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  1. #1
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    New Zealand travel

    I'm off to New Zealand this weekend. My wife, seven year old son, and I are flying into Auckland, then road tripping through Rotorua, Wellington, Nelson/Abel Tasman, Kaikoura, and flying out of Christchurch.

    It's going to be winter, but likely too early (or inconvenient) to ski unless we get lucky. I am going to try to get a day of biking in in Rotorua and Nelson.

    Anyone have any favorites along that route we should check out? Our stops are fairly set, but we're pretty free activity wise save some whale watching.


    Bonus: After NZ, we're going to Melbourne for a bit then Tasmania, so any Tasmania suggestions are welcome as well!

  2. #2
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    I was there last August, for the first time. You’ve got some pretty good places listed, and I don’t really have any secrets other that I liked the South Island best. And the farther south I went, the more I liked it - mountains, glaciers, dramatic shorelines and that sort of thing. I didn’t spend any time to speak of in Auckland, but I liked Wellington a lot - a cool big town.

    I rented a camper van for an extremely reasonable price. That turned out to be a really good idea logistically. Driving on the left provided a couple terrifying moments for me - it required constant and intense focus not to fuck that up. Think hard before you enter a traffic circle, and there are thousands of traffic circles.

    My major regret was I didn’t get to Queenstown.

    A really interesting place and culture.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by MarcusBrody View Post
    I'm off to New Zealand this weekend. My wife, seven year old son, and I are flying into Auckland, then road tripping through Rotorua, Wellington, Nelson/Abel Tasman, Kaikoura, and flying out of Christchurch.

    It's going to be winter, but likely too early (or inconvenient) to ski unless we get lucky. I am going to try to get a day of biking in in Rotorua and Nelson.

    Anyone have any favorites along that route we should check out? Our stops are fairly set, but we're pretty free activity wise save some whale watching.


    Bonus: After NZ, we're going to Melbourne for a bit then Tasmania, so any Tasmania suggestions are welcome as well!
    Kiwi here. On your way down to Rotorua, head up to the coromandel. Once you're in Vegas (you'll get it), Redwood Forest for biking and tree walks. Head on out to Kerosene Creek or Wai-O-Tapu for some thermal pools activity. All free of course. The luge at the top of the Skyline Mt in Rotorua is super fun.

    uuuuuuuh after that basically Taupo and south you'll head through the Desert Road, home to Mt Ruapehu/Whakapapa (Ru-a-pay-who) / (Fock-a-papa) which has a club field Tukino on the east, Turoa on the south and the now bankrupt field I grew up skiing on, Whakapapa. Nothing will be open but the drive up to Whakapapa is great and you can see all the local community huts we built.

    Wellington (my home), is a pretty cool city. The museum is world class, the surrounding coastline is amazing and theres some killer biking around the city in the hills.

    South Island is a masterpiece wherever you go tbh. Nelson is phenominal, I spent my summers at an uncles in Motueka and hanging out at Kaiteriteri Beach which is not to be passed up regardless of the weather. And it's on your way to Abel Tasman.

    The further down you go the better it gets. Try and get into Fiordland if you can. Stop in Glenorchy and you'll think you're in the Scottish highlands only to head into Fiordland and think you got teleported to Iceland. Let me know if you have any specific questions or anything.

    Intersections will fuck with your head, especially roundabouts (traffic circles). Just remember, left-to-left. Give-way means yield.

  4. #4
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    New Zealand travel

    If you want a lot adrenaline hits, def make it to Queenstown. So much to do for thrill junkies there.

    I never had much issue w the roundabouts, but if you ever find yourself making a Uturn, watch the fuck out! Coming around on those really fucks w your head.
    Last edited by mcski; 05-30-2023 at 10:29 AM.

  5. #5
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    Swimming with dusky dolphins in Kaikoura was pretty special. I’ve surfed with bottlenose dolphins many times, this was different/better. You’ll need to confirm if the kiddo can go at his age.

  6. #6
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    I think a 7year old enjoys the hot pools and slides in hamner springs.

