Welcome To The Southern Scenic Route


The Southern Scenic Route


This journey between Queenstown and Dunedin is approximately 610 kilometres (km) of natural and cultural attractions laid out one after the other – wildlife viewing, short walks, mountain-biking, fishing, hunting, boating, camping, tramping and caving – making it an ideal drive for those with time to explore. Alternative inland roads provide a more direct path between the main centres. However, the Southern Scenic Route (SSR) is a journey that allows access to deserted beaches, lush rainforest, pristine lakes and stunning mountain vistas.


The Southern Scenic Route was originally conceived by the people of Tuatapere, Western Southland, who, in 1985, decided to share the delights of southern New Zealand with all those who took the time to venture down their way. Their determination and perseverance has created a wonderful holiday experience and entertained admiring visitors from all over the world.

The Southern Scenic Route is sealed, but roads to some attractions may not be. Some points of interest may be across private land, and access is by courtesy of the landowner. On unsealed roads, slow down and drive to the conditions. If you come across sheep and cattle being moved along roads, please drive slowly and show consideration.

Important Information


The Southern Scenic Route is indicated by brown signs with the symbol below.



• Please ensure you have enough fuel in your vehicle as distances between fuel stops can be large.

• Dress for the weather and be prepared for it to change.

• Carry and apply insect repellent particularly in the Hauroko and Borland areas.

• Keep at least 20 metres away from wildlife.

• Even the easiest walks need safety sense - be prepared!

• Stay on the track and remain behind any barriers.

• Check tide times before you start.

• Enjoy your journey and please travel safely and with care.


Freedom Camping

There are many camping grounds with excellent facilities along the Southern Scenic Route. We recommend that you stay in Holiday Parks, DOC camping grounds or other designated areas. Freedom camping is not permitted outside these areas without the express permission of councils and landowners. Please obey signs and, if in doubt, ask a local person or information centre. For further information see: www.camping.org.nz.


Help us protect our people, land, water and native species, so that these treasures can be shared now and in the future. You can contribute to recycling in New Zealand during your travels by supporting sustainable products and businesses, and making a dedicated effort to use the many recycling stations.


The scenery along the Southern Scenic Route is breathtaking, and this experience is amplified when walking the various tracks. Take a leisurely day walk or go bush for a few days on a Great Walk – there are options to suit your level of fitness and experience. Visit a Department of Conservation office or www.doc.govt.nz for further information on tracks.


To find and book accommodation please visit the regional websites. 

Mountain Biking

Whether you’re looking for an adrenalin pumping technical track or an easy family ride, the Southern Scenic Route features tracks that are ideal for two wheeled exploring. Some tracks are designed for both walkers and bikers, so please keep to your left and use your bell or call out when passing.


The Southern Scenic Route traverses some of the finest trout fishing spots in New Zealand. These waters include lakes Wakatipu, Te Anau and Manapouri, and the Mataura, Oreti, Mararoa, Waiau and Aparima rivers. Fishing licences are required to fish for trout and can be bought from sports/ fishing stores, Fish & Game offices in Dunedin or Invercargill, or online at: www.fishandgame.org.nz. Saltwater fishing is popular around the south coast with target species varying by location, from blue cod to tuna and shark. No fishing licence is required to catch sea fish; however there are strictly enforced bag limits which vary depending on the location.

Map of the Route

Southern Scenic Route Map


People of the South


Maori History

Maori have occupied the south of the South Island for approximately 1,000 years. Permanent settlements at Riverton/Aparima and Colac Bay/ Oraka were linked to a network of mahika kai: seasonal coastal camps that oral traditions say stretched around the south coast. In local dialect the ‘Ng’ as in Ngai Tahu is often replaced with a ‘K’ as in Kai Tahu. Kai Tahu whanui are the indigenous people of the southern islands of New Zealand. Waitaha iwi from Rarotonga were the first settlers and named the South Island Te Wai Pounamu meaning “the Greenstone Isle”, as well as prominent features such as Aoraki/Mount Cook. In the late 1500s Ka ti Mamoe arrived from the Wellington area. Soon after, they were followed across Cook Strait/ Te Moana a Raukawa by two powerful Ngai Tahu hapu/clan groupings, arriving over the space of two generations. By the mid eighteenth century the three had fused into one iwi. By 1800 there were about 20,000 people calling themselves Kai Tahu however there were still groupings of people, particularly in the south, who maintained a strong Ka ti Mamoe identity. Today, Kai Tahu people remain a strong tribe in the south; their influence being visible throughout the Southern Scenic Route.

