Help with Planning South Island, NZ

Old Oct 24th, 2022, 02:58 PM
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Help with Planning South Island, NZ

Hello, my husband and I will be traveling to New Zealand in Feb. '23 for 17 days. We are aware that it could be hot, high season and making plans very late, so we could use some Fodorites great help! BTW our last trip to Spain was fabulous with wonderful suggestions from the group and we need your help again. Suggestions for Car Rental: Apex? Lodging, Restaurants and not your usual tourist place are gladly accepted
We are coming from the Northeastern US and are going to fly Bos-New York and take the long nonstop to Auckland. Knowing jetlag will take a toll, we are planning on two nights in Auckland to recover. Our main focus is the South Island and will have a total of 13 nights on the South Island, then fly Christchurch for the night before we fly back to Auckland for home. Knowing that less is so much more we are trying to be selective in what areas we are going to and trying to not just see the country from behind the windshield. My husband will do the bulk of driving and has driven on the "other" side of the road a few trips. We are interested in seeing National Parks (Mt. Cook, Abel Tasman, Paparoa, and Fiordland)( so many and so little time) for wildlife, hiking and perhaps kayaking. Open to booking tours. We would really like to do a 1 night in the Doubtful Sound and need to have an idea of our driving times and what is realistic. We love waterfalls and swing bridges. We would prefer to have a few 2 night stays and if possible not drive more than 4-5 hours per day, to enjoy and relax in an area/town. We are looking forward to driving/hiking the West coast of South Island. I have been reading some fun trip reports(loved the sibling in the South). Here are some thoughts:
Arrive Auckland-spend two nights
Fly Christchurch- drive to Tekakpo
Drive to Tekakpo to Manapouri or Dunedin ( Doubtful sound)
Drive Manapuri to Haast
Drive Haast To Hokitika
Drive Hokitika to Mokihinuri
Drive Mokihinuri to Nelson
Drive Nelson to Christchurch, flight to Auckland is 3pm
Spend night in Auckland, flight to New York 7:45pm....then Boston....then home...yup, very long day. (s)!
Thanks in advance for any suggestions.
Please excuse misspellings, please give advice, go.
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Old Oct 25th, 2022, 06:06 AM
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I know you will have been traveling for a long time, but would you consider trying to catch a connecting flight to Christchurch (or Nelson) after arriving in Auckland? I'm guessing you'll be arriving in Auckland from Boston-New York early and then it'll take you about an hour to an hour-and-a-half to disembark the jet, go through immigration, pick up your luggage, then go through customs. Instead of staying in Auckland twice, at both ends of your trip, I think you should try and push on through to the South Island. Because once you go through customs, it'll take you about 45 minutes to an hour to get into the city center (depending on traffic). Then what if you can't check into your hotel until 1 p.m. because they haven't yet cleaned and serviced the room? If this is the case, you'd just have to ask them to store your luggage while you wait, maybe go out to breakfast or walk around. (Although, you might be able to avoid this if you can arrange for an early check-in.)

By connecting to the South Island after arrival in Auckland you'd be able to spend a day or two more on the South Island. Because 13 days is not a lot of time for your itinerary, so you could use an extra day or two.

Here are my suggestions.

Day 1 Fly into Christchurch, check into hotel, walk around the Christchurch Botanic Garden, visit Canterbury Museum, take the all-day hop on hop off tram to see the city center and to get around, maybe visit Quake City or Christchurch Art Gallery. Early dinner, early to bed. A lot of new hotels have been built in Christchurch, but one that's been around for a while that I've stayed at is The George and it's about a block and a half from the tram and walking distance to the Botanic Garden and Museum.
Day 2 Second day in Christchurch to get over jet lag, See more of the city, or take a day trip to Akaroa, Kaikoura or Arthur's Pass.
Day 3 Pick up car from Apex, drive to Lake Tekapo, stay Tekapo. Walk or drive up to Astro Cafe at Mt. John Observatory for the view. Stargazing or hot pools at night? At Tekapo, I've stayed at Peppers. It was all right. I've dined at Kohan Restaurant a couple of times. It was all right. Tekapo is small so there aren't many options.
Day 4 Drive to Aoraki Mt. Cook. Walk Hooker Valley Track (three swing bridges), maybe Kea Point Track You have many options here. See: https://www.doc.govt.nz/globalassets...ki-mt-cook.pdf
There are scenic flights and heli-hikes available from nearby Glentanner. Other options include the Glacier Explorers boat ride or kayaking. I've stayed at Aoraki Court Motel several times. It's good, but more so if you have a room with an unobstructed view. It's self catering, so you can bring you own food and cook it. There are no grocery stores in Aoraki Mt. Cook, so you'd have to stop at a supermarket along the way. But there are several restaurants in Aoraki Mt. Cook. I've dined at The Hermitage Hotel. It was good.
Day 5 Drive to Queenstown or Glenorchy (if you want to avoid bustling Queenstown). I suggest stopping in Queenstown because, to drive from Aoraki Mt. Cook to Manapouri would take more than 5 hours. But I noticed you did not mention Queenstown in your itinerary--so maybe you wanted to avoid it? Glenorchy is truly beautiful. As is the road to Glenorchy.
Day 6 Drive to Queenstown. Because Queenstown is closer to Manapouri than Glenorchy. While in Queenstown, you can visit Arrowtown, or the wineries of Gibbston Valley, or ride the Shotover Jet Boat, or tour Skippers Canyon, or take the Gondola. Or simpl go for a walk or visit the city's pretty Botanic Garden. There's so much to do in Queenstown. There are many good accommodation options in Queenstown. Amisfield Bistro (at Lake Hayes), Botswana Brewery, Rata are among its top restaurants.
Day 7 Drive from Queenstown to Manapouri, will take about 2.5 to 3 hours. Depart midday from Manapouri for Doubtful Sound overnight cruise.
Day 8 Return to Manapouri around midday, drive to Wanaka. Stay Wanaka. Many beautiful walks in and around Wanaka.
Day 9 Drive to Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier. Many.walks along Haast Pass. There is a swing bridge at Blue Pools (see walk #10).
https://www.doc.govt.nz/globalassets...y-brochure.pdf
Day 10 Drive to Hokitika. Hokitika Gorge (swing bridge)
Day 10 Drive to Punakaiki. Paparoa NP walks: https://www.doc.govt.nz/globalassets...aiki-walks.pdf.
Is there something special you'd like to see or do in Mokihinuri?
Day 11 Drive to Kaiteriteri, stay Kaiteriteri.
Day 12 Cruise, walk or kayak in Abel Tasman NP
Day 13 Drive to Nelson Airport. Fly to Auckland

