Southern Odyssey: Stewart Island & The Catlins - A Guide's Perspective
In our latest installment from our Kiwi Guides Andre shares his adventures from the far South on our Southern Odyssey: Stewart Island & The Catlins 7 day tour which visits these iconic destinations as well as exploring Dunedin and the transport and aviation heritage museums of Southland.
Andre has been guiding all over the South Island since 2006 and loves nothing more than sharing his passion for Te Waipounamu with our travellers.
MoaTours Kiwi Guide Andre's perspective on our Southern Odyssey & Stewart Island Tour
Kia Ora, my name's Andre Booth and I’m proud to be a Kiwi Guide with MoaTours. My background is a little eclectic but includes natural history and botany.
I've travelled all over the South Island and especially love Stewart Island and the far south so any chance to revisit the area is always grasped with both hands. Even more so when asked to guide groups of Kiwis travelling in their own country.
They come with their own histories, stories and links to our country leaving me wondering who learns more me or them. On one particular trip we even had a relative of the original Stewarts of Stewart Island!
Day 1 - Auckland - Queenstown - Mandeville - Gore - Invercargill
Having just finished another tour in Queenstown I was right on location to start this trip. Folks arrived from Auckland most having come from the middle to upper North Island, some visiting for the first time, others on a trip down memory lane.
It didn’t take us long to load the coach and we were heading south along the shores of Lake Wakatipu with the Remarkable Mountains looming to our east.
Of course, there were a couple of stops for photo requests and a quick coffee and toilet break at Garston, the most inland town in the country and once the service centre for the goldminers of the 1860s who mined in the hills above in the Nevis goldfield.
Our first official stop was the Croydon Heritage Trust Factory and museum at Mandeville. Our visit was extremely timely as they were holding a “fly in“ and open day with vintage machinery and cars, steam engines and stationary machinery.
In no time everyone scattered to marvel at and reminisce over old cars, steam engines and Lister generators to mention but a few. Others watched the Tiger Moths flying in formation and one happy passenger fulfilled her childhood dream of a ride on the traction engine.
Time was up all too soon and we headed for Gore and the guided tour and whisky tasting of the Hokonui Moonshine Museum. I had managed to rustle up some shortbread at short notice as one Scottish traveller said whisky tasting was not complete without shortbread! He was delighted and so was everyone else as they warmed the cockles of their hearts.
I joined the group at the Eastern Southland Gallery, a handsome brick building that was once the Carnegie library. I particularly love the fact that there is a world class collection of art, thanks to an expat New Zealander John Money and artist Ralph Hotere, in a little rural town.
The art lovers enjoyed the visit while others soaked up the sunshine and ambience of the town including the sight of the great old Cremota building…the porridge of my childhood which I hated!
The constant chatter in the back of the bus was indicative that old acquaintances were being renewed and new friends made. Something I love about these tours as I see folk enjoying themselves and at the end planning the next trip of Ena’s together.
Day 2 - Invercargill, Southland Transport Museums - Stewart Island
Before we leave the mainland we take on a transport theme for the morning, with visits to Invercargill icons - Bill Richardson's Transport World, Classic Motorcycles and E Hayes & Son where Burt Munro's Indian Scout is on display.
We head down to Oreti Beach where Burt trained before heading over to the USA to set his land speed record which still stands today. An amazing feat considering he was 68 at the time and riding a home made 47 year old motorcycle.
The day we flew over the Foveaux Strait was beautiful and we were loaded into two 12-seater aircraft for a short flight to the airfield at Stewart Island. This is a wonderful way to arrive on the Island skipping the sometimes turbulent ferry crossing. We had clear views of the south coast of the South Island and northern end of Stewart Island including the highest point of Mt Anglem/Hananui.
Accommodation was in the township of Oban and an easy walk down to the hotel for dinner. It’s also central to various short walks around the village for those keen to do a little exploring on their own.
Day 3 - Stewart Island Exploring - Rakiura National Park - Ulva Island
After a good night’s sleep everyone was woken to the bird song including some insistent kaka outside the motel hoping for snacks (a no-no) and happily posing for photographs.
Having kayaked, tramped and boated around parts of Stewart island it was quite novel to find myself organizing everyone onto a bus for a tour of the few kms of road on the island.
Our local guide was extremely engaging and informative and had everyone enthralled with stories of the area, history of the fishing and fishermen and the recent demise of the fleet. Talk too of the disappearance of unregistered vehicles as the mainland rules encroached on island life!
The scenery, of course, spoke for itself. We drove out to the gateway to Rakiura National Park at Lees Bay where some took a short walk to the actual entrance while others just enjoyed the tranquility of the place.
Talk shifted to the chance of seeing a kiwi and our guide told us of kiwi frequenting the local rugby field at night, so plans were made for any night owls to join me that evening in search of these nocturnal beauties.
The afternoon boat cruise was in glorious conditions - as we sailed out around Ackers Point and into Paterson Inlet the boat paused as Bullers Mollymawks and Cape Pigeons swooped and dived around us. Our destination was Ulva Island a predator free Island nestled in the inlet and free to visit for all. The tracks are wide and in places boardwalked so accessible for everyone in the group.
Our guide took us through beautiful native forest and back along a stretch of beach answering questions and pointing out the island's special residents….the sociable South Island Robin, Saddleback scratching away in the undergrowth, Grey warbler singing in the trees along with Tui, Bellbirds and the ubiquitous Weka.
It was a fun afternoon which flew by and before we knew it, we were back on the boat heading for Oban and some free time.
