Invercargill travel guide

Invercargill is the southernmost and westernmost city in New Zealand. Not to mention it’s one of the southernmost cities in the world!

It’s the capital of the Southland region and is known for its charming character and welcoming atmosphere.

Not only that, but Invercargill is famous for its coastal landscapes, quirky museums and surprigingly diverse food scene… so it’s got a lot to offer.

Tourists and locals alike love this city, and although it’s out of the way, it’s worth the extra effort to get there. For such a small city, it is home to a number of worthwhile activities and natural attractions.

This Invercargill guide will take you through everything you need to know for your trip to this little city.

Father and daughter in front of a yellow mini at Bill Richardson Transport World in Invercargill.
Transport World is just one of many museums in the area. Photo: Bill Richardson Transport World.

An Overview of Invercargill

Population size~57,000
RegionSouthland
Area60 sq km
Elevation21 metres above sea level
Main attractionsMuseums, food scene, epic landscapes, the Southern lights, beach and Queens Park
Neighbouring destinationsBluff, The Catlins, Dunedin, Queenstown and Te Anau
Wall painted with stunning and colourful murals in Invercargill.
Invercargill is home to a number of stunning street art murals, painted by artists from all around the world.

The History of Invercargill

Māori people inhabited this area for centuries, living traditional lives in the deep south. As with most of the South Island, Ngāi Tahu was the main iwi (tribe) in the region.

The first Europeans merely passed by on ships in 1770, on the expedition led by Captain James Cook. They then passed by Invercargill again a couple of years later, until European settlers began to arrive in the late 1700s.

Historically, whale oil drew people to New Zealand, and Invercargill was no different, owing to its cold oceans and significant whale population. The first on-shore whaling stations were built in the 1820s.

Much of this region was bought from the local Māori population in 1853 in an agreement called the ‘Murihiku Purchase’. The deal was made by the New Zealand Company.

After this deal had taken place, officials began to plan the establishment of a new township. Once founded in 1856, Invercargill underwent several changes including an increase in population.

Then in 1930, Invercargill was made a city after it started to grow rapidly.

You’ll find plenty of classic architecture in Invercargill. Photo: itravelNZ.

The Geography of Invercargill

Invercargill is located along the Waihopai River which then runs into the New River Estuary. This is part of the reason why Invercargill is home to plenty of birdlife.

Located in the Southland Plains, this city is home to rich farmland which is bordered by large areas of conservation land and marine reserves.

It’s one of the flattest areas of the country, so you won’t find any mountain ranges or fjords in the immediate area. However, there are some beautiful beaches as the New River Estuary flows out into the Foveaux Strait.

Though there aren’t too many geographical sites to visit, but the region’s coastline is absolutely spectacular. Gemstone Beach, in nearby Orepuki, is a favourite among travellers.

Unlike other areas of New Zealand, Invercargill is located in a ‘low risk’ area for seismic activity. Earthquakes are pretty uncommon here, and usually, if one has been recorded it’s of very low magnitude.

A beach with white sands, a few scattered rocks, and calm blue waters where seabirds waddle and play on the waves.
Photo: arndbergmann.

Things to do in Invercargill

For a small city, Invercargill packs a surprising punch.

Top activities and attractions include:

Unique museums

There are plenty of memorable museums in the city, including the He Waka Tuia Art + Museum, Bill Richardson Transport World and Classic Motorcycle Mecca.

Quirky attractions

If you’re looking for something totally unique, check out Dig This (our personal favourite) and/or Demolition World.

Green areas

Explore some of Invercargill’s green areas, including Queens Park and Sandy Point.

Historical buildings

Check out the Invercargill Water Tower, the Civic Theatre, and St. Mary’s Basilica. All are very impressive.

Grab a bite to eat

Choose from one of the local restaurants or head along to the local farmers’ market (known as the Southern Farmers Market) open Sundays from 9.30 am until 1.30 pm.

Try a chocolate making class

The Seriously Good Chocolate Company offers classes and factory tours. Yum!

Admire some of the local landscapes

There are plenty of gorgeous places to visit nearby including beaches (like Oreti Beach and Gemstone Beach) , reserves and bays.

See the southern lights

This is one of the best places in Aotearoa to see the southern lights, so keep your eyes peeled!

A woman in yellow safety jacket and headset operating a digger or excavator.
Ride a real digger at Dig This! Photo: Dig This.

Places to eat in Invercargill

There are plenty of great places to eat in New Zealand’s Southernmost city. Here are some of the most popular options:

Buster Crabb

Buster Crabb is known for its innovative and extensive menu, which has a distinct focus on steak. Known for its hearty portions and fantastic customer service, this isn’t a place you want to miss.

The Saucy Chef Restaurant & Bar

The Saucy Chef Restaurant & Bar was Invercargill’s first-ever Heineken Bar, but that’s not all it has to offer. If you dine here, you’ll be treated to an ambient setting with an open gas fire and delicious food.

Speights Ale House

Situated on the city’s main street, Speights Ale House is known for its unique setting, character, and award-winning traditional ales. Not to mention the food is delish.

