The drive from Dunedin to Invercargill and Invercargill to Te Anau on the Southern Scenic Route is one of the most spectacular drives in New Zealand. In this blog, we will take you on a virtual journey through this stunning route, pointing out special places to visit and alternative road options you might be interested in. So buckle up and get ready to discover the beauty of the South Island.

The Direct Route to Te Anau

If you’re looking to get to Te Anau quickly, the direct route from Dunedin is your best bet. This route takes approximately 3 hours and 33 minutes, covering a distance of 287 kilometers. However, it’s important to note that Google’s estimated travel time is often underestimated, so it’s recommended to add an extra 10 to 15% to account for any unexpected delays.

Alternative Route: The Catlins National Park

If you have some extra time to spare and want to explore more of the stunning coastline, we recommend taking a detour through the Catlins National Park. While this route takes longer, it is well worth the extra time. Starting from Dunedin, you’ll pass through Balclutha, a charming rural support town where you can take a break and enjoy a cup of coffee. From there, you’ll continue south to Nugget Point Lighthouse, a must-visit highlight along the way. The lighthouse offers breathtaking views of the Southern Ocean and is surrounded by rugged coastal scenery.

Nugget Point Lighthouse

Located around 30 minutes from Balclutha, Nugget Point Lighthouse is perched on a dramatic headland and offers stunning panoramic views. The walk to the lighthouse is well-defined and takes approximately 30 minutes each way. On a clear day, the views from the lighthouse are hard to beat. Make sure to add this stop to your itinerary and capture some memorable photos.

Roaring Bay Penguin and Seal Observatory

Another incredible stop along the Catlins route is the Roaring Bay Penguin and Seal Observatory. This picturesque spot allows you to observe penguins and seals in their natural habitat without disturbing them. If you’re lucky, you might even spot the rare yellow-eyed penguin. The best time to visit is in the late afternoon when the penguins return to the beach after a day of fishing. Combine this stop with Nugget Point for a truly unforgettable experience.

Tunnel Hill

As you continue your journey through the Catlins, make a detour to Owaka, one of the main villages in the area. Here, you can embark on a short 15-minute walk to Tunnel Hill, an ex-railway tunnel with historical significance. This walk will transport you back in time and give you a glimpse into the region’s railway history.

Consider Staying in the Catlins

If you have the luxury of time, we highly recommend considering an overnight stay in the Catlins area. With its abundance of natural beauty and attractions, there is so much to see and do. Whether you’re looking for a cozy bed and breakfast or a rustic cabin, the Catlins offers a range of accommodation options to suit every traveler’s needs. Take a look at the Catlins website for more information on available accommodations and plan your stay accordingly.

Continuing South: Matai Falls and Cathedral Caves

As you head further south from Owaka, you’ll come across Matai Falls, a picturesque waterfall that is definitely worth a visit. The falls are set amidst beautiful scenery, and the short walk to reach them is easy and family-friendly. Take a moment to immerse yourself in nature and enjoy the tranquil surroundings.

Florence Hill Lookout

Continuing along the route, don’t miss the opportunity to stop at Florence Hill Lookout. This lookout offers breathtaking views overlooking the ocean and is a great spot to capture stunning photographs. On a clear day, you can even see as far as Antarctica, making it a truly remarkable vantage point.

Cathedral Caves

One of the highlights of the Southern Scenic Route is Cathedral Caves, a naturally formed cave located right on the beach. To fully experience the caves, it’s important to time your visit with low tide. Check the tide timetable before you go, as the caves are only accessible during certain hours. The walk to the caves is well-marked and provides a unique opportunity to explore this natural wonder.

Off the Beaten Path: McLean Waterfalls and Koropuku Falls

For those who want to venture off the main road and discover hidden gems, a visit to McLean Waterfalls and Koropuku Falls is a must. These lesser-known waterfalls offer a serene and peaceful escape from the busyness of everyday life. The walks to both falls are relatively short and showcase the beauty of New Zealand’s lush green landscapes.

A Special Side Trip: Curio Bay

If you have the time and are willing to go the extra mile, we highly recommend taking a side trip to Curio Bay. Located approximately 8 to 10 kilometers from the main road, Curio Bay is home to a fascinating Petrified Forest dating back 170 million years. This unique environment is one of only three in the world and offers a glimpse into the ancient history of our planet. While you’re there, keep an eye out for wildlife, including penguins, sealions, and seals. Curio Bay is truly a special place that shouldn’t be missed.

Final Stops: Invercargill and Te Anau

As you continue your journey towards Te Anau, consider making a couple of stops in Invercargill, the largest city in Southland. If you’re a history or transportation enthusiast, a visit to the Bill Richardson Transport Museum is a must. This museum houses an impressive collection of vintage trucks and offers a fascinating insight into the region’s transport history.

Motorcycle Mecca

For motorbike enthusiasts, a visit to Motorcycle Mecca is a must. This museum displays an extensive collection of motorcycles and showcases the rich history of motorcycling in New Zealand. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn about local legend Bert Munro, who set a speed record with his self-designed motorbike, as featured in the movie “The World’s Fastest Indian” starring Anthony Hopkins.

The Batch Cafe

Before you leave Invercargill, make sure to stop by The Batch Cafe for a delicious cup of coffee or a bite to eat. This popular local spot offers beautiful food and a warm, welcoming atmosphere. It’s the perfect place to recharge before continuing your journey to Te Anau.


The drive from Dunedin to Te Anau along the Southern Scenic Route is an unforgettable experience. From the stunning coastal scenery of the Catlins to the natural wonders of Matai Falls and Cathedral Caves, this road trip offers something for everyone. Whether you have a few days or a few weeks, there are countless attractions and hidden gems waiting to be discovered. So pack your bags, hit the road, and get ready to create memories that will last a lifetime.

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