New Zealand Feb 2019 itinerary finalizing help

Dec 6th, 2018, 10:07 AM
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New Zealand Feb 2019 itinerary finalizing help

As I have posted before, my wife and I are travelling to NZ for the month of Feb. We join some friends in Nelson for the start of the trip, go with them to Christchurch, and when they fly home we are off by ourselves. Here is our tentative itinerary and any comments are most welcome:

Jan 30: arrive Nelson (lodge by ourselves)
Jan 31-Feb 3: Nelson with friends; Abel Tasman hike/kayak, Nelson sights,
Feb 3-5: Christchurch: explore Blenheim on way down, Kaikoura, and Christchurch
Feb 5-6 Aoraki/Mt. Cook: actually staying in Twizel for 2 nights
Feb 7: Oamaru: Blue Penquin colony, Victorian District
Feb 8-9 Dunedin/Otago: Moeraki Boulders, Fleur's Place, gardens in Dunedin, Otago Peninsula
Feb 10: Caitlans/Invercargill: sights along the drive
Feb 11: Stewart Island: trip to Ulva Island
Feb 12-13: Te Anau: trip to either Doubtful Sound or Milford Sound (open to recommendations as to which one and whether to go by coach or drive ourselves)
Feb 14-15: Queenstown/Glenorchy
Feb 16: Lake Wanaka
Feb 17-18: Franz Joseph
Feb 19: Hokatika: Gorge Walk, Wildlife Sanctuary
Feb 20-21: Wesport: Oparara Basin, explore area
Feb 22: drive to Picton/ferry to Wellington
Feb 23-24:Wellington
Feb 25-26: Tongariro ( do Tongariro Alpine Crossing)
Feb 27:Rotorua
Feb 28: drive to Auckland for 7:30pm flight to San Francisco

Questions I wonder about: should we consider 3 nights in Dunedin or Te Anau? Is it necessary to stay in Hokatika and Westport? Any thoughts as to sights in the areas listed or other areas to visit? We love to do day hikes and have read recommendations on this forum as to some good ones in places we plan to visit but additional thoughts are welcome.

Thanks in advance!!!!
freediver is online now  
Dec 6th, 2018, 04:22 PM
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I don't think you need to spend the night in Hokitika. When I first looked at your itinerary, I thought you needed an extra day/night for the Catlins or Stewart Island and I was wondering what could be cut. Or you'd have to cut Stewart Island and take that night you'd be spending in Invercargill and spend it in the Catlins instead.

If you cut Hokitika, the drive from Franz Josef to Westport will take a minimum of 3 hours, 40 minutes, but, really, this will be an all day drive as you'll be visiting attractions along the way. You'll need to allot a little more than 1.5. hours to enjoy Hokitika Gorge--35 minutes to drive there from Hokitika town, 30 minutes to enjoy the gorge, 30 minutes to drive back to Hokitika. The loop back to Hokitika that also takes in Lake Kaniere is nice (but not a must). As you'd be short on time, I'd skip the loop that also takes in Lake Kaniere. You'd also need to allot 1.5 hours to Punakaiki, which would allow you see Pancake Rocks, though the addition of Punakaiki's other walks merit more time. Many people also stop at photogenic Motukiekie Beach, located between Greymouth and Punakaiki; this beach is accessible at low tide. If it were my first time trip to the South Island, I'd spend a night in Punakaiki or nearby Barrytown to enjoy Punakaiki's walking tracks. I love the Pororari River Track, which has just become part of NZ's newest Great Walk:
Melnq8 and others can advise you on the necessity of Westport, as I've only spent time there to visit nearby Cape Foulwind (lighthouse and walkway), to shop for groceries at Westport's New World Market and fill up on petrol.

Again, I would spend a night in the Catlins, if possible. Do you plan on flying or taking the ferry to Stewart Island? I wouldn't want to go to Stewart Island for just one day. If I were spending the money to get there, I'd at least want to spend the night. In my opinion, Stewart Island is a gem.

I would go to Milford Sound as you can drive there and the drive is spectacular, with many places to stop, get out and take photos and/or walk. You can travel at your own pace. You can't drive to Doubtful Sound. You must drive to Manapouri. From there you'll take a cruise across Lake Manapouri, then do a coach trip over Wilmot Pass, before you finally board your Doubtful Sound Cruise. Then you have to turn around and do the entire trip in reverse. It makes for a long and expensive day trip. I did the overnight Doubtful Sound cruise in off-season, and I thought it was too much to pack during such a short time.

