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Take the coastal camper van driving route along the Southern Scenic Route and unlock secrets found only in the south of the South Island, New Zealand.
Explore New Zealand native bush rolling to the water’s edge or stroll down a white sandy beach and enjoy peace and solitude. Meander through the colourful coastal fishing villages and seaside settlements. Venture down side roads and find places to view wildlife. Stay overnight along the way, meet local people and find out what we mean by ‘southern hospitality’.
From Invercargill travel through the Catlins, an area where native forest meets the estuaries and the great South Pacific Ocean bites into the land. The Catlins is home to an abundance of wildlife. Curio Bay’s 160 million year old fossilised forest is of international geological significance.
Dunedin to Te Anau
Jun-Jul and Jan-Mar
DISTANCE 271KM - DRIVING TIME 3.5 HOURS
In the late 19th century, Dunedin acquired an impressive amount of ostentatious Victorian architecture. No expense was spared. Today you can enjoy the historic public buildings, imposing churches, palatial homes and ornate hotels. There’s even a castle. Eco-tourism is the other face of Dunedin – visit penguin, albatross and seal colonies.
Half an hour south you’ll come across tranquil Lake Waihola, a popular venue for picnics, yachting and waterskiing. The historic mill town of Milton is next – the slight kink in the main road is where two surveyors didn’t quite meet. Balclutha has a distinctive arched concrete bridge and a museum where you can see historic farming and household implements.
The area known as the Catlins begins just south of Balclutha. The winding road will take you to see seals and sealions, Hector’s dolphins, several species of penguin and the Petrified Forest in Curio Bay.
Invercargill is Southland’s principal centre and the country’s southernmost city. It is known for its elegant old department stores and wide, easy-to-navigate streets. Local food specialties include Bluff Oysters and blue cod. The museum has a tuatara house and an excellent exhibition about New Zealand’s subantarctic islands. It’s a quick journey to Bluff to see the Stirling Point signpost, which indicates the distance to the South Pole and other parts of the world.
DISTANCE 157KM - DRIVING TIME 3.5 HOURS
Choose between two routes to reach Te Anau. The longer, wilder route takes you past Riverton, one of the oldest settlements in New Zealand, and then on to Tuatapere and Clifden, where you can investigate caves and discover the historic suspension bridge. Visit spectacular Lake Manapouri before you arrive in Te Anau.
The quicker route takes you north across farmland to Lumsden and then west through the township of Mossburn to Te Anau. At the Hokonui Moonshine Museum you can learn about the region’s illicit whisky-making past. Then you’ll travel across the river plain to Lumsden. Stop in Mandeville if you’d like to fly in a Tiger Moth. Te Anau township sits on the shores of Lake Te Anau.
DISTANCE 234KM - DRIVING TIME 3 HOURS
From here, the delights of the Fiordland National Park are within easy reach, including the start of the Milford Track. Cruise on the lakes, walk the tracks and visit the Department of Conservation wildlife centre. The Te Anau Caves are an excellent adventure.
The road to Milford is one of New Zealand’s most scenic drives. The first part is relatively mild farmland, then you’ll ease into beech forest near the entrance to the Fiordland National Park. Look for the Avenue of the Disappearing Mountain and the Mirror Lakes. The rough hewn Homer Tunnel brings you into Milford Sound, an amazing 22km-long fiord dominated by Mitre Peak. A cruise on Milford Sound will be an essential component of your time in Fiordland, or you can get up close and personal in a sea kayak. Tall waterfalls, vertical rock faces and seals are some of the things you’ll remember. The underwater observatory is an option with most cruises. You’ll likely finish your day with the stunning drive back to Te Anau for the night.