After our adventures at Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook, we leave the bad weather and we continue our road trip along the east coast of the South Island.
Oamaru is ‘a cool city’, they say in the Lonely Planet and indeed, when you go out, it turns out to be a hip but also a quiet town on the east coast of the Southern Island. Everything goes a bit slower, nobody seems to be in a hurry and they have a rustic neighbourhood with artisans, breweries and even a whiskey house right by the sea.
While walking by, we notice the terrace of the Scotts Brewing company, located right next to the sea. For $15 you can order a beer tasting set of five different types of beer. I will not describe them in detail, but four of them were tasty and the fifth was dark and tasted too much like coffee. Perhaps the malt from the fifth had just been burned a bit too far.
With a nice plate of Sputs (fries) and some sunshine on the waterfront, we enjoy our afternoon. And even the children are happy because they can eat fries and throw themselves on the colouring pages that are offered by the brewery. We love it! Afterwards, the kids can play for a little while at the nice playground and everyone is satisfied!
Oamaru is best known for its penguins waddling to their sleeping place on a nearby beach every night. You would think that Oamaru would be ideal to observe the colony and the animals. But of course, it is not a secret. So they put a fence around the area and you have to buy a ticket to get in and observe the penguins. It is good that the number of tourists is limited, but it all feels unnatural and too touristy. That’s why we decide to ignore this and we hope to spot penguins somewhere else in New Zealand.
We do decide to take a short walk over the long pier of Oamaru. And Yuna soon discovers her first little blue penguin! We feel lucky we have spotted them in a much more satisfying way! Later on, we see a few more and in the distance, some sea lions are lying on the quay. For a minute we thought we saw an albatross but later, it turns out to be an Australasian Gannet. What a beautiful bird! Unbelievable that we can admire so much wildlife from the pier … What a natural wealth they have here!
Our next stop is Dunedin, a city proud of its Scottish roots, located on the beautiful Otago Peninsula. Wild, rough coasts and one of the places in New Zealand to spot wildlife! We are looking forward to it!
On our way to Dunedin, thanks to the WikiCamps app, we find a free campsite in Warrington. It is located close to the sea and half an hour’s drive from Dunedin. Ideal to be on time for our trip with ELM Wildlife Tours (check this article for a full report and many photos on our amazing tour).
ELM Wildlife Tour
At 3.30 pm we are picked up in Dunedin by minibus and we start our search for wildlife on the Otago Peninsula. There is only one place in the world where the albatross has settled on the mainland and yes … that is here. With a bit of luck, we get to see them, depending on the wind. No wind, no albatross. They cannot fly without the wind in their wings. Fortunately, we immediately get to see one that goes towards the sea. These birds have a wingspan of no less than 3m, the largest of their kind! Impressive to see and a big hit with the children since they have watched the Disney movie The Rescuers Down Under a lot!
Our next stop is the seal colony. The bus takes us through the breathtaking scenery of this peninsula. Our tour company works together with a farmer who grants access to his land. That way we can see the seals colony through a viewing hut. We are lucky because a lot of babies have just been born. Our kids can hardly take it all in. It is great to see these animals in the wild. Especially seeing the little ones playing around in the shallow pools is wonderful!
Penguins en sea lions
The highlight of this trip is spotting the Yellow-eyed Penguin, an endangered species. But thanks to companies and people such as our guides, they remain present in New Zealand. We are lucky and see two coming ashore! If one of the tourists suddenly notices an injured penguin, it’s all hands on deck. They decide to catch the animal and take it to the hospital in Dunedin. On our way back along the beach, the sea lions decide it is almost time to get up and we see them in their full glory! By the time the sun disappears behind the hills, we leave for Dunedin. What a day and how lucky were we with the weather!
Our visit to Orokonui Ecosanctuary
The Orokonui Ecosanctuary is a unique place. You can read everything on our visit and see more pictures of the amazing animals here. Over the centuries, some very special bird species have emerged in New Zealand. The birds had no natural enemies here, so a lot of them can’t fly anymore. However, during the last 2 centuries, a lot of predators have been introduced to New Zealand. Some by accident, some consciously. Animals such as the marten, rats, possums, … have spread throughout the entire country. As a result, a lot of birds are already extinct and many others, such as the famous Kiwi, are threatened with extinction.
That is why they have established this bird sanctuary. They have surrounded 307 hectares of forest with a two meters high fence, cleared the area of diseases and predators and replanted those parts where the forest had disappeared. And then they have reintroduced many endangered bird species and reptiles. The volunteers also do everything to keep out predators: traps, poison, patrols twice a day, …
Our tour through the valley
Thanks to the centre, we can do a tour with a guide, a volunteer because the funds are limited. The first bird we encounter is the Takahe who is threatened. It looks a lot like a chicken with a parrot’s mouth, but it is fascinating to see them! Hanne has a hard time with the cold windy weather but also enjoys watching these special birds!
