New Zealand's islands are as different as can be. Kiwis are laid back as it is, but the South Islanders, perhaps because the island is more remote and less often visited, seem even more relaxed and easy-going. We sailed down the South Island's wild west coast of Fiordland, rounded one of the Great Southern Capes, caught a glimpse of our first kiwi bird on Stewart Island, traveled inland to Mount Cook (Aoraki) and anchored off the Cook Strait in the Marlborough Sounds. It was glorious.
It's hard to put together a short list of our favorite spots to visit on New Zealand's South Island. There's so much to see and do and as usual, we left feeling there was still so much more. Here's what we enjoyed the most.
The west coast of the South Island, known as Fiordland, is wild and remote. If you like hiking, this is the place to do it. With a boat you can access all the nooks and crannies, sounds and bays. The scenery and wildlife are incredibly beautiful. There are several cruises available from Milford Sound as well as from Queenstown and Te Anau. Be sure to try some Fiordland crayfish (lobster) while you're there. And don't forget to take plenty of insect repellent along. The sandflies are vicious and thrive on fresh tourist blood.
2. Stewart Island
Stewart Island is nothing short of magic. Though we think seeing it via sailboat is the only way to go, you can take a ferry from Bluff.
On the island where you'll find one town, Oban, with lodging, a few restaurants, a supermarket and access to hiking beyond compare. The tiny Rakira Museum in Oban is worth a visit. There's a blue penguin colony at the end of the ferry dock.
Chartered cruises leave from Golden Bay for touring more of the island and getting to Ulva Island, an open island sanctuary. Come to Stewart Island planning to rough it.
3. Invercargill & the Catlins
This region at the southern end of the South Island mainland holds lots of interesting things to see and do. Henry, the 110-year old tuatara, a unique, 3-eyed lizard with a fossil history dating back 225 million years, lives at the Southland Museum.
You can view the World's Fastest Indian at Hammer Hardware in town.
Nearby in the Catlins region, sheep graze in pastures that stretch down to meet the ocean. The drive along the Catlins Coastal Trail offers a scenic lighthouse, lots of sea lions and penguins, the southern most point of the South Island and one of the world's finest fossil forests at Curio Bay.
4.Otago Peninsula and Dunedin
The Otago Peninsula is stunning. There's a nature reserve for viewing fur seals, penguins and albatross. Trudging through the dunes at Sandfly Bay offers an opportunity to view yellow-eyed penguins.
Dunedin, the second largest city on the South Island, is a vibrant university town and as such, there's lots going on all the time. The Otago Museum is a must with entrance admission by donation. Get to the attic for an interesting and very old exhibition of preserved animals including some extinct species.
According to Guinness World Records, Baldwin Street is the steepest street in the world which means, of course, you need to walk up and down it or you're a slouch.
The historic Taieri Gorge Railway is a fun train trip that gives you an interesting view of the area and its rugged terrain.
This charming, small city on the east coast is north of Dunedin and extremely picturesque. The historic district offers well-preserved Neo-classic buildings of limestone quarried from nearby pits.
There's both a blue penguin and a yellow-eyed penguin colony in the area and the 60-million year old Moeraki Boulders strewn across the beach are definitely fascinating.
6.Mount Cook - Aoraki National Park
In the heart of the Southern Alps, Mt Cook aka Aoraki rises majestically. The highest mountain in New Zealand can be viewed from several vantage points and if you're game and a professional, you can climb it as well. We were neither so we satisfied ourselves with hiking through the park and the outstanding scenery, fauna and flora. The Hilary Alpine Center named after Sir Edmund Hillary is an informative climbing museum plus you can have lunch there and pick up any hiking/climbing info.
Okay...take a breather after all that mountain climbing and reflect on the South Island's beauty. There's more to come tomorrow. Stay tuned.