New Zealand: guided or go-it-alone?

New Zealand is one of the easiest destinations to navigate but, when time is of the essence, should you opt for a guided tour or go it alone? Lee Mylne tackles Trevor’s question in today’s Travel SOS.

Q. Trevor
I’m planning a trip to New Zealand. It’s my first time there, and I’m not sure whether I should do a guided tour or travel by myself. Also, should I do both islands at once, or do you recommended one over the other? I’ll be going for two weeks.

A. Well, Trevor, you have chosen one of the best and most beautiful places in the world for your holiday! Of course, I am terribly biased when I say this. Yes, I am a New Zealander, so I’m sure I can help you out with this. I try to get back there at least once a year, both to work or to visit family, for my annual dose of ‘home’.

Now to some practicalities. Two weeks is a good amount of time, but you won’t be able to see everything. New Zealand may not be very big geographically, but it’s a country that packs a lot into that small space. You could spend one week in each island and still see a lot, or just concentrate on one island, North or South. I’m a North Islander, but the reality is that most Australians like to head to the South Island for the mountains and all that Lord of the Rings scenery. But the North Island has a lot to offer too, especially if you are interested in Maori culture or the geothermal attractions around Rotorua, in the centre.

Depending on where you are based in Australia, your flights might determine where you start your exploration of New Zealand. While most airlines fly to Auckland, in the north, some also fly direct to Christchurch or Queenstown, putting you right in the heartland of the Southern Alps. 

I am a fan of self-drive holidays, because of the freedom and flexibility it gives you, and it’s very easy to do in New Zealand. If you do choose self-drive, my best advice would be to ensure you have a map (or use a GPS) that will give you travelling times, not just distances. Unlike Australia, covering ground in New Zealand often takes a lot longer than the distance would suggest, because many of the roads are winding and only single-lane in each direction.

If, however, you are travelling solo, then you might be better off on a coach tour which will allow you to relax a bit more and let someone else do the driving. I took a South Island tour a couple of years ago with AAT Kings and it was great to be able to just gaze out the window and not concentrate on the road! If you decide to do both islands, this also saves you the (minor) hassle of organising the Cook Strait ferry crossing between Wellington and Picton. All that will be handled for you as part of your tour – or you might fly between the two islands as part of the tour price.  And as a first-timer, you can pick a tour that ensures you see all the major highlights of both islands.

I hope you have a fabulous time, Trevor! Your two weeks might not seem long enough, once you are there, but rest assured there’ll be plenty more to see if you decide to go back again. I’m still discovering new places after a lifetime of travelling around New Zealand.

For more information check out the Tourism New Zealand website Newzealand.com It also includes a list of coach companies that specialise in New Zealand, with links to their websites.

Do you have a travel question for Lee? If so, email your Travel SOS to [email protected] 

Written by Lee Mylne

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