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Road Trip New Zealand: Go Dunedin & Southland

“The road (trip) must go on” (sung in our best Freddy Mercury voices). The adventures never stop in New Zealand; that’s why we’re taking you road-trippin’ through Dunedin and Southland. Explore castles, spy wildlife, ride bike trails, sip wine, and so much more. It's time to stop dreaming about New Zealand and go road trip!

“The road (trip) must go on” (sung in our best Freddy Mercury voices). The adventures never stop in New Zealand; that’s why we’re taking you road-trippin’ through Dunedin and Southland. Explore castles, spy wildlife, ride bike trails, sip wine, and so much more. It’s time to stop dreaming about New Zealand and go road trip!

This outstanding adventure from Dunedin to Queenstown, is epic and demonstrates the magic, majesty, and general wow-ness found across the region.

Exploring NZ’s Deep South affords a landscape that is, at times, ethereal, thanks to the craggy mountains, primordial forests, and rolling farmland.

6-day, 610 km: Southern Scenic Route

The Southern Scenic Route is to adventurers what Chunky Monkey is to ice cream lovers: bold, balanced and full of flavour.

Dunedin is the gateway to your 6-day Southern Scenic Route adventure. Witness Curio Bay’s 180-million-year-old (yep, for reals) petrified forest, Slope Point, the South Island’s southernmost point, and McLean Falls, the region’s spectacular 22-metre veil-like falls. Meander next to Invercargill, home to fascinating motoring and memorabilia museums and their celebrated Bluff Oysters and blue cod. Drive onwards to Western Southland where seeing is believing that nature really is this beautiful.

For the final legs, explore the gateway to Milford Sound – Te Anau – before continuing on to one of Aotearoa’s most recognised spots: the granite peaks and gushing falls of Milford Sound. Conclude with the spectacular drive to Queenstown.

If you have the time, consider adding the Central Otago Touring Route, taking you through character settlements, old mining towns, and an abundance of vineyards. Drive Queenstown to Dunedin to complete a full loop of the lower South Island.

Natures Wonders Wildlife Tours Dunedin
Natures Wonders Wildlife Tours Dunedin

Top 5 Things to Do in the Region

Walk 5 minutes from the carpark to Allans Beach in Dunedin and see sea lions and penguins.
Walk 5 minutes from the carpark to Allans Beach in Dunedin and see sea lions and penguins

You saw how well we picked a top five on our last road trip blog, and Dunedin and Southland make it no easier. In fact, ‘jam-packed’ and ‘plethora’ and ‘need more time’ are commonly heard by visitors to the region.

Across Dunedin and Southland, there are a ton of activities that suit every kind of road tripper. Pick from these five(ish) faves:

  • Dunedin and Southland’s wildlife is super impressive. Right on Dunedin’s doorstep, there is the world’s only mainland breeding colony of northern royal albatross. To see the best of the wildlife, take a Natures Wonder Argo Tour or Monarch wildlife cruise. Also in the region, you can Hector’s dolpins, fur seals, sea lions, penguins (including the world’s rarest yellow-eyed penguins). On Stewart Island, get the ultimate feather in your Kiwi travel cap: spot a Kiwi bird on tour.
  • Dunedin and impressive heritage buildings go together like pav and cream. Architecture to astound, take in Larnach Castle, Olveston House, and Lan Yuan Chinese Garden. Even the railway station is mega impressive. A guided city walk is a top-notch way to see the architectural highlights. Add in art, museums, and NZ’s first brewery, and you can see why you’d want a few days exploring Dunedin.
  • While you’re over on Stewart Island, lace your hiking boots to see the magical landscape up close. Take a day walk on Ulva Island eco-sanctuary or hike the multi-day Rakiura Track. Not into trails? Take an authentic fishing tour where your catch is prepared into a fresh-as-it-gets feast.
  • Obvs it’s New Zealand, and nature lovers are spoiled for choice, and it’s no different across Otago and Southland. Wild beaches, wildlife-spotting walking trails, wild wave surfing and waterfalls make you at one with the environment. The Otago Central Rail Trail is up there with the world’s best cycling routes. We also recommend Star Gazing with Horizon Tours.
  • Other worthwhile mentions include the internationally acclaimed, more abstract tourism attractions. Invercargill’s Dig This is a total big-kid’s dream; it’s a heavy-machinery playground! Transport World also wins, attracting visitors from around the world to witness this emporium of world-class vintage vehicles and quirky displays.

Driving in Otago and Southland – The Essentials

Stirling Point, Bluff
Stirling Point, Bluff

Driving around Otago and Southland is relatively effortless for Australians. Though you will want to pay attention to the windier and more mountainous roads out of the cities.

The route to the Royal Albatross Colony – Portobello Road – is a rather narrow and bumpy drive with some tight bends, so come prepared (we’re looking at you, motion sickness peeps).

The Southern Scenic Route is fully sealed, though some side roads (like those leading to waterfalls) are unsealed. It’s worth checking whether your rental car can take those side trips before you set off.

Howell's Point, Southland ©Sam Deuchrass
Howell’s Point, Southland ©Sam Deuchrass

Get the Road Trip Playlist

If there’s a better name for a Spotify playlist than Dunedin’s DunnerStunner, we want to hear it. Over 60 carefully-curated anthems transport you around the heritage-and art-filled streets of Dunedin and beyond.

While the name may not be as catchy, the Southland Sounds tunes don’t fall short. Jason Kerrison, Rascall Flats and Jenny Mitchell feature, plus there are a couple of Southland specific melodies to set the tone for your adventure.

Arc Brewing Co, Dunedin
Arc Brewing Co, Dunedin

Travel Advisor? Access the Marketing Hub Tool Kit here

Ready to swoop in like an albatross to snatch up the Ōtepoti Dunedin and Southland facts? Sweet as. On July 14th, join the experts to learn about Lanarch Castle to the Lanlop Gallery and beyond, as well as discovering the wonders of Southland’s soulful scenery.

This webinar is not only about the know-how and the Kiwi can-do; there’s a solid chance to win prizes, too! Thanks to Tourism New Zealand, five attendees will be walking away with a return flight to NZ, plus there are also five delectable regional gift baskets to be won. Yum.

You don’t have to wait until July 14th, of course. If you want to get stuck in early and prep your questions for the big day, you can head to the comprehensive Tourism New Zealand Marketing Hub. This Dunedin showreel also gets us amped for July 14th (and there are penguins, squee!).

Stoked for Southland? Delighted about Dunners? Yes! Sign up for our July 14th webinar here.

P.S. The Southern Scenic Route is a perfect way to connect multiple #NZMustDo destinations in the region. We’ll be bringing you more on Central Otago and Clutha in our August webinar. Stay tuned for deets!

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