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Southern Scenic Road Trip Guide Dunedin to Queenstown

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In this Article

Route overview, frequently asked questions and tips

What to do and see on the journey between Queenstown and Dunedin is covered in detail. The Southern Scenic Route embraces deserted beaches, lush rainforest, pristine lakes, vibrant small towns and stunning mountain vistas. From the natural world of the Catlins the road opens up to Invercargill the cultural and administrative heart of Southland. Small towns are personality plus with the gooey cheese roll and southern pie as a kiwi staple. Freshly harvested seafood, organic cheeses and vineyards offer visitors culinary delights. Interspersed in the rolling farmland are country gardens open to the public, farmers markets and studio / galleries where landscape artists reside. Then the road dips and ascends the mountain ranges past Lake Wakatipu and into the bustle of Queenstown and its polished visitor experience.

Southern Scenic Road Trip, New Zealand @Roving Clint
Southern Scenic Road Trip @Roving Clint

A Road Less Travelled

The Southern Scenic Route is sealed, but roads to some attractions are gravel. Some points of interest may be across private land, and access is by courtesy of the landowner.

On unsealed roads, slow down and drive to the conditions. If you come across sheep and cattle being moved along roads, please drive slowly.

BEST TIME TO GO

Year round, although winter road conditions must be checked before departure. There is no such thing as a cold day. Simply layer up and stay toasty in NZ wool.

WEATHER

Check supplied weather forecasts for specific areas as the route is travelling through diverse climate zones

ROUTE MAP

630 km

NOTE

Southern Scenic Road Trip is not the direct route to Queenstown from Dunedin.

State Highway 1 & 8 approximately 279 km

TRIP PROFILE

  • Start: Dunedin
  • Finish: Queenstown
  • Duration: Several days to a week or more

TRIP HIGHLIGHTS

  • The Catlins untamed landscape, home to sea lions, dolphins and rare penguins
  • Small towns and large personalities from quirky butcher museums to teapot land in the Catlins to vintage trains parked in the main street of Lumsden
  • Fresh seasonal seafood plucked from fishing boats direct to the consumers, farmers markets and artisan food producers
  • Art and galleries showcasing the beauty of the landscapes in fine art photographic prints, original paintings and multi-media materials
  • Regional museums narrating the stories of human occupation, narrating the story of people who turned up with collections of photographs, documents, memorabilia and objects
  • Memorable walks through lush verdant green wrapped forests to pounding waterfalls and estuaries where you float across jointed reed grasses on boardwalks.
The Catlins, find a quiet spot and relax, New Zealand
The Catlins, find a quiet spot and relax

SOUTHERN SCENIC ROAD TRIP SECTIONS

Each section can be travelled independently.

Follow the sign

The Southern Scenic Route is indicated by brown signs with the symbol to the right.

Sod Cottage, Otago, New Zealand @NZPlaces
Sod Cottage @NZPlaces

TOP EIGHT HERITAGE PLACES & MUSEUMS

  • Dunedin has a wealth of museums and heritage sites, check the travel guide for Dunedin for holiday ideas
  • Sod Cottage was built in the 1860s as a stopping place for miners heading to the goldfields. It has been restored by the South Otago Historical Society
  • Milton’s Butcher Museum, quirky stamped with the personality of the collector
  • Balclutha South Otago Museum is a trove of personal stories about the Clutha district
  • OWAKA MUSEUM (The Catlins) Maritime stories, Maori taonga and family lineage stories & Lenz Reserve and Trails Tractor, the story of settlement, logging and abandonment
  • Invercargill is the home of five museums and several outstanding art galleries
  • Railway was an important aspect of Lumsden’s past, and the old railway station is now preserved as a tourist information centre with two Drewry diesel shunters and three wagons on display outside. The Kingston Flyer and the carriages are on display near Lake Wakatipu, Kingston
  • Lakes District Museum in Arrowtown Museum with its anecdotes of Chinese gold mining ventures
Kingston Flyer, South Island New Zealand
Kingston Flyer
Dunedin Botanic Gardens entrance, New Zealand
Dunedin Botanic Gardens entrance

TOP FOUR GARDENS

  • The Dunedin Botanic Garden was completed in 1869, New Zealand’s first botanic garden. It’s now recognised as a Garden of International Significance.
  • Larnach Castle Victorian flower beds and ornatemental garden sculpture
  • Queens Park (Invercargill) a botanical oasis in the centre of Invercargill
  • Private gardens on route with large rambling country gardens a highlight, for holiday inspiration for the gardeners check here 8 fabulous Southland gardens and parks, things to do & see: NZ Jane

TOP TEN SCENIC VIEWS

GALLERIES

Dunedin and Invercargill are home to well known galleries, for details check Dunedin travel guide, best FREE things to see, what to do: NZ Jane and Invercargill check Invercargill travel guide, trip activities, things to do: NZ Jane.

