Highlights of the Southern Scenic Route

Running for around 610 kilometres (and that’s not including the impossible to resist detours) between Queenstown and Dunedin, the New Zealand Southern Scenic Route is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace. For most travellers, that means dipping in and out to sample some of its many highlights. Driving the Southern Scenic Route opens up a wealth of opportunities such as spectacular scenic views, interesting wildlife, mountain bike trails, tramping paths and caves to explore. It’s got the lot. Here’s a selection of the best bits to whet your appetite.

New Zealand Southern Scenic Route Highlights

Drop dead gorgeous views

Driving the New Zealand Southern Scenic Route, you’ll be rewarded with so many dramatic and inspiring landscapes that the hard part will be choosing where to stop. Fiordland National Park has myriad world-class scenery knocking out the competition; the image of stunning Milford and Doubtful Sounds will be permanently etched into your memory. Stop off to stretch your legs at pretty Mirror Lakes with the Earl Mountains providing a backdrop.

New Zealand Southern Scenic Route: Mirror Lakes
Mirror Lakes

Tramp to paradise

The Otago peninsula near Dunedin is a tramper’s paradise and one of the top picks is the trail to Sandymount summit via the Chasm and Lovers Leap. On a sunny day there are few spots that can beat this as a panorama. Don’t come in September or October, however, as the area is off-limits for lambing. Also, you’d be a fool to miss the view from the top of Cape Saunders over Victory Beach and Wickliffe Bay.

New Zealand Southern Scenic Route: Victory Beach and Wickliffe Bay from Cape Saunders
Victory Beach and Wickliffe Bay from Cape Saunders: Photo Ulrich LangeCC BY-SA 3.0


Marine mammals aren’t in short supply on the Catlins Coast. Head for Nugget Point, where you can encounter fur seals, Hooker’s sea lions and comic-looking elephant seals. The place is also home to colonies of blue and endangered yellow-eyed penguins which nest in the area. Use the designated viewing platforms and hides at Roaring Bay which enable you to enjoy these fabulous creatures without frightening them away. Further west along the coast at Porpoise Bay, keep your eyes peeled for Hector’s dolphins which are often seen there.

New Zealand Southern Scenic Route: Nugget Point lighthouse
Nugget Point lighthouse: Photo Enrique Fernández / CC BY 2.0


Formed somewhere between 18 and 22 million years ago, Clifden Caves in Southland were created when acidic groundwater ate away at the soft limestone rock, dissolving the calcium carbonate and hollowing out the underground landscape. You’ll spot stalactites, stalagmites and glow worms, but take a guide as this environment can be dangerous to those that don’t know what they’re doing.

New Zealand Southern Scenic Route: Clifden Caves
Clifden Caves: Photo on Flickr by Harald Selke / CC BY-SA 2.0

About JuliaHammond

Website: http://www.juliahammond.co.uk

Julia Hammond is a Geography teacher turned travel writer with a passion for places. Winning Mail Travel's Deep South competition was the catalyst to write for a diverse range of publications including Bradt's Bus Pass Britain Rides Again. She’s written Kindle guides to Cape Town, Peru and London for Unanchor and advice on Savannah for Wanderlust. When not travelling, she can be found at home in Essex planning her next trip, her two golden retrievers curled up at her feet.

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  1. 6 Most Popular New Zealand Road Trip Routes | Go 4 Travel Blog

    […] coastal town. You’ll be treated to some of the most scenic landscapes as you drive along the beautifully rugged coastline before reaching Southern Alps and ending up in Queenstown. The whole trip should take about a week […]


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