The raw beauty of the Southern Scenic Route takes in all that is magical about New Zealand and its natural landscapes. It brings together the best of the south and showcases the natural environment, scenery, wildlife, heritage and people. The diverse scenery of the Southern Scenic Route ranges from the rugged coastline of the Catlins to the ancient forests and glaciers of Fiordland to the majestic lake and alpine scenery of the Wakatipu Basin.
As New Zealand’s oldest touring route, The Southern Scenic Route is a truly iconic experience. The idea for the Southern Scenic Route was born in 1985 by Tuatapere locals. After much hard work and lobbying, the Southern Scenic Route officially opened in 1988 and has since firmly established itself as a ‘must do’ New Zealand tourism experience.
The 610 km road trip begins from either Dunedin or Queenstown and can be driven in both directions - making it an ideal drive for those with time to explore. From the rugged coastline of the Catlins to the ancient forests of Fiordland and buzzing excitement of Queenstown, explore this region at your own pace and find hidden spots down the many side roads.
Highlights along the route can include seeing albatross, penguins, fur seals, and Hooker sealions in their natural habitat, swimming with dolphins, bush walks, exploring waterfalls, caves, glaciers, and the southern part of the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area.
The Southern Scenic Route takes in Te Anau, Tuatapere, Riverton, Bluff, Invercargill, The Caitlins and Balclutha as well as other small rural townships, as it weaves between Dunedin and Queenstown. It is regarded as a pathway through the many secrets of the lower south of New Zealand. As well as the rugged coastlines, ancient forests, and rolling farmland there are historic towns, interesting people and rich heritage awaiting the visitor.
The history of the area, such as an old lighthouse or little townships with a milling past, can be found along the way.
If starting the Southern Scenic Route in Dunedin, the road travels the main highway to Balclutha before turning off and heading towards the sweeping coast of the south and the Catlins, a major highlight of the Southern Scenic Route.
Nostalgia mixes with nature as the road meanders through the podocarp forest which sweeps down to the long white beaches. The history of the area, such as an old lighthouse or little townships with a milling past, can be found along the way, as well as natural history including an ancient petrified forest.
The Catlins’ native forest and peaceful beaches roll into the plains of Southland before arriving at Invercargill, the hub of Southland and home of the tuatara, heritage buildings and the newly opened Transport World.
From there the route travels through the picturesque seaside town of Riverton, where cafes sit at the edge of the wide beaches. Around the coastline and inland is Tuatapere, home of the Hump Ridge Track, a spectacular walk from the ocean to the mountains via forest and old viaducts. From Tuatapere, the Southern Scenic Route travels to Te Anau and the natural splendour of Fiordland.
Te Anau is the gateway to Milford Sound and Fiordland as well as offering visitor attractions such as boat trips across Lake Te Anau to the glow worm caves, scenic flights and walking tracks. From Fiordland the route travels north and ends in Queenstown, a destination renowned as the Southern Hemisphere’s leading four season resort. The dramatic alpine scenery, huge range of activities and attractions and cosmopolitan town centre make Queenstown a great final stop on the Southern Scenic Route.
Arrive in the region from the south through Kingston, where fishing, walking, golf and picturesque picnic spots provide a chance to stretch your legs.
The Southern Scenic Route was created to give visitors a chance to explore on their own, and in their own time, to find hidden lakes and side roads, to meet local characters and experience southern hospitality – discovering the real New Zealand along the way. Not only is it a great way for international visitors to explore a special part of New Zealand it also gives Kiwis the perfect excuse to come and rediscover the beauty of the south.