Christchurch to Twizel will take a minimum of 3.5 hours, going the fastest way. But you'll want to stop at Lake Tekapo. I mentioned in your last post that this will be the peak of Chinese New Year holidays (CNY will be on Feb. 5) and busiest time for overseas tourists in general. So busy. Because of this you might want to take a photo of the church and working dog statue and then continue to Twizel. Normally, I would suggest driving up to Tekapo's Mt. John Observatory for the fabulous view, but it might be crazy-busy. I expect Aoraki Mt. Cook willl be busy, too, especially the popular Hooker Valley Track.

Twizel to Aoraki Mt. Cook village will take about an hour, but you'll want to stop at scenic viewpoints, making this a longer drive. While staying in Twizel, if you have time, drive to nearby Lake Ohau. Like Tekapo and Pukaki, Ohau is a glacial lake. Keep an eye open for special birds. This area is home to one of NZ's rarest birds and perhaps the world's rarest wading bird, the critically endangered black stilt, and home to other rare birds as well.
Black stilt | New Zealand Birds Online

Last edited by Diamantina; Dec 6th, 2018 at 04:40 PM.
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Dec 6th, 2018, 05:40 PM
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The drive from Twizel to Oamaru doesn't take that long, under two hours. However, again, there are some interesting places to see along the way, or at least not too far off your route. If you get going early, you can stop at Clay Cliffs, 10 km. from Omarama.

From Omarama, you'll drive through the Waitaki Valley to get to Oamaru. You can stop in Kurow for a wine tasting (pinot noir and riesling are the specialties). In Duntroon, I suggest you get off the main road (SH83) and take the alternative route to Oamaru. This will take you past Elephant Rocks and Island Cliff, then Ngapara and Weston (south Oamaru) and will only take a little longer. You might want to pop into the Vanished World Centre in Duntroon beforehand. At one time this valley was under water, fossils from dolphins and whales have been found here, a small example can be seen at the Anatini Fossil Site.
Vanished World Duntroon
Elephant Rocks | Waitaki New Zealand

In Oamaru itself, you won't want to miss Steampunk HQ in the Victorian Precinct.

Oamaru to Dunedin in my next reply.
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Dec 7th, 2018, 06:19 AM
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Freediver, where will you be spending the night of Feb. 11? Invercargill, Stewart Island or Te Anau? If you plan on driving to Te Anau after a day-trip to Stewart Island, you'll have two full days for Te Anau and Milford Road and Sound.

GIven all the places on your itinerary, and the fact that you are only spending one or two nights in each place,. I think 2 nights is fine for Dunedin/the Otago Peninsula. If stopping along the way from Oamaru to Dunedin, this will mean only one full day for Dunedin/the Otago Peninsula.

There's a bit to see between Oamaru and Dunedin. You could easily make a whole day of this drive, but I'll just mention a few highlights. You mentioned two attractions, Moeraki Boulders, which are on Koekohe Beach, and Fleur's Place, which is in Moeraki village. The turn-off for Moeraki Boulders is north of the turn-off for Moeraki village--please take great care at this turn. If parking in the free DOC parking lot, you'll need to walk 10 minutes down the beach to the boulders. Ideally, you'd be there at sunrise, when few people are around. I've never gotten up that early to be there at sunrise, but the photos look great.
I've only been there later in the day, when there are usually lots of people around.

You might want to drive out to Katiki Pt. Lighthouse while visiting Moeraki village. Please read the signs regarding wildlife viewing before walking through the reserve.

Fleur's opens at 10:30 a.m. Normally, you need to make reservations for Fleur's Place.

Immediately south of Moeraki is the long and beautiful, but often windy, Katiki Beach. At the southern end of Katiki Beach, you'll see a turn-off for Shag Point. The parking lot for Shag Point Reserve is only about a 5-minute drive off the main SH1 motorway. From the parking lot, you can take a short walk through the reserve to view fur seals and rare Otago shags on the rocks below. Shag Point is also an important geological site where many fossils have been excavated, among these the largest fossil ever found in New Zealand, a 7-metre long, 70-million-year-old fossil of a plesiosaur (a dinosaur-era marine reptile), which is on display in the "Southern Land, Southern People" gallery in Dunedin's Otago Museum. Shag Point also has its own collection of ancient big round boulders, the Katiki Boulders, only visible at low tide. To see them, you'd have to pull over shortly after you turn off SH1 and look down at the beach below, before continuing to the reserve.
Shag Point/ Matakaea Reserve | Waitaki New Zealand

Continuing to Dunedin from Shag Point, I'd recommend you get off at Karitane and follow Coast Road to Warrington. It's more scenic than SH1 and doesn't take much longer. Warrington has a lovely and popular beach. From Warrington you can rejoin SH1 to Dunedin.

