Well this is pretty exciting – a 3 day mini-break and a trip to the far south! This is one of the roads less travelled by visitors to New Zealand, preferring instead to visit popular spots like Milford Sound and Wanaka, however we love this road trip to Stewart Island and a chance to get back to nature. Hopefully you have opted to spend a night on the island as there is nothing quite like it and knowing there is nothing but sea between you and Antarctica – pretty cool. Anyway, time to hit the road south and you resting place for the night, Invercargill. Let’s GO!
- Route map with key locations
- Recommended vehicle for this trip
- Trip itinerary
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1Queenstown to Invercargill (187kms – 2 hours 22 mins)
If you have never experience Queenstown then we highly recommend taking a few hours to explore and get involved in some of the adrenaline fuelled activity this town is famous for – after all, it’s not know as the adventure capital of the world for no reason. Here are a few of our favourite things to do in and around Queenstown whether you are looking for thrills, spills or something a little more laid back.
Adrenaline fuelled adventure
For those who have headed to Queenstown for adrenaline fuelled adventure, these are our highlights of things to do in a day:
1) AJ Hackett Nevis Bungy – Australasia’s highest bungy at 134m, this is not for the feint hearted – 8.5 seconds of freefall will have you screaming like a lunatic!
2) Skippers Canyon Jet – reaching speeds of up to 85mph this ride up the tight Shotover Canyon is sure to get your pulse racing. The 360 degree spins will get you closer to the wall than you feel comfortable with! Skippers Canyon Jet is also a GO Play partner. Bonus!
3) Coronet Peak ski resort (in season) – fantastic resort for pros and beginners alike, Coronet Peak is a GO Rentals favourite in the winter where lots of fun can be had on and off the slopes
Something a bit more…relaxing
We know that jumping off mountains and flipping jet boats is not everyone’s cup of tea but there’s more to Queenstown than adrenaline fuelled adventure. Here are our top three things for the more laid back traveller:
1) Ben Lommond – a 4 hour walk giving you some awesome views of Queenstown, the lake and surrounding mountains
2) Skyline gondola – take the gondola up Bob’s Peak and enjoy some award winning cuisine and some amazing views. If you want to get down a bit quicker, the luge is a lot of fun!
3) Arrowtown (22.1km – 22mins) – head out in your new GO Rentals hire car and check out this small town which was at the heart of the NZ gold rush. There are lots of nice shops, bars and places to eat as well as relaxing walks.
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Hopefully that will have set you up nicely for a fantastic long weekend and now it’s time to hit the road. The road south to Invercargill is littered with small rural towns and the best place to pit stop on your way down is at Kingston.
Kingston (46.8kms – 42 mins)
Located at the tip of Lake Wakitipu, Kingston is a great place to make a quick stop off on your way down and will break your journey up nicely. Kingston is home to the Kingston Flier, a vintage steam train and a great place to go and take photos. Although the train no longer runs, it’s a great place to go and check out some of New Zealand’s rail heritage. There are also some great walks around Kingston and on the shore of Lake Wakitipu so take your time and stretch the legs.
From here, it’s a further 140 kms to Invercargill which will take you around an hour and 40 minutes.
Invercargill and around
It’s a relatively short drive from Queenstown to Invercargill so you should have plenty of time when you arrive to explore Invercargill. Here are some of our highlights:
Queens Park – undoubtedly one of the main highlights of a visit to Invercargill is Queens Park. There is a beautiful rose garden, glorious rhododendrons and azaleas, a Japanese garden as well as tree lined walkways. There’s also an indoor winter garden and plenty to keep the kids entertained with a play area and animal enclosures.
Southland Museum and Art Gallery – located in Queens Park, the Southland Museum and Art Gallery is located in the largest pyramid in the Southern Hemisphere which is one of the biggest reasons to visit and tick that off your list! The gallery does have regular displays including a live tuatara display and a roaring 40s gallery and is worth a visit.
Invercargill Water Tower – described as an architectural treasure, this beautiful Victorian structure stands proudly on Doon Street. Originally built as a way of managing the pressure of the city’s water supply system, the tower is now used as a backup should there be any issues with the main water supply. It’s definitely worth a look and is a great photo opportunity for our GO Snap Happy competition.
