Greg’s New Zealand trip, tips, and recommendations


My wife and I recently visited New Zealand for the first time, and it was awesome.  Prior to the trip, friends and acquaintances offered countless recommendations, but we couldn’t do it all.  We only had two weeks.  We ended up spending only three nights on the north island and the rest of the trip on the south island.  This post outlines our itinerary and points out highlights from our trip.  Please do not think of this as a recommended itinerary.  There are endless great things that we didn’t do.  I’m sure readers who have been to New Zealand before will be disappointed that we missed this, that, or the other thing.  That’s OK!  Let us know in the comments below and we’ll plan another trip!  For readers who are thinking of going, make sure to read the comments of this post because I’m certain that people will share great recommendations.

a man taking a picture of penguins on a beach

New Zealand Tips

Before I jump into my trip overview, here are some things that we learned that would have been helpful to know in advance…

  • A time zone trick:  The time in New Zealand during our trip was 18 hours ahead of eastern time in the U.S.  Doing mental math to figure out what time it was back home was extremely challenging until I realized a simple shortcut: the U.S. time was 6 hours later (but one calendar day behind).  For example, if it was 11am in New Zealand, it was easy to add 6 hours to figure out that it was 5pm back home.  Of course you’ll need to adjust this trick to your “back home” time zone and any daylight saving time offsets that may be involved.
  • Tipping isn’t expected: Unlike tip-happy United States, New Zealanders don’t expect tips.  The one and only exception that we encountered was with free walking tours where the guides earn money only from tips.
  • Cash isn’t necessary: When visiting foreign countries I usually stop at an ATM to withdraw cash in the local currency.  I did that here, but cash wasn’t needed anywhere except to tip our free walking tour guides.  We used credit cards with no foreign transaction fees everywhere else, even in a taxi.  Free walking tour guides usually stop the tour near an ATM anyway so in the future I would only withdraw cash if needed in that circumstance.  Or I’d tip them in U.S. currency and let them figure out how to convert it.  Bonus tip: For international travel, it’s a great idea to carry a debit card that has no foreign transaction fees and that reimburses ATM fees.  A great option that is 100% fee-free is the Schwab Bank Investor Checking.  For those interested, here is my refer-a-friend link.  After clicking through, click “Open an Account”, and then “Individual Checking Account” or “Joint Checking Account.”
  • Uber is available, Lyft is not: In my one experience with a taxi in New Zealand I found that Uber would have been significantly cheaper and so I stuck with Uber for the rest of the trip.
  • Driving (on the left) is easy: Unlike in Europe, most of New Zealand’s roads are wide like in the U.S.  Plus, also unlike in Europe, most rental cars in New Zealand have automatic transmission.  And, of course, English is New Zealand’s primary language.  These things make renting a car and driving it very easy.  Yes, you have to get used to driving on the left (right turns into the far lane can be especially hard to get used to), but that adjustment doesn’t take long.  This was a long way of saying that I recommend renting a car when in New Zealand.
  • Restaurants don’t bring the bill to you: When you’re done eating at a restaurant, you shouldn’t wait for the check.  And, unlike in Europe, you shouldn’t ask for the bill.  Instead, when done eating, simply walk up to the front cashier (often, but not always the bartender) and let them know which table you were at.  They’ll usually confirm what you ordered and then you can pay there with your favorite credit card.
  • Many restaurants close around the New Year: Many New Zealanders go on holiday at the end of the year and so we found that many restaurants were closed while we were in Auckland from December 29 to Jan 1.
  • Try Meat pies: New Zealanders love their meat pies (they’re a lot like pot pies).  The cool thing is that when you want good food fast, you can usually find hot meat pies just about anywhere: pop into a bakery, stop at a mom and pop shop on the side of the road or even a gas station market, or grab one while waiting for a flight at the airport (we did all of these things during our trip!).  Even vegetarian options are widely available.

Key to the stars ★★★

In my trip overview, below, I marked many places or activities with stars.  Here’s how to interpret them (yes, I heavily borrowed from the Michelin Guide system):

★ (one star): If you’ll be nearby anyway, I recommend this place or activity
★★ (two stars): This means that I believe this one is worth going out of your way for (i.e. worth a detour)
★★★ (three stars): This is worth planning your trip around

North Island (Dec 29 2022 to Jan 1 2023)

Auckland (3 nights)

Park Hyatt Auckland ★

a room with a bed and a couch

See: Park Hyatt Auckland Bottom Line Review.  As I wrote in my review, this is an excellent hotel, but a poor Park Hyatt.  I’d happily stay again next time I’m in Auckland, but I wouldn’t go out of my way for this one.

