The largest town in Southland, Invercargill wouldn’t rate as one of New Zealand’s top travel destinations (unless you like cars and bikes) but it had enough to fill a day. Home to ~57,000 people it mainly exists to service one of the country’s most productive farming regions. It was established in the 1860s, and was once one of the richest parts of the country, with many wonderful heritage buildings remaining.
The highlight for me was the 81 hectare Queens Park in the centre of town. This was home to multiple rose gardens, winter gardens, ponds, statues, bedding, an aviary, Japanese and Chinese gardens, and a stumpery! The later originated in 19th century England in storm damaged areas, with ferns taking root in the tree stumps.
Invercargill’s most famous resident was Bert Munro, a motorcycle legend, whose story was told in the film The World’s Fastest Indian. Some of his bikes, and other vintage machines, can be found in the family owned store E Hayes and Sons, which first opened in 1932. It’s a great place to both sightsee and do a spot of shopping.
There are many more vintage automobiles at Bill Richardson Transport World, which I didn’t manage to visit. Invercargill is a very much a car (or bike) town, with wide streets laid out on a grid system that is slow going for a pedestrian, as I was. The museum was a hour return walk from the town centre, after I’d already walked over 10km visiting the other places featured in the this blog post.
The Southland Fire Museum was unfortunately closed (it opens three days a week) but at least many of the exhibits could be seen through the large windows.
One of the most noticeable things about Invercargill was the sheer number of churches. Perhaps because it’s a mostly flat place they stand out, but I can’t think of anywhere else I’ve been in New Zealand with so many relative to the population. The first I came across was the attractive St Paul’s on Dee.
The First Presbyterian Church was built 1912-1915 in strikingly red local bricks, designed in Italo-Byzantine style in the manner of 6th to 8th century northern Italian churches. The 32m high bell tower is a landmark of the town skyline.
My favourite though was St. Mary’s Basilica, which opened 1905. It’s 37m high and has a lot of presence for it’s size.
Otepuni Gardens are a pleasant near 10 hectare area covering four city blocks along by the Otepuni Stream.
The town icon is the 43m high Invercargill Water Tower, built in the late 1880s. Behind the ~300,000 bricks is a ~300,000 litre steel tank, an elaborate disguise to placate locals to having such a large structure so close to the town centre.
I visited Invercargill on route to Stewart Island / Rakiura, a 20 minute flight away. As these photos may suggest there was a quite a contrast between the two places.