OR do the reverse.

Day 1 Fly into Nelson, explore the town.
Day 2 Day trip to Abel Tasman NP, arrange for a pick up from your Nelson accommodation. You wanted to kayak: https://seakayak.co.nz/your-trip/getting-here
Day 3 Pick up car from Apex at Nelson Airport. Drive to Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks, walks in Paparoa NP). You'll pass Buller Gorge Swing Bridge along the way.
https://bullergorge.co.nz/
Day 4 Drive to Hokitika, see Hokitika Gorge. Glow worm dell at night? https://hokitika.org/things-to-do-pt...m-dell-walk-2/
Day 5 Drive to Franz Josef Glacier village. Walk in the forest or do a glacier heli-hike.
Day 6 Leave early to drive to Wanaka, so you have time to walk to Lake Matheson (in Fox Glacier village), before driving through Haast Pass. Haast Pass walks: https://www.doc.govt.nz/globalassets...y-brochure.pdf
There is a swing bridge at Blue Pools (see walk #10). Stay Wanaka.
Day 7 Stay Wanaka. Many fine walks in and around Wanaka, and wineries, too.
Day 8 Leave Wanaka early to arrive in Manapouri by midday for your Doubtful Sound overnight cruise departure. You should be there 20 minutes before your departure, but I would try to be there much earlier.
Day 9 Arrive back at Manapouri by midday. Drive to Queenstown or, if you think Queenstown might be too busy for you, drive to Glenorchy.
Day 10 Drive to Aoraki Mt. Cook.
Day 11 Drive to Lake Tekapo
Day 12 Drive to Christchurch
Day 13 Depart Christchurch.

So if you can add a day or two to your South Island trip, you could possibly see Milford Road and Sound, or spend an extra day somewhere along the way, such as Wanaka or Kaiteriteri.

There is a hotel at the Auckland Airport and several only about a 10 minute drive away.

Last edited by Diamantina; Oct 25th, 2022 at 06:22 AM.
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Old Oct 25th, 2022, 12:38 PM
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I always would recommend connecting to the South Island on arrival day, as it's a lost day anyways. Check schedules and car rental rates, you may also be able to fly to Queenstown as well as Christchurch and work your way north. (The airports in both Qtown and Chch are both close in) so you don't have to drive on your arrival day. I would go Queenstown for arrival because it's a more scenic place to rest up and you can also do guided tours from there, such as the Doubtful Sound one you mentioned. One day in Auckland is enough really, allow for flight delays from Christchurch and go early the day before your flight.

Last edited by mlgb; Oct 25th, 2022 at 01:17 PM.
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Old Oct 25th, 2022, 06:15 PM
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Hello Diamantina, yikes you were so kind to put so much information in your note about our upcoming trip. I especially appreciated all the different walks, restaurants and lodging suggestions. The best part is my husband agreed to fly to Christchurch from Auckland ( it took a lot of arm twisting). It makes for more time on SI, so we also eliminated the extra night before returning to the USA and ended up with 15 nights on the SI. After the Doubtful Sound trip the remaining nights depend on lodging availability. Please give thoughts for our current plan. Thank you,
Fly to Auckland then Christchurch.
2 nights Christchurch
2 nights Tekapo/Mt. Cook area
1 night Queenstown (would have liked to travel to Glenorchy, but it just didn't make sense to add the extra time)
1 night Manapuri Doubtful Sound
2 nights Wanaka
1 night Fox Glacier/Franz Josef
2 nights Hokitika
1 night Punakaiku
3 nights Kaiterati
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Old Oct 25th, 2022, 06:21 PM
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Hello migb, thank you for your input, it really makes sense to fly onto the South Island from Auckland. my husband did agree, I need to find really great accommodations in Christchurch! And I couldn't convince my husband to start from Queenstown as I thought it was a good idea. Please check our new itinerary and make comments about the locations, driving times, things to do, any advice would be appreciated.
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Old Oct 26th, 2022, 05:56 AM
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Hi 3Gnhgirl. I'm glad you've convinced your husband to continue on through to the South Island. You'll appreciate this extra time.