Warrington sits on the north end of Blueskin Bay. At the southern end of Blueskin Bay, you'll have three choices: you can take the SH1 Northern Motorway into Dunedin (17 minute drive on SH1 from Waitati to the Botanic Garden) or you can get off at Waitati and take one of two winding but scenic backroads into Dunedin. The faster of these goes over Mount Cargill Road and descends to central Dunedin's North Road. North Road intersects with Baldwin St. (world's steepest street) and also ends at the Botanic Garden. This backroad drive from Waitati to the Botanic Garden would take about 25 to 30 minutes. The other route from Waitati into Dunedin goes past Orokonui Ecosanctuary and Port Chalmers before continuing into central Dunedin and would take slightly longer, not including a stop at Orokonui. In my opinion, some of Dunedin's most beautiful beaches are on this side of the harbor. Dunedin's beaches are best visited at low tide.

Where will you stay in Dunedin or the Otago Peninsula? It would be best to avoid staying in downtown Dunedin at this busy time of year. Downtown Dunedin traffic is heavy right now because of the constructing of cycleways, but you'll still want to see the Railway Station and walk up to the Octagon. You'll be in Dunedin on a Saturday, which is both good and bad. The good: you can visit the lively Saturday morning Farmers Market at the Railway Station. The bad: it's a Saturday, a day off for most Dunedinites. Plus, this is high season, with many tourists in town, including Chinese New Year tourists and cruise ship passengers (on Saturday day only). Will you be taking a wildlife tour on the Otago Peninsula or driving around on your own?

Last edited by Diamantina; Dec 7th, 2018 at 06:25 AM.
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Dec 7th, 2018, 09:34 AM
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Diamantina you rock!!!! Thanks for all your great suggestions. To answer a few questions: we do plan on spending the night of Feb 12 on Stewart Island which is why I wanted to stay in Invercargill on Feb. 11. With an early start that would give us a nice visit to Stewart Island.We plan on flying to the island which gives us a slightly earlier start and departure back.That way we can drive to Te Anau after our return flight for two full days there. Would you suggest staying in the Caitlins instead and if so where? I agree we are trying to take in a lot and thus moving around. What are you thoughts about passing up the area north of Westport to spend more time in the south; spending a night in either Punakaiki or Barrytown as you suggested. There seems so much to do in the Dunedin area I want to allot enough time, as well as all the other areas you have mentioned. Believe it or not we have not finalised our lodging so there is still room to maneuver a bit but I would like to secure things soon since I know they are booking up.
freediver is online now  
Dec 8th, 2018, 04:12 PM
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Hi Freediver. I just noticed you listed "wildlife sanctuary" under Hokitika. I didn't account for this in my suggestions. Did you mean the White Heron Sanctuary, 30 km north of Franz Josef? Tour times are 9am, 11am, 1pm & 3pm; the tours take 2.5 hours. Not sure of what your plans are for FJ (perhaps a morning helihike?) Maybe you can do the later afternoon White Heron tour while based in FJ. But if you're planning on doing the helihike, this would make for an action-packed, rushed, expensive day. I wouldn't recommend trying to fit both into one day. Besides, the helihike is weather-dependent.
White Heron Sanctury Tours
I just checked and the earliest departure for the FJ helihike is 9 a.m. Flights can be delayed or cancelled if flight conditions are poor. I just checked on the availability of Feb. 18 and all times are open. The excursion will take 4.5 hours.

From the White Heron Sanctuary to Hokitika Gorge will be 129.7 km or a 1hour 41 minute drive. So if you decide to overnight in Punakaiki or Barrytown, then you could fit in both the White Heron Sanctuary Tour and Hokitika Gorge if driving from FJ to only Punakaiki. If you stick with your original plan of staying in Hokitika, you'll have lots of time. Both Hokitika and Franz Josef have kiwi attractions. .
There are also wild kiwi tours out of Franz Josef into nearby Okarito Forest. The kiwi is nocturnal (normally, though you might see one during the day on Ulva Island). Okarito Forest is home to the rarest of kiwis, the rowi.
Okarito Kiwi Tours South Island New Zealand

It'll be a long drive from Wanaka to FJ, and there are many places to stop, most notable Blue Pools off Haast Highway and Lake Matheson, some kilometres out of Fox Glacier village.

As I wrote before, my knowlege of the Westport area is limited. But if you cut it from your intinerary, you will have the time you need to spend a night in the Catlins or add a night to Wanaka, where there are many hiking trails (walking tracks). Mt. Aspiring National Park can also be accessed from Wanaka via Wanaka-Mt. Aspiring Road (which goes through the beautiful Matukituki Valley; it's a nice drive, partly unpaved. some rental cars are not allowed beyond the Treble Cone turnoff).
DOC links:

Te Anau is not only a good base for trips to Milford Road and Sound, but has attractions of its own, such as glowworms, the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary (free). The Kepler Track, one of NZ's Great Walks, is close. You can walk part of it.

