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Old 08-11-2014, 03:28 PM   #1
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Australia/New Zealand

Thinking of doing a trip "down under" and have done a fair amount of research on the web.

We would probably go on a tour hitting both countries - most of them seem to be in the 18 - 28 day range (actually 3 days less actual time there due to the long flights and international date line.) Most tours seem to go to many of the same places - some variation between different countries.

A couple of questions for those who might have made such a trip:

- How long was your tour and was it the right length? If you were doing it over again would you go longer or shorter?
- What are the "absolutely can't miss" places to go?
- I probably can't afford business class but would trade up to "Economy Plus" or whatever the respective airlines call it. From their web site, Air New Zealand seems to have a nice seating arrangement in that category. Anybody had any experience with either them or Qantas? (On the Qantas web site it appears you get more leg room but standard economy seats, unlike Air NZ.)

Anything else experienced Aus/NZ travelers might have to add would be most appreciated.

G'day.
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Old 08-11-2014, 03:34 PM   #2
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I had the same idea and am looking forward to learning more. The long flight is off putting. One idea I had was to take a repositioning cruise one way and fly the other way. Alternatively, one could interrupt the journey with a few days in Hawaii.
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Old 08-11-2014, 03:38 PM   #3
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I had the same idea and am looking forward to learning more. The long flight is off putting. One idea I had was to take a repositioning cruise one way and fly the other way. Alternatively, one could interrupt the journey with a few days in Hawaii.
Couldn't agree more about the flight. That's why the questions about Economy Plus. No way would I do that flight in regular steerage class. I've also considered stopping in the Philippines and/or Vietnam but I don't want the trip to get too long or too expensive. (I've already figured I could probably buy a decent car for what a trip like that would cost for me and my wife, upgraded air included.)
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Old 08-11-2014, 03:40 PM   #4
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I am looking forward to responses as well. Perhaps we should organize an early retirement.org tour! Just kidding!
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Old 08-11-2014, 04:03 PM   #5
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We spent last March and April traveling in New Zealand. I didn't find the flight from the US west coast to be too bad - we stayed a week in Hawaii on the way over visiting family, but returned home from Auckland in one day. But I'm used to economy class, it doesn't bother me much. We used Hawaiian Airlines, the least expensive option for us.

We rented a small campervan in Christchurch, and spent five weeks touring the South Island and three weeks touring the North Island. It was mostly an outdoors trip, hiking and biking and one kayak trip. Did it independently, but it's an easy country to travel in. We took our time, two months was maybe a little long, but we didn't mind staying a few days in some places. It also allowed us to see some of the less touristy places, although there really weren't many people around in the fall.

We also spent a month a few years back in Australia, which gave us time to see Sydney and Brisbane and then take a campervan up the east coast as far north as Port Douglas. I don't feel like I've come close to seeing the entire country yet.
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Old 08-11-2014, 04:03 PM   #6
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We went for 3 weeks. Qantas was amazing.
Sydney, Great Barrier Reef, Sydney, Air New Zealand, Christchurch, Sydney. We pretty much went from campground to campground in each country. I realize most would not do that, but we had a guide.

It is expensive. I have no idea what it cost. It was priceless.
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Old 08-11-2014, 04:16 PM   #7
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Highlights of our trip to New Zealand included Queenstown, Abel Tasman and Te Anau. We liked the South Island better than the North but North was great too. We liked NZ better than Australia. But highlight of Australia was Port Douglas and Great Barrier Reef. Air New Zealand was very good. Enclosed is some pics. It is quite beautiful! Have fun.
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Old 08-11-2014, 05:13 PM   #8
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Did not do a tour, but DW and I went to Oz and Fiji last year over the course of 17 days broken down as:

Fly (first day)
Adelaide - four days - went here for the Barossa Valley, mostly. Don't need to go back, but if you like wine, Barossa, Adelaide Hills, and McLaren Vale are all easily accessible. Cleland Wildlife Preserve was awesome as well.
Sydney - seven days - unbelievable, need to go back.
Fiji - four days
Fly (last day)

I would go longer if we could, but work dictated otherwise. I would recommend no less than a week in Sydney. We were there seven days, saw a concert and a show at the Opera House, ate at three of the top restaurants, toured Manly, Bondi, walked the city, Paddington's Market, the Rocks, etc. etc. and still had more we would've been able to do. It was exhausting, but exhilirating. We will go back, perhaps on our next trip paired with Melbourne.

