Top Attractions in South Island
Experience a choice of must-see attractions in New Zealand's South Island, including:
Abel Tasman National Park
Hike the popular Coastal Track along one of the most beautiful coastlines in New Zealand. This easy three- to five-day hike offers a mix of native forest, coastal bush walking, gentle climbs to lookouts and walks across idyllic secluded beaches.
Climb the dramatic karst landscape of Takaka Hill or at Te Pukatea Bay, a crescent of golden sand; follow the track up to Pitt Head to explore the terracing of an ancient Maori pa (fortress) where the views are awesome. Listen to birdsong from tuis and bellbirds in the forest; watch cormorants, gannets and blue penguins dive for food along the coast; and see fur seals lounging on the rocks Tonga Island.
The Coastal Track is open throughout the year, but to escape the summer crowds it’s a good idea to hop into a kayak and paddle the pristine shoreline of sandy beaches, secluded coves and rocky headlands that hikers can’t easily reach. For company, look out for the local friendly seals and dolphins.
It’s easy to hire a kayak for a day or a week or you can join a guided sightseeing tour from Motueka, Marahau or Kaiteriteri for a mix of hiking and kayaking.
Read more about Abel Tasman . . .
Explore one of the most beautiful unspoilt regions of New Zealand on a mountain bike ride along the Queen Charlotte Track – one of the longest single-track bike rides in New Zealand, stretching 71km from Ship Cove to Anakiwa.
Cycle through lush coastal forest, across streams, along skyline ridges and around historic bays with awesome views of Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru sounds. Experienced cyclists should be able to complete the track – open to mountain bikes from 1 March to 30 November – in around 13 hours.
At other times of the year, mountain bikes are only allowed on the Kenepuru Saddle to Anakiwa section of the track, which is a little more than 40km long. Depending on where you join the track, hikers can expect to take from two to four days on this unmissable adventure.
Water transport to the start at Ship Cove can be organised from Picton, while commercial operators can carry your pack between overnight stays.
Nelson Lakes National Park
Escape the crowds and head to the Nelson Lakes area, a charming alpine park of rugged peaks, forests and glacial lakes full of long and short hiking trails to suit walkers of all abilities.
The park is renowned for its honeydew beech forests, which feed a variety of nectar-eating native birds, lizards and insects. See the stunning landscape on a variety of tracks including the five-day Travers-Sabine Circuit and the D'Urville Valley Track, which offers stunning views from Mount Cedric across the Southern Alps. Or take a short stroll through the beech forest surrounding the serenely beautiful Lake Rotoroa, well known for its excellent brown trout fishing.
In winter, Rainbow Skifield, located about the charming village of St Arnaud, offers every type of terrain for skiers and snowboarders.
Located in the Kahurangi National Park, the second largest national park in New Zealand, the 82km-long Heaphy track offers a huge diversity of scenery with a mix of sub-alpine tussock grasslands, lush rainforest, rugged mountains and palm-fringed surf beaches.
The park contains the largest cave system in New Zealand and has yielded New Zealand’s oldest fossil at 540 million years old.
Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers
Be inspired and humbled on a guided walk across the stunning Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. Located on the west coast of the South Island, these glaciers are among the few left in the world that continue to grow, flowing almost to sea level.
The 300m-thick Fox Glacier plummets from 2600m in height along a river valley for 13km. Fed by high annual snowfall, the frozen landscape is scarred with dramatic and potentially dangerous fissures and ravines.
Take an easy walk to the foot of the glaciers or be adventurous: land on the glacier on a ski plane or helicopter and take a professionally guided tour among the frozen ravines. From here, enjoy panoramic views of New Zealand’s highest peaks, Mount Cook (Aoraki) and Mount Tasman.
Discover a breathtaking alpine playground among New Zealand’s highest mountains and largest glaciers. Aoraki – Mount Cook National Parks boasts more than 140 peaks over 2000m including Mount Cook, the highest peak in Australasia. Perfect for hiking, mountain biking, climbing or skiing.
