For the ultimate show of nature and wildlife, Fiordland and Southland are the regions to visit. The secluded beauty of the Catlins, home to the yellow-eyed penguins, is a magnet for many. Others come to get a taste of southern hospitality at its best, visiting Invercargill and Bluff (world-famous for its oysters). Southland is also the launching pad to the remote Stewart Island. On the west, the World Heritage-listed Fiordland region features the iconic Mitre Peak, Milford and Doubtful Sounds. It is also a haven for hiking with three “Great Walks” – the Routeburn, Milford and Kepler tracks.
KEY TOWNS AND REGIONS
Invercargill is New Zealand’s southernmost city. Known as the City of Water and Light, it is characterised by striking Victorian and Edwardian architecture and wide-open spaces. The city has a strong mix of Maori and Celtic influence, and is an ideal base for exploring the far south. Queens Park in the city centre is a beautiful area with numerous features including rose gardens, duck ponds, aviaries, a water park and a vast amount of beautiful landscaping and walking tracks. Head to Misty Oreti Beach where you can see Stewart Island directly in front or Riverton towards the right.
Just twenty minutes from Invercargill is the small town of Bluff, New Zealand’s southernmost town and home to the oyster, considered among the best in the world. Stirling Point is the southern mainland point of New Zealand, located at the end (or beginning!) of State Highway One. Stewart Island is a short ferry ride across the Foveaux Straight. The Greenpoint picnic area has a viewing platform overlooking a ship graveyard, and Bluff Hill, or Motupohe, provides excellent panoramas from the viewing platform and several highly recommended walking tracks.
The secluded Stewart Island is home to only 400 people, and is accessible via Invercargill or via ferry and helicopter from Bluff. Located about 30km off the south of the South Island, the island is a sanctuary for many native birds and has the largest kiwi population in New Zealand.
Rakiura National Park covers more than 80% of the island, with dense coastal rainforests, freshwater wetlands, vast sand dunes and granite mountain ranges. The park is home to the 36km Rakiura Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, with scenery that has barely changed in thousands of years.
The Catlins is renowned for its rugged beauty and access to wildlife. With hidden lakes and stunning waterfalls, the wide-open space offers fantastic stargazing opportunities. Nugget Point is home to fur seals, sea lions and elephant seals that can be seen sunning on the rocks of various beaches. You may also see yellow eyed and blue penguins, and Hector’s dolphins can often be seen playing in the waves. The striking Purakaunui Falls cascades 20m in three tiers, while the most amusing waterfall is the Niagara Falls, which falls less than a metre! Curio Bay is home to the fossilised remains of a Jurassic forest, and the amazing Cathedral Caves rise more than 30m ceiling-high in places.
As Southland’s second largest centre, Gore has a colourful history and was part of the region that saw the last of Maori intertribal warfare fought on its lands. Gore is the brown trout capital of New Zealand, with the Mataura River running through the centre of the town. The world-class fishing on the Mataura River and its tributaries has earned the district the title of World Capital of Brown Trout Fishing, and the large brown trout statue in the town is a national icon, and is photographed by thousands of tourists each year.
Getting here and around:
Air New Zealand provides daily flights into Invercargill from Christchurch or Wellington, with flights from all other major cities and towns around New Zealand into those two centres. Shuttle services link the airport to the city. If you are exploring Southland via the Southern Scenic Route you may choose to fly into Queenstown or Dunedin.
A wide range of bus and shuttle services are available, connecting towns and cities within the region and beyond. In Invercargill a public bus connects the inner city and outlying suburbs. Invercargill and Gore also have taxis
Stewart Island Flights provides daily scheduled flights between Invercargill and Stewart Island. Daily ferry services also connect Bluff to Oban in Stewart Island.
Te Anau in Fiordland is between 2 to 2½ hour drive from Queenstown or Invercargill, and around a four hour drive from Dunedin. Regular coach services, special tours and shuttles are available into the area. Manapouri is 20km south of Te Anau.
Spring (Sep-Nov) – crisp and clear with frequent frosts, 5-14°C; Summer (Dec-Feb) – hot and dry, 21-28°C; Mar-May – crisp and clear with frequent frosts, 6-15°C; Winter – frosts and snow, 2-8°C.