Along the way small towns are the home of a number of artists. Check What’s so great about … town to ensure you are up to date with happenings and events.

Southland Museum & Art Gallery, New Zealand @Otago images, Otago daily times
Southland Museum & Art Gallery @Otago images, Otago daily times

SIDE ROAD SUGGESTIONS

Perhaps the best bit of a holiday is the impulse to follow the road, detour and find out what is at the end. Here are some suggestions for a side road journey.

Otago Sinclair Wetlands signage, New Zealand
Otago Sinclair Wetlands signage

SINCLAIR WETLANDS

  • Departing from Dunedin, approximately 50 km is a signposted Sinclair Wetlands. Take the side road and discover a New Zealand taonga (treasure). A watery world where water, land and swamp merge into a floating world of birds, eels and fish. The Tairei plains were originally largely wetland with modern drainage, pasture land forever altering the landscape. You have a chance to see Aotearoa New Zealand as it was formerly before the advent of the milking shed.

RIVERTON

  • 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. Check out Riverton trip guide, things to do & see, best activities: NZ Jane. Remember to look down the sides of buildings for Riverton’s street art.
Riverton street art whale mural, New Zealand
Riverton street art whale mural
Gore, Autumn, New Zealand @gillianrose18
Gore @gillianrose18

GORE

  • From a world class art gallery to a quirky museum focused on bootlegger history manufacturing moonshine whiskey Gore is charming. The main street lined with mature trees is a picturesque town where it is easy to spend several hours or even a few days delving into local attractions. The best time to visit is spring to early autumn. For souls willing to rug up the toasty delights of Gore will make the journey worthwhile. For more inspiration about autumn glory check 6 stunning autumn South Island places, things to do & see: NZ Jane

LAWRENCE

  • Lawrence, where Gabriels Gully is a significant milestone in the gold rush story is a detour into the 19thcentury narrative of a small town. Check What’s so great about Lawrence
Lawrence, New Zealand @sues_scenz
Lawrence @sues_scenz

WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT KIWI TOWNS

Small towns and villages form the backbone of the Southern Scenic Route for more details about the towns located on the Southern Scenic route check here

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

I want to explore Central Otago. Can I combine this road trip with the Southern Scenic Route?

Yes, definitely, check Travel guide Otago art and culture trail for holiday ideas and simply take the side roads into Central Otago. The guide starts you on this journey with a recommended side trip to Lawrence

What is the best direction to travel?

You can tackle the entire route either starting in Queenstown or Dunedin. It is recommended the journey starts in Dunedin as you will largely have the coast, the views and lookouts on your left. New Zealand drives on the left side of the road. Turning into a lookout, from the opposite side of the road can be hazardous. Additionally it means the driver has a chance to glimpse the stunning landscapes.

TIP

From Kingston as you sweep up and over the mountain ridges with Lake Wakatipu coming into view it is glorious.

I am worried about traveling in winter and being delayed due to ice and snow. Is it better to not go in winter?

Winter unusually closes the road between Invercargill to Queenstown (Devil’s Staircase SH 6) for up to a week at a time. Winter creates stunningly visual landscapes with mountain peaks dusted in snow, crisp bright lights for photographers and wintering over large sea lions and seals.

When is the peak season?

Summer, December to mid-March

Do you need a private vehicle?

Preferred, however for the dedicated cyclist there are glorious cycling trails and local bike hire companies who will supply you with everything you need. The public bus service is sparse or does not exist between the small towns.

Can I travel with a motorhome?

Yes, however caution is needed, check individual parts of the route for a discussion about specific routes. NOTE The Catlins and gravel roads and winter conditions between Kingston and Queenstown.

Is the route suitable for kids?

Yes, as jet boat operators, wild beaches with driftwood and seals and places to explore aplenty are on the route. Queenstown is the adrenaline adventure capital of New Zealand and the route finishes in Queenstown.

Where to stay while travelling?

There are numerous options from holiday parks, motels, luxury lodges to airBNB options to choose from. In the peak season it is recommended to book forward bookings to avoid disappointment.

How far is Te Anu from Milford Sound?

While the road length is 19 km allow up to 2 hours driving time due to the narrow one way road conditions.

How long does it take to drive from Te Anau to Tuatapere?

It will take around 1 hour and 25 minutes to drive from Te Anau to Tuatapere.

Can I defer the Fiorldland sector and travel directly from Invercargill to Queenstown?

Yes, you can on State Highway 6. You will pass the town of Winton, check here What’s so great about Winton for things to do. The next town on route SH6 is Lumsden where you will see the turnoff to Milford Sound, just in case you change your mind. Otherwise continue on SH6 to Queenstown on the scenic route past Devil’s Staircase and Lake Wakatipu.

 

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