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Best day trips Invercargill

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Planning a self-drive tour of the deep South?  Invercargill, the city of water and light, provides the perfect base from which to explore Stewart Island and the beautiful Catlins, Fiordland and Te Anau on the stunning Southern Scenic Route. There are unique experiences within easy reach of New Zealand’s most Southern city, where you can even hire an old-school Kombi van for a classic holiday adventure. Here’s a guide to the best side trips from your comfortable ‘home-away-from home’ at the Bella Vista Invercargill Motel.


Explore the Catlins Coastal Heritage Trail 

One of the best things to do in Invercargill is a drive to the Catlins, the remote jewel in the crown of the Southern Scenic Route, with its wild coastline, dense forests and cascading waterfalls. Head to the Fortrose Cliffs for its panoramic clifftop views, then venture on to the picturesque Waipapa Point Lighthouse. Several walking tracks lead from the lighthouse carpark to the beach, so look out for a sea lion or two. A wildlife encounter is on the cards as the Catlins region is also home to fur seals, yellow-eyed penguins, dolphins, and seabirds. The scenery is equally engaging with pounding surf, desolate beaches, dramatic rock formations and even a petrified forest of ancient trees. The crowds will be non-existent, and the skies will appear more expansive in this remarkable area.   

After a morning’s sightseeing, retreat to the Fortrose Café, which should be included on the best places to eat in Invercargill list, close to your motel accommodation in Invercargill.  Choose from a counter packed full of freshly baked goodies, or heartier options like the home-style seafood chowder or pasta with mushrooms, bacon, and spinach. Sit back, relax and take in the wide sea views over the brim of a piping hot cup of coffee.  

On the return drive, drop into the Catlins village of Waikawa for a glimpse into times past, with its historic and charming main street. 


Steward Island side trip 

Just a 15-minute flight from Invercargill is largely untouched Rakiura Stewart Island.  A protected National Park covers much of the island, meaning it’s a great place for bird watchers, kiwi spotting and hiking. The charming village of Oban provides a slice of local life while a short water taxi to Ulva Island will reveal a predator-free island sanctuary bursting with bird song. You can also experience a short section of the Rakiura Great Walk by booking a fly-hike-water taxi package with Stewart Island Flights, so add this to your Invercargill things to do list. 


Rest day: Invercargill in a nutshell 

Spend the day exploring this Scottish-influenced city, nestled on the banks of the Waihopai River and shores of the New River Estuary. Invercargill’s wide streets are lined with veranda-slung heritage buildings offering great food and coffee, like Industry Café, one of the best brunch places to eat in Invercargill. Their lip-smacking chorizo and bacon cheese rolls are simply divine.   

With a reputation as New Zealand’s “Classic Motoring Capital,” drop into local hardware store, E Hayes Motorworks to view the fastest motorbike in the world. In 1967, Burt Munro's 'World's Fastest Indian' bike set the land speed record which still stands today. 

Take a 20-minute drive from the Bella Vista Invercargill motel out to Bluff’s Stirling point, where New Zealand’s State Highway 1 begins. Snap a picture under the infamous Bluff signpost then take a walk up Bluff Hill for marvellous ocean views. Enjoy lunching on the finest and freshest seafood from the Foveaux Strait, where tasty Bluff oysters may appear on the menu between March and August. These glossy, flavour-packed shellfish are highly sought after the world over. 

The ‘city of water and light’ refers to the long summer days and the spectacularly clear night skies, Invercargill locals enjoy. At twilight, follow the central Heritage Trail to learn more about the area’s history and take a stroll through elegant Queens Park, with its grand entrance gate, themed gardens, animal enclosures and Victorian band rotunda.  


Get a taste for Fiordland  

Discover the Fiordland frontier towns of Manapouri and Te Anau, two hours north of Invercargill. Take a cruise through Doubtful Sound or a scenic flight over Milford Sound to view the fiords. Or travel across Lake Te Anau in a water taxi and hike a short section of the Kepler Track, another New Zealand Great Walk. Milford Sound is naturally magnificent, while locals refer to the less known Doubtful Sound as 'the sound of silence', for its beautiful isolation. On the return drive, stop for photos at Te Anau Downs, for stunning views over Lake Te Anau.   

Give yourself time to explore stunning Southland including the best things to do in Invercargill. There’s so much to see, eat and do that you won’t regret it!  Our local staff are always on always on-hand with more local advice so when you are staying at our motels in Invercargill just ask. 

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