(Fiji afterwards on the way back stateside to relax was the perfect call by me, by the way!)

I have never been one to pay for upgrades. It doesn't make sense to me to spend hundreds of dollars or airline miles to be just marginally more comfortable for a few hours (yes, even 12) of my life. DW and I aren't big people though, so that might be a consideration. She's 5'3", I'm 5'10". I've flown to Japan several times, Bahrain twice, Australia, and countless times across the country and never paid for an upgrade. I make it. Consider that on many overseas flights, beer and wine are free, which helps! Take a melatonin and sleep on the tray table! (I'm young, I still do this kind of thing!)

We flew Air New Zealand, and unfortunately because of our fare I was unable to claim Star Alliance miles for the flight from LAX to Auckland. (Then Auckland to Adelaide). NZ wasn't any different than United, et. al. as far as I was concerned. The flight was comfortable enough.

We flew Adelaide to Sydney - beware the fares you find online. Much like the US, they charge bag fees, but they are more expensive than the US (at least on Virgin Australia). No free bags... You might think you're getting a great ticket price, only to find each bag is AU$100.

In the vain of spending money on memories, if you DO go to Sydney, spend the money to do the BridgeClimb. Yeah, it's expensive, but it was pretty darn cool and worth it, IMO.

Happy to answer any other specific questions as that trip is still so fresh in my memory even after a year-plus.
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Old 08-11-2014, 06:19 PM   #9
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We did both countries by campervan too. Our only tour was a rail tour on NZ south island (husband is a rail fan).

NZ drivers are nuts, the roads are narrow and they seem to think if they honk before a turn in the road they can take both lanes and not slow down. The explanation given us was that the Japanese do not permit older cars so they replace theirs frequently and sell used cars in NZ. NZ roads were built for under-powered English vehicles. As a result NZ drive cars with more power than their roads were designed to accommodate.

My only issue with NZ nationals is how the deride their indigenous residents. Enough said.

When it came to planning our trip to AU we made a list of the places the bus tours went, then planned our route. I think we took at least a month and we did not make it to Perth or Darwin. The Gold Coast reminded me of FL, not our style. We hugged the east coast and loved the beaches. We happened on a camp ground with Cassowaries. Where to see Cassowaries in Australia | cassowaryrecoveryteam It may have been Etty Bay. If you don't want to swim inside stinger nets check the time of year for your trip.

There is a lot to see around Alice Springs.

Sidney should not be missed, a week is not too long (except maybe for your budget).
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Old 08-11-2014, 08:08 PM   #10
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This is a photo of sunset at Ellis Beach, Queensland. We were leaving Port Douglas after a day of snorkeling, and slept at this caravan park. You can see Double Island through the palms. We went into Palm Cove and ate dinner after taking this picture. Next day we drove to Cairns, returned the van, and flew back to Sydney.
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Old 08-11-2014, 08:22 PM   #11
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Poor me, I had to work just outside of Perth for a couple of years. Traveled back and forth about 5 times on Qantas. The real pain was the layover in Los Angeles, which stopped when qantas started direct flights from Dallas. Sydney and Brisbane were both nice, but they are still big cities. We liked Port Douglas, not Cairns, and of course Hamilton island. Loved margaret river area, south of Perth but that's another 6 hour flight across the country. Never made it to New Zealand, but Tasmania was on our list. I flew a couple of times coach, just get the two seats together, or get one seat on each side of the 4 seats in the middle aisle, and watch to see if the middle seats stay open. Also flew premium economy, seats are a bit larger, but I found the economy coach to be just as comfortable?? Air New Zealand has a coach seat that can be laid out into a bed if you get all three seats (for two people or kids) also might look at flying thru Johannesburg, do Kruger for a week, then overnight to perth. It's a long trip either way, but go, just go! Also if you have deep pockets, the Kimberly, a gorgeous unknown region, I never made it there either, Aus is a BIG country
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Old 08-11-2014, 09:05 PM   #12
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Forgot, I spent four days in Perth on a separate trip. Loved it. Similar climate and feel as San Diego, but not quite as much to do. It's in its own world. Maybe the most remote city in the world.
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Old 08-11-2014, 10:30 PM   #13
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We're signed up for the 2/9/2016 Diamond Princess "Ultimate Australia" cruisetour. I was also thinking premium economy on NZ Air. The sky couch thing looked pretty cool, though DW and I would probably be kicking each other in that cramped space.
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Old 08-12-2014, 01:26 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by friar1610 View Post
Thinking of doing a trip "down under" and have done a fair amount of research on the web.

