Worth a Detour: Where to go in the South Island – New Zealand Herald

Kids playing on the Margaret Mahy Playground in Christchurch. Photo / Supplied


A gateway city to the South Island, Christchurch has always been on the tourist map. Pre-quake, it might have been its reputation as the Garden City, or the ChristChurch Cathedral bringing in visitors. Post-quake, it’s a slightly different visit, but the rebuild itself has presented lots of new places to visit and attractions to try.

1. Three Boys Brewery, 592 Ferry Road, Woolston, Christchurch

Started in a garage in 2005, this craft brewery now occupies a large site in the heavily quake-hit eastern suburbs of Christchurch. Owner Ralph Bungard says they’ve got a pretty broad range of beer available to keep the boutique beer drinkers happy. It even extends to the more unusual, “things with additions from fruit to herbs and spices, we make an oyster stout which has bluff oysters used in the boil. And then you get those crazy older styles that are coming back into fashion amongst the brewers, like the sour ales.”

They do offer food, platters and things they call ‘ding food’ “in the sense that you put it in the microwave and it goes ‘ding’.” But they have an interesting BYO food policy – bring in whatever you want to enjoy with your beer. “Fish and chips, curries from the Indian next door, there’s a Thai next door, pizza is a very common one. We get the odd one from McDonald’s but there’s not much overlap between craft beer drinks and McDonalds eaters.”


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2. Margaret Mahy playground, corner of Manchester and Armagh streets, Christchurch

Described as the ‘biggest children’s playground in the Southern Hemisphere’, this is a legendary facility named after a legendary author. As you’d expect with capacity for up to 1,000 people, there are often food and coffee vendors on site catering to hungry parents and children.

3. Kate Sheppard National Memorial, 159 Oxford Terrace, Christchurch City

Kate Sheppard was New Zealand’s most famous suffragist, and this memorial was unveiled in 1993, to commemorate 100 years since women in New Zealand were granted the vote. The memorial features sculptures of Kate Shepperd, and five other suffrage leaders.

The 185 empty white chairs Sculpture stands as a memorial to each person who died in the 2011 quake. Photo / Supplied.

4. 185 Empty White Chairs, 236 Cashel street, Christchurch

With the scars of the Christchurch earthquakes still very much evident in the city, this is a sobering reminder of the heaviest cost of the February 2011 quake, the loss of 185 lives. In this memorial, an empty white chair is used to represent every person who died.

5. Bridal Path Walkway, Between the Gondola carpark in Heathcote and Bridle Path Road, Lyttelton

This historic walkway was constructed for the first European settlers to travel between Lyttleton and Chirstchurch. If the walk’s a bit daunting, you can take the gondola to the top to get a head start.


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There are a few big-name attractions in Buller; the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, Cape Foulwind and the Buller Gorge Swing bridge. It might be easy to drive through the region without much more thought, but there are plenty of things worth a stop.

1. Reefton Distilling co, 10 Smith Street, Reefton

When Reefton-born Patsy Bass saw her hometown’s economy struggling, she wanted to build a local business to create jobs and encourage tourism. A distillery might not have been the most obvious solution for a non-drinker like Patsy, but it’s certainly taken off. Patsy says the heritage town leant itself to a distillery. “It’s got its moonshine history, and I grew up on the homestead of the original Monteith’s brewery here in town. I was a project manager, so while I didn’t drink or know anything about the industry I certainly knew how to pull a project together. So I got all the right people around the table and here we are.”

Patsy says one of the greatest attractions in Reefton is the people. “It’s just a really warm, welcoming community. They’re really proud of their town and love having tourists here. We’ll have shop owners from the main street walk out of their shops, bringing them to our door and introducing them, it’s really lovely.”

2. Maruia Falls, SH65, 23 km south of Murchison

The falls were created in a major earthquake in 1929, and make a nice stop on the drive between Nelson and Christchurch. They’re beautiful but not safe for swimming, so take notice of the warning signs.


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3. The Future Dough Company, 31 Broadway, Reefton

Like much of Reefton, the Future Dough Company has a long history. Its website boasts that they have ‘served the miners and their families for over 130 years’ — and it’s still popular with visitors.

Department of Conservation officers working on the restoration plan stand at the top of the Denniston Incline. Photo / Jim Eagles

4. Denniston incline, Denniston township

This one for anyone with an interest in engineering. Opened in 1879, this incline rail system was built to carry coal from Denniston to Conns Creek, 518 metres below. There are still sections of the track and buildings remaining today.