Your itinerary looks good. I was happy to read that you'll spend three nights in Kaiteriteri. This will give you two full days to explore Abel Tasman NP. I found Wilson's brochure helpful for planning.

Are you planning on going on a glacier heli-hike while in Franz Josef? If so, you might want to spend two nights in FJ and one night in Hokitika. The drive from Wanaka to Franz Josef takes about 4 hours without stops but I'm guessing you'll stop along Haast Pass and at Lake Matheson (the start of the Lake Matheson walk is about five minute drive from the center of Fox Glacier village). Franz Josef also has a kiwi rearing facility.

The drive from Franz Josef to Hokitika will take about two hours. Along the way, there's a white heron (a subspecies of the great egret) sanctuary in Whataroa. While in Hokitika, you can drive a loop that will not only take you to Hokitika Gorge but also Lake Kaniere. Hokitika is also know for its shops selling pounamu. You can even carve your own pounamu pendant. In addition to its glowworm dell, it also has a kiwi centre. And a tree top walk. And nice sunsets.

Biting sandflies can be a nuisance along the West Coast and Fiordland. You might find a few in Abel Tasman as well. They are not active at night and less active in the rain. I don't think you'll have to worry about them on the Doubtful Sound cruise. I've done the Milford Sound overnight cruise twice and the Doubtful Sound overnight cruise once and never encountered a sandfly on their boats or from their kayaks. In late February, the sun will rise at about 7 a.m and set at about 8:30 p.m.

If the night is clear when you're on your Doubtful Sound cruise, make sure to go up to the top deck to look at the stars.

Last edited by Diamantina; Oct 26th, 2022 at 06:05 AM.
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Old Oct 27th, 2022, 09:56 AM
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The suggestions about ways to see/ visit areas for wildlife are spot on and I am mapping out where those fabulous suggestions. I think the the biting sandflies are similar to our “ green heads” which appear in August and can literally drive you from being on a beach. Definitely putting in the tree walk, it seems you have mentioned many things we would enjoy doing. Not to put you on the spot, but how did cruising in Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound differ? I really appreciate all your comments and suggestions, more please!
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Old Oct 28th, 2022, 10:59 PM
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That's kind of you for saying my comments have been helpful. Thanks!

I don't think I'd like your "green heads" but I'm pretty sure they'd love me. I googled "green heads". They look quite a bit larger than NZ sandflies; they must pack a nasty bite. The NZ sandfly is about the size of a mosquito, so they can sneak up on you. Their bites cause itchiness, redness and swelling, similar to mosquitoes. I avoid wearing shorts in areas where I might encounter sandflies. If you encounter sandflies, keep moving because they're slow.

About wildlife you might see "in the wild" along your itinerary. You should see keas (the world's only alpine parrot, considered "nationally endangered") in Aoraki Mt. Cook and possibly as you make your way along Wilmot Pass to Doubtful Soundthey live in Fiordland and are often seen on Milford Roadthough I can't remember seeing any along the way to Doubtful Sound. But, just in case, don't forget your binoculars. If you were to do a same-day train trip from Christchurch to Arthur's Pass, you'd probably see them there. I haven't done this train trip and probably never will because knowledgeable and frequent South Island visitor, Melnq8, said much train time is spent going through tunnels But it's a scenic and dramatic road for a self-drive.Keas are known for their intelligence and mischievousness, and are especially notorious for tearing the rubber off windshield wipers. Have a look at this video of their attempt to get tourists to pull over at Homer Tunnel on Milford Road:

Along the West Coast, I'm certain you'll see flightless weka, as they're not shy around humans. Please be careful when pulling into parking lots at West Coast attractions, such as Hokitika Gorge and those in Punakaiki, as wekas often hang around parking lots. A lot of people mistake weka for kiwis, even though they don't look that similar. Kiwis are nocturnal. You can take a tour to see kiwis in the wild in Okarito forest near Franz Josef village. I've gone of this tour, we spent about 2.5 hours in the dark forest, trying to find a rowi (NZ's rarest kiwi). We eventually saw one, but it was dark, it wandered onto the path and then quickly disappeared into forest, so I didn't get a good look. Most NZ zoos and wildlife parks/conservation centres in Auckland, Hokitika, Franz Josef, Christchurch, and Queenstown, will have kiwi in a dark house where they can be seen during daylight hours. They're unique, fascinating birds.

