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 and the Otago Peninsula.
Most New Zealand tours only visit the popular highlights, while we take you further to remote areas away from the crowds.
You will see spectacular high peaks, massive glaciers, glacial lakes with floating icebergs and wild alpine plants on the valley floor at Mt Cook National Park.
We 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 guide knows the best places to search for endangered birds such as the Yellowhead, Black Stilt, Wrybill and New Zealand Falcon.
On the Otago coast, we will look for NZ fur seals and endangered Hooker’s Sea Lions that have returned here to breed. The Catlins coast is captivating and comprises the last stands of the east coast temperate rainforest, 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 with three nights in Wanaka, where we will take a private boat cruise to the remote and pristine Mou Waho Island. A guided walk to the top of the island exposes a hidden lake on the summit, the perfect spot for an unforgettable view of the surrounding wilderness.
Your guide, Martin Curtis, is a well known New Zealand wildlife enthusiast, adventurer, mountaineer guide and folk singer. Martin lives in this part of the South Island and knows its natural history better than most. He loves sharing his “back yard” with our guests.
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Extended Trip Details
|Day 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. Meet your guides and fellow passengers in the hotel restaurant at 7:00 pm for dinner. Accommodation: Kamana Hotel D|
|Day 2||Drive to Mt Cook||We leave Queenstown and drive through the picturesque Kawarau Gorge to Cromwell, followed by a drive along the shores of the man-made Lake Dunstan, home to many species of waterbird. We cross the Lindis Pass, continue past Omarama, cross the McKenzie plain and then head north a short way until we reach the turn off into the Tasman valley, the entrance to the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. Given fine weather, we will have spectacular views of New Zealand’s highest mountain, which stands sentinel at the head of the valley, with the distinctive blue-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 for the rare black stilt. We then continue to the spectacular Mt Cook village. Accommodation : Mount Cook Chalets BLD|
|Day 3||Mount Cook to Lake Ohau||This morning we will go on a beautiful 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. We will see many unique NZ alpine plants on the way. The walk is on a formed gravel track and takes about 3-4 hours return. This afternoon we leave Mt Cook and head to Lake Ohau Accommodation: Lake Ohau Lodge BLD|
|Day 4||Lake Ohau to Omarama||The Lake Ohau area is relatively unvisited by tourists. We will spend the whole day exploring the Hopkins River Valley north of Lake Ohau and the Temple Valley. We will go for a walk on a track that ascends gently beside the North Temple River through pristine Nothofagus beech forest. We are not likely to meet anyone else in this delightful alpine valley, as we view many native birds along the way. In the late afternoon, we head for our accommodation in Omarama. Accommodation: Heritage Gateway Hotel BLD|
|Day 5||Omarama to Dunedin||After breakfast, we leave Omarama 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|
|Day 6||Dunedin||We drive out to the Otago Peninsula today, which is world-famous for its diverse wildlife. We 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, the largest predator-free forest on the South Island, providing safe habitat and conservation for endangered wildlife. After lunch, we spend a couple of hours walking on the tracks through the podocarp forest and observing the many birdlife species in their natural habitat. Accommodation: Leviathan Heritage Hotel BLD|
|Day 7||Dunedin to Balclutha||We will spend the next two days exploring the less visited area of the South Island, the Catlins Coast. During our time here we will visit the rugged headland of Nugget Point, home to many seals and seabirds. We also take a beach walk at Surat Bay to look for the endangered Hooker’s Sea Lion. Along with the coastal areas, the region boasts the last unspoiled temperate rainforest on the east coast of the South Island. Here we undertake a number of bush walks through the forest. Accommodation: Balclutha BLD|
|Day 8||Balclutha - Catlins Coast - Balclutha||Today we continue our exploration of this region. Starting with an early morning visit to a bird hide to witness the Yellow-Eyed Penguins heading out sea. Following this, we spend more time in the forest and visit the MacLean Falls, which at 22 metres are perhaps the best falls in the Southland region. Accommodation: Balclutha BLD|
|Day 9||Balclutha to Stewart Island||We continue around this rarely visited coastal area before eventually reaching the southern city of Invercargill and the small port of Bluff. Here we park the bus for three days and board the evening ferry across the Foveaux Strait to Stewart Island. On the way we hope 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|
|Day 10||Stewart Island||Today we take a boat trip to see pelagic birds with a local wildlife expert. We’ll sail out to a group of islands to see many 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 an enjoyable two-hour walk along the coastline and through the native bush. (NOTE: The two days on Stewart Island may be switched around depending on weather conditions and the availability of the pelagic boat trip). Accommodation: South Sea Hotel BLD|
|Day 11||Stewart Island||A short trip this morning by water taxi will take us to Ulva Island, a bird sanctuary in the middle of Patersons Inlet. We will see 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|
|Day 12||Stewart Island to Wanaka||After an early breakfast, we board the ferry back to Bluff, collect the bus, and drive 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 1860s. Finally, we have a one hour drive over the spectacular Crown Range (NZ’s highest public road) to the beautiful alpine town of Wanaka, situated on the shores of the pristine Lake Wanaka. Accommodation: Lake Wanaka Hotel BLD|
|Day 13||Mt Aspiring National Park||The world heritage listed Aspiring National Park is regarded as the most pristine and untouched national park in New Zealand. We drive up to the speculator Matukituki River Valley in the national park to enjoy the natural scenery and sense of wilderness. We then continue to the roads end at Raspberry Creek while exploring the area along the way. We should get back to Wanaka in the late afternoon. Accommodation: Lake Wanaka Hotel BLD|
|Day 14||Lake Wanaka||We have several options for the morning in this lovely lake-side town, including a visit to the outlet where the lake becomes the Clutha River, NZ's most significant 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. The island has been cleared of predators and was extensively replanted with native bush, encouraging the return of its birdlife and natural fauna, including the cheeky Buff Weka, who will be waiting for us at the landing stage. We'll take a short walk up to the island's summit to a small lake and magnificent views of the surrounding mountains. Accommodation: Lake Wanaka Hotel BLD|
|Day 15||Wanaka to Queenstown||Your New Zealand wildlife and wilderness experiences come to an end this morning. Your group transfer to Queenstown Airport will depart from the hotel after check out at around 10.00 am. It is about a one and a half hour drive to the airport and we will arrive at approximately 11.30 am. B|
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.
This itinerary is subject to change due to weather or sea conditions.
Places available on 24 February 2023 DEPARTURE
- Coates tour leader/driver;
- Specialist wildlife/botanical guide;
- Land content as set out in the itinerary;
- Accommodation and breakfast, lunch and dinner as shown in the itinerary;
- All national park entrance fees;
- Entrance fee for the Royal Albatross nesting site at Taiaroa Head;
- Ferry (Stewart Island);
- Entrance fee for Orokonui Eco-sanctuary;
- Stewart Island Pelagic Bird Cruise.
“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.”
“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.”
“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”.
“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.”
“A wonderful variety of landscapes & experiences, opportunities to walk & explore, pleasant roomy transport, very comfortable accommodation, very generous delicious meals. A very well thought-out tour giving a good overview of the South Island & its main attractions while also taking us off the beaten track into wilder less frequented places.”