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Driving from Queenstown to Invercargill via State Highway 6 is one of the most popular road trips on the South Island. That is because Invercargill is the gateway to the Catlins and Bluff. It’s a short trip at under 2.5 hours but there’s surprisingly quite a lot to see on this route.
In this blog, I’ll tell you all the practical information you should know before driving from Queenstown to Invercargill as well as all the attractions, and fun things to do along the way! There are 8 stops in total and you could easily turn this short road trip into a longer one with overnight stops in one of the cute historic towns along this route.
Please note: you can also use this blog to plan your drive from Invercargill to Queenstown. Just refer to the stops below in reverse order and you’ll be good to go!
Need wheels? For rental cars, I always book with Discover Cars since the website is so easy to use with great prices. For motorhomes and campervans, I really like JUCY because of their huge selection and multiple depot locations that make pick-up and drop-off a breeze. You can browse JUCY’s availability here. Alternatively, you can see all of the different rental companies available in NZ on Motorhome Republic.
About the Drive from Queenstown to Invercargill
The drive from Queenstown to Invercargill will take 2 hours and 20 minutes without stopping. It’s 188 kilometers (54.7 miles) in length. You will be following State Highway 6 (SH6) through the larger towns of Kingston, Garston, Lumsden, and Winton (with some smaller towns in between which I too list below). Between these towns, the drive is mostly through farmland.
This drive is considered easy and thankfully doesn’t get plagued by much snow or ice in the winter months.
If you want to extend this road trip, you can include a side trip to Te Anau and Milford Sound. Of course, you’ll need to add on a couple of extra nights for this, but if you ask me, it’s totally worth it! Milford is beautiful and there’s plenty to do in Te Anau too. For that reason, I’ve included more info below on how to best visit Te Anau and Milford on your road trip from Queenstown to Invercargill.
Related Read: Want to explore the famous Catlins region? Read my blog about the drive from Queenstown to Dunedin which includes plenty of stops in the Catlins between Dunedin and Invercargill!
Queenstown to Invercargill FAQs
8 Best Stops on the Drive from Queenstown to Invercargill
In order of driving from Queenstown to Invercargill via the SH6, below are the best stops along this scenic drive that you definitely need to check out. Make sure to read my tips on renting a car in Queenstown if you need a rental car for your drive!
1. Wye Creek
Wye Creek Track is one of the best hikes in and around Queenstown. It’s a 7-kilometer-long track (4.3 miles) walking track with great views over Lake Wakatipu. After a short drive from Queenstown, park your car at the Lower Wye Creek car park.
The track is mostly through bush but there are a couple of clearings to see the awesome views. Plus, there’s also a stunning natural waterfall. You may even spot some brave rock climbers climbing the rockface. End your hike at the viewing platform and take in the views. This is also a great spot to enjoy a packed lunch before hiking back down and hitting the road.
In total, this track should take about 4 hours return.
Related Read: Read my blog about the best easy hikes in Queenstown for other epic walking tracks!
Kingston is a lovely little town at the Southern tip of Lake Wakatipu. You must drive the famously winding and narrow Devils Staircase section of the road to get to Kingston, and there are plenty of photo opportunities along this road – just make sure to pull off safely.
In Kingston, there’s a small café serving excellent coffee and several lovely walking tracks. I love Te Kere Haka Track – an easy 1.5-hour track. Another popular but steep walking track here is Shirt Tail Track, which’s known for its spectacular view of Lake Wakatipu and Kingston township.
Stay the Night in Kingston
If you’ve done a bit of hiking already today, then it might be getting late and time to find somewhere to spend the night in Kingston. There are limited accommodation options in Kingston, but you really can’t go wrong with the Kingston Top 10 Holiday Park. Here, you’ll find cute cottages for an affordable rate with nice communal areas to use too. Otherwise, you can browse all your other options and book easily online.
You can also freedom camp at the Kingston Lake Camp (pictured above.) It’s one of the best freedom camping spots in New Zealand but just remember, you need a self-contained certified vehicle to camp here.
Garston has become a popular stop-off on the road from Queenstown to Invercargill, particularly with cyclists as the Around the Mountains Cycle Trail goes through the town.
A must-stop in Garston is the sweet Garston Hunny Shop (pictured above) which produces Clover, Wild Thyme, and Manuka honey. They also sell their own honey-infused skincare range. Next door, and run by the beekeeper’s husband, is the Garston Stables. It showcases a unique collection of furniture, art, and collectibles from around the world.