Okarito also has a lagoon with many species of wading birds.It's posible to go kayaking in Okarito lagoon. I have a very bad memory of being bitten by sandlfies on Okarito Beach on a windy day. They're not supposed to bite on windy days!

You will see native birds (such as weka, possibly kaka, another large native parrot) and fur seals in Abel Tasman NP. See: https://www.abeltasman.co.nz/abel-ta...ocal-wildlife/

In general, NZ forest birds aren't as colorful, as, say, Australian or South American birdsthough there are some exceptions. However, NZ birds can have entertaining calls and songs. The keas and kakas have loud, startling squawks; you'll often hear them before seeing them. Also, you can't help but notice the tui, a common NZ bird with a dazzling range of vocalizations. You'll find them in Abel Tasman NP and in most NZ cities and towns, with the exception of Christchurch, though they have been re-introduced to nearby Akaroa. However, Christchurch has a popular wildlife reserve/zoo, Willowbank, where you can see some rare NZ native species in captivity.

During your brief stay in Christchurch, you'd have the option of traveling by shuttle to Akaroa, a lovely historic village on the sparsely populated Banks Peninsula with a scenic harbor that's part of a drowned volcanic crater, where you'd have the options of taking a harbor cruise to see Hector's Dolphins, one of the world's smallest dolphins, or a boat trip to swim with these dolphins. You will also see seabirds, including, very likely, Little Blue Penguins, as this area has a large breeding colony. There's also a very rare chance you'd see an endangered Yellow Eyed penguin; normally YEPs live farther south. Akaroa is popular with cruise ships, so if this would put you off, please check their cruise ship schedule. From what I can tell, there's only one cruise ship scheduled for February, on the 23rd. When the passengers of a large cruise ship visit, I imagine Akaroa can feel strangely crowded (I've only been there in winter when it was calm and quiet). It's also worth checking Christchurch's Port of Lyttelton schedule as some passengers take shore excursions to Arthur's Pass, Waipara wine region, Aoraki Mt. Cook, or Akaroa. But I suspect most cruise ship passengers disembarking in Lyttelton just explore Christchurch city itself.

From Christchurch, you also have the option of taking a day tour to Kaikoura, where you can go on a whale watching cruise. But it's farther than Akaroa and the whale watch boats must head out to the open ocean, so these boat trips can be rougher than the those that sail out from Akaroa, and are subject to cancellations due to rough ocean conditions. I also think these tours are expensive, nonetheless, it's an option. My first scheduled whale watch trip, in 1997, was cancelled because of rough seas My husband and I swam with Dusky dolphins instead as these trips don't sail as far out. The water was cold even with a thick wetsuit, but it was a brilliant experience to be surrounded by equally curious dolphins staring back at me. I finally went out on a Kaikoura whale watch trip about 6 years ago but became horribly seasick (big solid boat, but also big swells), so much so, I could barely muster interest to get off my seat to look at the whales. I eventually did drag myself out to to the deck and saw two magnificent juvenile sperm whales, a blue shark, and many seabirds. This said, I wouldn't do it again. Kaikoura also has accessible, large fur seal colonies. It's stunningly located between the mountains and the sea.

In Doubtful Sound, you will see fur seals, seabirds, probably bottlenose dolphins (Doubtful Sound is home to more than 60 of them), possibly rare Fiordland Crested penguins, and, occasionally, whales
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Last edited by Diamantina; Oct 28th, 2022 at 11:34 PM.
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Old Oct 29th, 2022, 07:33 AM
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There are many opinions on the Internet comparing Doubtful and Milford Sounds and which might be better. The hands-down winner tends to be Doubtful Sound.

Doubtful Sound is bigger, more remote, and quieter than Milford Sound. Doubtful Sound trips also include an interesting and scenic boat ride across Lake Manapouri and a bus ride along Wilmot Pass. But the trip to Milford Sound also includes Milford Road, which is one of the South Island's most scenic drives. The road is narrow and winding but, if self-driving, you can make stops and take short walks along the way, so it can be potentially a more personal experience. I understand during the day, especially in peak season, Milford Sound can be busy with cruise ship visitors, scenic helicopter flights and many tourist excursions. This being said, I didn't notice any of this commotion on my overnight cruises. In fact, it was tranquil. It was wonderful to kayak quietly along the shoreline after the crowds had disappeared and a few hours later stargaze from the top deck of the boat in absolute silence.

I wrote the below report, which I never posted, about after my September 2014 Doubtful Sound overnight cruise with Real Journeys. Before and after my trip I based myself in Te Anau, which was bustling with Australian tourists vacationing during school holidaysnot that I minded being around so many people in Te Anau. Busy Te Anau was a contrast from the cruise, which wasn't even a third-full. There were only 16 guests aboard the boat.