Milford Road links:

I'll offer suggestions for the Catlins in a separate post. I'd recommend staying in Porpoise Bay, which is adjacent to Curio Bay.
Official website for the Catlins, New Zealand

Last edited by Diamantina; Dec 8th, 2018 at 04:28 PM.
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Dec 9th, 2018, 04:21 AM
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I thought I had edited this last post, but I guess it didn't happen. Meant to write:
Mt. Aspiring National Park can also be accessed from Wanaka via Wanaka-Mt. Aspiring (Matukituki) Road. It's a pretty drive, but some rental cars are not allowed to be driven "beyond the Treble Cone access road turn off".

Will follow up soon with Catlins, Dunedin/Otago Peninsula suggestions.
Diamantina is offline  
Dec 9th, 2018, 02:43 PM
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I've contacted the moderator about removing duplicate post #7. There seems to be a glitch in the system.
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Dec 15th, 2018, 06:30 AM
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Freediver, sorry for this delay for Dunedin tips. As it's been a while, I hope you'll be checking this post. You're right, there's lots to see and do in Dunedin/the Otago Peninsula, as it offers both urban and natural attractions. Of course, there's no shortage of natural attractions in NZ, which is why, despite my fondness of Dunedin, I suggested just spending two nights here. I live here, so forgive me if I get carried away with suggestions.

During bad weather, which I hope you won't need to think about in February, the city offers interesting indoor activities, particularly as you enjoy museums.

One full day isn't much, so you'll have to hone in on what to see and do. My guess is you'd want to spend your full day on the Otago Peninsula, seeing things on your own or on a tour. (Detailed suggestions ahead.)

You can also enjoy a few attractions on your first partial day, after driving from Oamaru. If the weather is fine, depending on the route you take and the time, you might want to stop at Orokonui Ecosanctuary or Dunedin Botanic Garden, which is close to Baldwin Street, the world's steepest residential street, which you might as well see, too, though you might want to just look at other people walking up it. An early city planner in 1862 laid out Baldwin Street as part of city grid, without consideration for the steepness of the terrain.

Orokonui Ecosanctuary closes at 4:30 p.m. With little time to walk around, it wouldn't be worth paying admission to the ecosanctuary itself (particularly as you'll probably visit Wellington's Zealandia Ecosanctuary), however, it's free to go into the Visitor Centre, which has a cafe and great terrace views. The drive from Waitati to Orokonui then down to Port Chalmers, though often winding, has lovely coastal views.

Admission to the city's 28-hectare (69-acre) Botanic Garden is free. It's NZ's oldest public garden and beautiful, being most colorful in late winter and spring, but still nice in summer and autumn. It has both lower and upper gardens, with the former being entirely landscaped (with ponds, building and sculptures), and the latter both landscaped or seemingly left in a natural state. To get from one to the other, you'll cross a Water of Leith footbridge and walk up (or down) through the arboretum. There's lots of birdlife, both in the aviary and flying around freely, among these, common native birds such as fantails, silvereyes, kererus, bellbirds (pretty song) and tuis (mesmerizing vocalizations). The best place to hear and see kererus, tuis and bellbirds is in the upper garden. The garden has free parking. Map here:
There are good city views from nearby Signal Hill.

Other non-Otago Peninsula attractions that might interest you:
Tunnel Beach Track. This short steep track has great ocean views, interesting rock formations, and a tiny beach through a hand-carved sandstone tunnel.

Tunnel Beach is at the southern end of Dunedin, about a 10 minute drive from St. Clair Beach, the city's most popular beach. The St. Clair Esplanade has restaurants, cafes, accommodation, a surf school and a Saltwater Pool. St. Clair is contiguous with St. Kilda Beach; the two beaches together are 3 km. long. Two other city beaches are close to St. Clair Beach, Tomahawk Beach and lovely Smails Beach, located at the start of the Otago Peninsula. Smails is quite near Center Road, which will leads to the peninsula's Highcliff Road.

The city's "indoor" attractions include the Otago Museum, Toitu Settlers Museum, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Speight's Brewery, Emerson's Brewery, New New New Brewery (only open on Fridays), Olveston House, and the Dunedin Railway Station, NZ's most photographed building and home to the Taieri Gorge Railway and the Saturday morning Otago Farmers Market (open only on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.). Unless you'll be staying on the Otago Peninsula, try to visit the Saturday morning Farmers Market. Most of these city attractions are within walking distance of one another.

