Top 20 Towns in the Lower South Island
There are so many hidden gems in the deep south, why not plan a road trip and experience all the sights New Zealand has to offer? Let's kick things off with our Top 20 suggestions in no particular order.
Known as the Edinburgh of the south, Dunedin has a fascinating Scottish history. Visit Larnarch Castle, built in 1871 and beautifully restored. Enjoy a locally brewed beer at Emerson’s Craft Brewery or Speights Brewery. Visit the St Clair Esplanade with cafes, restaurants and a salt water pool that is open in the spring and summer. See if you can spot little blue penguins, yellow eyed penguins, fur seals or sea lions on the Otago Peninsula or visit the Royal Albatross Centre and learn about the world’s only mainland breeding colony.
KP as it is known is one of the Catlins' prime surfing spots. Get the true Kiwi holiday experience and book your accommodation at Seascape. Just up the road is the Nugget Point Lighthouse walk with beautiful sea views, you might even spot some wildlife.
Curio Bay is home to a fossil forest that dates back to the Jurassic period. It is also known for the playful Hector’s dolphins which you can see in the summer and autumn, as well as yellow eyed penguins and sea lions. Check the local area for walks or head to Slope Point, the southernmost point on the South Island of New Zealand.
Wide roads and an excellent range of shops, bars and restaurants, there is plenty on offer in New Zealand’s southernmost city. Dig This gives the young and young at heart the chance to operate full size diggers, bulldozers and skid steers. Bill Richardson Transport World also a must see, this museum boasts over 300 vintage vehicles, a café, wearable arts displays, a movie theatre and bathrooms that are so interesting they’ve featured in books about NZs best bathrooms. You can see Burt Munro’s original World’s Fastest Indian at E Hayes during opening hours. See the animals at Queens Park including pigs, rabbits, goats and turtles and get a steak at Buster Crabb.
Also known as Rakiura, is across the Foveaux Strait, 30km South of the South Island. Rakiura translates to ‘the land of the glowing skies’, due to the stunning Aurora Australis which often appears. Brown kiwi outnumber humans on Stewart island and they are active through the day and night. Do a day trip to Ulva Island, a beautiful bird and plant sanctuary that’s open to the public. While on Stewart Island be sure to try some of the fresh locally sourced seafood, including mutton birds, paua, crayfish, blue cod.
Also known as Aparima, Riverton is only 30km from Invercargill. An eclectic mix of fisherman and artists makes for a quirky beachside town. Stay at Seagarth for a trip back to the 60s (except with a heat pump) and have some delicious fresh seafood at the Riverton Beach House Restaurant.
Once a gold mining settlement of around 3000 people, now a small town of about 60. Stop in at the Orepuki Beach Café for lunch or some home baking. Visit Monkey Island at low tide, or try your luck at Gemstone Beach, where you might find garnet, quartz, fossils or even sapphire. Visit Cosy Nook, once the centre of contact and trade between Maori and Europeans, namely Captain George Thompson, Harbour Master of Bluff and the first proper European settler.
Tuatapere has a rich saw-milling history, and is home to a logging museum, along with a few other reminders of the town’s history. Try the Hump Ridge track walk, a 3 day loop up to the sub-alpine zone of the hump ridge, and into the heart of native forest. Try the world famous Tuatapere Sausages at Tui Base Camp – award winning and local. Walk across the historic Clifden swing bridge, opened in 1899 and 111.5m long.
Te Anau is in the perfect position for visiting Doubtful sound, Milford Sound and Fiordland, with a multitude of tours and cruises available. If you’re looking for adventure, try the Fiordland Jet or a heli tour. Check out the glowworm caves, or try a Miles Better Pie. If you’re looking for alpine scenery then try the Kepler track, it’s a 3-4 day hike and one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.
New Zealand’s adventure capital. Bungy jumping, jet boating, horse trekking, canyon swinging and sky diving are all available in Queenstown, along with less intense walking or hiking trails, sight-seeing tours and excellent shopping and restaurants. Line up for Ferg Burger, it’s worth the wait, or if you’re too hungry try the Ferg Bakery next door where the queue is usually shorter. Visit Glenorchy, a popular spot for film scouts and the location for scenes in The Lord of The Rings and Narnia. Walk the Routeburn track, another of the Great Walks. Dine out at the Botswana Butchery restaurant, a carnivore’s dream.
