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10 of the Best Things to Do in Invercargill

10 of the Best Things to Do in Invercargill

It’s a bit shameful that I’ve been running this blog for seven years now and have never written a post about Invercargill. Shameful on my part or is it the city’s fault? A bit of both! I lived there for six months while studying and hated it, and over the last seven years we’ve passed through a few times without lingering. We travelled to Invercargill recently to finally give it a good chance. Looking for the best things to do in Invercargill? So were we!

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Invercargill Water Tower

The 130 year old Invercargill Water Tower is the most impressive historic sight in town. It’s slightly outside of the city centre and doesn’t take long to visit — I never even knew about this place when I lived in Invercargill, although historic landmarks weren’t really on my radar back then.

Shopping

Invercargill Central Mall opened in 2022, giving downtown Invercargill more of a city feel than a big regional town. It’s a pretty standard mall, good for a wander and a bite to eat, especially if it’s cold outside. There’s a farmers market on Sundays, held at the train station. We were impressed with the location of it as well as the atmosphere — a great place to go for lunch if you find yourself in Invercargill on a Sunday. You’ll find plenty of other shops while wandering around the centre city.

Museums

Invercargill is a massive motorsport destination, mostly thanks to Burt Munro (played by Anthony Hopkins in The World’s Fastest Indian). There are several transport museums as well as other more general ones and some art galleries.

We’re not really into motorsport (loved the movie though) and didn’t want to pay for museums we weren’t interested in. We did stumble on a cool free one though — it’s in a Hardware Store! There (E Hayes Hardware Store) you’ll find Burt Monroe’s famous motorbike as well as other bikes and classic cars.

Walk the Historic Streets

The city centre of Invercargill has retained a good number of heritage buildings. It’s a nice place for a wander, with lots of cafés, shops, museums and galleries to keep you busy for a few hours. It’s pretty easy to get a park and everything of interest is walkable. Keep a look out for some of the impressive street art.

Eating and Drinking

The Farmers Market is a good place to eat and there are lots of cafés and restaurants in the mall and the main streets of town. We had a really nice dinner at Meld (Langlands Hotel) and some good lunches when driving around Southland (Oyster Cove in Bluff and Beachhouse Restaurant  in Riverton especially).

Oreti Beach

Burt Monroe practiced for his land speed record exploits in America by driving on the long, lonely sands of Oreti Beach. You can still drive on it these days, although speed limits apply! You can see Oreti Beach from either end too, across the estuary at Omaui Beach near Bluff and from Mores Scenic Reserve in Riverton.

Drive to Bluff

Bluff is a 15-minute drive from Invercargill and is the port where boats to Stewart Island arrive and depart. It’s a cool little town to explore, with the expansive views at Bluff Hill the highlight. I wrote a post about Bluff recently so check it out if you’re keen to spend a few hours exploring — there’s a surprising amount of things to see and do there.

Fly to Stewart Island

Flights to Stewart Island run several times a day, leaving from Invercargill Airport. They take around 15 minutes and the views are incredible on a clear day. It’s a good alternative to the ferries, which plow through the rough waters of Foveaux Strait.

Once on the island there’s heaps to explore, especially if you like beaches, viewpoints and coastal walks. Check out our post about Stewart Island!

Riverton / Western Southland

Riverton is a 35-minute drive from Invercargill and is a great alternative if you prefer to stay in a smaller town. The beaches are beautiful and there are some good short walks on the hills above town.

From Riverton you can head along the Southern Scenic Route to Te Anau via Cosy Nook, Monkey Island, Gemstone Beach and Tuatapere.

The Catlins

Head east from Invercargill and you’ll soon reach the Catlins. This gem of a region features waterfalls, rock formations, sweeping coastal views and some of the South Island’s best beaches. Fortrose is the first spot you’ll reach, 35 minutes’ drive from Invercargill. From there you can check out places like Waipapa Point Lighthouse, Slope Point and the Waipohatu Waterfall Track.

Soon after that you’ll arrive at Curio Bay, where you might see dolphins playing in the waves. It takes around an hour to drive between Invercargill and Curio Bay — it’d make for a perfect day trip or there’s accommodation if you’re keen to stay there night. Further north the Catlins becomes part of Otago.

READ MORE: 23 of the Best Things to Do in the Catlins

Curio Bay

Other Things to Do in Invercargill

Other things to do in Invercargill include all your typical New Zealand city things like golf, gardens (Queens Park — apparently popular with locals!), movies / shows and stocking up on supplies before going somewhere less developed. You can also smash things up at Demolition World or watch a game of rugby when the Southland Stags play / the Southern Steel in the local netball competition.

Where to Stay

We stayed at a standard motel a short drive from the city centre. Motels like this are cheap and functional and usually include kitchens and somewhere to sit outside. The Langlands Hotel, in the centre of town, is a more up-market option. It’s a typical big city hotel with a quality restaurant on site, a good option if you’re not looking to save money by staying at a motel like we did. Check out these hotels in Invercargill.

Did My Opinion of Invercargill Change?

Mostly. I never gave it a good chance when I lived there as I was coming home to Dunedin every weekend. Our trips over the last seven years were very brief too so it never quite got the chance to grow on me. After this recent trip I have a lot more respect for Invercargill. The city centre is pleasant to wander around, the mall is a cool thing for locals and you’re not short on beautiful places to visit nearby. Not the most interesting place in the South Island, but a good spot to spend a night or two on your way to somewhere else.

Are you planning a trip to Invercargill? Let us know in the comments below!

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Jon Algie

I'm a South Island local -- born in Timaru and raised in Dunedin. I left the island in 2006 and returned 10 years later. Having seen a good chunk of the world I realised how special this place is -- the most beautiful island in the world! Seven years (and almost 400 posts) later I'm still helping locals and tourists alike plan their trips around the South Island.

Barbara

Tuesday 7th of November 2023

What about the Pride of Invercargill - QUEEN'S PARK???

Jon Algie

Wednesday 8th of November 2023

It got a quick mention. I'll have to get back down there and see it properly though -- I didn't know it was so popular!

Sandy

Sunday 5th of November 2023

U didn't mention queens park or Anderson park.

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