New Zealand’s deep south offers an enchanting mix of wilderness, rural scenery and cultural attractions – plus plenty of wacky natural wonders scattered along quiet driving routes.
Within half a day’s drive of the Britz depots in Christchurch and Queenstown, Dunedin is New Zealand’s ‘Edinburgh of the South’ and the primary gateway to the southeast coast. Along with historic architecture and an eclectic arts scene, it enjoys an appealing harbourside position sheltered by the Otago Peninsula.
Although the peninsula’s birdlife prompts Dunedin’s claim as the country’s wildlife capital, all of coastal Otago and Southland offer opportunities to spot fascinating creatures, particularly seabirds and marine mammals.
Britz NZ Campervan Experiences
North of Dunedin is the charming town of Oamaru, a flourishing town lined with Victorian stone buildings. Nearby is the turn-off inland to the Waitaki Valley, a scenic route through to the legendary Mackenzie Country via a series of pretty lakes.
South of Dunedin is the ‘deep south’ proper, best explored on the coastal Southern Scenic Route through The Catlins to Invercargill, the country’s southernmost city and departure point for Stewart Island. This is one of New Zealand’s great touring routes – serene and gently winding, and endowed with unusual sights.
The interior is classic rural heartland dotted with country towns such as Gore and Tuatapere, welcoming stops en route to and from Southern Lakes & Fiordland – easily combined with Coastal Otago and Southland to create a brilliant Britz South Island adventure.
- wildlife, including penguins, sea lions and dolphins
- fascinating coastline
- caves, waterfalls and other natural wonders
- quiet, intensely scenic drives
- satisfying arts and cultural sights
- fresh fish, game and hearty country fare
- unhurried towns with bygone-era charmstunni
ng coastal, mountain and forest scenery
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Beaches & Bays
The coastal Southern Scenic Route dishes up plenty of drama, between big weather, pounding seas, and rich coastal habitats ranging over beaches, cliffs, estuaries and forest. Swimming spots are somewhat sparse, with visitors advised to go where the people are (such as Dunedin’s St Clair) and seek local advice elsewhere. Surf breaks roll up all over the place, although none are as special as Porpoise Bay where Catlins Surf School gives lessons amongst pods of frolicking Hector’s dolphins.
There are countless untouched beaches to explore alone, most easy to reach via campervan or on short walks. Highlights include Allans Beach on Otago Peninsula and Purakaunui in the Catlins, although some of the best will be discovered on an unplanned detour. The Invercargill coast has plenty of interesting seaside spots, including 26km-long Oreti Beach and sleepy Colac Bay.
As well as memorable beaches, the southeast coast is punctuated by some peculiar landforms. Within an hour’s drive of Dunedin are such spectacles as Tunnel Beach’s giant arch, and the perfectly spherical Moeraki Boulders that emerge from the eroded shore of Koekohe Beach.
Further south are the Nuggets, rocky islets dressed in swirling kelp, viewed from a cliff-top lighthouse.
The Catlins has stacks of freaky and fabulous stuff, including numerous forest waterfalls such as Purakaunui and McLeans Falls. Sea spray shoots upwards through Jack’s Blowhole, a very weird chasm in a paddock, while the ocean invades Cathedral Caves, spooky hideaways that can be visited at low tide from a gloriously isolated beach. Low tide also reveals the ancient fossilised forest at Curio Bay.
This coast is heaven for seabird spotters. Otago Peninsula has two particularly special reserves – the Royal Albatross Centre where the big birds nest up, and Penguin Place that protects rare Yellow Eyed Penguins. At Oamaru’s Blue Penguin Colony, birds can be viewed waddling ashore at sundown. Among scores of other resident and visiting species are spoonbills, stilts, terns and shearwaters, plus forest birds such as the beautiful native pigeon (kereru) and cheeky kaka, a parrot.
The Catlins coast is frequented by various marine mammals including migratory whales. Residents include awesome Hooker’s sea lions that hang around the dunes of Surat Bay, and sizeable populations of New Zealand fur seals around rocky spots such as The Nuggets and Waipapa Point. The best chance of seeing dolphins is on a wildlife cruise or fishing charter, or by heading to Porpoise Bay where they practice surfing on a regular basis.
Art & Culture
The south’s relatively small communities support an impressive cultural scene, from widespread grassroots through to significant institutions such as Oamaru’s Forrester Gallery, Dunedin Public Art Gallery and the Southland Museum gallery in Invercargill. The country town of Gore is home to the small but excellent Eastern Southland Gallery, which holds a collection of significant works by national luminaries Ralph Hotere and Rita Angus, amongst others.
