Christmas in Otago: The Catlins & Stewart Island - A Guide's View
Kiwi Guide Helen enjoys sunny festive celebrations on this Christmas version of the Southern Odyssey tour.
Day 1: Christmas Eve: Auckland - Dunedin
Oh dear, miserable mist and drizzle. Will they get in?
But Moa magic triumphed and the sun broke through as the group arrived at Dunedin airport. We headed for a lovely lunch and a chance to get to know one another before a very pleasant stroll through the student-free university grounds. Then on to Olveston, where group members loved both house and gardens, and were especially envious of the upper floor, where artists have apartments in return for assistance at the house. Our hotel dinner included a first taste of that great Southern delicacy – blue cod.
Day 2: Christmas day - Dunedin
A fine morning to explore Dunedin.
The hardy members of the group made it to the top of the famous Baldwin Street before we headed to the top of Signal Hill for an expansive view of the city, then down to the beautifully manicured Botanic Gardens for Christmas bubbly and mince pies among the flowers.
After a Christmas lunch, some chose an arts trail walk to view Dunedin’s street art, while others who had opted for church in the morning accepted a ride to the gardens, and one or two had a sneaky snooze to prepare themselves for a very special evening at Larnach Castle, where a tour of the amazing house was followed by an even more amazing seven course Christmas dinner.
Day 3: Boxing Day Dunedin - Albatross Colony - Nugget Point - Kaka Point
To take advantage of a lovely sunny morning, we took the “high road” back out on the peninsula to stop and appreciate the harbour views.
We were lucky at the Royal Albatross colony to see the majestic birds in flight, as well as caring for chicks on the nests, all made particularly interesting with the commentary of Kevin, our specialist guide.
We then wove our way back along the harbour edge, counting the beautifully decorated bus shelters (was it 11 or 12?), then headed on to Lake Waihola for a picnic lunch, then to the Catlins, where our first stop was a walk out to the Nugget Point/Tokata lighthouse, then to our excellent seaside accommodation at Kaka Point. We were spread around several locations. No envy, as everyone was delighted with their option.
All were even more delighted with an amazing meal at the Lumberjack Café in Owaka and loved meeting the wonderful, hospitable young woman who runs it.
That was after we had winkled them out of Dougie’s store next door, opened specially for our coach.
Day 4: Kaka Point - The Catlins -Rakiura / Stewart Island
We felt a bit reluctant to leave the lovely seaside, but the Catlins called (or was it Dougie’s man cave back in Owaka)?
After a brief stop and a few purchases there, our next stop was the endlessly fascinating Gypsy Gallery at Papatowai, where everyone stood smiling happily while turning the handles of cleverly made gadgets.
One group member claimed it dropped his age by 70 years.
Lunch was in an attractively renovated old school house at Niagara Falls, then it was on to Curio Bay, with its interesting fossils, and a stop at windy Waipapa Point before heading for Invercargill airport and our flight to Stewart Island.
Mist and cloud had cleared to bright sunshine to give us spectacular views throughout the short flight and town and harbour at Oban were sparkling for our arrival.
Day 5: Rakiura / Stewart Island
Stewart Island at its absolute best.
Perfect weather, a great balance of activities and welcoming locals.
We started at the excellent museum, where the group was most impressed with the very high standard of display in the new building. Then it was a bus tour around the island roads with a local guide who gave us a real feel for life and the strong community spirit on the island.
In the afternoon we visited Ulva Island, with expert nature guides, then back to Oban (a.k.a. “the village”) for a choice of walks.
Highlight of the day for one group member was hugging a tree and hugging a policeman in the same day. Really!!
Hugging the tree because our nature guide explained how we could get a feel for the age of large rimu trees by the size of the trunk.
And the policeman? A bit more complicated.
We arrived at dinner to reports that she had been “taken away” by a policeman. I tracked her down (with the policeman and another very disreputable character – in the hotel bar). It turns out that she wanted to buy some pounamu, but found the pounamu carver closed when she returned in the afternoon. Her father had told her that, when in need she should consult a policeman, so she did, and he found the pounamu carver for her (in the South Sea Hotel) and the purchase had been arranged.
Incidentally, the same policeman had earlier stopped to offer another group member a lift back to her accommodation.
Only on Rakiura / Stewart Island.
Day 6: Rakiura/ Stewart Island - Invercargill
After the flight back on a perfect morning, we visited windswept Oreti Beach – site of Bert Munro’s training motorcycle runs, then to Bluff to make sure the Mainland is still linked to Stewart Island.
Lunch was at the Bill Richardson Transport Museum, where we met another busload of happy Moa travellers.
The afternoon was devoted to beautifully maintained trucks, cars and motorcycles, with an extra food stop at the Classic Motorcycle Mecca to try a genuine Southern cheese roll (great, but not best in class), before a stroll in Queen’s Gardens for some and feet up for others before a pleasant farewell dinner at our very relaxing hotel in its park-like setting.
Day 7: Invercargill - Gore - Mandeville - Queenstown and home
More vintage machinery on the way to Queenstown with a stop in Gore to meet our guide Jim Geddes and learn about the Hokonui stills that were once up in the hills, and have a wee dram to check out the products.
Then a chance to add vintage aeroplanes to the machinery viewing, plus enjoying lunch in the hangar while we watched the little yellow Tiger Moth come and go with tourist flights, before we headed to Queenstown for everyone to enjoy their own flights home at the end of a very satisfying tour of the South.