Day 3: We drove down to Bluff, New Zealand’s southernmost tip via Invercargill, and then up to Lake Te Anau and saw endemic birds. More than 400 kilometres of road was traveled on this day.
Lake Te Anau is our final destination on day three, and it is more than 5 hours drive away from Dunedin. En route, Dad wanted to visit Bluff, the southernmost tip of New Zealand – just to say we’ve been there!
Bluff was not on our original agenda and we had another long day of driving ahead of us, so we decided to forego visiting the Otago Peninsula to save on time. The peninsula only about 20 minutes away from Dunedin and the albatross breeding centre is a popular tourist attraction here.
We arrived in Invercargill around lunch time and we stopped to have kebab. After a bit of walking around the city, we got back into the car and drove another 1/2 hour to Bluff.
Bluff is the southernmost city in New Zealand and is a port and gateway to Stuart Island which lays further south.
We went to a lookout point in Bluff and drove up a large hill. We saw a man walking up the hill and he waved at us. Because we took a wrong turn to reach the lookout point, I had to reverse the car and get back on to the main road to get there. The man we saw earlier had already arrived, wow he was a fast walker!
At the top of the lookout point, we could see the harbour and Stuart Island. I was told that only 400 people live in Stuart Island and some 15,000 kiwi birds flourish there!
We left Bluff and drove north to Te Anau, about 187 kilometres away. The weather was overcast and as we got into Te Anau, it had started to rain. Te Anau is a popular lake resort and I have many friends who have visited from Malaysia. The day was cold and gloomy and it was late, so I decided to visit the nearby bird sanctuary as it was still open.
We had Indian food that night, the weather was raining and cold so hot butter chicken with nan bread actually sounded good.
I stopped by this bird statue to take a photo, and once I was done, a Chinese man nearby asked me to help take his photo. Somehow he thought I was from India, and when I said I was from Malaysia, he said he was too!
Te Anau is fjord territory and located near Fjiorland National Park. Lots of people who visit Te Anau come to take lake cruises to see the beautiful fjords in the area. I saw many people queuing outside the cruise venues to board ships at night. Since we only had one night to stay in the area we had to forego this activity. However, upon driving out of Te Anau to head into Queenstown the following day we came across a few stops that overlooked beautiful fjords, so at least I had some exposure to these magnificent things.
Colleagues and friends recommended me to visit Milford Sound and take the lake cruise up there to see the fjords, which is another 2 hours drive away north of Te Anau Lake. Gordon at work tells me that on the drive to Milford Sound there will be a section of the highway when you would see a mountain “sinking” on the horizon as you drive closer to it.
Since Milford Sound wasn’t in our original itinerary and as much as we wanted to go see it, we didn’t because 1) the weather was less than ideal (raining) and 2) that meant we’d be spending almost two hours on the road just to get to Milford Sound, and then have to drive another four hours from Milford Sound to Queenstown! (There is no direct road from MS to Queenstown, we learned that the department of conservation did not want highway to be built through the national park).
A few days later when we were back in Christchurch, Graham our local driver told us how dangerous the road up to Milford Sound is from Te Anau if you are not used to driving there. He tells us of a tragic accident that involved two young German tourists who lost control of their car at a notorious road bend and collided with a bus that ended up on top of their car! Sadly they perished as they were trapped when their vehicle caught up in flames.
In hindsight, my parents and I made a wise decision not to push ourselves to go to Milford Sound. It would have been too tiring of a trip and we wouldn’t be able to see or do much in Queenstown had we done that.
Between 18-23 February 2018, I made a memorable and time-aggressive road trip around New Zealand’s South Island with my parents, not unlike an adrenaline-pumped episode of the Amazing Race! We drove almost 1,800 kilometres in these six days and saw many unforgettable sights that took our breaths away. Considering I was travelling long distances with two senior citizens, I feel blessed that everyone came out of it relatively healthy and refreshed. Heck, my dad did a lot of the driving than mom and I was!
The road trip started after we flew into Christchurch from Auckland. Granted, we weren’t able to see everything that the travel agent suggested we do in the itinerary they prepared for us, but we did as much as we could and skipped out certain places and activities to fit our timeline. After all, it is a holiday, why stress out? While we tried to keep to the driving schedule, we kept our itinerary open and loose and picked and chose what we could cover for the day.
I am breaking down my South Island experience into 7 separate blog posts, each highlighting one day of adventure. Click on the link below that piques your interest first or just go day by day and follow me on my adventure:
Day 1: The alma mater, beautiful lakes and mountains (Lincoln University, Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki, Mt. Cook Village)
Day 2: Penguins, ancient boulders and world’s steepest street (Omarama, Oamaru, Koehohe Beach, Dunedin)
Day 3 – The southernmost tip and endemic birds (Invercargill, Bluff, Lake Te Anau)
Day 4 – The cruise at the adventure capital (Queenstown)
Day 5 – The reflective lake (Lake Matheson)
Day 6 – Helicopter ride to Fox Glacier, the continental train (Fox Glacier, Greymouth to Christchurch)
Day 7 – Christchurch (tram ride, punting on the River Avon, gondola views from Mt. Cavendish)
On Day 2, we drove from Omarama to Oamaru to see blue penguins, then to the strange Moeraki Boulders on Koekohe Beach, and finally landed in Dunedin to walk up the steepest street in the world. We covered quite a number of kilometers of road on this day.
After a full day of driving, we spent the night at Omarama. It was a quiet town and there weren’t many options for food where we stayed but we managed to find fish and chips for dinner before retiring for the night. We didn’t do much in Omarama, only bought some groceries for the road and refilled our gas the next day. Omarama is a favourite destination for glider pilots it seems. Our itinerary suggested seeing a sheep shearing demonstration at a local cafe but we didn’t have time for that.