While spring in NZ is the perfect time for viewing blossoms and listening to bird song, it's not the best for weather. It's a very much a transitional period between winter and summer. Winter often brings us cold clear days and bright blue skies down South. Spring, however, brings more rainy and cloudy days so this colored my September experience-so don't worry about my below comments about the weather, as you and your husband will be coming at the best time for dry, sunny weather. This being said, it's still one of the wettest places on earth where you can get rainy, brooding weather anytime of year, though it's less likely in summer. In February, days will be long so you'll have more hours to enjoy the stunning landscape. The sun will stay high in the sky for more hours and the fiord shouldn't be as dark as it was when I was there.

Also when I traveled to Doubtful Sound, the company wasn't yet offering two-night cruises. Now they do. I would have preferred a two-night cruise as Doubtful Sound is so large. Also, it's a privilege to be in one of NZ's more remote wilderness areas; I would have enjoyed spending more time there.

I compared the two fiords toward the end of my report:

My September 2014 Real Journeys Doubtful Sound Overnight trip departed from Manapouri at noon and started with a 45-minute cruise across gorgeous Lake Manapouri to West Arm, followed by a 45-minute bus ride on a curvy narrow road over Wilmot Pass, before boarding the cruise at Doubtful Sounds' Deep Cove, where there's a hostel and outdoor education centre and field station for the University of Otago's Dept. of Marine Sciences.

From Deep Cove's dock to the open ocean it's a distance of around 40.4 km. On the first day (late afternoon) of this overnight trip, we sailed to the open ocean to view a large seal colony spread over several rocky outcroppings at the fiord's mouth, known as the Nee Islets (near Secretary Island, one of NZ's most important predator-free conservation islands). It was cold, windy, grey and drizzling. We then returned to the sound's interior, finding a calm and sheltered spot, where we could either kayak or take a small boat ride.

I close to kayak. Because Doubtful Sound is so large I felt as if I was paddling and getting nowhere. But perhaps I was going nowhere, as I'd fallen far behind the others. The water in Doubtful Sound is murky brown--it's often described at "tea-colored". This color comes from freshwater (from abundant rainfall and the power station) stained by tannins from decomposing forest plant litter. While the top layer of water is composed of tannin-stained freshwater, the water beneath it composed of denser saltwater from the sea.

Dinner was buffet style, with roasted meats, salmon and chicken, side sauces, salads, and desserts. I don't eat lamb, pork or beef, so I tried to stick with chicken and salmon, but they ran out of salmon before I could get any. The wine selection was limited, but affordable and good.

Doubtful Sound is not actually a sound, but a fiord (or fjord), a long narrow inlet with steep sides created by glacial erosion. It, and Lake Manapouri, contain predator-free island sanctuaries (like Secretary Island) harboring rare endemic species. An on-board Nature Guide contributed to our understanding of the ecosystem's unique fauna and flora, with an after-dinner lecture and commentary during the cruise. After dinner and the lecture, I went up to the top deck to look at the stars, as the skies had cleared. The Nature Guide, who'd also gone up to the top deck, asked the skipper to turn off the upper deck lights, which made the stargazing even better. Whether you overnight on Doubtful or Milford Sound, don't forget to check out the stars.

I traveled solo to Doubtful Sound, so I booked a single bunk in a quad share, but as the boat was far from full, I lucked out and got a room to myself and slept soundly. There was never a wait for the shower, and I only had to queue for the toilet once.

The second day of the cruise began at about 7 a.m., or just after sunrise (this was late September). Doubtful Sound branches off into three "arms." We turned off the motor and sailed quietly into one of these "arms", stopping to listen to the sounds of "silence" for about 10 minutes—there was no talking or snapping of photos, just the sound of birds. We also cruised around Seymour Island, trying to spot Fiordland Crested Penguins as it was their breeding season. We encountered bottlenose dolphins, but no penguins.
You can find of a map of Doubtful Sound showing its "arms" at this link: https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Doubtful_Sound_/_Patea

The native rata was in bloom, its bright red blossoms standing out against the verdant forest.

After searching for penguins, we began our return to Deep Cove, arriving at its dock before 10 a.m. By noon, we were back in Manapouri.

There's so much to see in Doubtful Sound, the overnight trip didn't seem like enough time, or, to put it another way, it was almost too much for such a quick trip. I found the overnight Milford Trip more relaxing, less hurried. I suspect most would NOT agree. I'm also prone to motion sickness, so I wasn't comfortable being trapped at the back on the bus during the Wilmot Pass trip twice in 24 hours. We made a couple of stops enroute to the fiord, which helped, as we could get out, breathe some fresh air and stretch. The first was a brief photo stop at a waterfall, the second at a power station tunnel. To make matters worse, I got bitten by sandflies on the bus! And only on the bus, not on the fiord (pure luck).

My advice is, if you are prone to motion sickness or claustrophobia, try to sit at the front of the bus. You might also consider seasickness medication for the night of the cruise, as the ocean at the fiord's mouth can be rough. You shouldn't need it for the morning portion of the cruise, as you will be in sheltered waters.

