It's no secret that New Zealand's South Island is hot right now. In fact, it's a been at the top of our favourite destinations list for a while now. From hiking on glaciers to winding through impossibly beautiful mountain ranges, valleys and along volcanic coastlines, the South Island packs a punch in the natural beauty stakes. It's a destination for adrenaline-filled activities, for recharding at hot springs and remote retreats, for food, wine and endless wildlife. There are myriad reasons to get to the South Island, but here are 50 to get you started.
At the far end of Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown, this quaint little town has scenery to knock your socks off. The most famous spot is the dock leading out into the lake.
2. Fiordland National Park
Still in this region of the island, Fiordland National Park is an untouched wilderness of incredible mountains to climb, lakes to sail and roads to get lost on.
3. Mirror Lake
Within Fiordland National Park and on the way from Queenstown to Milford Sound, this glassy lake makes for stunning photos of the mountain scenery.
4. Milford Sound
Arguably the South Island’s most famous destination, this stunning fiord is a few hours drive, or short helicopter ride from Queenstown. Best explored by boat.
5. Coronet Peak Snowfields
This is New Zealand’s most popular ski field, for its diverse terrain and excellent facilities catering to all levels for skiers and snowboarders. It also offers the longest hours, open from 8:00am and offering New Zealand’s only night skiing on Friday and Saturday nights throughout the season.
6. Luxury Lodges
The untouched wilderness of the South Island provides the perfect backdrop for ultimate luxury. Try Minaret Station, accessible only via helicopter or Scrubby Bay at Annandale, on the Banks Peninsula.
7. Sperm Whale Watching
Kaikoura is one of the best places in the world to witness these massive whales, which dive up to a kilometre below the surface to feed on prey as big as great white sharks before returning to the top for air.
8. The Catlins Waterfalls
A lush region of rolling hills and beautiful beaches, the Catlins is home to some stunning waterfalls including Purakaunui Falls, Matai Falls and McLean Falls.
9. The Remarkables
Just 35-minutes drive from Queenstown, the Remarkables, located in the mountain range of the same name, is an epic snowfield for skiing and boarding covering 220 hectares.
10. TranzApline Rail Crossing
Crossing the fertile farmlands of Canterbury Plains, cruising along the Waimakariri River and traversing the Southern Alps, this rail journey runs from Christchurch to Greymouth, affording stunning views from start to finish.
A former gold mining village on the banks of the Arrow River, Arrowtown is a living museum, with over 60 cottages, shops, hotels and churches restored to their former glory to explore.
12. Rangitata Valley
This beautiful valley is where Edoras in Rohan in the Lord of the Rings trilogy was set, and well worth the drive.
13. Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers
Two of the most accessible glaciers in the world, these glaciers flow from 2,600 metres high in the mountains down to almost sea level. Join a guided tour up onto the glacier for an unforgettable experience.
There are a few places to see penguins around the South Island. The Royal Albatross Centre on Taiaroa Head in Otago offers tours of the Little Blue Penguin colony on Pilots beach, or head to Oamaru, nicknamed Penguintown for its little black and white residents.
15. Lake Tekapo
Surrounded by towering mountains – as many of New Zealand’s lakes are – Lake Tekapo also boasts impossibly blue waters for excellent photo opportunities.
This small and often by-passed town is surrounded by world class ski fields and mountain regions for hiking, fishing and camping. In the town however, is the Wanaka Tree, sprouting from Lake Wanaka. Caught in the right light this tree turns a magical golden colour, perfect for photographs.
17. Mount Cook
The drive to Mount Cook is incredible, but when you get there, the scenery will continue to blow you away. New Zealand’s highest mountain, this is a popular destination for mountain climbers, but also worth visiting for flightseeing, hiking and stargazing.
18. Shotover Jet boat ride
Another Queenstown claim to fame, this exhilarating boat ride will send you skimming across shallow water, within centimetres of sheer rock face and doing donuts down the river – all in the name of fun.
This vibrant, creative city is a must-visit, with gorgeous botanic gardens, a strong arts and culture community and excellent food.
75 kilometres over the Banks Peninsula from Christchurch, this quaint French settlement has gorgeous historic buildings, a bustling art and craft community and a picturesque seaside location.
21. See the world’s smallest dolphins in Akaroa
While you’re in town, don’t miss out on a boat tour to see the world’s smallest and rarest dolphins, the Hector’s Dolphin, who live in the Akaroa Harbour. If you’re brave enough to jump in the cool waters, some tours even include a session of swimming with the playful dolphins.
22. Hanmer Springs
The ultimate combination of action and relaxation, Hanmer Springs is famous for its thermal hot springs and is surrounded by wilderness fit for mountain biking, hiking and even bungy jumping.
23. Cray Fish in Kaikoura
The Kaikoura coast is a spectacular drive. One arrival, treat yourself to some of the freshest seafood in the world, including the local specialty of crayfish.
