The Southland region is a stunning place to explore at the bottom of New Zealand’s South Island. With endless beautiful vistas and multiple waterfalls, Southland is a place like no other! Heard of Milford Sound? Stewart Island? You will find them in Southland as well as many other hidden gems! There’s plenty of things to see and do in Southland that you will be spoilt for choice. Let’s not waste any time and get stuck straight into this ultimate travel guide.
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Where is the Southland region?
Southland is located at the bottom of the South Island and mainly covers the bottom South West section but also includes Stewart Island. The Southland region covers 3.1 million hectares and is the second largest region in New Zealand!
There are 3 districts that make up the region- Southland district, Gore district and city of Invercargill.
Southland region map
How big is the Southland region?
The Southland region is pretty massive but it doesn’t have a lot of people. The whole population of Southland is only 101,200! This means that the region has a feeling of remoteness and usually few crowds, except for popular tourist attractions such as Milford Sound.
Southland weather and when to visit
Southland is home to Fiordland National Park, one of the wettest parks in the entire country. It rains on an average of 200 days per year! Basically, if you are travelling to Southland I recommend a rain jacket. But that’s what makes this part of the country particularly beautiful and why it is home to so many stunning waterfalls! Without the rain, they wouldn’t exist!
When to visit? Any time of the year. The most popular tourist season is in summer but it also rains a lot then! July is the coldest month and January is the warmest. The coastal areas have warmer winter temperatures and lower summer temperatures. Snow is visible on the higher altitude areas from autumn to late spring.
There are a few things to keep in mind when travelling around Southland. The first is the unpredictability of the weather (like anywhere in NZ). You need to be prepared for everything – especially if you are going hiking. Check out my hiking guide below.
Also, Southland is prone to flooding so remember to drive carefully!
Another thing to be aware of is sand-flies! Sandflies are everywhere in Southland, especially in Milford Sound. Pack insect repellent and remember to put it on whenever you plan to spend a decent amount of time outside.
Grab a copy of my New Zealand safety guide below with a mega list of first aid kit supplies!
How to get to Southland
The biggest and only city in Southland is Invercargill. This is where you will find the easiest transport options. Like everywhere in New Zealand, self driving is the best way to get around. Most people rent a vehicle in either Queenstown or Christchurch and make their way to Southland.
If you’re looking at renting a campervan be sure to check out my article on finding a cheap New Zealand campervan hire!
Other than self-driving you can fly into Invercargill or Queenstown (the closest international airport) and rent a car. Check out Air NZ for flights to Invercargill or Queenstown.
Or catch an Intercity bus- take a look at their route picture here. There are also smaller bus companies that offer transport throughout Southland and to the Great Walks (there are 4). Check out Southland NZ for more information on buses and taxis.
Or hop on a tour bus such as Contiki, Kiwi Experience or G Adventures.
Major towns in Southland
Invercargill is the only city in Southland so it is the hub! The invercargill population is 56,200 and is located almost at the very bottom of the Island.
Other towns to be aware of are: Bluff, Gore, Tuatapere, Winton, Te Anau and Oban (Stewart Island)
Driving times to get to Southland
- Dunedin to Invercargill: 2.5 hours
- Invercargill to Queenstown: 2.5 hours
- Christchurch to Invercargill: 7 hours
- Gore to Invercargill: 50 minutes
- Bluff to Invercargill: 20 minutes
Things to do in Southland
There are many incredible things to do in Southland. So many that you may be wondering where to start! Below I have outlined an overall selection of things to do in the region as well as a few different activities on offer in and around Stewart Island, The Catlins, Te Anau and Invercargill.
Here are a few unbeatable Southland attractions you may want to try!
- Explore Milford Sound by driving the Milford Road and stopping at the attractions along the way, or take a Milford Sound cruise!
- Make sure to visit the Milford Sound Swing!! (The linked article has directions on how to get there).
- Explore Doubtful Sound – Try a doubtful sound cruise!
