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.
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.
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.
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.