South Island Birding and Wildlife Itinerary


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Motuara Island - Sanctuary in the Marlborough Sounds

Kia Ora, welcome to New Zealand! After touching down in Blenheim, collect your rental car and head into the harbour town of Picton for a wildlife cruise to Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary.

Guided Cruise to Motuara Island Sanctuary 
There couldn't be a better place to meet NZ birds for the first time. On this predator-free island in the beautiful Marlborough Sounds, around 70 species of rare and common NZ birds can thrive without fear of pests.

It's a great place to meet some of our common feathery neighbours. See clumsy Kereru (NZ Wood Pigeons) stumble drunkenly from branches creaking under their weight. Laugh at the cheeky South Island Robins hopping around your feet, searching for tasty insects uncovered by your footsteps. Hear the Tui performing its quirky opera of sound effects (if you had two voice boxes, you'd want to sing about it!)

You'll have the chance to see some of our rarer birds too, such as the yellow-crowned parakeet and the South Island saddleback. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the especially rare King Shag, which only exists on four islands in the Marlborough Sounds and nowhere else on earth.

After an extravaganza of beauty and birdsong, you'll return to picturesque Picton Harbour and settle in for the night.

Birdlife to watch out for: Tui, Kereru, Silvereye, King Shag, Yellow-crowned Parakeet, Bellbird, South Island Saddleback, Grey Warbler


Fine dining, exceptional accommodation and plenty of activities are available to guests at Kippilaw House, a Bed and Breakfast situated within Picton with a luxurious touch. This classic retreat is suitable for families and couples wishing to explore the Marlborough Sounds.


Picton to Abel Tasman National Park

Take a leisurely road trip through the Marlborough region, and our sunshine capital Nelson, to the forests and bays of Abel Tasman National Park.

You're in no hurry so feel free to pick up some world-renowned Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir along the way! There is wonderful local produce too - such as honey, cheese, and salmon - perfect for a gourmet picnic lunch.

New Zealand's smallest National Park is famous for its golden beaches, marbled cliffs, and native forests. Blessed with secluded bays, mossy valleys, and picturesque waterfalls, you are sure to fall in love with this corner of paradise.

As the sunset paints the sky in a kaleidoscope of pinks and yellows, settle back and relax. This incredible location is all yours for the next two nights.

Approximate Distance: 168 km | 104 miles  Total Driving Time: 2 hours 44 minutes

Accommodation: Abel Tasman - 2 Nights

This apartment is a 1-minute walk from the beach. Kaiteriteri Reserve Apartments is set in Kaiteriteri overlooking the golden sand beach. The apartment is air-conditioned and features a flat-screen TV. The apartment is located 34 km from Nelson and 9 km from Motueka. All units include a kitchenette fitted with a dishwasher, stovetop, microwave, and kettle. Every unit is equipped with a private bathroom with a shower. Bed linen and toiletries are provided.
Beachfront Accommodation


Cruise the Abel Tasman and Tonga Island Marine Reserve

Enjoy a scenic full-day catamaran cruise around the hidden bays and beaches of beautiful Abel Tasman National Park.

Abel Tasman Cruise 
Sail to the mysterious Split Apple Rock and visit the local wildlife at Tonga Island Marine Reserve. The cruise itinerary is loose and flexible, giving you ample time to swim and snorkel the turquoise bays or take a leisurely paddle in one of the onboard kayaks. You might even find yourself face to face with a fur seal!

If you fancy, take some shore leave to walk along the famous Abel Tasman Coast Track. Or relax on board and enjoy the serenity, while your knowledgeable skipper tells tales of the unique history and wildlife in this wonderful part of the world.

Birdlife to keep an eye out for: Fantails, Weka, Shags, Saddleback, Crowned Parakeets, Herons, and Gulls, Black Oystercatchers, Fluttering Shearwaters

Sea-life to keep an eye out for: Common Dolphin, Dusky Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin, Long Fin Pilot Whale, Orca, NZ Fur Seal


Pancake Rocks and a Petrel Colony (optional)

Journey to Punakaiki on the South Island's rugged and remote West Coast, and join a guided tour of the Westland Petrels' breeding grounds at sunset.

