The Roadtrip Series: discover the beauty of Lower South New Zealand with this Dunedin to Queenstown drive
We know most of us have only just come back from our annual festive break, but that doesn’t stop us from daydreaming about our next destination holiday. Once you have banked enough annual leave, book a short three-hour-and-forty-minute plane trip to Dunedin for the roadtrip of a lifetime through dreamy Lower South New Zealand. After your arrival at Dunedin Airport – (nicknamed the Gateway to the South) take the road less travelled from Dunedin to Queenstown, where you’ll discover spectacular coastal landscapes, scenic national parks, and friendly Kiwi townships. With help from our pals at Dunedin Airport, we have put together an extensive itinerary of tasty eats, fun adventures and the best routes to take when road-tripping through Lower South New Zealand.
Dunedin – Day One
Start the first day of your Dunedin to Queenstown drive with a brekky Buddha bowl at Nova in Dunedin’s city centre, perfectly placed to explore the city post-meal. If a fresh brew is all you’re after, make your way to The Daily Coffee on Princes Street. After you’ve been sufficiently caffeinated, you can explore the picturesque Otago Peninsula, a 20 kilometre-long harbour world-famous for its absolutely adorable array of marine life (sea lions and penguins, oh my!), while also being home to New Zealand’s only castle. A must-do on your Dunedin bucket list, Larnach Castle is surrounded by beautiful gardens and historic stables and outbuildings. If you book early, you can also score accom’ on the grounds of the castle!
Clutha – Day Two
First stop south of Dunedin is the inland tidal lake Lake Waihola. This scenic locale offers a selection of picturesque treks among native wildlife habitats and is the perfect pitstop to stretch your legs. Jump back into the car and put Clutha District’s largest town, Balclutha in the GPS. Famous for its iconic arched bridge over the Clutha River, Balclutha provides the lunchtime goods. Down a sangria (or two) at Casafuego Eatery and Bar, a Mexican/Kiwi cuisine eatery located inside an old fire station. To capture the best of this pristine paradise – and maybe your next Insta post – walk out to the famous lighthouse at Nugget Point, which boasts uninterrupted ocean views. Our pick of dwellings for the night? Mike and Jenny’s Kaka Point Accommodation, which offers ocean views and a private walkway to the beach.
Southland – Day Three
Early birds get the worm – and also get to explore the spectacular Catlins Conservation Park with a guided sunrise tour by Catlins Scenic and Wildlife Tours. From there, take a short two-hour scenic excursion to Invercargill, one of the southernmost cities in the world. After a quick coffee stop, journey straight onto Oreti Beach – one of the only beaches in New Zealand permitting vehicle access, made famous by The World’s Fastest Indian – and park up to watch the sunset. A short 30-minute drive leads to Bluff, the gateway to Stewart Island and home to The Bluff Oyster. Be sure to stop in at Fowler’s for some Kiwi fish and chips for dinner then stretch your legs post-meal on the nearby Bluff Hill/Motupohue trek, serving up panoramic vistas and ocean breezes.
Fiordland – Day Four
Set the GPS north and start your step counter as you’re heading to Fiordland. Home to the world famous Milford Sound, and the lesser known but equally as impressive Doubtful Sound, Fiordland also boasts over 500 kilometres of walking tracks. Visit the Kepler Mountain View Alpaca Farm on your way through Manapouri for your fix of cuteness, then visit the Sandfly Cafe in Te Anau for a quick coffee-stop. If you have worked up an appetite, grab a bao or sushi to-go from local faves Bao Now! or Fumi. To enjoy a slice of history take a cruise on Lake Te Anau on the Faith in Fiordland or adventure seekers can take a spin on the Waiau River on the Fiordland Jet. There is plenty of accomodation where you can rest your weary head in Te Anau and Manapouri, including the lakeside Murrells Grandview House.
Milford Sound – Day Five
Departing Te Anau, journey along the lakeshore and deep into Fiordland National Park before emerging at the iconic Milford Sound – toted by Rudyard Kipling as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’. To capture the best of this natural beauty, you can take a day cruise, go kayaking, dive through natural black coral or treat yourself to a scenic helicopter trip. Top tip – Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most iconic attractions – so book ahead to ensure you don’t miss out.
Queenstown– Day Six
A playground for the adrenaline-junkies as well as bar-hopping foodies, Queenstown is where the journey ends. Set on the shores of Lake Wakatipu at the foot of the Southern Alps, Queenstown offers bungy jumping, jet boating, canyoning and parasailing – or oenophiles and keen gourmands seeking decadent feasts can indulge at world-class wineries and a wide range of fine-dining establishments. Make the end of your trip worthwhile and book at least two nights of accomodation to take full advantage of this special spot. Our choice picks are Hotel St Moritz and the alpine-luxe QT Queenstown, both overlooking Lake Wakatipu to The Remarkables mountain range.
This article was produced with our good friends at Lower South New Zealand to showcase this beautiful part of New Zealand.