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50th Wedding Anniversary trip - South Island, New Zealand


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50th Wedding Anniversary trip – South Island New Zealand


When our Kgalagadi/Mokala/Shindzela trip had to be cancelled due to my health problems I was pretty devastated but as I slowly recovered I decided on a Plan B for our celebrations.


I planned a trip with our daughter and her husband and our 2 grandchildren, Jayden (14) and Roneta(16). We have just returned from a fabulous 8 days so thought Safari talkers might like to hear a little about the South Island of New Zealand.


The itinerary was

Day 1: Fly from our home in New Plymouth to Christchurch, pick up a van and drive to Hokitika

Day 2: Hokitika to Franz Josef glacier

Day 3: Franz Josef to Wanaka

Day 4: Wanaka to Te Anau

Day 5: Te Anau to Milford Sound and return

Day 6 and 7: Stewart Island

Day 8: Fly home from Dunedin.


Map of trip - Stewart Island is over the strait from Bluff




This report wont feature many animals as New Zealand has only marine mammals and bats but there are lots of birds and some stunning scenery.


Some photos as a taster


Kea in flight (taken by Roneta)




Fox Glacier taken from the helicopter.




Dolphin Milford Sound (taken by Roneta)















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I've been thinking about a trip to Australia but New Zealand always sidetracks me. Thanks for starting a trip report, looking forward to the rest!

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@@KiwiGran congrats on your 50th wedding anniversary and what a lovely idea to share a family holiday to celebrate. Sorry your African trip was cancelled - maybe next year?


I am heading to the South Island in December on a 2 week birding safari so will follow your report very closely - love the first parrot photos.

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Day 1

As we flew from New Plymouth we were treated to some spectacular views of our mountain, Mount Taranaki (2518m) as the sun came up. Jayden got some great photos from the plane windows.





Arriving in Christchurch we picked up the van, stocked up on food and set off. First stop Castle Hill, an area with much significance to the Maori people and scenic limestone formations which the family enjoyed exploring.










We travelled over Porters Pass at 945m and Arthurs Pass 920m. A lookout just past the Arthur’s Pass village provided our first bird sighting, the entertaining and very intelligent Kea, the world’s only alpine parrot.


Here is a link to a video showing their intelligence www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpF1HKsrA28


We spent ages enjoying their antics. Sadly they are an endangered species with only an estimated 5000 left. Their curiosity leads to them eating things that endanger their health and people feeding them is a huge problem.




Note the alpine surroundings and the viaduct below.




When they fly a flash of orange shows from under their wing feathers. They have an endearing hopping gait on the ground and are very vocal




Our accommodation that night was at Hokitika a small town right on the West Coast, with a wild, windswept beach and the roaring waves of the Tasman sea.

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@@AmyT Thanks for your comments. Hope you get to Australia, the wildlife there is amazing


.@@Treepol Thanks for the congrats, it certainly was a special trip. Yes Africa is still calling. New Zealanders now have to have visas to go to South Africa and have to be applied for in person at either Wellington or Auckland - a five hour trip for us from here so just another obstacle to overcome but hopefully we will get back in the next couple of years. Enjoy your birding trip, Stewart Island was amazing for birds.

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Day 2 started with the amazing West Coast Tree top walk. A 1.2 km loop track elevated 20metres above the forest floor. Being up in the tree tops of the podocarp forest with bird calls abounding and incredible views was an exhilarating experience. My photography skills were sadly lacking here as we saw many birds but were unable to get close photos. Along the way you find the Hokitika Tower and we climbed the 107 spiralling steps to the top at 47m, a challenge for some but well worth the views at the top.




The Tower




View of Lake Mahinapua from the top




Rata vine flowering - food for the nectar feeding birds





Continuing on we reached Franz Josef. Here there are 2 glaciers, the Franz Josef and the Fox, two of the most accessible glaciers in the world. From about 3000m up in the Southern Alps they travel 12kms down to end only 300 metres above sea level. I stayed at a lower level but the others walked up to Fox Glacier, a challenging steep climb. Later we took a helicopter flight over the 2 glaciers – what an amazing view, swooping down low over them you could see the crevasses, the blue and white ice, just such a thrill.


Fox Glacier walk




Franz Josef from helicopter




Fox Glacier from helicopter




Ice close up from helicopter





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@@KiwiGran what a fabulous treetop walk, I hope we have some time to do that in December!

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Day 3 saw us travelling further down the West coast then heading inland. We took an exhilarating jet boat ride up the Makarora and Wilkins rivers in Mt Aspiring National Park and stayed the night in Wanaka a town on the edge of the beautiful Lake Wanaka.


Day 4 took us to Te Anau, travelling over the Crown Range road, the highest main road in New Zealand at 1076m. Wonderful tussock country and great views with Queenstown in the distance.







The next day we travelled out to Milford Sound – actually named incorrectly, it is a fjord. It was light rain and low cloud so the grandeur of the area was a little lacking with the tops being up in the cloud but it was still an amazing drive. First stop was at the Mirror Lakes, small alpine tarns with the mountain reflections being a highlight. Being early morning we were the only people there, the reflections of the sun touching the tops were stunning. There was a delightful little New Zealand Scaup (New Zealands only native diving duck) diving on the edges of the tarn but too difficult for me to photograph.