Be sure to stop and marvel at the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki - these incredible rock stacks have formed over 30 million years, beaten into shape by the strong winds and waves here.

Westland Petrel Sunset Tour (Optional)
The endemic Westland Petrel is the largest mainland burrow-nesting petrel. These incredible birds can spend many years at sea without touching land before returning to the shore to breed and raise their young.

From your secluded viewing shelter, you'll watch them head back to land after a hard day of fishing, crashing through the forest canopy on their way. After greeting each other with cackles and squawks, they'll wander off to their breeding burrows to check on the children.

Your knowledgeable guide will give you an insight into petrel behavior as you watch, and you'll learn about the environmental and conservation issues faced by petrels around the world.

Approximate Distance: 277 km | 172 miles  Total Driving Time: 3 hours 53 mins

Accommodation: Punakaiki - 1 Night

Surrounded by the Paparoa National Park and with stunning views of the Tasman Sea, The Ocean View Retreat – Punakaiki is in a great location. The resort is situated only 300m from the famous Punakaiki Blowholes and has been designed in harmony with the local environment.  Evenings are spent relaxing in a standard resort room with views of the sea or an Eco Suite with rainforest and distant seaviews.

The Ocean View Retreat – Punakaiki


Punakaiki to Franz Josef: Glacial Splendour

The windswept West Coast of the South Island is rugged, remote and full of fascinating places to check out during your journey to Franz Josef.
Keep your camera close by as you pass rainforest-covered mountains and craggy coastlines, gold-rush towns, and luscious lakes.

Nestled in a rainforest clearing, Franz Josef Glacier Village lies at the heart of the Westland National Park.

The magnificent Franz Josef Glacier is widely regarded as the gem of New Zealand’s West Coast glaciers. It tumbles down from the Southern Alps almost to the sea, its ancient icy faces contrasting spectacularly with the surrounding rainforests.

Welcome to one of the most diverse and beautiful areas of New Zealand.

Excursions available in and around the Franz Josef area:

Kayak Okarito Lagoon 

   Glacier Hot Pools       Glacier Scenic Flight

Horseback Riding  

   Walk to Glacier Face    Glacier Heli-hike


Approximate Distance:  218 km | 135 miles  Total Driving Time: 2 hours 54 mins

Accommodation: Franz Josef - 2 Nights

Holly Homestead whispers history.Enjoy the guest lounge and a glass of port before retiring to your room. Built in 1926 the Holly Homestead is a perfect example of “Arts and Crafts’, mixed with casual country chic. Your hosts Beradine and Gerard have refurbished the house and delivered a boutique B&B just three minutes drive from Franz Josef Village. Take in the charm of the property whilst enjoying breakfast in the country kitchen or simply relax in your private room.
Holly Homestead


Okarito Lagoon Kayak and the Wild West Coast

Spend the day at Okarito Lagoon Bird Sanctuary, where you will kayak into a lost world of wetlands and forests in search of the elusive Kotuku (white heron).

Kayaking at Okarito Lagoon Bird Sanctuary 
Okarito Lagoon covers 3240 hectares of shallow open water surrounded by magnificent rainforest. Over 70 bird species have been sighted in the area, and it is home to the feeding ground of the Kotuku. With only 170 of these graceful birds in New Zealand, this is an incredible opportunity to glide along in your kayak and watch them feed without disturbing them.

Keep an eye out for the delightfully comical Royal Spoonbill striding through the shallows, swaying its shovel-like bill from side to side through the water in search of snacks!

A clear day will provide awe-inspiring views of Mt. Cook, Mt. Tasman and the Southern Alps, rounding off a perfect day in this birdwatchers paradise.

