Despite being a rather small country, New Zealand offers a lot to travelers. For sure, the majority of them are more than satisfied with their trip and amazed by the natural beauty this country displays!
South Island is the largest of the two major islands in New Zealand and it is packed with breath-taking and purely natural landscapes including lakes, glaciers, and mountains. Visitors can admire the majestic panorama and get involved in a variety of different activities to make their experience even more remarkable and unique.
The difference between the South Island and the North Island in New Zealand is that the latter has more geothermal wonders and a stronger Maori culture.
With so many things to do in South Island, it might be hard to organize a trip, which is why here is a list of some of the things you must see and do and shouldn’t miss during your trip to South Island, especially if you are a first-time visitor.
Admire the beauty of the Fiordland National Park
The Fiordland National Park is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is simply stunning to explore. It consists of fiords that can be explored by boat, by foot or by air (if you’re feeling particularly adventurous and do not mind the prices). If you choose to take one of the many boat tours which are organized, you’ll have the opportunity to accurately explore the fiords and admire their unique beauty. Otherwise, you can walk along the Milford track and enjoy the view. If booked in advance, you can even stay overnight in the huts located along the path. The track is considered to be one of the best in New Zealand and it is easy to understand why!
One of the fiords, the Milford Sound, is probably the island’s most popular attraction and considered to be the 8th Wonder of the World. It is worth to check it out, you don’t want to miss this one out.
Explore Mount Cook National Park
Another National Park worth exploring is the Mount Cook, where you can admire New Zealand’s highest peak on food and get on the “easy” Hooker Valley Track or the more challenging “Mueller Hut” trail. There are many more hiking trails available in the park all with postcard views that will seem too perfect to be true. Depending on your fitness level and your motivation, you can pick those that suit you!
Pay a visit to the wonderful Lake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo is one of the many glacial lakes in South Island. It is located in the Dark Sky Reserve, considered to be one of the best places in the world to observe the stars. The park is home to an astronomical observatory and if you’re there during the night, you’ll be able to see the Milky Way with your naked eyes.
The sky-blue colors of the waters of the lake result in a simply amazing landscape which will most definitely surprise you. Additionally, you can relax at the Tekapo Hot Springs while enjoying the marvelous view.
Enjoy Malborough Sounds
Malborough Sounds is a collection of ancient sunken river valleys that you don’t want to miss out during your visit to the South Island in New Zeland. It boasts 1500 kilometers of coastline and it is home to several historical sites, marine reserves, and sanctuaries, You might be able to spot foster kiwis and other native species. If you want to explore on foot or by bike, you can follow the Queen Charlotte Track, starting from Ship Cove.
Go Birdwatching in Stewart Island
Who said that birdwatching is boring? Stewart Island is home to New Zealand’s largest and most varied bird population. If you decide to experience birdwatching in this island, you’ll be more than satisfied. You can walk around the long walking tracks and explore the coast and the rain-forests while spotting penguins, albatross, wekas, and kiwis. It is an unforgettable experience that might make you feel more connected with nature.
Be Impressed by Thunder Creek Falls
This wonderful waterfalls are worth a visit and are located between the towns of Haast and Makarora. The waterfalls are about 96 meters tall. To see them you don’t need much time, but you can make it a nice stop along the way where you can take a picnic with a wonderful view.
Get Inspired by Christchurch Street Art
If tired of all the natural environments, Christchurch offers a wide variety of colorful urban murals. To get a “break” from nature, you might want to sit down at one of the many cute cafes that are in the city and just be inspired by the great amount of art which Christchurch is full of.
Enjoy the nature in Mount Aspiring National Park
Mount Aspiring National Park offers a variety of beautiful landscapes that are worth a visit. There are also plenty of activities to embark with spanning from the more “tranquil” walk in nature to jet boating. The park itself is filled with river flats, glaciers and stunningly blue lakes and landscapes that will make you wonder if they are real or not.
Go Wine-tasting in Central Otago
Central Otago offers a variety of landscapes, must the region is well-known for its wineries and the exceptional Pinot Noir. If you’re a fan of wine, you should not miss the opportunity to meet the winemakers, stroll through the vines and taste some of the best wines of the regions. Of course, all surrounded by an impressive, beautiful view. Can you ask for more?
There are several “wine tasting tours” which include a visit to different vineyards and a fancy lunch. If you’re feeling like treating yourself during your trip, this might be a good option.
Marvel at Hokitika Gorge in the West Coast
Hokitika Gorge is a scenic river characterized by blue-green waters and a walking trail from which you can admire the beauty of the place. The drive on the West Coast is remarkably beautiful as well and you might want to stop along the way to fully admire the unique panorama the area offers.
Go to Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman National Park is well-known around the world for the beautiful beaches, its cliffs, and the famous coastal track. Some people choose to camp here, which is can be an amazing experience if properly equipped. The three largest islands in the park, Tonga, Adele, and Fisherman are home to a wide variety of native plants and wildlife. The bays are perfect for some kayaking, which offers amazing opportunities to spot seals and dolphins. The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is probably the best way to explore the park and fully sink in the beauty.
Explore Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers
Exploring Franz Josef and Fox glacier is yet another popular thing to do in South Island. Franz Josef Glacier is just one minute drive outside Franz Josef town while Fox Glacier is about 30 minutes away from Franz Josef. To get to the glaciers, you’ll have to walk for a while along with some stunning scenery which will make the effort more than worth it.
Pay a visit to the Nugget Point Light House
A stop to the Nugget point along a South Island road trip is a must-do. You can walk up to the lighthouse, which offers a particularly beautiful view at sunset. You might be able to see some animals too such as sea lions, dolphins, yellow-eyed penguins and elephant seals.
The place is good for taking great pictures.
Drive to Glenorchy
One of the most beautiful drives you can enjoy is arguably the one connecting Queenstown to the small town of Glenorchy, located only 40 minutes away from Queenstown. Along the way, there are several placed to stop and admire the lake and mountains, spot hidden bays or start to hike to a waterfall.
For example, Wilson Bay is the best spot to have lunch with a view in a cute little bay overlooking the sea. You could also head to 12 Mile Delta from where you can join one of the many walking trails and admire some lakes in the area.
A popular stop is the Pigeon Island Lookout, which is easy to spot. It is a very scenic lookout from where you can see Pigeon Island, Mount Alaska and Mount Earnslaw.
Get adventurous and active: go skiing and snowboarding in New Zealand
If you’re visiting New Zealand in the wintertime, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to ski or snowboard on some of the best peaks of the island. Some of the most popular slopes are Mount Hutt, the Remarkables, Coronet Peak, and Cardrona. The Remarkable is very good for beginners, while Cardona is more suited to the experienced skiers. Coronet Peak is the only slope where you can do some night skiing in New Zealand, which is in itself a rather unique experience.
As you might have noticed, there are plenty of things to do in South Island, in New Zealand, so many that it might be hard to fit all in!
I’m Jenny and I whilst I love being an expat in Auckland I could not find any reliable advice or guides online from someone who had actually made the move to New Zealand. So I decided to create this blog which offers free advice for expats by an expat. Hopefully you will find everything you’re looking for (and what I wish I knew before) here but if you can’t please do contact us.