Great kiwi driving routes: the Southern Scenic Route

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.

View Larger Map

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

Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown

Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown

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.

Even the bungy is in stunning scenery! Kawarau Bridge bungy, Queenstown

Even the bungy is in stunning scenery! Kawarau Bridge bungy, Queenstown

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

Rugged Southland coast

Rugged Southland coast, near Tuatapere

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.

Rugged Southland coast, near Tuatapere

Rugged Southland coast, near Tuatapere

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.

Bluff sign post

Bluff sign post

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!

Have you travelled the Southern Scenic Route? What is your favourite scenic route to travel, in New Zealand or elsewhere?

Christina Hegele

About the author: Christina Hegele runs Sandal Road, a blog on her favourite destinations. It just so happened that 95% turned out to be about New Zealand. Follow Christina and her blog on Twitter, like her blog on Facebook, and subscribe to her Youtube channel. Alternatively, subscribe to her email newsletter at the top right of this blog.

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  20 comments for “Great kiwi driving routes: the Southern Scenic Route

  1. 19 December, 2011 at 16:18

    Ich glaube dass … I think that the idea of driving (despite the “other side of the car/road” thing) is becoming more attractive, even if I’m in New Zealand in early-winter (July). Thanks for your series of driving tours, Christina!

    • Christina
      21 December, 2011 at 19:54

      Danke Henry! Glad you’re enjoying the driving routes posts. I hope you’ll rent a car and drive them all!

  2. 20 December, 2011 at 04:22

    LOVE the Southern Scenic Route. I drove it the opposite direction, though – from Dunedin to Ivercargill, and then part of it to Queenstown.

    • Emily
      25 May, 2015 at 15:40

      Hi Amanda,

      What was the road like? Did you drive it in summer or winter?
      My boyfriend and I are following the same route as you, from Dunedin to Invercargill, then on to Te Anau and Queenstown, but I havent seen many photos of the road itself.



  3. 20 December, 2011 at 19:56

    Yes, the southern route does sound good! Would love to take it. Nice shot of the bungy jumper.

    • Christina
      21 December, 2011 at 20:03

      That bungy jumper would be me 🙂

  4. 21 December, 2011 at 03:46

    that bungee jump shot makes me queasy!! 🙂 terrified of heights but go you for being up there!

    • Christina
      21 December, 2011 at 20:10

      Thanks, it was great fun. I was terrified of heights too but the bungy kind of changed that for the better!

  5. 21 December, 2011 at 13:19

    I traveled on the North Island years and years ago. Would love to go back and do both islands. Lovely photos.

    • Christina
      24 December, 2011 at 17:01

      Thanks Nancie! You should definitely go back and visit the South Island too. I think to do both islands you need 3 weeks at least.

  6. 21 December, 2011 at 14:02

    Love the bungee jumping shot!

    • Christina
      24 December, 2011 at 17:02

      Thanks Ben! I like it too, but the actual jumping is even better 😀

  7. 21 December, 2011 at 18:42

    I just got dizzy and a bit queasy looking at that bungee shot…

    • Christina
      24 December, 2011 at 17:04

      Imagine how I felt… but seriously, the build up to it is so much more nerve-wrecking than the actual jump. Those seconds that your toes touch the edge of the platform, when you try to put on a smile and wave to the excited crowd to your left and you have no idea how you manage to keep it together, those are the worst…

  8. 21 December, 2011 at 23:48

    I’ve only ever driven around the North Island. Really want to see the South. Great, informative article, Christina.

  9. 22 December, 2011 at 17:40

    Love having pictures to see so much I may never get to see in person

  10. Christina
    24 December, 2011 at 17:13

    Thanks Sophie! I hope it’s a good guide for you when you do go to the South Island. I’d love to read your impressions of the North Island. Need to jump to your blog now! 🙂

  11. 29 December, 2011 at 16:09

    I use to live in New Zealand for almost 2 years and this brings back memories ^^ Although I never really made it out of Auckland, I miss the beautiful water/ocean scenery there.

    o_O Did you actually go bungy jumping? That looks a bite scary there…

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