Some birds to keep an eye out for: Weka, Tui, Bellbird, Grey Warbler, Paradise Duck, Kotuku, White-faced Heron, Oystercatcher, Banded Dotterel, Eastern Bar-Tailed Godwit, Pied Stilt, Royal Spoonbill, Tomtit, Kereru, Kingfisher


Lake Moeraki: Wilderness On Your Doorstep

Few places on earth can match the stunning natural setting of your home for the next two nights: Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki.

New Zealand’s premier nature lodge is surrounded by ancient rainforest on the shores of the Moeraki River, just a stone's throw from the Tasman Sea. Owned and operated by renowned conservationists Anne Saunders and Dr. Gerry McSweeney, everything here is geared towards giving nature lovers the sense of freedom that comes from being in the New Zealand Wild.

Join naturalist guides to hike wilderness beaches, explore jungle-like rainforests, kayak and search for penguins, seals, and other wildlife. Self-guided hiking, kayaking, and brown trout fishing are also available.

Tonight, why not feast on the finest west coast seafood and produce at the Lodge's outstanding restaurant.

Approximate Distance:  145 km | 90 miles  Total Driving Time: 1 hour 53 mins

Accommodation: Haast - 2 Nights

Few places on earth can match the stunning natural setting of Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki, surrounded by lakes, rivers, rainforest and seacoast in the heart of Te Wahipounamu, the southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area. This is a paradise for nature lovers, active travelers and wilderness seekers. Experience the very best of wild New Zealand. Accommodation with luxury rooms including private bathrooms and tea/coffee making facilities and also queen and king size bed.
New Zealand Wilderness Lodge


Lake Moeraki: Tawaki - the Fiordland Crested Penguin

Watching Tawaki penguins on Moeraki's wilderness beaches is a truly special wildlife experience.

Fiordland Crested Penguin Guided Experience 
The second rarest penguin in the world likes to do things its own way. With a bright orange beak, and striking yellow crests resembling a pair of bushy eyebrows, the Tawaki's appearance is guaranteed to turn heads!

Instead of the usual icy penguin habitats, these trailblazers have opted for a rainforest home, building nests beneath boulders and tree stumps.

You'll take a short walk lodge to Monro Beach, and join a guided tour of several protected sites where you can watch these delightful birds. After walking through the towering rainforest to the coast, you can sit quietly by the shore and spy on the Tawaki coming and going between their nests and the Tasman Sea.

This is wildlife in the truest sense of the word.


Wild West Coast to Wanaka and Queenstown

The drive from Franz Josef to Queenstown is one of the most scenic in New Zealand, as the windswept West Coast gives way to ancient forests and mountain passes.

There's beauty around every bend as you navigate the Haast Pass, with woodland walks and dramatic waterfalls along the way - perfect for picnic stops. You'll pass through the picturesque town of Wanaka, on the shores of New Zealand's second largest lake.

Finally, the road leads you over the rugged Crown Range to Queenstown on the highest main road in the country.

Often called the "Jewel of the South", Queenstown overlooks Lake Wakatipu and the towering Southern Alps. Dining at one of the many waterfront eateries, with the mountain views laid out before you, is a perfect way to end the day.

Approximate Distance: 208 km | 129 miles  Total Driving Time: 2 hours 57 minutes

Accommodation: Queenstown - 1 Night

Just 8 minutes walk into the heart of Queenstown you will find the Alexis Motel and Apartments, surrounded by majestic alpine scenery and spectacular views across Lake Wakatipu. Choose from a variety of self contained accommodation which include One Bedroom Apartment, Two Bedroom Apartment and Studio Suites

Alexis Motel and Apartments


Queenstown to Te Anau - Gateway to Fiordland

Swapping the bright lights of Queenstown for lakeside tranquility, today you will journey Te Anau, the gateway to Fiordland National Park.

Te Anau is another area of breathtaking natural beauty, and several key Lord of The Rings movie scenes were filmed amid the unspoiled forests and lakes of this region.

