Relaxing Journeys Blog

Have you considered self-driving New Zealand’s Southern Scenic Route?

New Zealand? You’ve been there, seen it and done it all… right? There are no more surprises beyond the sails of Auckland, the holes of Hobbiton, the soaring sounds and the countless other wonders you’ve packed into a couple of holidays… except the Southern Scenic Route. Even experienced travellers overlook this wandersome wilderness extraganvanza, beginning in the heart-stopping Queenstown and continuing through fiordland, down the Catlins Coast and onto Dunedin.

Sit back, strap in and prepare for a brief overview of this truly special New Zealand South Island self-drive experience.

The Basics

  • Length: 610km or 379 miles.
  • Drive Type: Cultural experience, sight-seeing, photogenic paradise.
  • Transport: Self-drive
  • Perfect for… pleasure seekers and holiday-makers desiring something different on their next trip to New Zealand.
  • Highlights: Savour a serving of Bluff Oysters – said to be the best oysters in the world; explore Stewart Island and explore rarely sighted territory, capturing the rugged beauty of the New Zealand wilderness without worrying about the crowds.

A Brief Guide to the Southern Scenic Route


View of QueenstownA veritable pocket of experiential travel, Queenstown loudly and rightfully cultivates a reputation of all-seasons excitement, combining outdoor activities like skiing, kayaking and tramping, with a thriving nightlife and gorgeous views. It can be difficult to leave, but you must – it’s time to self-drive south New Zealand, diverging from the beaten path and finding yourself in places you’d never thought possible.


Milford SoundStep through the gateway of splendour and pass by the pristine, towering forests – Te Anau and Manapouri are waiting for your keen exploration. From the grandeur of Milford and Doubtful Sound, to the nearby glow-worm caves and multitude of short walks, day trails and longer treks, Fiordland stimulates your senses at every turn. Bring your runners and cover some ground, making the most out of the 600 plus kilometres of walking trails in the area – you won’t see the best of New Zealand from the car.

Western Southland

RivertonImagine a place where sunset lasts for hours – orange, pink and golden skies, slowly fading to a starlit sky, little by little. Riverton, a popular stop in Western Southland, is brimming with quiet Maori culture, as visitors immerse themselves in the compelling history of the area and wander the exhibits of Te Hikoi South Journey Heritage Museum, before relaxing with a bite to eat on the edge of Colac Bay. Go wildlife spotting, as New Zealand’s largest pod of Hector’s dolphins comes out to play and sets the tone for your Kiwi road adventure.


Stewart Island WildlifeWe hope you’re ready for more walking, as this southernmost city is surrounded by parks, gardens and wilderness walks demanding your attention. Or, if you fancy time in town, historical buildings pepper the streets of the city centre, in addition to the Southland Museum and the intriguingly designed Art Gallery – we bet you didn’t expect to find a pyramid on your New Zealand South Island self-drive tour. After acquainting yourself with the town layout, trip down to Bluff and enjoy an oyster or twenty, before hopping a ferry to Stewart Island and staying overnight. Wildlife wonders lay just around the corner – we won’t spoil everything though.

The Catlins

Catlins Bush WalkAuthentic New Zealand awaits, as your journey gives away to thick native forests, sheer cliffs and roaring beaches. Here, people will be few and far between, as nature claims everything from the shore to the surging Purakaunui Falls – it’s easy to see why this is one of the most photographed regions in the world. Stick around for an outgoing tide, as the receding water reveals a 180 million year old Jurassic fossil forest for your careful exploration, in addition to the arching Cathedral Caves and laid-back sea-lions, resting on the flat rocks.


Baldwin StreetMany South Island trips of New Zealand end up in the architecturally historic town of Dunedin, not too far from The Catlins or Invercargill. You’ll be instantly struck by the delicate balance between heritage and wildlife, as Edwardian and Victorian buildings punctuate the town with personality and colonies of rarely spied yellow-eyed penguins live nearby. Rare animals are Dunedin’s unofficial calling card, as this is where the only mainland colony of Royal Albatross can be seen on tour, in addition to the very delightful New Zealand Hooker sea-lions. Don’t neglect your belly as you self-drive south New Zealand, as Dunedin also boasts a chocolate factory as well as wine and brewery tours aplenty. Remember to also check out the café and restaurant culture, especially if you love seafood!

Enchanted? Take the next step. Speak to our experienced travel specialists about including this spectacular route in your perfect New Zealand holiday.

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