Reflection in the tarn of the sun touching the tops





Onward to Milford Sound, through the Homer tunnel a 1.2km long tunnel through the granite rock. Started in 1935 initially by five men using picks and wheelbarrows it was finally opened in 1953. At an elevation of 945m the tunnel runs 1.2km at approx. a 1:10 gradient down. Until it was sealed and enlarged it was the longest gravel-surfaced tunnel in the world.


At Milford Sound we took a 2 hour cruise. During dry weather there are 4 permanent waterfalls but because of the rain we saw many many beautiful temporary waterfalls cascading down the steep sided mountains on either side of the fjord. A highlight was seeing a large pod of bottle nosed dolphins that came right up to the boat. New Zealand fur seals were also sighted on the rocks.


Mitre Peak




Our boat on Milford Sound




Waterfall view of the top




View of the base




Patterns created in the water by the waterfall (photo by Roneta)




Misty rainforest




On our return journey we walked into the Chasm a spectacular area where the river is forced into a narrow channel and has worn incredible sculptures in the rocks.




Typical rainforest




That night we spent some time trying to observe the Aurora australis that was making a spectacular showing at that time but due to our position in Te Anau we couldn’t get a good view.







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Lovely photos. What month did you travel? Pen

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@@penolva Thanks for that. We travelled from 19th April to 27th. It was dictated by the school holidays for Jayden and Roneta. April is a good time to travel in the South Island as you get glorious Autumn colour, but we were very lucky as the weather deteriorated considerably after we got home.

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Day 6 we travelled to Bluff where we left our van and travelled across Foveaux Strait on the ferry. Foveaux Strait is often rough and stormy and we had heard of horrendous crossings but both ours were thankfully calm. Oysters are dredged in this area and all the boats we saw were accompanied by lots of Sooty Shearwater birds, amazing in their ability to skim the waves and effortlessly twist and turn.


Stewart Island is a peaceful haven with only 300 permanent residents. A mecca for hikers, there are many tracks of all lengths and difficulty.


The first night was kiwi spotting – a 45 minute boat ride to a peninsula, a walk through the forest in the dark with torches and out on to a beach where the kiwi come down to feed on the sand hoppers beneath the seaweed. One male kiwi was spotted and observed for nearly 20 minutes using an infra red spotlight.


Here is a video and photo of the kiwi (taken by Roneta and Jayden) - not great quality as off an iphone and at night with infra red light, but gives an idea of the bird. Kiwi are not easy to see in the wild - Stewart Island is one of the best places. The Stewart Island Kiwi is the largest of the kiwi species (Apteryx australis lawyri), females weigh up to 3.9kgs, males up to 2.8kgs. They are mainly nocturnal although on Stewart Island in the cooler months can be sometimes spotted in the daytime.








The walk was too tough for my dodgy hip so I stayed behind and walked on the beach, where I spotted a black oystercatcher, and enjoyed the Kaka that comes to visit Rakiura Retreat where we stayed






Black Oystercdatcher





The next day we spent the morning on Ulva Island a predator free bird sanctuary. Having no native mammal predators our birds are very vulnerable to introduced species – rats, stoats, weasel, brushtail possums. Being a small island Ulva has been an ideal area to trap these species and is now free of them. A delightful 3 hours was spent quietly walking through the bush searching for birds. Bird song was abundant and we observed many species. Most of these photos were taken by Jayden, quite a difficult task with rapidly moving birds and dense foliage..


This photo shows a weka by a predator trap, these traps are set and checked regularly in case of invasion by rats.




Bellbird abound and their melodious calls fill the air.




Many of the birds have been relocated to the island once it was declared predator free.


South Island Saddleback










The Stewart Island Robin is a rewarding bird to observe, scratching up the leaf litter will bring them very close to look for exposed insects.








Red and Yellow Crowned Kakariki (Parakeet) were also spotted




Other birds observed were Kereru (NZ Pigeon), Tui, Fantail and Kaka


Our final day was a long travel home by boat, van and plane. Stewart Island farewelled us with a beautiful sunrise.




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@@penolva Thanks for that. We travelled from 19th April to 27th. It was dictated by the school holidays for Jayden and Roneta. April is a good time to travel in the South Island as you get glorious Autumn colour, but we were very lucky as the weather deteriorated considerably after we got home.

What are your thoughts about us visiting in late November early December? Pen

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@@penolva Late November /Early December would be OK – benefits would be possibly less tourists as it is before the Christmas and school holidays. Weather – unpredictable which is usual for NZ!! South island weather can be very different to the North – are you looking at all NZ or just the South? But generally the weather should be warming up and hopefully you would get lots of fine days. I note a lot of the birding tours are held November/December. Happy to help with any queries if you head this way.

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@@KiwiGran thanks. We would have five weeks starting in Auckland and ending in Christchurch. I just hope we pick a good time weather wise. It's very difficult. Pen

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  • 4 years later...

@KiwiGranWe finally had a chance to read through this thread. Looks like you both had a really nice time. We went over the Crown Range Road in 19 and it was a nail-biter on the way down towards Queenstown! Stewart Island looks lovely, and that's a really good kiwi sighting. We were fortunate enough to spot one at Zealandia but only for less than a minute.


Happy (very) belated anniversary. :)

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Thanks @MarksYes was a great trip, would love to go back to Stewart Island.  

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