Immerse yourselves in the gorgeous surroundings: flight-seeing, fly fishing, kayaking, sailing and horse riding are all on offer and are great ways to get up close to nature. Some of the best-loved New Zealand Great Walks begin nearby, such as the Milford, Routeburn, and Kepler Tracks.

Soak up the serenity of these gorgeous surroundings, and if you're wondering where the fiords are, you will love what tomorrow has in store!

Approximate Distance: 173 km | 107 miles  Total Driving Time: 2 hours 8 minutes

Accommodation: Te Anau - 2 Nights

Each cottage offers a fully equipped kitchen or kitchenette, a dining setting and a lounge area with a sofa and flat-screen TV. All cottages include a private bathroom with a shower, a hairdryer, and bathrobes. Offering free WiFi and stunning mountain views, Blue Thistle Cottages is located in Te Anau. This peaceful holiday home offers self-contained holiday home with cooking facilities and free onsite parking.
Cottages Te Anau


Milford Sound - ‘the Eighth Wonder of the World'

Milford Sound Nature Cruise 
No visit to New Zealand is complete without a pilgrimage to the "Eighth Natural Wonder of the World": Milford Sound.

The Milford Road takes you from Te Anau to Milford Sound on one of the most scenic drives on the planet. A glorious labyrinth of soaring peaks is punctuated by unspoiled rainforest, plunging valleys, azure lakes, waterfalls, and glaciers.

The Kea: As you arrive at Eastern Side of the Homer Tunnel on state Highway 94, there is an area where you can pull over and take photos, and it is here where you are often met by one of New Zealand's native parrots, the cheeky Kea. These super-intelligent and mischievous birds are a delight to see in the wild. BE CAREFUL: The Kea delights in eating rubber trim on rental cars! These gregarious birds take great pleasure in "tasting" plastic and rubber pieces of your car, so keep a watch out for them as any damage caused to your rental car may be recouped by the rental company :( 

Arriving in Milford, you will board your purpose-built cruise vessel and sail the length of the Sound, dwarfed by towering cliffs and waterfalls all around you. The onboard nature guide will tell you all about the seals, penguins, and dolphins who frequently visit this mesmerising location.

Wildlife to watch out for: Bottlenose, Dusky and Hector's Dolphins, Whio (blue duck), NZ Fur Seal, Little Blue Penguin, Fiordland Crested Penguin, Kea, Oystercatcher, Sooty Shearwater


Te Anau to Stewart Island: New Zealand's Best Kept Secret

Today head down to the town of Invercargill to catch a scenic ferry to the southernmost part of New Zealand: Stewart Island.

It seems almost a cliché to call Stewart Island one of New Zealand's best-kept secrets. Only 1% of the island is inhabited - the rest belongs to natural native bush, exquisite white-sand beaches, bird sanctuaries, and rugged mountains.

The forest is a haven for bird-life, as there are fewer predators than on the mainland. Kaka, parakeets, tui, and bellbird give a wonderful dawn chorus. New Zealand's national bird, the kiwi can be found all around the Island.

After only a few hours in this remote paradise the rest of the world melts away, and you'll quickly find yourself adopting the laid-back demeanor of the locals.

Approximate Distance: 187 km | 116 miles  Total Driving Time: 2 hours 17 minutes

Accommodation: Stewart Island - 2 Nights

Nestled in native bush on a sunny hillside, Stewart Island Lodge offers a peaceful sanctuary. Located just 5 minutes walk from the village centre, our Bed and Breakfast is private and secluded with commanding views of Halfmoon Bay and the surrounding ocean. Private and secluded, Stewart Island Lodge is a the place to relax in great comfort while providing a base for your island exploration. The lodge has sweeping views of Halfmoon Bay and the ocean beyond. Its grounds are home to many native birds including kaka (native parrots).
Stewart Island Lodge


Ulva Island: A Bird Lovers Paradise

Ulva Island Guided Walk and Eco Tour 
The idyllic, predator-free Ulva Island bird sanctuary is just a short water-taxi ride from Stewart Island, and you'll discover its taonga (treasures) on a guided walk today.