Free Walking Tour ★

a man standing on a sidewalk
Our tour guide, Darcy, is shown telling us something interesting about Auckland.

I usually find that free walking tours are a great way to get to know a city quickly.  I prefer the free ones because, in my experience, they’re more often fun and interesting than prepaid tours.  This is probably because with free tours only the interesting guides earn enough in tips for it to be worth doing regularly.  Anyway, we enjoyed this one!  You can find details and sign up here.

Mount Eden at sunset ★★

a group of people on a grassy hill

The concierge at the Park Hyatt recommended that we visit nearby Mount Eden at sunset.  That turned out to be a great recommendation.  It was beautiful!

Culprit Restaurant ★★

a group of people in a kitchen
Culprit owner & Chef Kyle Street, on the right, is shown reviewing the dinner plans with the sous chef.

We loved our dinner here.  When visiting Auckland, make sure to make reservations in advance.  The food was inventive, fun, and delicious.

Hobbiton and Glow Worm Caves Tour ★

a green hill with a red door and a fence

a cave with a boat in the water

We booked a day tour with a company called Bush and Beach.  We were picked up at our hotel in the morning and returned around 6pm.  Both the Hobbiton village and the glow worm caves were well worth visiting.  And by booking through Bush and Beach, our Hobbiton visit included an excellent buffet lunch right in Hobbiton (next to the Green Dragon).  Other Hobbiton visitors who hadn’t booked through Bush and Beach didn’t qualify for the lunch.

While I’m very glad we did the tour, the whole experience felt a little bit too touristy and Disney-World-ish for my tastes.  Still, I recommend doing it once.

New Years Eve fireworks ★

fireworks over a city
Park Hyatt Auckland New Years Eve view of Sky Tower fireworks

If you happen to be in Auckland over New Year’s Eve, you might as well watch the fireworks shot from the Sky Tower.  If you are staying at the Park Hyatt, you might be lucky enough to have a room like we had with a good view of the tower.  If not, there are several hotel balconies that are open to hotel guests where you can go to watch.

Fly to Christchurch

Air New Zealand offers cheap and easy flights to just about anywhere around New Zealand. I didn’t even bother trying to book award flights since the cash rates were only around $100 USD per person to fly to Christchurch.

South Island (Jan 1 to Jan 12 2023)

Christchurch (3 nights) ★★

Overall I thought that Christchurch was a delightful town, well worth a visit.

The George Hotel ★

a room with a bed and chairs

This is a good hotel in a great location.  See my review here: The George, Christchurch New Zealand (Bookable via Hyatt SLH). Bottom line review.

Free Walking Tour ★

a group of people standing on a brick sidewalk

The free walking tour in Christchurch is run by Green Kiwi Tours.  And, despite Google thinking that the tour is permanently closed, I can assure you that it is open and available, and well worth doing!  Make sure to sign up in advance.

Botanic Gardens ★★

a river with trees and grass

When visiting Christchurch, don’t miss the free botanic gardens.  It’s beautiful and a great way to spend an afternoon.

Arthur’s Pass Tour ★

a group of people sitting on a bus
TranzAlpine train.  Based on reviews I had overly high expectations for this train ride.  It turned out that it was a pretty ride but not as stunning as I had expected.  I imagine that winter rides might be more beautiful.
a person walking on a path through a grassy area with large rocks
Castle Hill. I loved walking around and climbing on the boulders at the top of the hill.

We booked a day tour from Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass with Canterbury Trails.  The tour guide picked us up in a van at our hotel and drove everyone to the train station where we rode the TranzAlpine train one-way to Arthur’s Pass (the return trip was by van).  There, the tour guide met us in the van and took us to lunch and then to various scenic spots around the National Park.  Then, on the drive back we stopped at Castle Hill, which was my favorite stop of the day.

Car Rental

a red car parked on a brick road
Our Toyota Corolla rental poses in front of The George hotel. I had Ubered to the Christchurch airport to pick up the car and I came back in the car to get my wife and our luggage.