While grocery shopping, I saw this newspaper headline at the supermarket, something I think most tourist drivers in NZ would not want their GPS units doing!
We set up the GPS to Dunedin which was our final destination for the day. It was a wet day, drizzling throughout so we were careful in our driving. A lot of country road lay ahead of us and the speed limit in NZ is usually 100km/h. There are signs every now and then reminding foreign drivers that “NZ roads are different”, meaning people should be more patient and keep to the speed limit. It’s not the German autobahn we’re talking about here.
While driving in South Island, I saw a lot of farm fields with these giant irrigation sprinklers spraying water (or not) on the crops.
Temperatures were in the low teens (Celsius) when we departed Omarama and it felt like the early onset of winter. It was a far contrast to the sunny warm day we had the previous day. Talk about drastic shift in weather pattern!
En route, we stopped by a power station along Waitaki River to have a look at the dam.
We drove for about 1.5 hours along State Highway 85 before reaching SH 1 and turning right to enter Oamaru.
Oamaru is a known spot for blue penguin sightings, so we decided to drop by and see some. We found a centre called Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, you have to book in an evening viewing session to see the penguins coming on to the shore at dusk after they’ve been fishing and swimming at sea the entire day, which at the time we were there (summer) meant around 8 pm.
It was still early in the day and we weren’t spending a night in Oamaru, so sadly we had to miss this spectacle and settle with going through the penguin museum and walk around the premises.
We also looked at some penguins kept in a special (musky-smelling) shed where they are all molting (i.e. losing their baby feathers to make way for adult ones), but we weren’t allowed to take photos as they were enclosed in dark boxes and could be stressed out. So we left the shed after viewing them and walked around the compound in the rain to read up more about the animals.
After getting some penguin souvenirs, we went to grab some lunch before heading out to Dunedin.
On the way down to Dunedin, we stopped by Koekohe Beach where some huge unique boulders are located. To enter the beach, you drop 2 dollars into a collection box at the top of the stairs and then walk down to the beach.
It was still raining so we walked carefully down the stairs and onto the gravel path that leads to the beach.
At first glance, the beach didn’t look very impressive, especially since the weather was so cold, miserable and uninviting. Teluk Cempedak beach in Pahang had bigger and more impressive boulders than this, I initially said to my mom.
But then upon coming closer to the big rocks, I could see why they were special and a bit out-of-worldly, they were unusually round and had a curious, sulphur-coloured core. With cracks on the surface (called septaria), Moeraki Boulders even resembled prehistoric dinosaur eggs! They are said to have been formed 60 million years ago.
Here’s a photo of me emerging from a boulder like a hatchling, taken from my Instagram:
We had seen enough of the ancient round boulders so we left after about an hour to continue our journey to Dunedin before it got too late.
Dunedin is the second largest city in South Island and is home to Otago University where more than 20,000 students attend university. It also boasts having the world’s steepest street, named Baldwin Street, according to the Guinness book of records!
The name Dunedin came from the Scottish Gaelic name for the capital city of Edinburgh. No matter how many times our local Kiwi friends said it for me, I had a difficult time trying to remember how to correctly pronounce “Dunedin.” So while in the city, I made a short video to remind myself.
After checking into our motel, we drove to the foot Baldwin Street, where the world’s steepest street is, it has a whopping 35% grade!
Baldwin Street became the steepest street because when planners in London were drafting out plans to build streets, they drew grids without considering the terrain. As a result, Baldwin Street was born.
Baldwin Street is a residential street so if you’re visiting, please be respectful to the people living here and keep noise to a minimum. I saw some tourists here making such a ruckus here as they attempted to run up the hill and take photographs at the same time. It was quite cringing to watch.
You can opt to walk up the street or take the stairs on either side of the road. We decided to take the stairs as it was less stressful and safer to do. While walking up, I saw a female runner panting and puffing up the street with her headphones on, I honestly thought she was going to collapse at any moment but she kept going till she reached the stop. She definitely had lungs of steel and calves of a beast!
As you reach the top (if you can last that long), you’ll be rewarded with a photo spot at this mural.
The view from the top was calming and breathtaking. I bet property prices up here cost a pretty penny. The street is made from concrete instead of asphalt so that it doesn’t slide downhill in hot weather!
I saw some cars driving up the hill, presumably in gear one because I could hear the engine revving so hard. I could also smell burning tyres as the cars finally got to the house it was trying to get to!
There is a small souvenir shop at the bottom of the hill where Baldwin Street starts that you could drop by and have a look at. I didn’t go in but from the sign, I read you could get ceramic souvenirs and also a certificate of completion stating that you’ve successfully walked/run/cycled/etc up Baldwin Street!
(After my trip back from New Zealand, I found out that there is a chocolate charity race called the Jaffa Race in which Jaffa chocolate balls labeled with numbers are raced down Balwin Street! How cool is that! Check out this video of that bizarre race.)
With Baldwin Street done and dusted, we drove around the city that was now getting quiet and stopped by the Dunedin railway station for some photos. The railway station, opened in 1906, is stunning and had a beautiful flower garden in the front.
Dunedin also has a Cadbury World which is situated just across the street from the railway station but media reports that the factory part of it is to be closed by March 2018.
Before ending the night, my parents and I went to have dinner at this nice seafood restaurant in town called The Reef. It was also to commemorate my belated birthday back in January. The service here was excellent and the lady who waited on us meticulously described the special of the day, which was a fish dish. We all ordered the same thing!
I also had a side of kumara potato wedges, which is a Maori sweet potato that has low starch content and is supposedly better than normal potatoes. I liked it with the chilli aioli sauce. Because our portions were so generous, we ran out of room for dessert!
And that concludes our day at Oamaru-Dunedin. It’s time to recharge and get rested before we tackle Day 3.