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Southland travel tips:

  • Southland region - Bluff signpostInvercargill is a city with lots of character, infamous for its cool climate but also home of the 'World's Fastest Indian' and plenty to do even if it rains
  • If you think New Zealand is remote then wait until you get to Stewart Island - by ferry or plane, both ways involve options for safe car parking and you can already see lots of this bird paradise in 3 days
  • Riverton and Colac Bay are scenic spots on the way to Fiordland
  • The Catlins Coast: This remote stretch of wild southern coast does not offer the touristic infrastructure of other regions, yet it is one of many travellers' favourite places, those who are looking for an authentic experience and plenty of raw nature - bush waterfalls, beaches with lighthouses and wildlife are the main attractions

Scenery to soothe your soul

In contrast to the dryness of Central Otago, Southland is lush and green. Tranquil waterways attract fly-fishing enthusiasts in search of brown trout. Near-pristine southern rainforest provides opportunities for day walks and hiking. The amazing Catlins Coast promises wildlife encounters and the chance to see Curio Bay - a petrified forest of subtropical kauri and other trees dating back to the Jurassic age.

Southland's largest urban centre is Invercargill, a city of over 50,000 people. Visitors come to admire the elegant Victorian and Edwardian buildings, gardens and landscaped parks. Invercargill is built around beautiful Queens Park - 80 hectares of gardens, wildlife and sporting fun. As well as an 18-hole golf course, the park has animal enclosures, a bird aviary, play areas and the Southland Museum.

Southland travel tips - Oreti Beach for sunsetA half hour drive south from Invercargill is the fishing port of Bluff - home to the famous Bluff oyster and a lively annual seafood festival.

From Bluff, visitors can catch a ferry to Stewart Island - a haven for native bird life and the only place in  New Zealand where you can readily see kiwi in their natural habitat. Stewart Island is an ecological wonderland. The clamour of civilisation is replaced by rapturous birdsong and sounds of the sea. Rendezvous with a kiwi, visit Ulva Island bird sanctuary or walk one of the many tracks.

The Catlins Coast: Winding between Fortrose and Kaka Point, the Catlins Coast takes you to enthralling wildlife experiences, beautiful waterfalls and rustic, farmland scenery. Beaches, forest walks and nostalgic hospitality will capture your heart.

See here for hotels in the Southland region.

Source: Tourism New Zealand

Highlights of the Southland region

  • Invercargill: This is New Zealand's southernmost city, a good stop to visit the free Southland Museum & Art Gallery and the adjacent Botanical Garden with its aviaries. The motorcycle famous from the 'World's Fastest Indian' (film) was built here by Burt Munro, see his workshop, speed record bikes and more in the bizarre environment of the local Hammer Hardware store (168 Dee Street). Oreti Beach is where he raced his bikes, a stunning beach for your first or last West Coast sunset, one of the safest beaches you can drive on in New Zealand! The brick Invercargill Water Tower from 1889 used to offer great views but is sadly closed because of earthquake risk.
  • Stewart island: From Bluff, which has a lookout hill and also a famous signpost Stewart Island travel tipsat its southern tip, you can take a ferry to one of the most special places in New Zealand. Stewart Island feels extremely remote because it is, and the bird life is amazing. Halfmoon Bay is invaded by screeching Kaka parrots in the evenings (especially at Observation Rock where the sunset is also best), the forests are teeming with sounds, Ulva Island even more so (you can get there by water taxi for a 3 hour walk around), one of the great  New Zealand walks is there (Rakiura Track) and in Mason Bay you even have a good chance to see big Stewart Island Brown Kiwi (Tokoeka) running around in daytime.
  • From Invercargill to Manapouri: Riverton is an interesting spot on the coast, with nice bays and a good lookout on the local hill (Mores Lookout). The local 'Te Hikoi Southern Journey Museum' tells the story of the Southland settlers, it is one of the few southern centres with a big Maori population. Colac Bay is another nice spot on the coast that especially attracts surfers. You'll notice the sideways leaning Macrocarpa trees between here and Te Waewae Bay, due to the strong southwesterly winds blowing around here. Another great walk, the Hump Ridge Track, starts from Rarakau car park in Te Waewae Bay. On the way to Manapouri you can explore the Clifden cave systems or simply stop at the historic Clifden suspension bridge from 1899, with 111 metres once the largest such bridge in New Zealand.
  • The Catlins Coast lighthouses: Nugget Point is one of New Zealand's most iconic lighthouses, set at the end of a long ridge with drop offs left and right, wild surf pounding the cliffs and seals on the rocks, and a dramatic view towards the open ocean across a series of islets. Can be spectacular at sunset. Waipapa Point and Slope Point are two other lighthouses in windy locations, with more wildlife (seals, sealions, birds) and big swells.
  • The Catlins Coast waterfalls: The top waterfall to visit would be the McLeans Falls, Catlins Coast travel tips - Waipapa Point lighthousethe walk alone is worth it as it is more the setting than the falls themselves that is special. From the bottom waterfall continue up the stairs to the top. The Purakaunui Falls and Matai Falls are slightly less impressive but still lovely.
  • Porpoise and Curio Bay: A spectacular spot, the gorgeous Porpoise Bay with a good chance to see Hector's Dolphins on one side and the wild Curio Bay with its petrified forest reef and Yellow-eyed Penguins on the other side - a campground in between. The penguins come on shore before nightfall, but increased visitor numbers have significantly reduced the number of penguins to come ashore.
  • Other Catlins Coast sightseeing: Jack's Blowhole is a maelstroem of waves 200 metres from the sea, really worthwhile during high tide and rough seas (access from Jacks Bay). Cannibal Bay and Surat Bay are wild beaches with a possibility to see sea lions and seals.
  • Tips for viewing wildlife: Penguins used to come on shore all day, but prefer the privacy of dusk these days. Please keep your distance and don't approach them even if they look sick, as they do during their moulting period. Seals and sea lions are very shy in general and will flee from approaching people, disturbing their rest, so keep at least 10 to 15 metres distance. They can bite if cornered.