Gore is also home to the highly entertaining Hokonui Moonshine Museum, just one of many excellent museums throughout the region, most of which feature hands-on fun for children. Local, natural and maritime histories predominate at larger provincial museums in Dunedin and Invercargill, and brilliant Te Hikoi in Riverton. At the crazier end of the scale is Oamaru’s Steampunk HQ where the junkyard has been spectacularly refashioned into new ideas for nightmares. Similarly bonkers are the eye-popping kinetic creations of Papatowai’s Lost Gypsy Gallery in the Catlins.
Just off the Catlins highway, two rivers meet in a unique estuary opening out on to the roaring Pacific Ocean. Heaven for bird-spotters, it’s also possible to observe sea lions on adjacent Surat Bay. Two holiday parks offer peaceful waterside camping.
On a knob near Invercargill, Bluff is commonly – albeit erroneously – considered the mainland’s southernmost point. It’s well worth a detour, not only for the obligatory photograph at Stirling Point and the walk to Lookout Point, but for salty air and an old-world industrial vibe.
It’s a short air hop or one-hour ferry ride (foot passengers only) to this remarkable island, most of which is a national park teeming with birds including kiwi. A day trip will be sufficient for a wildlife tour or fishing trip, plus a stroll through Oban followed by a fish supper at the fabulous South Seas Hotel.
The stunning drive through to the Mackenzie Country offers plenty of diversions, including Maori rock art, crazy limestone Elephant Rocks, fascinating hydro-power stations, and camping reserves along surreal blue lakes. It’s also the route of the Alps 2 Ocean, one of New Zealand’s finest cycle trails with bike hire and shuttles available.
Yesteryears Museum Cafe
This cute cafe in Tuatapere offers a trip back in time with its early 20th-century furniture, kitchenware and general knick-knackery – all highly distracting from the scrumptious home-baking, espresso and ice-cream on offer. Delicious preserves are perfect for the campervan.
- Otago and Southland are well set up for campervan travellers, with clear road signage, easy parking and helpful visitor information centres.
- Most of the region’s 24 or so holiday parks are highly geared towards campervans, with first-rate, family-friendly facilities and a sociable atmosphere.
- Outside of January and Easter, campsite bookings are usually not required so campervan travellers can follow a flexible itinerary.
- A handful of Department of Conservation campsites offer basic camping in relatively remote locations, with sites available on a first-come-first-served basis.
- Freedom camping is permitted in some places; i-SITE visitor centres can advise where and what rules apply.
- Shops and petrol stations are sparse in some places – particularly around the Catlins – so it pays to plan ahead for groceries and fuel.
It can get cold down south at any time of year, so warm clothes are essential.
The drive south through Coastal Otago to the deep South of New Zealand passes through a wild landscape of coastal hills and farmland. These regions offer outstanding outdoor adventures and wildlife experiences. The coastal Dunedin area stretching from Waitaki in the north to Dunedin in the south is a wild and beautiful part of New Zealand. Experience an ever-changing coastline, fascinating historic architecture and unforgettable wildlife encounters. The peninsula and harbour are internationally renowned for the wealth of eco-experiences they offer, from seals, dolphins and penguins to the only mainland albatross breeding colony in the world. Southland and Stewart Island are magnificent wilderness areas offering unparalleled opportunities to see native wildlife against a backdrop of dramatic and pristine scenery.
Wine & Food
Many of Dunedin's restaurants have won national recognition for the standard of their food. The variety is exciting with cuisine styles from many parts of the world including Italy, Japan, Turkey, and Thailand.
Dunedin's location, close to the sea and a rich agricultural hinterland, means fresh, high quality produce, be it venison, lamb or fresh seafood just out of the Pacific. Complement your choice with the best of Otago, New Zealand or overseas wines.
The flair and creativity of the food is matched only by the interior design. Many of the restaurants have a style and atmosphere of their own - from funky to folky - and non-conformity seems to be the norm.
Nature & Scenic
Your first glance of Dunedin will tell you it is a city of gardens. The Town Belt cuts a green swathe across the width of the city, with native forest, exotic trees and a wealth of sports fields and recreational reserves.
Dunedin’s Botanic Gardens is New Zealand's oldest botanic garden, opened in 1869. It remains one of the country's finest with an extensive rose garden, Japanese garden, bird aviary and the famous rhododendron dell. This is alive with colour and vibrancy during Dunedin's Rhododendron Festival in November each year.
Nearby, on the banks of the Water of Leith, is New Zealand native Woodhaugh Garden. Anzac Square in front of the Railway Station has a commemorative Flemish garden theme. And there are dozens of private gardens open to the public.
Art & Culture
- Hokonui Moonshine Museum, Eastern Southland Art Gallery, Croydon
- Aircraft Company, Southland Museum and Art Gallery and the Tuatarium, Anderson
- Park Art Gallery, Peugeot Hokonui Fashion Design Awards
Dunedin's cultural heritage runs deep, especially for a city which is young by world standards.
Dunedin is New Zealand's centre of learning, arts and culture. The
University of Otago is New Zealand's oldest university and together with Otago Polytechnic and the Dunedin College of Education, contributes to a vibrant student culture.