5. Six Mile Hydro station, 10 km from Murchison, on Matakitaki Road

One of New Zealand’s first hydro power stations, Six Mile Hydro Station supplied power to Murchison from 1922 until 1975. There’s a 90 minute walk that begins at the station, and follows the intake pipe and water race through mature forest.


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Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula

Dunedin balances a rich heritage with the lively spirit brought by the large student population. If you’re there on a #dunnerstunner, make sure you check out the local beaches.

1. The Dunedin Museum of Natural Mystery, 61 Royal Terrace, Dunedin

Called a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ by its owner and director, Bruce Mahalski, the Museum of Natural Mystery is home to exhibits that range from a collection of animal skulls, through to a plate believed to belong to the last man hung in England for sheep stealing.Bruce created the museum to showcase the lifetime collections of his late parents. His father, a Professor of Medicine, collected the skulls. His mother, who taught psychology,
mainly collected fossils and shells. Bruce has added his own collection. “When I was young, I used to go around junk shops and try and buy antique taxidermy and things like that. It’s something I just thought people did, I thought everyone collected things”.

2. New Zealand’s tallest tree, Orokonui Ecosanctuary, Top of Blueskin Road, Waitati, Dunedin

Dunedin Orokonui Ecosanctuary is 307 hectares of Coastal Otago forest, surrounded by a predator fence. Within the sanctuary is New Zealand’s tallest tree, an 83 metre tall gum. It is the only tree in New Zealand above 80m, and could grow up to 120m.

3. St Clair Hot Salt Water Pool, The Esplanade, St Clair


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At the southern end of St Clair beach is the perfect pool for people who want an ocean dip but can’t face the potentially frosty temperatures. A mix of salt and chlorinated waters, it’s heated to 28 degrees so you can enjoy the best of both words.

4. Careys Bay Hotel, 17 Macandrew Rd, Careys Bay

Known as “The Bay Pub” to locals, it’s been standing near the township of Port Chalmers since 1874. The beautiful, original interior is one reason to visit, but it’s also known for its seafood.

5. New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame, Dunedin Railway Station, Anzac Ave

A must for any sports fan, the Hall of Fame was established in 1990, with 75 sports achievers inducted. More are added at least every two years. The associated museum has tonnes of sporting memorabilia.

South Canterbury/Mackenzie Country

This sparsely populated region is known for its starry nights, glacier-fed lakes, mountains and rolling hinterland. The beautiful and diverse landscape make it perfect for a wide range of tourist activities.


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1. Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, Lake Tekapo

A small population and generally clear nights make Lake Tekapo a perfect destination for ‘astro tourists’. Emeritus Professor of Astronomy, John Hearnshaw who is also the chair of the local international dark sky board, says people come from all over the world to see the beauty of the stars. ”These are people who live in huge cities with lots of light pollution who never see the stars or milky way, so it’s quite awe-inspiring for them.”There’s plenty of star-gazing tours on offer, or you can simply go outside and enjoy.

Is this the world’s biggest jersey? Giant Jersey in Geraldine. Photo / Supplied

2. The Giant Jersey, Geraldine i-site, 38 Waihi Terrace, Geraldine

As the name suggests, locals claim it’s the largest jersey in the world. The knitted jersey is over 2m tall and 1.5m across, and weighs 5.5kg.

3. Richard Pearse Aeroplane Replica, Perth street, Timaru

The Wright brothers are credited with being the first people to ever fly a plane, but was the title stolen from New Zealander Richard Pearse? Either way, a replica of his first design hangs from the ceiling of the South Canterbury Museum.


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4. The rock piles of Omarama

Between Omarama and Lindis pass, there’s a stretch of road where people have built rock piles, like sandcastles for adults. Why? Who knows, but it’s a chance to get out of the car and stretch your legs.

5.Mackenzie and his dog statue, Fairlie town centre

The Mackenzie country is named after legendary sheep rustler James Mackenzie, who is immortalised in bronze in Fairlie’s main street. Some people weren’t too chuffed a thief was being celebrated so publicly, but his exploits are a firm part of local folklore.

Nelson and Marlborough

The best reason to visit this area is a toss-up between the beautiful beaches and scenery, and the arts and artisan products.

