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Southland Area Guide

Earl Mountains reflected in Mirror Lakes.
Eglinton Valley - ©
Southland, New Zealand's southernmost province, contains some
of the country's most spectacular and isolated scenery, the world heritage area of Fiordland ranging over the rugged south west corner of the south island, and Rakiura National Park covering most of the country's third island, tiny Stewart Island, 32 kilometres off the south coast.

This diverse region encompasses the lake towns of Te Anau and Manapouri, the green rolling hills and farms of Eastern Southland and its service centre Gore and, to the south, the region's main city, Invercargill, and the port town of Bluff.

Te Anau lies on the shores of New Zealand's second largest lake, the multi-armed Lake Te Anau. The Milford Road begins here, meandering its way along the shores of the lake and continuing further north to Milford Sound, providing the only road access into Fiordland. The 119-kilometre road (part of state highway 94) is a destination in its own right, with many scenic stops along the way, the five-minute walk to Mirror Lakes providing reflected views of the Earl Mountains. Fiordland contains some of New Zealand's most well-known postcard views, including Milford Sound and Mitre Peak, and three of New Zealand's Great Walks, the Milford, Kepler and Routeburn hiking tracks.

Manapouri, a 20-minute drive south of Te Anau, is on the shores of one of New Zealand's deepest and most beautiful lakes. The area provided backdrop scenery for the Lord of the Rings movies, one unseasonable spring snowfall famously forcing filming to be transferred to the Manapouri Hall.

To the south lies Invercargill, the region's main centre and New Zealand's southernmost city. The city streets sprawl over the flat land at the head of the New River Estuary near the broad, sandy reaches of Oreti Beach, one of the country's few drive-on beaches.

Twenty-seven kilometres south of Invercargill is the fishing village and seaside port of Bluff, the country's oldest European settlement. The village fills up in April when visitors descend on the area for the Bluff Oyster and Southland Seafood Festival, a chance to sample the local delicacy, or take part in often hilarious oyster-eating or oyster-opening competitions.

From Bluff, ferries leave for the rough, but thankfully short, journey across Foveaux Strait to Stewart Island. The island is truly a place apart, with only one small township, Oban, and 28 kilometres of sealed roads, the remainder covered in native forest, sandy bays and wetlands, making it a haven for native birds, particularly the kiwi. The island is ringed with tramping tracks, including the three-day Rakiura Track, one of New Zealand's Great Walks, a circuit which starts and ends at Oban.