- Explore Lake Te Anau
- Try fishing in Gore
- Enjoy the small town Riverton
- Travel down to Bluff and take a photo of the iconic world distance sign
- Visit the Catlins
- Visit Stewart Island
- Stay in Invercargill
- Try an adventure in Fiordland – Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, kayaking, walking, boating and more!
- Discover the Southern Lights in NZ!
For more information have a look at my article on things to do in Southland.
Things to do in Stewart Island
- Hike the Rakiura Track (one of the NZ Great Walks mentioned below)
- Spot a kiwi in the wild!
- Try a cruise
- Go fishing
Check out Stewart Island’s website here for more in-depth information.
Things to do in the Catlins
- Cathedral Caves
- Purakanui Falls
- View penguins
- See a petrified forest
- Visit the gypsy caravan
Check out my article for a more in-depth guide on things to do in the Catlins.
Things to do in Te Anau
- Obviously driving the Milford Road! Check out my article on the best stops along the road from Queenstown to Milford Sound. (Driving to Milford Sound is one of my favourite Southland attractions!)
- Explore Lake Te Anau (there is a lovely picnic spot just past the boat ramp)
- Horse trekking – There are many options, try Fiordland Horse Treks or Kepler Horse Treks.
- Visit the Glowworm Caves
- Visit the Te Anau bird sanctuary
- Hike the Kepler track! (Described below)
Things to do in Invercargill
- Explore the Japanese and rose garden at Queens Park
- Visit Oreti Beach
- Horse Trekking
- Tenpin bowling
- Transport World
- Chocolate Company
- An escape room (I’ve always wanted to try one of these!)
Check out Southland’s main website here for more details!
Southland is home to 4 out of 10 of the great walks in New Zealand. So if you’re looking for walking options the Southland region is the place to do it!
The Kepler track
Is located 10 minutes drive from Te Anau and is a beautiful hike with alpine views and beech forest. The walk can be done over 3-4 days. Check out the Department of Conservation brochure here for more details!
The Routeburn track
Is located just out of Glenorchy (near Queenstown) and finishes along the Milford Road. It is a breathtaking hike filled with alpine views of gardens, peaks and meadows sitting at 33km which can be completed in 3-5 days. At the time of writing a section of the track is closed due to flooding. Check out the Department of Conservation’s website here for more information.
The Milford Track
This iconic track is probably the most popular great walk in Southland and the most well known! Access is via boat from Te Anau downs. Explore breathtaking scenery filled with luscious rainforests and waterfalls. At the time of writing a section of the track is closed due to flooding. Check out the Department of Conservation’s website here for more information.
Located in Stewart Island this stunning hike will take you around a portion of the coast. Hopefully, you might even spot a kiwi! The hike starts just out of Oban (the main town on the Island) in Lee Bay (5km from Oban) and is a loop track taking between 2-3 days.
Check out the Doc brochure here for more information!
The Hump Ridge Track – Not yet a great walk but it will be in 2022!
This track starts in Tuatapere (1-hour drive from Invercargill). It is a stunning 61km loop of rugged coastline and sub-alpine environment. The iconic stop is along hump ridge range where you will see views of the Southern ocean, Stewart island and South-West Fiordland.
I’m so pumped to try it! Visit Doc’s website here for more info!
But they are not the only Southland walks! There are plenty of other overnight walking and day walking options. The Hollyford Track is another popular overnight hiking option that is not a Great Walk. Check out Southland’s short walks here. Or, Doc’s Fiordland day walking brochure here for more information.
Where to stay in Southland
There are so many incredible places to stay throughout Southland! It really depends on your budget and where you intend to go. There are many iconic baches (called cribs) to stay in down South but my favourite option is camping.
Southland is home to stunning campsites so if you are travelling by campervan or camping you are in for a treat! Check out the app CamperMate and if you are looking for a cheap campervan hire check out my article!
My next favourite option is Airbnb. Sign up to Airbnb here to grab $69 NZD off your first trip!