Free from the risk of predators, many of Ulva's birds are fearless, and will happily approach human visitors to get a good look. Make sure you charge your camera batteries, you're going to want to remember this forever!

Strolling under a luxuriant green canopy of podocarp forest, you'll enter a world of exquisite seasonal orchids, mosses, liverworts, and beautiful filmy ferns. Your local guide will introduce you to the practical and medicinal uses of Ulva's trees and plants from a local and Maori perspective.

Birds to watch out for... 

Landbirds: South Island Saddleback, Yellowhead, Stewart Island Robin, South Island Rifleman, Red-crowned Parakeet, Yellow-crowned Parakeet, Stewart Island Weka, South Island Kaka, Wood Pigeon, Brown Creeper, Tui, Bellbird, South Island Tomtit, Fantail, Grey Warbler, Morepork, Kingfisher.

Shorebirds: Stewart Island Shag, Spotted Shag, Pied Shag, Little Shag, Black-backed Gull, Red-billed Gull, Variable Oystercatcher.

Seabirds: White-capped Mollymawks, Little Blue Penguins


Dunedin 'Edinburgh of the South'

Returning to the mainland today, you will visit Dunedin, a grand old university town on the East Coast.

The name "Dunedin" comes from the Scots-Gaelic name for Edinburgh: "Dun Eideann" and you won't have to look hard to see the Scottish influence in this lovely old university town.

A popular attraction here is Larnach Castle, built in 1871. It took 200 workers three years to build, and twelve years to decorate. Housing a unique New Zealand antique collection and beautiful gardens, it's a relaxing place to meander.

Tonight enjoy Dunedin's lively bar, restaurant, and nightlife scene and look forward to meeting the local's wildlife tomorrow.

Approximate Distance: 231 km | 143 miles  Total Driving Time: 2 hours 56 minutes

Accommodation: Dunedin - 2 night

This boutique beachfront hotel offers rooms with super-king sized beds and broadband internet access. Some rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking St Clair's Beach. This property is 2 minutes walk from the beach. Hotel St Clair is located just 10 minutes’ drive from central Dunedin. Rooms include flat-screen satellite TV, en suite bathroom with under-floor heating and views of St Clair Beach.
Hotel St Clair


Otago Peninsula Cruise & Yellow Eyed Penguin Tour

This morning you'll hop on board a fascinating Wildlife Cruise around Taiaroa Head and its dramatic cliffs. Later, you'll encounter another rare New Zealand native: the shy Hoiho (Yellow Eyed Penguin)

Otago Peninsula Wildlife Cruise
The Otago Peninsula was described by the internationally-acclaimed environmentalist Dr David Bellamy as “the finest example of eco-tourism in the world." As you cruise around Taiaroa Head, watch for New Zealand Fur Seals playing near their breeding colonies. Out at sea you may also come across albatross and petrels as well as penguins, dolphins and other marine mammals.

Yellow-eyed Penguin Tour 
The yellow-eyed penguin's Maori name, Hoiho, means "Noisy Shouter". While it's true that their voices are rather shrill, these rare penguins are famously shy. Once you arrive at their reserve, your guide will lead you through a unique system of covered trenches and into viewing hides. These hides allow access to living areas and breeding grounds of this timid penguin, providing the opportunity to witness and photograph undisturbed activity at a close range.

The Otago Peninsula was described by the internationally-acclaimed environmentalist Dr .David Bellamy as “the finest example of eco-tourism in the world."


Quiet and private Executive Motel Accommodation in a village like setting, Highfield Mews places you in the heart of Oamaru. Within easy walking distance of the town's cafés, restaurants, shops and Historic Precinct. Luxurious interiors complemented by unique design Highfield Mews is enhanced with many features and comforts that have resulted in these superb suites.

