The itinerary we drafted saw us flying out of DFW on the evening of Dec 15, 2016 to San Fransisco and then onto Auckland. We were to reach on Saturday morning, Dec 17th and fly into Queenstown on Jetstar. We would collect our rental car and start our 13 day journey across the two islands eventually returning the car at the Auckland airport before flying out. The Interislander ferry would take us and our car across the Cook Strait from Picton to Wellington.
American citizens traveling to NZ for short visits do not require a visa. In fact, US citizens with the new e-passports can use the Smartgate system that allows faster immigration clearance, avoiding long lines but all travelers have to be 12 years or older. We couldn’t take advantage of this as Sonny JJ is not quite twelve yet.
Biosecurity procedures in NZ are quite strict. Any food or medicines we carried with us would have to be declared, so we avoided carrying any type of food items. We did get a letter from our physician listing prescribed medications. All medicines were packed in their original boxes with labeled instructions.
For our car rental, we chose Go rental based out of NZ with a toll-free contact here in the US. They had very competitive rates and booking through their website was a breeze. We chose a compact car with automatic drive and also rented a GPS. Paying for the GPS was one of the best investments we made considering the distances we drove each day. Go Rental does not have an office at Picton where the ferry starts so we had to pay for the car to be ferried. Other companies like Budget do provide the option of dropping of at Picton and pick up in Wellington. Some rental companies do not allow their cars to be ferried across. Even adjusting for the cost of the car to be ferried, we came out only slightly behind with Go Rental, so we stuck with their car.
Since we were taking a domestic flight with Jetstar right after landing, we had to pack all check-in and hand luggage with their restrictions in mind. Jetstar allows a maximum of 20 kilos (44 lbs) per luggage whereas United would have allowed a total of 50 lbs per person. Any extra weight would mean shelling out more money at the counter and Jetstar is quite strict about the weight. We limited ourselves to three suitcases with a small carry-on, the kids’ backpacks and the camera bag.
The only two activities that we booked ahead were the cruises in Fiordland National Park, one to Doubtful Sound and the other to Milford Sound. Real Journeys is the leader in these cruises. But I couldn’t find a good time/date on their website that worked for us and their prices were definitely not cheap. Eventually, I booked both cruises through another company called Go Orange. They were very quick in responding to any and all queries from us.
We looked at other activities to do but did not book ahead since we weren’t sure of the weather. For example, our plans to paraglide would not have worked on the two days we were in Queenstown due to wind conditions and/ or rain.
I could book only two hotels using points, all the others were done either through the hotel websites, Airbnb or Hotels.com. Motels are very common in NZ and provide a small living space, bedroom(s), small kitchen and toiletries. Some basic cooking utensils, microwave, hotplate, electric kettle, fridge are included.
In all, we would spend two consecutive nights at Te Anau. The rest of the 10 stays were each in a different location at a different motel/ hotel or a bed and breakfast.
What is not included in the itinerary map is the original drive from Queenstown to Te Anau and the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound and back to Queenstown. I had to remove those since only ten locations can be included. We spent a total of 4 days covering the North Island and 9 days on the South island. That decision paid off well.