New Zealand's southernmost city, Invercargill is the biggest urban centre in Southland. Surrounded by conservation areas and wildlife reserves, the city has a very British feel – most of the streets are named after rivers such as the Tyne, Esk, Mersey, Spey and Ness, and the weather, too, is distinctly British, so expect a little rain while you're there...
Known as 'The City of Water and Light', Invercargill is a good spot to try and see the aurora australis, or 'Southern Lights' – an incredible natural light phenomenon only seen from a few places on earth. The city is also a great base from which to explore Fiordland National Park and The Catlins Coast.
Enjoying some wonderful beaches, golf courses, lush, green parks, great shopping and impressive Edwardian/Victorian architecture, this historic city truly has something for everyone and is the perfect gateway to the Southland region.
30km off the south coast, across the Foveaux Strait, Stewart Island/Rakiura is the country's third-largest island, with a permanent population of just 400. A wet and hilly place, the island is noted for its 280km of walking paths (but only 28km of road...).
Stewart Island/Rakiura is a haven for birdwatchers. Water taxis will take you to Ulva Island Bird Sanctuary, where a 'Birding Bonanza' full day package will keep you more than occupied.
Oban is the main town on the island, and has a small airstrip that receives planes from Invercargill. From here, you can access the Rakiura National Park, popular with hikers and wildlife enthusiasts. The Rakiura Track will lead you to one of the best places in New Zealand from which to observe kiwi in the wild. On the coast, the endangered Yellow-Eyed Penguin can sometimes be spotted, nesting on the rocks.
The Catlins Coast
Covering 100km of coastline and 1900 square km of inland terrain, The Catlins Coast is popular for driving tours and campers. Known for its wild weather (and shipwrecks!) and stunning natural features such as waterfalls, bluffs and ocean swells, it's no wonder that this area is home to some distinctive wildlife. Sea lions, fur seals, mollymawks and penguins, are all commonplace, and the protected marine mammal sanctuary at Porpoise Bay should be a highlight for any animal lover. With a plentiful supply of cabins, hotels, fine dining restaurants and conservation areas en route, The Catlins Coast won't fail to capture your imagination, and your heart.
Make the most of the Southern Scenic Route to make sure you get to see everything Southland has to offer, with ease. You can drive from Milford Sound all the way to Dunedin, via Tuatapere, Riverton, Invercargill and The Catlins Coast.