Travelling through this wildly diverse landscape encompasses rolling farmland, wild and rugged coastlines, wide deserted beaches, mountains, lakes and so much more. This drive really does feel like an adventure.
The Southern Scenic drive is around 600km, from Queenstown to Invercargill and on to Dunedin. Or in reverse of course. Queenstown is well known for scenic beauty and as the adventure capital of the world, so we won’t dwell here. Driving south and on to Te Anau, this area is part of the majestic Fiordland National Park, boasting towering forests, pristine lakes and the gateway to Milford Sound. Although Milford Sound can also be accessed without the long drive from Queenstown on a rather exciting flightseeing and cruise excursion. It is spectacular flying over this amazing country, so it is well worth considering.
Ringed by snowcapped peaks, Lake Te Anau is the largest and deepest of the Southland lakes. I would thoroughly recommend a visit to the magical world of the Glowworm Caves, which starts with a cruise along the lake before entering the world of shimmering lights and wonder. Another great activity here is to visit the Bird Sanctuary. It was a privilege and most likely chance to see endangered birds such as the Takahe and the Kaka amongst many other birds. Brave enough to dip in the lake waters, maybe not for this old duck – but don’t let me stop you!
Another great stop is at Lake Manapouri, another impossibly beautiful lake and mountain setting. Here we booked a trip to see the West Arm Power Station which is the largest underground power generation in the southern hemisphere. I won’t pretend to know anything about this industry but I can say I was more than impressed with the tour and the might of this plant. We continued on a small coach over the Wilmot Pass to Doubtful Sound. What a stunning day we had to soak up the surrounds, the sounds of the forest and visits by the very cheeky keas. A short cruise on Doubtful Sound was a real highlight, with the title of the ‘Sound of Silence’ a truly apt name.
Next main stop is Invercargill. Time your visit right and you may be able to indulge in Bluff oyster season. One of the main attractions in Invercargill is the legacy of Burt Monroe. His original motorcycle and other memorabilia are on display at EHayes Store. Another amazing museum here is Bill Richardson’s Transport World, the largest private automotive museum of it’s type in the world. Spread over 15,000 sq metres with hundreds of restored vehicle and petrol pumps as well as the Classic Motorcycle Mecca, this is an incredible testament to over 50 years of collecting.
It would be such a pity to miss a visit to Stewart Island while you are this far south. Connected by ferry across the Foveaux Strait – not always a journey for the faint hearted, or a short plane ride. The town of Oban has a proud population of 400 and depending on the length of time you stay here, there are a range of activities. 85% of the island is protected as Rakiura National Park and there are some wonderful walks and tramping tracks here. Quieter activities can include sea cruising, fishing, a visit to Ulva Island which is one of the few predator free open sanctuaries in New Zealand. Just being here seems to make visitors happy and over a dinner of blue cod and a stunning Stewart Island sunset there is no better place to be.
Travelling back up the east coast is the Catlins, the meeting point between the coastline and thick rainforests. With few people living in the area it does seem a little like the end of the earth, but this solitude is refreshing and wonderful. There are some striking waterfalls in the forests, most within easy walks. At Curio Bay at low tide, you can see the remains of a 160 million year old fossilised forest. A short walk out to Nugget Point will reward you with 360 degree views and at certain times of the year you may see rare yellow-eyed penguins, fur seals and elephant seals. The marine life loves this wild coast.
Finish the Southern Route in Dunedin and you’re done! Although certain parts of the route are heavily promoted for tourism, there are also many awesome places where peace, quiet and a lack of other tourists exist. Take a good week or two and savour this truly wonderful area of New Zealand. If you prefer to have company on your travels, call us as we have privately escorted small group tours around NZ.