Like people, every destination has its own character, be it language or culture or environment.
Some cities are mono-ethnic while others are deserving of the oft-used term “cultural melting pots.” Some countries spent years under the rule of another while a select few never knew life as a colony. Some remain resplendent in the green of its natural resources while in others, looming towers of steel and metal indicate how technology permeates its every street.
Tucked away some 1,500 kilometers east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand boasts its own brand of special. But venture to the southernmost tip of the country and you will be greeted with a warm welcome, a wealth of activities, and a chock full of fun to be had.
In a time where we often crave for places to see and things to do off the beaten track to quench our travel curiosities, there is no better destination than Southland in New Zealand’s South Island.
From its charming selection of shops, cafes, restaurants and lively bars to a great array of coastal landscapes and rugged plains in all its untouched splendor just minutes from the Invercargill city center, Southland has much to offer.
Start your day bright and early as dawn breaks with a hearty serving of blue cod Buttie and Spanish style omelette at the The Batch Cafe, which is known for its comprehensive menu of delicious local food. Then, wash it down with a comforting mug of long black as you watch early birds just like yourself grab freshly baked bites from the eatery, warmly greeting each other with an enthusiastic Kia Ora, which means hello.
This is the start of your epicurean adventure that will see you eating and drinking your way around Southland while embracing Southland’s trademark southern hospitality.
And there is absolutely no rush, as the beauty of Southland is that you will always have the luxury of time.
After you have had your fill, take a leisurely stroll down the city streets and admire the striking Victorian and Edwardian architecture. Stop only to wander down the crowded aisles of a quaint bookstore or souvenir store along the way, picking up keepsakes to remember your journey by. Untouched by modernization and trends, history buffs in particular will love Southland for its interesting heritage trail that will transport you back in time.
There are 10 museums around the Southland district which tell intriguing tales of the destination’s past and those who lived here through its diverse programme of exhibitions, from vintage machinery to whaling artefacts.
In Invercargill, marvel at various world-class vintage motor vehicle displays at the Bill Richardson Transport World, Classic Motorcycle Mecca or the Motorworks Collection. The Transport World boasts the largest private automotive museum of its type in the world, while Motorcycle Mecca houses the largest display of classic motorcycles in the country with a collection ranging from 1902 – 2007 and Motorworks is a unique blend of memorial to motorcycle legion Burt Munro, classic vehicle collection and retail therapy.
If automobiles are not your thing, pop by the Queens Park Gardens in the center of the city. This botanical wonderland is a walk through the history of New Zealand. With a menagerie of plants, animals, recreation and outdoor art, this is the beating heart of Invercargill and will easily fill a few hours with discovery.
As lunch time rolls around and you are getting the cues from your stomach, zip over to Southland’s port of Bluff, located a mere 30 kilometers south of Invercargill and easily accessible by bus. Home of the world-famous Bluff Oyster, the seaside town is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in New Zealand.
Be sure to snap a shot of the famous signpost at Stirling Point, the most photographed spot in Bluff and a favorite for visitors. The signpost points out distances to major cities around the world and marks the beginning of State Highway 1, New Zealand’s main highway which traverses the whole length of the country all the way to Cape Reinga in the far north.
This also marks the beginning of your seafood journey as Bluff enjoys a variety of mouthwatering dining and cuisine options, including the finest produce from both land and sea.
Make a pit stop at a local restaurant, such as Oyster Cove, which offers spectacular 180 degree views Foveaux Strait, Dog Island and Stewart Island. Dig in to a sumptuous meal of Bluff Oysters, as well as locally sourced mussels, salmon, and scallops with a side of New Zealand’s finest wines. So fresh, you can still taste the ocean.
Still have room for more? Pamper your taste buds with a sweet treat of ice cream. Southland is a dairy powerhouse, and the local ice cream is a decadent balance of rich and creamy.
And it is not just your appetite that will be duly satisfied. Southland is also a delicious feast for your eyes.
Renowned for its snow-capped mountains, glistening glaciers, and tranquil lakes that will wow you at every turn, Southland is steeped in wildlife and natural beauty. Bluff, for example, is known as the “Gateway to Stewart Island”, where there are more astounding sights to behold.
Stewart Island, is also fondly known by its Maori name “Rakiura”, which means glowing skies and to understand why, you will have to see it to believe it.
Hop on a ferry across the Foveaux Strait or take a scenic flight, landing on Mason Bay to Stewart Island, making sure to keep a lookout for wildlife, especially seabirds and maybe even the occasional whale. In a distance, marvel at the sight of the spectacular blood-red sunset which stretches into a smouldering pyrotechnic display.
But that is not the only natural spectacle that gave Stewart Island its Maori name.
As the region is one of the closest countries to the South Pole, if you head down south enough you may stand a chance at seeing the glorious Aurora Australis, better known as the southern lights, a popular winter activity. Destinations like Stewart Island, for example, is the perfect vantage from which to see it.
Before you retire for the day, as daylight diminishes and the air cools, venture to Ocean Beach where the best view of the brilliant stars dotting the inky night sky, unmarred by light pollution because Southland has none, awaits you. And while out staring up, down forget a glance down, as there very well may be a wild and rare kiwi foraging for its dinner.
It is hard not to fall in love with Southland.
Because the more you discover Southland, the more you discover the real New Zealand.