Otago, Invercargill, and Stewart Island Feature

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The Southern Scenic Route—Catlins Sections

The Southern Scenic Route, 440 km (273 mi) long, follows the coast south of Dunedin, picks up the highway to Balclutha, and swings around the Catlins coast before pushing through Invercargill to Milford Sound. The Catlins stretch (200 km, or 125 mi) is a treat, although some side roads are rough. Split your journey over two days. The Southern Scenic Route brochure, available at the Dunedin visitor center, describes the sights; attractions are signposted. Visit www.southernscenicroute.co.nz.

When you leave the highway at Balclutha, you'll notice that the native bush is dense and relatively untouched. This, coupled with rich birdsong, gives the countryside a tropical quality.

The first stop is Nugget Point. Its Māori name, Tokatâ, means "rocks standing up out of water." Wildlife abounds, including yellow-eyed penguins, fur and elephant seals, and sea lions. The town at Nugget Point is Kaka Point. There are several places to stay the night, and you should spend time at the "hide" observing the yellow-eyed penguins coming in from the sea. If you want a coffee served with an excellent sea view, stop in the Point at Kaka Point. Inland is Owaka, the Catlins' only town. With a population of roughly 400, Owaka has a cluster of shops, a Department of Conservation Field Centre, a small museum, and basic services.

At the settlement of Papatowai, there's a convenient picnic spot behind a tidal inlet. Here you can enjoy rock pools with bush on one side and coastline on the other. Just south of here, stop at the Florence Hill Lookout. The view of Tautuku Bay is one of the best coastal views in New Zealand. There's a 30-minute loop walk onto the estuary at Tautuku Bay.

Farther on is Curio Bay, home to a petrified forest visible at low tide. From Curio Bay a back road runs over to Slope Point, mainland New Zealand's southernmost point. Heavy rains or unusually high tides can make the road impassable. Slope Point is a bit of a disappointment—just some farmland sloping to the sea. However, it gets plenty of visitors. There is no access during the lambing season in September and October. If you skip Slope Point and continue on the main road, stop at the general store in Waikawa, where the art of the meat pie has been perfected.

By now the rugged Catlins landscape smoothes out into gentle green hills. From the township of Fortrose the roads are straight once more across the wide flats of Southland; before you know it, you've reached Invercargill. The road continues westward to Tuatapere, the self-proclaimed "sausage capital of New Zealand." Stops along the way include a surf at Colac Bay, a try at the "Bull Ring" in Dusty's Pub, and a tour of Cosy Nook.

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