The Southern Scenic Route by EV
Exploring a new region can be tricky when driving an electric vehicle. You don’t know how long the distances exactly are or where the next place will be to charge your car. This 5-day itinerary is for you. The Southern Scenic Route has been voted one of the top 10 touring routes in the world, and we can tell you it is super EV friendly. From lush rainforests and deserted beaches to pristine lakes and chiselled cliffs, it’s all waiting to be enjoyed by you in a sustainable way.
The Purakaunui Falls is one of New Zealand's iconic, most-photographed sights. The 15-minute return track to the falls trails through mature beech and podocarp forests is suitable for wheelchair users to the top viewing platform…
148 km / 2 hours
Day 1: Dunedin to Curio Bay
Your journey starts in Dunedin, where you will make your way down to Curio Bay following the Southern Scenic Route signs, approximately a 180km trip. This coastal drive through the Clutha Catlins area has abundant wildlife, waterfalls and scenic walking tracks. 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, 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 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.
At the Catlins Café in Owaka, order yourself a delicious meal from their all-day menu ranging from Kiwi classics to excellent Thai food while charging your car.
You may even want to consider leaving your car charging while horse riding with Te Taunga Adventures. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced equestrian, they will take you on one of their trusty steads through farmland, along rugged coastlines and golden sandy beaches.
After that stop, your next one is the Pūrākaunui Falls, where a peaceful and easy 15-minute walking track through mature beech & podocarp forests takes you 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 he has cleverly made from found objects — shells, toys, coins, wood, watches, wire — each guaranteed to make you smile with delight. Recycling at its very best! At the Papatowai Campsite, you will also find a charging station, should you need one.
Depending on the time of year (usually between late October and May) 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.
Here you can decide to stay the night at the Whistling Frog, depending on how much further you’d like to or can go. You can find a charging station for your car here, alongside coffee, pizza, craft beer and much more.
If your car has enough left for another highlight, your next stop is McLean Falls, another stunning waterfall. A 40-minute stroll will take you to a 22-metre-high waterfall, often described as the most spectacular one in the region. Though uphill, the walk to the falls is not steep and very pleasant, passing through various forest trees and shrubs.
You can then go to Curio Bay Camping Ground to recharge yourself and your car for another day filled with adventures tomorrow.
103 km / 1 hour 30 mins
Day 2: The Catlins to Invercargill
If you stayed the night at Whistling Frog, go to McLean Falls before heading to Curio Bay. You don't want to miss this impressive 3-tier waterfall!
The Catlins continue to offer impressive landscapes, 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 watch Hector's Dolphins play in the waves.
Whether you need a meal, coffee or a charging station for your car, Fortrose Café is a lovely place for a break. Take in the scenery of The Catlins one more time before leaving this beautiful part of the Southern Scenic Route.
From Fortrose, it's just over 60km to Stirling Point in 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 Stewart Island, Western Southland and out towards the Catlins.
For the bravest among us, there's the Shark Experience Bluff—the only place in New Zealand where you can cage dive with the magnificent great white. The team at Shark Experience is committed to keeping their footprint, and those who travel with them, to a minimum so they can continue to observe, educate and promote shark and ocean conservation.
After climbing up Bluff Hill/Motuphue or cage diving with jaws, having dinner at Hayz At The Anchorage in Bluff is a must and a well-deserved treat. Encounter traditional Māori cuisine being modernised using fresh local seafood from Bluff's back doorstep, straight from the ocean to your plate. You can charge your car while enjoying local delicacies such as Bluff oysters, Titī (Mutton Bird) and paua.
Take your pick for accommodation for the night. Bluff Camping Ground is a budget-friendly option with an EV charger onsite. There are multiple options in Invercargill where you can find a comfy bed and a charger, including Monarch Motel, Ascot Park Hotel and Motel and The Langlands; this last one is the newest hotel in town with its very own 360 rooftop bar overlooking the city.
215 km / 2 hours 50 mins
Day 3: Invercargill to Te Anau via Riverton & Tuatapere
Start your day right with a delicious breakfast at The Batch Cafe, where sustainability is paramount with locally sourced produce, a homegrown vege shelf for customers to take or swap, and compostable coffee cups.
