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Where to go in the Deep South of New Zealand

Many visitors to New Zealand tend to only go as far South as places like Queenstown, Wanaka and in some cases Dunedin. However there is a whole lot more to see in the Deep South of New Zealand and those with time on their hands should definitely check it out.

Like the Southern States of the USA, the southern most regions of NZ are some of the most laid back lands you’ll ever likely to come across, indeed, NZ itself is pretty laid back itself once you leave the suburbs of Auckland behind

There places we are going to focus on in this article are the cities of Dunedin, Invercargill, The Catlins and Stewart Island. These are probably the most popular areas to visit and will have the best tourist infrastructure.

The summer months are from November to April, peak season is December, February and March. This is not only because of foreign tourists but also domestic travellers who have holidays from 20th December to late January when schools close. Easter weekend and late October are also vacation times.


Dunedin, a twin with Edinburgh is the gateway to this region. It’s a small manageable city with everything you might need to equip yourself to explore further.

The wonderful architecture of old buildings that seem to have been transported from Scotland, the haggis that makes its appearance on restaurant menus and the whisky distilleries around Dunedin seem to be reason enough and you would be forgiven for thinking you are in Scotland!

Dunedin lies on the southeast coast of NZ’s South Island in the Otago Peninsula, the oldest city in NZ and the second most important city on South Island. A small city of roughly 118,00 people, Dunedin is ironically in geographical terms the largest city on South island. Replete with beautiful heritage buildings, Dunedin has a verve to it which is distinctly young. Probably due to the fact that it is a primarily a university town and the youthful propensity comes through in the numerous bars and cafes that line the streets.

Dunedin is the main business centre for the region of Otago, an area long recognized for its spectacular scenery and colourful past.

Some things to do in Dunedin

Activities include swimming in the Tunnel Beach and in the heated outdoor saltwater pool at the end of St. Claire Beach. There are good walks to Mt. Cargill-Bethunes Gully Walkway. The view is amazing. From there you can walk on to the 10 million year old lava flows that left behind a crop of giant granite crystals called the Organ Pipes. Other activities include flight-seeing and horse-riding which are popular.

Taking the Taieri Gorge Railway to Pukerangi and Middlemarch is almost mandatory as it’s a beautiful historic trip like going on the Ghan in Australia.

Some things to do outside of Dunedin

Bike the Otago Central Rail Trail

Bike through old train tunnels and across wooden bridges, explore old mining towns, and enjoy expansive mountain views along the Otago Central Rail Trail. This 93-mile track was once a 19th-century rail line between Clyde and Middlemarch, but today it’s a popular path for biking, walking and even horseback riding. To complete the whole trail by bike typically takes three to five days, depending on how fast you ride and how many detours you make. Travel during the summer months (December through February) for the warmest weather and longest days, or during autumn (March and April) to see the region’s spectacular foliage.

While a reasonable level of fitness is required, the trail doesn’t have any major hills and is suitable for most bikers. If you’re not up for the whole route, you can sample part of it in a half- or full-day ride; the Poolburn Gorge area is one popular choice. Shebikeshebikes can arrange bike rentals, day trips, accommodations and full-route packages.


Otago Peninsular

The Otago Peninsula, stretching along the southern edge of Otago Harbour is an easy drive from central Dunedin. Home to some of the rarest wildlife in the world, it is characterized by lush green pastures, small bays and inlets, sandy beaches, rugged hills and volcanic landforms.
This premier package includes the Otago Harbour and Taiaroa Head wildlife cruise, scenic Otago Peninsula bus tour, and guided tours of the Royal Albatross Colony, the Yellow Eyed Penguin Reserve and a visit to wading bird habitats.

Taiaroa Head is the only mainland breeding colony of the Royal Albatross in the world. Nearby you can enjoy close encounters with the world’s rarest penguin, the Yellow Eye. On the secluded beaches are sea lions and their pups, fur seals, and blue penguins.


The City of Invercargill, capital of the the Southland region of New Zealand. They invite you to experience the warmth, friendliness and hospitality that makes their city such a great place to live and visit.

Invercargill is favourably placed on the Southern Scenic Route and is the gateway to some of New Zealand’s most beautiful scenery and destinations including the Southland heartland, Stewart Island, Fiordland and the Catlins.

Activities in Invercargill

One of the most fun places to get wet, Splash Palace’s pools and hydroslide are heaps of fun. The complex houses a variety of pools: 50m sports pool, a leisure pool with waves and sprays, a tots’ pool, learners’ pool, and a spa. There is also a steam room and café with WiFi.