For an adventure to remember, climb Mt. Cook, New Zealand's highest peak, at 3,754m. Or strap on a pair of skis and explore glaciers and snow headwalls while skiing among mountain peaks.
Take a day tour on telemark or alpine touring equipment or heli-ski the Tasman Glacier, with powder snow from July to early September and spring snow until November.
Located on the neck of two turquoise lakes – Lakes Wanaka and Hawea – this lively haven is renowned for its rock climbing, bungy jumping, canyoning, kayaking, horse trekking, paragliding, mountain biking, mountaineering and skiing.
Hikers can find numerous trails along the southern edge of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea that wander the hillsides through native forest. Try the walk up to Mount Iron or to Mount Aspiring, at 3027m in height.
Wanaka also offers a winter sports wonderland, with classic downhill skiing at nearby Cardrona and Treble Cone and heli-skiing in the Harris Mountains.
Read more about Wanaka . . .
Known as the ‘Adventure capital of the world’, Queenstown offers numerous adrenalin-pumping adventure activities: go skydiving, river surfing, whitewater rafting, jet-boating or bungy jumping, or take a scenic flight or lake cruise.
Bungy jump from the Kawarau Bridge, the world's first and most famous bungy, 43m above the Kawarau River. This is the only bungy in Queenstown where you can choose to bob above the water, touch it or get fully immersed.
Take a scenic tour into the rugged mountains, lush beech forests and golden hill country around Queenstown and be reminded of Middle-Earth scenes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Read more about Queenstown . . .
The Banks Peninsula
Discover a region of bush-covered hills, high cliffs and small bays with tranquil beaches formed by volcanic eruptions. Take two to four days to tramp from the seaside village of Akaroa through pastureland, the Hinewai Reserve and along a spectacular coastline where you can easily spot yellow-eyed penguins, fur seals and dolphins.
Or discover the dramatic scenery on quarter horses along tracks that take you through serene pastoral land with spectacular views over native bush and the Akaroa Harbour. Cross streams and ride through native forest past ancient matai and totara trees.
Experience cascading waterfalls, ancient rainforest, shimmering lakes and granite peaks on foot, from a kayak, a fjord cruise or from above on a scenic flight. Paddle beneath the mist of a tumbling waterfall in the iconic 22km-long Milford Sound and spot resident bottlenose dolphins, fur seals and penguins in Doubtful Sound, New Zealand’s deepest fiord.
From the lakeside towns of Te Anau and Manapouri, discover a range of great hiking tracks including some of the best walks in the world – the Milford, Hollyford, Kepler and Routeburn tracks.
Little has changed since New Zealand’s Milford Track was described as “the finest walk in the world” by the London Spectator in 1908. The track winds up steep mountains, along narrow valleys, across suspension bridges, beside torrential waterfalls and through the lush vegetation of Fiordlands National Park, a World Heritage area.
From Lake Te Anau, a river walk through beech forests and open meadows leads to a series of challenging switchback ascents to 1073m at McKinnon Pass, the hike’s highest point, providing spectacular views of Mount Eliot and the Jervois Glacier. The path descends to Roaring Burn and the three-leap, 579m Sutherland Falls, the fourth highest waterfall in the world.
The last leg of the hike descends alongside the Arthur River to finish at Milford Sound, where a ferry ride takes you to buses that will shuttle you back to Te Anau or Queenstown.
You must complete the Milford Track in four days and three nights and only 40 hikers are allowed on the track per day. Or you can take a guided one-day excursion to the Clinton Hikers Hut and enjoy a cruise on Lake Te Anau.
Read more about hiking the Milford Track . . .
Open all year round, the Hollyford Track offers a 56km adventure that lasts four days and journeys through some of Fiordland’s most diverse scenery. The track follows the Hollyford River beneath the steep rock walls of the Darran Mountains, past Fiordland's two highest peaks, Mount Tutoko (2746m) and Mount Madeline (2537m).