Most visitors are attracted by the “Kaka” bird, which is also threatened with extinction and can only be found in New Zealand. Kaka means scream in Maori and it is one of the largest parrots. We are lucky because there are no fewer than three on the feeding platform! The sanctuary has also Kiwis, but unfortunately, you can only see them at night. Much to the disappointment of Yuna who is fascinated by them and is hoping to see one during our travels here. After walking a few more kilometres and seeing more birds and plants, we go back to our car.
Just in time because it starts to rain again. We quickly visit the steepest inhabited street in the world while getting totally wed and then continue our road trip to The Catlins.
And that rain seems to be the start for even more rain. The further we follow the coast, the rougher the landscape becomes. But that also applies to the weather. It is pouring! So we decide not to camp, but to look for a warm place in an old hospital in Owaka. Thomas’s Catlins Lodge and Campground turns out to be great fun! A beautiful old building, great common areas and nice and warm! From here we will explore the Catlins, the southernmost area of New Zealand!
At Nugget Point there is a lighthouse on top of a towering rock. And as always, lighthouses appeal to Heleen’s imagination. We saw a lot of beautiful pictures of Nugget point at sunset, so we decide to go over there just before the sun sets. The rain has stopped, so let’s go for it!
We are just in time (after spotting a sea lion that turns out to be a couple of tourists 😂) and see the lighthouse lying in the sun. But when we arrive at the parking, there is a sign that it is another 500 meters to the top… Heleen is already leaving at full speed because she still wants to make THE photo. 10 minutes later we are reunited and see that our mum almost has a heart attack from running up the walkway to the lighthouse… And that the sun is setting on the wrong side! Apparently, you have to be here at sunrise instead of the sunset! But we are alone and can enjoy a beautiful setting sun and an amazing piece of nature! Breathtaking again!
Purakaunui waterfalls – Slope point
The next day we continue our exploration of the Catlins. Along the way, all highlights are neatly marked and we stop at the Purakaunui waterfalls. The walk alone is phenomenal. We walk through an ancient forest, full of beautiful giant ferns. We arrive at the waterfall just in time before a large school group almost crushes us. Then we head back, just in time before the rain starts again!
After this magnificent walk, which unfortunately only lasts 30 minutes, we continue our journey towards Slope Point. The southernmost point of New Zealand. Fortunately, it just stopped raining again. A walk through a sheep pasture brings us to the cliffs, the wind blows hard and we have to hold the children so they don’t blow away. Neither of us has false teeth or we would have lost them. Anyway, we’re not going to get any closer to the South Pole (for the time being) … 4803km.
We stop at Waipapa point where there is an old lighthouse, which Heleen does not want to miss, of course. Again the wind is lord and master over this beautiful piece of rugged nature. If you ever come to New Zealand, don’t miss out on this area! Nature is at its best here! Now it’s time to leave the Catlins behind and head back inland towards Te Anau.
One of New Zealand’s postcards is Milford Sound! From Te Anau, you can easily reach this beautiful fjord. In Te Anau, near the lake, we find a nice campsite with a huge kitchen to use as a base. The only downside is that it is so cold at night, we have to ask for an extra blanket at the reception … Brrr …
Milford Sound is part of Fiordland. One fjord after another cuts through the landscape here, shaped by glaciers long ago. Milford Sound is the best-known fjord and most easy to reach in New Zealand. It is no less than 16 km long before it ends into the sea. You get to the beginning of the fjord via one of the most beautiful roads in the world, The Milford Road or Highway. From Te Anau, the journey takes about 2 hours and on the way, we see the natural beauty of the South Island again. After we have driven through a tunnel, the road gets steeper until we arrive in Milford itself. From there we sail on a cruise through the fjord with Cruise Milford (check here the full article on our cruise).
Luckily there is no rain today and we can sit on the outside deck of the boat. Just for a moment that is, because it is only 16 degrees and with the wind and water it feels even colder. But what we see along the way is breathtaking. Waterfalls coming down along the meter-high cliffs, a colony of sea lions, etc … And we get coffee or tea and cookies on top! The children are also allowed to take over the wheel of the ship, which is a winner of course! We sail all the way to the sea and then return. We are sad to leave the boat after 3 hours of sailing but we enjoyed it very much. Highly recommended!
Op weg naar huis bezoeken we nog enkele uitkijkpunten maar na een vermoeiende dag zijn we blij terug in ons tentje te liggen! Onze volgende stop is Queenstown, de hoofdstad van de avontuurlijke sporten en één van de basiskampen voor de opnames van de Lord Of The Rings trilogie!
On the way home or our tent, we visit a few lookout points. After a tiring day, we are happy to be back in our tent! Our next stop is Queenstown, the capital of adventure sports and one of the base camps for the recording of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy!