New Zealand, I have found, has named its highways very appropriately. There’s the Surf Highway with great surf beaches, or the Forgotten World Highway, that looks like Jurassic Park (with a forgotten republic thrown in there, just for kicks). This article is about the Southern Scenic Route, and let me tell you, the route really lives up to its name.
The Southern Scenic Route
It is considered one of the South Island’s best driving routes, yet many visitors on their 2-week round-trips to New Zealand never make it to the more remote parts of the South Island. The Southern Scenic Route was dreamt up by the residents of the small Southland town of Tuatapere, in an attempt to attract more visitors to their rather remote region. The route was first opened in 1988 and extended in 1998 and further in 2010.
The Southern Scenic Route leads from Queenstown to Te Anau, then south to the coast via Tuatapere, further along the coast to Invercargill, and then continues along the coast to Dunedin, through the Catlins. Its full length stretches about 650km, and is really worth the drive if you have a few days to spare to really take it in.
What is there to see and do?
Quite frankly, everything. That’s a big call to make, but honestly, consider this: from adventure captial Queenstown, to mountains and fjords, from swamps to rugged coastline, two cities, Dunedin and Invercargill, to museums, wildlife including dolphins, seals, penguins, hiking tracks and other activities, remote beaches, rainforest, lakes and waterfalls, it’s all covered in those 650km. Sound good?
Queenstown to Te Anau
Queenstown is a perfect starting or ending point for the scenic route. With Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains, it is in my opinion one of the most beautiful, or scenic, places in New Zealand. Add to that the adventure sports and huge array of activities on offer, and it makes a perfect place to go crazy before an extented nature trip, or a welcome change after a prolonged period in remote places of the south.
The route from Queenstown to Te Anau is a frequently travelled one, with many day-trippers in cars and busses heading out of Queenstown in the morning and coming back in the evening. Te Anau is basically the gateway to Fjordland, and offers a first glimpse into what awaits further into the wilderness of Fjordland.
Te Anau to the southern coast
After leaving Te Anau, you soon realise how remote this region is. The nearer you drive to the coast, the more windswept trees you spot, an the more opportunities you take to just pull over and take pictures of the scenery.
There is ample opportunity to stop and head down a track to a wild, deserted beach and take in the roaring waves as they crush onto the stoney shores. A few lonely signposts are stood along the way, resiliently pointing the way to the few other places out there; some uninhabited, remote island, and a village a few dozen kilometres away on an empty winding country road.
Bluff is a seaport and New Zealand’s southernmost town, and also the gateway to Stewart Island. For many a tourist that does make it this far south, it also marks the end of the well-travelled SH1, the state highway leading all the way from Picton in the north of the South Island, to its very southern tip. It is marked by a big yellow signpost at Stirling Point, which is popular with visitors before embarking on a ferry ride to Stewart Island.
Eager to see the second part of the Southern Scenic Route? Take a look at what awaits from Invercargill to Dunedin via the Catlins: surfing, wildlife, waterfalls and lighthouses!