Thanks to Autoslash, I had found a great rate for a one way Budget rental with pick-up at the Christchurch airport and drop-off in Queenstown within a short walk from our Queenstown hotel.  The rate, though, was for a big pickup truck.  When I went to get the truck, I asked at the counter if I could downgrade to a regular car.  We didn’t need a big truck for this trip!  We were given the perfectly good (and much better gas mileage) Toyota Corolla shown above.

Oamaru (1 night) ★★

In my opinion, the little town of Oamaru is worth going out of your way for because it is packed with several great things to do.  We spent just one night there and that was perfect.

Poshtel Hotel ★

a room with a large wooden table and couches
Poshtel Hotel in Oamaru, New Zealand

This independent boutique hotel is in a great location in town.  As you can see above, it is chock full of interesting artwork.  A light continental breakfast is included.

Steampunk HQ ★★

a steampunk train on a rock

a man standing on a large rusty tractor

The town of Oamaru has embraced its industrial past by going all steampunk.  Wikipedia defines steampunk as “a subgenre of science fiction that incorporates retrofuturistic technology and aesthetics inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery.”  The Steampunk HQ museum is well worth the price of admission. It’s chock full of Mad Max-ish technology and it’s almost like a treasure hunt: some displays are interactive and stuff happens when you pull the right levers or push the right buttons; there are hidden rooms and passages; and there’s even a gigantic claw-like gizmo where you can use a huge mechanical winch to try to pick up objects.

a statue on a large metal object
This steampunk themed playground is nearby but not part of the Steampunk HQ museum

The steampunk theme in Oamaru goes beyond the museum.  Nearby is a playground with several huge steampunk-ish elements.  Even our hotel, the Poshtel, got in on the fun with a number of steampunk elements like this toilet paper holder:

a toilet paper roll on a black pipe

Blue Penguin Colony ★★★

a blue and white bird with eggs
This is a photo I took of a poster at the Blue Penguin Colony.  Even though there were multiple opportunities to see these penguins live, we weren’t supposed to take photos of them.
a wooden fence next to a beach
This photo shows the viewing platform from where most visitors watch the penguins return home in the evening. The blue objects by the fence are tunnels for the penguins to get past the fence.
a group of wooden boxes in a grassy area
This photo shows two of the many penguin houses that are scattered around the Blue Penguin Colony.  Local schoolchildren build these houses, and penguins somehow pick out their favorite available homes.

The Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony is a protected reserve for blue penguins.  There are two things you can do here as a visitor and I recommend doing both.

First, you can do a day tour (currently between 1pm and 7pm).  Day tour entry includes a small museum, a guided walk around the penguin homes, and a viewing opportunity.  In the tour around the homes you are unlikely to see any penguins (we didn’t), but it was still a highlight to see where they live. In many ways it seemed like a miniature version of Hobbiton but with square doors instead of round.  The viewing opportunity was in a specially-designed viewing room which has 10 nesting boxes that you can look down into without disturbing the penguins.  If there happen to be penguins there (which is common when they’re nesting), you’ll see them. We saw a few adult penguins and several babies.

The better known attraction here is at sunset.  Visitors sit in one of two large viewing platforms (general or premium) and watch as penguins return from their day of hunting fish at sea.  The penguins float in together in groups called “rafts”.  When they reach the shore they waddle up a steep rocky hill, walk through rectangular tunnels built for them into the fence, and then (I assume) they say goodbye to each other before waddling off to their homes.  From the viewing platforms you can see all of this except the final return to their homes (most of the penguin houses aren’t visible from the viewing platforms).  In the future I’d love to do the premium seating which is much closer to the fence tunnels, but it was sold out when we went.

Cucina Restaurant ★★

a plate of food with a slice of bread

Great service. Beautifully prepared dishes.  Incredibly yummy food.  Go!  Link to website.  This is the one thing I most want to return to Oamaru for!

Bushy Beach

a beach with trees and sand

This scenic reserve just outside of Oamaru is home to a yellow eyed penguin colony.  If you visit in the evening you may be able to see them at a distance.  We visited in the morning, though, and didn’t see any.

Drive to Dunedin (1 night)

We had a number of great stops on our drive south from Oamaru to Dunedin.  Unfortunately, we arrived in Dunedin too late to do any sightseeing in that area, and we had to leave early the next morning to drive across to the west side of the south island.  I hope to return someday to explore the area around Dunedin.

