South Island Activities
New Zealand's South Island offers a huge choice of adventure activities, including:
Hiking – Hike the famous Routeburn Track, one of four tracks in the Fiordland National Park, a World Heritage area. Tramp through forested valleys rich with birdlife and spectacular mountain scenery.
Or tramp (as the Kiwis call hiking) the famous Milford Track “the finest walk in the world”, as described 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 Fiordland National Park.
Read more about hiking the Milford Track . . .
Don’t miss the famous Heaphy Track in the Kahurangi National Park, which crosses a range of landscapes, over tussock downs to the lush forests, nikau palms and roaring seas of the West Coast.
The Abel Tasman Coast Track in the Abel Tasman National Park is another not to be missed: explore beautiful beaches and remarkable rock formations.
Biking – Experience the best of New Zealand’s South Island on a 23-day, 1200km (approximately) bike ride that includes four national parks and ventures through mountains, crystal lakes, geysers and forests.
Cycle around the Marlborough Sound’s coastline, through the Nelson Lakes National Park and down the spectacular Buller Gorge to the wild West Coast. See the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes at Paparoa National Park, pedal past stunning West Coast Glaciers and lakes, over Haast Pass and down to scenic Wanaka and Queenstown.
Ride south to Milford Sound, cycle through towering mountains, beside lakes and past numerous waterfalls to finish at Larnach's Castle on beautiful Otago Peninsula, close to the city of Dunedin. Or pick a region and peddle off for a day’s adventure.
Read more about cycling in the South Island . . .
Fly fishing – Cast a line in New Zealand's ‘gin clear’ waters home to both lunker brown trout and rainbow trout. Murchison is one of the best areas, surrounded by literally hundreds of rivers, streams and lakes in a region easily accessible by road, boat or helicopter.
The location is spectacular, with magnificent mountain backdrops, forests and a mild climate to boast about. Nearby rivers include the Gowan, Matiri, Matakitaki, Maruia and the Buller, all world-renowned for fly-fishing.
Horseback riding – Choose from a day-long horse trekking adventure to overnight and longer treks. Saddle up for a ride through tussock high country, native beech forest and river valleys among the foothills of the Southern Alps.
Or head for the dramatic scenery of Banks Peninsula 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 pass native forest with ancient matai and totara trees.
Kayaking – Paddle along some the world’s most unspoiled coastlines, past golden sand beaches, tranquil lagoons and wild surf or head inland to a remote wilderness river. Explore the Abel Tasman National Park, Nelson, one of New Zealand's premium sea-kayaking locations. Or paddle your way along the Clutha River, Lake Dunstan and Roxburgh Gorge in Central Otago.
Venture to Stewart Island and kayak Paterson Inlet to Ulva Island: circumnavigate its beautiful coastline and enjoy a walk in this predator-free sanctuary, home to endangered birds and plants.
Rafting – For great rafting experiences, head to Queenstown, Christchurch or to the West Coast. Perhaps consider combining a helicopter and rafting experience for extra thrills. Paddle the big volume 'Earthquake Slip' rapids of the mighty Buller River, one of the most reliable and exciting Grade IV white water in the country.
Or try the Shotover and Kawarau rivers in Queenstown: the Kawarau is best for first timers while the Shotover offers the thrill of conquering the 170m Oxenbridge Tunnel to shoot the Cascade Rapid, one of the best rafting experiences in New Zealand.
From Christchurch, raft the Rangitata River through the exciting Rangitata Gorge, passing through some of New Zealand's most spectacular scenery, seen only by those who raft the river.
Jet boating – Sit back, buckle in and feel the thrill of rapid acceleration in a New Zealand invention. Power through narrow river gorges, almost brushing against sheer rock faces, or skim across the surface of water channels that weave through the shingle banks of braided rivers. Some of the most exhilarating rides are available near Queenstown and Canterbury.
Other areas include the Buller and Makarora regions. Speed deep into the Waimakariri Canyon through the foothills of the Southern Alps and experience the spectacular scenery of the inspiring Dart River Valley and of Mount Aspiring National Park, a World Heritage Area.
Golf – Choose from more than 400 golf courses around the country and you can play in any season. Don’t miss the best, including Queenstown’s Millbrook Golf Resort, designed by Sir Bob Charles and without question one of the finest alpine golf courses in the world, with a wide-open and trouble-free 6412m par 72 and the awesome Remarkables mountain range as backdrop.
Christchurch’s Clearwater Golf Resort offers a 6526m par 72 golf course built around a series of man-made lakes, with neatly manicured bent grass fairways and greens.
Terrace Downs High Country Golf Resort in Canterbury offers a 6406m par 72 championship course featuring four different tee positions for the enjoyment of players of all abilities, 11 lakes and 70 bunkers, with something to test even the most experienced golfer.
Skiing – Discover Treble Cone, the largest ski area in the South Island, located in the heart of the scenic Southern Alps overlooking Lake Wanaka. Choose from any of the numerous trails, from long and well-groomed beginner and intermediate trails, to natural half-pipes, chutes, ungroomed powder and challenging black runs on the upper mountain. There’s more intermediate and advanced terrain here than any other South Island ski area.
Or head to Coronet Peak, the South Island’s most popular ski area, just 25 minutes from Queenstown. Try the M1-Big Easy, the mountain’s longest run at 2.4km, the Fruju half-pipe or the Dirty Dog terrain park.
The Remarkables ski area, just 45 minutes from Queenstown, offers 220ha of terrain spread across 700ha of reserve in three sunny bowls. Check out the UP&GO Terrain Park or go off-piste. Try the 150m superpipe or the ‘Homeward Bound’ run, widely considered New Zealand’s best backcountry trail inside a ski area.
Ski season starts around mid-June and generally finishes early October.
Bungy jumping – While you can bungy jump at various locations throughout New Zealand, why not jump from the original site of the first commercial AJ Hackett bungy venture? The Kawarau Bridge, spanning the Kawarau River, is located between Queenstown and Cromwell.
Driving – 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 and take a cruise on scenic Milford Sound.
Or try the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail, which winds its way from Hawke’s Bay in the North Island to Marlborough in the South Island. Along the way discover scenic highlights and encounter indulgent food and wine experiences. Another great scenic drive is the Southern Scenic Route starting in the historic city of Dunedin: this route follows Southland’s wild coast down to Invercargill, then continues north-west to Manapouri and Te Anau.