KOJI Japanese Restaurant

If you’re in the mood for something different then head to KOJI. This Japaneses restaurant is famous for its tasty sushi, teppanyaki, curries and bento boxes.

Waxy’s Irish Pub

Known for its wonderful food, great atmosphere, and live music, Waxy’s Irish Pub is the place to go if you’re after a unique (and very Irish) experience.

A group of women friends on the table of a restaurant, clinking glasses before their next drink in the Tuatara Cafe Bar.
Invercargill has a number of great options for kai (food). Photo: Great South.

The Best Places to Stay in Invercargill

Some choose to pass through Invercargill as they travel from the Catlins to Te Anau.

However, for the best experience, you’ll want to spend at least two days (one night) there.

Here are a few of our top picks when it comes to accommodation options:

Budget: Colonial Motel

Offering a variety of apartments sleeping up to six people, this motel is perfect for families or groups travelling together. Each apartment has a fully equipped kitchen, and once the cost is split, Colonial Motel becomes incredibly affordable.

Mid-range: Balmoral Lodge Motel

Balmoral Lodge Motel has studios with kitchenettes and standard rooms. The property is located in central Invercargill and provides access to laundry facilities too.

Luxury: The Lodges at Transport World

The Lodges has a vatiery of luxury apartments sleeping up to four people. Each boasting a fully-equipped kitchen, spacious living area, garden access, and air conditioning, these apartments have a lot to offer.

Self-contained accommodation: Kiwiana Art Apartment

The Kiwiana Art Apartment is a spacious two-bedroom apartment. It is furnished beautifully and sleeps up to four guests, plus it’s just a 12-minute walk from the city centre.

A hotel room in The Lodges with a nice, comfy bed beside a huge window.
The Lodges. Photo: Bill Richardson Transport World.

Nearby Towns and Attractions to Visit

Whether you’re looking for the next stop on your southern road trip, or a nearby day trip, we recommend checking out the following locations.

Bluff

Bluff is a small coastal town that’s just a short drive from Invercargill. It’s home to delicious seafood, epic hiking trails, and breathtaking scenery.

One of the main things to do here is to catch the ferry over to Stewart Island. This island is famous for its native birdlife including the kiwi and awesome walking trails.

Bluff is also the point of departure for a shark cage snorkel experience.

Bluff is a 20-minute drive from Invercargill.

A huge wall in Bluff painted with colourful murals as part of the street art exhibition.
The South Sea Spray street art exhibition in Bluff. Photo: Tourism New Zealand.

The Catlins

The Catlins is a coastal region that’s home to pristine beaches, native forests, and beautiful waterfalls. This part of New Zealand is full of rugged beauty and it’s definitely a place you should visit if you’re staying in Invercargill or headed to Dunedin.

You’ll find plenty of incredible places to visit in this area too. These include McLean Falls, Tokata Nugget Point, Slope Point, and Tautuku Bay.

The Catlins are a 1-hour drive from Invercargill.

>>> Explore The Catlins.

A white lighthouse on top of a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
The Nugget Point Lighthouse attracts many visitors to the Catlins.

Te Anau

Te Anau is a gorgeous lakeside town that’s situated right on the border of Fiordland National Park. Home to incredible tramping trails (including three Great Walks), glow worm caves, and Lake Te Anau, this town is a tourism gem.

Many people choose to visit on their way to the iconic Milford Sound, but in our opinion, you’ll want more time to explore this incredible town. So be sure to book a nights’ accommodation or two.

Te Anau is a 2-hour drive from Invercargill.

>>> Explore Te Anau and Fiordland.

Wooden pontoon extending to the calm waters of Lake Te Anau.
The Te Anau Jetty in Fiordland.

Dunedin

Dunedin is known as the ‘Wildlife Capital of New Zealand’ and it’s easy to see why. The city and its surrounding area are home to a variety of wildlife including penguins, albatross, fur seals and sea lions, among others.

Boasting historic buildings (including a castle), rugged coastlines,and pristine beaches, the second largest city in the South Island has a lot to offer.

Dunedin is a 2.5-hour drive from Invercargill.

>>> Explore Dunedin.

Tourists dipping in the swimming pool while the sea waves crash adjacent to it.
The St Clair Hot Salt Water Pool is a great place to spend a Dunner stunner day. Photo: DunedinNZ.

Queenstown

Queenstown is one of the most popular destinations in the South Island. It is home to spectacular landscapes, amazing wineries, adventure activities, and fantastic walking trails, it’s got something for everyone.

Some of the best attractions in this resort town include the Skyline gondola, Kiwi Park, Shotover Jet, and the TSS Earnlaw on Lake Wakatipu [coupon code NZTT].

Queenstown is a 2.5-hour drive from Invercargill.

>>> Explore Queenstown.

Overlooking view of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, and Bob's Peak slightly dipped with sunrise.
Wintertime in Queenstown.

Offering stunning landscapes, unique museums, and good food, Invercargill is a great place to spend some time as you explore the southern part of NZ.

From beautiful beaches to lush gardens, there’s something for everyone in this southern city!

Although it’s not the first place that often comes to mind when visiting New Zealand, it’s definitely a hidden gem.