Free Wifi and bike hire just part of the excellent range of facilities on offer.


Dunedin to Oamaru: Heritage buildings and Little Blue Penguins

Today your journey continues up the east coast of the South Island to historic Oamaru.

Be sure to stop en route at Koekohe Beach to admire the Moeraki Boulders. There are over 50 of these 65-million-year-old natural wonders strewn along the sands. They are up to 2 metres wide and the largest weight around 7 tonnes!

The North Otago town of Oamaru greatly prospered from gold mining in the 1800s and boasts some of the finest heritage buildings in New Zealand. The splendid nineteenth-century whitestone buildings - formerly prestigious banks and hotels - are now home to galleries and specialty stores. The town has a character all of its own, and some highly revered residents who you will glimpse tomorrow.

Head to the Oamaru Harbour at sunset for a special treat. As darkness falls, a local colony of Little Blue Penguins waddle up the steep bank, before heading towards their comfy nests. Locals and visitors alike gather to watch the penguin parade, it's a sight not to be missed.

Approximate Distance: 113 km | 70 miles  Total Driving Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

Accommodation: Oamaru - 1 night


Quiet and private Executive Motel Accommodation in a village like setting, Highfield Mews places you in the heart of Oamaru. Within easy walking distance of the town's cafés, restaurants, shops and Historic Precinct. Luxurious interiors complemented by unique design Highfield Mews is enhanced with many features and comforts that have resulted in these superb suites.

Free Wifi and bike hire just part of the excellent range of facilities on offer.


Oamaru to Christchurch: New Zealand's Garden City

Your final destination, Christchurch, is New Zealand’s second-largest city and the South Island's capital.

Bordered by the Pacific Ocean, Christchurch is our "Garden City", blessed with beautiful parks and gardens right in the heart of town. English heritage buildings sit side by side with innovative post-earthquake regeneration in this vibrant place.

After settling in, why not relax with punting trip down the Avon River? Gliding gently along in a flat-bottomed boat, you will take in Christchurch's 'must-see' historic attractions and botanic gardens away from the hustle and bustle of the streets.

Make the most of your last night in New Zealand by exploring Christchurch's foodie scene. With everything from relaxed cafes to fine dining on offer, you'll have no trouble finding the perfect spot to mull over your memories of the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Some suggested activities to help you to get to know the region

Easygoing Cycling Tour    Punting the Avon River   Lyttelton Harbour Wildlife Cruise
Māori Cultural Evening French Akaroa Tour Southern Alps Ballooning
Christchurch Gondola Clearwater Golf Arthur's Pass TranzAlpine Hike

Approximate Distance: 249 km | 13 miles  Total Driving Time: 3 hours 13 minutes

Accommodation: Christchurch - 1 night

Novotel offers a modern and unique venue, full of charm and sophistication — with all the facilities would you expect from a 4.5 star hotel, including the Square Restaurant and Bar, free internet iMac station and a fitness centre.The modern tower, offers 154 contemporary guest rooms each a peaceful space designed for natural living with a comfortable bed, a work desk and high speed wireless internet.
Novotell Christchurch


Bon Voyage

"Haere rā" Goodbye! and Bon Voyage!

We know you will enjoy our 'South Island Birding and Wildlife' Itinerary and our promise to you is to make your travels through New Zealand as hassle-free and hospitable as possible - ensuring that today you leave with a memory card full of photos, and huge smiles on your faces when recalling your time in New Zealand! Today, return your rental car, have a great homeward journey, farewell and hope to see you again soon in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

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What Steve says about this tour: There really is no country on earth like New Zealand when it comes to wildlife touring. Our predator-free sanctuary islands explode with birdsong and you'll see so many creatures that just don't exist anywhere else - many of them sadly endangered. Visit ing them in the isolated and beautiful South Island locations they call home is a truly unforgettable experience!
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