Overall, I was happy to have taken this trip as Doubtful Sound is unquestionably beautiful and interesting, and I enjoyed the Lake Manapouri cruise as much as that through Doubtful Sound. It's such a beautiful lake, no wonder New Zealanders rallied to save it (the original plan for Manapouri Power Station would have raised Lake Manapouri by up to 30 metres, and merged Lake Manapouri with Lake Te Anau).

How does Doubtful Sound compare to Milford Sound? Milford Sound is a little more than 16 km. from the dock to the open sea, much smaller. You don't cover as much area on your cruise. But, in my opinion, it is no less beautiful, with iconic Mitre Peak and gushing waterfalls that you can cruise right up to, and it's surrounded by extremely high, seemingly vertical, bedrock walls. I think of it as a little jewel box compared to the larger overflowing coffer of Doubtful Sound. The advantage to going on an overnight trip on either MIlford or Doubtful is that you'll feel as if you have the entire fiord to yourselves. You don't get to kayak as far on MIlford, but it's just as serene, quiet and peaceful, and you'll spend just as much time in the kayak. If self-driving to Milford Sound, you'll be back at the dock at 9 a.m. or so, with plenty of time for stops on the way back to Te Anau. For instance, you can stop at Main Divide on the way back to hike to Key Summit. Being able to explore Milford Road on your own at a leisurely pace is a big plus. (Though Milford Road is often impassable in winter and occasionally at other times of the year.)

Being larger than MIlford Sound and hemmed in by the tall fiord walls and big islands, Doubtful Sound was dark and brooding even when the sun came out (as it did on the morning of our cruise). Perhaps it's sunnier and brighter during the longer summer days. Milford Sound was brighter, more open. But maybe this is because I went on the Milford Sound overnight trip during a sunnier time of year.

This is what I wrote after my second Milford Sound overnight cruise:

My husband and I have done the overnight Milford Sound trip twice. The first time in 1997, when we still lived in Northern California; we now live in Dunedin, New Zealand. Though we'd read several guidebooks and many articles about NZ, back then, none described the cruise or the fiord in great detail. Also, none of our friends had been there, so we weren't sure what to expect. We thought it would be longer and figured the overnight trip would allow us to see more of it (in reality, the return cruise only takes 1.5 to two hours).

During our first overnight cruise, the weather was foggy, grey, rainy, a bit gloomy. But the fiord was quiet and peaceful, with no other boat to be seen. Imagine having one of the world's most beautiful places nearly all to yourself (the boat was only about half full). There was time for long conversations with fellow passengers, time for a leisurely dinner, restful sleep, and then breakfast looking out at the sound. We were to fly back to Queenstown, but our flight was cancelled (weather problems) so we returned by coach.

We repeated this overnight trip in April 2013 because we once again wanted to wake up in Milford Sound, though we briefly considered staying at Milford Sound Lodge. We traveled in April because this is also the optimum time for seeing fall colors in Central Otago and Mackenzie Basin, which we were also traveling to.

The late afternoon departure of the overnight trip conveniently allowed us to take our time driving from Queenstown to MIlford, to stop for photos and short walks (Mirror Lakes, the Chasm). While the early morning return to the dock on the following day gave us plenty of time to hike to Key Summit before checking into our Te Anau accommodation.

On this second Milford Sound overnight cruise, the weather was largely sunny and clear. Because we left at 4:30 p.m., most of the fiord was already shady. But it was still gorgeous. There were two boats going out, the Mariner and Wanderer. We took the Wanderer (shared bathrooms) because it was cheaper and smaller. The boat was only about half-full, so some who'd signed up for quad rooms ended up with private rooms (including a young couple on their honeymoon).

We moored overnight in a small bay, where we couldn't see the other boat (in fact, after we left the harbor we wouldn't see them until we neared the end of our trip the next morning). Like last time, we were offered a choice of a small-boat nature cruise or an hour-long kayak trip. My husband went on the boat and I kayaked. Slowly paddling on the calm water. in no hurry to get anywhere was a treat. Three hardy passengers went for a swim, which they seemed to enjoy.

Dinner was better-than-simple as it featured a delicious venison stew. Afterwards, we went out on deck to look at the clear night sky. Wow! So many stars! We slept peacefully without the sound of neighbors snoring or flushing toilets. The next morning we sailed through the slightly foggy fiord to the ocean, passing crayfish boats and fur seals. On the return, the fog had cleared and a big bonus--a pod of dolphins swam in our bow wave, including one baby dolphin and its mom.

We had a great cruise, followed by a terrific hike to Key Summit, which is clearly one of the South Island's most spectacular day hikes.

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Old Oct 29th, 2022, 10:56 AM
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I guess it's a personal preference and often colored by what kind of (unpredictable) weather you get. Sometimes there is absolutely no view.

I have done Milford twice (once after walking the Milford Track) and Doubtful once (day trip). I think the scenery at Milford is far more impressive IF you get to see Mitre Peak. Doubtful doesn't have that drama. It is a lot like cruising one of the arms of Lake Te Anau, for example.

My best Fiordland Penguin encounter was walking out the sandfly-infested Monro Beach north of Haast, and seeing a few surf into the beach and waddle up on shore. We did see a few at the end of the Doubtful Sound cruise as well. Timing is important.