We would probably go on a tour hitting both countries - most of them seem to be in the 18 - 28 day range (actually 3 days less actual time there due to the long flights and international date line.) Most tours seem to go to many of the same places - some variation between different countries.

A couple of questions for those who might have made such a trip:

- How long was your tour and was it the right length? If you were doing it over again would you go longer or shorter?
- What are the "absolutely can't miss" places to go?
- I probably can't afford business class but would trade up to "Economy Plus" or whatever the respective airlines call it. From their web site, Air New Zealand seems to have a nice seating arrangement in that category. Anybody had any experience with either them or Qantas? (On the Qantas web site it appears you get more leg room but standard economy seats, unlike Air NZ.)

Anything else experienced Aus/NZ travelers might have to add would be most appreciated.

G'day.
Been to NZ 5 times and OZ 2 times over the last 20 years. My recommendations:

NZ NI Ė Cape Reinga (great hikes), Tongariro National Park (Tongariro Crossing), East Cape Drive (from Opotiki to Gisborne), Forgotten Highway, Bay of Island, Lake Taupo, Lake Rotorua, Whangaroa Harbor, Wellington, Auckland.

NZ SI Ė Abel Tasman National Park, Picton, Queen Charlotte Drive, Mt. Cook National Park (Hooker Valley Track), Lake Tekapo (climb Mt. John), Lake Pukaki, Lake Wanaka (climb Royís Peak), Queenstown (adventure sport), Milford Road drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound, Milford Sound cruise (have done this three times), Milford Track hiking.

OZ (Iíve been to NSW, Victoria, and Tasmania) Ė Tasmania (Freycinet National Park, Hobart and Mt. Wellington, Port Arthur, Cradle Mountain National Park), Sydney, Melbourne, Blue Mountain, Grampians National Park, GOR (Great Ocean Road drive), Philips Island (to see penguins), Canberra.

My trips were usually 2-3 weeks in duration, and I usually just hit a specific area (e.g. NZ NI or SI, Sydney to Melbourne, etc.) doing hiking. Given the long distance and traveling time involved, trying to cram too many sights can be tiring, resulting in too much time spent traveling and not enough time seeing/appreciating the sights.

Best time to go is shoulder season in March/April. Locals are at work and prices/fares are cheaper. Weather is settled and warm. Xmas and New Year holidays can be a zoo, as the locals are all out on ďholidayĒ, so prices are high and accommodations can be hard to come by.

Best way to tour OZ and NZ is by car, but if you donít have experience driving on the wrong (left) side of the road, it can be intimidating and sometimes dangerous. Iíve done close to 20,000 km in OZ and NZ over the years, but every time I go there it still takes me half a day just to get used to driving on the left hand side of the road. Traffic accidents involving tourists regularly happen and often with tragic consequences, especially in NZ where roads are often narrow and twisty.

