As Aotearoa New Zealand’s most southerly city, Waihōpai Invercargill is frequented by visitors keen to explore the captivating wilderness areas of the very south.
They include Stewart Island, Fiordland National Park and the Southern Scenic Route. However, the city and its surrounding areas have much to offer in their own right and spending a few days in Invercargill is a great way to experience some real southern hospitality.
Invercargill is often referred to as the ‘City of Water and Light’. This is in reference to the long summer days, the regular appearance of Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) and the city’s location alongside the Waihopai River estuary. Over the summer months, Invercargill and the south enjoy more daylight hours than anywhere else in the country. That means more time to explore the city and surrounding areas. The days are much shorter in winter, but this is the best time to view the stunning night skies and have an opportunity to see the magical Southern Lights.
Here are some ideas for how to spend 48 hours in Invercargill.
8am: Have coffee with the World’s Fastest Indian
Start your day browsing E Hayes and Sons hardware store with a coffee in hand. A little confused? This is a hardware store like no other, and the main attraction is a very special motorcycle known as the World’s Fastest Indian. Invercargill-born Burt Munro is world-famous for breaking land speed records on his highly modified 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle in 1967. Irving Hayes, the late store owner and old friend of Munro, purchased the bike and put it in his shop, which now attracts thousands of visitors each year.
The bike is the centrepiece of the store and accompanied by more than a hundred classic, vintage and modern motorcycles and automobiles. But this is no museum; it’s one of the largest and most impressive hardware stores in all of New Zealand. The collection is spread throughout the store, making a treat of every corner you turn. Entry is free and you’ll find the Columbus Coffee Cafe on-site (where you can grab your beverage of choice before browsing the store).
9am: Enjoy a biker’s breakfast
E Hayes was just a warm-up for what’s to come, and you can’t visit Invercargill and not explore its amazing motorcycle and transport museums. You’ll no doubt be getting hungry, so head straight to the Classic Motorcycle Mecca on Tay Street. There’s a fantastic morning menu, with something to suit every taste and appetite. If the Bikers Breakfast sounds a bit much, you might want to settle for eggs benedict or waffles. Spend some time afterwards admiring the many classic motorcycles on display.
11am: Explore a world of wheels
To wrap up this motor-themed morning, your final stop is Bill Richardson Transport World, and we’ve saved the best for last. With more than 300 vintage vehicles, this museum has one of the most impressive private transport collections possibly anywhere in the world. Whether or not you’re a petrol head, you will be impressed by what you see here. And be sure to visit the various bathrooms on-site (each has been cleverly designed to fit in with the transport theme). Grab a bit of lunch at the onsite Grille Cafe before you leave.
Note: By purchasing a Turbo Pass, you’ll get discounted entry into both Bill Richardson Transport World and Classic Motorcycle Mecca.
2pm: Spend the afternoon in Bluff
The town of Bluff is just a 25-minute drive from Invercargill and is best known for its oysters. It’s also where passengers catch the ferry to and from Rakiura Stewart Island. As you arrive in Bluff, make your first stop the Bluff Maritime Museum. Whaling, oystering, and shipwrecks are all a big part of this region’s history, and there are some interesting artefacts on display. When you’re done at the museum, drive up to the Bluff Hill Lookout for remarkable 360-degree views. On a clear day you’ll be able to catch sight of Stewart Island. You may even spot the passenger ferry braving the often choppy Foveaux Straight.
From there make your way back into town for a stroll along the main street. There’s some great street art on display, and be sure to call in to Oyster Allsorts. This seriously quirky venue serves as an information centre, souvenir shop, museum, art gallery, cinema, second-hand store and café!
The afternoon will be getting on, but leave enough time to visit Stirling Point. In the carpark, you’ll find the iconic Bluff signpost and a short stroll will take you down to the Stirling Point Lighthouse. The carpark is the start of the Foveaux Walkway – a delightful coastal walk. Roughly 25 minutes in, you’ll come across a path to your right called the Glory Track. This lovely bushwalk will take you back to Stirling Point via the old Bluff Gunpit Coastal Defence Camp. The complete loop should take you about an hour and will require some sturdy footwear.
