Welcome to Invercargill, New Zealand’s southernmost city, nestled in the heart of the stunning Southland region. With its rich history, unique attractions, and picturesque landscapes, Invercargill offers travelers a wealth of activities and experiences. In this extensive guide, we’ll take you on a virtual tour of Invercargill, showcasing the best things to do, places to visit, and local treasures to explore. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, history buff, or simply seeking a relaxing getaway, Invercargill has something to offer everyone. Let’s dive into the charm and beauty of this South Island gem.
1. Discovering Invercargill’s History and Culture
Invercargill’s Early Days:
Invercargill’s roots date back to the mid-19th century when European settlers first arrived in the region. Stroll through the town center and you’ll encounter elegant Victorian and Edwardian architecture that reflects Invercargill’s historical significance. The town’s wide streets and charming atmosphere make it a delightful place to explore on foot.
Bill Richardson Transport World:
For a deep dive into New Zealand’s transport history, visit the Bill Richardson Transport World. This world-class museum boasts an extensive collection of vintage cars, trucks, motorcycles, and memorabilia. It’s a captivating experience for both automotive enthusiasts and history buffs.
Heritage Buildings and Art:
Invercargill is home to a wealth of heritage buildings, including the impressive Invercargill Water Tower, a local landmark that offers panoramic views from its summit. Explore the city’s art scene by visiting local galleries and studios, where you can admire the work of talented Southland artists.
2. Embrace the Natural Beauty of Southland
Just a short drive from Invercargill lies Oreti Beach, a pristine stretch of coastline known for its windswept dunes and wide-open spaces. It’s an ideal spot for a leisurely beach walk, picnicking, or even horse riding along the shore. The beach’s tranquil atmosphere invites relaxation and reflection.
Queens Park is Invercargill’s green heart, a 200-acre oasis of gardens, walking trails, and recreational facilities. Explore the stunning rose gardens, the tranquil Japanese garden, and the aviary featuring native bird species. It’s the perfect place for a family outing or a peaceful escape into nature.
Stewart Island: A Wilderness Paradise:
A short ferry ride from Bluff, Stewart Island beckons adventure seekers with its untouched wilderness. Explore pristine beaches, hike through lush rainforests, and enjoy birdwatching. Rakiura National Park, covering most of the island, offers numerous tramping (hiking) tracks, including the renowned Rakiura Track.
Birdwatching in Southland:
Southland is a haven for birdwatching, with several key spots for observing native and migratory bird species. Visit the Waituna Lagoon, the Oreti River estuary, or the Southland Bird Sanctuary to spot native species like the tui, bellbird, and the iconic kiwi bird.
3. Outdoor Adventures and Recreation
Hiking and Tramping:
Southland boasts a diverse range of hiking and tramping opportunities suitable for all levels of fitness. Explore the expansive Catlins Conservation Park, hike along the rugged coastline, or challenge yourself with multi-day treks like the Kepler Track in Fiordland National Park.
Mountain biking enthusiasts can hit the trails in and around Invercargill. Popular biking spots include Sandy Point, which offers a range of tracks, and the Mavora Lakes area, known for its beautiful scenery and bike-friendly trails.
Fishing and Water Sports:
Southland’s rivers, lakes, and coastal waters provide excellent opportunities for fishing and water sports. Try your hand at fly fishing in the Mataura River, go sea kayaking in the Fiordland fjords, or take a scenic boat tour on Lake Te Anau.
Golfing in Invercargill:
Invercargill is home to a selection of golf courses set against picturesque landscapes. The Southland Golf Club and the Invercargill Golf Club offer challenging courses for golfers of all skill levels. Enjoy a round of golf while soaking in the stunning surroundings.
4. Family-Friendly Fun
Splash Palace is Invercargill’s premier aquatic center, offering hours of fun for the whole family. Enjoy the indoor and outdoor pools, water slides, and hydroslides. It’s a fantastic place for kids and adults alike to cool off and have a blast.
Southland Museum and Art Gallery:
The Southland Museum and Art Gallery is a treasure trove of natural history, cultural artifacts, and art collections. Don’t miss the Tuatara, a living dinosaur, in the museum’s famous tuatara enclosure.
E Hayes & Sons: The World’s Fastest Indian:
Visit E Hayes & Sons, a hardware store with a remarkable history. It was here that Burt Munro, the legendary motorcyclist and subject of the movie “The World’s Fastest Indian,” sourced his parts and fine-tuned his bike. Explore the store’s eclectic collection of memorabilia and learn about this fascinating piece of Kiwi history.
5. Savoring Invercargill’s Culinary Delights
Local Cuisine and Seafood:
Invercargill is known for its excellent seafood, and there’s no better place to enjoy it than at local restaurants and seafood markets. Sample Bluff oysters, green-lipped mussels, and other fresh catches of the day. Local cuisine is often served with a Kiwi twist, making it a delightful culinary experience.
