Despite being the southernmost city in the country, Invercargill is leading the charge in one-of-a-kind attractions. Being the gateway to beautiful scenery and with heritage trails in every direction, it’s worth sticking around to experience this town’s winsome hospitality.
Admire the elegant and perfectly polished collection of vintage vehicles at Bill Richardson Transport World, then head to the mezzanine floor to view winning designs from the FibreOctave wearable art show, which is held every June. A ball gown made with the same steel as the counter at The Grille cafe downstairs is a hero piece.
With Classic Motorcycle Mecca and E Hayes Motorworks Collection in close proximity, petrol heads will be preoccupied, while those who want to move at a slower pace should walk up Kelvin Street to check out the local shops, or stroll through Queen’s Park.
Stop off at the Seriously Good Chocolate Shop, where you can taste innovative morsels, including chocolates made to resemble the region’s famed cheese rolls and freeze-dried pinot noir grapes, which have been made into a smoothie powder among other things.
Off-the-grid hikes may be found in more remote parts of Southland, such as Fiordland National Park, but you can stay in the height of plugged-in luxury in Invercargill. The six apartments at The Lodges at Transport World, for example, have been renovated with such attention to detail they are just like home, but perhaps better.
But don’t get too cosy. Restaurants including The Foundry and Buster Crabb provide hearty meals and premium service. Mention you’re a tourist to your taxi driver and you’ll undoubtedly get an impromptu tour past the South African War memorial, as well as the colonial Water Tower, impressively lit up at night, on your way to dinner.
There’s no shortage of Bluff oysters, which are on every good menu in town. But of course nothing can top trying these straight from the source.
To the north, Gore is a district eager to overturn its small-town reputation. This is most visible in the Arts and Heritage Precinct, which includes the Hokonui Moonshine Museum and the Eastern Southland Gallery. The latter is affectionately named the ‘Goreggenheim’, since a high-profile visitor remarked on its similarities with the famed Guggenheim art museum in New York.
The Hokonui Fashion Design Awards, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year, attracts fashion students from all over the country. Run by a loyal local community, it also shows how Southland’s creative spirit continues to impress.
Stay in a room overlooking the Hokonui Pioneer Park at the Heartland Hotel Croydon before heading 15km northwest to Mandeville, home to another cultural quarter of sorts. Enjoy a meal at Miss Cocoa Coffee and shop the beautiful homewares at the café and neighbouring store Money for Wine.
If you need a bigger boost than a coffee, a ride in the restored Tiger Moth plane at the Croydon Aviation Heritage museum next door will fuel you with adrenaline. With the workshop restoring aircrafts for international clients, you’re in safe hands as you fly over the majestic Hokonui Hills.
Learn more about the Foveaux Strait, and how hardy European and Māori settlers made this place home, at Riverton’s Te Hikoi Southern Journey museum. A picturesque port and beach town to the west of Invercargill, Riverton is a great place to relax before checking out the rest of the area, including the aptly named Cosy Nook cove and Monkey Island in Orepuki.
Once a year this salty seaside town attracts foodies from all over the world with their fresh seafood at Bluff Oyster & food festival (roughly 30,000 oysters were devoured by a crowd of 4,500 people at the most recent event). Despite temperatures being less than welcoming in May, the charm of locals, who organise the festival, makes it one of the most enjoyable and talked about events in the country. Next year it will be held on May 26. Make sure you book accommodation well in advance.
To the east, a sparkling blue and green jewel in Southland’s crown is The Catlins. It’s a large area to cover but, benefiting from long daylight hours in the summer, there is plenty of time to explore.
Over an hour’s drive from Gore is Nugget Point. Wind past quintessential Kiwi ‘cribs’, many of which are holiday homes available to rent, to the start of a short walk to the Lighthouse. Spot the fur seal colony below the cliffs and marvel at the rocky islets scattered below the daring lookout deck.
It’s worth pulling over to see the McLean Falls, Lake Wilkie, Cathedral Caves and Curio Bay’s petrified forest and penguins. Plan to stop at the colourful Catlins Cafe or food-truck-meets-mini-art-world The Lost Gypsy Gallery in Owaka, as well as the Niagara Falls Cafe based in Niagara’s quaint old school house.
Whichever road you turn down, they’ll be something special waiting in Southland.