Boasting 10 national parks and numerous Wold Heritage-listed sites, anyone with even a crush on nature will quickly fall in love with the South Island. Take a look around and be mesmerised by what you see: snow-capped peaks towering over expansive plains, shiny glaciers that melt into tranquil lakes, and untouched beaches just beckoning for your footprints in the sand.
Larger in size but smaller in population than the North Island, New Zealand’s South is famously populated by one of the highest sheep-to-human ratios in the world. Also in abundance on the South Island are character-filled small towns and a copious supply of adrenaline-inducing activities.
The largest of the South Island cities, Christchurch, makes an ideal starting point for a journey around the South Island. Though ravaged by an earthquake in 2011, the city has since been rebuilt to its former glory. Transitional structures such as the Cardboard Cathedral and Re:START Container Mall have become part of the Christchurch's cultural fabric, symbolising a city that is not easily knocked down.
As the gateway to the Canterbury region, Christchurch also offers excellent access to the ski fields of the Southern Alps and is the starting point for a trip on the TranzAlpine train, which is widely regarded as one of the world’s great train journeys.
All-in for Adventure
Something else that’s widely regarded the world over is New Zealand’s 'adventure capital', Queenstown. Queenstown is set against the spectacular Remarkables mountain range and crystal clear Lake Wakatipu. In winter, the town become’s the centre of New Zealand’s ski scene, while year-round visitors can get an adrenaline fix bungee jumping, jet boating and white water rafting.
An easy day trip away from Queenstown is Milford Sound, one of New Zealand’s most impressive sights. A breathtaking set of cliffs and mountains that cascade downwards into water make taking a boat tour a more than memorable experience. Alternatively, continue the South Island’s adventurous theme and explore the Fiordland yourself by kayak.
In many ways a laidback version of Queenstown, neighbouring Wanaka is another of the South Island’s natural wonders. With its own lake and excellent access to the Treble Cone and Cardrona ski areas, Wanaka is equally renowned for its wineries and friendly hospitality.
Featuring many of the same heart-pumping activities as Queenstown, Wanaka is a great place to pick if you want an action-packed New Zealand holiday with a quiet and secluded atmosphere at the same time.
Sample the South
Known as the 'Edinburgh of New Zealand', although Dunedin won’t beat Queenstown and Wanaka in a beauty contest, its rich culture makes it well worth a visit. During the day, take your time to explore the university town's architectural heritage at Larnach Castle, Dunedin Railway Station and St Paul’s Cathedral, or head to the Otago Peninsula to spot penguins, albatross and seals.
Come night, check local gig guides to experience the city’s world-famous music scene at one of the numerous lively pubs and bars that scatter Dunedin’s inner-city.
Away from the South Island’s main townships are other sites you’ll definitely want to spare some time to explore. Foodies, you definitely can’t miss Marlborough wine country in the far north. While you’re there, book a wine tour and taste for yourself just why the region is regarded as one of the best producers of Sauvignon Blanc in the world.
Home to a large concentration of artists, sunny Nelson also up in the north of the island is where you’ll find some of New Zealand’s most spectacular beaches and arguably the best fly-fishing opportunities in the country.
At the opposite end of the island, Southland is just one more South Island destination that will suit adventure seekers, this time for those wanting to spot wildlife in their natural habitat in The Catlins.