Although it lays claim to the title of New Zealand’s most southern and western city, Invercargill nonetheless feels more like a town. This is less to do with its size and more to do with the warmth and openness of the folk who call it home. There is a distinct ‘Scottish’ feel around much of the Southland, including Invercargill and it’s no coincidence. Many of the area’s early European settlers were of Scottish origin and today the Kiwi accent of the south still has a distinct burr. The names of Scottish rivers have been taken as several Invercargill street names too.
Invercargill doesn’t seem to get the same tourist numbers as other New Zealand cities which I personally find to be an added bonus. Fine dining and wine, culture and history or the natural world – all are here to be explored.
1) Southland Museum and Art Gallery
Housed inside the biggest pyramid in the Southern Hemisphere are the extensive, eclectic exhibitions of the Southland Museum. The museum’s mission statement is to “identify, preserve, interpret and present the historical and artistic treasures of Southland”. I for one think they have achieved that and then some. Among its many attractions are the Maori gallery, sub-Antarctic exploration rooms and the jewel in its crown – the live Tuatara. This large lizard-like reptile, found only in New Zealand, has such ancient lineage it is often referred to as the living dinosaur. As if all that wasn’t enough, entry to this wonderful place is completely free.
2) The Heritage Trail
The Heritage Trail is a well thought out journey which takes in 18 of Invercargill and surrounding area’s most significant historical buildings and places including museums, hotels, parks, churches and beaches.
Heritage Trail maps and brochures are available at i-SITEs or you can also download them online. If you want to do the whole trail you will probably need your own transport.
3) Bluff oysters
Those who know about these things say that Bluff oysters are the best that can be found. While in Invercargill you can decide for yourself because they are served everywhere. Or take yourself down to the town of Bluff itself and learn a little more about how these oysters are grown and harvested in the cold waters of the Foveaux Strait. If you happen to be around in May, there is an annual Bluff Oyster and Food Festival.
You will never taste a better oyster than here!
4) Stewart Island
If you dream of seeing a kiwi (the feathered sort) in the wild, Stewart Island, with its 20,000 population of Stewart Island brown kiwi, is your best chance. Almost all of Stewart Island is National Park and all of it is heart-achingly beautiful – from its lush rainforests to its golden beaches. Walking, tramping, bush camping, fishing, kayaking, diving, bird watching, exploring by water taxi or just lounging on a beach are what fill the days here. Day trips are possible (1 hour by ferry or 20 minutes by plane) but if you want to linger a while there is a range of accommodation options to suit every pocket from camping to boutique lodges.
5) Op shopping
Op shop is the Kiwi term for second-hand or charity shops. Now if you instantly dismiss this idea as being part of your holiday itinerary you might want to think again. Second-hand shops in New Zealand are Aladdin’s cave-like gold mines and Invercargill is op shop central. Kiwis have a rather better approach to recycling and waste than other Western nations and it is possible to find almost anything in an op shop – ancient to modern. My personal favourite are the enormous quantities of second hand books (100 years old plus are a common find) and cost next to nothing.
6) Stead Street Wharf
Interpretation panels tell the area’s story and you can see a replica of the Lady Barkly which ran here – New Zealand’s first steam powered locomotive which first trialled in 1863. Replica wooden tracks have also been put in place. There is a small beach and picnic area and a 4.7 km walkway which takes you around the estuary fringes. It is usually quiet and peaceful here, even in high summer and it doesn’t take much imagination to feel you have stepped back in time.
Classic Russian House
7) First Presbyterian Church and Basilica
The first Presbyterian church of Invercargill, built in an Italian-Romanesque style (which caused a bit of controversy at the time) dates from 1912. It has a very distinctive 32 metre high square bell tower.
The Roman Catholic copper-clad domed St Mary’s Basilica was built in 1905. Its white decorative architecture gives it an almost gingerbread house look.
Both buildings of course hold historical and cultural significance and are well worth a look.
8) The Seriously Good Chocolate Company
Now a word of warning needs to come with this entry – if you are a chocoholic prepare to be taken to the edge of your addiction. Ostensibly, ‘The Seriously Good Chocolate Company’ is a café where you can drink some of the finest hot chocolate you are ever likely to taste (along with all the usual tearoom/café type options) but it is so much more. Admittedly Speight’s chocolates might not appeal to everyone but along with the more quirky handmade offerings are some truly tempting, out of this world choices. You have been warned!
9) I-SITE bike hire
Never one to miss an opportunity of praising the wonderful, wonderful i-SITEs (tourist information offices) I am going to give it its very own entry for once. Invercargill’s i-SITE, along with having all the usual treats and appetite whetting goodies common to all i-SITEs, also offers bike hire. This is ideal if you want to visit several more spread out attractions and is also an option for taking in several items listed on the Heritage Trail (see 2). Invercargill isn’t a busy city and getting about on a bike is easy as long as you don’t mind the odd uphill bit.
10) Waipapa Point Lighthouse
This still operational lighthouse marks the spot where in 1882 the lives of 131 people were lost – New Zealand’s worst civilian shipwreck in history. The wooden lighthouse (one of the last of this kind to be built in New Zealand) was erected and first lit 2 years later.
The lighthouse is situated on a beautiful sand dune backed beach where sea-lions are commonly seen lounging.
More information on all the attractions listed here can be found at i-SITES which can advise on prices, opening times, special events and bookings if you need them. You can also pick up free maps and a wealth of tourist literature relating to Invercargill and its surrounding area to ensure you don’t miss anything.
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