Moeraki Boulders ★

a group of round rocks on a beach

You’ll find Moeraki Boulders Beach just about half an hour drive south of Oamaru.  These spherical boulders are mysterious and fun to see and to climb on, but really there’s not a lot to do here.  I do recommend stopping for 15 minutes to explore the boulders along with all of the other tourists, but then move on to the better stop which few tourists know about… Katiki Point Lighthouse.

Katiki Point Lighthouse ★★

a rocky island with waves crashing on it

a seal lying on grass near water
Seals were everywhere around the peninsula, but this one was laying right next to the walking path. It woke up just to say hello and then went back to sleep.
a penguin walking on the sand
This adult yellow eyed penguin was walking around a protected beach when we arrived.
a rocky area with grass and bushes
The adult penguin at the bottom of this photo was making its way back to its baby (which you can somewhat see at the top of the photo)

What a great stop!  This historic reserve is only a 15 minute drive from the Moeraki Boulders but most tourists don’t seem to know about it.  It’s an incredibly beautiful peninsula with a walking path down the middle.  As we entered the reserve we soon saw a yellow eyed penguin on the beach.  We watched as it made its way across the beach and up a steep hill to get back to its babies.  That was amazing to see.

If you’re not lucky enough to see penguins, this is still worth a stop.  Seals and beautiful views are everywhere.

Doctor’s Point Reserve

a man standing on a beach with rocks and trees

Doctor’s Point is just under an hour drive south of the Katiki Point Lighthouse and just half an hour north of Dunedin.  On this beach you’ll find large rock caves which you can walk through.  Try to go during low tide though.  There’s no beach to walk on at high tide.  We didn’t plan well and had to do a little bushwhacking to get back to our car.

The Stables (Dunedin hotel) ★

We stayed just one night in this independent hotel.  It was very nice and clean.  Even though we booked through, it was run like an AirBnb: they sent us a code for entry.  We never saw or talked with anyone who works there.

Doubtful Sound (1 night)

Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise ★★★

a boat on a river with mountains in the background

a body of water with mountains and clouds

a boat in the water with mountains in the background with Milford Sound in the background

a boat with a blue booth

a bed in a room

This overnight Doubtful Sound cruise was the highlight of our New Zealand trip.  The adventure began with a 40 minute boat ride across Lake Manapouri.  We then boarded a bus which took us over a mountain to Doubtful Sound (which is actually a fiord).  We then cruised through Doubtful Sound and its many arms, and even briefly out to sea.  We stopped the first afternoon to go kayaking and swimming.  In the evening they served an excellent dinner.  We anchored overnight in a quiet arm of the fiord and enjoyed spectacular sunset views.  After breakfast the next morning we cruised more around the fiord before returning to Manapouri via bus and boat.  This overnight trip cost us $845 U.S. for the two of us to stay in a private room with an ensuite bathroom.

Some other highlights were the multiple times a school of dolphins played around the boat, and when we briefly exited the fiord into the ocean and pulled up alongside a small island full of active seals.

It’s hard to explain why we loved this overnight trip so much.  Part of it may have been the fact that it took multiple vehicles over a lake and mountain to get there.  We were cut off from all communications (no cell service or internet) and felt like we were at the end of the earth.  Plus, we enjoyed the company of other travelers that we talked and shared meals with.  And, of course, the scenery was spectacular.  We can’t wait to do it again!

Te Anau (1 night)

Te Anau Lodge ★

a house with a red roof and a lawn and bushes

a car parked in a yard next to a train

We spent one night in Te Anau at this independent hotel which is worth a visit all by itself.  The Te Anau Lodge used to be a convent.  Now it’s owned by someone with a whimsical and irreverent sense of humor.  The breakfast “Chapel” room includes a poster with the “10 breakfast room commandments.”  The hotel’s public bathroom is titled “The Lavatorium”.  Drinks and snacks are available in the library.  One of the snacks is communion wafers.  Our room was named the Bishop’s Retreat and had a large bishop chess piece outside the door.  These are just a few of the many examples.  The hotel also has unique rooms such as one converted from a train car and another that was a carousel.

Te Anau is a great town from which to explore Fiordland National Park, and the Te Anau Lodge is a great place to stay when there.