The Seriously Good Chocolate Company:
Indulge your sweet tooth at The Seriously Good Chocolate Company. This boutique chocolate factory offers a delectable selection of handcrafted chocolates and truffles. Take a factory tour to see the chocolate-making process in action and, of course, savor the results.
Southern Farmers’ Market:
For a taste of Southland’s finest produce, visit the Southern Farmers’ Market, held on Sundays. Here, you can browse stalls filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, artisanal cheeses, and baked goods. It’s an excellent place to meet local producers and sample their creations.
6. Art, Culture, and Entertainment
Catch a live performance or film screening at the Invercargill Civic Theatre. This beautifully restored venue hosts a variety of events, including concerts, plays, and ballet performances. Check the theater’s schedule for upcoming shows during your visit.
Anderson Park Art Gallery:
Anderson Park is not just a stunning park; it also houses an art gallery featuring an impressive collection of New Zealand and international art. Explore the diverse range of artworks on display while enjoying the park’s lush gardens.
Southland Festival of the Arts:
If you’re in Invercargill during the Southland Festival of the Arts, don’t miss this celebration of creativity. The festival features a wide range of performances, exhibitions, and cultural events, showcasing the region’s vibrant arts scene.
7. Day Trips from Invercargill
Bluff and the World’s Best Oysters:
A short drive from Invercargill, Bluff is known for its famous oysters, considered by many to be the world’s best. Sample fresh Bluff oysters at local restaurants and seafood vendors. Take a stroll along Bluff’s rugged coastline and visit Stirling Point, the southernmost tip of the South Island.
The Catlins: A Coastal Wonderland:
Explore the natural beauty of the Catlins, a coastal wonderland featuring lush rainforests, dramatic cliffs, and hidden waterfalls. Highlights include the Purakaunui Falls, Nugget Point Lighthouse, and the Cathedral Caves.
Curio Bay and the Petrified Forest:
Curio Bay is famous for its petrified forest, an ancient fossilized forest dating back millions of years. Visit the site during low tide to see the tree stumps and fossils. Keep an eye out for the resident Hector’s dolphins, which often play in the bay.
Fiordland National Park:
For a longer day trip, consider visiting Fiordland National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its majestic fjords, waterfalls, and lush forests. Take a scenic cruise on Milford Sound, hike the Kepler Track, or explore the otherworldly landscapes of Doubtful Sound.
8. Events and Festivals
Burt Munro Challenge:
The Burt Munro Challenge, held annually in Invercargill, pays homage to the legendary Kiwi motorcycling icon Burt Munro. The event features motorcycle races, hill climbs, and a celebration of all things two-wheeled. It’s a thrilling experience for motorcycle enthusiasts and spectators alike.
Bluff Oyster & Food Festival:
Indulge in culinary delights at the Bluff Oyster & Food Festival. This lively event showcases Bluff’s world-famous oysters and offers a variety of food stalls, entertainment, and activities. It’s a food lover’s paradise.
Southland Festival of the Arts:
As mentioned earlier, the Southland Festival of the Arts is a prominent cultural event that brings together artists, performers, and creatives from around New Zealand and beyond. Attend performances, exhibitions, and workshops that celebrate the region’s vibrant arts scene.
9. Practical Tips for Visiting Invercargill
Getting to Invercargill:
Invercargill is accessible by road and air. You can fly into Invercargill Airport, which offers domestic flights, or drive from other parts of the South Island. Rental cars and local transportation options are readily available.
Where to Stay:
Invercargill offers a range of accommodation options, from luxury hotels and boutique bed and breakfasts to budget-friendly motels and hostels. Be sure to book your stay in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons.
Invercargill is a walkable city with a well-connected road network. If you plan on exploring the surrounding areas or taking day trips, consider renting a car. Alternatively, there are local taxi and bus services available.
Weather and Best Time to Visit:
Invercargill experiences a maritime climate with mild summers and cool winters. The best time to visit depends on your preferences. Summer (December to February) offers pleasant weather for outdoor activities, while winter (June to August) is ideal for cozy indoor experiences. Spring and autumn are also great times to visit, with milder temperatures and fewer crowds.
10. Conclusion: Unveiling Invercargill’s Hidden Treasures
Invercargill, with its rich history, natural beauty, and welcoming community, invites you to explore its hidden treasures and immerse yourself in the spirit of the Southland region. Whether you’re wandering through its historic streets, hiking in the Catlins, or savoring its culinary delights, Invercargill offers a diverse range of experiences that will leave you with cherished memories.
So, pack your bags, don your walking shoes, and get ready to discover Invercargill’s unique charm. It’s a place where history comes alive, nature dazzles, and local culture thrives. Explore, experience, and enjoy Invercargill—a captivating South Island destination waiting to be explored by curious travelers like you.