Car enthusiast, history lover, chocoholic, architectural buff, keen gardener… or perhaps you are just into discovering as much as possible about a place? Invercargill, an easy city to negotiate with its grid street layout and quiet roads, has plenty to keep visitors entertained over a long weekend.
Classic Motorcycle Mecca
With more than 300 motorcycles, the oldest dating to 1902, you'll find something memorable in this colourful display that ranges from early models, little more than bikes with a small motor which could be e-bike prototypes, to steampunk-ish to modern, sleek machines. Sidecars are amusing; like the one resembling a Victorian armchair. Scooters in a range of colours look zippy. Read the stories behind some of the bikes, such as the little Mighty Atom, a 1921 NZ-built model. Legends Burt Munro and John Britten are remembered in displays and the basement area houses racing cars built in the 1960s and '70s by George Begg. For the child in you, hop on a motorbike seat, complete with handlebars, and push the button for engine noises. Motorbike-themed artwork graces the walls and even the toilets are motorcycle-themed. Two hours will disappear easily.
Next door, Meccaspresso has huge, Southern-sized meals – the chicken taco salad is highly recommended - to ready you for the next attraction.
Bill Richardson Transport World
Yes, more vehicles … but honestly this place is "wow". The afternoon will be gone before you know it, viewing this collection of 300 vehicles and 200 petrol pumps, all undercover in 15,000sq m.
Where to start …
The museum has seven of the eight Henry Ford's Letter Cars produced prior to the Model T, along with other classic Fords dating from 1928 to 1946. VWs, a Thunderbird, Jaguars, Morris Minors … many are rare, internationally significant, or connected to the Richardson family in some way. The truck collection includes early 1900 models - some more wood than metal, Macs, Sterlings, 1930s and 40s American classics, 1950s Ford pick-ups.
Also on site is a jukebox collection from their early days to the 80s, pedal cars, a replica theatre showing Goodbye Pork Pie and The World's Fastest Indian, old street scenes complete with vehicles from the era, a wearable art display and Lego room. Household memorabilia from the Richardson home and motoring memorabilia such as signage, old tins and oil cans, can also be seen.
Be sure to visit the toilets. The Ladies has pastel, porcelain handbasins circa 1940s or 50s and antique hand mirrors on the wall. The Mens has Shell oil pump "taps" and wheels masquerading as mirrors.
Next door, The Grille cafe/restaurant is worth a stop, even just to peek in the side rooms – a 1960s-style kitchen with formica tables, kitchen bench and kitchen equipment and a lounge from the 1970s with armchairs, china cabinet, ornaments and old TV.
E Hayes and Sons
On shelves amid the hardware, homeware and automotive products for sale are exhibits of antique tools and engines. Antique motorbikes and Burt Munro's original 1920 Indian Scout, along with items from his shed, are also part of the E Hayes Motorworks Collection, a free display. With The World's Fastest Indian merchandise to peruse as well, allow half an hour to an hour here.
En route to Bluff, check out Demolition World. A Wild West/ghost town constructed from demolition materials, it's a higgledy-piggledy collection of days-gone-by items. It's dusty, cob-webbed, sometimes creepy, sometimes humorous. Even after a couple of hours here you still won't have seen everything in the clutter. Mannequins in sometimes bizarre outfits, or with missing body parts, hang out in places such as a church, medieval banqueting hall, dentist, toy store, a colonial kitchen, hospital - where some equipment looks terrifying - and railway station. Entrance is by gold-coin donation.
About half an hour away, Bluff looks a little grey and dismal but is rich in history. Founded in 1824, it's apparently New Zealand's oldest European-settled community.
Head out to Stirling Point, site of those yellow AA signs pointing to world-wide destinations, then take a short wander to Pilot Reserve where watchmen once kept lookout for vessels plying tumultuous seas. Learn how treacherous the waters once were from information boards which also have details on muttonbirding, sealing and whaling. New Zealand's tallest lighthouse can be spotted on distant Dog Island, at Foveaux Strait's narrowest point.