Driving time between sights in OZ and NZ can be LONG. For OZ itís due to sheer distance, as the country is massive. For NZ it has to do with the roads. Outside Auckland, NZ doesnít really have freeways; instead it has country roads (one lane on each side) with posted speed limit of 100 km/h. But due to the often narrow and twisty roads, Iíve found that one is more likely to average around 70-80 km/hr. So donít let the seemingly short distance compared to the US fool you. A 300 km drive from, say, Auckland to the Far North will take a good 4-5 hours non-stop, and that would be 4-5 hours of single-lane, often narrow road that twists and turns and goes up and down the mountain, which can be very exhausting (and dangerous if youíve just gotten off a long flight). Also, single lane bridges and passes and unsealed (local parlance for unpaved) roads abound, and these must be negotiated carefully.

In OZ, donít drive between dusk and dawn in Tasmania and the Outback. All sorts of animals come out at night and running one over will like damage your car (or worse). I almost ran over a Tasmania Devil driving at night near Port Aurthur (good thing I didnít as they are actually being endangered by some sort of facial tumor disease, which is killing them in large numbers. They actually serve a useful purpose because they eat and thus clean up road kills).

As for flights, itís 12 hours from LAX to Auckland, 13 hours from LAX to Sydney, and 15 hours from LAX to Melbourne. I usually fly premium economy on Air NZ. Itís about USD $3k from LAX to Auckland. Comfy seas and good service. I usually take the evening flight, sleep well, and arrive in the morning refreshed and ready to go. Air NZ also has this program that allows you to ďbidĒ for a premium economy seat a few days prior to the scheduled flight if such seats are available. The upside is that you will end up paying less if you win the bid; the downside is that you wonít know until the last minute if youíve won the bid. Iíve also flown Qantas in the cattle class a couple of times from LAX to Sydney. Service was fine, but I just didnít like the seats (too cramped for my middle-aged body). For Qantas, a premium economy seat will cost you about $4k to Sydney or Melbourne. I haven't tried that but will do so next year (I'm planning a trip to South OZ next April).

Hope this helps.

Lucky Dude

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Old 08-12-2014, 08:08 PM   #15
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I've been to NZ a couple of times (for a total of about 6 or 7 weeks), and Oz once for about 5 weeks. All of these trips were mainly by bicycle, with some local train, bus, ferry, & airplane travel. NZ has lots of natural beauty in a relatively small country. I'd like to return to NZ mainly to do more hiking (which they call "tramping"). The national parks and walking tracks are great. My favorite was the Routeburn Track on the South Island. When I did it, you could set your own pace. I'm not sure if that is still possible.

A few unusual things I saw were an albatross colony on the Otago peninsula near Dunedin, as well as a nearby Yellow-Eyed penguin colony. Both were very worthwhile.

Napier, on the North Island has a wonderful concentration of art deco architecture. Napier was rebuilt during the depression following a devastating earthquake.

I was a bit disappointed with the cycling in Oz except for Tasmania, which was superb. I also saw more animals in the wild on Tasmania than on the mainland. The cities in Oz, however, are great. Sydney is wonderful, but I also enjoyed visiting Canberra, Melbourne, and Perth. At the latter, Rottnest Island was a nice daytrip and perfect for bikes.

I would love to have visited Queensland and the Barrier Reef, but summer there is the rainy season and there was flooding in Queensland, so I avoided it.
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Old 08-12-2014, 10:53 PM   #16
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I spent a month in NZ in December 2006/January 2007 at the age of 30. Was one of the best experiences of my life!

My gf at the time and I rented a car and stayed in hostels, 2 nights in each city/town, and just circled both islands. We flew round trip from LAX to Auckland w/ stopovers in Fiji, on Air Pacific (a Fijian airline). On the way back, we somehow found a ticket on Orbitz that had a full 1 day layover in Fiji for the same price! Of course, we couldn't resist and had a small one day excursion cruise aboard a wooden boat.

New Zealand as a whole has the best scenery in the world, when viewing the country as a whole. Also, due to various curves, changes in elevation, and even weather (snow in winter and up in the mountains), it's best to measure driving in TIME, rather than distance. Don't look on Google maps, see two destinations are just 60 miles apart on a highway, and automatically assume you can drive it in just 1 hour. It could be 2 hours, or even more!

