While you’re here, you won’t want to miss –
Timeless beauty in the deep south…
The Southland region is guaranteed to captivate you at every turn. Located at the very end of the South Island, the landscape consists of rolling farmland and a thrillingly wild rugged coastline.
People here are warm and friendly, born of hardy Scottish stock so you’ll hear the famous rolling ‘r’ — as well as many Scottish idioms – peppering their conversation.
Invercargill is the largest town in the region – with many unique attractions, it can provide a base for visiting some of the area’s smaller towns. Be sure to head to Southland to discover some of New Zealand’s best kept secrets.
Southern Scenic Route
The Catlins Coast offers waterfalls, wildlife and pristine coastal and forest habitats. This is the eastern section of one of New Zealand’s Great Drives — the Southern Scenic Route. The entire route – about 270 miles – stretches down the east coast from Dunedin, around the tail end of the country to Invercargill, and then up to Te Anau in the west.
Driving along the Catlins Coast on the Route, though, is the best place to see a lot of wildlife including seals, penguins, dolphins, and many native birds.
Highlights of the Catlins’ many natural attractions include:
- Cathedral Caves – soaring to almost 100 feet in height, these impressive caves are accessible only at low tide. Be sure to wear waterproof shoes and be prepared for a steep walk – down and back up!
- Nugget Point – one of many good spots to view fur seals, penguins and a sea lion colony;
- Purakauni Falls – one of New Zealand’s most photographed icons, a short 20 minute return walk from the parking area;
- Catlins’ River Walk – comprised of 3 sections, this walk will take you along the Catlins River through silver beech forests, over swing bridges and to some fantastic trout fishing spots. You may even hear the endangered mohua – yellowhead bird – between Franks Creek and The Wisp;
- The fossilized forest of Curio Bay – best seen at low tide from the viewing platform, where you’ll find 180 million year old trees from the Jurassic period melded into bedrock. Curio Bay is also home to the rare yellow-eyed Penguin and in summer and fall, Hector’s dolphins.
Upon reaching Invercargill, you’ll have the distinction of visiting one of the southernmost cities in the world. With its formal Queen’s Park gardens and many period buildings – from the Victorian, Edwardian and Art Deco eras – this attractive city has an elegant yet homey appeal. A silver umbrella sculpture representing Invercargill’s changeable weather is one of the city’s modern architectural features.
Another is the pyramid building housing the Southland Museum and Art Gallery, famous for the rare New Zealand reptile — Tuatara.
These prehistoric creatures, including one called ‘Henry’ — who is 110 years old! — can be viewed in an outdoor Tuatarium. As well as Tuatara, the Southland Museum & Art Gallery has new and permanent art exhibitions and a well-stocked gift shop and café.
One of the “secret” things to do in Southland is uncovering the passion of Invercargill motorcycle enthusiast, the late Burt Munro. His determination and tenacity was the subject of the movie “The World’s Fastest Indian” starring Anthony Hopkins (the DVD is available from Netflix). Begin with the museum’s permanent Burt Munro Exhibition.
The E. Hayes and Sons department store in the center of town proudly displays Burt’s motorcycles, along with other historic memorabilia including displays of hardware and tools used in the early settler days. You can also visit windswept Oreti Beach, a short drive west of Invercargill, to see where Burt used to put his Indian motorcycle through its paces – and where the Burt Munro Challenge Rally is held each November.
Further west from Oreti Beach is the peaceful port of Riverton, with a good selection of restaurants and rustic cafés. On Saturday mornings, you’ll find New Zealand’s most remote farmer’s market featuring only foods from the local area.
Inland, Gore is a mere hour’s drive from Invercargill. The trout statue here says it all. Things to do include excellent fishing as well as dining at one of myriad eateries that offer the fresh local produce. Try some Southland swede – similar to a turnip – a popular local vegetable. Other delicacies include venison, sausages and seafood – whitebait, blue cod, and most famous of all, Bluff Oysters.
Bluff Oysters are revered throughout the country — and rightly so! When oyster season starts in March, the orders go through the roof. In Bluff, just a short drive south of Invercargill, lines of oyster lovers are out the door.
These juicy morsels are grown in Foveaux Strait and said to be the finest quality in the world. If you love oysters, you’ll want to be there during oyster season – March to July. The best way to eat them is neat — raw from the freshly shucked shell.
Southland Festivals & Events
These seafood treats are also the highlight of one of the region’s most popular food and wine events, the Bluff Oyster Festival, held each May. If you’ve never tried oysters, this is the time to do it while mingling with the locals. There are many other dishes to sample, as well as ceremonial bag-piping, oyster eating competitions, and live music.
Two other popular Southland events take place in Gore: the Gold Guitar Awards held over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in late May / early June and the Hokonui Moonshiners’ Festival in February. Respectively, these events celebrate Gore’s heritage as the country music capital of New Zealand, and the illegal whiskey production during the Prohibition in the 1900s.
Southland is proud of its quirky events and characters. It boasts a quintessential Kiwi-ness that is only found in the more remote rural regions. You’re guaranteed good times and great food in this picturesque niche of New Zealand.