There’s also the opportunity to visit a working kiwi farm and watch a day in the lives of working farm dogs and the different roles they take on around the farm, plus, you gain insights about farm life and the history of it. This experience only lasts an hour so it’s perfect to add to your stop in Garston.
Related Read: The Garston Hunny Shop is also one of the best stops on any road trip from Queenstown to Te Anau. If you’re planning on driving this route, be sure to check out the other nearby attractions!
Note: As of July 2022 the hive tour has been stopped at Garston Hunny Shop. Check their website here for updates.
Athol is a small rural town with a small art gallery featuring some very well-known New Zealand artists. It’s also a popular stop for trout fishing due to its proximity to the Mataura River.
If you’re hungry the Brown Trout Cafe and The Coffee Bomb are my personal recommendations. Either of these restaurants makes for a great lunch stop on your road trip from Queenstown to Invercargill.
An area famed for its trout fishing due to the crystal clear nature of its rivers. Did you know that the Mataura River here is one of the best rivers in the world for trout fishing? That’s right, if you want to do some fishing in New Zealand then Lumsden is a great spot!
The little town of Lumsden has many heritage buildings which are home to quirky cafes, restaurants, and bars. One of my favorite restaurants in Lumsden is Route 6 Cafe & Bar – a 1950’s American-themed restaurant serving great food!
Another cute town worth checking out on the drive from Queenstown to Invercargill is Winton. In Winton, you must walk the 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) Heritage trail which stops at 14- heritage-listed buildings in the town. The walk takes you past gorgeous historic buildings like the old post office and the homes of the European pioneers who built the town.
There are a couple of great cafes and pubs too if you need some refreshments. I love both Green House Beer Garden & Eatery and Winton Bakery.
A little off the main SH6 route is Gore. Sure, it is a bit out of the way, but one of the best stops on this road trip and worth of the short detour is you ask me.
If you want to get to Gore take the SH94 from Lumsden instead. It will add an extra 25 minutes to your journey. But, if you’re a country music fan it is well worth stopping in Gore for a night. Did you know that Gore is the official Country Music capital of New Zealand?! At the beginning of June, the New Zealand Gold Guitar Awards together with the New Zealand Line Dancing Championships are held in Gore. Otherwise, stop into one of the many pubs that are sure to have a live band most nights. As a Canadian originally from a rural town, country music is totally my thing – so Gore is a must-visit if you ask me!
Besides country music, Gore is one of the larger towns in the Southland region and so is great for shopping – with a few clothing and gift shops on the main street. There’s a large New World supermarket here as well if you need to stock up.
Some of the best things to do in Gore include a walk through Gore Public Gardens and a visit to Hokonui Pioneer Village & Museum (great for the kids.) As for hikes in the area, you can’t go wrong with the 235 acres at Dolamore Park.
Stay the Night in Gore
Although still a small town, Gore is larger than most towns in Southland which makes for a great place to stay the night with plenty of hotels and amenities around. Riverlea Motel is a great option if you’re looking for something in central Gore (walking distance from pubs.) Otherwise, for a more peaceful escape, consider Hokonui Bed & Breakfast just a couple of kilometers from town.
You can browse all of the different places to stay in Gore online in advance.
8. Anderson Park
On the Northern outskirts of Invercargill is a 300-acre park with a homestead called Anderson Park. This beautiful home has been closed to the public since 2014. There’s also gorgeous rose gardens, picnic areas, a playground, and a walking track. The park was built in 1910 by businessman Sir Robert Anderson, for whom the park is named after. It’s a lovely place to stroll around on a nice day.
Extend Your Road Trip with a Stop in Te Anau and Milford Sound
If you don’t mind a detour, then you really should consider visiting Te Anau and Milford Sound on the way from Queenstown to Invercargill. With tons of fun things to do in Te Anau as well as places to stay and great restaurants, it’s the perfect town to base yourself for a couple of nights.
From Te Anau, you can drive to Milford Sound hitting up some incredible attractions along the way. The road to Milford Sound winds its way through Fiordland National Park making for one very scenic drive. Along this road, you can also tackle some of the best hikes on the South Island including Lake Marian Track and the Key Summit.
To me, Milford Sound is one of the best places to visit on the South Island. For this reason, making a stop here on your way to Invercargill is definitely worthwhile. It is important to note that this is a big detour adding a couple of hundred kilometers onto your total driving distance. For this reason, if you plan on driving from Queenstown to Invercargill with a couple of days in Te Anau, then I’d suggest allowing around 4 days in total for the journey.
