Getting Off The Beaten Path on New Zealand's South Island

Getting Off The Beaten Path on New Zealand's South Island

After seeing Milford Sound, we decided to head south, instead of heading northwest to see more glaciers (like most tourists do).

With the help of the app CamperMate, we found some great spots to camp. On the way to Invercargill, we stopped at Colac Bay and found a secluded free camping spot with a sea view. It’s a pretty spot, but beware that the weather is unstable due to the closeness of the ocean. It can get windy and rainy, but if you are looking for a private spot with a view, Colac Bay is perfect.

On the way to the Otago Peninsula, we stayed at Bluff Camping Ground, a good site with clean amenities and unlimited internet (rare in NZ). The price is around $14 per person per night. It was a quick, pleasant stop before arriving at Kaka Point. There we stayed at Kaka Point Camping Ground. The price is around $12 per person with amenities (kitchen, showers, and toilets). The place was decent, but not super clean. Nugget Point, a viewpoint overlooking the ocean, is the natural attraction in the area. There's a lighthouse at the top of the hill, along with spectacular rock formations and thriving vegetation, with many different species of birds and sea lions.

 

The gem of this off the beaten path area in the south is the Otago Peninsula, for its unique access to wildlife.

In Dunedin, we stayed at the Dunedin Holiday Park, a good campsite with amenities and unlimited internet. The price is around $14 per person per night.

In the Otago Peninsula, you can join guided tours to see penguins, but we didn’t want to pay for a touristy experience. We wanted to see them in the wild. We did some research and read that you could spot them at sunrise or sunset at Sandfly Bay. They make their way to rest on the beach after several hours in the ocean fishing. We took our chances, woke up at 5 AM and made our way to the beach. After parking, there's a 15 minute hike to reach the beach.

Sandfly Bay is mesmerizing and it became one of my favorite places in the world.

It’s a long wild beach surrounded by sand dunes. Sunrise is magical. There is no one around, and the only sound is of the crashing waves and tweeting birds. We waited patiently for the penguins to show up, and they did. We watched them come out of the water and were fascinated by the sort of dialogue going on between the three of them on the shore.

They noticed our presence and quickly went back into the water. Please remember to keep your distance because if they see you they won’t come out of the water. We were far from them but they are smart creatures and will look around carefully before moving on. We also saw sea lions sleeping on the rocks.

The time spent at Sandfly Bay was special and one of the most vivid memories of our trip.

 

Okia Reserve is another cool hike in the area. It’s one hour and 30 minutes return (or two hours and 30 minutes loop). You will reach a long secluded beach where you can spot sea lions and wild birds.

Honestly, after seeing Sandfly, it’s hard to fall in love with other beaches. We loved it so much that we decided to wake up again at 5 AM to see the penguins again the day after. Back to Sandfly, we waited for sunrise, but our friends weren’t there to wait for us. The day before we had a perfect moment but this time everything was different.

We didn’t see the penguins, but we were happy to learn more about their habits looking at their footprints.

 

We made our way back to Christchurch (where we had to drop off our van) via Lake Tekapo because the sky was blue without clouds and we wanted to see the stars. The area is called International Sky Preserve because its deep dark sky makes it the perfect destination for stargazers. There were no clouds that night, but there was a full moon. It’s hard to find the perfect conditions, but the view of the starry sky was beautiful nonetheless. The day after we stopped for lunch at Motuariki Island view by Lake Tekapo. This viewpoint is further away from the touristy ones and we were the only ones there.

I highly recommend adding the Otago Peninsula to your Kiwi trip.

It’s the wild part of New Zealand, facing Antarctica. You can easily spot penguins, sea lions and unique species of birds.

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