It then trails around two beautiful lakes – Alabaster and McKerrow and the roaring cascade of Hidden Falls before ending at the old port of Martins Bay. Look out for fur seals and penguins along the coastal section of the track.
Climb through moss-draped beech forest, through tussock high country, across mountain ranges, past cascading waterfalls and glacier-carved valleys to the snow line.
The 67km circuit starts from the shore of Lake Te Anau, heads up the side of Mount Luxmore, crosses the Kepler Mountains, descends to the Iris Burn Valley then finishes along the shore of Lake Manapouri.
Along the route, admire stalactites and stalagmites inside Luxmore Cave and enjoy breathtaking views from the summit of Mount Luxmore at 1471m on this custom-built track.
The track is designed to showcase the best of Fiordland’s flora and fauna. Don’t miss the prolific bird life, from yellowheads and robins along the Iris Burn valley to yellow-crowned parakeets along the Waiau River. Tomtits, grey warblers, fantails, chaffinches and keas are common along the track.
Trek through the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area between the Hollyford and Dart valleys, located at the base of the Southern Alps. Along the route, which can take up to three days, hike past large trees and delicate sub-alpine herbs.
Spot native fantails, parakeets, bellbirds, yellowheads and robins and enjoy panoramic views of the Alps and the Tasman Sea from the top of Conical Hill. The Routeburn Track can be walked in either direction from Glenorchy or Te Anau.
Take a cruise or paddle a kayak along New Zealand’s iconic fjord beneath 1500m-high glacial cliffs, plunging waterfalls, past seals lounging on rocks and relish the moody, misty tranquillity of this stunning 22km-long fjord.
Or drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound along one of the most scenic drives in the world – the Milford Road. Allow a minimum of two hours driving (in each direction) without allowing for stops for the 240km return trip. Enjoy lunch overlooking stunning Mitre Peak.
Discover a bush-clad rugged island scarred with deep gullies and ridges and ringed by a 755km-long coastline of long golden beaches and idyllic bays. The island is traversed by more than 220km of well-maintained hiking tracks and is a paradise for hikers and birdwatchers, with the most diverse bird population of any region in New Zealand and one of the only places where hikers are likely to see New Zealand's national bird, the kiwi, in the wild.
Don’t miss the off-shore Ulva Island, a predator-free bird sanctuary that is accessible by water taxi. Hike the three-day 36km Rakiura Track or the longer 125km North-West Circuit, a 10- to 12-day hike famed for its mud and wetlands, its unspoiled isolated beaches and bird life.
Famous for its reflective mirror images of Mount Cook (Aoraki) and Mount Tasman. Take an hour to stroll around the lake through native rainforest, visit the nearby historic gold mining settlement of Gillespies Beach and, further along the coast, enjoy the sight of fur seals basking in the sun.
The Catlins Coast
Explore the stunning wilderness from Nugget Point in South Otago (just south of Balclutha) to Waipapa Point in Southland (north-east of Invercargill). Along the way, pass through dense rainforest, open scrub, waterfalls, deep valleys, rocky bays, inlets and estuaries.
Nugget Point is best for wildlife viewing: watch fur seals, Hooker's sea lions and sea elephants coexisting, as well as colonies of yellow-eyed penguins and blue penguins.
At Porpoise Bay, scan the waves for Hector's dolphins. Don’t miss the track to Purakaunui Falls, a magnificent 20m-high three-tier waterfall. And in Curio Bay discover a 180 million-year-old fossilised forest. Do a self-drive tour or take a guided tour and allow three days to enjoy it all properly.
Swim with dolphins and watch sperm whales. Plane and helicopter rides over the sea offer an additional thrill.
Cruise down the meandering Avon River past English gardens and parks, tree-lined avenues and Gothic-style churches. The ‘Garden City’ is alive with colour and atmosphere and is just perfect for a wedding renewal destination.