don’t have access to the idyllic inlets along the coast but Abel Tasman Eco Tours do. These are the areas we managed to get a close-up view of Eagle Rays gliding elegantly beneath us. There were a number of very relaxed fur seals chilling out alongside the boat.
There’s very little sea traffic in this paradise. And the local operators you occasionally meet on the journey, happily share information of the day. This kayak guide stopped for a interesting chat just before we exited the inlets.
Stew’s knowledge is impressive. Throughout the tour, he was able to answer every question fired at him.
We stopped at Sandfly Bay for lunch and a forest walk. Silver ferns (Pongas) feature all along the track here. They’re nature’s street lamps, glowing in the dark, showing the way back.
This waterfall provided a welcomed moment of serenity.
Stew was determined to find some whitebait and after a bit of wading around, he found some of this New Zealand delicacy…
…plus some rather impressive jellyfish.
Abel Tasman Eco Tours helps in conservation projects and pest control programmes. Stew knows where to find those cute little Blue Penguins, gannets and cormorants.
Flexibility is the key to a good eco tour. Stew was able to change the plan at any time to suit a particular request. And that made all the difference.
View other travel blogs on the Abel Tasman region:
Visitor numbers to Nelson have increased hugely over the past couple of years. The number of restaurants and cafes in Nelson City have grown according and we now have a great choice of eateries. Here are a few of my favourites.
If you book a table upstairs at the Harbourlight Bistro, you’ll get the most gorgeous harbour views at whatever table you’re seated.
The wait staff are friendly and eager to please. I’m impressed by the chef’s skill with flavours. Make sure you order the Harbourlight’s legendary Key Lime Pie. It’s to die for!
Pomeroys is not a restaurant, but an intimate and relaxing little coffee place in Montgomery Square. Plenty of sweet morsels on offer to have with your coffee to keep you going til dinner.
Inside, there’s a treasure trove of goodies and interesting gift ideas. With blues music playing in the background and the smell of coffee and chicory in the air, its a perfect place to relax.
At first glance, the prices at Babbagatto may seem rather low, but the mains are very small. The idea is to go through the whole menu, which is similar to a degustation experience. Italian owned and operated, the staff make you feel at home.
The River Kitchen is a spacious lunch cafe with a great vibe. Home-baked cabinet food plus a full menu, make this restaurant a popular option. There’s great outdoor seating with close-up views of the Mitai River.
The newly re-built Suter Gallery is a pleasure to walk through and the cafe now has a much better layout. Very modern seating inside with wall to ceiling windows. Sit outside to enjoy the views over Queens Garden.
As the name would suggest, The Cod & Lobster Brasserie specialises in seafood. Located just down from the Nelson Cathedral in Trafalgar Street, they’re opened for both lunch and dinner.
Although Nelson focuses a lot on casual dining, you wouldn’t be out of place putting on the bling at Hopgoods & Co. The standard of service is definitely not casual, nor is the food which consistently features in New Zealand’s premium Cuisine Food awards. Hopgood’s & Co have recently extended their restaurant to include a bar and tapas section.
There are some good Asian and Indian restaurants in central nelson and for something really casual, authentic Pizzerias. Eat well dear travellers!