Highlights of the South Island, New Zealand

09 Feb

After our 2 weeks in the North Island of New Zealand we took the 3 hour ferry from Wellington to Picton. We spent 16 days in the South Island, making it as far south as Queenstown, and as far north as Cape Farewell.

We unfortunately had the bad luck of getting stranded overnight in the middle of nowhere due to a massive flooding, which made us change our route, and then had the bad weather for the whole time we were on the West Coast. Despite this we still managed to travel a fair bit and these were our highlights of our mini-tour:

Cape Farewell – Wharariki Beach

As we had spent a couple of days around Abel Tasman we decided to go all the way and drive to Cape Farewell. We had been advised to visit the beach of Wharariki, and so we went. From the car park it’s supposed to be around an hour an half there and back, however we got confused with the signs and ended up on a different trail through farms and going much further before realising we weren’t on the right track. Heading back we finally found the beach and despite the fact that the wind that had picked up and the tide had come in, something worth checking before you go, we still went for a wander as it was a very pretty area.

Wharariki Beach at high tide


Kaikoura was easily one of the nicest areas we visited in the South Island. Apart from offering dolphin and whale watching tours the area has penguin and seal colonies. The seals inhabit the rocks and shores along the whole coastline of Kaikoura and you can park up at almost any of the colonies to take photos. In one particular place we found you could freedom camp alongside them! In fact we had not gotten so close to seals since seeing them in the Galapagos Islands and it was truly refreshing to see people respecting the animals’ territories.

Okiwi Bay - seal colony with day care facilities

The fact that there are no restrictions, barriers or charges to see either really surprised me. I was amazed at how respectful locals were to their wildlife and how trusting they were of visitors. In my mind this was another big plus point for New Zealand.

Christchurch peninsula

We didn’t spend much time in Christchurch itself as a lot of the centre is still closed off to public access following the devastating earthquakes. As such we headed south east to the Banks Peninsula. With its little coves and beaches dotted along the coastline it makes for a pretty area to spend a few days. The weather seemed to be best we encountered in all our time in the South Island and there were plenty of little villages to explore.

The best thing we found was a free camping site on Lake Forsyth where we could spend the evenings watching the sunsets over the water and the mornings feeding the ducks and roosters, not sure where they came from but we had 2!

Lake Forsyth sunset


On a wet and cold afternoon we stumbled into Oamaru looking for the blue penguin colony we had heard about and were pleasantly surprised to find the centre of the town in full Victorian mode. From the buildings to the markets it felt like stepping back in time to the Victorian ages.

Oamaru - Victorian style street

Oamaru - steampunk building

After a walk around and with a hot coffee in hand we headed off to the blue penguin colony centre. Unlike the other penguin colony in Kaikoura this was a paid entrance as the centre basically looked after the penguins by providing them with nesting boxes and a safe area to lay their eggs.

So we paid our NZ$12 entrance fee and went in for a look. The blue penguins are the smallest in the world and at just 30cm tall they are also the cutest! Although again we had turned up during the day and the penguins weren’t due back until evening we got lucky and were able to see a couple hiding under the pathways along with a few nesting with their eggs.

Oamaru Blue Pinguin Colony - hiding under footpath

Duntoon’s Vanished World Centre

On our way to Queenstown we happened to stumble across the Duntoon’s Vanished World Centre, which promised a journey back in time. We didn’t have high hopes when we pulled up to the small little centre but thought as we’re here let’s take a look. The entrance was NZ$7.50 each and we learned that the centre was staffed purely by volunteers.

To be honest we were slightly disappointed when we entered the room, despite having a nice collection of artefacts and letting you get really close to them we thought, this is a bit small.

Inside the Duntroon Fossil Centre

We were just about to leave when I ventured into a side room with tables and chairs and what seemed like little plastic trays. Moving closer I took a look and saw sandy rocks and little picks beside them, I thought I wonder what this is for?

To my complete amazement it turned out that you could literally dig out your own fossil from a rock and then keep it as a souvenir! All of a sudden I had taken off my jacket grabbed a rock and pick and set to work. I turned to see my partner hard at work in a tray next to me and after a couple of failed attempts we started to dig out some shells.

We got so engrossed in it that before we knew it they were closing for the day. Having only gotten half way with my rock I was a little reluctant to leave as I thought, how am I ever going to finish digging it out? No sooner had I voiced my concern that one of the lovely guys gave me an old tool to take away with me. Pick in one hand and rock in the other I felt like the new Indiana Jones and spent the whole of the day trying to convince my partner to pull over so we could dig for fossils!


I had read about Puzzling World in a leaflet and decided it would be worth a stop. Consisting of a maze and several mind bending puzzle rooms we thought it a good way to spend an afternoon. You can choose to visit either or both together and we opted for both at NZ$16 each.

Wanaka Puzzling World

There are several different puzzle rooms from 3D optical illusions to a tilted room which plays havoc with your sense of balance and perception. Should these rooms not be enough to exhaust your brain you can always spend some time in the bar area where there are numerous puzzles laid out on the tables to entertain visitors, or should I say frustrate?

Wanaka Puzzling World - water going upwards

Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier

We had planned to do a walk on the Fox glacier and booked ourselves in, however as was the case with all our trips on the west coast the rain did not seem to want to relent and as such we ended up having to cancel, despite waiting 3 days in the area. The nice thing about booking with Fox Glacier is that you can cancel your trip up to an hour before, probably due to the fact that the weather there is so unpredictable.

Fox glacier

Franz Josef glacier

Nevertheless we did manage to go for a wander at the base of the 2 glaciers and as such decided to include them here, maybe next time we’ll get a chance to walk them…

Arthur’s Pass – Death’s Corner Viaduct

Ever since I saw a photo of the bridge leading to Arthur’s Pass I wanted to see it in person and it really is an impressive sight. The best view of the structure is from Death’s Corner Viaduct, a left turning view point just after the bridge when heading to Arthur’s Pass. From here you get to see the whole bridge in its amazing surroundings.

Death's Corner Viaduct near Arthur's Pass

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Posted by on February 9, 2013 in Uncategorized


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