Many visitors pass straight through INVERCARGILL, regarding it as little more than a waystation en route to Stewart Island or the Catlins Coast. But this lively city, which was settled in the mid-1850s and sprawls over an exposed stretch of flat land at the head of the New River Estuary, is thriving. In 2000, community contributions allowed its main centre of learning, the Southern Institute of Technology (SIT), to offer free tuition for New Zealand and Australian residents (with lower-than-usual fees for international students) for all of its courses, including degrees in cutting-edge fields like Environmental Management and Fashion and Design Technology. As a result, Invercargill's population has swelled to 54,000, and its arts scene and nightlife continue to burgeon.
To the south, at the tip of a small peninsula, lies Bluff, the departure point for ferries to Stewart Island