Intro to New Zealand’s Southland Region
From the Catlins in the East to Fiordland in the West, New Zealand’s Southland region is a land of rugged coastline, rolling plains, towering cliffs and ancient glaciers. It’s a nature-lover’s paradise, filled with opportunities to hike, bike and just plain get lost. Though Fiordland can be considered its own region apart from Southland, we’ve included it here, as it’s much too spectacular to possibly miss!
Invercargill and Bluff
Invercargill is Southland’s main city. It’s a great jumping-off point for visiting the many attractions of New Zealand’s Southland, and offers a wide variety of accommodation and dining. In the center of the city, Queens Park is filled with dramatic, tree-lined walkways, areas dedicated to different blooms (roses, rhododendron, azaleas), a rotunda, ponds, and is home to the Southland Museum and Art Gallery, which holds an interesting Maori gallery. Check out Invercargill Brewery, for brews featuring lots of yummy local ingredients and a focus on putting less in to get more out. About a half-hour away is the town of Bluff, known for incredible seafood, including world-famous Bluff oysters (the season is April-August). Stunning, panoramic views can be seen from the top of Bluff Hill. From Bluff you can also catch the ferry to Stewart Island and Rakiura National Park.
We made Curio Bay one of our overnight stops while touring the Southland region. Here, 180 million-year old fossilized trees lie embedded in bedrock. At low tide, you can get a clear view of these long trunks, forever captured in stone. Since we were camping at Curio Bay on an absolutely miserable day, we had the advantage of being there alone. The campground’s lone building was abandoned, and we couldn’t figure out what to do to register or reserve a spot, so we just parked. The weather had been deteriorating all day, and we vowed to try and pay before we left in the morning. Late in the afternoon, we took turns shivering above in the tall grasses, trying to spot the shy, Yellow-eyed Penguin. An hour or so into the search, there they were, surfing in on the waves through the sleet and flurries: two Yellow-eyed penguins landed in the shallows and waddled up into the brush right at the shoreline. It was a truly amazing experience. On the other side is Porpoise Bay, known for the Hector’s Dolphins that often play there. We only saw a very fat, lazy seal with a LOUD mouth.
We have great memories of our visit to Nugget Point. A path leads out to the picturesque lighthouse, with views out to the “nuggets” themselves, rocks eroded by the waves, resembling gold nuggets to those who named them. We were delayed countless times along the way, distracted by fur seals and sea lions far below, playing and generally making a lot of noise. We were lucky enough to spot an elephant seal the day we were there as well, but we didn’t spot any yellow-eyed penguins. We found a perfect spot for a picnic, and pulled out a couple of chairs to enjoy a sandwich with a view.
Te Anau and Fiordland
Te Anau was a perfect jumping-off point for visiting Fiordland. There are countless hiking/tramping trips (including three of the New Zealand Great Walks) that can be organized from here, and it’s home to one of our all-time favorite places for pies, Miles Better Pies. Delicious! The lakeside setting is enchanting, and there are lots of good restaurants offering local cuisine. We wanted so much to visit Doubtful Sound, but the weather was quite bad, and we opted for the more accessible Milford Sound. Towering mountains overlook sparkling fiords. The road twists through ancient forests, the reflections of trees and clouds reflected in silent lakes. We felt we were traveling back in time. Our boat tour of Milford Sound was simply unforgettable, and included sights of waterfalls, dolphins and a double rainbow! In a more hospitable season, we hope to return and spend more time in this amazing region. Check out this cool Fiordland Bucket List from fiordland.org.
Generally defined as the southeastern region between Kaka Point and Fortrose, The Catlins encompasses some of the attractions mentioned in these highlights. We wanted to mention it on its own, though, because there is so much more to see. Since we took the Southern Scenic Route from Dunedin, which runs along the coast, we didn’t explore much of the forested areas, including large tracts of rainforest filled with wildlife and native species of flora and fauna. We’d love to do some hikes, including seeing the beautiful Matai Falls and Purakaunui Falls outside Owaka in the Otago region.
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