Day 22 - Queenstown to Invercargill - we did this via the Southern Scenic Route and enjoyed the drive very much. Stopped in Te Anau to do the bird sanctuary and were rewarded with a great view of the Takahe. Got to Invercargill just in time to see The Fastest Indian display. Spent the evening at the Government Gardens which were well worth the visit.
Day 23, 24 Stewart Island - took the morning ferry to Stewart Island and were met at the ferry by our lodging hostess, the very beautiful Fiona. We stayed at the Raikiura Retreat which included a car in the price. This worked out really well as we were able to drive to the various hike and tour locations. We did the Horseshoe Bay hike and were lucky to see a Fjordland crested penguin. Kaka came to visit the lodging and tapped on our windows to make sure we knew of their presence. We went to Ulva Island (once again bucketing rain) and were graced with a daytime viewing of a kiwi! Stewart Island is one of the highlights of our trip.
Day 25, 26 - Curio Bay. We specifically chose Curio Bay Accommodations based on reading from DeSchenke that they had penguins nesting under the deck. This would be one of my top five locations in NZ. Within five minutes of putting into our room we saw Hector's dolphins playing in the surf. The next day we went and saw the local sights including Sterling Point (we got hailed on but saw some spectacular rainbows) and the yellow eyed penguins at Curio Bay (at least three of them). Once again weathered out we spent a happy afternoon and evening in our lodging. Woke up when the blue penguins started calling, turned on our red light, and watched one of them groom itself by the deck for a good half hour.
It's funny, when mentioning to the locals where we were going, everytime we mentioned Curio Bay there would be a gentle sigh of "ahhh, Curio bay..." and that's exactly how we found it.
Day 27, 28 Dunedin (sort of). Drove from Curio Bay to Larnach Castle where we stayed for two nights. Beautiful view of the room. We stopped along the way at a few places and spent almost two hours at Nugget Point because it was just that beautiful! Fun to watch the seals playing. The next day we had an Elm Wildlife Tour scheduled and when we first got on the bus we were sceptical because we had already seen the birds and wildlife that they were promising us to see, but we very quickly changed our minds and really enjoyed the tour. Do do the Monarch cruise option if you can - we got up close to several different albatrosses. We didn't see much of Dunedin because we were happy with the Castle grounds. Would definitely stay here again.
Day 29 - 30 - Mount Cook. I was expecting the drive from Dunedin to Mount Cook to be long and tiring, but despite the distance it turned out to be fairly easy. First stop at Moeraki boulders. We did this at almost high tide but still had a good view. It was worth the short visit. Next stop was Elephant Rocks, which were similar in feel to the Castle Hill Rocks, but smaller in grandeur, though they had sheep. The drive was quite pretty to them as well. Decided we had time to do the Clay Cliffs and they didn't disappoint.
We found Mount Cook the only minor let down on the trip. Perhaps it was our lodging, which had a nice view, but was recessed, or perhaps it was the crowds on the Hooker Valley Track, we don't know, but we both felt that way. We did enjoy the short hike to the bottom of the lake where the icebergs accumulate though. It was cloudy for the most part so we didn't get specular night skies. To do it again we would stay at Twizel or Glentanner as the drive is really amazing. I liken it to a trip that we did in the US Southwest where we had done more obscure stuff prior and then came into the crowds at Grand Canyon. And it's not that it was terrible, it's just that it didn't have the same sense of awe that we had everywhere else.