Discover the Best Places to Visit in New Zealand South Island

New Zealand’s South Island is a land of breathtaking landscapes, thrilling adventures, and serene escapes. From towering mountains and pristine beaches to charming towns and vibrant cities, the South Island has something for everyone.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the places to visit in New Zealand South Island, highlighting the top destinations and must-see attractions.

Whether you’re a nature lover, an adventure seeker, or simply looking to relax, the South Island offers endless possibilities.

Introduction to the South Island

The South Island of New Zealand, known for its stunning natural beauty, is the larger of the country’s two main islands. With a population of just over 1 million people, it boasts vast open spaces and unspoiled wilderness. The island is divided by the Southern Alps, which run from the northeast to the southwest, creating a dramatic contrast between the lush west coast and the drier eastern plains.

Why Visit the South Island?

There are countless reasons to visit the South Island, but here are a few highlights:

  1. Diverse Landscapes: From the alpine scenery of the Southern Alps to the pristine beaches of Abel Tasman, the South Island offers a variety of stunning landscapes.
  2. Outdoor Activities: Whether you’re into hiking, skiing, kayaking, or simply exploring, there are countless outdoor activities to enjoy.
  3. Rich Culture and History: The island is home to vibrant Maori culture, historic towns, and unique heritage sites.
  4. Wildlife: The South Island is a haven for wildlife, including penguins, seals, dolphins, and a variety of bird species.

Top Places to Visit in New Zealand South Island

1. Queenstown

Known as the adventure capital of the world, Queenstown is a must-visit destination for thrill-seekers. Nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by the Southern Alps, Queenstown offers a range of adrenaline-pumping activities, including bungee jumping, skydiving, and jet boating. For those who prefer a more relaxed pace, the town’s vibrant arts scene, gourmet dining, and stunning scenery make it a perfect place to unwind.

2. Milford Sound

Often referred to as the “eighth wonder of the world,” Milford Sound is one of the most scenic places in the South Island. This stunning fjord, located in Fiordland National Park, is known for its towering peaks, cascading waterfalls, and crystal-clear waters. A boat cruise through Milford Sound is a must-do activity, offering breathtaking views and opportunities to spot wildlife such as seals, dolphins, and penguins.

3. Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

Home to New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is a paradise for hikers and mountaineers. The park offers a range of trails, from short walks to challenging alpine climbs, all with spectacular views of glaciers, alpine meadows, and rugged peaks. The Hooker Valley Track is one of the most popular hikes, providing stunning views of Mount Cook and the surrounding landscape.

4. Abel Tasman National Park

For those who love beaches and coastal scenery, Abel Tasman National Park is a must-visit. Located at the top of the South Island, the park is known for its golden sandy beaches, turquoise waters, and lush native forest. The Abel Tasman Coast Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, offers a multi-day hiking experience with plenty of opportunities for swimming, kayaking, and wildlife spotting.

5. Christchurch

As the largest city on the South Island, Christchurch is a vibrant urban center with a rich history and a lively arts scene. The city is known for its beautiful gardens, historic architecture, and innovative rebuilding projects following the 2011 earthquake. Must-visit attractions include the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, the Canterbury Museum, and the innovative Cardboard Cathedral.

6. Wanaka

Located near Queenstown, Wanaka is a picturesque town known for its stunning lake and mountain scenery. Lake Wanaka offers a range of water activities, including kayaking, sailing, and fishing. The town is also a gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park, which offers world-class hiking and mountaineering opportunities. Don’t miss a visit to Puzzling World, a quirky attraction featuring optical illusions and a challenging maze.

7. Kaikoura

Kaikoura is a small coastal town known for its incredible marine life. The town’s unique location, where the mountains meet the sea, creates a rich marine environment that’s perfect for whale watching, swimming with dolphins, and seal snorkeling. Kaikoura is also famous for its delicious seafood, particularly crayfish, which you can enjoy at one of the town’s many seafood restaurants.

8. Fiordland National Park

Fiordland National Park is one of the most remote and rugged regions of the South Island. The park is home to stunning fjords, pristine lakes, and ancient rainforests. In addition to Milford Sound, the park also features other beautiful fjords such as Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound. For those looking to explore on foot, the Kepler Track and the Routeburn Track offer some of the best hiking in New Zealand.

9. Dunedin

Dunedin is a city with a rich Scottish heritage and a vibrant arts scene. Known for its well-preserved Victorian and Edwardian architecture, the city offers plenty of cultural attractions, including the Dunedin Railway Station, the Otago Museum, and the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum. Just outside the city, the Otago Peninsula is home to a variety of wildlife, including albatross, penguins, and seals.

10. The Catlins

Located on the southeastern coast of the South Island, The Catlins is a hidden gem known for its rugged coastline, lush rainforests, and abundant wildlife. Highlights of the region include Nugget Point, with its iconic lighthouse and panoramic views, and Purakaunui Falls, a stunning three-tiered waterfall. The area is also a great place to spot rare wildlife, including the endangered yellow-eyed penguin.

Things to Do in South Island

In addition to visiting the top destinations, there are countless things to do in South Island. Here are some must-do activities:

1. Hiking and Walking

The South Island is a hiker’s paradise, with trails ranging from short walks to multi-day treks. Some popular options include:

  • Tongariro Alpine Crossing: One of New Zealand’s most famous hikes, offering stunning volcanic scenery.
  • Milford Track: A multi-day hike through Fiordland National Park, known for its incredible scenery.
  • Hooker Valley Track: A shorter hike with stunning views of Mount Cook and the surrounding landscape.

2. Water Activities

With its stunning lakes, rivers, and coastline, the South Island offers a range of water activities, including:

  • Kayaking: Explore the coastline of Abel Tasman National Park or paddle through the serene waters of Lake Wanaka.
  • Whale Watching: Take a boat tour in Kaikoura to see these magnificent creatures up close.
  • Swimming: Enjoy a refreshing dip in the crystal-clear waters of Lake Tekapo or Lake Pukaki.

3. Adventure Sports

For adrenaline junkies, the South Island is packed with adventure activities, including:

  • Bungee Jumping: Experience the thrill of bungee jumping in Queenstown, the birthplace of the sport.
  • Skydiving: Take in the breathtaking views of the Southern Alps and Fiordland National Park from above.
  • Jet Boating: Speed through narrow gorges and shallow rivers on a jet boat ride in Queenstown or Hanmer Springs.

Practical Tips for Visiting the South Island

Here are some practical tips to help you make the most of your trip to the South Island:

1. Pack for All Weather

The weather in the South Island can be unpredictable, so pack layers and be prepared for rain. Waterproof clothing and sturdy walking shoes are essential.

2. Plan Your Route

Using a South Island map, plan your route and make sure to allow plenty of time for travel. The roads can be winding and narrow, so take your time and enjoy the scenery.

3. Book Accommodation in Advance

During peak travel seasons, accommodation can fill up quickly, especially in popular areas like Queenstown and Franz Josef. Book in advance to secure your preferred lodging.

4. Respect Nature

The South Island is home to fragile ecosystems and wildlife. Follow the Leave No Trace principles and respect local regulations to help preserve the environment for future generations.


The South Island of New Zealand is a land of unparalleled beauty and adventure. With its diverse landscapes, rich culture, and endless opportunities for exploration, it’s no wonder that it’s a favorite destination for travelers from around the world. By following our guide and tips, you’ll be well-prepared to discover all that this incredible part of New Zealand has to offer.

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