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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

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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

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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

Marlborough Sounds

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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

Milford Sound

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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

TranzAlpine Train

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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

Lake Tekapo

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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

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

Dunedin Railway Station

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Made of bluestone with marble floors and stained glass windows, the Dunedin Railway Station is one of Dunedin’s most impressive buildings and purportedly the most photographed in New Zealand. Far more than a railway station, here you can also grab something to eat, visit a sports museum, or photograph the attractive building.More

Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre

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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

Arthur's Pass National Park

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In the heart of New Zealand’s Southern Alps, Arthur’s Pass National Park is a sprawling landscape marked by soaring mountains, lush valleys, and powerful rivers. It offers adventurous visitors of all levels varied hiking tracks, open ski fields, and remarkable natural wonders such as forests, caves, waterfalls, glaciers, and more.More

The Chasm

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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

Fiordland National Park

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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

Coronet Peak

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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

Signal Hill

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On a sunny day, you’ll find the best view in all of Dunedin is from the top of Signal Hill. This 1,289-foot forested promontory rises high above Dunedin Harbor, and offers sweeping views of the blue Pacific and green of the surrounding hills. On clear summer days you can find locals and visitors enjoying the uphill stroll to the summit, and mountain bikers whirring down the numerous trails that weave their way through the woods.While walking maximizes the hill’s beauty, there’s also a road that winds its way up to the scenic reward at the top. Not far from the Signal Hill summit, a large memorial commemorates New Zealand’s 100th anniversary that took place in 1940, and two bronze statues on the side of the memorial are an ode to the original Scottish settlers who founded the waterfront town.More

Routeburn Track

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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
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Recent reviews from experiences in South Island

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Exhilarating awesome experience!
Andrew_P, Aug 2022
Shotover River Extreme Jet Boat Ride in Queenstown, New Zealand
A really unique way to see some awesome scenery and river gorges in the South Island.
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Cruising birdwatching a little hike Captain Cook History wonderful
Frank_M, Nov 2022
Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary and Ship Cove Cruise from Picton
An hour on the Island to see South Island Robins darting around, Kureru flying at the hilltop lookout and I’m sure I heard a Kiwi call near the pathway on arrival.
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Great tour with a great guide! #James
Garrett_C, Nov 2022
Sunrise wildlife sea kayaking in Akaroa marine reserve
Super friendly and so glad we had an opportunity to see Akaroa with him.
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Great trip
Jennifer, Sep 2020
Queen Charlotte Sound Mail Boat Cruise
Great way to see the sights of the Sounds.
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Memorable trip
Jeffrey_S, Mar 2020
Half-Day Milford Sound Nature Cruise and Flight from Queenstown
Stunning aerial views followed by a wonderful cruise on a boat small enough to approach the waterfalls.
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This tour was the ideal way to see...
ruthorders, Aug 2017
5-Day South Island Tour from Christchurch
This tour was the ideal way to see all the highlights on the South Island.
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This is an excellent tour for a...
NADARAJAH J, Jan 2018
5-Day South Island Tour from Christchurch
This is an excellent tour for a family who wants to see most of the South Island in a short time with less or no stress.
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This was a great way to see the...
JULIA T, Jul 2017
6 Day South Island Circut: Milford Sound, Queenstown and Glaciers
This was a great way to see the south island.
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All about South Island

Currency
New Zealand Dollar (NZ$)
Time Zone
NZDT (UTC +12)
Country Code
+64
Language(s)
English

South Island information

Number of Attractions

107

Number of Tours

899

Number of Reviews

46,612

Currency

USD
Frequently Asked Questions
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