Six reasons we loved Invercargill

By Gwyneth Hyndman

Our Montana-based family of four leapt on the opportunity to move to Southland in 2024 – and Invercargill became our main hub for adventure-planning, groceries, library books and park days to run off the zoomies after long hours in carseats.

Sometimes you need an outsider’s perspective to appreciate where you live. Here are a few highlights from our land-locked tribe on what has made Waihōpai shine for us.

Gwyneth Hyndman enjoys Bluff oysters in season

Seafood that is really,really local
We arrived in the weeks before the Bluff oyster season opened on March 1 – a great way for any food-lover to kick off a holiday. I have mine in the shell with a squeeze of lemon. My husband John has his battered and fried. Kiddos Jessie, 4, and Eliza, 3, sampled theirs in numerous seafood chowders around town, with thick slices of buttered bread. By the time we left, Jessie was requesting blue cod on her own and I definitely spoiled myself with smoked salmon from Stewart Island every chance I got. When seafood comes from down the road – as opposed to hundreds, often thousands of kilometres away from Montana – you make the most living so close to the coast.

Queens Park on an autumn afternoon
Is there anything lovelier than watching your kids run through the golden leaves, burning off that carrot cake from the Cheeky Llama Cafe, while you’re bundled up on a park bench, hands warmed by a flat white, enjoying a rare moment of (relative) calm at Queens Park? We spent many hours on the playground there, making friends from around the world, and following them over to the Band Rotunda for a session of hide-and-seek.

Eliza McKinnie, 3, masters her kicking technique on one of many family nights at Splash Palace

Splash Palace on a rainy evening
Back in Montana we are more than an hour away from public swimming facilities that are usually costly and not particularly fun for parents of toddlers. So it was rewarding to feel the girls get stronger and more confident in our arms as they practised kicking and paddling at the leisure pool on a weekly basis. Plus John and I could take turns enjoying the spa pool just above, without the other parent feeling abandoned, or even have a go on the water slide. At home, we’d be shelling out US$40 for an evening like this. At Splash Palace, our family of four paid NZ$10. On stormy days, we loved having a few hours here to burn off our cabin fever.

Toy boxes in most restaurants
It seems like a small amenity, but it meant so much to us to know there was a reliable box of toys in the pubs and cafes we frequented around Invercargill and Southland. John and I could have a five-minute conversation over a beer without having to resort to screens. Everyone – including neighbouring patrons – had a better dining experience. We wish this was the norm where we’re from.

Sunrise drives on Ōreti Beach before work
Or this winter, you could call in sick after that drive, grab coffee and your ski gear, head north on a 2.5 hour road trip frequently featured in luxury car commercials, and be at world-class slopes by lunch. Tell me another city in the world you can pull off a beach-to-mountains sick day like that.

John McKinnie has an epic day at one of the many secret fishing spots in Southland.

Proximity to adventure
John is a fly-fishing outfitter back in Montana so Southland has been an angler’s paradise for him as he explored the Ōreti and Mataura rivers this summer and autumn. Having two kids in 20 months in the last four years has meant that I haven’t been able to ride regularly – so I loved the child-free hours I got on a beautiful Arabian, riding through the seafoam along Gemstone Beach with Orepuki Horse Treks. Plus I got to stop for oysters and a beer at the Aparima Restaurant & Bar on the way home, while watching the sun go down over the river mouth – sore bum, happy heart the next morning.

Gwyneth Hyndman takes an afternoon to ride near Orepuki with Orepuki Horse Treks.

When I left Invercargill 11 years ago, I wasn’t sure when – or even if – I’d ever make it back to this part of the South Island. Introducing my husband and our daughters to everything this area has to offer, more than a decade later, has been such a joy. We will never forget this season of parenthood – thank you, Waihōpai, for making it
so beautiful.

Gwyneth Hyndman lived in Invercargill from 2011 to 2013. She and her family now live in southwest Montana. They hope to return for another Southland stint in 2026.

Jessie McKinnie, 4, does some quality control on one of many cream buns sampled around Invercargill and Southland during her adventures.