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South Island: Southern Scenic Route"


By Concrete Playground
September 07, 2018
By Concrete Playground
September 07, 2018

An area known for its towering mountains, fiords, raging waterfalls, art and wineries — there's always plenty to do and see on this scenic route through the south.

This is an epic journey through some incredible terrain. You’ll find yourself gazing at one incredible sight after another it’ll be almost overwhelming, so make the most of every day and enjoy every minute. From coastal experiences, wildlife and fiords to nature walks and mountain biking, there’s so much to see and do that you’ll definitely need a helping hand. That’s where we come in. Check out our southern scenic route below to start planning your trip to New Zealand’s South Island and building your own customised itinerary.


Every season brings something new on the South Island. Spring sees cherry blossom, daffodils and lambs. Winter, of course, has its own glittering snow-plenty charm. But, autumn — which runs March through to May — is particularly sensational. With the changing leaves painting the countryside rich golds and reds. The days are warm and sunny, perfect for outdoor activities. Really, you just can’t lose.


Christchurch is the gateway to the South Island and a charming experience in itself. There are 13 daily non-stop flights to Christchurch from Australia’s main airports. After taking time to explore the city, drive down to Dunedin and then through the Catlins, Balclutha and Invercargill with a visit to Stewart Island and onto Fiordland.


Allow $100–$150 a day for petrol, worthy entertainment and cheap and cheerful eats, and if you tend to enjoy the finer things in life, give yourself upwards of $250 a day to take some bigger adventures, find some luxe ways to relax and eat some truly sensational food.


The Catlins Coast. On the way from Dunedin to Invercargill, this scenic coastline is one of the most impressive wild and natural landscapes you can find. Thick green forest, waterfalls and a rugged coast with incredible rock formations, caves, tunnels and blowholes — it’s an absolute paradise for nature lovers. Hot tip: keep your eyes peeled for sea lions, penguins and dolphins.

Plan Your Journey Through the Southern Scenic Route

Track down the must-visit local haunts.

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    Venture Through the Scenic South Island

    Do as the locals do.

    The Food

    From handmade chocolates to sticky barbecue ribs and the almighty bluff oyster, here's how to eat your way through the Southern Island.

    1. Seriously Good Chocolate Company

    Indulge your sweet tooth at this Invercargill chocolate shop filled with the ‘real flavours’ of NZ like ‘summer berries, central Otago pinots, Jaffas, Hokey Pokey and Pineapple Lumps’.

    2. Louie's Cafe & Tapas Bar

    Stop at the cosiest join in Invercargill to relax by the open fire over a selection of tapas (the southern blue cod is a favourite) and a glass or two of local wine.

    3. Buster Crabb

    Hit up this gastropub for a hearty feed. Think slow roasted lamb burgers, pan-fried seafood, saffron risotto and a range of steaks from the chargrill.

    4. Prohibition Smokehouse

    Cooked low and slow, the US-style barbecued NZ meats here are smoky, juicy and all around delicious. Also on offer? Crab cakes, jalapeno poppers and even pumpkin pie.

    5. Bluff Oysters

    Get your hands on these creamy, sweet and larger-than-normal oysters, originating from a tiny town at the bottom of the South Island, from the icy cold waters of the Foveaux Strait.

    The Drink

    Take a tour of Speight's Brewery or taste test the local drops at Bacchus Wine Bar — whatever tipple tickles your fancy, we've got you covered.

    1. Invercargill Brewery

    Tour NZ’s southernmost craft brewery, then head to the cellar door to sample some favourite brews like the Pitch Black stout, pilsner, Wasp Honey pilsner and Nally’s cider.

    2. Speight's Brewery

    Make this obligatory stop to taste the South Island’s favourite beer, fresh from the source on Rattray Street in Dunedin.

    3. Bacchus Wine Bar & Restaurant

    Sip some of the finest reserve wines from NZ (and Australia, France and Italy) at this wine bar and restaurant set in one of Dunedin’s oldest buildings in the heart of town.

    4. The Batch Cafe

    Get your caffeine fix with a cup of Hummingbird coffee at this Invercargill cafe, one of the first NZ companies to directly import fair trade coffee into the country.

