Places To Visit In The Lower South Island of New Zealand

Renee and I recently did a one week trip to the South Island of New Zealand, to visit my sister and do a little exploration around this beautiful section of the country. Renee did a lot of research into where to visit (and camp) on this trip and put together what I consider a pretty amazing itinerary, and I thought I’d share it with you.

Naturally our itinerary was based around our timeframe, and to a certain degree the time of year, so while it may not entirely suit your needs, hopefully it’ll give you a good basis to build your own trip plan from when you explore this part of New Zealand.


Tunnel Beach (low tide access only)
Best at low tide, this twenty minute easy walk from the car park on Tunnel Beach Road through private farmland takes you to a magnificent sandstone sea arch and man-made tunnel to the secluded beach with fossil filled cliffs on all sides.

The track starts at the car park at the seaward end of Green Island Bush Road, off Blackhead Road. Follow the fenced track downhill to the spectacular rocky coastline. At the end of the track a short tunnel with steps leads down to the beach.

-St Clair Beach and St Kilda Beach
Dunedin city beach well worth a visit, with a lovely waterfront promenade where you can get a coffee. When you’re ready, take the steps down to the white sand beach for a stroll. I particularly enjoyed photographing the remains of an old wharf.

– Royal Albatross Centre – Unique tour 3-4.30 pm
Latitude -­‐45.7746919 Longitude 170.727943
[In hindsight, we would skip the tour and spend longer at Sandfly Bay]
Unfortunately I was disappointed by the Royal Albatross Centre. On paper it was a must see, being one of the, if not the only mainland spot in the world where they breed. However we didn’t get great sightings, and even if there had of been more albatross around and more active, the viewing enclosure was not conducive to photography, or even particularly good viewing. All in all, you either need to get special access to go out with a ranger, or you’d be better off on a boat (and fishing, or throwing bait overboard).

Royal Albatross Centre to Sandfly bay – 30 mins drive – 4.30 to 5 pm

Sandfly Bay (named after sand flying in the wind, not sandflies) – 4 to 6 pm
From Highcliff Road, (which is along the top of the Otago Peninsula), turn onto Seal Point Road. Carpark at road end.

Coastal track – 1 hour return, 3 km. The track begins at the Sandfly Bay car park; the end of Seal Point Road. A path crosses farmland to the top of the sand dunes. Go down the sand hill – which can be rather testing on the return, uphill journey – and walk about a kilometre along the beach. Near the southern end a marked track leads up to a hide to view the locals – yellow-eyed penguins. The best viewing time is late afternoon or early evening. Watch out for fur seals and sea lions that haul out on the rocks and beach and wallow in the sand.

Unfortunately by the time we arrived it was too late to get photos of any wildlife, but I did get this shot of the bay from the start of the track.

sandflyBay (1 of 1)

Day Two  – CATLINS

Drive from Dunedin to the Catlins – 1 hr 30 mins

Kaka Point – swimming/surf spot


Nugget Point – 30 min return track.
Only place where elephant seals, fur seals and sea lions share a territory. Spectacular vista north across Molyneux Bay to Wangaloa and the Otago Peninsula, and south down the Catlins Coast to Long Point.

Roaring Bay – 20min return walk.
This 47ha reserve is a breeding place for many of the southern coast’s animals and birds. You may see fur seals, sea lions and elephant seals. Yellow-eyed penguins are best seen from the Roaring Bay hide as they return from the sea in the evening. They nest within the forested areas of the headland.

Owaka – petrol stop (not a lot of petrol stations in the region)

Purakaunui falls – 20 metres high, 3 tier waterfall. 20 min return track (we skipped this destination in order to spend longer at Nugget Point and Roaring Bay)

Matai falls – 10 metres high, modest but pretty. 30 min return walk (we skipped this destination in order to spend longer at Nugget Point and Roaring Bay)

Jacks Blowhole – 1 hr return to a 55 m deep hold that connects to the sea.
While very difficult to get a photo which shows this, it was an interesting sight to walk to with some nice coastal views along the way.

Campsite: DOC Purakaunui Bay
Turn off SH 1 at Balcutha. Drive south past Owaka until Ratanui turnoff. Follow Purakaunui Falls Rd, to Long Point Rd, then follow Purakaunui Bay Rd to end.
Latitude: -46.54501713, Longitude: 169.61183024
Adult $6 per night
40 sites


Day Three – CATLINS

Cathedral caves – accessible 2 hrs either side of low tide, costs $5

Mclean falls – 22 metres high, most impressive falls. 40 min return walk.

