Getting Oriented in Otago, Invercargill, and Stewart Island

The region is bordered by the snowcapped Southern Alps to the west and a string of golden, albeit chilly, beaches to the east. The north is met by the wide Canterbury Plains and the south by the timeless Catlins region. The two major hubs of civilization in the "deep south" are both coastal cities: Dunedin to the east and Invercargill to the south. The Otago Peninsula stretches east from "Dunners" into the Pacific and is home to the Royal Albatross and yellow-eyed penguins. Take the winding coastal route south from Dunedin to explore the Catlins, where farms and forest meet the sea. Invercargill is flat and doesn't feel particularly coastal, as you can't see the sea from within the city. The southern port town of Bluff is the departure point for Stewart Island, across Foveaux Strait.

  • Dunedin. A university town, Dunedin has the austerity that old stone academic buildings lend a city. At the same time, it has the fresh, creative brio of young academics (aka partying 20-year-olds). The backdrop is a busy port, clanging and squealing with massive international freighters, while across the harbor, albatross chicks learn to fly, and penguins waddle anxiously past sea lions.
  • Invercargill. Cast your gaze upward! The architecture of Invercargill is a treat to behold. Due to its proximity to the sea, "Invers" has been called the "City of Water and Light." The wide flat roads of downtown and the enormous sweep of nearby Oreti Beach were perfect training grounds for homegrown hero Burt Munro (motorcycle land speed record holder).
  • Stewart Island. If your hand represents the island, your pinky fingernail would be the amount that is actually inhabited. Roads link the main township of Oban at Halfmoon Bay, to the other "neighborhoods"—a few homes nestled around adjoining bays. Beaches are pristine; the sea is crystal green and bountiful. Flowers spill from grounded dories. Beyond town is wilderness teeming with wonderful birds.

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