Southern Scenic Route Roadtrip in New Zealand

The Southern Scenic Route is an amazing New Zealand road trip through the South Island. The road trip suggested itinerary is 4 days to traverse the 834 km from Dunedin Central to Queenstown Central. This road trip is great any time of year and the highlights include the Catlins region wildlife, the  Milford Sound, and Adventurous Queenstown.  The route covers some varied and diverse landscapes, has eco-encounters, and allows you to view the heritage architecture.

When on holiday in New Zealand, you probably want to hire a car.  has a great variety of vehicle choices so that you can find one that will be right for the rugged terrain you might encounter on a New Zealand scenic road trip. Having your own rental vehicle also allows you to make the road trip your own, stay longer, or leave sooner to customise the road trip to your own tastes and favourite activities.

Southern Scenic Route Map Photo Credit:

Day 1 Dunedin to Catlins to Invercargill

This amazing road trip begins in Dunedin, a city with a lot of history in new Zealand. The predominant architecture is Victorian and Edwardian with many of the cities commercial buildings coming from the gold rush era. There are also interesting buildings that came out of the revival of Gothic, Italianate, Palladian and Georgian architecture. Many of the hotels and bed & breakfasts you might stay in while visiting here represent one of these classic architecture styles. Holiday adventures in Dunedin include eco-tours to penguins, albatross, and fur seal colonies and cruises to Otago Harbour. The next stop on the road trip is the Catlins Coast where you will find waterfalls, forests, and marine mammal encounters. Purakaunui Falls is a highlight of this area. The coast is also known for fur seals, sea lions, sea elephants, yellow-eyed penguins, blue penguins, and Hector’s dolphins. The last stop for day one is the city of Invercargill. It is the southernmost city in New Zealand. Things to do in this city include visiting the Bluff signpost, the museum, dine on local delicacies, or take the ferry to Stewart Island Rakiura. Day one covers 252 km and drive time is approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes.

Day 2 Invercargill to Te Anau

Drive time from Invercargill to Te Anau is about 2 ½ hours over 194 km. You will pass Riverton, one of the oldest settlements in New Zealand before getting to tuatapere and Clifden. You can explore some of New Zealand’s famous glow worm caves, take in the views from the historic suspension bridge and Lake Manapouri all on the scenic drive to Te Anau. The township is situated on Lake Te Anau. One of the main attractions here is nearby Fiordland National Park which is where you can find the start of the world famous Milford Track. Things to do in Te Anau include hiking the walking tracks, cruise around the lakes, and explore the Te Ana-au Caves.

By No machine-readable author provided. Markrosenrosen assumed (based on copyright claims). [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Day 3 Te Anau to Milford Sound

The road trip from Te Anau to Milford is one of New Zealand’s most scenic drives. Once you pass through the farmland, then is the entrance to Fiordland National Park. Once you pass through the Homer Tunnel, you come out in Milford Sound, this is an impressive 22 km long fiord with the towering Mitre Peak dominating the landscape. Cruising through MIlford Sound is a popular activity here. You can take a day cruise or an overnight cruise. The views of the Fiordland on the water include tall waterfalls and vertical rock faces.The drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is 119 km and takes a little over an hour and half. If you don’t take an overnight cruise, you can head back to Te Anau to spend the night there with the variety of accommodations and restaurants in the town.

By Tim Burgess (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Day 4 Milford Sound to Queenstown

The final leg of this beautiful and scenic road trip is 289 km from Milford Sound to Queenstown. It takes about 3 hours and 30 minutes. Along the way you can stop off in the small towns of Mossburn, Lumsden, and Kingston. Follow the edge of Lake Wakatipu on to your final destination of the trip. Queenstown is known as New Zealand’s adventure capital and has an alpine resort with bungy jumping, jet boating, horse trekking, rafting, and river surfing in addition to luxury accommodations, food, golfing, and a spa.


As you can see, the Southern Scenic Route Roadtrip is a fun filled and adventurous road trip that takes you to very different places on the southern tip of New Zealand. Having your own car lets you make your own itinerary and never have to leave someplace you love or stay someplace you don’t like. Your holiday need not be bogged down by schedules and appointments. Of course, the above itinerary is only a suggestion, you can stay longer or make detours to customise your trip and make your own fun.

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