The Otago Museum is a excellent midsize regional museum. Its "Southern Land, Southern People" gallery offers an overview of Otago's natural and cultural history. Contents include a plesiosaur fossil, NZ's largest fossil, excavated at nearby Shag Point, and NZ's most comprehensive articulated moa skeleton collection. The Animal Attic and Maritime galleries will take you for a trip to the Victorian past. The small Tangata Whenua (Maori for "people of the land") gallery has a few choice carvings and displays about early local Maori communities, such as those that were at Moeraki and Shag Point. There's also a planetarium (admission charged). The museum is about a 15-minute walk from the Octagon, and across the street from the University of Otago campus (which has a beautiful clock tower).

Also excellent, Toitu Museum, next to Dunedin Railway Station, tells the history of human migration into Otago, from the first Maoris to present day immigrants. After visiting the Railway Station's Saturday morning Farmers Market, try to spend a little time here.

Located at the Octagon, the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, NZ's first public art gallery, is not large but also worth seeing.

All three museums are free.

Otago Peninsula highlights include:
Taiaroa Head, home to a lighthouse, Fort Taiaroa, Pukekura Blue Penguin tours, and the Royal Albatross Centre, the Southern Hemisphere's only mainland albatross colony. It's a small colony. Visitors view northerrn royal albatrosses from an enclosed hide that also has a video screen focused on a nest (it may be the same as the 'Royal Cam"). Sometimes the nests are close to the hide, sometimes they're not (they're unpredicatable wild birds). Northern royal albatross chicks hatch at the end of January through the beginning of February. You can also view the albatross flying overhead without touring the centre just by standing outside of it, but you wouldn't see nests.

Larnach Castle and Gardens.

Glenfalloch Gardens.

Beaches, among these Allans Beach and Sandfly Bay, which are good beaches for walking and viewing wildlife. Beaches are best visited when it's close to low tide and are widest. Of course, sunny days are better, too.

Walking tracks, among these Sandymount and Okia Reserve. You'll need to do a bit of gravel-road driving to get to these.

The Monarch Cruise (harbour cruise). Warm jackets and binoculars are provided. I've taken this cruise three or four times (I like being out on the water). It starts from the peninsula's Weller Rock and sails just beyond Taiaroa Head.

Penguin Place. A large working farm and conservation reserve that also has a penguin rehab center. I've taken their tour three times. On one occasion when I visited the rehab center, there were 87 penguins of various species being cared for. It was a very difficult year for the Yellow Eyed Penguins (avian diphtheria, barrracouta attacks, little food).

You could visit a beach, walk a track, and tour one or more of the attractions on a one-day visit of the Otago Peninsula.

If you don't feel like driving around on your own or just want to take a good wildlife tour, I recommend the Elm Peninsula Wildlife Tour, a small group tour that offers an overview of Otago Peninsula environments and wildlife. If catching the tour from the city, they'll start by driving on the peninsula's scenic high road, Highcliff Road, then along the scenic harbor-clinging road, Portobello Road. Both roads are winding and in some places narrow. Reviews here:

Those staying on the peninsula join the tour at Portobello. The tour stops at Hoopers Inlet to view wading birds, Taiaroa Head to view endangered Northern Royal Albatross, and finally to a private farm with endangered Yellow Eyed Penguins (Maori name, hoiho), critically endangered NZ Sea Lions, and a large colony of NZ Fur Seals (mostly females with pups). If penguin chicks are around (they fledge late Feb.), they'll take you to a hide, where you might be able to view them up-close, but they can't see you.

Normally, you should never go near nests or penguins, as you'd frighten the chicks and parents returning to feed them. Many won't swim ashore if they see people on the beach. Instead the adults might keep swimming around waiting for you to leave, becoming exhausted; this means the chicks will go without food.

Penguins, seal lions, and fur seals return to land to rest, breed, feed their young. Wildlife viewing rules are often flaunted at free public wildlife viewing sites, such as Katiki Point Lighthouse and Curio Bay. The Elm tour is a more responsible way of viewing wildlife, without causing harm. The guides are knowledgeable, conscientious and passionate about their work, and because the wildlife is on a private farm, you wouldn't be sharing the experience with many. The last time I was at Curio Bay, there were about 200 people waiting for the hoiho swim ashore.

If you take the Elm tour, bring water, snacks, and some warm layers for when it gets colder later. Elm also offers combo tours with the Monarch Cruise and the Royal Albatross Centre. I've done the Elm tour three times, once paying extra to do the Royal Albatross Centre add-on. I felt the albatross tour was a little rushed, as I ended up having to catch up with a group as they were entering the hide. I missed the introductory talk. On my previous visit of the Royal Albatross Centre (not as part of the Elm) I elected to also tour Fort Taiaroa, which was built in defense against the Russians. In other words, I think, if interested doing the Royal Albatross Tour, do it separately. The Elm Peninsula Encounters Tour would pick you up or meet you at about 3 p.m. (in February).

From Dunedin to the Catlins, follow the Southern Scenic Route (SSR).