    If you go from kaikora to christchurch it is an extra hour detour. 3h to 4h at the pools is enough.

    The west coast of the south island is very beautiful. Just the blackflies are very annoying.

    Raglan is a cool town. Has this laid back surf vibe.
    I recommend dinner at https://www.isobarraglan.nz/

    Queenstown is too busy for my taste. A busy tourist mountain town with tnf shops and louis vomiting flag ship store.

    But a 7year old will like the hydro attack jet boats.
    https://www.hydroattack.co.nz/

    If you go via the surf highway 45 around the volcano in taranaki.
    Stop in opunake for breakfast.
    Arty Tarts Cafe looks like nothing from outside but good food inside.

    In general east coast dry gras.
    West cost rainforest.

  7. #7
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    Freycinet National Park in Tasmania is a little slice of heaven. Try to time a visit with good weather and hike to Wineglass Bay. Should be easy enough for a seven year old. There are world class oysters at the local restaurants there too.

    Also, I agree with the idea that further south on the South Island of NZ is more impressive. Fjordland is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.

  8. #8
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    We went to NZ 19 years ago for our honeymoon. Absolute blast. Rented an old Mitsubishi Pajero and had no set itinerary for a month. Easy to find B&B’s to stay at. For activities, three of our favorites were the glow worm caves at Waitomo, rock climbing with Bryce in Wharepapa, and a kayak trip in the Abel Tasman. As others have mentioned, the further south, the more wild but the whole country is great. I think we did some penguin watching down in the Otaga peninsula. There are probably some places around Christchurch if anyone in your family likes penguins as much as Mrs Flounder.

    Have fun, trip of a lifetime.

  9. #9
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    I was there last November bikepacking for 3 weeks.

    If you can work it in to swing through the Awatere Valley and Molesworth station on your way from Nelson to Kaikoura, it's pretty stunning. Hamner Springs is a nicer terminus with a nice feel. Check road and park closures for this one, as it goes through some of the highest altitudes in NZ.

    I agree that one should get to the fjordland region if at all possible. I'm pretty against tourist stuff, but Ms CE convinced me to do a boat tour on Milford Sound and I must admit it was stunning and well worth the hassle.
    ride bikes, climb, ski, travel, cook, work to fund former, repeat.

  10. #10
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    also a fan of the Coromandel. Was there with ex wife and kids when they were little. Was getting my ass kicked trying to catch a lobster. Locals felt bad for us and gave the ex wife a few. Also enjoyed the Catlins and Dunedin but they are not on your route.
    off your knees Louie

  11. #11
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    Thanks for the advice everyone (And especially Stuntmonkey as the resident expert)!

    I will try to make our drive to Rotorua at least touch on the Coromandel. Those first couple days were some of the ones I labored over most in deciding what to do in whether to stay a night there, stay a night in Tauranga, or just go straight to Rotorua where everyone really wants to see the redwoods. We were forest people before moving to Vegas, so we'll be eager to see some big, dense trees. In the end, we decided to spend two nights in Rotorua to settle in a bit before continuing on just to simplify things...and maybe make it easier for me to get a bike ride in.

    I'm excited about the drive down from Rotorua that Stuntmonkey describes. We're staying for a night in Whanganui, which isn't as popular of a tourist spot, but I'm looking forward to as it looks like it's developed a good arts scene and I like scruffy cities with good arts scenes.

    We'll be in Wellington for three nights. I have a former student who now lives there so the plan is for her to show us a round a bit, but I'm always happy for recs. Anyone been to Zealandia? My wife and son are ecology focused, so it seems like it would be cool.

    Hanmer Springs is a good suggestion. I had looked at it and one of the flex nights we have is going from Abel Tasman down to Kaikoura. I figured I'd make a decision on the route based on the forecast.

    We probably won't get to Queensland or Fjordland in the south unfortunately. Just not enough time and the early winter shoulder season seemed suboptimal for winter activities (not enough snow) or water activities (cold). Still, I somewhat wish we had another 10 days in NZ rather than going to Aus, but oh well. I am really excited about Tasmania though.


    One thing unstated in the OP is that at one point, we were very curious about moving to NZ and the route was chosen to hit places that we might want to live/be able to find jobs. We would kind of like to live outside the US at some point while my son is growing up, and NZ immigration is set up so if work/have degrees in certain areas of need, you can directly apply for permanent residency. My wife qualifies along two paths (environmental research scientist and GIS person), so it was tempting. We're a bit more settled than we were a year ago at this time when we started planning this, but the itinerary focus on Wellington, Nelson, and Christchurch are somewhat a legacy of that plan (though Tauranga did get dropped). Neither of us would want to move to NZ and live in a megaopolis, so Auckland is out.

    Kevo, we'll be staying one night just north of Freycinet NP and hope to spend the next day exploring it. I wasn't sure about focusing on that vs. getting to Hobart more quickly, but it sounds like Freycinet is the way to go.

  12. #12
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    It's been 25 years... no nasty hobbitses back then
    I used the Lonely Planet guide, map, and the flyer racks you find in any hostel / tourism office. Also a book I bought in the Auckland DOC for information on hikes, backpacking, and huts. If you backpack, know that grocery stores sell Freez-dri and stove fuel. "Backcounty cuisine" brand was good, they have three lamb entrees among their meals. We spent a night at the Pinnacles Hut in Coromandel - 5 mile rainforest hike hike, moderately steep, great view.

    Rotorua had a Maori cultural center with a haka and traditional meal. We also stumbled on a haka at an Auckland Museum. Highly recommend catching the traditional welcome somewhere. I second the land luge in Rotorua; it's a fun, silly distraction (not sure if 7yo welcome). Small nature exhibit at that park too. If you dislike H2S gas, stay outside the city center.

    There's a day long volcano hike (with shuttle) south of Lake Taupo, forget name.

    Get a kiwi burger somewhere. I had my first at the Auckland mickeyD's. Also try a greenlip mussel burger in the Nelson area. Fish is good everywhere (well, maybe not mickeyD's).

    If you make it to the tropical glaciers, there used to be an outfit that gave a heli ride to skydive onto the glacier, packing 3 awesome activities into one. We hiked to the glacier instead

    Go to California for redwoods. Look for kauris in New Zealand. Also, you'll pass redwood farms just driving. If you don't like metros, spend less time in Wellington.

    There's so many things to see and do. we updated a short list of upcoming attractions, and cut options savagely rather than try to fit it all in. We did really well planning a few days ahead as we went. We got trapped by weather in a backcountry hut at a hotspring, the down day was a good rest. IMO kiwi-land needs 3 months, we had 30 days.

    There's an Antarctic Museum in Chch. Or was before the earthquakes. Aoraki-Mount Cook is worth a visit if you have time for the drive and weather is good - glaciers, glacial lakes. There, you can climb Mt Ollivier, and then claim to have climbed that mountain Sir Edmund Hillary climbed first. Farking steep trail. South Island probably has some great earthquake exhibits.

    We had no trouble with righthand drive besides a couple confusions after backing out of a parking space. YMMV. Also there's a weird R-O-W rule about right turns have priority in intersections over left turns. Also a new visitor's problem with tending to hang the passenger wheels in the shoulder the first few days (recreating a lefthand driver's view puts the vehicle to the left). A "metalled" road means it is unpaved/gravel. NZ has some speed cameras.

    Kia ora!

  13. #13
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    If you want to move there and still ski, Christchurch is a good option. It's def not a metropolis, and theres a lot of good towns within driving distance. Waimakariri River is great for everything as well. And the best part, you're within driving distance of the 6 club fields.

