In which Miles reflects on a summer on the South Island.
New Zealand’s South Island offers stunning scenery of all kinds, from mountains, lakes and rivers to rugged coastlines and ocean views and endless beaches. But I agree with a fellow traveler from Taiwan who said “The best is meet the wild animals!”
New Zealand’s South Island has a better variety of wildlife than most places I’ve been, and much of it is very accessible.
My favorite place was Ohau Waterfall Pool when the baby seals were present. I couldn’t have been happier that I returned to the area a couple of times and got to see them in mid-April, or that I shot enough video that I feel I was able to capture the experience.
The Otago Peninsula is an outstanding area for wildlife. The critters on Pilots Beach, just below the Royal Albatross Centre, are so unconcerned about the presence of humans it almost felt like cheating. There I got my best look at the smallest and cutest of penguins, and a lot of sea lions and seals as well.
Of course being near the Royal Albatross Centre meant a great opportunity to watch northern royal albatross soaring on the winds.
Orokonui Ecosanctuary, near Dunedin, let me enjoy some animals that would be much more difficult to meet in the wild.
The Catlins Coast is a wild place with lots of wildlife. Cannibal Bay allowed me to get up close and personal with a group of New Zealand sea lions.
Curio Bay, on The Catlins Coast, gave me my closest look at a yellow-eyed penguin.
I was not particularly anxious to pet them, like the little girl whose interest drew my attention to the New Zealand longfin eels she and her mother were feeding in Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lakes National Park, but I found them fascinating to watch.
Weka are far from rare, and far from shy, but the only place I saw them was in Abel Tasman National Park.
Many visitors meet several varieties of dolphins and whales, orcas, sharks, tuatara, kea, and kiwi, and undoubtedly many more cool critters that escape me at the moment, but I wasn’t so lucky this time. I’ll just have to try harder next time!
The South Island landscape is incredibly varied. I’m especially drawn to the unusual, and the South Island offers terrain from unusual to surreal and otherworldly.
Te Waikoropupu Springs are stunningly beautiful and surreal. Somehow the fact that they are so easily accessible makes them seem even more surreal.
Besides Pupu Springs, the area around Takaka is full of bizarre landscapes, mostly involving rocks. Labyrinth Rocks is a great example.
The Grove has some similar characteristics.
Rawhiti Cave introduced me to the amazing phytokarst!
The cave features amazing examples of phytokarst, a phenomenon in which mosses and algae and calcium work together to “grow” stalactites and stalagmites. These plants grow on the rock formations, and are constantly saturated with calcium carbonate, becoming part of the stalactites. The plants grow faster on the sunlit side, causing the stalactites, and stalagmites, to grow toward the light.
The landscape at Wharariki Beach is epic and amazing, and in addition to incredible rock formations offers beautiful beach, sand dunes and rock pools full of life – and so many seals I had to be careful not to step on one!
An ancient rusting train wreck adds a unique character to the Pacific coastline near Haumuri Bluffs, south of Kaikoura.
Still more epic rocks contribute to Castle Hill‘s amazing landscape.
Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes is particularly surreal.
Sawcut Gorge requires wading as well as walking in order to enjoy its unique environment.
Of course Moeraki Boulders must be on any list of unusual places.
Tunnel Beach, near Dunedin, is a place as unique as any.
There are few if any petrified forests in the world like Curio Bay.
And then there is the merely gorgeous!
I walked to the summit of two mountains. The first was Mount Robert, in Nelson Lakes National Park.
Mount Fyffe offers great views over the beautiful Kaikoura area.
Amazing Cliffs and Coastline
Rocks, cliffs and trees are the stars of my favorite bits of New Zealand coast.
The coast around Tarakohe, on the east end of Limestone Bay, features a lot of the kind of rock formations you can see below.
The cliffs at Cape Farewell are spectacular, and the whole area features a wide variety of beautiful terrain.
The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway features a lot of unique rock formations and cliffs.
I was impressed with Cannibal Bay before I met the sea lions.
And Curio Bay would be a special place even without the petrified forest and yellow-eyed penguins.
Abel Tasman National Park is famous for its 5 days of beautiful coast.
And then there are the beaches!
Abel Tasman National Park is best known for offering visitors beach after beach after beach of white sand and clear blue waters. If one is too crowded for your liking – if there is anyone else there at all – you can just walk on, and soon enough you’ll find a stunning playa all your own.
I met no porpoises at Porpoise Bay, but I couldn’t be too disappointed.
Kaikoura‘s mountains are a spectacular backdrop for it’s beautiful beaches.
The number and variety of beaches around Kaikoura compels me to include at least one more.
Collingwood, like Kaikoura, backs up its beaches with a beautiful range of mountains.
Farewell Spit is 26 kilometers long with unbroken white sand beaches on either side. That’s more than 32 miles of beach!
Have you booked your flight yet?
But wait, there’s more!
New Zealand is a young country, and you don’t come here for the cities. But there are a few that offer some very pleasant surprises.
Oamaru is home to a colony of little blue penguins, and lots of friendly people. It is one of the particularly relaxed cities in New Zealand. In my ~2 weeks there I came to feel a bit like a resident.
Dunedin is a bit busy in the center, but there you’ll find some of the country’s more interesting buildings, including the most photographed building in the country, The Dunedin Railway Station.
The outskirts are much more rural and lovely, and of course offer great access to the wonderful Otago Peninsula.
Collingwood is relaxed and friendly with a slow pace and and incredible setting.
These are some highlights, but I saw many more beautiful and amazing things on the South Island. This post lists some of the things I didn’t see, and that list contains some major attractions that most tourists would never miss (I had seem many of them before, and will again).
Four mouths on New Zealand’s South Island made for, without a doubt, the best summer I’ve ever spent.