This New Zealand travel company contacted me via emails within 24 hours of my inquiry to Zicasso about planning a 17-day fly-and-drive trip to New Zealand. The company's owner asked a few questions to get at our travel preferences in terms of what we like to see and do and any particular places that were of interest. A few days later we received a suggested itinerary that responded faithfully to our expressed preferences. We made no changes in the itinerary. Our trip was FABULOUS! The selection of B&Bs and hotels was just right, as were the transportation choices (air, car, train) within the country and the two expeditions (Milford Sound and Franz Josef Glacier) that were included in the trip. By going in late autumn we risked running into snow in Queenstown area (we just missed it!) but we also had fewer crowds. New Zealand's beauty is spectacular and we very much appreciated the friendliness of the people. We will definitely go back! We only needed to contact our travel company once during our trip (to secure some vouchers) and heard back immediately. We were very happy with this company and recommend them highly for a fly-drive trip.
A very good decision, at our travel company's suggestion, was to pay $800 extra for Premium Economy seats on the Air New Zealand flight from LAX to Auckland. Well worthwhile!
The most enjoyable and/or memorable parts of our trip were on the South Island, in particular Milford Sound; the drive from Queenstown to Franz Josef, our B&B and the Franz Josef glacier hike (albeit challenging!); and the Motueka area north of Nelson (including a boat trip around Abel Tasman National Park, a wonderful country house B&B, and a harrowing but beautiful drive over Takaka "hill" ).
On the North Island we enjoyed the Mt. Maunganui beach area near Tauranga; Coromandel Peninsula, especially our B&B in Whangamata, the beach at Hahei, a boat ride from Whitianga past Cathedral Cove (instead of the hike to the cove--an excellent decision). If you go to Rotorua, the Rotorua Museum is well worth the visit, as is the Okere Falls Track northeast of the city for its natural beauty and rushing waters.
We were disappointed in the city of Nelson on the South Island. From the guidebook we expected it to be filled with art galleries. That's not what we experienced. We did, however, appreciate the area northwest of Nelson.
We would avoid Rotorua, though we did very much appreciate the Rotorua Museum's exhibits on Maori history and culture. We found Rotorua commercial and touristy, even in the off-season, While the thermal areas are interesting, if you've been to Yellowstone National Park, you've seen what such natural phenomena are like on a grander scale.
Auckland was our last stop (we went South-to-North because it was a late May-early June trip), and the sprawl of the city and suburbs was a bit of a shock. The harbor cruise was lovely. We loved the black sand beaches of Karekare and Piha on the west coast, though the lack of highway signs once one gets off the major highways made the drive there and back challenging. Thank goodness for the hospitality of people at the gas stations who gave us excellent directions.
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