Mid Range Self Drive
Mark Antunes (United States)
We recently completed the 16 Day Essence of New Zealand tour that we booked with you. I wanted to give you some feedback on the tour, so here it goes.
First off, we enjoyed the tour very much. We had a great time and feel that we saw most of the country. We were quite happy with most of the hotels you booked for us; many exceeded my expectations.
Our tour started in Auckland. We switched out one night in Blenheim for one extra night in Auckland. As it turns out, this was the right choice. Our flight landed in Auckland at 5:30PM and it took us a while to get out of the airport; we probably didn't get our rental car until at least 6:45. As such, had we not added a night in Auckland, there really would not have been any time to see the city. For me, our cruise of Auckland's harbor was one of the highlights of the North Island. Next we went to Rotorua via the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. Using the voucher went smoothly. Our stay in Rotorua went well but there were a few things I'd change. Other than the glow worm caves, all of our activity vouchers were for Rotorua. This left us with a choice of either doing only things we had vouchers for or wasting vouchers. It would have been nice if they were spread out more throughout the trip. For example, an easy change would be to give a voucher for Skyline Queenstown instead of Skyline Rotorua. Also, our hotel in Rotorua, the Sudima Lake Rotorua, was clearly not up to the level of the other hotels on the trip and we did not care much for it. Also, we did not use the voucher for the Polynesian Spa because we did not know we would be given one and so we did not bring swimwear. If we had known in advance we'd receive this voucher, this would have been helpful. After leaving Rotorua, we spent the night in Lake Taupo. We liked the town and loved our hotel there, the Reef Resort. We arrived in early afternoon and then went hiking in Tongariro National Park (NP). The following day, as planned we woke up early and drove to Wellington, arriving in early/mid afternoon. That afternoon was our only available day of doing anything in Wellington, and we found plenty to do there. In order to break up the drive, maybe it would be good to have people stay at the south end of Lake Taupo, near Turangi.
The ferry to the South Island was great and enjoyable. We enjoyed Picton and the wineries near Blenheim. We spent the next night in Christchurch; we arrived around 5 and then walked around the city a bit. I'm glad we did because we didn't have a lot of time to later, as I thought we would. Driving from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo the next day took longer than I thought it would, but I loved staying by the lake. I was able to go out at night and see the stars in this International Dark Sky Reserve. The next day we drove to Queenstown via Mt. Cook; it was long day but enjoyable. In Queenstown we were thrilled with our hotel, the Queenstown Park Boutique Hotel, the only one of the entire trip that gave us breakfast for free. Of our two days in Queenstown, one day we took a Milford Sound tour (which was great, but long), and the other day we walked around, went up to the Skyline and took a jet boat ride. It was all very enjoyable. The next day we drove through Arrowtown, Wanaka and Mt. Aspiring NP on our way to Fox Glacier. We fit a lot in on this rather lengthy drive. In staying in the town of Fox Glacier, we went to Franz Josef Glacier in the morning but then did nothing in the afternoon due to rain; had the weather cooperated, the plan was to see Lake Matheson. Although staying in Franz Josef might have been better (shorter drive the next day, closer to glacier we toured), I'm not sure I would change that because the clerk at the hotel informed us of a great place to see Fox Glacier we would not have known about otherwise, plus I enjoyed the food in Fox Glacier. The next day was also a long day, taking us from Fox Glacier back to Christchurch. Along the way we stopped at the Pancake Rocks, which we thought were worthwhile. Arthur's Pass NP was also scenic, but with the time, we largely just drove through it, stopping once or twice for a quick picture. We made it back to Christchurch around 6:45, which allowed to us keep a reservation we'd made for a local restaurant when we were there previously. The next morning, with our flight to Auckland leaving at 6PM, we visited the Canterbury Museum, did Punting on the Avon, and briefly visited the International Antarctic Center. All in all, it was great. I'd rate it a 5 out of 5. There were some long days, but even with those we managed to pack a lot in. The only real changes I think I'd make are 1) space out the vouchers a bit more 2) spend the night of Day 4 farther south to allow for more time in Wellington and 3) include a trip to Milford Sound, which was incredible. I also think it would be good to inform people of some of the options more. I see them on the page now, but was not aware of them prior to our departure.