New Zealand- Chapter Seven- Southern Scenic Route

Invercargill’s signature sight- The Water Tower

After six days jam-packed with amazing sights, I woke up on day seven and had some errands I had to take care of before heading out into the wilds of Fiordland National Park. It was a good thing I was in Invercargill, the southernmost ‘large’ city in the country (53,000 qualifies as large in New Zealand) and capital of Southland province.

Civic Theatre

The guidebooks are not particularly kind to Invercargill. It’s a functional town, a hub of services for a large region. The town itself does’t have a lot of sights, but does have some nice pedestrian malls and walking areas down near the city center. I didn’t have a lot of time to check downtown Invercargill out, but I did have a nice stroll around on a brisk morning. It’s not a terribly exciting place, not a place I would make a specific trip for, but it is a pleasant and inviting place, although that’s not surprising in New Zealand.


I’ve been told Invercargill’s Southland Museum & Art Gallery is excellent, but I had a limited amount of time there, so I headed south to the little town of Bluff.

Bluff is Invercargill’s port, and is famous for a few things. First, although not the exact southernmost point of the South Island (that, as mentioned in my last post, is at Slope Point) there is still a famous sign milage post at Sterling Point, a beauty spot a kilometer or so from the town’s center. This is a photo stop for many on their tour of the South Island.

Bluff is also famous for it’s oysters, reputed to be some of the best in the world. I don’t really like oysters (it’s a texture issue) and it was still (in my opinion) too early in the morning to be experimental eating, I elected to drive up to the viewpoint on top of 265 meter (870 foot) high Bluff Hill, which has an excellent viewing platform on top of it. There were expansive views over the harbor to the north, and Stewart Island to the South. (I would try the oysters a few days later at a buffet in Queenstown)

Having taken care of my business in Invercargill, I left the city heading west, toward Te Anau, where I had booked a hostel for the night, and Manapouri, where my much anticipated cruise of Doubtful Sound would leave from tomorrow. I was following, as I had the previous day, the Southern Scenic Route, a collection of state highways connecting Dunedin to Queenstown, and passing through some of the country’s prettiest landscapes.

The route forms a oblong ‘U” shape, and I was traveling the southwestern portion of the ‘U’. This section didn’t contain a ton of famous sights, but there was beauty around every corner. The skies at the bottom of the South Island seem so huge, an almost edge-of-the-world feel, as I described in my last post.

My first stop was in the cute little town of Riverton, the largest along this portion of the route, where I parked at a seaside park and fixed my lunch out of the back of my campervan. The ability to self-cater out of the small kitchen inside the campervans back door not only saved me money, but afforded me the opportunity to picnic in some beautiful areas.

The day was typically New Zealand, sunny for a while, then suddenly windy, then overcast with a few light sprinkles, then back to sunny, all within a short period of time. It was nice and sunny for lunch in Riverton, but by the time I had made it to the short detour to the pint-sized little hamlet of Cozy Nook (click here for the short post I did on Cozy Nook during the trip) the cloudy skies were rolling in and the surf was pounding the shoreline.

It has begun to sprinkle when I reached the beautiful overlook at McCracken’s Rest, the southwesternmost point on the Southern Scenic Route.

Probably the most photographed sight on this stretch of road is the Clifden Suspension Bridge. The single lane bridge was opened in 1899, first for horse & cart traffic, but later was used for vehicular traffic as well. It was returned to pedestrian only traffic in 1978, when the building of the Manapouri Power Plant necessitated a bridge that could handle a much larger flow of traffic. The bridge has since been closed to even pedestrian traffic, following a 2009 report by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust that identified specific damage to it probably caused by earthquakes.

As the skies began to clear, I was able to catch my first glimpse of the mountains of the south-central part of the South Island as I headed north. The day was clearing nicely, and I was my first chance to photograph the mountains, since my day at Tekapo earlier in the trip had been almost completely washed out by rain. As I’d done many times already, and would continue to do for the next three weeks, I pulled to the side of the road frequently to take pictures.

New Zealand’s roads aren’t really designed for pulling over for photo stops, as I would find out over and over again during the trip, but it being off-season, the traffic on the road. The only ones who seemed to mind were the fields of sheep, as I was interrupting their grazing.

A few more miles down the road and I came to the Manapouri Lake Control Structure, one part of the controversial Manapouri Power Station scheme. The structure helps divert water from the Mararoa River in to Lake Manapouri when it is needed for purposes of power generation.

 I finally made it to the small town of Manapouri in the late afternoon. My first stop was the offices of the company Real Journeys, where I checked in for my overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound, which was to depart the next morning.
I also drove along the shores of the beautifully scenic, and historic, Lake Manapouri. The lake has been revered since the arrival of the Maori for it’s incredible biodiversity. It’s that biodiversity, and it’s physical beauty, that helped save the lake during the 1970s “Save Manapouri Campaign”

The New Zealand government had come up with a plan in the late 1950s to generate more power for mining operations by raising the water level of the lake 30 feet, with would have allowed it to merge into one lake with Lake Te Anau further to the north. The plan would have generated an amazing amount of power, but would have resulted in the destruction of the beautiful area between the two lakes, as well as putting the survival of some of the unique wildlife that calls Lake Manapouri home. 

In 1970, despite over 10% of Kiwis signing a petition calling for the plan to be abandoned, the government decided to push forward with it anyway. Not willing to concede to the greed administration of the time, the New Zealand electorate took matters into their own hands and made saving the lake the one of the signature issues in the 1972 election, where the Labour Government of Norman Kirk defeated the entrenched National Party. Kirk had given his support to the plan to scrap the plan to raise the lake, and in 1973, he appointed the Guardians of Lake Manapouri, Monowai & Te Anau, a six member board responsible for protecting and overseeing the interests of the lake. The campaign is considered one of the first successful environmental campaigns in the world, and has led to many of New Zealand’s current environmental policies, which are of the highest standards in the world.

I finally made it into Te Anau as the sun was setting behind the mountains. I dropped my stuff at my hostel and then walked down to the lakeside to shoot some sunset shots. It was a fitting end to the day, a beautiful sunset behind the mountains over a picturesque lake. 

My Day Seven Photos – Flickr   Facebook

Other Links:
Southern Scenic Route
Invercargill i-Site
Clifden Suspension Bridge – New Zealand Historic Places Trust
“Damn the Dam” song
Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand- Save Manapouri Campaign

The New Zealand 2012 Series-
New Zealand 2012 by the Numbers
Chapter One: Christchurch in One Word: Broken
Photo Essay- Sunrise outside Christchurch
Chapter Two- The Banks Peninsula & Hector’s Dolphins
Chapter Three- Washed Out at Tekapo
Photo Essay- Moeraki Boulders Sunrise
Chapter Four- The Secret of Dunedin
Photo Essay- Speight’s Brewery Tour, Dunedin
Chapter Five- The Otago Peninsula
Photo Essay- Otago Peninsula Wildlife
Chapter Six- The Edge of the World in the Catlins
Chapter Seven- Southern Scenic Route
Chapter Eight- Cruising Doubtful Sound (Pt.1)
Photo Essay- Lake Manapouri Cruise

One Response to “New Zealand- Chapter Seven- Southern Scenic Route”

  1. Kate Clarke says:

    Stunning photos, Erik! The south island is just so photogenic! I can't wait to get back there in the summer 🙂 

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