Dunedin Public Art Gallery is breathtaking with both classic and contemporary works, and Otago Museum is one of New Zealand's finest, with a magnificent collection of treasures from around the world. For an insight into Otago's beginnings, visit the Otago Settlers Museum.
Beach & Coastal Encounters
- Ulva Island bird sanctuary, kiwi spotting on Stewart Island,
- Penguin viewing at Curio Bay, Sea Lions at Nugget Point
Few cities anywhere on earth have such a richly diverse coastal wildlife population, including many Antarctic species that prefer Dunedin's kinder climes. Taiaroa Head is the world's only mainland albatross breeding colony, amazingly within sight of the city's skyscape..
Royal Albatross Centre for an insight into these majestic ocean wanderers. There is a large colony of Shags perched on the cliffs below. Visit the home of the world's rarest penguin, the Yellow-Eyed Penguin and peer in on the shy Little Blue Penguin. Pilots Beach and Otago Peninsula have New Zealand Fur Seals, and sometimes young pups perform aquabatics in the tidal pools.
Dunedin, Coastal Otago & Southland Quick Facts
The south end of the South Island is about as far away from the rest of the world as you can get, and nature is always close by. At the very bottom of the country is remote wild Stewart Island. The forests here are primeval, the bird life extraordinary. Moving up the eastern coast, you will find the homes of penguins, seals and dolphins.
The city is of Dunedin has a history going back 150 years. Originally it was a Scottish colony, then a Gold Rush Boom town. Now, it's a charming University city with the best preserved Edwardian and Victorian buildings in the Southern Hemisphere.
The Otago peninsula is home to rare and unusual coastal wild life. You can also discover the world's only mainland albatross colony. And in the north of the region are the 60 million year old Moeraki boulders, these marvellously huge marbles that lie scattered all over the beach.
Coastal Otago Southland – Wildlife, people and places, at the edge of the world.
Southland has a natural unspoilt beauty that travellers find hard to leave. The character of the region is found in the landscape – the endless beaches pounded by the Pacific Ocean, rolling green, fertile plains, meandering rivers and rugged mountains.
Southland’s scenery is forever changing. You can stand in a forest and feel you’re the only person on earth, fish on long clear uncrowded rivers or sit on a yellow sand beach that reaches as far as the eye can see. Cafes and craft shops are dotted throughout the countryside and there is an abundance of bird and sealife.
One of the most spectacular roads in Southland is the Southern Scenic Route, which forms a link from the world-renowned Milford Sound in Fiordland, through New Zealand’s southernmost city, Invercargill, to the Edinburgh of the south, Dunedin. Southlanders welcome visitors with open arms, showing them the hidden secrets of the region and sharing their homes, their lives and their spirit – that’s why Southland is home to Spirit of the Nation.
Population: ||Invercargill City – 50,500|
Gore District – 12,050
Southland District – 32,00
Southland total – 94,550
Climate:||Southland has a cool temperate climate. In the populated and intensively farmed parts of the region mean daily temperatures range from around 5ºC in July to 14ºC in January. There can be around 80 days of ground frost in the winter months and 1000mm of rainfall fairly evenly spread throughout the year. Wind|
speed averages 15–20km/hr and there are about 1600 hours of sunshine annually.
Nigel Brown – Internationally acclaimed expressionist artist.
Mark Winter – animated film maker, print media cartoonist and characateur artist.
John Husband – prominent Southland artist and nationally recognised artist.
Suzanne Prentice - singer
Dave Kennedy – former lead singer for national chart-topping groups Chapta and LINK, which recorded 1971 number 1 “Only Time Could Let Us Know.”
Neil Chilton – former BMG artist based in Australia and now solo artist still performing throughout Southland and NZ.
Jason Schmidt and Shannon Cooper-Garland – nationally and internationally recognised singers, who have regularly featured on television showcases.
Deborah Wai Kapohe – Internationally acclaimed opera singer and contemporary recording artist.
Jackie Bristow – chart-topping recording artist with single “Silly Girl” in 2004
Lynley Miller – poet and historian
David Eggleton – poet
(The Late) Dan Davin – acclaimed academic publisher
(The Late) Ruth Dallas – acclaimed author of “The Oxford Companion of NZ Literature” and children’s author.
Graham Hawkes (Flanagans Seafood Restaurant) – NZ Beef & Lamb award-winning icon, columnist
Scott Richardson (Southland Boys Chef School & Cafe) – Chef and Sky Digital cooking show host
Mark Elder (The Rocks) – Award-winning chef and restaurateur, featured on TVNZ series “Hell’s Kitchen”
Tony Chilton (Ziffs Café) – Award-winning chef
Itinerary Ideas – Britz Southern Explorer You will be awestruck on this 5-day journey through Central Otago by the sheer physical beauty of the region with fun and adventure wherever you turn.