Milford Sound Day Trip ★

a body of water with mountains in the background
Mirror Lakes

a group of people on a boat in the water

a body of water with a mountain in the background  a man taking a picture of a lake

Doing Milford Sound is probably the most recommended activity for New Zealand.  Rather than drive ourselves, we booked a package tour with Real NZ where we were driven in a glass topped bus to Milford Sound.  We stopped at a number of beautiful spots along the way, including Mirror Lakes (1st photo above).  Finally we boarded a boat on Milford Sound (really a fiord) for a two hour out and back cruise.

While Milford Sound may have more dramatic views, I preferred the beauty and remote feeling of Doubtful Sound.  The Milford Sound boat dock was teeming with tourists when we arrived, and many filed onto the same boat as we did.  The whole experience seemed overly touristy to me.  It was a bit of a letdown after all the great things I had heard and read about Milford Sound.  If you want to do both fiords, I’d recommend doing Milford Sound first and Doubtful Sound second.

Regarding the Real NZ tour: the tour guide was good, but the glass topped bus was like a sauna.  The a/c couldn’t compete with the sunshine pouring in from above.  In retrospect, I would have liked to have driven myself and stopped for as long as we wanted at the many beautiful attractions in Fiordland National Park on the way to Milford Sound.

Queenstown (4 nights) ★★★

After our Milford Sound tour, we drove from Te Anau to Queenstown.  The next morning I dropped off the rental car at Budget and walked back to the hotel.  While Queenstown was teeming with tourists, the sheer beauty of the surroundings more than made up for it.  The town is on Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by tall hills.  We loved it.

Eichardt’s Private Hotel ★★

a group of people standing on a dock

a group of people sitting at tables outside a building with a view of mountains and water
Restaurant view. Breakfast is served here and included for all hotel guests.
a living room with a fireplace and couches
This was our suite’s living room.

We paid 40,000 points per night to stay in this hotel which otherwise usually costs over $1,500 USD per night.  It’s in the perfect location in town with great service and plenty of extras like free valet parking, free breakfast, free pre-dinner drinks and canapes, etc.  See my full review here: Eichardt’s Private Hotel — A gem in Queenstown New Zealand bookable with Hyatt points.

Queenstown lake walk and water taxi ★

a map of a road
Our walk along the lake
a body of water with buildings and mountains in the background
View of Queenstown from lake walk around Queenstown Gardens.  Eichardt’s Private Hotel is visible at the far right.
a lake with trees and mountains in the background
View of The Remarkables mountain range from our lakeside walk

a boat on the water

On our first morning in Queenstown, we walked along the lakefront from Eichardt’s Private Hotel to the Hilton which is about 6 miles away.  While we enjoyed the views of the lake and The Remarkables mountain range beyond, many bikes zoomed past us without warning and that made the walk less relaxing than we had hoped.  We ate lunch at the Hilton and then returned to town via water taxi.

Wine Tour ★

a group of people sitting at a table in a restaurant

a group of bottles of wine on a table

a plate of food on a table

a wine cellar with a wooden door

a woman standing next to a table with wine glasses with The Cavern Club in the background

For one of our days in Queenstown we booked a small group wine & food tour (details here).  We stopped at several wineries for wine tastings and, at one stop, a delicious lunch.  While the wines varied from “meh” to excellent, we liked our guide and enjoyed meeting other travelers.  It’s worth noting that some of the places we stopped were only open to tours over the holidays, so we wouldn’t have been able to go if we had driven ourselves.

Queenstown Hill ★★

a garden with a tree and a fence
Queenstown Gardens

a sign on a post

a path with a bench and trees in the background

a sign with a map and text

a circular structure with trees and mountains in the background

This was great!  One morning we walked around Queenstown Gardens, but quickly finished that because they’re quite small.  So then we decided to walk up hill through Queenstown’s neighborhoods.  As we walked, we found signs for the Queenstown Hill Walkway and decided to go for it.  The walk was very steep and tiring, but well worth it!  The views from the near top and very top were incredible.  We also walked right by a group of adorable mountain goats.

Tatsumi Restaurant ★

a plate of sushi on a table

Queenstown is loaded with great restaurants, but we made the mistake of not booking far in advance.  Among the restaurants we wanted to try, only Tatsumi was available for dinner reservations at a time that worked for us.  We booked their “Sharing Banguet” chef’s selection dinner for $85 NZD per person.  It was excellent.

