Last Updated on November 1, 2021
The best way to explore the Deep South of New Zealand’s South Island is by car. A car will give you the chance to take the scenic area in to the fullest, explore at your own pace, and stop whenever you feel like it. If you go beyond exploring just Queenstown, you can find plenty of places off the beaten track that are worth seeing. A road trip to the following southern cities is the perfect way to discover, experience and photograph the panoramic scenery of southern New Zealand:
Four Must-See Places on New Zealand’s South Island
Begin your tour in Queenstown, which is also the most convenient place to rent a car. Situated on Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown offers some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery as well as thrilling adventure that include the famous ledge bungy jumping. The Kawarau River is in fact the birthplace of the bungy jump! Skiing, sky diving, jet boating and river rafting as well as hiking and walking are also options, depending on what you’re interested in.
The real history of Queenstown began when two sheep herders discovered gold in 1862, close to the Shotover River. Named for Queen Victoria, the town grew quickly as a gold rush ensued.
Today, you can find an array of boutique shopping, restaurants, spas and golfing in Queensland. Tours into the back country are available and a 4WD safari helps explore the beautiful landscapes. After all the excitement of Queenstown, you will be ready to travel to Dunedin, approximately 3 hours and 20 minutes away.
This city, built with the riches that ensued after the gold rush in the 1860s, has some amazing architectural examples of Victorian and Edwardian buildings and homes. You will find ornately designed mansions as well as Gothic churches with tall towering spires. If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll want to visit the chocolate factory located here.
The panoramic views of Dunedin Harbour are also not to be missed. If you’re an animal lover, make sure to visit the Otago Peninsula, a short drive away, to see some of the local marine life that include seal colonies, penguins and albatross. Often referred to as the eco-capital of New Zealand, this area has abundant sights that include the Moeraki Boulders, a continuing mystery. These giant, mysteriously spherical stones that are scattered across a sandy beach were according to Maori legend washed ashore there when the voyaging canoe Araiteuru was wrecked. The boulders are an about an hour north of Dunedin, up State Highway 1. From Dunedin, drive to Invercargill, approximately 2.5 hours away.
The city of Invercargill dates back to the 1850s, when settlers from the Scottish region of Dunedin began to purchase land for their sheep to inhabit. It is the city in New Zealand that has the distinction of being the furthest south, and is in fact one of the southernmost cities in the entire world.
Within the city of Invercargill, one can visit the delightful Queen’s Park, 80 hectares of beautiful rhododendron, roses, azaleas, native forests, a Japanese garden, herb garden, rock garden and much more. Also check out the bird aviary and enjoy the play area, if you’re traveling with the children.
At the Southland Museum, you can visit the Tuatarium to learn more about the tuatara, a native reptile. Other places of interest include a fossil forest at the Catlins and Stewart Island, where you can see sea lions and yellow-eyed penguins as well as kiwis. After Invercargill, the next stop on your New Zealand South Island road trip is the lakeside village of Wanaka, approximately 3 hours away.
Often nicknamed the Southern Alps, the town of Wanaka is known for its breathtakingly beautiful mountain scenery. The town features an array of unique shops, cafes and restaurants and is a paradise for skiers and snowboarders. In the summer, the area is popular with hikers. Wanaka also offers flightseeing, sky diving and is the site of the spectacular Warbirds Over Wanaka, an annual show that includes classic airplanes, which usually happens on Easter Weekend.
If you happen to encounter rain, visit the quirky Cinema Paradiso, a classic movie theater, or the National Transport and Toy Museum.
Loop back to Queenstown to complete your loop, which is about an hour from Wanaka. If you feel adventurous, you can take the alternative route through the Crown Range, and discover the highest main road in the country. The views are stunning, and you’ll find yourself stopping for photos frequently.
This is the best way to get a glimpse of the marvelous Deep South of New Zealand’s South Island. Excitement, panoramic majestic views, abundant wildlife, entertainment and exploration await you – all you need is a rental and a sense of adventure.