Kaikoura Peninsula from Mount Fyffe

The South Island

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!”

Wildlife

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.

Little blue penguin
Little blue penguin
Seal or sea lion?
Seals and sea lions
New Zealand fur seal
New Zealand fur seal

Of course being near the Royal Albatross Centre meant a great opportunity to watch northern royal albatross soaring on the winds.

Northern royal albatross
Northern royal albatross

Orokonui Ecosanctuary, near Dunedin, let me enjoy some animals that would be much more difficult to meet in the wild.

Takahe are critically endangered
Takahe are critically endangered
Otago Skink
Otago Skink

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.

New Zealand Sea Lions at Cannibal Bay
New Zealand Sea Lions at Cannibal Bay

Curio Bay, on The Catlins Coast, gave me my closest look at a yellow-eyed penguin.

Yellow-eyed penguin at Curio Bay
Yellow-eyed penguin at Curio Bay

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.

Lake Rotoiti eels
Lake Rotoiti eels

Weka are far from rare, and far from shy, but the only place I saw them was in Abel Tasman National Park.

Weka on Abel Tasman Coast Track
Weka on Abel Tasman Coast Track

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!

Landscape

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.

Te Waikoropupū Dancing Sands Spring
Te Waikoropupū Dancing Sands Spring
Te Waikoropupū Main Spring
Te Waikoropupū Main Springs

Besides Pupu Springs, the area around Takaka is full of bizarre landscapes, mostly involving rocks.  Labyrinth Rocks is a great example.

Labyrinth Rocks
Labyrinth Rocks
Labyrinth Rocks
Labyrinth Rocks

The Grove has some similar characteristics.

The Grove Scenic Reserve
The Grove Scenic Reserve
Passage to the lookout at The Grove Scenic Reserve
Passage to the lookout at The Grove Scenic Reserve

Rawhiti Cave introduced me to the amazing phytokarst!

Phytokarst at Rawhiti Cave
Phytokarst at Rawhiti Cave

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.

Rawhiti Cave
Rawhiti Cave

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!

Archway Islands
Archway Islands
Wharariki Beach
Wharariki Beach

An ancient rusting train wreck adds a unique character to the Pacific coastline near Haumuri Bluffs, south of Kaikoura.

Haumuri Bluffs Walk
Haumuri Bluffs Walk

Still more epic rocks contribute to Castle Hill‘s amazing landscape.

Castle Hill
Castle Hill
Castle Hill
Castle Hill

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes is particularly surreal.

Pancake Rocks
Pancake Rocks
Pancake Rocks
Pancake Rocks

Sawcut Gorge requires wading  as well as walking in order to enjoy its unique environment.

Sawcut Gorge
Sawcut Gorge
Sawcut Gorge
Sawcut Gorge

Of course Moeraki Boulders must be on any list of unusual places.

Moeraki Boulders
Moeraki Boulders
Moeraki Boulders
Moeraki Boulders

Tunnel Beach, near Dunedin, is a place as unique as any.

Tunnel Beach
Tunnel Beach
Tunnel Beach
Tunnel Beach

There are few if any petrified forests in the world like Curio Bay.

Curio Bay
Curio Bay

And then there is the merely gorgeous!

Mountains

I walked to the summit of two mountains.  The first was Mount Robert, in Nelson Lakes National Park.

Lake Rotoiti from Pinchgut Track
Lake Rotoiti from Pinchgut Track
Near the top of Mount Robert
Near the top of Mount Robert

Mount Fyffe offers great views over the beautiful Kaikoura area.

Mount Fyffe
Mount Fyffe
Mount Fyffe
Mount Fyffe

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.

Tarakohe
Tarakohe
Tarakohe
Tarakohe

The cliffs at Cape Farewell are spectacular, and the whole area features a wide variety of beautiful terrain.

Cape Farewell
Cape Farewell
Coastal cliffs on the way to Pillar Point
Coastal cliffs on the way to Pillar Point

The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway features a lot of unique rock formations and cliffs.

Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway
Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway

I was impressed with Cannibal Bay before I met the sea lions.

Coast at Cannibal Bay
Coast at Cannibal Bay
Coast at Cannibal Bay
Coast at Cannibal Bay

And Curio Bay would be a special place even without the petrified forest and yellow-eyed penguins.

Curio Bay
Curio Bay

Abel Tasman National Park is famous for its 5 days of beautiful coast.

Torrent Bay
Torrent Bay

And then there are the beaches!

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.

Bark Bay
Bark Bay, Abel Tasman
Abel Tasman Coast Track
Anchorage Bay, Abel Tasman Coast Track

I met no porpoises at Porpoise Bay, but I couldn’t be too disappointed.

Porpoise Bay from Florence Hill Lookout
Porpoise Bay from Florence Hill Lookout

Kaikoura‘s mountains are a spectacular backdrop for it’s beautiful beaches.

The beach in central Kaikoura
The beach in central Kaikoura

The number and variety of beaches around Kaikoura compels me to include at least one more.

Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway
Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway

Collingwood, like Kaikoura, backs up its beaches with a beautiful range of mountains.

Beach on Golden Bay
Beach on Golden Bay

Farewell Spit is 26 kilometers long with unbroken white sand beaches on either side.  That’s more than 32 miles of beach!

Whale bone on Inner Beach
Whale bone on Inner Beach, Farewell Spit
Farewell Spit
Farewell Spit Ocean Beach
Farewell Spit Ocean Beach
Farewell Spit Ocean Beach

Wharariki Beach!

Wharariki Beach
Wharariki Beach

Sandfly Bay!

Sandfly Bay
Sandfly Bay

Rabbit Island!

Moturoa / Rabbit Island, Tasman Bay
Moturoa / Rabbit Island, Tasman Bay

Have you booked your flight yet?

But wait, there’s more!

Cities

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 enhanced visually by the Steampunk Headquarters and the steampunk aesthetic which compliments a nice Victorian District.

Steampunk HQ
Steampunk HQ
Steampunk playground
Steampunk playground

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.

Friendly Harbor from Oamaru Skyline Walk
Friendly Harbor from Oamaru Skyline Walk

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.

Dunedin Railway Station
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.

2016-01-26, 07:18:50
Collingwood, 2016-01-26, 07:18:50

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.

 

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