The Punakaiki coastline at sunrise.

Top 6 Beautiful Things to See & Do on the NZ South Island

29 March 2017

If you’ve ever been to New Zealand, read anything about New Zealand, or seen The Lord of the Rings movies, you’ll know that it’s impossibly beautiful from top to bottom. The South Island gets a lot of the glory – and for good reason. In fact, it has so many natural beauty spots that it’s impossible to list them all. Instead, we’ve sorted them into groups to make sure you don’t miss a moment of loveliness.

1. Mountains

Early morning light on the peak of Aoraki/Mt Cook. Aoraki, a formidable but compelling mountain. Image: Getty

For majestic beauty, look no further than New Zealand’s highest peak – Aoraki /Mount Cook in the Southern Alps. It’s popular with mountaineers, but less intrepid souls can enjoy shorter alpine walks from the sweet village of Mount Cook at the base of the mountain. It’s also a top spot for stargazing and scenic flights.

Also try: The Remarkables for staggering ski-field views; and Fiordland National Park for spectacular peaks and waterfalls.

2. Glaciers

Fox glacier flows down from snowy peaks to rainforest. Snowy peaks and rainforest - nothing stands in Fox Glacier's way. Image: Getty

Fox Glacier extends its icy fingers from the Southern Alps down into temperate rainforest near the village of the same name.  See it from the air, get up close on a heli-ice-climbing adventure, or simply walk to the terminal face.

Also try: Franz Josef Glacier for World Heritage wonder; and Tasman Glacier, for New Zealand’s longest river of ice.

3. Peninsulas

A close-up of two penguins on the Otago Peninsula. Penguin denizens of the Otago Peninsula. Image: Getty

The Otago Peninsula sits on the southern edge of Dunedin’s harbour and makes for a spectacular scenic drive, bordered by rugged cliffs on one side and sheltered harbour waters on the other. There’s an abundance of wildlife, including albatross colonies, penguin nesting areas and seal colonies, and historic sites such as Larnach Castle are worth a stop along the way.

Also try: Banks Peninsula for volcanic beauty.

4. Coasts

A sperm whale's tale in the waters off Kaikoura, New Zealand. A sperm whale dives deep in the waters off Kaikoura. Image: Getty

Kaikoura is a wildlife-lover’s dream, two hours north of Christchurch. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can see sperm whales – view them on a whale-watching boat tour or even a whale-watching flight. There are also dolphins to be seen, wild fur seals to kayak or swim with, and albatrosses to encounter.

Also try: Abel Tasman National Park for inviting, sandy beaches; and Punakaiki for pancake rocks and blowholes.

5. Sounds

Morning casts pastel reflections in Milford Sound. Milford Sound is a photographer's dream. Image: Getty

Milford Sound is breathtaking in any weather, a fiord carved by glaciers millennia ago. It’s jaw-dropping from every angle, whether you choose to paddle, fly or walk. Step aboard a cruise boat and glide along its glassy waters, beneath the fine spray from waterfalls, as forested peaks cast dizzying reflections.

Also try: Doubtful Sound for powerful silence; and Marlborough Sounds for sheltered inlets and wildlife.

6. Lakes

Queenstown, on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. A bolt from the blue - Lake Wakatipu. Image: Getty

The lightning bolt-shaped Lake Wakatipu is a glorious body of water surrounded by mountains, with a shoreline dotted by settlements such as Queenstown, Kingston, Glenorchy and Kinloch. It has something akin to a ‘tide’ (actually a standing wave), so the water level rises and falls about 10 centimetres every half hour. Cruise across it in the vintage steamship TSS Earnslaw to truly appreciate its beauty. It’s also a good spot for trout fishing, swimming, beaches and cycle trails.

Also try: Lake Wanaka for watersports; Lake Pukaki for alpine loveliness; and Lake Tekapo for stargazing.

*Featured image: Punakaiki’s coastline. Image: Getty


Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to the South Island.


Renae Spinks

Travel for me is about conversations and connections. There’s nothing like setting foot in a new land and meeting people a world apart. From talking to North Sea fishermen in Norway’s Lofoten Islands to breakfast chat at a B&B in my own back yard, there’s always a story to share and a tale to tell.