    5. The New Zealand Whisky Collection

    Sample the full range of whiskies on offer at this historic whisky bar. Of particular interest is 18-year-old The Oamaruvian, matured in the seaside climate of Oamaru.

    The Adventures

    For the thrillseekers, here's a list of adrenaline-charged activities designed to get your heart racing, including a mountain bike trail and ghost tour.

    1. Mountain Bike Sandy Point

    Choose one of the 17 different trails at this sandy headland covered in thick pine forest.

    2. Fiordland Horse Treks

    Horse ride through ‘Lord of the Rings’ scenery, farmland and get panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and native bush.

    3. Fiordland Quad Biking

    Horse ride through ‘Lord of the Rings’ scenery, farmland and get panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and native bush.

    4. Hair Raiser Ghost Tours

    Join one of the seven ghost tours around Dunedin to step back in time and discover the town’s dark underbelly — goldrush mayhem, sailor tales and haunted cemeteries.

    5. Shark Dive New Zealand

    First off, these guys have a 100 percent success rate with their dives. With a new colony of great whites in the area, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see some sharks — and live to tell the tale.

    The Escapes

    Relax in a soothing onsen or take a scenic train ride — here's how to rest, relax and rejuvenate around the South Island.

    1. The Spa at Nugget Point

    Overlooking the Shotover River, this spa offers the usual treatments along with its Roman bath-like area with a mosaic pool, marbled plunge bath, saunas and steam room.

    2. Onsen Hot Pools

    Find total relaxation at this dreamy retreat. Soak in cedar hot tubs with wine and nibbles as you look out across the Shotover Canyon by day or up at the Milky Way by night.

    3. Queens Park

    Invercargill is infinitely proud of its central park — and rightly so. There’s a playground, winter garden, bird aviary and golf course right in the middle of the city.

    4. Taieri Gorge Railway

    Ditch the roads for a bit and switch to rail travel with a trip through Taieri Gorge on a 100-year-old vintage train from Dunedin’s Edwardian Railway Station.

    5. Milford Sound Observatory

    Descend ten metres below sea level to see colourful aquatic life up close at this floating underwater observatory, only accessible by boat.

    The Outdoors

    Hike around Milford Sound or explore 12,000-year-old caves and get back to nature.

    1. Milford Sound Lodge

    Choose from a riverside chalet, backpacking room or a spot at the rainforest campervan site, and spend the night nestled beneath the towering peaks of the Darran Mountains.

    2. Te Anau Glow Worm Caves

    Carved out by the force of the river, the Te Anau caves are an underground labyrinth of limestone caves lit by hundreds of glow worms.

    3. Doubtful Sound

    You’ll need a full day to cross Lake Manapouri, drive over Wilmot Pass and then set off for a three-hour catamaran cruise through the sounds. It’ll probably rain, but it’ll be beyond beautiful.

    4. Dig This Invercargill

    Get ready for an experience you’ll recount for years to come. Operate bulldozers, excavators, and skid steers in a giant gravel pit all while wearing fluros — and yes, just for fun.

    5. Tunnel Beach

    Follow the walking track down to this secluded beach with epic rock formations, fossils and a very cinematic coastline.

    The Culture

    There’s a contemporary gallery and a buzzing live music venue. Get your a culture fix with these five activities.

    1. Demolition World

    The Fallow family has set up a creepy, yet fascinating... collection, for want of a better word. This tiny village in Invercargill was created entirely from salvaged and recycled bits and pieces.

    2. Tillermans Music Lounge

    One of NZ’s oldest music venues (though with a fresh retro fit-out), this baby is your go to for great live music and an ambiance that’s hard to beat.

    3. Dunedin Gallery

    Check out the rich historic collection or the latest exhibition at New Zealand’s first art gallery, established in 1884.

    4. Larnach Castle

    It’s not a European castle, but it’s still pretty incredible. Set against a stunning backdrop of harbour and city, it all feels very Downton Abbey.

    5. Invercargill Public Art Gallery

    Visit the gallery’s collection of over 100 pieces — from early to contemporary works by NZ and international greats, including NZ heavyweights like CF Goldie, Rita Angus and Ralph Hotere.

    Venture Through the Scenic South Island

    Do as the locals do.

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