Last edited by Diamantina; Dec 15th, 2018 at 06:55 AM.
Diamantina is offline  
Dec 17th, 2018, 12:45 PM
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Diamatina thanks so much for the outstanding suggestions on Dunedin/Otago. I have followed your advice and made some changes to our itinerary:

After Aorki/Mt. Cook and Oamaru....
Dunedin: 2 nights
Catlins: 1 night
Invercargill: 1 night
Stewart Island: 1 night
Te Anau: 2 nights
Queenstown: 2 nights
Wanaka: 2 nights
Franz Joseph: 2 nights
Punakaiki: 2 nights

We will then drive to Picton and ferry to Wellington for 2 nights there, two nights in Tongariro. Not sure about Rotorua yet. Any thoughts on the north Island would be wonderful (we have one free night at this point before we head for home at 7:30pm on Feb 28). In Dunedin I have already planned on going with Elm Tours (the basic tour) and probably hitting Lanarch Castle and the Albatross Center. We are staying in Portobello for our two nights in the area.Depending on how long we take from Oamaru to Dunedin we will visit the city proper as things evolve.
Don't know if it's allowed but we wold love to buy you dinner or a drink when we are in Dunedin!! Thanks again for all your help.
freediver is online now  
Dec 17th, 2018, 05:52 PM
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Hello to Diamatina and all of your good advice. I read with interest your description of the tours at Otago Peninsula. I will be traveling only one day in that area with my family in January and we are eager to see Blue Penguins as well as YEPs. I have signed us up for a tour at Penguin place, and also blue penguin tour with Royal Albatross,but fear that it will be very touristy. I also read that you can see them at Curio bay in the Catlins. Do you have any more suggestions about the best opportunities to see penguins but not hoards of tourists? Thank you!

Last edited by acw; Dec 17th, 2018 at 05:56 PM.
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Dec 17th, 2018, 06:43 PM
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Hi, acw. I'll answer your question separately, maybe in a different post, but soon. Briefly, I'm afraid almost everything will be touristy in January, but you will see Little Blue Penguins. And this will be a far less touristy experience than seeing Little Blue Penguins on Phillip Island in Australia (which is awesome, but kind of overwhelming, loads of penguins and people over a vastly larger area). Though I haven't viewed the penguins at Pukekura in about 4 years, my guess is it helps to get there earlier than others to stake out a good spot on the viewing platform (dress warmly). They are so cute! I will post more info later.

Freediver, I'm glad you'll be spending a night in the Catlins as you'll be able to enjoy it more.

I guess you'll be spending the night in Invercargill because it'll make it easier to get to the airport for your flight to Stewart Island the next morning and because the last flights to Stewart Island are at around 5 p.m. My tendency would be to make that last flight to Stewart Island (I don't like getting up early), however, by spending the night in Invercargill, you can take your time getting to it (making stops in the South Catlins), and see a bit of Invercargill. too. It's not much of a tourist destination, but it does have a few attractions. Unfortunately, its Southland Museum & Art Gallery, well-known for its successful tuatara breeding program is closed for seismic repairs. I don't know if you'll still be able to see the tuataras from the exterior. The museum is next to its botanic garden, which has an aviary with rare native birds that are probably part of a captive breeding program. Bill Richardson's Transport World and E. Hayes and Sons Hardware Store (home to Burt Munro's "World's Fastest Indian") are other Invercargill attractions.

I really really hope you'll have good weather for you short stay in Dunedin, as you'll be staying on the Otago Peninsula, which is all about enjoying the outdoors—the coastal views, the walks, the wildlife, with a bit of history. If self-catering, shop for groceries in central Dunedin, as there are no supermarkets on the peninsula. There are two large supermakets in central Dunedin, Countdown and New World. Both have ample free parking, and are close to the Octagon, The Railway Station and each other, though Countdown is closer to the Octagon and the Railway Station. Otherwise, there are two Countdown stores on Anderson's Bay Road, which a few blocks away and parallel to Portsmouth Drive, the main road along the harbor that eventually becomes Portobello Road (which leads to Portobello). Plastic bags will be phased out by the time you get here, so bring or buy a reusable shopping bag. You can buy an insulated shopping bag here for around NZ$5.

On February 9, the sun will rise at around 6:42 a.m. and set at around 8:59 p.m. Low tide will be at 1:40 p.m. Larnach Castle opens at 9 a.m. You might have time for a walk on Alllans Beach (it's not far from Portobello) before your Elm Tour (which I think you'll enjoy). My favorite peninsula walking track is the Sandymount Track, but you probably wouldn't have enough time to see it. Or, depending when you get to Portobello on your first day, you might be able to visit the Royal Albatross Cente, go over to Sandfly Bay, or Allans Beach.

