We got back from New Zealand a few days ago, it was awesome! I put up some pictures, feel free to check them out. You lose something in taking a photo, and then some more when you compress the picture for the internet, but they still are pretty cool.http://donglonewzealand.shutterfly.com
We had a blast and stuck to the itinerary you laid out pretty closely, except in the end we drove almost every day despite my initial concerns about feeling too rushed. I guess our early schedule allowed that, since we got on the road every morning around 8:00 AM, allowing us to do activities in a new location almost every afternoon.
The only change we really made was because it was rainy on the West Coast, we only stayed at the glaciers for one night. We also skipped the night at Hokitika (kind of cold for the beach anyway) and drove most of the day to Hanmer Springs. We had gained 3 days by this time (one less day in Queenstown too), so we stayed in Kaikoura two nights and Akaroa one night before ending in Christchurch.
So we ended up missing Arthur's pass, but Lewis Pass was beautiful, and we really enjoyed swimming with the dolphins and hiking around the seal colony peninsula in Kaikoura. We also liked Akaroa a lot.
I just thought I'd give you some feedback, your advice helped immensely. The weather cooperated for the most part, which enabled us to keep moving at a faster pace than anticipated.
You were right about Hanmer Springs not being that impressive, but the valleys there are beautiful and we only stayed there for hot springs one evening. Our big surprise was the dolphin swim in Kaikoura, a huge highlight that exceeded our expectations. I guess I was expecting an enclosed space with trained dolphins, not one-mile deep waters with hundreds of frolicking dolphins in the wild.
So for our 13 nights we ended up staying at Geraldine (first evening stopover), Mount Cook (hike Sealy Tarns track), Arrowtown (wine tasting in Cromwell and Brannockburn along the way), Queenstown (jet boat and rafting), Doubtful Sound (overnight cruise), Queenstown (gondola and hike Ben Lomond summit), Manapouri (arriving late afternoon), Fox Glacier (glacier hike and reflecting lake), Hanmer Springs (hot springs), Kaikoura (2 nights, dolphin encounter and seal colony peninsula hike), Akaroa (hang out and fresh seafood) and Christchurch (botanical gardens, explore city).
Thanks again, we definitely plan to go back some day to see the rest of the south island and the north island.