Exploring Southland & Stewart Island

Stewart Island | Image: Trish H-C

Exploring Southland & Stewart Island

Known for the ‘southern hospitality’ of its down-to-earth locals, Invercargill is a medium-sized town that makes a great base for exploring the surrounding landscape.

Southland is a glorious place of green hills and rivers, and the setting for a range of outdoor activities including fishing, hiking and biking. As the main centre, Invercargill is well served with amenities. A short drive south is Bluff. Though it’s not officially the southernmost point on mainland New Zealand, it does represent the southern end of SH 1 and is the departure point for ferries to Stewart Island. Traversing Southland all the way from Dunedin to Fiordland, the Southern Scenic Route is 440 kilometres long and is best travelled over several days. The Catlins is a coastal region of forest reserves, waterfalls and beaches. Home to native wildlife such as penguins and seals, it is also the location of a Jurassic-era petrified forest at Curio Bay. From here, the route winds down to Invercargill and Bluff, and on to Riverton and Tuatapere in the region’s southwest (location of the Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track) and on to Te Anau.

New Zealand’s third-largest island offers a slice of unspoiled wilderness where native birds thrive. In 2002, Stewart Island’s unique qualities were recognised with the formation of Rakiura National Park, which covers 85 per cent of the island. The principal settlement of Oban has several accommodation options, as well as shops and restaurants, and is a welcoming base from which to experience the island’s many activities, from kayaking and hiking to unforgettable wildlife encounters. Rakiura National Park is an otherworldly place covering approximately 157,000 hectares and encompassing a range of landscapes including jagged peaks, lush lowland forest, wetlands and sand dunes. These beaches are one of the few places in New Zealand where visitors regularly see wild kiwi – they come down to the beach at dusk to forage.

Do & Discover

You may be surprised by the cultural attractions that await at the bottom of the country, while the rugged attractions of Southland’s natural environment and the under-visited Stewart Island are both crying out for exploration. Get cultured at Invercargill Public Art Gallery or explore the history of the south at Bluff Maritime Museum, the Hokonui Moonshine Museum in Gore and Te Hikoi Southern Journey Museum in Riverton. There are numerous ways to get out and explore Southland's unique wilderness: hit the Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track, or head to Stewart Island and explore the environment by sea with Bravo Adventure Cruises or Rakiura Charters, by air with Rakiura Helicopters or on land with the Ruggedy Range Wilderness ExperienceStewart Island Experience, or Ulva’s Guided Walks. Tired after all that exploration? Relax at Stewart Island Spa.

Food & Drink

Don’t leave Southland without sampling the iconic cheese roll! If you’re there in season, Bluff oysters are a must too. There’s a number of good café and restaurants about, and even remote Stewart Island offers good dining options. Sip a coffee in Invercargill at The Rocks or Zookeepers Café (locals rave about the great breakfasts here!). Elsewhere, try Green Room Café in Gore or Mrs. Clark’s Café in Riverton, with its great coffee and old-fashioned Kiwi baking. During the evening, dine at the acclaimed Buster Crabb, Elegance at 148 on Elles Restaurant, where an intimate dining room and impressive wine list ensure popularity among locals. When on Stewart Island, the South Sea Hotel's menu is worth checking out.


Choose from welcoming backpackers, cosy motels and upmarket hotels in Southland, all of which offer the famous ‘Southern hospitality’. Stewart Island, too, offers a decent range of accommodation options. Good cheaper options include the Invercargill Top 10 Holiday Park and Kackling Kea Backpackers. If you're looking for a motel, try Invercargill's Homestead Villa Motel or, for fancier digs, stay at the Heartland Hotel Croydon in Gore or The Lodge at Tikana in Winton. On Stewart Island, there's good budget accommodation at Bunkers Backpackers, motel options with Bay Motel and Rakiura Retreat Motel, boutique accommodation at Pilgrim Cottage and Port of Call B&B, or Stewart Island Lodge.

Local Knowledge

Invercargill Airport offers domestic flights to Christchurch and Wellington with Air New Zealand. Flights to Stewart Island take approximately 20 minutes; options include flying from Invercargill and landing on a Stewart Island beach. If travelling by road, you'll find Invercargill located at the southern end of SH 1. The town is 3 hours, 10 minutes from Dunedin and 8 hours, 30 minutes from Christchurch. Coach companies provide scheduled services to the region. Stewart Island is a one-hour boat trip from Bluff. Charters and water taxis operate around Stewart Island. Call in at Gore i–SITE at 16 Hokonui Drive, Invercargill i–SITE or the DOC Rakiura National Park Visitor Centre on Stewart Island for more information.

What's Hot New Zealand Newsletter

Stay in the loop with all the latest food, fashion, trends, events and more. Delivered hot to your inbox every month.