View from Sandymount track parking lot on a clear but cloudy day, Allans Beach and Hoopers Inlet are below

Sandymount parking lot on a perfect day.

Sandymount Track

Sandymount Track

Entrance to Allans Beach

Top of sand dunes down to Sandfly Bay

I will send you a PM and post tips for the Catlins in a separate post.

Last edited by Diamantina; Dec 17th, 2018 at 06:48 PM.
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Dec 17th, 2018, 06:57 PM
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This is the view from the peninsula's Highcliff Road (on a clear day).
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Freediver, if self-catering in the Catlins, you might want to stop for groceries at the New World Market in Balclutha. There's also a smaller Four Square grocery in Owaka, farther south.
You can download the Catlins brochure and map from this link:
Brochure & Maps - Catlins, New Zealand

Everyone has their favorite Catlins spots. These would be my preferences if I had only a night in the Catlins. You'll be starting from Dunedin, then following the Southern Scenic Route to the Catlins. I don't know where you'll be staying in the Catlins, but I'll assume it'll be Porpoise/Curio Bay. If not, adjust my suggestions accordingly.

First stop on the SSR before leaving Dunedin could be the Tunnel Beach Track, but only if the weather is fine. Make sure your luggage is out of view, locked away in the boot (trunk) and that you leave no valuables in the car, as there have been break-ins here. The track is steep but short.

Continuing along the SSR, you'll reach the big town of Balclutha, then your first scenic must-see stop in the Catlins, Nugget Point/Tokata Lighthouse. The short walk from the parking lot to the lighthouse and "nuggets" is beautiful and you can often see Royal Spoonbills nesting in trees below the track. Fur seals bask on the rocks below the lighthouse. There is a Yellow Eyed Penguin (hoiho) hide at nearby Roaring Bay.

Continuing south on the SSR, you might want to stop at Surat Bay, near the small town of Owaka. Surat Bay is popular with sea lions (which you will have already seen on the Otago Peninsula). You might want to visit the smalll Owaka Museum. It's a good place to stop for information.

People often confuse NZ fur seals with NZ sea lions. Sea lions are much larger--about three times larger, and have blunt snouts. Females are lighter than the males. Fur seals have pointier snouts, ear flaps and longer whiskers. Sea lions generally bask on sandy beaches or in sand dunes, whereas fur seals generally lounge on rocks at the shoreline. NZ sea lions are critically endangered and considered the world's rarest species of sea lion. On mainland NZ, you can only see them on the Otago and Southland coast, and around Stewart Island, where their numbers are increasing. Most of their population is on NZ's subantarctic Auckland and Campbell Islands, where their numbers are in decline. NZ fur seals are common, increasing in numbers, and can also be found in parts of Australia.
Always stay at least 10 metres (32 feet) back from sea lions and fur seals If they move toward you, back away.

After Surat Bay, if you like waterfalls, you might want to stop at Pukakaunui Falls. They're small, but can be photogenic. Other falls in the Catlins, include Matai, McLean and tiny Niagara.

In Papatowai, you'll find the quirky Lost Gypsy Gallery. Definitely worth a stop.

Continuing south, you'll want to pull over at the Florence Hill Lookout for views of Tautuku Bay below.

Farther south, you'll come to the turn off for Cathedral Caves. Access is limited to one and a half hours before low tide and up to one hour after low tide. It's not available before 7.30 a.m. or after 8.30 p.m. Admission is $5 per adult. More info here:
Looking at their website, it seems low tide will be at 12:53 p.m. on Feb. 10., so unless you want to rush down there, you might want to see them on your second day in the Catlins, after you've checked out of your accommodation and before you drive to Invercargill.

Porpoise/Curio Bay is about a 40-minute drive south of the Curio Bay parking lot.

Curio Bay, home to an 180-million-year-old Jurassic fossil forest and a small hoiho colony, is around the corner from Porpoise Bay, a long gorgeous beach with fine surfing waves and a small part-time population of Hectors Dolphins. Waikawa is on the estuary at the northern end of Porpoise Bay. Curio Bay is just a short walk from the southern end of Porpoise Bay. To get from one to the other you can walk or drive a very short distance. More info here:

Yellow Eyed Penguins (hoiho) swim ashore in the late afternoon, but as chicks will still be in the nests, the adults sometimes come and go during the day to feed the chicks. It's important to stay back and give them lots of space. If they move toward you, please back up, as they're not actually heading toward you but to their nests. Hoiho take the same route to their nests each time. Please read the Yellow Eyed Penguin trust page about "public viewing" of hoiho:

I've stayed at Curio Bay Salthouse and would recommend it.

From Porpoise/Curio Bay, you might want to take the alternative coastal route from Curio Bay to Fortrose, stopping at Slope Point, the southernmost point of the South Island, and Waipapa Pt. Lighthouse, where sea lions are often seen. This alternative route was recently paved.