Buses from Queenstown to Invercargill
Personally, I recommend driving from Queenstown to Invercargill in order to enjoy all the best stops along the way. With that said, there are buses that frequent this route too.
Intercity drives this route with departures most days of the week. Expect to pay about $50 NZD, however, you can expect a long transfer making the journey take an entire day.
Catch A Bus South is another company that drives this route. They also have departures on most days but unlike Intercity, offers a direct route. Expect to pay around $65 NZD.
Things to do in Invercargill
No visit to Invercargill is complete without a visit to Queens Park. It’s a family-friendly way to spend a few hours with an animal park, huge playground, aviary, as well as well-manicured gardens.
If you’re a fan of vintage cars or motorcycles Invercargill is the place for you. Bill Richardson’s Transport World and Classic Motorcycle Mecca is one of the most popular things to do in Invercargill. Something you can’t do in many other places in the world is pay to operate bulldozers, excavators, and mini excavators. Well, you can do just that at Dig This on Otepuni Avenue.
A short 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) drive from town is the stunning Oreti Beach. Oreti Beach was in fact the filming location for the movie ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’, about local hero Burt Munro’s life. This beach is also a road, in that, it’s one of the only beaches in the country that you can drive on! Try to get here or sunset for a great photo.
Right next to it is Sandy Point, popular for walking, mountain biking, and horse riding. Interestingly, at Sandy Point, there’s a totara and matai sand dune forest, the only of its kind in New Zealand.
The best restaurants in Invercargill include The Auction House and Louies Restaurant Bar. For your coffee fix, you can’t go wrong with Industry Café on Arena Avenue.
Essential Info to Know Before You Go
- If you’re not confident driving the above route then you can get the InterCity bus which takes 2 hours and 30 minutes
- Be careful not to run out of fuel. Gas Stations on this road can be found at Lumsden, Winton, Gore, and a small gas station at Kingston.
- This route is 188 kilometers (117 miles) total and will take approximately 4-5 hours on average, depending on how many stops you make. Or, you may turn it into a two-day affair and spend the night in either Lumsden or Gore.
Where to Stay in Invercargill
Invercargill is the largest city in Southland and is a great place to spend a night or two. Here are some of my favorite accommodation options in Invercargill:
Ascot Park Hotel – a 4-star hotel located only a 5-kilometer (3.1 miles) drive from the city center. There’s a spa pool, indoor swimming pool, and sauna. The rooms are comfortable and luxurious. There’s a restaurant on-site too.
Quest Invercargill Serviced Apartments – located right in the middle of the city center this is a great option for guests looking for a home away from home. All apartments feature a full kitchen or kitchenette (this is in the studio apartment only) as well as laundry facilities. If you stay here you can use a nearby gym free of charge too.
Folster Gardens Bed and Breakfast – right outside the city center, this historic hotel in a building from the early 1900s is one of the most serene places to stay in Invercargill. Each room has a balcony or patio but as it is a budget stay all bathrooms are shared. For breakfast, you will be severe food sourced with local and fresh ingredients.
Admiral Court Motel & Apartments – just a few minutes drive from downtown, all rooms and apartments here are self-contained with a kitchenette, microwave, and fridge. Plus, you have access to a BBQ. Conveniently, all accommodation is ground floor. The staff here are super-friendly too.
Southern Comfort BBH – if you’re on a budget, this hostel is for you! Featuring comfortable dorms and private rooms. The hostel is a restored Victorian villa with a large verandah for relaxing. It’s conveniently located a short walk from Queens Park.
You can browse all of the different hotels available in Invercargill online. Otherwise, consider booking an Airbnb or Bach (holiday) home in Invercargill – there are plenty to choose from!
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It is what most budget backpackers get for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic. We also have a 5% discount code (DTRAVEL5) with Mad Campers, which you can use at checkout.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! We are also partnered with Kiwi Motorhomes, which is well known as the top motorhome rental company in New Zealand. You can get 5% off using the code Queen5. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
- JUCY – JUCY is one of our favorite rental companies in New Zealand! They have a huge inventory and offer regular cars, small campervans, larger campervans, and even motorhomes! The prices are also super competitive and their multiple offices around NZ make pick-up and drop-off a breeze. You can check availability, prices, and book with JUCY online here.
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad, the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
Thanks for reading!
I hope this blog helps you make the most of your Queenstown to Invercargill road trip. I’m sure you’ll agree there are some very unique stops listed above. No matter if you stop at just one or all of the above stops, the drive from Queenstown to Invercargill is certain to be one to remember.
Make sure to check out some of my most popular posts below before you leave!