If you are looking for the best places to go in south island New Zealand. You have found it! It also includes NZ south island things to do. Places I am mentioning are very Instagrammable so, I suggest including them in your new Zealand south island itinerary.
Read about the best Instagrammable places in North Island of New Zealand here.
Now without further ado, let’s begin New Zealand south island highlights.
1. Lake Tekapo
- 1. Lake Tekapo
- 2. Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
- 3. Queenstown aka adventure capital of the world
- 4. Fiordland National Park
- 5. Stewart Island/ Rakiura National Park
- 6. Mount Aspiring National Park
- 7. Arthur’s Pass National Park
- 8. Punakaiki Pancake Rocks
- 9. Marlborough Sounds
- 10. Christchurch
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Lake Tekapo is a small town located at the southern end of the lake of the same name in the inland South Island of New Zealand. There is also a Church of Shepard at the lake. Church keeper said back in the day people came over here to build the dam (which is behind the lake) and later on decided to live here because of its beautiful landscape. No wonder it is one of the most scenic places south island New Zealand.
If you want to do hitchhiking or/and carpooling, NZ is one of the safest countries to experience it. But In case something goes wrong, before you get in the car I suggest you take the photo of the car plate and send it to your family/friends and do your FB/google investigation beforehand. Just in case!
2. Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
Mount Cook has been in my must-see list of places for a long time. It worked out great because it was only an hour drive from Lake Tekapo. On the way there, my rideshare and road trip was all about sharing stories and listening to A LOT of music. I can definitely say I know most songs of Ed Sheeran now!
Aoraki / Mount Cook national park is New Zealand’s highest peak and possibly the most Instagrammed part of the country. You can also experience the beauty of Mt cook on foot wandering the easy Hooker Valley Track, enjoying a birds-eye view or take to the surrounding turquoise waters by boat or stargazing at night. I would say Mt cook is a must-do if you are on South Island New Zealand travel. Also, hooker valley around the area may be worth a visit.
3. Queenstown aka adventure capital of the world
Today I was ready to head towards Queenstown also known as the adventure capital of the world. This stunning lakeside resort reminded me of Banff in Canada which is equally beautiful and serene. In Queenstown, you can find all kinds of thrills for adrenalin seekers. From the iconic bungy jumping and jet boating to quad biking, white water rafting, river surfing, skydiving and canyon swings. There is something for everyone!
I always thought I would love to experience Bungy Jump in New Zealand because of its beautiful landscape. I had it even on my bucket list. Luckily the day I went, it was Aj Hackett’s Birthday anniversary! So Bungy Jump was half priced at $100! I was nervous but took the discount as a green light to do it! It is fair to say it is one of the fun things to do on south island New Zealand.
Queenstown is one of the best city in south island New Zealand. Though bit touristic, there are places you can find all to yourself.
4. Fiordland National Park
Travellers will never get tired of the breathtaking scenery – new vistas around every corner – and the natural beauty of this glacially scarred landscape. I had been told it was one of the world’s best landscape and it certainly lived up to it. On the way, there was plentiful postcard perfect snow-capped mountains, jaw-dropping beautiful valleys, cascading waterfalls flowing down from massive heights over sheer rock faced mountains, dense forest and stunning lakes and rivers.
Of course Milford Sound is the ultimate destination but there are plenty of other sights to see including the Mirror Lakes, the Chasm, and many waterfalls. Watch for the inquisitive Kiwi birds as well. Tours will start at 5 am for the same day return from Queen towns or self-organized drive around with a group of people is cheaper and flexible.
5. Stewart Island/ Rakiura National Park
Not many people know or skip Stewart Island but I reckon it is worth a visit. Stewart Island/Rakiura is the third-largest island of New Zealand. It lies 30 km south of the South Island which makes it the most southern of the three main populated New Zealand islands. Despite being as close to Antarctica as you can get, its clear turquoise sea and white sand beaches make Stewart Island look more like a tropical paradise. You can have some pretty unique experiences on the island. For example: spotting some penguins on Oban Wharf on evenings, a kiwi bird in the wild, walk to a wide selection of white sand bays such as Dead Man Bay and Horseshoe Bay, Great White shark cage diving (only available in summer) or seeing the Southern Lights.
The main (and only) town of Oban offers all the essentials like backpacker accommodation and a convenience store (which isn’t horrifically expensive). The most common and cheapest way to get here is by ferry from Bluff. The journey takes approximately one hour. It departs from both Stewart Island and Bluff three times a day. Keep in mind, departure times change depending on the season. You could also rent a scooter, mountain bike or car to see as much of the island as possible during short visits or take a quick boat ride over to Ulva Island.