24. Marlborough Vineyards
The Marlborough wine region stretches from Blenheim to Picton and is renowned for its crisp sauvignon blanc wines. You’ll also find some excellent eateries and retreats in the region.
25. Sunshine in Nelson
Nelson has more days of sunshine than anywhere else in New Zealand. The town is also known for its vibrant art community.
26. Lake Manapouri power station
Explore this underground hydroelectric power station on the western side of Lake Manapouri in Fiordland National Park – the largest hydroelectric station in New Zealand.
27. Kayak in Abel Tasman National Park
Kayak the protected coastline of the Abel Tasman National Park, with guided tours, or kayaks for hire, you can choose between a few hours or a few days adventure.
28. Hokitika Wild Food Festival
Held in March each year, this festival isn’t your ordinary food and wine feast, with fried grubs and other more interesting foods available. Definitely worth experiencing!
29. Punakaiki Pancake Rocks
These unique rock formations, along with blowholes and other stunning sites make the coastal drive along the edge of the Paparoa National Park well worth it.
30. Formerly The Blackball Hilton
New Zealand’s quirkiest pub, Formerly The Blackball Hilton is a bed a historic bed and breakfast over 100 years old. Stop in for lunch, or stay the night.
31. Fergburger Queenstown
Almost as famous as the ski slopes around town, this is Queenstown’s culinary claim to fame. Arrive early and expect to wait, and the line is usually out the door, the burgers are that good.
32. Central Otago Wine Region
No trip to New Zealand would be complete without multiple vineyard stops – the country is renowned for it after all. Central Otago is the country’s most scenic wine region and the southernmost wine producing region in the world. You’ll find excellent pinot noir and chardonnay here.
33. Dunedin Cadbury Chocolate Carnival
Every July, Dunedin hosts the ultimate sweet lovers food festival – the Cadbury Chocolate Carnival. The highlight is the Jaffa race, where 75,000 giant Jaffas are hurled down Baldwin Street in Dunedin.
34. Baldwin Street, Dunedin – the steepest street in the world
If you’re not in town for the Jaffa race, this is still worth a visit, as the world’s steepest street.
35. Albatross in Otago
Explore the world’s only mainland breeding colony of Royal Albatross at the Royal Albatross Centre on Taiaroa Head.
36. Cycle the Otago Central Rail Trail
A 150 kilometre trail through Central Otago, this is an excellent off-road cycle through gorgeous scenery. Varying in gradient across the trail, it’s accessible for beginners to experienced cyclists as well as hikers and horse riders.
37. Mackenzie Country
This region has the largest black sky reserve in the world, home to scientific telescopes and excellent stargazing, particularly at Mt John.
38. Tekapo Springs
These natural hot springs offer stunning relaxation right on the shores of Lake Tekapo. In winter they have an ice skating rink and summer waterslides for extra fun.
39. Lake Pukaki
Stunning blue waters against Mount Cook and the ribbon of mountains around, Lake Pukaki is where Lake-town in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was filmed. This location was used a total of three times in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies.
40. Scenic Flight over Mount Cook
If there is anywhere in the world to do flightseeing, it’s New Zealand’s South Island. One of the best places to do it is of course, Mount Cook, where snow capped mountains soar above green valleys and lakes below.
41. Otago Peninsula
A long, hilly peninsula on the east coast of the South Island, visitors flock here to see magic vistas and an abundance of wildlife, including New Zealand sea lions, one of the rarest seal species in the world.
42. Larnach Castle
New Zealand’s only castle, explore the lovingly restored castle and surrounding gardens, all with views over Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula.
43. Moeraki Boulders
These unusually large, spherical boulders are scattered across Koekohe Beach, along the wave-cut Otago coastline. Many of the boulders span over two metres in diameter.
The largest town on the West Coast, Greymouth has an interesting history of gold minds with a side of more epic New Zealand scenery.
45. Fly fishing
New Zealand’s freshwater mountain streams offer some of the best trout fishing in the world. Teh South Island hosts a variety of easy-access fishing experiences in the Nelson, Canterbury, West Coast and Lower South Island regions.
46. Stewart Island
Technically New Zealand’s third largest island, but just south of the southern tip of the South Island, this rarely visited haven is an untouched wilderness, ideal for bird watching, fishing, hiking and seeing all manner of marine life from penguins and seals and whales and dolphins.
47. Golfing in the wilderness
Head to The Hills, New Zealand’s most exclusive golf course, overlooking snow-capped mountains and glacial lakes above Queenstown.
48. Christchurch Street Art
San Francisco native Lindsay Chan created an interactive map for exploring the city’s growing street art galleries called Watch This Space: Christchurch Street Art. Explore over 100 artworks around the city on the self-guided tour.
49. World of Wearable Art and Classic Cars Museum
Celebrating two unique passions, this museum holds a collection of classic cars, as well as incredible wearable art from around the world. A must visit in the sunny city of Nelson.
50. Bungy Jumping
Head to Queenstown – epic mountain scenery, dizzying heights and in the heart of the adrenaline capital of the country, this is one of the best places to bungy in the world.