New Zealand South Island Wildlife & Wilderness






Queenstown – Queenstown



This unforgettable tour looks at the natural history of the breathtakingly beautiful lower South Island and Stewart Island. It includes three of the country’s national parks plus the unspoiled coast of the Catlins region, the Otago Peninsula.

nzIn Mt Cook National Park you will see spectacular high peaks, huge glaciers, glacial lakes with floating icebergs
and wild alpine plants on the valley floor.

You will visit the pristine Nothofagus beech forests of the Ohau and Mt Aspiring regions, home to many of New Zealand’s native birds such as the Tomtit, Bellbird, Rifleman, South Island Robin and Tui.

Your naturalist guides also know the places during the trip to search for endangered birds such as the Yellowhead, Black Stilt, Wrybill, New Zealand Falcon and Yellow-eyed Penguin.

On the Otago coast you will find colonies of NZ fur seals and endangered Hooker’s Sea Lions that have finally returned here to breed. The Catlins coast is particularly spectacular, comprising the last stands of east coast temperate rainforest that are home to many bird species. On past tours in Stewart Island, NZ’s newest national park, we have seen endangered birds such as Kaka, Saddleback, Yellowhead and Red-Crowned Parakeet. We finish the tour back in the high alpine environment of The Remarkable mountains and the Mt Aspiring National Park.

Your guide is Martin Curtis, a well known New Zealand wildlife enthusiast, adventurer, mountaineer, Himalayan trek guide and folk singer. Martin knows this part of the South Island very well, having climbed many of the mountains and explored the valleys. Martin will be joined by his brother and our Coates senior naturalist guide, Rick Curtis.

Although this is not a walking tour, some walking is necessary to get to the places where the flora and fauna are at their best.



Day                      Activity

1                           Home Port to Queenstown

Today you’ll arrive in Queenstown and check-in to your accommodation. Your hotel is right on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, with beautiful views of The Remarkables mountain range. Dinner at the hotel is included tonight. Your guides will meet you in the dinning room at 7:00pm.

Accommodation: Sherwood Hotel D

2                           Drive to Lake Ohau

We leave Queenstown and drive through the stunning Kawarau Gorge to Cromwell, followed by a drive along the shores of the man-made Lake Dunstan. This lake is home to many species of water bird. We cross the Lindis Pass and turn off into the isolated and beautiful Ahuriri Valley for lunch and will have a couple of hours to search for the elusive unique wrybill and the endangered black stilt. We then continue north past Omarama, looking at a couple of interesting places on the way, before turning off into the little visited Hopkins Valley and the wonderful Lake Ohau Lodge.

Accommodation: Lake Ohau Lodge BLD

3                           Lake Ohau

This is a relatively unvisited area and we will spend the whole day exploring the Hopkins River Valley north of Lake Ohau and the Temple Valley where we will go for a short walk. A marked track ascends gently beside the North Temple River through pristine Nothofagus beech forest. We are unlikely to meet anyone else in this delightful alpine valley. Many native birds can be seen during this walk. We return to Lake Ohau Lodge in the late afternoon to enjoy great food and superb views from the outdoor spa.

Accommodation: Lake Ohau Lodge BLD

4                           Lake Ohau to Mount Cook

Leaving Ohau after breakfast, we head back out to the highway across the McKenzie plain, and head north a short way until we reach the turn off into the Tasman valley. This is the entrance to the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. Given fine weather, we have spectacular views of New Zealand’s highest mountain which stands sentinel at the head of the valley, with the strange coloured Lake Pukaki in front of it. The colour comes from the rock flour, brought down from the Tasman glacier. We’ll stop on the way up to look once more for the rare black stilt, as we have discovered a new site where they can often be found. We then continue on to Mt Cook village, where massive hanging glaciers tower above us. This is a very spectacular place. After lunch we will visit the Tasman Glacier Lake, now growing at an alarming rate. We will also spend some time around the village to search for N.Z’s iconic mountain parrot, the kea, which is now seriously endangered.

