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Southern Scenic Road Trip: Invercargill to Fiordland National Park

The journey trails the eastern boundary of the Fiordland National Park and the raw beauty of the south coast. The scenery is an excellent introduction to the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area. Your journey is arguably one of the world’s beautiful road trips. The sheer variety of scenery from coastal towns, lowland forest, heritage sites and sub-alpine scenery wrapped around lakes where bush and waterfalls vie for attention is breathtaking.

2 - 5 days
1-4 nights

Trip Overview

Riverton, Tuatapere, Te Anau and Milford Sound exploration

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Te Hikoi Southern Journey Museum, geology centre
  • Galleries and artist studios attracted to the natural beauty of the region
  • Jacobs River Estuary; wild wetlands area, native and migrant water fowl and lush flora
  • Gemstone beach fossicking for shiny pebbles
  • Mores Reserve; offers several short walks and great views over Southland and Foveaux Strait/Te Ara a Kiwa towards Stewart Island/Rakiura
  • Heritage sites from timber milling towns, now abandoned
  • Extraordinary karst landscapes
  • Raw driftwood beaches and bays where wintering seals and hector dolphins frequent
  • Lowland beech forests coated in mist and moss, otherworldly and mysterious
  • Small towns where passionate locals introduce visitors to wild rivers, walks and local artists from Riverton to Tuatapere every town has a different story
Start Invercargill
Finish Fiordland National Park
Start Invercargill
Finish Fiordland National Park

Route map

Invercargill, Riverton, Tuatapere, Borland / Lake

Riverton

Riviera of the South, the marketing name sums up the place

Riverton street art whale mural, New Zealand
Riverton street art whale mural

Riverton is a perfect mix of culture, history, and adventure. From various galleries, historic sites, two heritage trails as well as the fantastic Te Hikoi Museum. There’s a reason Riverton is called the “Riviera of the South” as it is surrounded by bays and beaches and makes for a perfect family day out, swimming, surfing, paddle boarding, horse riding, and walking. The town’s axis is Jacob’s River Estuary, part of a sweeping coastline. Surf’s up at nearby Colac Bay/Oraka, where ‘Porridge’ ranks among New Zealand’s top surfing spots.

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Tuatapere

The seascape of McCracken Rest near Tuatapere, New Zealand
The seascape of McCracken Rest near Tuatapere

Tuatapere delivers an authentic wilderness experience with a location at the doorstep of Fiordland National Park. A small town with a wealth of activities for visitors from an art trail, interesting museums and heritage sites to magnificent scenery. Tuatapere’s community envisaged a great walk and the result is the outstanding Hump Ridge Track. As an independently operated great walk it embraces high standard lodges and pick up and return services offering a seamless experience.

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Extensions
Te Anau

Lake Te Anau area, New Zealand @Southland, New Zealand
Lake Te Anau area @Southland, New Zealand

Te Anau is a town built on the back of tourism and wilderness experiences in Fiordland National Park. There are cafes, adventure tour operators and a range of accommodation options from luxury lodges to TOP TEN holiday park. Te Anau is located on Lake Te Anau. Either drive to Lake Manapouri for excursions to Doubtful Sound or continue to Milford Sound.

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Extensions
On the drive from Milford sound to Lumsden & beyond

State Highway 94, New Zealand @Wikiwand
State Highway 94 @Wikiwand

From Fiordland National Park the Southern Scenic Route transverses State Highway 94. This is a very popular access road to the National Park as it is the closest road from Queenstown for day trips. The road can be congested during the peak season. Once on route to Queenstown the turnover to join State Highway 6 bypasses Lumsden. Check out What’s so great about Lumsden (especially fans of vintage trains) it is a short detour to Lumsden, approximately 15 minutes. From the Lumsden turnoff to Queenstown motorists have rejoined the iconic State Highway 6.

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6 favourite stops are:
Lumsden

Railway station, Lumsden @lumsdenheritagetrust
Railway station @lumsdenheritagetrust

Lumsden is a scenic Victorian town on the Southern Scenic Route and the major cycling trail, “Around the Mountains.” For railway enthusiasts Lumsden is a must visit destination with a railway precinct and its growing collection of heritage rail locomotives and carriages. As a homage to transport the quirky Route 6 Cafe and Bar is rapidly becoming an icon for Highway 6.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Oreti River is a popular fishing, swimming and rowing water sport river. The river is home to one of the world’s rarest seagulls. Oreti River supports breeding colonies of endangered Black-Billed Gulls.
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Athol

Athol, New Zealand @Shellie Evans
Athol @Shellie Evans

The next town on the route is Athol. Athol is part of a growing hospitality business that is developing with the advent of “Around the Mountains” cycle trail and the promotion of the Southern Scenic Road Trip.

There is a well known landscape gallery, colonial restored homes, a cafe and lodge / holiday park. The Eyre Creek and Quoich Creek, and flow into the Mataura River about 2 km to the south of the village. The Mataura River is a premier fishing destination.

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Kingston

Kingston Flyer, South Island New Zealand
Kingston Flyer

From Athol you start descending to the village of Kingston. The pretty village is between mountain ranges and tucked into a lakeside setting. Sitting at the southern tip of Lake Wakatipu and on the border of Otago and Southland Kingston can be overlooked in the rush to Queenstown. Relax and enjoy a lakeside walk within the mountain ranges. The town is a mere 47 km from Queenstown yet the rizzy adventure capital is light years away.  The Southern Scenic Route passes directly through the picturesque town.

And the drawcard for train lovers is the parked up Kingston Flyer and the adjoining picturesque heritage railway station, now a summer time cafe.

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Devil's Staircase

Lake Wakatipu, Remarkables Range Otago. Devils Staircase lookout, New Zealand
Devils Staircase lookout

From Kingston, Lake Wakatipu is your companion as you continue to drive towards Queenstown. The road hugs the lake edge with breathtaking views in all directions.

As you pivot around sharp corners the Remarkable Mountain range, the deep inked water of Lake Wakatipu is distractingly beautiful. The road has a number of lookout points each offering a different perspective of the Mountains and the lake.

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Queenstown

Invercargill to Queenstown winter views, New Zealand
Invercargill to Queenstown winter views

A year round holiday location where glorious scenery and outdoors adventures go hand in hand. Queenstown is a resort town framed by alpine peaks with a beautiful lake at the edge. The town is fun, adrenaline laced attractions, leisurely fine dining and indulgent spa treatments and a place where kids have plenty to do and see. From mellow, chilled out holidays to adventures packed with skydiving, canyon swinging, bungee jumping and heli-skiing Queenstown is New Zealand’s premier tourist destination

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