20 top things to do in the South Island

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New Zealanders and visitors to the country often debate the merits of the North and South Islands.

Frankly, the best way to reach your own conclusion is to visit both!

There’s an abundance of things to do and places to see when you’ve got time to tour the South Island of New Zealand.

Here’s a list of 20 suggestions made by travel site newzealandholidaytravel.com.

20 top things to do in the South Island

1. Feel the sun of Golden Bay

Beaches of golden sands, breathtaking views, valleys with peaceful rivers and bordered by two national parks make this is one of the most appealing destinations in New Zealand. A vibrant arts and crafts and sports scene too, something for everyone. It’s the sunniest part of New Zealand.

2. Explore Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park is renowned for its golden beaches, sculptured granite cliffs, and world-famous Abel Tasman Coast Track. It also has a mild climate and is a good place to visit at any time of the year. Sea kayaking, boat trips for dolphin and seal watching are easily accessible.

3. Take to the water at Picton, Marlborough Sounds

Pretty Picton is a great place to base yourself as you explore the wonderful Marlborough Sounds. The Sounds are a haven for outdoor activities such as walking, fishing, kayaking and cycling. A little way inland are the world-famous vineyards and everywhere the local wines and seafood can be enjoyed at their very freshest.

4. Open your minds to fashion with a difference

The World of Wearable Art gallery in Nelson is home to a whole range of bizarre yet spellbinding garments, displayed in its small hi-tech galleries, and for many, a visit is an unforgettable experience. Its iconic Annual Wearable Art Awards, where “art meets fashion and dance”, are held to international acclaim in Wellington.

5. Watch the whales and dolphins of Kaikoura

Kaikoura is the most popular place to see whales in New Zealand. A deep trench, just off the coast, provides perfect conditions for feeding sperm whales (all year), humpbacks (June-July) and orca (December-February). The Kaikoura Peninsula contains breeding grounds for fur seals and birdlife (shags, gannets, petrels, albatross, mollymawks). Whale watching trips, trips to swim with seals and dolphins and even a shark experience (meet Blue & Mako sharks from within a protective cage) are all on offer.

6. Take the TransAlpine train across the Southern Alps

From the Pacific Ocean to the Tasman sea across the Southern Alps – one of the great railway journeys of the world, it is claimed. From the coastal plains of Canterbury, through spectacular gorges and river valleys, to the peaks at Arthur’s Pass, and then down through beech forest to Lake Brunner and finally the coast at Greymouth. Numerous bridges, viaducts and tunnels feature in this 4.5-hour journey. The trip is especially scenic when the peaks are covered in snow in winter.

7. Punt the River Avon in Christchurch

Christchurch takes its name from a college at Oxford University and so it is no surprise that the city has the same air of an old university town. Just as in Oxford, punting along the river (the Avon River, punts from the Antigua Boat Sheds), is the classic and relaxing way to pass the time and see the city.

8. Chill out at the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers

In a country full of natural wonders few are as memorable as the glaciers of the Southern Alps, especially those of Fox and Franz Josef. Few people visit New Zealand without experiencing these awesome rivers of ice up close, and for good reason.

9. Eat, drink and admire the views at Mount Cook Village

Not so much a village as a large hotel. The Hermitage Hotel, which dominates the village, is worth a visit even if only for lunch or a drink. The views from its bars and restaurants towards Mount Cook are sensational. The village is also the starting point for three excellent walks of 3-4 hours duration – Kea Point, Sealy Tarns and Hooker Valley. The airstrip offers spectacular flights around Mount Cook, with landings on the Tasman Glacier for the adventurous.

10. Head to a music gig in Dunedin

Since the 1980s, the music generated by local bands playing in Dunedin’s pubs has become famous throughout the world of rock. Renowned for its originality, the ‘Dunedin Sound’ continues to draw acclaim throughout Europe and the USA. Rock music lovers can check out the many gigs on offer in the city and even study for a degree in Rock Music at Otago University.

11. Suck in the clean air and gasp as the splendour of Milford Sound

One of New Zealand’s most famous tourist destinations, Milford Sound has become an icon for the outstanding natural beauty of New Zealand. The scenery is awesome, so too the peace and tranquillity in the Sound, especially late afternoon as visitor numbers dwindle. The sound is 22 km long and is dominated by Mitre Peak (1695m high) which gives it its trademark look.

12. Ride the Queenstown luge

Fun for all the family as you ride the luge at the head of the Queenstown cable car. The views over Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains are breathtaking – as are many of the adventure activities on offer locally.

13. Strap yourself in for a white-knuckle ride on the Shotover Jet

These fast boats operate in just a few inches of water and their highly skilled drivers delight in getting within a hair’s width of canyon walls and large rocks as they hurtle along at 80kmh. With instant braking they perform amazing 360 degree turns on a pinhead. Amongst the most famous operators is The Shotover Jet in Queenstown, which guarantees thrills galore as it hurtles passengers through a narrow canyon.

14. Drive a motorhome (campervan) around the island … slowly

No better way to explore the natural beauty of your South Island holiday than with the freedom of your own campervan.

15. Get close to the wildlife of the Otago Peninsula

Declaring itself the ‘Wildlife Capital of New Zealand’ the Otago peninsula is the place to see penguins, seals, sea lions and albatrosses. Wildlife-watching trips depart from nearby Dunedin. Well-positioned hides allow visitors to see Little Blue and Yellow-Eyed penguins up close. The observatory at The Royal Albatross centre at Taiaroa Head is a unique way to see the magnificent birds in a breeding colony. Fur seals and Hooker’s sea lions are found on the Allans and Victory beaches. The peninsula has many nature tours and walks to suit all interests.

16. Be surprised at what you find at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery

Established in 1884 and home to a fine collection of European art including Monet, Turner, Gainsborough and Tisot. A good collection of Japanese prints and many pieces of New Zealand art from 1860, all held in a bright, airy building with impressive ironworks, including a 100-year old spiral staircase

17. Take a day trip on the Taieri Gorge railway

Once part of the line connecting Central Otago to the coast at Dunedin, the railway runs for 78km through the spectacular and rugged Taieri River gorge. The journey offers options for onward connections to Queenstown (by bus) and access to cycle routes for some or all of the return journey. Travel to Pukerangi or Middlemarch, 4 or 6-hour return journeys respectively.

18. Work up a sweat at Hanmer Springs

The warm waters in the pools at Hanmer fell as rain 180 years ago, only to be heated by volcanic activity 2km underground before slowly rising to the surface again. This popular alpine spa resort with its large outdoor thermal pools is open all year round and has won many tourism awards.

19. Take your camera to Nelson Lakes

An enchanting alpine park of rugged peaks, forests and glacial lakes. Walks for all ages and abilities through its honeydew beech forests with the two lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa at its heart. The village of St Arnaud is a good base from which to explore the area.

20. Walk the Heaphy Track

The Heaphy Track is one of New Zealand’s ‘Great Walks’ and is 80 kilometres, long. Known as the ‘flora walk’ of New Zealand because of the huge diversity and number of plant species found on the Heaphy. Scenery and habitat range from forest and grasslands, to mountain vistas, through to lush jungle like lowland forest and Nikau palm fringed beaches and pounding surf.

Source: New Zealand Holiday Travel


20 top things to do in the North Island