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Hump Ridge Track, Tuatapere. Photo: Venture Southland

River deep, mountain high…. you’ll love the scenery in Southland. Rainforest, fiords, alpine vistas, deep lakes, farmland, plains and unspoilt coastline - there’s great scope for hiking, fishing and just marveling at the natural beauty.

Visitors can take the Southern Scenic Route, which runs from Queenstown, down to Te Anau, Manapouri, through Tuatapere, Colac Bay, to Invercargill and Bluff, round the Catlins and up to Dunedin.

Lake Te Anau - great walks, lovely lake

The lakeside town of Te Anau is a great base for hiking some of NZ’s most famous and beautiful walking tracks: the Milford TrackKepler Track, the Routeburn Track and Hollyford Track all in Fiordland National Park. These Great Walks are multi-day adventures, with huts along the way. Hikers need to book huts in advance for the Great Walks season, which runs from late October to early May. Visitors with less time, or with children, can do a section of a track as a day walk. From the Kepler Track carpark, it’s a 5.6km return walk around the shore of Lake Te Anau to beaches for a swim or picnic.

If walking’s not your thing, try a kayak tour, or a boat cruise across Lake Te Anau to visit glowworm caves. Fly fishing is good in Southland, and Te Anau is close to trout fishing spots on the Oreti, Mararoa and Waiau rivers.

From Te Anau, it’s an amazingly scenic drive (119km, about 2 hours) to Milford Sound. Cruise by boat from the head of the fiord out to the sea, and take in the views of bush-clad peaks rising from the calm waters of the sound, with waterfalls tumbling from the top of cliffs.

Fiordland is a unique region of spectacular beauty, with steep ranges and deep, pristine waters. It’s remote and famously wet - they measure rainfall in metres. The isolated environment has led to endemic species of flora and fauna developing and surviving here. Flightless birds such as the Takahe, once thought extinct, and the Kakapo, were found here when they were nowhere else in the country.

Manapouri lies about 20 minutes’ drive from Te Anau, on the edge of beautiful Lake Manapouri, with views of the Kepler, Hunter, Takitimu and Eyre Mountains. This is the starting point for adventures on Doubtful Sound. From Pearl Harbour, visitors take a boat across Lake Manapouri, then a coach trip across Wilmot Pass, before sailing, cruising or kayaking on the remote waters of Doubtful Sound.

Doubtful Sound, Bookabach/32803
Bookabach/32803 Doubtful Sound

Invercargill - southernmost city

The “City of Water and Light” lies on the plain on the Waihopai River estuary. The streets of Invercargill were laid out in 1856 by surveyor John Turnbull Thomson, who named them after Scottish rivers. There’s Irish, Scottish and Maori cultural origins mingled here. Take time to explore some of Invercargill’s sights - there’s Edwardian and Victorian architecture, and great parks and green spaces. Queen’s Park in the city centre is a lovely spot with gardens, a water playground and golf course, tuatara, and the Southland Museum and Art Gallery - a good place to discover more about the region and its history. Craft beer fans can fill up a vessel or take a tour at Invercargill Brewery. The Batch Cafe at 173 Spey Street gets rave reviews - it’s a popular spot, with delicious looking food and coffee.

Motorbike enthusiasts head to Southland in November for the Burt Monroe Challenge, a rally and series of events inspired by local legend Burt Monroe, who set a land speed record in 1967 on an Indian motorcycle he rebuilt in his shed. The story was immortalised in the film “The World’s Fastest Indian”.

Sunset on Oreti Beach - Venture Southland
Sunset on Oreti Beach, Invercargill. Photo: Venture Southland

Oreti Beach is fringed by sandhills, giving onto a vast expanse of flat sand at low tide, stretching round towards Riverton. It was on these sands that Burt Monroe set some of his records, and the Indian Motorcycle NZ Beach Racing Champs are held here in November. If you’d like to head along the sands without the thunderous roar of engines, try a horse trek with Rakiura Rides. From Oreti Beach there are views of Foveaux Strait and Stewart Island. Surfers, swimmers, kite surfers and windsurfers enjoy the waves.

Southland Golf Club (Oreti Sands) is the world’s southern-most 18 hole golf course, set 10kms from Invercargill and a few dunes away from Oreti Beach and Foveaux Strait. Golfers rave about the layout and perfect links foundations, the sense of remoteness and feel of the elements.

The small town of Riverton/Aparima lies at the northern end of Oreti Beach, on the estuary of the Aparima and Pourakino Rivers. Dolphins travel up into the estuary to feed. Taramea Beach is great for swimming and surfing, and nearby Colac Bay is also known for its surf. In Riverton, visit Te Hikoi museum, rated by some as New Zealand’s best museum. From Riverton it’s a short drive to Orepuki Beach Cafe, which is set in a restored homestead; folks rave about their seafood chowder.

Stewart Island/Rakiura

Masons Bay, Stewart Island
Masons Bay, Stewart Island, photo: Venture Southland

Perfect for fishing, bird-watching and hiking, Stewart Island/Rakiura lies green and unspoilt, a 20 minute flight away from Invercargill, or one hour ferry trip from Bluff. Rakiura means ‘glowing skies’ in Māori, as the southern lights, aurora australis, can sometimes be seen here.  Oban, Stewart Island’s township, has a Four Square shop, pub, restaurants and beaches. There are native birds galore on the island, with more kiwi living here, than people apparently.

From Halfmoon Bay, tours depart to Ulva Island/Te Wharawhara. Ulva Island is a predator-free open sanctuary, home to a great number of native birds. Walk through the unpoilt rainforest, and you may spot weka, kākā, kākāriki, bellbirds/korimako, pigeons/kereru, saddleback/tieke, Stewart Island robin/toutouwai and kiwi, if you’re lucky. Fur seals and sealions can also be seen, resting on the shore.

The Catlins

Tootle round the Catlins, a rugged and remote stretch of coast, that is home to Yellow-eyed penguins and Hectors Dolphins. There’s a petrified forest lying fossilised, at your feet at Curio Bay. Sea lions, fur seals and elephant seals live in close proximity at Nugget Point.

What to do

Hike on some of NZ’s most famous Great Walks, in Fiordland National Park
Doubtful Sound or Milford Sound? Cruise through both and pick your favourite.
Slurp some oysters in Bluff
Play a round at Oreti, the world’s southernmost 18 hole golf course
Enjoy native birds and forest on Rakiura/ Stewart Island
Drive around the Catlins, and spot dolphins and penguins
Go trout fishing on a Southland river

More Info - Southland’s Tourism website - Māori, early settlers and overview of Southland history - Southland fishing information

Where to stay

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