From Stirling Point take the easy, 60-minute Foveaux Walkway to Lookout Point for views across Foveaux Strait, or the steeper, 50-minute Topuni Track to Bluff Hilltop.
Oyster Cove Restaurant and Bar looks out to sea at Stirling Point and is a good spot for lunch and to shelter from any wind.
If you don't have time for walking, drive up to Motupōhue Lookout for views over the town, nestled between the base of Bluff Hill and the sea.
Bluff Maritime Museum
This little museum is packed with information. It'll take around an hour to peruse displays on mutton birding, shipwrecks, Norwegian whalers and Bluff's oyster industry along with a lot of ship-related artefacts. You can also climb aboard the land-moored Monica, a 1909-built oystering boat.
Bluff Heritage Trail
Grab a Bluff Heritage brochure and walk or drive the trail that commemorates Bluff's Sir Joseph Ward, Prime Minister in the early 1900s. The cemetery, with views out to Stewart Island on a good day, is included, as is a ship's graveyard with visible wrecks.
Invercargill Heritage Trail
Invercargill's Heritage Trail can take half a day and is best done by car. But if you just want a taste of the city's heritage buildings constructed in the late 1800s and early 1900s, take a walk on central Tay St. You'll find the Troopers' Memorial, a reminder of the Boer War, and the former Bank of New Zealand at Bank Corner, with a number of old facades above the verandas overhanging the footpath. Be sure to wander as far as the red-bricked First Presbyterian Church and ornate Town Hall and Theatre. Dee St, too, has some colourful and decorative facades.
The Seriously Good Chocolate Company
While wandering about town, drop into Seriously Good Chocolate. Paradise! Glass-fronted cabinets are packed with chocolates and decadent sweet treats and savoury items as the chocolatiers carefully create each piece in a tiny back room. One wall is filled with boxes, cakes and packets of chocolate, along with sauces, chutneys and honey. Southern-flavoured chocolates are divine; Gibbston Valley wine-infused; lemon and sauvignon blanc tasting - the flavours that accompany an oyster; the Paua chocolate, greenish-blue on the inside with flavours of Sambuca and coconut cream.
Factory tours are available or, if you're feeling creative why not join a chocolate-making class. At the very minimum, do try a hot chocolate, made from an almost billiard-sized ball of chocolate – it's luxuriously creamy. And purchase a chocolate bomb or two to make your own at home.
On the heritage trail, and opposite the 1888-built water tower, Queens Park covers more than 80ha. While away hours in the grounds, home to more than 900 roses, a Japanese-themed garden, winter garden, rock garden and native plantings. The Stumpery may have you contemplating how to recreate the stump and branch-constructed walls and sculptures. The aviary has, among others, resident kākā, kākariki and weka, and there's an animal reserve with pigs, rabbits, wallabies, llamas and goats.
Now, treat your taste buds to a Southland cheese roll
The Southland cheese roll is a local delicacy combining a rolled slice of toasted bread stuffed with a gooey cheese and onion sauce. It's a must for any visitor. Make it a daily habit, starting with one of these top-rated places.
The Batch Cafe, Invercargill
A popular wee spot that throbs with both locals and visitors alike. The all-day menu is served between 7am-2.30pm, when the cheese rolls fly out of the cabinet at rocket speed.
Winton Bakery, Winton
Thirty minutes north of Invercargill, Winton boasts sleepy streets, a collection of striking heritage buildings and the Winton Bakery. Follow your nose to the handmade baked goods: pies, bread, slices, sandwiches and of course, the famed cheese roll.
The Crib Cafe, Riverton
A quick, 30-minute dart by car to the west of Invercargill will take you to charming Riverton. Once you've explored this popular seaside town, drop by The Crib Cafe for your next bite of a cheese roll, or something more substantial from the all-day menu.
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