Mountains towering skywards powdered with fluffy snow. Rolling green hills that put the Scottish highlands to shame. Enough action-packed activities to have you pumping with adrenaline for days. Vibrant and cultural cities with fresh, clean air. There is so much that the south island of New Zealand has to offer to travellers of every kind. This list doesn’t just include the tourist spots that feature in every guidebook, but also the hidden gems tucked into this scenic wonderland that will take your breath away.
So what are you waiting for?
Here are the top ten attractions that you just can’t miss when touring New Zealand’s South Island.
It wouldn’t be right to start our journey anywhere other than Queenstown. There is a reason why many say this is the most beautiful town in the world. An alpine village a million miles from the Alps, you will find cosy nooks and crannies where you can nestle next to a fireplace overlooking the magnificent lake. Not to mention Queenstown is the gateway to a plethora of ski, snowboard, and adventure travel opportunities. Hit the slopes, go bungy jumping, feel the thrill of a jet boat, or just sit back and read a book. The options here are endless and you could easily spend a week here alone.
2. Christchurch Street Art
Culture buffs and art aficionados should be sure to check out the street art of Christchurch. While not quite rivaling places like Berlin or Rio, there is a fresh and exciting flavour to this urban landscape. You can take a tour, or if you are trying to save a penny, you can wander the streets alone and soak up the creative atmosphere, with funky cafes and boutiques on every corner.
3. Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier
Those with limited time might not be able to do both, but if you can squeeze at least one of these glaciers into your itinerary, it will be worth it. Sadly, the glaciers are slowly melting as the earth gets warmer, and you might not have the chance forever. Lake Matheson near Fox Glacier is another spectacular photo opportunity, especially on a windless day when you can catch the mountains reflected in the cool water.
4. Hokitika Gorge
This spot looks like it is right out of a postcard. Glowing turquoise water fringed on all sides by wooded bushland. Travel about 33 kilometres from Hokitika on the western coast, and grab a kayak to get up close to this natural wonder. A great spot to add to the itinerary if you are on a driving tour and completing a full loop of the island.
5. Marlborough Sounds
The stunning Marlborough Sounds is a sprawling waterway covering 1,500 kilometres along the New Zealand coast. It is home to a picturesque secluded bay, many historical sites, and a vital marine park which provides refuge for countless species of marine and terrestrial life. You can take a kayak tour through the sounds and come face to face with wildlife, as you bask in the glow of the brilliant aqua blue water. There are also loads of hiking and cycling opportunities for those who want to get off the beaten track and explore the ridgelines. Make sure to check out the view from the Queen Charlotte Track.
6. Mt. Cook
Another one for the hiking enthusiasts, Mt. Cook has a bunch of trails for all experience levels, never skimping on views. During the drive up the mountain, you can watch the world disappear below, and settle into the chilled atmosphere of the hotels and hostels around the town centre.
A special place where time can easily stop.
7. A scenic flight to Milford Sound
If one sound just isn’t enough, you can take a scenic flight to Milford Sound and absorb the magic of the south island from above. This aerial experience is like no other. Mountains tower up from the sea, with cascading waterfalls flowing down their sides. Once you reach the sound, you can complete the experience by taking a scenic cruise and seeing everything from the bottom up.
8. Surf at Kahutara
Don’t let the chilly weather put you off, the south island has plenty of good waves to keep the surfers happy. Just outside Kaikoura, is a fabulous point break thanks to a deep offshore trench. The waves break onto a rocky reef, so aren’t for the novice surfer, but experienced frothers will find isolated conditions and beautiful rolling south and southwest swells. Don’t forget your wetsuit.
9. Abel Tasman National Park
Want to see marine life up close? Seals and dolphins are regularly seen playing in this sheltered bay. It is the ideal place for sailing and kayaking adventures, or you can take a brisk walk around the shoreline via the Abel Tasman Coastal track. You will venture through native bushland, sidle up alongside limestone cliffs, and cross over golden sandy beaches. You will be forgiven for thinking you have stepped into a movie.
10. Kaikoura Coast
The Kaikoura Coast on the eastern side of the island is special because it is green! This eye-catching effect occurs because as the water runs off into the sea, it introduces rock and mineral particles from the mountainsides that mix with the seawater to give it a special hue. Take in the emerald cost while driving from Picton to Kaikoura, or from Christchurch to Dunedin.
It is pretty clear that the south island of NZ is a treasure trove of natural gems, golden thrillseeking moments, and special cities that you will want to savour. Whatever type of holiday you are interested in, do yourself a favour, take your time and get to know this little corner of the world.