First Stop: Invercargill
As Southland’s biggest city, Invercargill is full of character and friendly locals, creating a unique experience for everyone. Invercargill is the perfect base for exploring all that Southland has to offer and the city has plenty of its own gems that should be top of your to-do list too.
You’ll soon discover that it’s a real Kiwi can-do attitude that makes some of Invercargill’s bustling must-visit spots tick. Prince Harry might have been one of the most famous names to sample The Seriously Good Chocolate Company’s delectable offerings, but the Invercargill success story is as down-to-earth as you get. The team love to experiment and you’ll be able to indulge in and take home everything from Southland classics such as oyster-inspired chocolates to wine-infused sweet treats.
Regardless of whether you consider yourself a motoring aficionado or not, family-owned Bill Richardson Transport World and Classic Motorcycle Mecca are must-sees for all ages. Touted as Invercargill’s top attractions, the motoring museums boast an impressive collection of world-class vintage motor vehicle displays. Motorcycles and vintage cars aren’t all the attractions have to offer, you’ll find one of Invercargill’s best brunch spots, Meccaspresso on-site at Classic Motorcycle Mecca. And it wouldn’t be a trip to Southland without indulging in a cheese roll or two – once you’ve had your motoring fix, don’t forget to stop by The Grille Cafe, homed within Transport World, to sink your teeth into one of their famous cheese rolls.
If you’ve really worked up an appetite, order the delicious Blue Cod and chips for a real Southland treat. In the centre of town, the good folk at The Auction House rise bright and early to start serving up a mouth-watering array of fare to their loyal patrons and tourists in the know. Owner Judy Storey and her team cater to all tastes and you’ll be sure to find something that delights the tastebuds on the extensive menu that features plenty of healthy, homemade options. Coffee enthusiasts in need of a caffeine fix will want to head to Black Shag – Invercargill’s one-and-only specialty coffee shop. As well as serving up an exceptional short black, the passionate couple pride themselves on simple yet mouth-watering sweets, like their chunky chocolate brownie.
Get Acquainted With New Zealand’s World-Famous Scenery
Southland has a sprawling, awe-inspiring coastline just waiting to be discovered and renting a car is one of the easiest ways to get acquainted with the majestic wilderness wonderland that awaits. Invercargill is the prime starting point to enjoy some of the best stops along the acclaimed Southern Scenic Route, which has been voted one of the top drives in the world.
The spectacular 610-kilometre route winds down the east coast from Dunedin, along the southern coast before heading inland and finishing in Queenstown. There are plenty of picturesque spots and towns along the way including the Catlins, Clutha, Invercargill and Fiordland.
If it’s a short but scenic drive you want to start with Bluff – it is only 30-minutes away and happens to be one of New Zealand’s oldest European settlements. Make sure you stop off at Stirling Point and take a snap with Bluff’s most-photographed spot, the iconic Bluff signpost. The town’s biggest drawcard is the world-famous Bluff oyster. So if you’re visiting between March and August, make sure you don’t leave without sampling some of the world’s finest shellfish.
Further up the south-west coast, you’ll find the quaint seaside town of Riverton before you reach some of the region’s best beaches. Colac Bay boasts some of the best surf that you’ll find in Southland while Gemstone Beach comes with the promise of finding semi-precious stones scattered along the shoreline.
If it’s a slightly longer yet equally stunning journey that you’re looking for, the Southern Scenic Route also links Invercargill with Te Anau and serves as a gateway to Fiordland and its great walks such as the Kepler Track. The drive takes around 2.5 hours and features what is quite possibly some of New Zealand’s most breathtaking scenery including the southern boundary of the not-to-be-missed Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area.
Meet the Locals
With its expansive landscape and downtempo way of life, escaping the hustle and bustle of everyday life and unwinding comes naturally in Southland. For those wanting to reconnect with nature, Stewart Island needs to be on top of the agenda. It’s a magical untouched paradise teeming with wildlife and it’s just a quick 60-minute ferry from Bluff, which means you can do a quick day-trip or stay for longer too. Seals frequently grace pristine Halfmoon Bay with their presence, and if you’re lucky you’ll catch a glimpse of the island’s abundant birdlife including the kiwi, tui, and kaka.
The eastern segment of the Southern Scenic Route, which winds up the coast from Invercargill to Dunedin, has no shortage of stunning scenery and is also the place to catch a glimpse of some of Southland’s famous wildlife. You’ll want to have your camera ready as the Catlins – just over an hour’s drive from Invercargill – is home to one of New Zealand’s most photographed waterfalls, Purakaunui Falls. The region’s plethora of enchanting native forests and sweeping sandy beaches means that most of New Zealand’s indigenous wildlife reside within the Catlins. Keep your eyes peeled and you’ll be able to see yellow-eyed penguins, Hector dolphins, New Zealand sea lions and fur seals frolicking in their natural habitat.
Disconnect & Recharge in the Great Outdoors
The untouched rugged beauty that New Zealand is renowned for surrounds Southland and when Invercargill is your base it’s incredibly easy to immerse yourself in it. You’ll find plenty of hiking tracks waiting to be discovered and there are unforgettable walks that cater to all fitness levels and holiday schedules.
Take a two-hour drive north from Invercargill to reach Welcome Rock Trails which is well worth the drive thanks to its incredible private walking and cycling tracks. Enjoy a day-long hike through some of New Zealand’s most spectacular high country the region has to offer or opt for a guided tour aboard an off-road army jeep.
The region also happens to be the gateway to many of New Zealand’s Great Walks, including the Kepler and Milford Tracks. Stewart Island’s Rakiura Track, located within the Rakiura National Park, is a 32-kilometre loop which can be walked over three days, all year round. Enchanting Fiordland is only a drive away with the starting point of the three-day Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track an hour’s drive from Invercargill.