1. Pic’s Peanut Butter, 49 Saxton Road, Nelson


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When Pic Picot started making peanut butter, it was with a concrete mixer in his garage. His operation is now based out of a huge factory, which takes tour groups through daily. Pic says he’s proud to be celebrating ‘making stuff’. “People hide factories away from tourists, but it’s such a cool thing. You forget how much fun it can be, which is what we want to get across to the kids.” Out the back, Pic’s encouraging other local producers to try making a commercial operation of their own products. He’s building a food factory where people can test our their ideas in a commercial kitchen. He’s also a huge proponent for his hometown. “Why don’t more people live in Nelson? I don’t understand why people don’t flock to this place and live here, start things, bring things, it’s so neat.”

2. Karaka Pa, 15 minute walk from Karaka Point, off Port Underwood Rd, Picton

A fortified Pa was once situated at Karaka point, where Maori could see potential invaders coming down the Queen Charlotte Sound. There’s still signs of the ancient pa, as well as beautiful views.

3. Harwood’s hole, Canaan Road, Takaka Hill

A 45 minute track takes you to Harwoods Hole, the deepest vertical shaft in New Zealand. 176 metres deep, it drops to an underground river. The scenery is impressive, but DOC warns there are no barriers, and it’s not possible to see down the shaft, so keep your distance.

4. Abel Tasman Memorial, Abel Tasman Drive


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You might not have time to do any of the breathtaking walk, but you can always pop up to the memorial to Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman. He made his first and only visit to Golden Bay in 1642.

5. Botanical Gardens, Hardy Street, Nelson

At first look, this may appear to be just another park, but it will be of particular interest to rugby fans. New Zealand’s first officially recognised game of rugby was played here in 1870 — and it’s still played here today.


One of the largest regions in the country, Southland has 3,400 kilometres of ragged coastline. It’s known to well-known to tourists for Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound and cheese rolls.

1. Waikaia bottle house and Switzer’s museum, Blaydon street, Waikaia

When a bunch of Waikaia locals saw a recycled bottle house while on holiday in Australia in the 1980s, they decided it was just the thing for their town. 20,000 wine bottles and one unsuccessful construction attempt later, and the Waikaia Bottle house was built. It still stands proudly in the town, attached to the Switzers museum, which opened last year after more than 30 years of fundraising. Museum Chairperson Mairi Dickson’s mother was the ‘last surviving builder of the bottle’. As she puts it “They’d seen a big bottle in Australia, a rush of blood to the head, and look what happens.”.


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Mairi says you could stay for a week in Waikaia and do something different every day. “You can go gold panning, play golf, the river is fine for swimming and fishing, and there’s a Chinese cemetery.” It’s got a tiny local population that swells over summer. “You know everyone. I think if you were a townie you wouldn’t like everybody to know your business, but the people who live here are probably only too thankful.”

2. Hokonui Moonshine Museum, 16 Hokonui Drive, Gore

With the introduction of prohibition in 1900, Gore locals set up illegal stills in the Hokonui hills. Their illicit whiskey-making adventures are celebrated in this museum.

3. Otautau War Memorial, Main street, Otautau

Like many small towns, Otautau has a war memorial commemorating those lost in the first and second world wars. What’s different about this one is it all has guns from Turkish and German forces on either side. Many guns were brought back after the ceasefire of WW1 and distributed around New Zealand. For some reason, Otautau got two and despite requests for one back, the locals refused.

4. Clifden Suspension bridge, Bates Road, Clifden


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An historic suspension bridge that was once an important transport link. When it was built in 1899 it had the longest span of any bridge in New Zealand at 111m. Originally used by horse and cart, today it’s a decent stop-off for pedestrians.

5. Cook’s globe, Rakiura Museum, 9 Ayr Street, Stewart Island

When Captain Cook sailed around the South Island, he wrongly assumed that Stewart Island was a peninsula. The museum has a globe from 1816, showing the island linked to the mainland.

North Otago

Oamaru and the surrounding area has a bunch of activities that are special to North Otago. The Moeraki boulders, Steampunk HQ, and both blue penguin and yellow-eyed penguin colonies can be found here.