Here's my summary on each place we stayed in NZ, in order, from the start of the trip to the end:

Auckland - we drove straight out from the airport to our first city, but stayed in Auckland 2 days at the end of the trip. Fun city, saw a little of the beaches, general sightseeing.

Bay of Islands/Paihia - Great beaches. We took a day cruise on board a catamaran for dolphin watching and relaxing on a small island.

Coromandel - Another fun city, but be wary if you're driving and/or riding on the way there or leaving. If you get road sick from curvy roads, you better take Dramamine. Honest! I was fine because I was driving, but my gf had to take something to knock her out. Cathedral Cove has the famous massive rock in the ocean that was featured in the Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Coromandel also has Hot Springs Beach, where there is a massive hot springs underneath the entire beach! Just look for a tiny patch of warmth at the surface of the sand, dig down with your hands, and you'll have your own private hot tub. And that water can get quite hot - like 110 degrees+.

Rotorua - Where most of the famous hot springs can be found. We toured the thermal park Orakei Korako (Orakei Korako Geothermal Wonderland) and sat in the thermal mud pool at Hell's Gate (Rotorua geothermal attraction and Rotorua Spa - Hellsgate geothermal park and Mud Bath Spa). No, the picture of the two people spreading mud on each other had nothing to do with my decision to go there.

Napier - The sun's rays hit the earth first each morning at Hawke's Bay in Napier. Napier also has numerous wineries that I visited (along with a few other regions in NZ). They have a beach with tiny black pebbles for 'sand'. They're very smooth and gentle, and a neat thing to see.

Wellington - The country's capital. We just stayed here 1 night to catch the ferry.

Nelson - Went to Abel Tasman park. You could take a boat taxi into the park and drop you off at several points, to then walk back to the park entrance. There's a walking path along the shore, but it's behind trees for a good part of the way. You can pick a 3 mile, 6 mile, 12 mile or longer trek back. There are beaches at each place, and if you get dropped off farther into the park and change your mind, you can wait at one of the beaches for the water taxi to make its periodic stop to pick you up. Great scenery in the park, as it's minimally developed.

Franz Josef - did the Franz Josef glacier hike. Awesome experience! Also spent New Year's Eve hanging out at the hostel with other random travelers, enjoying some Bailey's Irish Creme as we rang in the new year.

Haast Pass - The Blue Pools of Haast Pass is a neat place to stop at for 30-60 minutes (or more!) on the way to Queenstown.

Queenstown - I had my first horse riding experience with a ranch. Great views of the bay and hills from practically anywhere in the city.

Te Anau - A city right on the edge of the water. We took kayaking trips to Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound from here. The Milford Sound kayaking trip was awesome! The Doubtful Sound trip is more weather-dependent (it rained). The company we booked with had a website "guarantee" of a refund if you aren't able to kayak due to weather. But during the trip, they don't mention their guarantee if the weather is bad. You have to take a bus then a boat to reach Doubtful Sound. After riding on the boat for an hour and a half, they declared the trip 'cancelled' and at first weren't going to refund anything (to a group of about 30 people). Some people merely accepted it, while others complained. Then, the tour people offered free vouchers to those that were still complaining. Some still refused, and even showed the company where they promised refunds if the trip was cancelled due to weather. The tour company then finally reluctantly agreed to refund the money to the few that stuck to their guns, as the company originally had promised to do.

Invercargill - The very Southern tip of South Island. Could possibly take a ferry to Stewart Island, but I think we just walked around, and walked to the lighthouse at Nugget Point
SSR - Tokata Lighthouse at Nugget Point - Picture of Southern Scenic Route, Invercargill - TripAdvisor

It doesn't look daunting, but the final path leading all the way up to the lighthouse is narrow, without a huge amount of land on either side. The bridge/path does have a rope to hold on to, and you'll want to - the wind is so strong and constant that the bushes and brush actually grow at a 45 degree angle! As do some of the trees in and around Invercargill. We also saw a few penguins and there was even a beach where you could sneak up into a special viewing box to hope to see some seals on the beach about 200 ft away.

