I decided to post about South Island’s ‘best kept secrets’ as we discovered a few gems on our travels that not many other seemed to know about, that I thought it would be good to share (and as I don’t get millions of visitors to my site I think they will remain pretty secret!)
For the last Top 5 then, here we go
Top 5 best kept secrets
1. Petrified forest at Curio Bay (Catlins) – yellow eyed penguins in the wild
Certainly one of our most memorable experiences of the whole trip was seeing yellow-eyed penguins in the wild. I posted in detail about the experience here where you can also see a video we made of the amazing penguins we saw. The reason this is a well kept secret is that – as long as you obey the ‘keep your distance’ rule – you can get much closer to the pengiuns here than in other places to see them in NZ. You are allowed right down on to the beach – via proper steps (not via a self-made track at some other sites!). As a result you can wait right on the beach for the little guys to come ashore. We spent two different evenings there and were lucky enough to see one yellow-eyed penguin on the first night who took about 50 minutes to make his way up the beach, and two more penguins on the second night. We were joined by a maximum of about 5 people each time down at the petrified forest in Curio Bay. It is easily accessible with a car park here, right near the camping ground, and as far as I believe people tend to go to other places to see the yellow-eyed penguins instead (such as Oamaru or Nugget Point). We also checked out Nugget Point where you wait in a hide really high up and far away from the beach and decided to leave as our expereince in Curio Bay couldn’t be beaten. You must make sure you respect nature and the penguins’ need for space, but as long as you do this then it really is such an amazing sight!
I have also posted below a video we made of highlights of the amazing yellow-eyed penguin.
2. Elephant Rocks – between Oamaru and Omarama
These amazing rock formations are definitely off the main tourist past but are a stunning sight! They are located on the road between Oamaru and Omarama, near a place called Duntroon. To find them you take the Livingston-Duntroon Road and then follow signposts which take you there. Parking is just by the side of the road. These rocks were made out of limestone and were originally limey sand on the sea floor (around 24 million years ago) but this was buried, turned into rock and then in the last million years was uplifted and weathered by water and wind into the amazing shapes they have formed today. They are located on private farmland (but open to the public), so may occasionally be closed. The site was also used in the Chronicles of Narnia film – as a location for Aslan’s camp. No one else was around when we visited (on route to Mount Cook) and we absolutely loved exploring and taking photos of these extraordinary shapes – at one of NZ’s best kept secrets!
3. Little Kaiteriteri – Abel Tasman National Park
Kaiteriteri is a little more well-known, and often spoken of as the ‘gateway’ to the Abel Tasman National Park. Just down the coast from Kaiteriteri is ‘Little Kaiterteri’, which is much less visited and a quieter and absolutely stunning stretch of beach. It was completely deserted when we walked along it and back on our route to get our boat from Kaiteriteri. This walk takes you along the beach as you then climb up to a wonderful lookout, and then down the other side to Kaiteriteri. I think this area is much nicer than nearby inland Motueka and a beautiful place to stay if planning some time in the park. We had gorgeous weather on the day we were there on our trip back in October and the beach was one of the most beautiful we have ever seen!
4. Governor’s Bay – off Queen Charlotte drive
Queen Charlotte Drive itself is a highlight of any trip to the South island – as I wrote about this drive in more detail on my Top 5 drives. One of its hidden gems is definitely a lovely bay called ‘Governor’s Bay’ – it is signposted off the road, but like many of these places was completely empty when we arrived. It really is the most gorgeous setting, and has a lovely beach and wonderful scenery. You could easily spend a half day or even a day relaxing here, and perhaps go for a swim!
5. Baby seals playing at Ohau waterfall – near Kaikoura
This is certainly becoming more well-known than some of the other things I have posted about (as there were other people at the waterfall when we arrived) – but after speaking to and conversing with a lot of people who have been to that area many still did not know about it – hence I thought I was worth letting a few more know. Just past the Ohau Point seal colony (which is on your right if heading north from Kaikoura) you drive slightly further down the road and on your left you can pull your car in by the side of the road and walk along a river to the waterfall. We were lucky enough to see a baby seal on the rock part-way along the river, making his way down – when we visited on our way up to Marlborough Sounds. When we arrived we were met by an amazing sight – lots of lovely baby seals playing in the beautiful waterfall! They were jumping in and out of the waterfall and seemed as happy as anything. There were also a couple of little ones lying on the rock rather obviously posing for photos! We took some video which we have pasted below in a short highlights film. I am sure this will become more well-known over time, as it is such a special sight. Make sure you visit when driving the coastal road either to/from Kaikoura.