I know you plan on spending your day on Stewart Island visiting Ulva Island. When done visiting Ulva Island, there are some other nice short walking tracks near Oban worth exploring. You can read about them on this brochure:
For evening entertainment, you might want to take Bravo Adventures Kiwi Spotting. They leave late, so you'd have time to have dinner first.
Reviews here:

Regarding Wellington, the city center is compact and walkable. You don't need a car to see it. You can take the Cable Car up to the Botanic Garden, walk around the Botanic Garden, then catch the Cable Car back down again, or walk down through the garden back down to the city center, or catch the free shuttle to Zealandia, which leaves from near the top of the Cable Car. When done seeing Zealandia, you can catch a shuttle to the I-Site (tourist info office) by the waterfront and walk to Te Papa. Many things to do in Wellington. It's a beautiful city, which reminds me a little of my hometown, San Francisco. If you feel like going for a little drive, the view from Mt. Victoria Lookout is pretty good.

Martinborough wine region is about an hour, 20 minutes from Wellington. It's especially known for its Pinot Noir. Part of the route is winding (Rimutaka Hill).

Last edited by Diamantina; Dec 18th, 2018 at 03:55 AM.
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Dec 18th, 2018, 04:35 PM
Join Date: Feb 2007
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Annie (acw), I've sent you two pms with detailed advice about the attractions you're interested in. Let me know if I've answered your questions.
Diamantina is offline  
Dec 18th, 2018, 06:11 PM
Join Date: Jul 2014
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THANK YOU! you are incredibly helpful and thorough.
acw is offline  
Dec 18th, 2018, 09:59 PM
Join Date: Feb 2007
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You're welcome, Annie. Good luck with the weather and I hope you have a great vacation.
Diamantina is offline  
Dec 22nd, 2018, 09:41 AM
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Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 13
Good morning Diamantina. Hopefully this message is not a repeat. I have finalized our accommodations for our Feb trip with one last exception. Your suggestions for daily activities has been simply amazing! Thanks for all the great ideas, details, and links to websites. We have booked two nights with Discovery Lodge both before and after the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and after that, Feb. 27, will be our last full day in NZ. I would like to visit Rotorua but am reluctant to stay there due to it large tourist population, esp in February, so am thinking about spending the night on Lake Taupo and then on Feb 28 taking a leisurely drive to Auckland airport for our 7:30 pm flight home to San Francisco. What are your thoughts on this or do you have any other suggestions for our last night and full day and a half on the north island. And thanks again for all your kind help and advice.
freediver is online now  
Dec 22nd, 2018, 04:11 PM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 1,744
Hi freediver, I'm only mildly acquainted with the middle of the North Island, but that should be fine. The drive from Taupo to Auckland International Airport will take a minimum of 3 hours, 15 minutes, so not a particularly long drive, providing you take a short break. You'll be getting into the Auckland area later. so you won't have to deal with weekday commuter traffic into the city. You won't even need to rush, if your flight isn't until 7:30 p.m. You'll need to check in two hours before your flight, but I'd be there earlier, as you don't know if there will be lines at security or how long of a walk you'll have to your gate. And, of course, you'll have to turn in your car beforehand. All in all, I think you'll have plenty of time.

If you get to Auckland International Airport early, you might want to have lunch at Villa Maria Winery, which is only a 10 minute drive (or less) from the airport. It's lovely, in a serene setting, and the wine is excellent. They also have a cellar door in Marlborough, which you'll probably visit. Villa Maria is a large company that also owns Vidal Estate, Esk Valley, Te Awa Collection, Thornbury, Riverstone and Wise Owl wineries. Villa Maria wines are widely available in NZ supermarkets and even in the U.S., but there's a much greater selection at the winery, varietals that are not often seen in the supermarkets and reserve wines (black label).

You'll have travel insurance, right? Personally, I always try and stay closer to my departure airport, or more often catch a connecting flight, but, when I think about it, connecting flights from other NZ destinations are probably less reliable and more stressful than driving three and a half hours to Auckland International Airport. We once had to cancel a two week trip to New Caledonia because flights out of Dunedin to Auckland were cancelled due to fog.

Tasmangirl, who lives in Auckland and has traveled extensively throughout the North Island, is the North Island expert on this forum. I've looked at one of her more recent postings, and in the Taupo area she recommended Orokei Korako for viewing geothermal activity (if this interest you). It's about a 30 minute drive from Taupo, according to AA Drive Distance Calculator. She's also recommended viewing Huka Falls.

Huka Lodge is one of NZ's top luxury accommodations (not stayed there myself).

Last edited by Diamantina; Dec 22nd, 2018 at 04:36 PM.
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