Christchurch - Modeled after the Christchurch in England, one of the more 'modern' cities in NZ. Don't know what it's like now since the earthquake.

Auckland - In addition to simply exploring around, we also visited the Waitomo Caves, which have thousands of tiny glow worms.

Remembering to drive on the left hand side of the road wasn't as difficult of a challenge as I feared. Also, New Zealand is so spread out, that once you're out of the 3 largest cities (Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch) you really hardly see very few people on the roads. Everyone is friendly, and their signage is pretty decent and easy to get around. It's a place I'm definitely going to be going back to in the future.
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Old 08-13-2014, 09:49 AM   #17
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Thanks to all who responded. A lot of good information here to sort through.

For nash031: I hear ya' about not wanting to pay for a little bit more room on the plane. Never done that before but at age 69, 6'1" (a lot of it in the legs) and too many years of flying uncomfortably (including those lovely web seats on C-130's and C-141's in addition to cramped coach class commercial flights) it's time to spring for a bit more room. My longest ever flight was a MAC contract (i.e., commercial) from Travis AFB to Clark AFB in the Philippines with a brief fuel stop on Wake to get to my first Navy assignment. 18 hours if I recall correctly. But I was 22, enthused about a new adventure and I don't recall it being that bad. That would probably kill me today.
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Old 08-13-2014, 10:21 AM   #18
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I was researching NZ too, never been.

Has anyone tried their rail passes?

Seems like a lot of spectacular train journeys and the pass would also include the ferry between NI and SI.

Went to Sydney for a week 4 years ago, between Christmas and New Years. I think the exchange rate was worse back then than it is now. Was expensive, London expensive.
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Old 08-13-2014, 11:58 AM   #19
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I was researching NZ too, never been.

Has anyone tried their rail passes?

Seems like a lot of spectacular train journeys and the pass would also include the ferry between NI and SI.

Went to Sydney for a week 4 years ago, between Christmas and New Years. I think the exchange rate was worse back then than it is now. Was expensive, London expensive.
Here's the link to the NZ railway network:

New Zealand Rail Bus Ferry Travel | New Zealand Train Rail Bus Coach Travel Services | NZ National Rail Train Bus Coach Ferry Network | NZ Rail Train Bus Coach Ferry Routes Lines System

There are only 3 passenger train services: Auckland to Wellington, Picton to CHCH, and CHCH to Graymouth.

If you take the ferry across the strait (NI to SI,) you will disembark at Picton, and from there you can take the train to CHCH. The service from CHCH to Graymouth is called the Trans Alpine. It goes through Arthur's Pass (one of three passes that link the east and west coasts of SI across the Southern Alps), and it's justifiably the most spectacular train journey in NZ.

The other two train services are ho-hum. They get you from point A to point B, but the scenery isn't particularly remarkable.

Beware that if you take the ferry from Wellington to Picton (and vice versa), some rental car agencies won't let you take the rental car across the strait. Also the ride can be choppy due to high waves.
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Old 08-13-2014, 04:28 PM   #20
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For nash031: I hear ya' about not wanting to pay for a little bit more room on the plane. Never done that before but at age 69, 6'1" (a lot of it in the legs) and too many years of flying uncomfortably (including those lovely web seats on C-130's and C-141's in addition to cramped coach class commercial flights) it's time to spring for a bit more room. My longest ever flight was a MAC contract (i.e., commercial) from Travis AFB to Clark AFB in the Philippines with a brief fuel stop on Wake to get to my first Navy assignment. 18 hours if I recall correctly. But I was 22, enthused about a new adventure and I don't recall it being that bad. That would probably kill me today.
Fair enough! I usually opt for the aisle seat back with the goats and chickens... at least I can stand up. But yes, at 37 I'm willing to tolerate that a bit more than when I'm 67 and hopefully have the means to pay for a little more space, you know?
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