6. Mount Aspiring National Park
Do you like epic walking and hiking tracks or a beautiful lake with (that Wanaka) tree? You can find it all at Mount Aspiring National Park. It is the highest outside of the Aoraki Mt Cook region. Now we know why that the mountain is “aspiring” to be the highest mountain! There are many experiences to be had here like seeing the glacier features like Rob Roy Glacier and the Blue Pools, winding jetboat ride into the National Park, canyoning in the Routeburn valley or taking a scenic flight to see Mt Aspiring from above or skydive.
I cannot decide which is my favourite National Park in NZ, but it might be this one. Mount Aspiring is situated in the southern end of the alps. The snow-capped mountains change in appearance with changes to the light and the sunshine. You could spend your day just watching the changing vista and not be bored. If you don’t want to hike I recommend the drive and you can still see the glacier from the parking lot. Mount Aspiring is just so wild and there is so much to explore! You could spend a lifetime and so much would remain untouched. Rugged beauty to the max!
7. Arthur’s Pass National Park
What better way to start the trip than going through the scenic Arthur’s Pass National Park via Castle Hill. It was established in 1929, becoming the first national park in the South Island and the third in New Zealand. In Arthur’s Pass, there are several different walking trails to choice, some are longer and some are shorter. You can get information and maps from Arthur’s pass visitor Centre before you go.
The Devil’s Punchbowl Trail is so beautiful and has a great sight, but there are about 300 steps up and down! You are surrounded by beautiful native flora & stunning views over Arthurs Pass. Well worth doing. However, keep in mind it’s not a loop track, you have to return the same route. It also connects to other tracks. The views are awesome and definitely Instagram worthy.
8. Punakaiki Pancake Rocks
This would be an easy stop on the side of the road and worth it. Easy track walk, very short and good to see the sights and things. The large part is wheelchair friendly as well. The track has a number of lookout points showcasing all the features. The only slight disappointment was blowholes not blowing due to calm seas. If you are passing by Punakaiki, Paparoa National Park, it is a good idea to stop and see the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. There is a toilet across the street and 30 minutes of free wifi!
9. Marlborough Sounds
Another beautiful and must-do place in South Island of New Zealand. Marlborough Sounds are the nature-lovers’ paradise. Sailing, hiking, dolphin watching, fishing, camping or just relaxing. There is something for everyone. Don’t forget the beautiful Queen Charlotte walkway that runs along its length. As the Interislander ferry comes into the sounds the views are amazing. The sounds offer such a striking landscape which is so picturesque. It really is serene and easy to see why it is one of the new Zealand south islands must see.
It is hard to describe the peace, beauty, and tranquillity of the Marlborough Sounds. Whether you are in a small boat, cruising at your own pace and whim, or on an Interislander or Bluebridge ferry, you cannot fail to be amazed and enthralled at the variety of constantly-changing scenery which surrounds you on all sides, and the limitless possibility of visits which can be made from your boat, time permitting.
There are many accommodation and boating options to make sure you can get the most out of your visit. It is so beautiful, everywhere you look captivates the senses and provides you with a true appreciation of nature.
Things to do in new Zealand south island also includes visiting Christchurch. After my North Island trip, it was time to solo travel again. However, before starting my South Island trip, I wanted a couple days to relax and rest. Though still recovering from the earthquake of 2011, Christchurch city was full of arts and optimism. I was impressed with the city art and soaked the creative vibe as I grabbed my Flat while and walked around.
It also gave me some time to plan my south island trip. As I like to mix my accommodation between Airbnb for that home away from home feeling, hostels to meet other travellers and hotels for some rest; I booked all my accommodation through Airbnb, Agoda and Hotels Combined. You can find some valuable travel resources here.
I didn’t have enough time but the following places also come highly recommended. Franz Josef glacier fox glacier and Tasman national park. If you didn’t know New Zealand also has three Unesco World Heritage sites. Such as Te Wahipounamu, Tongariro National Park, and the Subantarctic Islands.
What I used to take these photos:
This has been my favourite Camera so far. I love how my pictures come out crisp and colourful. It also has a screen which is useful when vblogging. You can check out what I meant on my Instagram which is here.
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This is my good old Go pro that I take with me everywhere. I recommend it because it is small, light weight and waterproof. I have had made many memories with this trusted iteam and looking forward to more.
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I been using SanDisk since my first camera which was back in 2009. They build quality memory cards. I recommend getting at least two, just in case something happens to one of them.
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Over to You:
- Can you add any other places to this list of ‘Most beautiful places in New Zealand South Island’?
- Would you like to visit South Island of New Zealand?
- Which places have you popped on your travelling in South Island list?
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