For our other dinners while in town we ate at Bella Cucina Italian restaurant and Eichardt’s Bar, which serves tapas.  The tapas at Eichardt’s were good (and it was a great way to use the hotel’s $100 food credit), but we didn’t care much for Bella Cucina.

Next time in New Zealand

If we return to some of the same areas next time we visit, here are some things we missed but would like to do…

  • In Christchurch we’d like to do punting or kayaking on the Avon
  • In Queenstown we’d like to try a Fergburger (but a local told us that Devil Burger was even better)
  • We’d like to spend several nights in Te Anau and make it our home base for exploring Fiordland (and we’d drive ourselves around to the different sights)
  • We’d love to do the Milford Track hike
  • We’ll budget more time to explore the area around Dunedin and visit, for example, the Royal Albatross Centre
  • Mount Cook National Park
  • Stewart Island

Of course there are many, many more great things to do and see.  Time to start planning for our next visit…

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Coming in late to the party but I just left queenstown and can add:
Crowne Plaza (floor 7) is perfectly located and has nice views of the lake
Blue Kanu restaurant is phenomenal
Fergburger is far superior to Devil Burger (we tried both)


How would the doubtful sound overnight boat trip be for someone who gets motion sick? Even though the water in the sound looks perfectly still in all the pictures I’m curious given the multiple boat and vehicle rides plus the overnight on the boat.


I like the star system here and the trip report also makes me want to visit NZ.


How is it that nobody mentioned jetboating on Lake Wakatipu?


I’ll add my $0.02.

If you want reservations for Milford, Routeburn, or Abel Tasman be ready *literally* at the second permits open up. These 3 walks open up reservations on 3 different days. Otherwise spring for the luxury private tours that are $$$.

Milford is nice with only 1 hard day. Each cabin’s ranger gives a good evening talk. Once at the sound I’d recommend a kayak tour over the tourist boat tours. If you day-trip to Milford drive yourself—plenty of scenic pullouts. Routeburn was our absolute fave for scenery and Keas. For Abel Tasman track we did a mixed trip of 3 days kayak out, and 3 days hiking back. Highly recommended!

Queenstown has 3 enjoyable disc golf courses, including one on the forested peninsula park in town.
Fergburger is worth it one time. We overall liked Wanaka better-much less crowded but very beautiful surroundings.

West Coast drive on S Island was kinda meh except for Punakaika (pancake rocks) and Hokitika gorge.

It’s a truly wonderful country with great folks and fantastic nature!


The luxury private tours “Ultimate Hikes” etc are not currently that expensive. We paid ~$1500 USD per person for 5 nights. Given that it includes lodging and food and everything else you may need (including backpack, raingear, hiking poles etc) I think you would probably find that you would spend that much for that much time in NZ anyway for typical tourist activities. There is also the logistics of getting to the trailhead and hauling all your camping and hiking gear and food both on the plane and across NZ. There is also added benefit for a non local in they also take care of weather related detours etc. For a tourist it’s not a bad option.


Thanks so much for this post. I’m going to save for future reference.


There are so many amazing things to do here in NZ so I will just share one recent walk along the coast in Kaikoura (where the whale watch boats go from) I did just from following my nose. Turn right in town and walk south along the coast , there was seals everywhere after the first 500m. I walked an hour or so then walked up a cliff track and came back along the cliff top. It was the best walk i have done in years and I saw only a few people the whole time. the tide was low so i do not know if its accessible at high tide.

IQ 0

Do not forget that the Kiwis are among the nicest people in the world.
There are so many beautiful places on both the North and South Islands that one can’t go wrong. Explore and enjoy the variety from the far north to the south. As Greg says, don’t be put off by driving on the left. The roads of NZ offer their own rewards – “magic corners” as described by a local.
A personal preference, skip Queenstown – overhyped and thus overcrowded.


This is very helpful as I leave for NZ in 3 weeks thanks to the FM post last year about that United deal. Fortunately (tho I didn’t think so at the time) I did not have enough United miles for the RT, and Chase website was down, so I just booked a one way ticket. Since then I’ve retired, so the planning process expanded trip duration to 30 days before I booked the return flight. Nearly all of it on the SI, and still need to plan a return trip for the things I did not have time for.