Accommodation: Mount Cook Chalets BLD

5                           Mount Cook

This morning we will go on a glorious walk up the Hooker Valley, crossing over several swing bridges and up to the terminal lake of the Hooker Glacier, where we should see icebergs that have calved floating in the lake. New Zealand’s highest mountain Aoraki / Mt Cook is right in front of us here. Lots of unique N.Z alpine plants will be seen on the way. The walk is on a formed gravel track and takes about 3-4 hours return. We will then have more time in the Mt Cook area to do other walks and continue our search for the kea. We can also visit the National Park visitor centre, which has very impressive displays about the surrounding area, its botany, geology and the history of New Zealand mountaineering.

Accommodation: Mount Cook Chalets BLD

6                           Lake Ohau to Dunedin

We leave Mount Cook after breakfast and head down the Waitaki Valley past several dams and man-made hydro lakes, then through an area of strange limestone outcrops and on to the east coast. On our way south on Highway One, we will turn off to a couple of good coastal vantage points to look for seabirds and seals before arriving in the scenic ‘Scottish’ city of Dunedin.

Accommodation: Leviathan Heritage Hotel BLD

7                           Dunedin

Today we drive out to the Otago Peninsula, world famous for its wildlife. We will visit the Royal Albatross nesting site at Taiaroa Head, also home to many other birds and fur seals. We will then go to the Orokonui Eco sanctuary where we will have lunch before spending the next couple of hours exploring the Sanctuary.

Accommodation: Leviathan Heritage Hotel BLD

8                           Dunedin to Balclutha

A short two hour drive takes us to the Catlins coast and the rugged headland of Nugget Point, home to many seals and seabirds. We’ll then drive a short way south for a lovely beach walk at Surat Bay. During our walk we are guaranteed to see the endangered Hooker’s Sea Lion. These are also good beaches to see penguins. We’ll explore the bush and coastline of the Catlins area. Due to the cold current that sweeps up the coast from the Sub-Antarctic, these large beaches of golden sand are generally free of people, but make a perfect home for a variety of seals, sea lions and penguins. The area also boasts the last unspoiled temperate rainforest on the east coast of the South Island. We will do some short bush walks in the forest.

Accommodation: Balclutha BLD

9                           Catlins to Stewart Island

Today we continue our drive south, stopping for short walks to various viewpoints including the spectacular MacLean Falls. We will continue around this rarely visited coastal area before eventually reaching the southern city of Invercargill. We continue to the small port of Bluff where we park the bus for three days and board the evening ferry across the Foveaux Strait to Stewart Island. On the way we expect to see albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters that roam the Southern Ocean. We will stay at the island’s only pub, the basic but iconic South Sea Hotel on the shores of Halfmoon Bay.

Accommodation: South Sea Hotel BLD

10                         Stewart Island

Today we’ll enjoy a boat trip to see pelagic birds with a local wildlife expert. We’ll sail out to a group of islands to see many of the birds that traverse the Southern Ocean, including several species of albatross, Cape Petrels, shearwaters and prions. For the other half of the day you may choose to take a very pleasant two hour walk along the coastline and through the native bush. NOTE (These two days on Stewart Island may be switched around depending on weather conditions and availability of the pelagic boat trip).

Accommodation: South Sea Hotel BLD

11                         Stewart Island

An early start and a short trip by water taxi takes us to Ulva Island, a bird sanctuary in the middle of Patersons Inlet, where we will experience the New Zealand bush as it was before humans arrived – full of native birds so tame that they will hop onto your boots and pack. We should see endangered species such as the Kaka, Saddleback, Weka, Mohua (Yellowhead) and perhaps even a Kiwi.

Accommodation: South Sea Hotel BLD

12                         Stewart Island to Wanaka

After an early breakfast we take the ferry back to Bluff, collect the bus and drive for three hours towards Queenstown. We can visit several places of interest around the area, including Lake Hayes where there is a large population of ducks, grebes and swans. Another option is the old gold-mining town of Arrowtown, which dates back to the 1860’s. Finally we have a one hour drive over the spectacular Crown Range (N.Z.’s highest public road) to the beautiful alpine town of Wanaka, situated on the shores of the unspoiled Lake Wanaka.

Accommodation: Lake Wanaka Hotel BLD

13                         Mt Aspiring National Park

A drive up the Matukituki River Valley to the roads end at Raspberry Creek will enable us to explore this area. We return to Wanaka in the late afternoon.

