Although overseas travel is off the cards, there are still some amazing places to explore, right on our back doorstep. Southland is a great option for short breaks or long weekend getaways, giving us a chance to enjoy the warm hospitality of The Catlins, Stewart Island and Fiordland.
What better way to leave 2020 in the dust than cruising the Southern Scenic Route, voted one of the Top 10 best self-drive routes in the world, and it’s easy to see why. It’s the perfect way to explore everything southern New Zealand has to offer with just over 600 km of spectacular natural and cultural attractions and exciting activities, such as wildlife viewing, short walks, mountain biking, surfing, fishing, boating and tramping. Picturesque coastlines, remote beaches, lush native rainforests, pristine lakes and stunning mountain vistas are just some of the highlights you’ll encounter on this unforgettable road trip.
At the centre of this epic route is Invercargill, the gateway to Southland, and home to Oreti Beach – one of the country’s only drivable beaches. Perfect for horse riding, dog walking, kayaking and surfing, this beach was a key location for the film The World’s Fastest Indian, which tells the story of the famous inventor Burt Munro. Invercargill pays homage to wheels and motoring legends, celebrated here in one of three different motoring museums. Giving you the chance to get behind the wheel yourself, you will also find New Zealand’s only heavy machinery playground which gives you the opportunity to operate diggers, bulldozers and skid steers if you dare!
If motoring isn’t your thing, soak in the old-world charm of Victorian, Edwardian and Art Deco heritage buildings and enjoy the lively cafés, restaurants and bars this friendly city has to offer. Be sure to visit the stunning Queens Park – 80 hectares of beautifully kept gardens including a playground and waterpark, perfect for families. Bring your own picnic or visit the café in the centre of the park and explore the bird aviary, farmyard area and animal enclosure.
After exploring the delights of Invercargill, venture into the wilderness of The Catlins to view a variety of native species and endless beaches. Seasonally, penguins come in to nest at dawn and dusk along the coast with good viewing facilities provided at Curio Bay and Nugget Point. Seals and the sweetest baby seal nursery can be enjoyed from a rare land-based aerial view at Nugget Point in addition to a large variety of birds. Walk through a sheep farm to reach the windy southernmost point of the South Island at Slope Point and learn about the tragic shipwrecks of Waipapa Point Lighthouse, keeping alert for sleepy sea lions. Waterfalls are scattered throughout The Catlins and the geological wonders of Cathedral Caves (access tide dependant) or the inland ‘blowhole’ at Jack’s Bay and a 170-million-year-old petrified forest at Curio Bay add a variety of interesting stops to your journey.
The Catlins offers a wide range of accommodation – from camping grounds, motels and seaside lodges, to bed and breakfasts and farmstays – meet the locals and experience this slice of paradise with captivating views and exemplary hospitality.
For an ‘overseas trip’ why not experience the unspoilt island environment of Stewart Island where you can drink in the glorious sunsets, golden sand beaches and lush native wilderness. The island is renowned for its unique kiwi spotting opportunities, and with plenty of local guides to show you some exclusive spots and teach you all about our national bird’s quirky personality, it’s a must-do activity on the island.
Hike the Horseshoe Point track; play a round of golf atop the breathtaking setting of Ringaringa Cliffs; catch a blue cod in the crystal clear waters; hire an electric bike and explore the stunning scenery – the activities on Stewart Island are boundless!
After a day of exploring, Church Hill Boutique Lodge & Restaurant is the place to go for a boutique dining experience. Enjoy mouth-watering cuisine in a quality setting, with friendly, personal service, but be sure to book.
Another highlight of this magical place is the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) which can be regularly sighted from the island, especially during winter, making it a spectacular location for astronomy-lovers. It’s also how Stewart Island got its Māori name – Rakiura – ‘The Land of Glowing Skies’.
A trip to Southland wouldn’t be complete without visiting the breathtaking wonders of Fiordland. For the domestic traveller Fiordland epitomises all that is good about New Zealand – connecting with nature, real world experiences that expand on our backyard, finding peace in natural environments and ensuring they are protected for generations to come.
The beautiful Te Anau is the perfect base camp for all Fiordland activities. With plenty of great restaurants to tantalise the tastebuds, a range of accommodation options to rest weary bones and magnificent scenery to explore, it’s the ideal place to stay and experience the friendliness of small-town New Zealand.
Fiordland has three of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks – the Kepler Track, the Routeburn Track and the Milford Track, all easily accessible from Te Anau. Guided or independent day walks are also available. For hikers out to enjoy the Tuatapere Hump Ridge track – most recently labelled the next ‘Great Walk’ – time is of the essence if a comparatively uncrowded domestic tourism market appeals to you.
Home to the Eighth Wonder of the world, Piopiotahi/Milford Sound is known to cast a spell over all who visit. Enjoy a myriad of options for exploring – day and overnight cruises, scenic flights, diving and underwater observatory, kayaking and charter boats. Be blown away by the astonishing scenery, including Milford Sound’s famous waterfalls. Cascading from impossibly sheer cliff faces, they rival some of the world’s tallest and are at their most spectacular on rainy days. Take your time and enjoy Milford like it was 30 years ago, with less people and more time.
The fascinating wildlife adds to the magic of this region – from glow-worms, kea and takahē to the Fiordland crested penguin and bottlenose dolphin, many of the rarest and endangered species are found right here in this wild wonderland.
Discovering the treasures of Southland is a must for the bucket list. With spectacular scenery, amazing adventure, fantastic food and wondrous wildlife, this remarkable region has something for everyone – it’s the New Zealand we all dream of!
Where to Play, Eat, Shop & Sleep
Catlins Horse Riding / Orepuki Horse Treks
Kiwi spotting Stewart Island
Kayaking in the Fiords
Jet Boating on the Wairaurahiri River
Bill Richardson Transport World
Tumu Toka Curioscape – The Catlins
Church Hill Restaurant – Stewart Island
Niagara Falls Café – The Catlins
Oyster Cove Restaurant and Bar – Bluff
Buster Crab – Invercargill
Orepuki Beach Café – Orepuki
Redcliff Café – Te Anau
E Hays and Sons – Invercargill
The Seriously Good Chocolate Company – Invercargill
Escape Glass – Invercargill
Glowing Sky – Stewart Island
Small Prophet & Co – Tokanui
Kiwi Country – Te Anau
Salthouse – Curio Bay
Ascot Park Hotel – Invercargill
Kaka Retreat Motel – Stewart Island
Wentworth Heights B&B – Gore
Five Rivers Retreat – Lumsden
Cabot Lodge – Manapouri
Words Belinda O’Keefe