    I'm assuming you're going to take the ferry across from Wellington to Nelson, which means you'll go in through Queen Charlotte Sound and into Picton. Have you camera ready. Dolphins, whales, and then the sound is just stunning.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by MarcusBrody View Post
    Kevo, we'll be staying one night just north of Freycinet NP and hope to spend the next day exploring it. I wasn't sure about focusing on that vs. getting to Hobart more quickly, but it sounds like Freycinet is the way to go.
    Nice! Glad to hear it is already on your itinerary. Freycinet was the highlight of my Tasmania trip. Hobart is worth a visit too. It's a friendly community with some decent restaurants and street food and it's in a very beautiful place geographically. Definitely drive or bike to the top of Mount Wellington while in Hobart.

    Also, for wildlife I wish I had visited a sanctuary to see a Tasmanian Devil. Probably worth tracking down that kind of experience, especially with a 7 year old- https://www.discovertasmania.com.au/...ories/wildlife

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stuntmonkey View Post
    If you want to move there and still ski, Christchurch is a good option. It's def not a metropolis, and theres a lot of good towns within driving distance. Waimakariri River is great for everything as well. And the best part, you're within driving distance of the 6 club fields.

    I'm assuming you're going to take the ferry across from Wellington to Nelson, which means you'll go in through Queen Charlotte Sound and into Picton. Have you camera ready. Dolphins, whales, and then the sound is just stunning.
    I hear good things about Christchurch, so I'm eager to see it. We are taking the Picton ferry. I'm hoping for a niceish day so we can see!

    To me, Nelson is the place that seemed almost perfect from afar. I like the size. Seems to have a bit of an arts scene and an indie cinema (really the only urban amenity that I care that much about). Sunny by NZ standards with some good beaches nearby. Lots of trees, which Christchurch is a bit short on. It has Rainbow not too far away and what looks like some interesting touring around that area and to the NW of the city. Really, really good mountain biking, which has been my principal mountain hobby since I had a kid and found it a lot easier to do regularly. I've built Nelson up in my mind though, so I'll be interested to see if it lives up to my image of it.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevo View Post
    Nice! Glad to hear it is already on your itinerary. Freycinet was the highlight of my Tasmania trip. Hobart is worth a visit too. It's a friendly community with some decent restaurants and street food and it's in a very beautiful place geographically. Definitely drive or bike to the top of Mount Wellington while in Hobart.

    Also, for wildlife I wish I had visited a sanctuary to see a Tasmanian Devil. Probably worth tracking down that kind of experience, especially with a 7 year old- https://www.discovertasmania.com.au/...ories/wildlife
    That wildlife link is great given the interests of my family. Thanks!

  17. #17
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    I don't have much to add except NZ South Island is fantastic. You're not missing anything by missing the ski season as the skiing generally sucks. Melbourne is a cool city. I liked it better than Sydney, though the meat pies in Sydney are quite good. Just watch out for the black swans in the Melbourne parks. They're evil. Port Arthur in Tasmania was a former prison colony. They sent the worst of the worst from Britain there. You can still tour it.
    "timberridge is terminally vapid" -- a fortune cookie in Yueyang

  18. #18
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    Gonna disagree with the sucky skiing! Its not the best on the resorts but touring and club fields have given me some of the best conditions I've experienced. However, it's a different snow from North America thats for sure.

    Nelson is a really cool little city, I'd say the only thing you'd be let down by, and it's not something to be let down by, is that everything is the opposite of America lol. You can't goto Placemakers and get everything you would at home depot, gotta go somewhere else for that. Etc etc.

  19. #19
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    I’m going to take a little liberty with SM’s post
    Quote Originally Posted by Stuntmonkey View Post
    I'd say the only thing you'd be let down by…is that…
    …kiwis don’t know how, and refuse, to properly cook bacon. I couldn’t get a nice crisp strip of bacon in spite of nearly begging. It was always soft, chewy, and rather greasy.

    What’s up with that?