Mountain biking – Sandy Point

Location: Sandy Point, Invercargill

Sandy Point is home to 17 tracks of various distances, all graded 2-3. Just 15 minutes out of the Invercargill city centre.

Also for the two wheeld fans Elizabeth Park is located off John Street and Lime Street. The park provides a large, welcoming, open space in the southern sector of the city. 

A large playground provides numerous opportunities for both active and imaginative play. A BMX track, walking track, and toilet are also provided.

The pride of Invercargill is Queens Park, a beautiful park in the centre of the city sprawling across 80 hectares of beautifully kept gardens. Highlights include a beautiful and varied rose garden, a rhododendron dell, an azalea garden, Japanese garden, dramatic tree lined walkways, bush paths through a selection of native plants, and rock and herb gardens. An indoor Winter Garden features tropical and flowering plants and cacti are displayed in an adjoining house. Queens Park also has an impressive bird aviary, animal enclosures, children’s play areas, extensive sporting facilities and cafés. At the southern entrance you will find the Southland Museum & Art Gallery, and i-SITE Visitor Information Centre.


The rugged coastal route linking Dunedin and Invercargill is one of the less-travelled highways on the South Island, traversing some of the country’s wildest scenery along the Catlins Coast. It is part of the Southern Scenic Route (, which continues on to Te Anau in Fiordland.

The best way to enjoy the Catlins Coast is to invest at least a couple of days and take it easy. From Nugget Point in South Otago (just southeast of Balclutha) to Waipapa Point in Southland (60km northeast of Invercargill), the wild scenery stretches unbroken, dense rainforest succumbing to open scrub as you cut through deep valleys and past rocky bays, inlets and estuaries.

The coast is home to penguins (both blue and yellow-eyed), dolphins, several species of seabird and, at certain times of year, migrating whales. Elephant seals, fur seals, and increasingly, the rare New Zealand sea lion are found on the sandy beaches and grassy areas, and birds – tui, resonant bellbirds, fantails and grey warblers – are abundant in the mossy depths of the forest. Even colourful rarities such as kakariki and mohua can be seen if you’re patient.

Here are some things to do on the Catlins

The Catlins River walk is one of the best-kept secrets around. It is absolutely beautiful and costs nothing except the fuel to get to Tawanui camping-group from where the five-hour walk starts. You really need a car at the other end (The Wisp) so that you don’t have a ten-hour tramp! Swap keys at the half-way point and meet back at Owaka. If you’re lucky you might see a mohua (yellow-head) a rare and beautiful little native bird. You will certainly see some tomtits which, clinging to tree-trunks look for all the world like black and white butterflies. The bed of the river in places is sheer rock which gives it a unique look. There are some scary wire bridges but no-one has fallen in off one as far as we know.

Purakanui Falls – The primeval forest leading to them is worth the trip alone.

Catlins Wildlife Trackers, 5 Mirren Street, Papatowai (on the Southern Scenic Route), +64 3 4158613. 3 nights. In-depth two day, three night small group eco-tours to see and learn about The Catlins rainforest and coast. Subantarctic penguins and marine mammals are seen. Tours are fully catered in comfortable home-stay accommodation and home-cooked meals. Tours are personalised and guided by hosts Fergus and Mary Sutherland who have 20 years experience in hosting visitors to the Catlins and are well qualified with Masters degrees and conservation credentials. $600.

Top Track, +64 800 2285467. Organised by the people of “Catlins Wildlife Trackers”, this is a wonderful 26 km track through varying landscape of the Catlins, taking the hiker over beaches, farmland, hills and native bush. It is designed as a 2 day track, but can be done in one long 10 h day. One would miss out on one of the coolest things of the track however: the stay in the “top bus”, which is an old Dunedin city bus that has been brought up a hill and gives a stunning vista and an excellent place to spend the night, given that is fully equipped. It even has an outdoor shower, heated by the sun. $45.

Cathedral Caves. Open only at low tide.

McLean Falls. A beautiful nature’s garden leads to the highest of the local waterfalls.

Waipohatu Forest Walks -short and long. Close to the turnoff for the South Island’s southernmost point (Slope Point), Waipohatu offers a sheltered contrast to the wild coast. There are two walks, one of wheelchair standard, 1km, with diverse ferns, podocarps and broad-leaved trees; the other a three hour adventure to two hidden falls.

Some useful resources:

Travel Insurance for the over 65s visiting New Zealand

Southland Travel Authority


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