Accommodation: Lake Wanaka Hotel BLD

14                         Lake Wanaka

We have several options for the morning in this lovely lake-side town, including the outlet where the Lake becomes the Clutha River, N.Z’s biggest river by volume. After lunch we will take a boat trip with a local eco-guide up the lake to the unique island of Mou Wahou. This island has been cleared of predators and extensively replanted with native bush, encouraging the return of its birdlife and natural fauna. This includes the cheeky Buff Weka who will be waiting for us at the landing stage. We’ll take a short walk up to the summit of the island, where there is a small lake and beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.

Accommodation: Lake Wanaka Hotel BLD

15                         Wanaka to Queenstown

Your New Zealand wildlife and wilderness experience ends this morning.
The group transfer to Queenstown Airport will depart from the hotel after check out at around 10.00am. It is about a one and a half hour drive so we should arrive at the airport at around 11.30am. B

NB: The above itinerary may be varied according to weather or sea conditions.

Although this is not a walking tour, some walking is necessary to get to the places where the flora and fauna are at their best.

21st February – 6th March 2020

Tour full – please contact us for more details 



  • Land content as set out in the trip notes
  • Accommodation and breakfast, lunch and dinner as shown in the trip notes
  • All national park entrance fees
  • Specialist wildlife/ botanical guides
  • Entrance fee for the Royal Albatross nesting site at Taiaroa Head
  • Ferry (Stewart Island)
  • Stewart Island Pelagic Trip

“We wish to thank you for such a wonderful holding and for your generosity, thoughtfulness and caring way towards everyone on the tour.
What an amazing trip under the guidance of Martin and Ross. So memorable along with new friendships made.
Our warmest wish to you both for producing such a wonderful adventure.”
Annette & Max Jones

“First I would like to thank you for a wonderful trip we had to the South Island of N.Z. in February.

Stunning scenery, wonderful birds, great company, our guides Martin and & Rick, were not only skilled and willing to inform and share their amazing knowledge but always went the extra mile to look after us.

This was especially appreciated by me as I have some dietary challenges, these were always very thoughtfully met. This was truly an unforgettable experience.

Wishing you safe and happy travelling”.

Thelma and Jim Minto

“I have just returned from N.Z. and wish to tell you how much I enjoyed the whole tour. It was well planned and provided a variety of experiences and enjoyment.

I would like to compliment our guides, Rick and Martin, who were a wealth of information and were great company. Nothing was too much trouble to them. They gave assistance when needed and provided us with much local information.

This was a fantastic introduction to N.Z., this being my first visit. I  would like to send my compliments to everyone at Coates.”
June Anton

“I know it’s a couple of months since the NZ tour, but I’ve been meaning to send you some feedback.  I had a lovely time and really felt that I’d been taken to places and shown things that I would never have gone to or seen on my own.

I was impressed at how many rare birds we were able to see in their natural habitat, but it was also nice that, for members of the group who couldn’t do the more strenuous things, we also managed to get good looks at most of them in wildlife refuges like Ulva Island. Seeing the Mohua in the beech forest, the yellow-eyed penguins hopping down their little path to the beach in the dawn, the kiwis and fern bird on Stewart Island, were all very special moments. It was also lovely to get such close up views, and even interactions, with more common birds like robins, tomtits, riflemen and fantails – I like to be able to really see a bird, not just put a tick on a list. It was good to see birds in their natural environment, doing their characteristic things – spoonbills spoonbilling, for instance.

The guides, Martin and Rick, were lovely.  Martin’s local knowledge and his ability to communicate his enthusiasm for the mountains, keas, history and the NZ environment was inspiring.  I also felt totally secure with his driving. Rick was so good at finding and identifying birds, and particularly at making sure that everyone who wanted got a good sighting, while at the same time balancing the time demands of birdwatching with keeping the group moving and not boring the non-twitchers. I liked the way they accommodated the varying enthusiasms and abilities of the group, so that the people who wanted to do a bit extra could, but the people who didn’t weren’t pushed to conform.  And the music was wonderful – a totally unexpected addition to the tour that made it really special!

I had a lovely holiday, saw some beautiful scenery and fabulous birds, enjoyed some great walks, and generally had a good time. A big thankyou to Martin and Rick for their hard work, patience, enthusiasm and music. I would recommend this tour to my friends.”
Anne Pickles

To make a booking download a booking form and return it to us via email/post or by clicking here to fill out the form online.