Burt Munro Challenge – for those of you who have not seen the movie ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’, give it a whirl before you take the trip south to Invercargill. Burt dedicated his life to motorcycles and set a number of New Zealand land speed records before heading to the Utah Salt Flats to fulfil a lifelong goal where he managed to set world records on three separate occasions including the fastest time on an Indian motorcycle that still stands today. The Challenge takes place in November each year so if you’re around these parts at that time of the year then get yourself down.
Bluff Hill – for a gentle stroll and a fantastic place to head at sunrise or sunset, head to Bluff Hill. Providing amazing views over the Foveaux Strait and the Southland Plains, the hill rises 265m from the sea and on a fine day, you can see over to Fiordland. It’s a great place to recce the area and make a plan for the next couple of days.
Invercargill is a great place to grab some food with some tasty local dishes to tantalise your taste buds. Local food specialities include oysters from Bluff and blue cod so enjoy a nice meal out before your trip over to Stewart Island tomorrow.
2Invercargill to Stewart Island (28.1kms – 25 mins plus a 1 hour ferry crossing)
Waking up in New Zealand’s southernmost city, you have a big day ahead of you as you head across to Stewart Island. Depending on the time of year will depend on how many ferry crossing there are but in the height of summer, there are 3 departures a day at 9.30am, 11am and 5pm from Bluff returning from Stewart Island at 8am, 3.30pm and 6pm. In winter, these crossing go down to 2 or sometimes 1 a day so be sure to check the website for more information.
A trip to Southland would not be complete without a visit to New Zealand’s third island. Stewart Island or Rakiura (‘the land of the glowing skies’ in Maori) is home to New Zealand’s southernmost National Park. Rakiura National Park accounts for over 80% of Stewart Island and as you can imagine, this is a land of unspoilt wilderness where unmodified ecosystems thrive. The park therefore provides an exceptional opportunity to see native wildlife in its most natural habitat.
If you are a keen adventurer and fancy a night out in the wild, there are a number of hiker huts within the park and this is one of the best places on earth to witness Aurora Australis (the Southern Lights) as well as watching breath taking sunsets that the Maori name is derived from.
If you are staying just for the day, there is still a great opportunity to see some amazing wildlife in its natural habitat and two or three times a week, guided trips to Masons Bay provide the rare opportunity to see kiwi birds eating sandhoppers on the beach – that is definitely a trip not to be missed.
In addition to the amazing wildlife, Stewart Island is also home to 245kms of walking tracks so it a paradise for hikers. For people on a day trip looking to stretch your legs and explore the island, there are a number of short 2-3 hour return walks that will lead you through this unspoilt landscape and leave you wishing you had more time on this magical island.
For those who are not quite as adventurous but still fancy a stay on the Island, Halfmoon Bay at Oban is the only settlement on the Island and offers a number of accommodation options from hotels to lodge retreats so something for every budget. We can highly recommend a stopover on the Island and keep everything crossed for you that you get a clear night as the star gazing will blow your mind!
However you choose to spend your day on Stewart Island, we promise you it will be worth the trip and the thought that this is the last place on earth before you hit Antarctica heading south is pretty special.
3Stewart Island to Queenstown (214kms – 2 hours 43 mins plus a 1 hour ferry crossing)
Waking up on Stewart Island you will still have plenty of time to explore this morning before you have to catch the ferry back to the main South Island and the drive back north to Queenstown. This is a great chance to squeeze anything you may have missed yesterday and perhaps a chance to spot one of the elusive Kiwi birds in their natural habitat. There are some cracking 2-3 hours walks which will leave you loads of time to catch the ferry so make the most of your time down here – it’s a little corner of paradise.
The drive back from Bluff to Queenstown will take you back up through Invercargill so you can always stop off and stock up for the road trip – it’s going to take you just under 3 hours to get back so make sure you leave plenty of time.
That brings to an end this 3 day adventure – we hope you have had an unforgettable time and squeezed in everything you wanted to. It’s one of our favourite place in the whole of New Zealand and one we don’t get down to nearly enough so we would love to see your photos to remind us what we are missing. Send them in to our GO Explore Facebook page or GO Snap Happy competition.
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