Then it's time to return to the Southern Scenic Route and go to the popular seaside and holiday resort, Riverton/Aparima, known as the 'Riviera of the South'. It's surrounded by bays and beaches, making it a perfect spot for swimming, surfing, paddle boarding, horse riding and walking. Aparima is rich in early Māori history and is one of the earliest European settlements in New Zealand. A visit to Te Hikoi Museum is a must to discover the area's heritage, with an impressive collection often described as one of the nation's best regional museums. While enjoying this beautiful seaside town, you can leave your car charging at the local supermarket.
The scenic drive to Te Wae Wae Bay looks 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!). In Tuatapere, you can stop to charge your vehicle if needed while getting your hands on the world-famous Tuatapere sausage, as the town is known as the sausage capital of New Zealand. Heading up and over the Blackmount where you can witness the bold landscapes and carved-out valleys on the drive into Manapōuri and Te Anau – the front door to Fiordland National Park.
Te Anau Bird Sanctuary/Punanga Manu o Te Anau on Lake Te Anau's shores is worth visiting. The sanctuary allows you to peek at some of New Zealand's unique birds that are difficult to see in the wild, with the rare flightless takahē being the star of the show. The birds here have either been injured and cannot survive in the wild or have been involved in captive-rearing programmes. The injured birds are rehabilitated and, if possible, released back into the wild when strong enough.
Finish the day off with a fabulous paddock-to-plate dinner at Redcliff Cafe, where they serve Fiordland venison and Stewart Island salmon.
There are heaps of options to stay for the night where you can also charge your car. Pitch up a tent or book a warm and comfy bed at Anchorage Motel and Apartments, Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park and Motels, West Arm Hostel or Possum Lodge. Make sure your car is fully charged and you get a good night's rest for the last couple of days of this epic road trip.
120 km / 2,5 hours
Day 4: Te Anau to Milford Sound
This day is all about exploring the natural beauty of Fiordland National Park. The Milford Road is a scenic side trip from the Southern Scenic Route and much more than a way to get to Milford Sound. It's an unforgettable journey into the heart of Fiordland National Park and just as impressive as the destination itself. However, there are no EV chargers, so check your car before hitting the road. The region's commitment to preserving and enhancing the natural environment inspires visitors to do the same, ensuring that our land, water, and night sky are protected for future generations.
Whether you want to experience Fiordland from the water, the sky or by foot, plenty of sustainable activities and experiences allow you to immerse yourself in nature with the least impact. Go on a cruise with RealNZ and get up close and personal with cascading waterfalls, take a bird's eye view on a scenic flight with Southern Lakes Helicopters or Wings & Water or go on a guided walk with Trips & Tramps and learn from the experts.
All these operators are passionate about the beautiful region they live in and the protection and conservation of it. Whether supporting scientific research, minimising their carbon footprint, contributing funds, educating people, using eco-friendly products, or reducing waste, they all do their part for the environment.
Go on an overnight cruise or spend the night at Milford Sound Lodge, Milford Sound's only accommodation. They're passionate about managing their environmental impact by supporting local, using sustainable products, and setting themselves the goal to be paper-, plastic- and landfill-free by 2025.
Fiordland National Park is a remote and pristine environment; to keep it that way, we have to be considerate of everything we do.
Often described as the “eighth wonder of the world”, the jewel in Fiordland’s crown, and one of the New Zealand’s top travel destinations, Milford Sound (Piopiotahi) was carved by glaciers…
171 km / 2 hours
Day 5: Te Anau to Queenstown
This is your last day on the Southern Scenic Route. Take a refreshing plunge in Lake Te Anau or Lake Manapouri before jumping back in the car to make your way to Lumsden. This is Northern Southland's central hub and a major junction in Southland with several quirky cafes and restaurants and EV chargers available. The area also offers some of the country's premier cycling trails and mountain bike tracks, such as the Around The Mountains Cycle Trail.
From Lumsden, it's only a short drive to Athol, which is a popular fishing spot as the nearby Mataura River is great for brown trout fishing. Pop into Athol Art Gallery, where established and new artists with a deep connection to the land and its rural life are represented while your car charges. Check you have enough power to drive 75km to Queenstown. If you need an energy boost, allow some time to stop at The Coffee Bomb in Garston, where they serve great food and coffee.
Your journey on the Southern Scenic Route ends in Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand.