South Island
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Things to do on the South Island

Things to do in  South Island

Welcome to South Island

New Zealand's South Island is one of the earth's best outdoor playgrounds—and what it lacks in human population, it more than makes up for in pristine forests, fjords, lakes, beaches, and mountains. Guided tours reach nearly every corner of the island, offering expert instruction, informative commentary, and effortless access to these truly great outdoors. A popular base is Christchurch, the island's biggest city, full of Anglo-influenced architecture and an array of cultural offerings. Visitors enjoy peaceful punt rides down the Avon River, visits to the verdant Christchurch Botanic Gardens, and gondola rides into the Port Hills. Farther south, the Remarkables preside over Queenstown, known as the global adventure capital thanks to its seemingly unlimited menu of extreme tours and activities. Besides being an arts and dining destination in its own right, the town acts the jumping-off point for adventures at nearby Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier, Mount Cook, and Milford Sound. Many visitors arrive ready to tackle one of the South Island's six Great Walks, or a variety of shorter or longer guided forays into the island's valleys, mountains, and fjords. Dunedin, proud of its Scottish history and full of bustling student life, boasts the scenic Taieri Gorge Railway, and is a departure point for tours to the Otago Peninsula, which teems with wildlife—including whales, dolphins, and sea lions—pristine beaches, and interesting historic sights.

Top 15 attractions in South Island

Lake Wakatipu

Surrounded by mountains and shrouded in legend, Lake Wakatipu and its crystal waters draw visitors as the longest lake on New Zealand's South Island. As a popular spot for adventure activities—from fishing to catamaran cruises—a day on Lake Wakatipu is arguably the highlight of any trip to Queenstown and the Otago region.More

Franz Josef Glacier

One of New Zealand’s most photographed natural wonders and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Franz Josef Glacier serves up a dazzling landscape of snow-smothered peaks, rocky gorges, and icy waterfalls, feeding into the Waiho River that's ripe for exploration.More

Milford Sound

With its soaring cliffs, dramatic glacial valleys, and thundering waterfalls, it’s easy to see why Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most visited sights. This natural wonder is the star attraction of Fiordland National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and wildlife haven for dolphins, seals, and penguins.More

Marlborough Sounds

A series of sunken river valleys at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, the Marlborough Sounds offer a range of sights and adventures—hiking, biking, camping, and wildlife watching, to name but a few. Many travelers pass through Queen Charlotte Sound and the town of Picton on the ferry between the North and South islands.More

Lake Tekapo

A glacial lake on New Zealand’s South Island, Lake Tekapo is an adventurer’s playground by day—and a stargazer’s heaven at night. On a clear night, southern hemisphere constellations, plus the Milky Way and the southern lights, shine spectacularly in the UNESCO-listed Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve.More

Lake Wanaka

Lake Wanaka is one of New Zealand’s largest lakes, surrounded by the mountains of Mt. Aspiring National Park. On the lake's southern shore, the town of Wanaka is a relaxed spot that offers easy access to lake-based activities: in summer, paddleboarding, kayaking, boating, and swimming are popular; in winter, skiing is available nearby. More

Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre

The Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, just outside Blenheim, tells the story of New Zealand’s involvement in World War I and II through vintage aircraft. Two permanent exhibits—Knights of the Sky and Dangerous Skies—present aircraft alongside rare memorabilia, recreate battle scenes, and tell the story of the pilots who flew these impressive aircraft in each of the early-20th century wars.More

TranzAlpine Train

The TranzAlpine Train is New Zealand’s most spectacular train journey, one which winds its way through the dramatic gorges and alpine forests of the Southern Alps, over staggering viaducts and dizzying mountain passes. From Christchurch on the East Coast to Greymouth on the West Coast, this almost 5-hour trip serves up endless photo opportunities as it runs through the heart of the South Island.More

Fiordland National Park

Sprawling along New Zealand’s southwest coast, Fiordland National Park represents the country at its most photogenic: jagged mountains, rugged glacial valleys, and glittering fjords. This UNESCO World Heritage Site harbors some of New Zealand’s most impressive natural wonders, including Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, and Lake Te Anau, as well as rare Fiordland penguins, dolphins, seals, and sea lions.More

Kawarau River

Not far from Queenstown, Kawarau River offers a variety of thrill-seeking possibilities including jet boating, whitewater rafting, and riverboarding. Alternatively, visitors can go off-road into the surrounding hills during an all-terrain quad bike tour or try bungee jumping from the Kawarau Suspension Bridge. There’s something for history buffs too, who come to check out the gold-miners’ huts and relics from the river’s gold-rush days.More

