New Zealand travel is best done by road and the south of the South Island boasts some of the country’s most spectacular and unique scenery.

If snow-skiing isn’t on the agenda, the best time to explore southern New Zealand is late spring through to autumn. One of the best things you can do when planning your New Zealand travel is to research the route you intend to take. Travelling times in many areas can take longer than anticipated because of the terrain to be covered and the amount and types of traffic on the roads.

On the route to Milford Sound, in Fiordland, it is recommended tourists avoid driving and take a bus service instead – the scenery is captivating, the road challenging in the best of weather and in spring, avalanche danger is often high.

Tips For New Zealand Travel By Road

Winding roads mean passing opportunities can be limited and drivers in a hurry often take risks that cause accidents. The open-road speed limit is 100km/h.

When travelling during the winter especially, keep an eye on the weather forecast and road conditions. If you intend to be in a high-country or alpine area be sure to carry chains. New Zealand does not apply salt to the roads and rain and snow can quickly turn to ice.

Take advantage of the many public rest areas and lookout spots spread throughout the countryside – they allow drivers to safely pull off the road and rejoin the traffic.

The Southern Scenic Route

The Southern Scenic Route, in the south of the South Island of New Zealand, links several coastal highways. Beginning in the Scottish-influenced city of Dunedin, it takes travellers south along the eastern coast, through the Catlins to the south coast and Southland. From there head west then north to Fiordland where the route ends at Te Anau, gateway to the Fiordland National Park and a two-hour drive from Milford Sound, one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations.

Things to See Travelling the Southern Scenic Route in New Zealand

New Zealand travel at its best: discover rare birds and mammals at home in their natural habitat:

Hector’s Dolphins
Yellow-eyed penguins
Fur seals and elephant seals

There’s also some amazing natural attractions including:

Catlins waterfalls
Cathedral Caves
160 million-year-old fossilised forest at Curio Bay
Glow worms
Lake Manapouri
Lake Te Anau
Doubtful Sound
Milford Sound

Things to Do During Southern New Zealand Travel

Short walks
Multi-day tramps
Jet boating
Boat cruises
Mountain biking
Horse trekking

Places to Stay During Southern New Zealand Travel

There’s plenty of accommodation throughout the southern region to suit most travellers and budgets:

Camping grounds
Home Stays
Bed and Breakfasts
Backpacker lodges

It’s important to note that tourists travelling and sleeping in a van or campervan are not allowed to freedom camp if there are no toilet facilities in the vehicle.

New Zealand Travel Driving Advice

Southern New Zealand travel by road incorporates sealed highways but in some parts driving conditions can be challenging, especially through the Catlins.

Here are some things you can expect to find when driving:

Miles of single-lane highways with narrow shoulders
Hilly, winding routes
A lot of stock and freight trucks sharing the roads
Changeable weather, even in summer, which can bring snow especially in the mountain passes
Gravel roads
Single lane bridges
Large farm machinery, such as tractors and balers, travelling slowly on country roads
Flocks of sheep or herds of cows being moved


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