A picturesque gold rush settlement established in 1862, Arrowtown has over 60 historic cottages, shops, hotels and churches still standing today. Walk Tobins Track for fantastic views of the town, or the Lake Hayes Track for mountain views. Visit the Amisfield Winery for a New Zealand made Pinot Noir and aromatic white wines. Find the Blue Door Bar and grab a pizza at The Fork and Tap.
Once established by gold miners but now stone fruit is king. Get some fresh fruit at any of the local orchards over summer, and try a real fruit ice cream, perfect for a hot central Otago day. Have a meal at the Stoaker Room Restaurant, where the meals are cooked in a BBQ-like barrel. Cycle the Lake Dunstan Trail. If you are going through Roxburgh then stop in a get a Jimmy’s Pie.
Hot and dry in the summer and cool and crisp in the winter, Wanaka is is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts. Try water-sports on Lake Wanaka, or Skiing or snowboarding at Cardrona. While at Cardrona, add to the famous bra fence, sample drinks at the Cardrona Distillery or peel down the mountain on Drift Trikes. Take a photo at the always Instagrammable Wanaka Tree, possibly the most photographed tree in new Zealand. Walk up to Roy’s peak and take in the views or enjoy the maze and attractions at Puzzle World.
Nestled between mountain ranges, Omarama is famous with glider pilots. Visit the clay cliffs, or get a coffee at the Pink Glider Café. Omarama is also the end of the Ohau leg of the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail, and what better way to end long day of biking then soaking in the relaxing, private, open air hot tubs at Hot Tubs Omarama.
Also known as Aoraki, is the tallest mountain in New Zealand. Edmund Hillary first climbed Mount Cook in 1948, 5 years before Everest. Visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, a museum with exhibits about the climb and a Café. The Hooker Valley Track is a great way to see the glaciers and mountains and is only 3 hours return. Keep an eye out for the cheeky kea, a New Zealand parrot known for stripping rubber off cars. If walking isn’t your thing, take a ski plane glacier tour, the ultimate way to see the Southern Alps.
A small town on a beautiful turquoise lake, surrounded by the Southern Alps, Tekapo is picturesque day and night. Visit the Church of the Good Shepard, an operational church and a memorial to the pioneers of the Mackenzie Country. Tekapo is home to some of the world’s darkest skies which makes it perfect for star gazing, bring your camera or visit one of the observatories for a guided tour. Keep an eye out for the famous Fairlie pies at cafés or drive 30 minutes down the road to get them straight from Fairlie Bakery.
In the 1880’s St Bathans was a thriving gold rush town, some of the buildings are still standing and little else has been built, making this town a trip back in time. Stay in the original Vulcan Hotel built in 1882, but be warned there have been ghost sightings. Visit the Blue Lake, man-made from a gold mining quarry and filled in in 1934.
Originally a gold mining settlement named Parkers, Naseby has some of the harshest winters in New Zealand, with an average temperature of 0 degrees Celsius in July. This makes Naseby perfect for ice sports such as curling, ice skating, Ice hockey and ice luge. Try your hand at curling at the year-round Maniototo Curling International curling rink. Stay in the Danseys Pass Hotel, built in 1862, with original stonework by “Happy Bill” who was paid one pint for every schist boulder laid and shaped.
Oamaru as a rich history, proudly Victorian and home to the oldest gardens in New Zealand. Visit Steampunk HQ a unique, interactive museum of art, light and sound, set in an alternate universe. View the resident little blue penguins come in for the night. Try the local craft beer at Scotts Brewery, or take a tour around Whitestone Cheese for some award winning brie. Oamaru marks the end of the Alps 2 Ocean cycling trail.
This small fishing town was once used by Europeans as a whaling station, but it is now home to fantastic seafood and the Moeraki Boulders. Head down to the beach and visit the boulders, mysteriously spherical rocks that scatter the seaside. Get a meal at Fleurs Place, while looking out at the patch of ocean that your seafood has just come from, or head to the Moeraki Tavern for the best blue cod you’ll ever eat.
There are so many interesting towns throughout the lower South Island, and every single one has a story.
Get in touch if you’re looking to book a holiday in Te Anau