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Old Oct 29th, 2022, 11:52 AM
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<<I don't think I'd like your "green heads" but I'm pretty sure they'd love me. I googled "green heads". They look quite a bit larger than NZ sandflies; they must pack a nasty bite. The NZ sandfly is about the size of a mosquito, so they can sneak up on you. Their bites cause itchiness, redness and swelling, similar to mosquitoes. I avoid wearing shorts in areas where I might encounter sandflies. If you encounter sandflies, keep moving because they're slow.>>

I am unable to add anything to the wonderful advice here about your itinerary 3Gnhgirl, but I can offer a tip with the problem of sandflies which we picked up from our lovely hosts in Wanaka, namely to use roll -on deodorant on any bites. It works like a dream.
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Old Oct 29th, 2022, 02:36 PM
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I'd recommend packing a strong antihistamine such as Zyrtec (Cetirizine). You can check with your MD before you leave as to the maximum dosage per day. If allergic to the bites you will need it. ( Some people who claim they are never bitten just don't react to the bites). An antihistamine cream to top it off isn't a bad idea. I was handing it out like candy on a few of my overnight Fiordland treks.
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Old Oct 30th, 2022, 02:20 AM
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mlgb, you wrote, "I have done Milford twice (once after walking the Milford Track) and Doubtful once (day trip). I think the scenery at Milford is far more impressive IF you get to see Mitre Peak. Doubtful doesn't have that drama. It is a lot like cruising one of the arms of Lake Te Anau, for example.
"My best Fiordland Penguin encounter was walking out the sandfly-infested Monro Beach north of Haast, and seeing a few surf into the beach and waddle up on shore. We did see a few at the end of the Doubtful Sound cruise as well. Timing is important."

I agree, Milford Sound has the drama, or what some call the "wow factor.".


Reports of "sandfly-infested" Monro Beach is precisely what's kept me from going there, but it must have been a thrill to see those penguins waddle ashore. I envy you. The only time I've ever seen a Fiordland Crested Penguin in the wild was near the saltwater swimming pool at Dunedin's St. Clair Beach. It'd gotten lost and wandered off track. It had done this twice. The second time, it had to be rescued It was taken to a safer Otago Peninsula beach, where it was assumed it would swim back to its more southerly home. I was told that, instead, it was killed by a NZ sea lion. I heard this from a trusted source, though this news never appeared in our local newspaper. I hope this was not the case; I hope it found its way back to Fiordland. Nonetheless, I almost cried when I heard this. Each summer, the Otago Peninsula's penguin rehab facility, Penguin Place, rescues several lost Fiordland Crested Penguins.

annhig, thanks for the tip. When it comes to sandfly bites, anything is worth a try!

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Old Oct 30th, 2022, 05:32 AM
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<<annhig, thanks for the tip. When it comes to sandfly bites, anything is worth a try!>>

We were amazed when it worked, truly, Diamantina. But it did, every time.

what a sad story about that penguin. Although we did a [day only] trip to Doubtful Sound we didn't see any penguins there but we did see little Blue penguins at Oamaru, just by sitting on the beach at dusk and watching them come ashore to find their burrows. That was definitely my best ever penguin watching experience.
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Old Oct 30th, 2022, 11:05 AM
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Diamantina I wondered if Penguin Place was still around. I thought I had read that some dogs got into it. Wonderful place, I did the tour where you were led around in the camo-netted trenches, with walkie-talkies, e.g. "Howie#1 is headed for nest". Have also seen a few of the Hoiho penguins walk up onto the beach in the Catlins. They are one of the rarest penguins, if not the rarest, along with Galapagos and Fiordland.

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Old Oct 30th, 2022, 04:09 PM
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3Gnhgirl, these are good tips from mlgb and annhig, the West Coast's Monro Beach and, in case you get bitten, deodorant, which many travelers already have in their toiletry bags.
Here's a link to the DOC web page about Monro Beach.
https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-re...aast-township/
At the bottom of this same web page, you'll also see info about Cape Foulwind Walkway, near Westport. It's a lovely little walk that wouldn't be too far out of your way along your drive from Punakaiki to Kaiteriteri. By the way, Kaiteriteri is a small place, so you might want to stop in Motueka's New World Supermarket, for provisions. Kaiteriteri has a pretty good general store, but it might not have everything you'll want or need.

mlgb, I was sad to read that Penguin Place was put up for sale last year. I just looked up their web page yesterday and it appears that they are still offering tours, though they might have not updated their web page. At some point, I'll call because I wouldn't mind visiting them and supporting their good work. I really don't know more than this.
https://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/s...-penguin-place

I must have taken hundreds of photos of YEPs over the last 11 years, in Oamaru, at Moeraki, on the Otago Peninsula, at Curio Bay, and a few other places, but these are two from Penguin Place's rescue facility, taken in Feb. 2014. They're not particularly artistic or sweet images, but are illustrative of the difficulties NZ penguins and rescue organization face. The situation was so dire that year, they had to expand the rescue area. They relied on entrance fees and donations, including fish from local fishermen. Situated on a working sheep farm, they built an impressive operation, with dozens of nesting boxes. Visitors made their way through the property on walking paths, camouflaged trenches and viewed the birds through penguin hides in order to not disturb the penguins.

