New Zealand South Island Wildlife and Wilderness






Queenstown – Queenstown




Next Tour: TBA February 2022

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.

In 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.

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Extended Trip Details


Day 1Home Port to QueenstownToday 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. Your guides will you in the hotel restaurant at 7:00 pm for dinner. Accommodation Sherwood Hotel D
Day 2Drive to Lake OhauWe leave Queenstown and drive through the stunning Kawarau Gorge to Cromwell, followed by a drive along the shores of the man-made Lake Dunstan, which is home to many species of waterbird. 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 exciting places on the way, before turning off into the little-visited Hopkins Valley and Lake Ohau Lodge on the banks of the beautiful lake. Accommodation Lake Ohau Lodge BLD
Day 3Lake OhauLake Ohau 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, and we see many native birds during the 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
Day 4Lake Ohau to Mount CookLeaving 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, which is 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, as we located a new site where they can often be found. We then continue to the spectacular Mt Cook village, where massive hanging glaciers tower above us. After lunch, we 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
Day 5Mount CookThis 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 N.Z alpine plants 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
Day 6Lake Ohau to DunedinWe 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
Day 7DunedinToday we drive out to the Otago Peninsula, world-famous for its 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 Ecosanctuary where we will have lunch before spending the next couple of hours exploring the Sanctuary. Accommodation: Leviathan Heritage Hotel BLD
Day 8Dunedin to BalcluthaA 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 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 Islan, where we take a bushwalk through the forest. Accommodation: Balclutha BLD
Day 9Balclutha to Stewart Island Today we continue our drive south, stopping for short walks to various viewpoints including the spectacular MacLean Falls. We continue around this rarely visited coastal area before eventually reaching the southern city of Invercargill and 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 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 10Stewart IslandToday 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 an enjoyable 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
Day 11Stewart IslandA 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 12Stewart Island to WanakaAfter an early breakfast, we board 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 1860s. 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 pristine Lake Wanaka. Accommodation: Lake Wanaka Hotel BLD
Day 13Mt Aspiring National ParkA 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
Day 14Lake WanakaWe 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 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. This 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 summit of the island, to a small lake and beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.. Accommodation: Lake Wanaka Hotel BLD
Day 15Wanaka to QueenstownYour New Zealand wildlife and wilderness experiences come to an end this morning. The group transfer to Queenstown Airport will depart from the hotel after check out at around 10.00 am. It is about one and a half-hour drive so we should arrive at the airport 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

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.




  • Land content as set out in the trip notes
  • Coates tour leader/driver & specialist wildlife/botanical guide
  • 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

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