For New Zealand you need a minimum of 5 weeks to explore the South and North Island. For a visit at the end of their summer I recommend the months of February and March. You should visit first the South Island and later the North Island. A visit to both New Zealand and the islands of the South Sea are not easily combined since you should leave New Zealand by the beginning of April and this is too early in the season for the South Sea islands.
Christchruch is the best starting point. Depending on the flight route, you will arrive at the International Terminal or you will have to change to a domestic flight in Auckland. Then you have to pass customs in Auckland and carry your luggage for 15 minutes outdoors to the Domestic Terminal and check in there again! From the Christchurch Airport (International Terminal) the "Cityflyer" bus (NZ$7 one way) runs to Cathedral Square in the city center. To catch the Cityflyer from the Domestic Terminal, walk about 100m to the left.
I recommend spending two nights in Camelot Cathedral Square Hotel first to discover Christchurch by foot and to relax in the Botanical Garden. You can use a yellow shuttle bus (free) to get an overview of the shopping malls in the city.
Orientation was hard for me in the beginning - everything is laterally inverted. The sun is in the north and moves from right to left. As a pedestrian you need to take extra care since you tend to look to the wrong direction first. With the rented car everything is also inverted - blinker, wiper, gearshift - however, driving on the left side of the road was not a problem for me.
To Maui car rental which is near to the International Terminal I had a ride from Cathedral Square by a mini bus who offered it for only NZ$ 5.
It is useful in New Zealand to buy a telephone card like the Kia Ora Card (NZ$ 5), where you have to rub free your PIN. Unfortunately the telephone usage is not explained sufficiently and you will find no one to explain it. You can make inexpensive calls from standard telephones but you will need a list of the local access numbers first since there are 3 ways to dial:
1. From standard telephones use the 7 digit local access number 9.. .... (7 NZcent/min)
2. From standard telephones use the 6 digit national convenience number 015... (17 NZcent/min)
3. From public telephones use the 6 digit national convenience number 015... (57 NZcent/min)
The process is as follows:
1. Dial access number and wait for advice of the provider.
2. Dial 10 digit PIN and wait for information of the balance.
3. Dial telephone number like 001 626 ... .... and # at the end, then follows the information about the rate.
For night accommodation BBH Budget Backpacker Hostels is a good possibility. The BBH Guide you can get at all information centers for free. Prices are mostly the same but the quality varies. You should always have a look first and then decide to stay or look somewhere else. One criterion could also be if there is a standard telephone accessible or if there is a public telephone only. With the BBH Club Card (NZ$ 40) you get a reduction in price of 1 to 2 NZ$ and at the same time you get a telephone card with a value of NZ$ 20. This is useful if you plan to stay mostly in back packers.
Two companies are linking the North Island (Wellington) and the South Island (Picton) across the Cook Strait. Bluebridge has a uniform pricing of NZ$ 150 for car and driver, Interislander has a varying pricing of up to NZ$ 250 depending on booking ahead.
Between Maui rental an the airport of Auckland there is a bus connection (free). Between the airport and Auckland there is a bus (NZ$ 15 single ride, NZ$ 22 two rides on any day) which passes most of the hotels (just tell the driver which hotel you want). In Auckland there is a red bus which runs every 10 minutes (free).
In the following I want to list the most interesting places and good accomodations along my trip across New Zealand.
Christchurch was the best place to start. Then I went to southwest into the center of the South Island across wide plains and had my first night with Patsy Croft outside Omarama, a nice lady having running a Bed & Breakfast but who only takes the rates for backpackers if you knock at her door as a backpacker. I passed Lindis Pass which was closed because of snow only 4 weeks later as I saw on TV on Rarontonga. In Roxburgh I had an excellent lunch in the only local hotel.
Then I reached the south coast by the Southern Scenec Route. The Catlins with Cannibal Bay, Curio Bay and Slope Point was a wonderful area. I passed Invercargill and had a stop in Tuatapere at Shooters Backpackers. After Te Anau I reached Queenstown with excellent environs like Arrowtown.
Wanaka was one of my favorite places. I stood at The Purple Cow that was fine but I was told Hollys Backpackers should have been even better. Short after Haast Pass I had the first view of distant Mount Cook and reached the West Coast. Then I visited Fox and Franz Josef Glacier. A special event was the stay in The Old Church near Kakapotahi with a wonderful fireplace.
Of the northwest near Golden Bay I only liked Kaiteriteri. In Picton I stood at Sequoia Lodge Backpackers. The ferry from Picton to Wellington is a fine experience and you can see dolphins. On North Island 30 km after Wellington at HW 1 I recommend to have lunch at Fisherman's Table. Then I had a fine stay at Wanganui in Tamaras Backpackers Lodge. Then I went along Wanganui River and came into rain at Tongariro National Park all along to Taupo. So I turned right to the Hawke Bay and towards the East Cape.
My next experience was in Whangara where the movie "Whale Rider" was made. I came around a curve over a hill saw a village and stopped besides a maori and took a photo. Then I asked the Maori if this is Whangara. Two sentences later he changed to German and told me that he is living in Tübingen 100km away from my home. He explained to me where to park and what to see in the village. Two days later I had the chance to watch the movie. Two analogies came up. The son of the chief of Whangara went to Germany after his wife's death when his daughter was born. Later in the movie the chief with his granddaughter on the bicycle came just around the curve over the hill where I stopped two days before and the view moved to the village as I had seen.
Near Tologa Bay I had a fine hike to Cooks Bay. In Tologa Bay Pacifika Backpackers and in Tokomaru Bay Brians Place were recommended to me but I did not pass at the time to stay. After the East Cape once more I wanted to go in the direction of Lake Taupo and again rain started when I came near Rotorua.
So I went to Coromandel Peninsula what was my favourite place on the trip. In Tairua at Beach Villa Backpackers I had a good stay and had the opportunity to see "Whale Rider". Next stop was Tatahi Lodge in Hahei. Around there are a lot of wonderful bays and beaches like Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove where I had my first swim in the Pacific. Next stop I had north of Auckland at Coastal Cow Backpackers in Mangawhai Heads. After Whakapara I went east of Northland Forest Park along the wonderful coast up to Russel, Bay of Islands and Paihia. In Waitangi (where the treaty was signed) I met by chance the chief whom I recognized by a movie I had seen.
After Kerikeri I went to Matauri Bay and some other wonderful bays and to Whangaroa where I had a fine stay at Sunseeker Lodge. Next was Cape Reinga and the remarable dunes near Te Paki where the buses leave the Ninety Mile Beach. The north west of North Island around Kaitaia and down to the Kauri forests is dangerous for car brake ins. I had a nice night's lodging in Opononi in the House of Harmony BBH. At Waipoua Forest I saw several up to 2000 years old Kauri trees and had a nice walk around while my car was at a guided parking place. At Baylys Beach near Dargaville the breakers of the Tasman Sea are so heavy that there is a warning for danger of life. Near to Auckland the Waitakere Ranges are worth to visit. Auckland itself I did not like so much for loudness, exhaust gases and hurry.