The Benmore Dam in Central Otago is a marvel of engineering. Photo / Supplied

1. Benmore dam, Loach Laird Road, Benmore

This is one for the engineering aficionados. Benmore is New Zealand’s second largest hydro station, and the largest earth dam. Meridian Energy’s Anna Vrede says they don’t open it up to visitors simply because it’s a working power station. “But people can come visit, they can drive along the spillway which is the top of the dam. You can see Lake Benmore on one side, and on the other side you can see the penstocks where the water flows through into the power station”. She says the whole town of Otematata was created to build the hydro station, so people whose parents or grandparents worked on the dam come to visit, and see what their family created.


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2. Janet Frame House, 56 Eden street, Oamaru

A short walk from the centre of Oamaru is the home of one of our best-known authors, Janet Frame. It’s open for a couple of hours a day during summer, and has changed very little since she lived here.

3. Nicol’s forge, SH 83, Duntroon

This is the blacksmith’s original building in Duntroon. It’s a remarkable preservation of something that would have been entirely unremarkable in its day, the working quarters of a local blacksmith.

4. Anatini whale fossil, Island Cliff-Duntroon Road, Duntroon

There marine fossils are embedded in limestone outcrops, now part of a working farm. Of most interes is the fossil of a baleen whale, protected in situ by a perspex case.


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5. Whitestone cheese, 3 Torridge street, Oamaru

Watch cheese being made on a factory tour, try the cheese, and then eat the cheese for lunch at the on-site cafe.

Central Otago

Central Otago, or “central” to those in the know, has incredible diversity for travellers. In winter, snow can be a blessing or a curse for those trying to get around. In summer, the heat allows travellers to enjoy the rivers, lakes, and sun-ripened stone fruit of New Zealand’s most inland region.

1. Maniototo Curling international, 1057 Channel Road, Naseby

Curling, a sport that requires you to slide stones on a sheet of ice, isn’t a game you’d expect to be trying in the middle of a hot Otago summer. But thanks to this indoor curling facility, the only purpose built facility in the country, anyone can stop and give it a go. Rink manager Ewan Kirk says summer “just increases the power bill a bit.” He says a lot of tourists arrive via the Otago Rail Trail, which is why they remain open over the summer season.

2. Chatto creek post office, 14km North of Alexandra on SH85


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Sending proper mail is such a rarity these days, you may as well make a special trip to post it at New Zealand’s smallest post office. The Chatto Creek facility opened in 1892, and it’s since been upgraded from the original tent and corrugated iron construction, but not by a huge amount.

3. Jimmy’s Pies, 143 Scotland street, Roxburgh

Jimmy Kirkpatrick and his family have been making pies since 1960. Made to an old family recipe, they’re available all over the lower South Island, but it’s worth visiting the shop to try a pie from the selection of over 20 varieties.

4. Shrek the Sheep Museum, Main road, Tarras

It’s hard to get more Kiwi than a museum dedicated to a rogue merino sheep. This museum celebrates the story of Shrek, who evaded shearing for years. When he was finally caught, his fleece weighed more than 27 kilos.

The old red railway shed at Glenorchy is a relic of a bygone era. Photo / 123RF

5. Glenorchy railway shed


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A classic photo opportunity, the shed is a relic of a time when Lake Wakatipu as part of the New Zealand railways network, linked by boat to Queenstown. The rails from the end of the wharf, used to move goods into the shed, were the shortest section of railway in New Zealand.


Nearly all of the roads in this area have re-opened since the wild weather of early December caused major landslides. Also freshly open in New Zealand’s tenth great walk, the Paparoa Track. The DOC track has been under construction since 2017, as a tribute to the 29 men who died in the Pike River Mine.

1. Formerly the Blackball Hilton, 26 Hart street, Blackball

You can almost guess exactly how this hotel got its name. As co-owner Cynthia Robins explains, it was originally the Blackball Hilton. “Then the Hilton Hotel chain came with their big legal finger and poked it at us. We negotiated with them for a sum of money, and the name was changed to ‘formerly the Blackball Hilton’. And with the money, we built the biggest septic tank that we could. And when I’m telling that story over the bar, I say ‘so they could still shit on the Hiltons after all’.”That’s not its only claim to fame, its said the Labour Party was formed in the hotel, after the three month long Crib Time strike.

2. Nelson Creek, Turn off State Highway 7 at Ngahere, the creek is 7km away

In 1865 gold was found in the creek, and 1200 miners descended on the area to mixed success. Today, you can explore historic water races, tunnels, and do some recreational gold fossicking thanks to a series of short walkways.