Elm Wildlife also does good work and offers a great tour.



Above. Photographed in Feb. 2014. Penguin Place rescue and "hospital", where 80 rescued penguins were being treated and were recovering. 69 of these were chicks rescued from Catlins beaches, where they were found underweight and starving. They wouldn't have survived without help. As I recall, PP was also treating and rehabilitating a few Little Blue, Fiordland and Snares penguins.

In January 2018, Dunedin's Wildlife Hospital opened at Otago Polytechnic, staffed by veterinarian Dr. Lisa Argilla, students from the school's veterinary nursing program and many volunteers. Before this, the most severely injured or ill penguins had to be flown up to the North Island for emergency treatment. I hope I've got these facts are more or less correct! The bottom line is, a lot of folks in Dunedin and along the Otago (especially in Oamaru and Moeraki) and Southland coasts have worked hard to save penguins and other wildlife--and certainly the Yellow Eyed Penguin Trust and DOC deserve credit, too. A lot volunteers, including schoolchildren, have also put a lot of work into Taiaroa Head's Blue Penguins Pukekura.



Above. Photographed in Feb. 2014. This is "Tahi", the sole surviving chick of Penguin's Place's resident breeding pairs (viewed and photographed through wooden slats from a penguin hide). It was a really tough year (disease, warming seas, lack of food, and barracouta attacks) for our local YEPs, also known as "hoiho".

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Old Oct 31st, 2022, 07:16 AM
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Thanks for all of that info!
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Old Nov 1st, 2022, 06:05 PM
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Thank you all for such thoughtful well stated suggestions for our trip to the South Island.

Diamantina, once again your knowledge, links, and videos are great sources. We will be going to Akaroa and probably taking the nature cruise. Your trip report was so descriptive about both Sounds (Fiords) but we had to make a choice and am sure just being in New Zealand will be a "wow" for us. I have made many notes about places to stop, wildlife spots to visit, and tips for a trip to the market before we get to Kaiteriteri. I did splurge on our hotel in Christchurch, George Hotel.

Annhig: appreciate your tip about roll-on deodorant, will be sure it's in our bag.

Migb: will add antihistamine/cream to out bag for the "just in case".
All hints are gratefully accepted, you should see my spread sheet putting your suggestions in places we will be! I am beyond excited for our trip, the 17 days will fly by. If, by chance you need advice for New England, USA, I will do my best to help out.

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Old Nov 4th, 2022, 02:53 AM
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3Gnhgirl, I think you've chosen well. Since you'd like to avoid driving on those first two days--until you get over fatigue and jetlag, here's a link to an Akaroa shuttle: https://www.akaroabus.co.nz/
There's this one as well: https://www.akaroashuttle.co.nz/#shuttles
For nature cruises, in addition to Black Cat Cruises there's Akaroa Dolphins. There are a couple other companies offering cruises, but they're smaller and don't offer as many trips.

The George is only an 8-minute walk from the Canterbury Museum (free admission) and the adjacent Botanic Garden (free admission). Christchurch Art Gallery (free admission) is a 4-minute walk from the Canterbury Museum or a 9-minute walk from The George. You might want to try and view the old Christchurch Cathedral (in Cathedral Square), which was severely damaged during the city's 2011 earthquakes and is now being rebuilt. I haven't been there in years so I'm not sure what you'll see. It's about an 8-minute walk from the Christchurch Art Gallery. When the Christchurch Cathedral was damaged a transitional cardboard cathedral, designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, was constructed nearby. The tram might be really convenient for you on that first day, as you could be pretty tired.


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Old Nov 5th, 2022, 03:36 AM
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Diamantina, you are reading my mind, as I have been looking at ways to go to Akaroa the second day we are in Christchurch. Will look into your suggestions. When I was reading about the CNterbury Museum the article indicated the Museum is under a huge renovation and is either closed or not many exhibits are open. Do you know anything about that? I’m looking forward to walking around the Botanical gardens especially if my husband wants to rest and I have energy. The tram is definitely in my list for the first day also. Is the Hill walk far from our hotel? We are interested in the Cathedral so that is a good suggestion. I’m gathering that Christchurch is a walkable city and have the option of the hop on hop off tram.
Question on clothing for February. I know it will be warm, shorts and short sleeve tops. But when we are hiking and the Doubtful sound cruise should I need warm hat and light gloves, possibly a down vest? I can pack layers but not sure of the temperature swing and am not finding it in my reading of weather charts. Also, how reliable are the cell towers for GPS in a car? We will get the GPS with the rental car but was curious about coverage and needing detailed maps. I will print out route maps….if needed. I’ve seen travelers have made reservations for hiking different tracks, what does that mean? Are there certain specialty food dishes we should try? Again, thank you for your help.
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