Outlined below are some of the best accommodation options for each budget in Te Anau, Invercargill, The Catlins and Stewart Island.
Accommodation in Te Anau
Te Anau lakefront backpackers is located on the lake front only 5 minutes walk from the town centre. Apart from dorm beds they also have glamping and camping options!
Fiordland Lakeview Motel and apartments are located on the shores of Te Anau with beautiful gardens and only a 10 minute walk from the town centre.
Fiordland Lodge is a luxury accommodation option looking over Lake Te Anau and the surrounding mountains. They have a restaurant, open architecture and are well known for their impeccable hospitality.
Accommodation in Invercargill
Tuatara Lodge is one of the best Backpackers – There are only 3 Invercargill accommodation options for backpackers but this one is in the heart of the city with plenty of room and space to hang out!
Looking for a bed and breakfast? Southland Organic Farmstay is a really unique option 14kms from Gore. Private parking, a continental breakfast and the hosts have amazing reviews! A real home away from home experience.
Looking for a tad more luxury? Quest Invercargill Serviced Apartments is a good option for apartment-style hotel rooms. They look slick, modern and comfortable and the apartments are located near the Civic Theatre Motorcycle Mecca, Southland stadium and other attractions.
Accommodation in the Catlins
There are many incredible accommodation options in the Catlins. Outlined below are some of the best options for different budgets.
The Catlins accommodation luxury: Kaka Point Spa offers luxury self contained accommodation with everything you could possibly need including a private double spa bath!
One of the best motel options in the Catlins: Kaka Point motel is a popular option with incredible coastal views they offer studio and 1-2 bedroom units.
One of the best bed and breakfast options: Breadalbane Bed and Breakfast is located in Kaka point overlooking the stunning beach. It is a self contained unit only 10 minutes drive from Kaka Point!
The best backpacker accommodation in the Catlins: Lazy Dolphin Lodge looks like an awesome place to stay with its own private beach access and everything you need for communal living.
Accommodation in Stewart Island
Backpackers – You have two options but Stewart Island Backpackers is the best option for price with wifi, central location and all of the essentials it’s a perfect base to explore the Island!
Motel – Kaka retreat motel is in a stunning location in Stewart Island bushland but very central! Only 5 minutes drive from the airport and you might see a local Kaka!
Luxury – Anchorstone is located on the beachfront in half moon bay with 4 star guest houses, garden views and great for couples!
The ideal Southland itinerary
Hopefully, by now you are armed with a little more information on what to do in Southland and know where you would like to go! If not, no worries, outlined below is an ideal itinerary for you over 7 days!
Obviously, if you are intending to do one of the Great Walks you may not be able to fit all of this in with 7 days!
Day 1: Drive South down state highway 1 from Dunedin. Explore the Otago Peninsula and drive the Southern Scenic Route through the Catlins. Stay a night in the Catlins.
Day 2: Explore the rest of the Catlins and drive down to Invercargill.
Day 3: Drive down to Bluff take a photo with the iconic world sign. Catch the Stewart Island ferry to quite obviously Stewart Island and stay the night!
Day 4: Explore Stewart Island and try a boat cruise, bird spotting or short walk! Stay another night in Stewart Island
Day 5: Ferry back to the mainland and drive to Te Anau. Take in the sights and explore Lake Te Anau or a short walk in the area. A drive to Manapouri is definitely on the list!
Day 6: Explore Milford Sound. Drive the road and perhaps do a kayak cruise or boat cruise. Even book a scenic flight or helicopter experience. Drive the road back and stay in Te Anau again.
Day 7: Drive from Te Anau to Queenstown – explore the sights along the way and stop and enjoy Queenstown.
Obviously this can be done in reverse if you are already in Queenstown!
Hopefully, this article has given you some ideas for your Southland road trip! There is so much to see and do I couldn’t possibly cover it all in this article so be sure to let me know if you have any questions in the comment box below!
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