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One of the most common challenges people face when planning a trip to New Zealand is how to divide their time between all of the beautiful destinations and sights. The average American traveling overseas finds themselves with a limited amount of vacation time, therefore many travelers decide early on that they are going to focus entirely on the South Island. This begs the question – “which cities do I visit, and how long do I spend in each one?”
The average length trip my colleagues and I plan for clients is 12 nights (which usually ends up being a 14 day trip when including travel time between the U.S.A. and New Zealand). It is my recommendation that travelers’ consider a three ‘stop’ itinerary; meaning you will experience three distinct areas of the South Island.
Dunedin – Queenstown – Nelson. If I was traveling to New Zealand for the first time, and only had 12 nights to spare, these are the three cities I would explore in earnest. And the beauty of New Zealand is that you can easily use the larger towns/cities as a base by which to explore the surrounding regions. Dunedin, Queenstown, & Nelson are no exception. Each place is special in its own right, and the regions in which they are located offer a surprising variety of culture, landscapes, activities, & wildlife.
Dunedin – Located on the Southeastern Coast of the South Island, is home to the Cadbury Chocolate factory, Larnach Castle (NZ’s only castle), Speight’s Brewery (one of my personal favorites), & the World’s Steepest Street (Baldwin Street). Dunedin’s heritage is strongly linked to its Scottish ancestors which is made very apparent in the Victorian & Edwardian architecture throughout the city. The coastal region near Dunedin is a bird lover’s paradise where Albatross colonies, Gannet colonies, and Yellow-eyed Penguins can easily be viewed.
Queenstown – Located in Central Otago, this alpine town has quickly become the jewel of New Zealand. Queenstown is best known as the ‘Adventure Capital of New Zealand’, but the truth nowadays is that there is something for everyone in this stunningly beautiful location. Sitting on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, and flanked by the towering Remarkables Mountain Range, this is one town you may never want to leave! Although one excellent excuse is to visit the must-see Milford Sound, in Fiordland National Park, located southwest of Queenstown. A four season destination, no matter what time of year, you will find an endless list of things to do and places to see.
Nelson – Located at the top of the South Island, next to the Marlborough region, Nelson is the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park, as well as the highly acclaimed Marlborough Wine Region. The terrain and climate are quite different from the alpine environment to the south. Nelson boasts some of the highest number of sunny days in all of New Zealand, which makes it a great place to visit if traveling during the New Zealand winter. From Nelson you can easily explore Abel Tasman National Park, which is well known for world class sea kayaking and hiking. If you like wine you will not be disappointed. Every year the Marlborough Wine Region receives further commendation as a true player in the wine world.
These are three destinations that I feel offer distinctly different experiences, but which also provide easy access to some of the most famous sites in New Zealand. There are of course many other destinations, cities, and regions to visit (not to mention a whole other island), so please contact Active Journeys if you would like assistance with travel planning. Call 866.643.2061 or visit us online at our website.
NOTE about our services - Fully Independent Travel (FIT) is for people looking to travel independently (i.e. not with an escorted group). Our itineraries are tailored to each person’s personal preferences. Active Journeys also handles group trips, as well as escorted touring for those interested.
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