This is the usual driving tour including links to pages for the bigger attractions, and a narrative here for the smaller ones. Since it starts at Lumsden (roughly the north-west) the entry point is through Queenstown from Touring West Coast or Touring Otago: it then follows the main ‘scenic tourist drive’ from Lumsden anticlockwise through Te Anau, Invercargill and Gore before crossing into Otago. From there it continues through Clinton to Dunedin as Touring Otago.
Tiny towns in NZ really are tiny, but there’s still often a huge old pub-hotel, usually on a road junction; the biggest and frequently the ugliest building in town. (There’s sometimes a lovely old Bank of New Zealand too, but these have long-since been turned to other purposes.) The days when pub and hotel were the same thing have largely gone, but these places take you back to a past where the two functions went together. They may once even have been classy – I guess they were the only places to stay if you were travelling – though I surmise most of the clients were working men looking for employment, food, drink and a bed for the night. I guess they may often had a lot of ‘back-quarters’ which were more like tented cities than bricks-and-mortar.
The Hotel at Lumsden was my only option for an overnight stay between Queenstown and Te Anau, so here was potential for an adventure. Opening the door I met a stifling atmosphere of fried food and other pub smells; as I worked my way in through the fug I realised it was Sunday family night and half the town was there. The rain was crashing down outside, life was a bit crap; but in here it was close, muggy, smelly fellowship around cheap fried food and beer.
My room upstairs was also full of the fried food smell, which didn’t bode well – but things looked up once I’d got a breeze blowing through. The pub closed promptly at 8.30pm and I was left all alone for the night. In the photograph my room is the one with the light on, apparently the nicest room. And this is what it looked like.
Despite what the room might suggest, in the event nothing bad happened: the wifi worked, I slept well, the bed was comfortable and clean and there was even an electric blanket. The shared bathroom was like you’d expect from a 1950s school, though since I was the only guest it didn’t really matter. And the ‘free bread and peanut butter on the landing’ was a welcome treat. A group of ‘freedom campers’ in the car park over the road behaved themselves, though I learned something new: truckers despise freedom campers and often sound their horns as they rush past, just to keep the campers awake.
Te Anau ought to be more interesting than it is, but it’s basically a town that sprang up to support the Lake Manapouri Hydroelectric power project and has had to find a life for itself as a tourist centre ever since – rather like Turangi on the North Island.) It’s not an unpleasant place – its presence on the lakefront guarantees that – but it’s rather dull and characterless. But it’s a good base for the Real Journeys trips to Milford and Doubtful Sounds, and there’s all-day free parking.
Lake Te Anau is one of the purest lakes in the world and is a beautiful blue when the sun’s out. On my most recent trip there was nothing to see but fog, but here it is in sunnier times.
A further attraction is a trip across the lake, at night, to see glow-worms. The New Zealand glow-worm is a genuinely ‘wormy’ thing, unlike the various other creatures known wrongly as glow-worms in other parts of the world including Britain and the USA. Here they live in a limestone cave with an underground stream – they don’t fly around – so unlike in the UK and USA you have to go to visit them.
I value my sleep too much these these days, but I did this trip back in 2000. What follows is my thoughts up from back then.
As a natural phenomenon limestone caves, underground streams and glow-worms are fine – but they weren’t the best choice for an evening when sleep and warmth were something of a priority. And with only three visitors and three staff, we must have burned up enough petrol in our 1½ hour boat trip to completely out-do any benefit to the environment from running the cave’s lighting system on local hydroelectricity!
New Zealand glow-worms are the pupa stage of an egg-pupa-larva-fly chain, and they are the only part which can actually eat. A glow-worm lives for about 9 months, then changes into a larva for a few weeks, and then a fly for about 4 days. The fly has no mouth and no stomach: all it can do is mate rather frantically, then it runs out of energy and dies. It seems a rather sad and pointless existence, but there we are.
The glow-worm’s light is produced in its stomach by releasing a chemical, and they do it to mimic the appearance of the night sky – thereby attracting insects towards them as they hang around the roofs of caves. The unsuspecting insects become caught in the myriads of sticky threads which the glow-worms spin, and the glow-worms then eat them. The more hungry the glow-worm, the stronger its light glows.
You can’t photograph the glow-worms’ light – it’s far too faint – but here is a fake picture of what they look like.
Manapouri and its lake are just south of Te Anau. There’s no reason to stop other than to admire the scenery, but as usual it’s gorgeous. It features in the stories of local hydroelectric power and on the trip to Doubtful Sound – but for the moment we’ll just pass by and admire it.
Tuatapere is yet another small NZ town, on the way from Te Anau to Invercargill. It caught my attention simply because its public toilet has some impressive murals painted on the walls, done by artist Wayne Edgerton in 2009.
Here’s a link to an article about the Tuatapere Murals, and here are two of the three murals:
Other than that, a couple of buildings caught my attention, but only because I’d stopped the car by then:
The journey down to the Southland coast certainly deserves a break once it gets to the sea. McCracken’s Rest is just a cliff-top stop, but it allows you a reason to get out of the car and stretch your legs. Since the view is beautiful both ways, here are two photographs:
Riverton is a sort of port on the way to Invercargill: nothing of real interest, but it had the usual crop of 1930s buildings and the tourist brochures push it as a bit of a ‘resort’. (‘Last resort’ perhaps, except that that’s Invercargill!) I would have liked to stop there but on the day I passed through the weather was terrible, and later in the week the road back from Invercargill was closed by flooding!
One of the oddities on my day of misery due to the 2020 flooding was to come back to Invercargill through Edendale and find I was suddenly on a two-lane dual carriageway. This is UNKNOWN in these parts. The explanation is that it led up to the Fonterra plant at Edendale.
Fonterra is the farmers’ Co-operative (other less favourable words are also used) which runs most of the dairy industry in New Zealand: it’s a major part of the New Zealand economy and keeping its overseas contracts healthy is a significant concern in the country’s international relations. Not surprisingly this plant is claimed to be the biggest in the known universe, and security is tight. And don’t be fooled into thinking Anchor, Meadowfresh and those other Kiwi brands are all independent: basically all of it passes through Fonterra’s hands at some point – it just comes out in different bottles!
Edendale as a town is pretty small – it only has about 800 souls, and the Fonterra plant is basically the centre of everything. Here’s a link to the Wikipedia article on Edendale.
Gore & Clinton
More nowhere towns, except that from 1993-2001 Bill Clinton and Al Gore were most famous political team in the world. Southland Kiwis couldn’t resist renaming their local road…