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3. Barrytown knife making, SH 6, Barrytown

Maybe more a full day’s activity than a detour, it’s still worth a mention as one of the more unusual tourist activities in the country. On a stop here you can make your own knife, forging the blade and making a native timber handle.

An old ship on the shore at Hokitika, viewed as part of the Luminaries walk. Photo / 123RF

4. Luminaries walk, Hokitika

Fans of Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize winning novel The Luminaries can check out a map of locations from the book, found in the library and information centre.

5. Hokitika Glow Worm Dell, SH6, Hokitika

A small, abandoned quarry creates the perfect home for glow worms. Keep quiet, and light to a minimum, and you’re in for a free light-show.


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South Otago and the Catlins

This part of the country is isolated, even by New Zealand standards. But those who make it will be rewarded with rugged coastlines and beautiful rainforests.

1. Tuapeka Punt, Tuapeka West Road

This is said to be the Southern Hemisphere’s only water-powered ferry for vehicles and passengers. It’s been in service since 1896, ferrying passengers across the Clutha River, between Tuapeka Mouth and Balclutha. Jules Witt from the local District Council says there’s a bridge a number of kilometres downstream, so the punt is just an alternative way of getting across, “and it’s lot more fun”. You’re welcome to drive your car or campervan on, or just travel as a passenger. They try to operate it for 2 hours in the morning and evening when river conditions allow.

2. Manuka Gorge/Mount Stuart tunnel, SH 8 between Milton and Lawrence

Take a short walk through some bush, and you can explore this 442m tunnel, ideally with the help of a torch. It takes just half an hour and if you’re lucky you’ll see some glow worms.

3. Slope Point, 500 Slope Point Road, Slope Point


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At 46.4 degrees south, Slope Point is worth a visit simply as the southern-most point of the South Island, just a bit further south than Bluff. The point is a 20 minute walk from the end of the gravel road.

4. Jack’s blowhole, Jack’s Bay road, about 10 km from Owaka

Walk a track across farmland to a 55m deep blowhole, formed when the roof of a subterranean cave was eroded and fell in. Best viewed at high tide.

5. Cannibal bay, Cannibal Bay road

The water never gets particularly warm here but that won’t deter surfers who make a pilgrimage to one of the best surf beaches in the country. You might see sea lions, but keep a safe distance.

Kaikoura and Canterbury

One of the most defining things about both of these areas, is the damage done by recent earthquakes; Canterbury’s major quakes in September 2010 and February 2011, and Kaikoura’s in 2016. Both areas are still recovering and in some places, witnessing that recovery is worth a detour itself.


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1. The Kaiapoi Letterbox Sculpture, Corner of Williams and Fuller streets , Kaiapoi

This is quirky sculpture, borne out of the heartbreak of the quakes. Local artist Mark Larsen created the sculpture out of letterboxes and street signs from Kaiapoi’s Red Zone.

2. Springfield Donut sculpture

A more lighthearted stop, Graeme Dawson, Chair of the Springfield Township Committee, has a matter of fact explanation for the giant donut in the middle of his town. “The Simpsons live in Springfield, Illinois, that’s their hometown. And this is the first Springfield in the world to see the sun, so some crowd decided we needed a donut, so it’s here”. He says every time you go past, someone is having their photo taken with the donut, which is a replacement for the original which fell victim to an arsonist. 
For more wholesome entertainment, he recommends local mountain biking tracks, fishing, shooting, and the six ski-fields within half an hour of the town. “It’s very understated, but there’s a lot to do in the area”.

Maruia Hot Springs in the Lewis Pass. Photo / Supplied

3. Maruia Hot Springs, 1513 State Highway 7, Lewis Pass

A historical thermal mineral spa in the Lewis Pass National Reserve. Originally used by Maori Ponamu traders, today you can sauna and bathe while you enjoy the view to Maruia River below.


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4. Glentunnel library and post office

Likely the smallest library in the country, it still operates, doubling as the local post office. The octagonal building was built in 1886, incorporating every type of brick and terracotta tile then produced by nearby Homebush Pottery. Today, it’s operated by local volunteers, open Monday to Friday from 9-11am.

5. Cave stream, SH 73, between Broken River road bridge and Craigieburn Forest Park entrance

Even inexperienced cavers can walk the almost 600m between this cave’s two entrances, but DOC warns parties should have at least two reliable lights per person plus spare batteries, warm polypropylene or wool clothing, sturdy footwear, and should observe warning signs at the cave’s entrance.