For some a beer at the pub and chatting to locals, others a walk along the foreshore, a visit to the visitors centre and yet others to the Glowing Sky store for merino clothing. This little business was the brainchild of a Stewart Island fisherman whose foray into clothing manufacturing started as screen printing in his garage and eventually expanded to wonderful woollen garments made in New Zealand and sold locally.
Dinner at the pub again, good hearty Southland meals and lots of chatter. Later a couple of the group joined me as we headed out into a misty evening in search of kiwi. The rugby field was soggy underfoot more suited to kiwi than rugby. We heard Kiwi calling but alas they eluded us while others walking down the road nearby saw one stroll across in front of them.
The end of a good day.
Day 4 - Stewart Island – Catlins Coast - Kaka Point
Up to bird song again, breakfast and back to the airfield and flying back to Invercargill where our coach awaited us and we were soon heading towards the Catlins Coast.
First stop was Waipapa Point and its light house. It was a beautiful day, not cold and windy as it so often is, and why this coast has a history of shipwrecks. The allure of light houses draws me as well as others to them. I always wanted to be a lighthouse keeper, but found myself taking other paths.
Retracing our steps to the main highway onward to Curio Bay and the wonderful petrified forest. Those that could not make it down to the beach enjoyed the view from the top of the steps while others scrambled over the rocks marvelling at nature's treasures and even having a chance encounter with a yellow eyed penguin.
Lunch was calling as we headed back past Porpoise Bay to Niagara Café in the old schoolrooms and surrounded by a delightful garden and rural setting. Some too an easy stroll along the road to Niagara Falls in the miniature.
The afternoon drive though forest and farmland took us to The Lost Gypsy Gallery at Papatowai. This is one of my favourite quirky stops where local Blair Somerville has created a playground for adults with handles to wind, buttons to push and unexpected results, all built from other folks’ discards. A wonderland of creativity.
It’s the end of a busy day by the time we reach Kaka Point and the motel with time to relax and absorb yet another view before down the hill to dinner at The Point Café.
Day 5 - Kaka Point - Otago Peninsula - Dunedin
Nugget Point/Tokata is a superb way to start the day. First there is a narrow road out to the road end but coastal views are worth that. Then the walk out to the lighthouse itself is easy and picturesque.
The sea is far below as we walk and once at the lighthouse the rocks known as the Pinnacles are spectacular as are the views north and south along the coast.
From there its northward through rolling southland farm country to Balclutha for lunch then along the coast to Taireri river mouth and out to the Otago Peninsula and the Albatross Centre.
It always is such a treat to visit the centre and see the Royal Albatross young in their nest and the attendant parents with their 3 metre wingspan soaring in the air currents nearby.
The night was in Dunedin in the centrally located Southern Cross Scenic Hotel.
Day 6 – Explore Dunedin
This morning everyone was bright and cheerful…folk love it when they have a couple of nights in the same place and there is no packing of bags.
First visit of the day was Olverston House built in 1904 by a Dunedin businessman. We had our own guided tour of the house, a wonderful time capsule of how well-off people of a bygone time lived, full of period furnishings, photos and art works.
Beautiful, but more dusting and housework than I would care for, pretty much general consensus among us all. We enjoyed lingering in the surrounding garden complete with its big old leafy trees before heading out to Port Charmers up to its viewpoint and back to Careys Bay Hotel for lunch.
The afternoon was spent in the Discovery World Tropical Forest at Otago museum where folks could wander and look at their own leisure or, not being museum buffs, a couple chose to explore the wonderful secondhand bookshops the city has to offer and walk in the botanical gardens.
A visit to the steepest street in the world, Baldwin Street, and Anderson's Hill lookout completed our day.
Day 7 Dunedin - Otago Peninsula – Dunedin - Fly home
Even though it's our last morning we still want to make the most of every moment we've got to explore so we head out towards the Peninsula and the (in)famous Larnach Castle where we enjoyed a guided tour and the views from the lookouts over Otago Harbour.
Back to the city to visit the excellent Toitu Otago Settlers Museum and lunch nearby before making our way to the airport for flights home. Farewells on these trips are always bittersweet, everyone (guides included) is looking forward to getting back home but will miss all our new friends.
There's something about a road trip that's so much fun and down here in the South it's got a real pioneer feel to it. I'm looking forward to my next trip already!
The end of a trip is always a time when I reflect on how lucky I am to have a job that enables me to meet such wonderful people and to have the opportunity to share with them special parts of New Zealand.
Stewart Island for many is a once in a lifetime visit, a place I’ve been fortunate to visit several times. The tranquility, beauty, natural history gives us a little sense of what much of our country once looked like. Visiting to experience for oneself surpasses any words I can find to describe it.
As everyone disappears through the departure gate I know I will meet some of you again.
Ka kite anō
Find out more about travelling to Stewart Island
Visiting Stewart Island and the Far South is a once in a lifetime travel dream for many Kiwis but it can be a bit tricky to find all the best places to visit, stay and eat.
There's also limited public transport on Stewart Island so you really need your own wheels. Many of our guests prefer leaving all the organising and driving to someone else and join us on our 7 day Stewart Island & the Catlins tour - the Southern Odyssey.
With comfortable accommodation and included sights and activities, all you have to do is sit back and enjoy yourself.
You'll travel with a small friendly group of like-minded travellers and enjoy the care, attention and knowledge of the best local guides and, of course, our own MoaTours Kiwi Guides.