50 Reasons To Get To The South Island

11 January 2017
Read Time: 11.8 mins

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. 

Pier at Glenorchy New Zealand The much-photographed pier at Glenorchy. (Image: Getty)

1. Glenorchy

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.

Milford Sound, New Zealand No trip to New Zealand's South Island is complete without experiencing the grandeur of Milford Sound. (Image: Getty)

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.

Sperm whale breaching, New Zealand Sperm whales, while majestic, are intriguingly aggressive whales to watch - they even pray on Great White Sharks. (Image: Getty)

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.

The Remarkables, New Zealand The Remarkables are not only excellent skiing, but the views on a clear day are incredible. (Image: Getty)

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.

11. Arrowtown

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.

Rangitata Valley and Mount Sunday, New Zealand Rangitata Valley and Mount Sunday provided the perfect moody location for Edoras in Rohan in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. (Image: Getty)

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.  

14. Penguins

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.

The Wanaka Tree, New Zealand The Wanaka Tree lit up during golden hour. (Image: Getty)

16. Wanaka

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.

19. Christchurch

This vibrant, creative city is a must-visit, with gorgeous botanic gardens, a strong arts and culture community and excellent food.

Akaroa Harbour, New Zealand The spectacular Banks Peninsula is home to picturesque Akaroa and the Akaroa harbour, where the world's rarest dolphins live, Hector's dolphins. (Image: Getty)

20. Akaroa

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.

Vineyard, New Zealand Sipping a glass of sauvignon blanc with this backdrop doesn't seem too tough. (Image: Getty)

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!

Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki, New Zealand The strange rock formations at Punakaiki are called the Pancake rocks for their flat, layered formation. (Image: Getty)

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.

Dunedin, New Zealand The steepest street in the world, and the location of the Dunedin Jaffa race. (Image: Getty)

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.

Central Otago, New Zealand The Central Otago Rail Trail passes through varied and spectacular scenery. (Image: Getty)

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.

Mount Cook, New Zealand The road into Mount Cook is just the beginning of this stunning region. (Image: Getty)

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.

Moeraki boulders, New Zealand The round shape of the Moeraki boulders is caused by erosion from the rhythm of the waves. (Image: Getty)

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.

44. Greymouth

The largest town on the West Coast,  Greymouth has an interesting history of gold minds with a side of more epic New Zealand scenery.

Cantebury, New Zealand Canterbury is renowned for excellent trout fly fishing. (Image: Getty)

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.

Bungy jumping Queenstown Is there a better location to bungy jump than this? (Image: Getty)

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. 

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Vicki Fletcher

A writer and photographer for Flight Centre, Vicki loves road trips down unknown tracks, hiking into mountain ranges, following locals to the best food in town, and spending long afternoons people watching in city squares. She's written for publications across Australia and Europe. Top travel tip: always look up. Follow Vicki on Instagram @vickijanefletcher.