Sheila did exactly what I wanted- she listened to our interests, picked some excellent options for us, and then worked with me to tailor the 14 day plan to our maximum benefit. She is very knowledgeable about the whole of New Zealand, and I would not hesitate to use their services again.
Zicasso's method of sending our needs to several companies and then letting them compete for our business worked very well for us. Out of the 3 companies, this New Zealand tour operator was far and away the most responsive and helpful. That is not immediately obvious from reading brochures and websites, so this technique helped us to find the right agency.
We used the tour operator only for the 14 day New Zealand portion of our trip, plus international airfares, and did our own planning for the Australia part of the trip. In NZ, we enjoyed most the bicycle wine tour in Blenheim. Anyone who likes wine and can manage flatland bike riding for a few miles would love this. Like most everyone we met, we enjoyed the South Island, particularly Queenstown the most. On the North Island, Wellington is also nice, particularly the fantastic museum there. Rotorua was nice, but probably not worth the time to get there if you are also going to the South Island.
While it was nice to tour the whole length of New Zealand, I think I would drop Auckland and Rotorua, and maybe start in Wellington before heading south. That would leave more time for touring the fjords south of Queenstown. That area is simply beautiful, and it would take weeks to take it all in.
The Milford Sound cruise was beautiful, but people should understand that it is a 2 hour boat ride sandwiched between a 4 hour and a 3 hour bus ride. None of the printed info mentions this, probably because it would scare people off. I noticed that there was a hotel near the Milford cruise dock. It would be really nice to be able to go our there and spend the night, take the cruise and return to Queenstown in two days rather than do it all in one day. That second bus ride was just too much for one day.
Part of the reason we used an agency was to avoid driving (left side of road). I did drive in Australia for about a week. No real problems other than extreme stress in Melbourne where they mix cars and trams in the same lanes. If I make it back to NZ I will probably bite the bullet and rent a car. However, for anyone who has not experienced the left side driving and is skittish about it, our New Zealand travel company is very good at arranging the transportation via buses, trains, cabs and boats all over NZ.
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