Porpoise Bay – hector’s dolphins love to surf here!
We didn’t see dolphins, but definitely take a look just in case you do! Plus if you stay at the Curio Bay Holiday Park, then Porpoise Bay is right in front of you!

_MG_8175Catlins Forest Park, Curio Bay, Holiday Park, Porpoise Bay15

Curio Bay (low tide only) – petrified forest and yellow eyed penguins at dawn and dusk.

Slope Point – southernmost point of land on the South Island. 40 min return walk (we skipped this to spend longer at Porpoise Bay)

Campsite: Curio Bay Holiday Park
601 Curio Bay Road
Phone 03 246 889
(Powered sites available, booking recommended. Bookings not necessary for non-powered sites)

The coastline in this area is truly stunning, wish I’d had longer to try photograph it.


Morning – Drive from Curio Bay to Lake Gunn – 4 hours
Get petrol in Te Anau

(We set up camp at the Lake Gunn campsite first, which helped secure our spot, then went off and did the Key Summit walk)

Afternoon – Key Summit walk
Duration: 3 hours return
This alpine nature walk begins at The Divide car park and follows the Routeburn Track for about an hour until the track branches off on a 30 minute climb to Key Summit where there is a short self-guided nature walk. Even though conditions were pretty miserable with nowhere near enough visibility to get a view, I still really enjoyed this walk.

Campsite: DOC Lake Gunn – beautiful, right on lakeshore
Milford Road, adjacent to SH 94, 78 km north of Te Anau.
Latitude: -44.85834148, Longitude: 168.1011391
$6 per night per adult
10 tent sites – limited space! If full go to cascade creek at south end of lake


Drive Lake Gunn to Milford Sound – allow an hour (two hours from Te Anau)

_MG_8357Milford Sound20

Morning – Milford Sound Cruise 10.15 am to 12.30 pm
Timelapse video of drive and cruise aboard the Jucy boat

The Jucy cruise was worthwhile, but not amazing. It’s very much a drive out and a drive back in, with a couple of minutes pause at a sea lion colony and another short pause while the captain pokes the nose of the vessel into a waterfall.

Naturally if you’re lucky enough to see more wildlife it would spark things up.

Afternoon – Piopiotahi Milford Foreshore Walk
Duration: 30 minutes
At the entry to the main visitor car park at Milford Sound you will find the start of this interpretive walk. Some of the best views of Mitre Peak are from this walk.

Drive to Queenstown – approximately 3 hours
Camp two nights in Queenstown

Campsite: DOC Twelve Mile Delta
Glenorchy Rd, 11 km west from Queenstown
Latitude: -45.06744151, Longitude: 168.54651706
100 tent sites
$6 per night per adult

This campsite will get better and better as the young trees they have recently planted grow and provide shelter between camp sites. As it is, a short walk to the lake shore offers lovely views.

_MG_8468Photomatic ProCampsite, Queenstown, Twelve Mile Delta57


Get up to the top of the gondola and hike to the Ben Lomond summit (5 – 8 hours return)

We walked all the way, well to the saddle, eventually the rain, wind, snow and hail beat us down and we decided we didn’t need to reach the summit on this particular trip. What I mean is we didn’t take the gondola up, but certainly it would save you an hour both ways and one of the steeper sections of the walk – but we didn’t feel it was worth what they were charging when we could use the exercise anyway!

Day Seven – ARROWTOWN 


Drive Queenstown to Arrowtown (20 mins)

When we were in Arrowtown, the Autumn Festival was on (end of April), and this day they were celebrating with ‘Market Day’, a parade and aerobatics show. Lucky timing, well, good planning on Renee’s part!

If nothing is happing when you’re in town, you can still enjoy the quaint Arrowtown village and you must check out the historic chinese village.

Lake Hayes walkway – 2 hours loop (took us longer with all the necessary photo stops)
This was easily one of the photo highlights of my trip, and I can see this lake being very photogenic at many times of year. I’d love to make a trip back to photograph it in the winter when there is more snow on the mountains!

Drive Arrowtown to Dunedin (3 hrs 30 mins)

Special thanks to Renee for planning the trip and putting the itinerary together, and, Sophie, Andy and Josh for providing us with such great company along the way!

Any questions? Don’t hesitate to ask.
Done a similar trip? Have suggestions, please post for fellow travellers!


  1. Great pictures!

  2. Wow. really awesome places are shown in pictures. New Zealand is a beautiful country and its south island is looks very nice place. will sure plan to visit that place soon. Thanks for sharing this useful information with us.