South Island New Zealand: obscure things to do?
July 31, 2020 3:58 AM   Subscribe

We are traveling around the South Island of New Zealand and are looking for strange, unusual and obscure things to do (and support with our tourist dollars). Not "hike up Franz Josef Glacier" or "visit Quake City" or "tour the Pic's factory." More unusual hiking trails / attractions / just odd spots along the way. Anywhere on the South Island (or Stewart Island) is fair game, we are wide-ranging people!
posted by rednikki to Travel & Transportation around New Zealand (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

Best answer: There’s a wallaby petting zoo I wanted to visit but didn’t. I enjoyed the steampunk playground in Oamaru and seeing the penguins come home at night there.
posted by music for skeletons at 6:02 AM on July 31, 2020

Best answer: Seconding Atlas Obscura. We picked our destinations from it for a one week trip last year and were not disappointed.

In fact, this what we planned. The Waterworks were closed but we hit everything else. There’s a lot of driving to get between these but the natural beauty of the South Island did not disappoint en route.

Waiau: The Waterworks
Tekapo: Lake Tekapo/Mt Cook
Tekapo: Dark Sky Project
Tekapo to Queenstown via Cardrona Valley
Dunedin: Beverly Clock
Oamaru: Steampunk HQ
Christchurch: Bunsen Cafe
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:07 AM on July 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Due to the fallout from Covid-19, the Dark Sky Project in Lake Tekapo is offering only limited services, but still would be worth checking out.

My wife and I spent the level 4 lockdown in Lake Tekapo, so I can recommend hiking in the area. The Mount John loop, starting at the Tekapo spa parking past the campground, offers a brisk climb to a gorgeous view. There's a nice peninsula trail to the north of Mount John. Cowans Hill is a good loop that takes you to another good lookout and into Lake Tekapo Regional Park, which has a number of trails, and also a connection to the Sawdon Station trail. I added a lot of trails to Open Street Map while I was there, so you can use that to get a good idea of the options.

The giant fruit in Cromwell are a good photo op, and you can stop in Ranfurly to see the Art Deco architecture.

On the west coast, spend a night in Hokitika so you can visit the glowworm grotto by the side of the highway. Further north, in Takaka, visit the gorgeous Te Waikoropupu Springs. Not too far from there is a quirky folk art gallery, Sculpture 705.

I didn't make it to the transport and toy museum in Wanaka, but my sister-in-law and her husband enjoyed it, and it definitely sounds quirky.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:15 AM on July 31, 2020

Best answer: Most of my personal recommendations are guide-book top 10s, so I won't mention them. But, a couple that might not be: (1) find some Tuatara to hang out with. They're really neat creatures. I met the ones in Invercargill, but I expect others will be similar. (2) I've heard great things about exploring the caves that you can access along the first leg of the Kepler Track near Te Anu. You need real gear (multiple lamps, appropriate shoes and clothing, a surface safety contact, etc) to get the full experience. I've only been there in a hurry with a flashlight and street clothes, but even the outermost bits of the cave available to unprepared, cowardly people are pretty cool. (As is the rest of the trail, and many other popular things nearby.)
posted by eotvos at 7:46 AM on July 31, 2020

Best answer: Highlights of my largely unscheduled wandering around South Island, admittedly more than a decade ago now, were the Giant's House in Akaroa (a whimsical mosaic sculpture garden), the Oamaru steam train (I saw little penguins at the far end, and someone riding a penny-farthing), and various wildlife sightings - royal albatrosses and yellow-eyed penguins near Dunedin, seals and dolphins (visible from the shore!) as well as the whales at Kaikoura, and glowworms at Te Anau. I rather liked the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch too.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 7:52 AM on July 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Many small communities have made quirky sculptures like this moa (Dinornis robustus). This is at Moa Flat, West Otago (30mins drive from me)- there is only one road so it can't be missed. I've seen others in Canterbury at Oxford. Many of these are well off the beaten track so they get you out-n-about.

There's Geopark inland from Oamaru, walking, cycling, driving and always looking up at waves of limestone. Many Maori artifacts have been found here including some unique weaving forms - local museums have collections. There are also petroglyphs.

Korowai-Torless Conservation Area is a short walk off the road. I've been there on calm days and in near blizzards which I don't recommend but it's sure exciting.

The Waikaia Museum has a giant three-story bottle made of 20,000 winebottles (mmy SO's blog - Northern southland, and also my favourite pub). Lots of rabbit holes to go down in that area too.

Puzzling World at Wanaka is interesting and takes hours to explore. IDK if it'll survive the downturn - some of those places almost have tumbleweeds now.

I find NZ far more eclectic and interesting south of the 41st parallel. Invercargill used to never have been thought of as a destination - The Rolling Stones said something most unflattering about it, but now has one of the best auto/motorbike museums on earth, Digthis a place where you can drive large excavators and nearby is bluff which is a rough and ready port dating from 1820 - I'd live there if it wasn't so far out of the way.

and speaking of machines there's Hayes Engineering Museum at Oturehua, a long way up SH85 from Mosgiel, Drybread and St Bathans are well worth exploring if you're over that way too
posted by unearthed at 9:03 AM on July 31, 2020

Best answer: I was there well over a decade ago, but one of my most memorable experiences in the south island was stumbling upon the campsite at Curio Bay down in the Catlins. I think it was something like $14 a night for our campervan, and we got assigned a site overlooking porpoise bay.

Once parked we went wandering on the petrified forest rocks and saw an amazing amount of fossils, large and small, from many millions of years ago, then we wandered over to the other side of the knoll and watched all the penguins come in and waddle up the steep banks to their nests.
The next morning we woke up and saw some people were just standing still down in the water. We joined them when we realized what was going on; the porpoises were playing chicken with everybody, swimming full speed straight towards the nearest human and veering off at the very last second.
I think it was the best $14 I've spent ever.

Again, this was a while ago, and back then it was very undeveloped, maybe a basic building to pay for the campsite, but nothing else but some camping sites, fossils, penguins, porpoises, and a couple of other campers.
posted by newpotato at 1:59 PM on July 31, 2020

Best answer: Wanaka Cinema Paradiso
Moeraki boulders
Lyttleton Catholic cemetery (Film Location of The Frighteners)
Kaikoura Memorial Park with whale bone archways
Kaikoura peninsula walkway (clifftop trail)
Eating Kaikoura crayfish from a roadside stall
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 8:03 AM on August 1, 2020

Best answer: I actually visited Stewart Island for two nights and highly recommend it. It's a very weird place with very few things to do, which makes every thing seem a little special. It collects an odd group of people who choose to live down there too. Even getting there is a bit of an adventure, definitely recommend flying over the boat crossing.

The highlight of our visit was a trip to Ulva Island, a little bird sanctuary a short boat ride away from the harbor. We were the only people out there, dropped off for several hours. Totally quiet. And for us coming from the States it was magical, full of plants and birds and sounds and smells totally unfamiliar to us.

If you're into trekking, Stewart Island has several multiday trips that will leave you truly isolated.

Sadly, Sam and Billy the Bus is no more.
posted by Nelson at 8:59 AM on August 1, 2020

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