Routeburn Track

The Routeburn Track, with its hidden lakes, dramatic waterfalls, and rugged alpine scenery, has been heralded as one of the world's best hikes in one of the world's best settings. The 20-mile (33-kilometer) trail is fittingly listed as a New Zealand Great Walk; it is truly something special.More

Central Otago

From Naseby and Ranfurly in the east to Cromwell and Arrowtown in the west, Central Otago is a sprawling alpine landscape known for winemaking and natural beauty. Spanning more than 3,800 miles (9,900 square kilometers) but with only 18,000 residents, this isolated, historical part of New Zealand is a great escape from the urban jungle.More

Coronet Peak

Coronet Peak is New Zealand’s oldest ski field and remains a popular choice for people heading to the slopes during the southern hemisphere’s ski season. Snow bunnies can take to one of the ski field’s many trails, while sightseers can enjoy the stunning views of the Wakatipu Basin and the Southern Alps from the summit of the peak.More

Kawarau Suspension Bridge

Rising 141 feet (42 meters) above the turquoise waters of dramatic Kawarau Gorge, no attraction is more iconic to Queenstown than the historic Kawarau Suspension Bridge. Most thrill-seekers know that the bridge is the site of the world's first commercial bungee jump. It’s still possible to leap from a platform suspended from the bridge where it all began.More

The Chasm

The short walk to the Chasm, in the South Island’s Fiordland National Park, is an ideal family excursion as it’s not challenging, and kids will love the sight of the powerful waterfalls. The high volumes of rain in this part of the country have carved interesting shapes into the rocks here over thousands of years.More

Top activities in South Island

Premium Milford Sound Small Group Tour, Cruise & Picnic Lunch from Queenstown
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Cruise Milford NZ Small Boutique Cruise Experience
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Half-Day Milford Sound Flight and Cruise from Queenstown
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Franz Josef Heli Hiking Guided Tour
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Franz Josef Heli Hiking Guided Tour

TranzAlpine Train, Arthur's Pass & Castle Hill Day Trip from Christchurch
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Shotover River Extreme Jet Boat Ride in Queenstown, New Zealand
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Premium Milford Sound Small Group Tour, Cruise & Picnic Lunch from Te Anau
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Milford Sound Sightseeing Cruise with Scenic Round-Trip Flight from Queenstown
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Franz Josef Glacier Heli-Hike
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Franz Josef Glacier Heli-Hike

Central Otago Wine Tour from Queenstown - Includes 4 Vineyards, Lunch & Wine
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Central Otago Wine Tour from Queenstown - Includes 4 Vineyards, Lunch & Wine

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Heli Hike Fox Glacier

Heli Hike Fox Glacier

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All about South Island

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People Also Ask

What is South Island, New Zealand, known for?

The South Island of New Zealand is known for its Southern Alps mountains, numerous national parks (including popular Fiordland and Abel Tasman), Franz Josef and Fox glaciers, the cities of Christchurch and Dunedin, and more. It’s also known as the filming location of scenes from The Lord of the Rings.

What should I not miss on the South Island of New Zealand?

Don’t miss visiting one or more of the South Island’s national parks. These run the length of the island, from Abel Tasman in the north to Fiordland in the south. Whether you want to hike or take a sightseeing cruise, the South Island’s national parks offer something for every interest.

Which activities can visitors try out on the South Island?

Visitors to the South Island can go hiking, kayaking, jet boating, white-water rafting, canyoning, mountain biking, parasailing, skiing, bungee jumping, skydiving, and more. Queenstown is known as New Zealand’s adventure capital and is a convenient one-stop adventure destination, but many activities can be tried elsewhere on the South Island.

How many days do you need to see the South Island?

You could see several of the South Island’s highlights in seven days, but a more leisurely 10–14 days is preferable. The Southern Alps run through the length of the South Island, meaning roads across the island are limited and often slow. Getting around may take longer than you anticipate.

What are the 5 cities in the South Island?

The five main cities on the South Island are Christchurch, Dunedin, Nelson, Invercargill, and Blenheim. Queenstown is also famous, but it’s small and not really a city. The South Island contains around 25 percent of New Zealand’s total population, so the South Island cities and towns are generally small.

What is the best time to go to the South Island of New Zealand?

Spring, summer, and fall are the best times to visit the South Island for most outdoor and sightseeing activities, while winter is the best time to ski. There are good reasons to visit at any time of year, depending on your preferred sights and activities.


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Frequently Asked Questions
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