Our introduction to the South Island of New Zealand was by plane. We flew from Wellington to Christchurch, but we didn’t stay long. We hit the eastern side of the island first, driving south to Oamaru and then to Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula. We had been told we would find the South Island magical, and on our first few stops we could see why.
Oamaru is a small town known for steampunk and Little Blue Penguins. We were planning on seeing penguins during our time on the Otago Peninsula, so we didn’t see them here. We did have a nice walk through the town, seeing lots of the old buildings. We enjoyed our stop there, but it’s not a must on a New Zealand itinerary.
One spot that is a must, if you are driving south on State Highway 1 towards Dunedin, is the Four Square in the town of Hampden. They have the best deal on ice cream… 3 NZD for the largest cone you’ve ever seen. We just happened upon it, but apparently it’s quite a popular tourist stop. Just look at this cone!
Just south of Oamaru (and Hampden) are another must-see… the Moeraki Boulders. These large 60-million-year-old rock formations are on a beach just off State Highway 1. The large cracked boulders are strewn on the beach and in the surf. They are really quite something.
Elm Wildlife Tour
The highlight of our time on the Otago Peninsula was seeing all the different animals that call the peninsula home. We booked an Elm Wildlife Tour, which was half a day of amazing animal-watching.
We then went to the Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head at the tip of the peninsula to watch for Royal Albatross. The Centre is the world’s only mainland breeding colony (they spend most of their time out at sea). Royal Albatross use the winds to fly as they don’t flap their enormous wings. Of course, it wasn’t guaranteed that we would see them. And the winds weren’t strong that day. So we felt pretty lucky to see at least four different birds soaring back and forth among the cliffs. It took our breath away.
We found a whole bunch of Hooker’s Sea Lions just laying on the beach. They looked pretty lazy, but we were warned they could charge at any minute if disturbed and frightened. So we kept our distance. They were pretty smelly so it was ok.
But it was just the beginning of our South Island adventure! Next we would make our way to the beautiful and exciting Fjordland.