The Southern Scenic Route is the road to big skies, dramatic scenery and meaningful encounters with native animals.
Starting in the historic city of Dunedin, this route follows the wild Catlins coast down to Invercargill, then continues northwest to Manapouri and Te Anau before ending in Queenstown. Highlights could include sea life encounters along the Catlins Coast, an expedition to Stewart Island, lake cruises in Fiordland and walking the Tuatapere Humpridge Track – one of New Zealand’s newest on-foot adventures.
Dunedin is a treasure box of Victorian and Edwardian architecture. During the gold rush, the city acquired some of New Zealand's most impressive commercial buildings. You can see amazing examples of revival Gothic, Italianate, Palladian and Georgian architecture, and you can stay in historic hotels and grand homes that have been converted to bed and breakfast establishments. Eco-tours to penguin, albatross and fur seal colonies are Dunedin's other claim to fame - some include a cruise up the beautiful Otago Harbour.
Waterfalls, forests and marine mammal encounters await you on the Catlins Coast, a stretch of wilderness that begins just south of Balclutha. Be sure to take the track to Purakaunui Falls, a magnificent 20 metre, three tier waterfall. Nugget Point is the surest bet for wildlife viewing - it's the only place where you can find fur seals, Hooker's sea lions and sea elephants coexisting. It's also home to colonies of yellow-eyed penguins and blue penguins. At Porpoise Bay you can scan the waves for Hector's dolphins. Curio Bay has a very curious fossilised forest - it's 180 million years old.
At the town of Bluff, catch the 360-degree views from Bluff Hill then catch a ferry to Stewart Island, home of New Zealand's newest national park. Department of Conservation hiking trails and an island bird sanctuary make it easy to imagine New Zealand without people, the way it was only one thousand years ago. Back on the mainland, the Tuatapere Humpridge Track (fast becoming a legend in the hiking world) leads you to beach, forest and sub alpine scenery, with historic wooden viaducts for added interest.
Your next destination is the hub of Fiordland National Park - the lakeside towns of Manapouri and Te Anau. Cruise Lake Manapouri to the impressive West Arm power station or embark on a kayaking and sailing expedition to the fiords. Te Anau entertainments include a wildlife park, walking the Kepler Track, caving and horse treks. Be sure to explore the wild and beautiful Milford Road to Milford Sound.
The final stage of your Southern Scenic Route journey takes you from Te Anau to the lakeside and alpine resort of Queenstown.