European and Chinese History

The first European (Pakeha) visitors to the south were sealers. Whaling was the next industry, and Riverton/Aparima was established as a base by John Howell in 1836. As European explorers ventured inland they paved the way for pioneering farmers. In 1861, gold was discovered. Several gold rushes ensued with thousands of prospectors arriving, some from Australia and China, to exploit gold in the Shotover and Arrow rivers (amongst other places). Goldmining history, including Chinese settlements, can be found at several places including Arrowtown. Orepuki and Round Hill in the Longwoods hosted smaller gold rushes. Dunedin also benefited from the gold rush days, briefly becoming New Zealand’s largest town. Sawmills have been an important part of the south’s history. From axes and bullocks the industry developed sophisticated steam-powered haulers, locomotives and mills. The Owaka River was also a site of immense activity – in 1872 more timber left the Owaka River than any other South Island port. In the 1920s the mill at Port Craig was the largest in the country. Construction of a railway line from Balclutha began in 1879, reaching Owaka in 1896 and its final railhead at Tahakopa in 1915. In its wake followed sawmills, schools and farms. As the accessible forests were milled and burned, pioneer farmers turned the land to agricultural use. Hydro-electric development of the Waiau Valley began in 1925 raising the level of Lake Monowai for power generation. In 1971 the Manapouri hydro station was completed, diverting water from Lakes Te Anau and Manapouri to Doubtful Sound/ Patea and supplying power to the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter near Bluff.


Planning your Journey


The Southern Scenic Route is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace, with frequent breaks, short walks and overnight stays along the way. The following are estimated driving times around the route only. The SSR roads are fully sealed but some side-roads may be loose gravel and require more time and care. Motorists not familiar with country or unsealed roads are advised to allow additional travelling time. Cyclists should be prepared for frequent and substantial hill climbs at all stages, and slower times on unsealed roads.



Driving Time

Queenstown - Frankton

7 km

5 min

Frankton - Kingston

40 km

30 min

Kingston - Five Rivers

43 km

35 min

Five Rivers - Mossburn

20 km

15 min

Mossburn - Te Anau

60 km

45 min

Te Anau - Milford Sound/Piopiotahi

119 km

2 hr 20 min

Te Anau - Manapouri

22 km

15 min

Manapouri - Tuatapere

79 km

1 hr

Tuatapere - Riverton/Aparima

48 km

50 min

Riverton/Aparima - Invercargill

38 km

40 min

Invercargill – Bluff

30 km

25 min

Invercargill - Fortrose

46 km

50 min

Fortrose - Tokanui

13 km

10 min

Fortrose - Waikawa (inland route)

32 km

40 min

Fortrose - Waikawa (coastal route partly unsealed)

36 km

45 min

Waikawa - Papatowai

38 km

45 min

Papatowai - Owaka

26 km

30 min

Owaka - Kaka Point

17 km

15 min

Kaka Point - Balclutha

21 km

20 min

Balclutha - Taieri Mouth

50 km

1 hr

Taieri Mouth - Dunedin

35 km

45 min


Queenstown, Invercargill and Dunedin have airports with domestic flights arriving and departing daily from around New Zealand. Queenstown and Dunedin are also serviced by international flights travelling to and from Australia. Rental cars and campervans can be picked up and dropped off at these airports - contact rental companies for all the options.

Geology, Flora & Wildlife


The drive features a myriad of landscapes, shaped by natural processes in New Zealand’s young, but varied, geological history. Lakes Wakatipu, Te Anau and Manapouri were formed by the gouging action of huge glaciers, which then melted, creating lakes. Sandstone hills, formed 150 million years ago during uplifting and folding of the earth’s crust, are visible west of Tuatapere. Limestone rock outcrops and caves at Clifden were created by the streams. In The Catlins, distinctive parallel ridges and valleys show the Southland syncline.


Beech/tawhai forest dominates the Fiordland National Park and the Takitimu ranges. Other species present include kamahi and podocarps such as miro, rimu, kahikatea and totara. There is an abundance of ferns, mosses and perching plants due to the high volume of rainfall. The Catlins are clothed in rimu, kamahi, rata and beech/tawhai forest, making it the largest area of native forest on the South Island’s east coast.

Wildlife Viewing

The Southern Scenic Route provides opportunity to view some of New Zealand’s unique wildlife. Visitors need to appreciate that these animals are wild and approaching them may create danger for yourself and/or the animal. Please adhere to the protocols as outlined. All native animals are protected by law and many species are endangered, so simple rules are designed to enhance the experience for you and to protect wildlife.


Blue penguins/korora nest in burrows along the coastline. About 450 pairs of endangered yellow-eyed penguins/hoiho are found on the south-east coast. Designated viewing platforms and hides at Roaring Bay and Curio Bay are the best vantage points. Yellow eyed penguins/hoiho are extremely shy and vulnerable to disturbance. Please adhere to the guideline signs on site.