6pm: Feast on fresh oysters
Right above the Stirling Point carpark is Oyster Cove Restaurant and Bar; this is a great option for dinner before you head off back to Invercargill. If you’re fortunate enough to be visiting during oyster season (March to August), this is the place to indulge in this slippery delicacy. If you’re not a fan, or they’re out of season, don’t worry, the menu offers a great selection of other seafood dishes.
8am: Do breakfast at The Batch
The Batch Café is a popular cafe with the Invercargill locals, and once you’ve been there you’ll understand why. The coffee and food are exceptional, with cabinet and menu options made from the freshest ingredients.
9am: Lose yourself in Queens Park
Spanning 80 hectares in the heart of the city, no visit to Invercargill would be complete without spending some time exploring Queens Park. The magnificent gardens, playgrounds, bird aviaries and animal enclosures provide something of interest for all ages. There are also several sporting facilities located in the park, including an 18-hole golf course, a disc golf course, tennis courts, and cricket, croquet and bowling clubs. The four-kilometre fitness trail features twenty exercise stations. The park is the perfect place for a picnic, or you can enjoy lunch at The Cheeky Llama park café.
1pm: Follow the Catlins Coastal Heritage Trail
The Catlins region attracts those keen to explore its wild coastline and lush forests, punctuated by scenic waterfalls. The Catlins Coastal Heritage Trail is a fantastic road trip from Invercargill that will keep you busy all afternoon. Follow the Southern Scenic Route out of town towards Niagara, and look out for a sign on your left pointing in the direction of Niagara Falls. Don’t get too excited though; these falls were given their name by a surveyor with a sense of humour. Just on from Niagara, the town of Waikawa is home to the Waikawa Museum, which offers loads of information on local history.
The next stop is Porpoise Bay and Curio Bay. You could spend quite a bit of time here, as there’s a lot to see and do. Park at Curioscape, which serves as a visitor centre, cafe and souvenir shop (for a donation, you can take a look through the fantastic displays inside, which will give you some insight into the area before you head out and explore). Highlights in the area include the petrified forest, living forest, and myriad of marine life. If you’re lucky, you may get to see the rare yellow-eyed penguins, the very small Hector’s dolphins, New Zealand fur seals, and the world’s rarest sea lions.
Moving on, make a stop at Slope Point – the southern-most tip of the South Island. Park the car and do the 20-minute stroll through farmland to the official signpost. If it’s a wild and windy Southland day, be prepared for even more wind at the point, which is very exposed. The views here are dramatic, as they are at the next stop – Waipapa Point Lighthouse. This is another location to keep an eye out for wildlife, especially sea lions.
6pm: Dine at The Saucy Chef
After a busy afternoon on the road, you will have worked up quite an appetite. Settle in at The Saucy Chef on St Andrew, which offers an extensive a la carte menu of seafood, hearty Hereford beef options, and wild and free-range game dishes. There are also gluten-free and vegetarian selections. The restaurant has a warm ambience and some quirky features. Enjoy the range of popular local and international beers on offer, along with a great selection of New Zealand wines.
Need a place to stay?
Comfort Inn Tayesta is a wonderful accommodation option that provides cosy and comfortable one and two-bedroom units close to all necessary amenities. The hotel is conveniently located within five minutes’ drive of the airport, city centre and Queens Park. The mostly ground floor rooms come with unlimited free Wi-Fi, 50+ Sky TV channels on LCD television, guest-controlled heating, and off-street parking. Hosts Mike and Jan are friendly faces that will welcome you with a smile and allow you to experience the fantastic hospitality the south is known for.
About the writer
Hailing from Aotearoa New Zealand, Karllie Clifton is an avid midlife traveller and blogger who loves an adventure. In the past few years alone, Karllie has visited over twenty countries and ticked off more than 50 cities across three continents. She loves the great outdoors – especially hiking and anything to do with the ocean.