Invercargill, the most southerly city in New Zealand, was built in the late 19th and early 20th century, and its wide streets and century old buildings give the visitor a unique feeling of stepping back in time to when business was conducted in a more sedate and considered manner and the streets were (figuratively) paved with Central Otago gold. Invercargill is the main centre of the Southland region, and the service city for the farms of the fertile Southland plains. It is also the most westerly city in New Zealand, due to the South Island's south-west and north-east axis.
Invercargill is named after William Cargill, Superintendent of Otago Province from 1853 to 1859, when Southland was part of Otago Province.
Many of the central city streets are named after rivers of Scotland and northern England.
InterCity runs daily services between Invercargill and Gore and Queenstown, with transfers to/from other places. Catch-a-Bus provides a minibus service from Dunedin twelve times a week and will pick you up at your door; they also have a less frequent service from Queenstown.
Heading south from Dunedin you can follow State Highway 1 to Invercargill, taking about two and a half hours. Alternatively you can turn off SH 1 at Balclutha and follow the Southern Scenic Route, often called SH 92, through the Catlins. While only half an hour longer to drive, you might allow a day for this trip at there's plenty of natural attractions to see.
From Queenstown, Invercargill is about two and a half hours south on SH 6.
Invercargill Airport is about 3 km from Invercargill's Central Business District. It is served by Air New Zealand with flights from Christchurch and Wellington. A flight from Christchurch to Invercargill takes about an hour in a turboprop aircraft. On a clear day the flight is spectacular, with the Southern Alps to the west of the flight path. If flying south to Invercargill be sure to request a window seat on the right or starboard side of the aircraft (request port or left if flying out to Christchurch.) Mount Cook, which is visible about half way through the flight, is merely the biggest of the many massive peaks of the Southern Alps. A direct flight from Wellington takes around 2 and a half hours.
There are four bus routes serving the city. Buses run every 45 minutes between 6:45am and 6:00pm on weekdays and between 10:30am and 3:00pm on a Saturday.
Because of its southerly location, Invercargill's a good place to view the aurora australis or Southern Lights, unless you fancy an expensive and uncomfortable sojourn on one of the New Zealand Subantarctic Islands. It's not ideally located for seeing them and travellers should not expect a display every night, but the magnetic pole's offset helps and it's certainly a lot cheaper than taking a boat into Antarctic waters. However, the city's night skies are not exactly dark, so you might want to take a flight or boat to nearby Stewart Island or just drive out into the surrounding countryside.
Central business district
The central business district is bounded by Leven, Tay, Daveron, and Gala streets, and the main activity is centred on the intersection of Esk and Kelvin streets. Esk Street is the main shopping street, running from Don Street to a little east of Kelvin Street. The west end of Esk Street is anchored by Wachner Place, while the main pedestrian area ends at about the Invercargill City Council offices midway between Kelvin and Deveron streets.
- 1 Bank Corner (the intersection of Tay/The Crescent and Dee/Clyde streets, located just south of Wachner Place). features three architecturally wonders from the turn of the 20th century. These three bank buildings no longer house the banks they were built for but it is worth admiring. In the middle of the roundabout is The Trooper's Memorial which honours those who died during the Boer War in South Africa.
- 2 Queen’s Park. is on the northern edge of the central business district. This large Edwardian styled city park has a lot of amenities including the Southland Museum and Art Gallery, the Observatory, Queen’s Park Golf Club, rose gardens, duck ponds, an excellent children’s playground, a bird aviary, and a zoo housing introduced species to New Zealand. It is quite easy to spend half a day exploring this 81 hectare park.
- Southland Fire Service Museum, Jed and Spey streets. Houses several fire engines and other fire fighting items. Generally open Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday and the admission is a gold coin.
- Southland Museum and Art Gallery, Gala St. You can see live tuatara, a reptile that has been around since the time of the dinosaurs.
- Wachner Place. is a civic open area that captures the sunshine nicely and has become a place to sit and people watch. It also is the location of the central toilets and features showers which are open to the public to use.
Invercargill has established itself as a motoring mecca on the basis of being the home of Burt Munro, record-setting motorcyclist. Along with a statue of Burt in his "World's Fastest Indian" at the south end of Queens Park, there are also some great museums:
- 3 Classic Motorcycle Mecca, 25 Tay St. Huge collection of old and new motorcycles over two floors. The cafe at the front is one of the fanciest in town. $25 ($40 combo).
- 4 Bill Richardson's Transport World, Woodlands-Invercargill Highway (eastern extension of Tay St). 7 halls of classic vehicles and machinery plus all sorts of add-ons like a huge petrol pump collection, a cinema and a play room. $25 ($40 combo).
- 5 E Hayes & Sons - The World's Fastest Indian, 168 Dee St. This hardware/gift store has amassed a collection of cars and motorcycles that they have put on display between the aisles. The highlights are a couple of Burt Munro's record-setting Indian motorcycles. Free.
- 6 Demolition World, Bain St (a little southeast of town). 10AM-5PM, to 1PM Sat, closed Sun. This demolition business has built a bizarre village in their backyard out of junk and mannequins, also filled with birds and their droppings. Has to be explored to be believed. $2.
- Buster Crabb, 326 Dee Street, ☎ . Steaks, wines and beers.
- Birchwood Manor Motel, 189 Tay St. Some rooms have spas.
- Bushy Point Homestay, 197 Grant Road, Otatara. Eco-friendly homestay on private reserve. Peaceful and quiet. Predator control in place to ensure good bird numbers. Watch birds without having to drive anywhere.
- Tower Lodge Motel, 119 Queens Drive. Suit families or individuals.
- 1 Victoria Railway Hotel, 3 Leven St. Landmark building in the town centre built in 1896, a reminder of the days when Invercargill had trains from Christchurch. $145.
Invercargill can be a base to explore southern New Zealand.
- Bluff – a small town about 30 km south of Invercargill, at the bottom of the South Island, and the closest place on the mainland to Antarctica
- Stewart Island is New Zealand's third largest island and is visible from Invercargill and many parts of surrounding Southland. You can either fly from Invercargill Airport or take a ferry from Bluff.
- The Catlins
- Mataura – on State Highway 1 heading north-east
- Fiordland, Milford Sound, Queenstown
|Routes through Invercargill|
|Gore ← Mataura ←||E S||→ Bluff|
|Queenstown ← Kingston ← Junction ←||N S||→ END|