Invercargill is a flat, sprawling city (population 52,000) in the far south of the South Island. It is the southernmost city in New Zealand and one of the southernmost settlements of any size in the world. The city’s prosperity is based on the fact that it is situated in the midst of some of New Zealand’s richest pasture lands, where a high but evenly spread annual rainfall allows the year round growth of grass. But to Frederick Tuckett, who came to the South Island in 1844 to survey land for a proposed Scottish settlement, the area seemed distinctly lacking in potential. He described the present city site as ‘a mere bog, and quite unfit for human habitation’. The Scots came anyway and today Invercargill’s Scottish heritage is reflected in the fact that many of its streets are named after Scottish rivers.
The main place of interest is the Southland Museum and Art Gallery in Gala Street, near the main entrance to Queens Park. Housed in a building shaped like a large white pyramid, the museum focuses on Southland’s history and natural history. A main attraction is the Tuatara House, where it is possible to see these rare and ancient reptiles in a setting that attempts to reproduce their natural environment as accurately as possible. Also of great interest is the ‘Roaring Forties Experience’, an audio-visual that vividly portrays the flora and fauna of New Zealand’s remote subantartic islands.
After visiting the museum a pleasant place to stroll is through the manicured lawns and gardens of Queens Park. Within its spacious confines there are duck ponds, a play ground, a swimming pool and even an 18 hole golf course. Snacks and light lunches are provided by the tea kiosk which is open daily.