All roads lead to paradise, and in this case it certainly looks like paradise. The Southern Scenic Route has been ranked as one of the top 10 touring routes of the world, and for good reason. It is a little over 600km long and packed full with amazing natural and cultural attractions and exciting activities. This 4 day itinerary of the Southern Scenic Route will help you discover all the best spots along the route.
Day 1: Dunedin to Papatowai (The Catlins) - 148 km / 2 hours
Depart South from Dunedin, down State Highway 1.At Balclutha turn East towards Owaka following the Southern Scenic Route signs. This coastal drive through the Clutha Catlins area is abundant with wildlife, waterfalls and scenic walking tracks and with lush rainforest abruptly meeting the sandy coastline, the drive is impressive and best done at a slow pace.
A stop at Nugget Point to view the iconic lighthouse and fascinating geology is a must do. Wave-eroded rocks, which are likened to the shape of gold nuggets, can be seen from the viewing platform at the end of the path. The lighthouse was built in 1869-70, is 9.5 metres high and situated 76 metres above sea level. Along the way you may see the fur seal colony on the rocks at sea level to the left of the track and also below the lighthouse, or the many seabirds that make The Nuggets their home.
The best time to see the penguins is at dusk or dawn.
Pūrākaunui Falls is a peaceful and easy 15 minute walking track through mature beech & podocarp forests to one of the most photographed waterfalls in New Zealand.
At Papatowai, a one of a kind gallery in the form of a house truck is home to the automata crafting of artist--tinkerer Blair Somerville - The Lost Gypsy. Alongside the studio is a garden to wander through and explore all the quirky automata, wind-up and water-driven gadgets and gizmos that he has cleverly made from found objects — shells, toys, coins, wood, watches, wire — each guaranteed to make you smile with delight.
Accommodation: Stop by Whistling Frog to recharge for the Night and take a 40 minute stroll to McLean Falls. At 22 metres high, the waterfalls in the Catlins Conservation Park are often described as the most spectacular in the region. The walk to the falls, though uphill, is not too steep and very pleasant, passing through a variety of forest trees and shrubs.
Day 2: The Catlins to Invercargill - 103 km / 1 hours 30 mins
Depending on the time of year (usually from late November) and at low tide, the Cathedral Caves provide another geological wonder set against the white sand, the 30 metre high caves are 200m long with two separate entrances that have joined over time as the waves carve through the limestone rock. The Catlins continues to offer up impressive landscapes and none as old as the unique Curio Bay and its fossilised forest. The tree fossils you can see here date back to the Jurassic period and are 160 million years old - the forest was alive when New Zealand was part of Gondwanaland! The beach at Curio Bay is the perfect spot for a picnic, where you may get to watch Hector’s Dolphins play in the waves.
Carrying on through the Southern Scenic Route (or the Catlins Coastal Heritage Trail) towards the capital of the South. Invercargill’s ode to classic motoring is evident throughout the city and no visit is complete without a stop at Bill Richardson’s Transport World which is the largest private collection of its type in the world. The vintage motoring collection is complemented by wearable art, an homage to the former Cadbury World and many unexpected surprises that will leave a smile on your face. In addition to its sister attraction, Classic Motorcycle Mecca & the free display of authentic Burt Munro’s Indian that set the landspeed record in 1967.
Accommodation: For a rural outlook not far from the city, check out the Invercargill Top 10 Holiday Park.
Day 3: Invercargill to Te Anau via Bluff & Riverton - 215 km / 2 hours 50 mins
Enjoy the short drive to Bluff for a photo opportunity at Land’s End – the Bluff Signpost that looks out to the Foveaux Strait. Bluff Hill/Motupōhue provides a stunning 360 degree panorama across to Stewart Island, Western Southland and out towards the Catlins.
Back on the Southern Scenic Route out west, lies popular seaside and holiday resort, Riverton/Aparima is known as the ‘Riviera of the South’. Riverton/Aparima is rich in early Maori history and is one of the earliest European settlements in New Zealand. A visit to Te Hikoi Museum is a must to find out about the area’s heritage with an impressive collection often described as one of the nation’s best regional museums.
The scenic drive out to Te Wae Wae Bay looks over the towards the Hump Ridge Track in Fiordland National Park. A stop at Orepuki Beach Café where you can caffeinate and enjoy moreish locally sourced meals (as local as the neighbouring paddock!). Heading up and over the Blackmount where you can witness the bold landscapes and carved out valley’s on the drive in to Manapōuri and Te Anau – the front door to Fiordland National Park.
Accommodation: Check in with Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park & Motels who can offer special discounts on activities around Te Anau.
Day 4: Te Anau to Queenstown - 171 km / 2 hours
The final leg of the journey provides ample opportunity to fish in the pristine rivers around Fiordland and in Northern Southland and a stop at a local eatery in Mossburn or Lumsden where the friendly locals can offer their best spots along the rivers.
Northern Southland spectacularly winds itself around the foot of the Eyre Mountains with small towns dotted along the way providing opportunity for rest and a nibble. The infamous Coffee Bomb in Garston is open daily with home made treats and coffee to go.
The Devil Staircase alongside Lake Wakatipu provides a majestic view in to Queenstown nestled against dramatic mountain ranges. Queenstown has is an activity to suit everyone across all seasons – a mix of action & relaxation, or romance and rejuvenation!