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This is me sharing details of my 13 days self drive holiday on south island in a Toyota Yaris. There is some but not extensive driving on unsealed roads in The Catlins (usually less than 10km at once at 40km/h) and the car manages that fine. Sources of information for the trip included Rough Guides, Tripadvisor and Department of Conservation (DOC) website.
* Overnight at Christchurch's Old Countryhouse Backpackers
* Drive to Franz Josef (5 hours)
- Stop at Castle Hill for a walk amongst huge rocks
- Stop at Arthurs Pass for tea & see the cheeky Kea fly away with someone's lunch on the table
- Arrive at Franz Josef Chateau Franz Motel
- Take 20 min Sentinel Rock walk and 1h20min Franz Josef Glacier Walk in the glacial valley to the terminal face
* Drive to Wanaka
- Enjoy the drive through the scenic Haast Pass. Pray it does not rain, but if it does its not bad too as the ballistic waterfalls running down the sides of the mountains and mist and cloud shrouding the sides of the tall mountains give the place a mystic feel.
- Pass by Lake Hawea. This town is much quieter and peaceful than Wanaka which has more shops and tourists.
- Take a walk by the Wanaka lakefront
- Climb 250m up Mount Iron (2 hour loop) for scenic views of Wanaka, surrounding mountain range and lakes at every turn. This climb is not too strenuous and is on a well formed track. We even saw locals jog up the hill in the evening.
- Stay over at Base Wanaka Hostel
* Drive to Queenstown through scenic Crown Range rather than SH6. The road rises to about 1200m above sea level and from the viewing point there there are spectacular views of Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown. At this height its just 2°C out there in summer.
* Arrive at Queenstown, check in at Pinewood Lodge
* Go to I-site and set off on Dart River Jet Safaris
* Pies at The Bakery queens town for dinner
* Breakfast at Vudu Cafe queenstown. They serve a good variety of scrumptious breakfasts. The Eggs Benedict is heavenly, one of the best I'd ever had.
* Horse Riding at Moonlight Stables, 15min from Queenstown. The owners Geoff and Janice were very friendly and helpful, choosing the most suitable horse out of the 30 they have to suit my ability and experience (which is none). The 1.5 hour horse trek around the station, with sheep and deer, was relaxing and enjoyable.
* Dinner at Queenstown PJ's fish and chips
* Drive to Te Anau
* Check into Parklands Motel
* Take a walk to the Control Gates (50min one way) which is also the starting point of Kepler Track. This walk takes you past the Wildlife Centre where you can see some rare native birds. The walk itself is relaxing and easy, though at times a little boring, and follows the shoreline of Lake Te Anau.
* Go a little further from Control Gates to Dock Bay (30min one way)
* Drive to Milford Sound by way of Milford Road
- Take some short walks along the way
1. Mirror Lakes (10min) --- pop right out off your car and onto the boardwalk beside the parking lot to see reflection of the mountains in a two tiny lakes
2. Key Summit + Lake Howden (4 hour return) --- The track starts at The Divide, one end of the Routeburn Track. Tracks are well formed and on a good clear day, you can expect to see wonderful views of the surrounding mountains at the summit. However, on a rainy or gloomy day (which I experienced), expect to see nothing but fog, rain and strong wind gusts at the summit. The walk itself was however enjoyable and not too strenuous, but you should be comfortable with climbing up gentle slopes for well over an hour. The track branches off at some point to either Key Summit Alpine Nature Walk or Lake Howden, and you can take the 20 min one way from branch-off walk to Lake Howden after you have gotten down from key summit. There, there is a hut the last stopover for those on the Routeburn heading to the Divide.
Check into Tuatara Backpackers
*Drive to the Catlins via Southern Scenic Route
- Stop by Waipapa point (see sealions at close proximity on the beach)
- Stop by Slope point
- Check into Curio Bay Salthouse (this accommodation has full length class windows for views of porpoise bay and hector dolphins in the bay, it also has a very well equipped private kitchenette)
- Walk 5min or drive to curio bay where petrified forest is. At the same beach, watch penguins come home near dusk. There are no barriers or spectator stand here so its a more intimate and real experience than oamaru penguin colony. We stayed 7-830 and left slightly earlier than the 930 sunset but still saw 2 early birds. Dress very warmly.
*Enroute to Dunedin, visit Surat Bay to see sea lions on the beach. Visit nugget point. But bring binoculars if you intend to see the wildlife clearly.
- check in at Hogwartz Backpackers
- take a walk around Octagon area and have dinner and shopping there
* Visit Otago Peninsula
* Drive to Oamaru. Check in at Empire hotel backpackers.
- See blue penguin colony return back to shore at dusk. It costs $25 per pax to see more than 200 of them return in summer. However as we left at 930, we saw several penguins wandering along the streets in the parking lot outside the vicinity. I guess you could still catch some in the area along shore without paying to see them.
* Drive to Mount Cook
- Check in at Mt Cook Backpackers Lodge
- Note about food: Meals at cafes/restaurants in mount cook are expensive so do bring food supplies to cook if you are on budget.
- Take a walk: Hooker Valley Walk (3h and very enjoyable- we saw people of all ages from 6-60 take the walk so it is very manageable and gives good views of mount cook, the river, hooker glacier). Kea Point Walk (1.5h)
* Drive back to Christchurch
- Outlet shopping at Tower Junction Mega Center @ Riccarton and Dress Smart @ Hornby. In the area are also Mac pac and Bivouac outlet stores.