In order to thoroughly complete our road trip through New Zealand, we made a relatively last-minute decision to add the town of Invercargill to our itinerary. Since we’ve seen the northern tip of New Zealand, we thought it was only fitting that we visit the southern end as well.
Maybe it was just our timing in visiting – just after Christmas – but Invercargill seems like a town that is a little bigger than it needs to be. The city center was full of streets lined with shops but very few people walking around, even on a beautiful, sunny day. Many shops were also permanently closed.
Unassumingly amongst the shops is a Starbucks that lays claim to being the southern-most Starbucks in the world, at a latitude of 46:25:00 S. You wouldn’t know it from its normal appearance other than the landmark signpost inside and a small sign on the wall. It was a nice change of pace for New Zealand for a landmark to not be packed with tourists. The caramel macchiato was good but tasted a little different from usual; maybe it’s the southern hemisphere water.
Invercargill is New Zealand’s southern-most city and even further south is Bluff, the southern-most town. As for the actual southern-most point, you’d have to venture into the remote Catlins or Stewart Island. At this signpost, we were almost equidistant from the equator and the south pole. We are pretty sure that the post is incorrect, as Cape Reinga should be to the west of Wellington rather than the east.
Other than this very popular signpost, Bluff is also famous for its oysters. Unfortunately they were out of season when we visited. They were likely out of our budget in any case.
Another few hours to the East brought us to the city of Dunedin. Dunedin doesn’t seem to get as much hype from international travelers as say Queenstown or Christchurch, but we found plenty to do here in the Edinburgh-inspired city. The Victorian and Edwardian architecture (says Wikipedia) transports you directly to Europe. Fun fact (also supplied by Wikipedia): Dunedin city covers more than 3,300 square kilometers, which is larger than the state of Rhode Island (Insia’s home state); even this small country can have cities larger than Rhode Island.
At the small but delightful Chinese Garden, we sipped on tea and learned about the role of the Chinese during Dunedin’s gold-rush era. It took some time for the Chinese to be fully welcomed and assimilated into New Zealand. At one point, they shifted their businesses from laundry to fish & chips shops, which explains why there are there are still so many combination fish & chip-and-Chinese restaurants today. Most of the garden was built in Shanghai, a sister city of Dunedin, then transported and assembled in the city center.
To add to Dunedin’s list of surprises, the city is also home to the world’s steepest street as recorded by the Guinness World Records – Baldwin Street. The steepest portion is closed to vehicles except for those of residents, but you can walk up or take the set of stone stairs on the side. We walked up the 350 meters and called it Insia’s cardio for the week.
Of course it wouldn’t be a stop on a New Zealand road trip if we didn’t venture into some nature. We did the short Tunnel Beach walk, which leads to a tunnel through rock down to the beach.
On New Year’s day, we kicked off a year of healthy eating by visiting the cafe at Cadbury World – chocolate has antioxidants, right? Before researching, we had no idea Cadbury was even produced outside of the UK, other than the Hershey’s version in the US. Dunedin is home to a Cadbury factory that is in the process of being shut down, with the company moving operations to Australia. However, it seems that Cadbury World cafe will remain so there will be no shortage of chocolate here (unless cocoa really does become extinct in 2050).
We also visited Speight’s Brewery for a tour and tasting. Speight’s beers are widely seen across bars and pubs in New Zealand, especially the gold medal ale. We tasted the three founders’ favorite beers but our favorite was actually the Speight’s cider. Speight’s popularized the idea of the Southern Man, who rides horses, wears flannel, and drinks lager.
One of the things on our New Zealand bucket list was to see penguins in their natural habitat. Luckily we could do just that on the Otago Peninsula just east of Dunedin center. At the Royal Albatross Center, we saw groups of Little Blue Penguins – the smallest species of penguin – come ashore after a long day of fishing at sea. They waddled together past a hoard of seagulls to their homes. Some went directly into their nests while others hung around, drying their feathers or showing off for photographers.
About an hour north of Dunedin, we visited the Moeraki Boulders. These boulders are concretions formed over millions of years from mud, silt, and calcite. Most boulders were a smooth round shape, although many were also cracked, a few to the point of opening to reveal a hollow inside. While the boulders were interesting to see, I think we actually had more fun watching everyone trying to capture their perfect Instagram.
Next: the last leg of our South Island road trip – Christchurch, a city still recovering from a massive 2011 earthquake and Kaikoura, where we are excited to try some fresh crayfish (despite being a little let down in Sydney).