The best Southland walks

  • Borland Nature Walk (40 min return), Borland Road, Monowai
  • Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track - the newest of the 'great walks' (55 kms, 3 days), starts at the Rarakau car park, Bluecliffs Beach, Te Waewae Bay
  • Te Wai Korari Wetland Reserve (20 min return), at the eastern end of Riverton
  • Queens Park, Invercargill
  • Purakaunui Falls (20 min return), Purakaunui Falls Road, southwest of Owaka, Catlins
  • Matai Falls (30 min return), Table Hill Scenic Reserve, Papatowai Highway / Southern Scenic Route, 18 kms south of Owaka, Catlins
  • McLean Falls (40 min return), Rewcastle Road, on the Southern Scenic Route, Catlins
  • Surat Bay Wildlife Walk (30 min return), Newhaven Road, Catlins
  • Jacks Blowhole Track - coastal walk (1 h return), Jacks Bay, Catlins
  • Rakiura Track - another 'great New Zealand walk' (32 kms, 3 days), Stewart Island
  • Ulva Island - a range of walks, water taxi from Golden Bay, Stewart Island
  • Acker's Point Lighthouse (3 h return), from Elgin Terrace and Leask Bay Road, Stewart Island
  • Horseshoe Point - loop walk between Horseshoe Bay and Bragg Bay (3-4 h return), Stewart Island

The best Southland viewpoints

  • McCrackens Rest Lookout, on the Southern Scenic Route, Te Waewae Bay
  • Mores Reserve (20 min return), Richard Street, Riverton
  • Bluff Hill (5 min return), Flagstaff Road, Bluff
  • Stirling Point, end of State Highway 1, Bluff
  • Waipapa Point Lighthouse (10 min return), Waipapa Lighthouse Road, Catlins
  • Slope Point - southernmost point in New Zealand (40 min return), Slope Point, Catlins
  • Florence Hill Lookout, above Tautuku Bay, on the Southern Scenic Route, Catlins
  • Nugget Point Lighthouse (20 min return), The Nuggets Road, Catlins
  • Observation Rock (30 min return), Excelsior Street, Oban, Stewart Island

The best Southland museums

  • Southland Museum and Art Gallery - also many Tuatara, Gala Street, Invercargill
  • Southland travel tips - World's Fastest Indian in InvercargillAnderson Park Art Gallery, McIver Road, Invercargill
  • Bluff Maritime Museum, Foreshore Road, Bluff
  • Te Hikoi - Southern Journey, Palmerston Street, Riverton
  • Owaka Museum, Catlins Information Centre, Campbell Street, Owaka, Catlins
  • Eastern Southland Gallery, Norfolk Street, Gore
  • Gore Historical Museum, Hokonui Drive, Gore
  • Rakiura Museum, Halfmoon Bay, Stewart Island

Map of the Southland region

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