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by MarcusBrody View Post
    To me, Nelson is the place that seemed almost perfect from afar. I've built Nelson up in my mind though, so I'll be interested to see if it lives up to my image of it.
    I'm interested to hear your follow-up thoughts on this. I built up NZ in my mind for the last 20 years and finally went there. I won't go into detail unless people want me to, but the itch was scratched. It wasn't exactly disappointing, but in many ways it didn't live up to the image I had in my head. Mainly I think I learned just how small it is--like the size of CA. The experience did make me a bit more content to be here in 'muhrica, though, so that was nice.
    ride bikes, climb, ski, travel, cook, work to fund former, repeat.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Meadow Skipper View Post
    I’m going to take a little liberty with SM’s post

    …kiwis don’t know how, and refuse, to properly cook bacon. I couldn’t get a nice crisp strip of bacon in spite of nearly begging. It was always soft, chewy, and rather greasy.

    What’s up with that?
    Honestly, I prefer bacon cooked that way. Im a bacon-loving vegetarian, so i prefer it to be less delicious looking if possible. Ha

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by climberevan View Post
    I'm interested to hear your follow-up thoughts on this. I built up NZ in my mind for the last 20 years and finally went there. I won't go into detail unless people want me to, but the itch was scratched. It wasn't exactly disappointing, but in many ways it didn't live up to the image I had in my head. Mainly I think I learned just how small it is--like the size of CA. The experience did make me a bit more content to be here in 'muhrica, though, so that was nice.
    I'll be really interested to see this too. I think I'm past my peak early infatuation with an imaginary place, but I'm still fairly high on it. For me, size mostly comes down to opportunities to explore. I really like going and looking for things I haven't seen before. Doesn't have to be spectacular, it's just the search that's fun. The South Island, at least, seems like it's dense enough with possibilities and sparse enough in population that it would offer a very healthy amount of that. I actually love Nevada - where I live now - for that reason. Once you clear the Vegas city limits, it's basically empty with a whole bunch of places to explore and I haven't gotten to even a portion in southern NV, much less the even more open north. The South Island is about half as big as NV (all of NZ is about the size of NV), but the openness of NV makes it feel less so in some ways in comparison to where I grew up in central PA or in Western MA where I lived before I moved here. I could spend a longer time exploring a smaller area there due to the tree covered hills. I imagine that NZ with its beaches/mountains/(sometimes) forests pretty close to each other would provide denser opportunities.

    On the other hand, I've been reading NZ news and online forums (especially for specific cities) for the past 18 months or so, and like any online discussion, that's helped temper some enthusiasm. I know online discussion tends to amplify things, but it does make one aware of what is bothering people at the moment.

  23. #23
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    Don't overthink it--go and have a good time. Bring a book, it's a long flight.
    "timberridge is terminally vapid" -- a fortune cookie in Yueyang

  24. #24
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    Maybe things have changed since I was there 20 years ago, but my wife and I were able to travel without making too many plans ahead of time. Very few activities needed to be booked early.

    Our thought at that time was that we’d happily move to and live on the South Island (we didn’t spend time on the north island). We have friends in CA (in their 40’s now) that lived there long enough in their 30’s to gain citizenship, and NZ is one of their “exit strategies.” They lived in Dunedin and Wanaka. We have another set of friends (boomers) that moved to Dunedin because of a university job. They were both in their late 50’s. They moved back to the states decade later because they wanted to be closer to their growing family of grandchildren. Have another friend and former coworker who is a researcher in the university in Christchurch. He and his wife had lived in CA for decades, London, and parts Scotland. They seem happily settled. A kiwi coworker living in PDX picked up family and temporarily moved back home to an Auckland suburb when covid shut down pdx school. They’re back in pdx after 2.5 yrs. The coworker is a “city mouse,” though they grew up on a large ranch, and prefers the big cities of CA and the PNW to those in NZ.

  25. #25
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    I lucked into very good conditions on my ski trip and thought the club fields awesome, very far from sucking. Definitely a low key, no grooming, no frills, no crowds, egalitarian ski experience that might not be to everyone’s taste. Weather in NZ is variable, there might not be much snow and the mountains are worth a go. Before the quakes there wasn’t much to Christchurch worth a stop, not sure after. The worst hazards driving were tourists with big suvs & tourists with big RVs who either didn’t know the rules of the road or didn’t care.

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