After flight to Wellington, my time on the South Island will be bookended by two hiking trips: Abel Tasman NP track (Wilson’s) in the northern end of the island and Routeburn track (Ultimate Hikes) in the southern end. NZ has a great hut system for you to tramp on your own, but those nights are booked up instantly every year when they go on sale. If you want to try for the huts, start your research now as this needs to be a top priority! I had to go with private company for each track, but what’s not to like about a glass of wine, a good meal, and a comfy bed each evening? For anyone who likes to cycle through spectacular scenery and wineries, check out the Great Taste trail from Nelson to ATNP and the Lake Dunstan trail near Cromwell. I can’t wait!

In between the hiking trips I also booked a very reasonable 10 day Budget rental car via Autoslash, pickup in Nelson/drop off in Queenstown. I’ll be driving the west coast and over to Wanaka/Mt Cook/Cromwell before spending the last few days in Queenstown.

A big thank-you to the FM team, not just for the heads-up on this deal, but for all of your helpful posts and entertaining podcasts (I listen to on my runs). I tell my friends that I was in FM points-and-miles bootcamp during the pandemic, and now I have a big enough stash to fund my retirement travel for a while.

Last edited 1 year ago by Linda

Just got back from NZ. For hikes we really liked and Wellington was our favorite city. Check out the bakeries – Tomboy and Myrtle. Try Ortega for dinner.


Excellent – thanks!


Great post. We visited the North Island in 2001 and didn’t make it to the South Island as it was just a 5 day stopover on the way to Australia. Can’t wait to get back to the South Island someday. Will definitely look at this again!

Denise in COS

We spent 15 nights in New Zealand in 2014 as part of a 30 day RTW as we bid Bon Voyage to USAirways as a Star Alliance partner! Was it 140k for a first class RTW ticket or 120K? Anyway, we had some awesome flights including an Air NZ Business from Shanghai to Auckland. It was a 12 hour flight. Some of the best sleep I ever got on a plane. Another memorable flight was an Asiana “Suites” first class from JFK to Seoul. We were the only people in First. As you might imagine, service was over the top!

We did some of the things you did, but also spent more time on the North Island. Next time, you need to go to Napier! It’s a fascinating town with beautiful scenery and great wines.

My husband and I haven’t been to Australia, but every time we talk about going to Australia, we end up deciding we’d rather go back to New Zealand!


Very helpful post, Greg! Bruce and I definitely want to get to New Zealand in the next few years. I’m saving this post for future reference!


 “The penguins float in together in groups called “rafts”. When they reach the shore they waddle up a steep rocky hill, walk through rectangular tunnels built for them into the fence, and then (I assume) they say goodbye to each other before waddling off to their homes.”

I have to see this! Would it be difficult to get to Oamuru without a car?

Thank you for a wonderful, detailed report.


Great article, thanks for sharing! Will help me in planning my own trip someday!


One of the best things to do in NZ is to go “tramping” on one of the Great walks. You can book the huts which have basic bunks or you can camp or there are also lodges on the Routeburn and Milford track, and some others. Stewart island also has a walking track and of course Kiwi birds, among other species.


We spent 3.5 months in New Zealand several decades ago and probably a month total was spent in the backcountry on treks staying in huts or tent camping. The Milford Track even then was difficult to “book” in advance, but there are many, many, many other totally amazing multi-day hikes that are less well known and on which (at least at that time) we either had the huts to ourselves or shared with one or two other people. Two that stand out were Nelson Lakes and Tongariro, but I think we also did the Routebourne and Kepler, and some others as well that I’d have to look up.

In Nelson Lakes for several days we shadowed a kiwi who had just finished his Uni year. He was a fly-fisherman and at dinnertime each night he’d head for the nearest lake, watch quietly for 45 minutes or so, make one cast, and come back to the hut with a 5lb trout. In another hut (don’t remember where) we met a German who had a one-year, RTW ticket. New Zealand was his first stop and head already spent nine months there essentially in the same hut with occasional trips to town for food.

At that time, the huts (outside the super-popular tracks) cost (I think) 3 NZ dollars a night on the honor system.


It was. On our flight from NZ to Fiji I looked over at my wife (I guess, not technically my wife then), who is not a particularly emotional person, and there were tears in her eyes.


Those huts sound great, but they sold out instantly last year when they went on sale, so I had to book more expensive trips (at Abel Tasman NP and Routeburn track) with private companies who manage their own lodges. Fortunately there are some well-regarded options, but those were selling briskly as well. You have to plan well in advance if you want to do more than a day tramp on one of the Great Walks.