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Invercargill Area Guide

Historic Water Tower (AD1889)
27.43m high - Victorian architecture.
Invercargill is New Zealand's southernmost city, its orderly streets sprawling lazily over the flat plains beside the New River Estuary.

This provincial city is conservative at heart, but its people have been canny enough to elect Tim Shadbolt, an aging hippy, raconteur and once radical activist, as their Mayor, giving the south one of its most effective and vocal advocates.

Invercargill's central business district lies in the blocks around Tay and Dee Streets, where there are some fine old buildings, including the Victoria Railway Hotel on Leven Street and the Town Hall and Civic Theatre on Tay Street. For a good introduction to the city, take the one-hour Invercargill City Spirit Walk past some of the city's best public artworks, including the silver steel umbrella sculpture on Don Street, its shaft forming a sundial.

The Southland Museum and Art Gallery, with its white pyramid roof, is to the north of the city centre, on the edge of Queens Park. The museum has a good exhibition on New Zealand's subantarctic islands, reflecting Invercargill's location in the far south, the last mainland city before the vast, wild expanses of the Southern Ocean. But the museum's star attraction is its tuatara enclosure where you can see some of the rare lizard-like creatures involved in the museum's breeding programme. These living fossils are unique to New Zealand, the only survivors of a race of reptiles common in the age of the dinosaurs.

Behind the museum are the huge green spaces of Queens Park, which offer a good place to stroll or picnic on a summer day. At the south east corner of the park is the city's best-known landmark, the multi-coloured Victorian Water Tower, dating from 1889, and constructed from hundreds of thousands of multi-coloured bricks. Climb to the top of its 112 steps for great views over the city.

Ten kilometres to the west of the city centre lie the wide sands of Oreti Beach, one of the few beaches in the country which you can drive your car on to, and the place where local hero Burt Munro sped along on his motorbike while training for his 1967 world land speed record. His record breaking attempt is now immortalised in the film, The World's Fastest Indian. The Maori people called the south end of the beach, Ma te Aweawe (Misty Way) a reference to the way people walking along the beach appear to float above the sand before eventually disappearing into the mist.

From Invercargill it's a short 20-minute flight south to explore bush-clad Stewart Island, and the Rakiura National Park.