Top 10 South Island New Zealand things to do/see

There is so much to do and see on the South Island of New Zealand. To make sure you don’t miss any of these amazing sights, we’ve put together a top 10 of the most beautiful places on the South Island.

  1. Abel Tasman National Park

Beautiful golden deserted beaches, turquoise bays and green forests. Waterfalls, streams, bridges and spotting dull lines and seals. The Abel Tasman National Park is arguably New Zealand’s most diverse park. You can kayak, go on boat tours, lay down on the beach, camp under the stars and go on fantastic hikes. The multi-day Great Coast Walk runs through the park, which is very popular and worth walking for a few days.

  1. Mount Cook National Park

Mount Cook National Park is another South Island attraction that you should definitely not miss during your road trip through New Zealand! This pristine park contains no fewer than 19 mountains with a peak of over 3000 meters, including Mount Cook, which is the highest mountain in New Zealand at 3764 meters. This means that there is snow on the mountain tops all year round, which makes this entire area particularly photogenic. In addition to rugged mountains, Mount Cook National Park also offers spectacular glaciers, azure glacier lakes, golden valleys and great hikes including the Hooker Valley Track and the Mueller Hut route.

  1. Kaikoura

If you want to spot wildlife, Kaikoura is the place to be in New Zealand. Join a boat tour to look for whales, orcas, dolphins and sea lions. The chance that you will actually see them is very high: about 95%. But besides all that wildlife, Kaikoura has even more to offer: you can eat delicious fresh lobster, there is a museum and a lavender farm located just outside the city. There are also a lot of nice walks.

  1. Franz Josef and Fox Glacier

No visit to the South Island is complete without seeing Franz Josef and Fox Glacier. Together with about 60 glaciers, these two glaciers are part of the Westland National Park. But what makes this Franz Josef and Fox Glacier so unique is that you can view them at such a low altitude. This is almost impossible anywhere else in the world. From the village of Franz Josef you already have a beautiful view of the glaciers, but if you want to get closer you can walk the Franz Josef Glacier Walk that takes you to the foot of the glacier in less than an hour. If you want to walk on the Franz Josef Glacier, you can only do so with a guide. For a really special experience, you can also go on a helihike where you land on the glacier with the helicopter.

  1. Lake Matheson

If you’re in the area of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier, you should definitely check out Lake Matheson. This beautifully situated lake shows a beautiful reflection of the mountains behind Mount Cook and Mount Tasman in low wind (and no rainfall). Especially during sunrise this place is truly magical!

  1. Milford Sound

Milford Sound, located in the Fiordland National Park, is the most popular attraction in the South Island and perhaps all of New Zealand. And how could it be otherwise with such an enchantingly beautiful landscape?! A must in Milford Sound is the boat trip, which takes you through the beautiful mountains. 

  1. Wanaka

The town of Wanaka is located on a beautiful lake, surrounded by mountains. The people are very nice and there is a very nice atmosphere. Be sure to set aside a few days to explore Wanaka and the surrounding area, because there is so much to do with all that natural beauty. For example, take a walk from the village to the very photogenic Wanaka tree that stands in the middle of the lake or climb Roy’s Peak for an amazing view over the area. But kayaking, mountain biking, skydiving and water skiing are also possible. Also in winter Wanaka is an absolute must, because then it is covered with a thick layer of snow, making it good for skiing and snowboarding!

  1. Queenstown

An hour’s drive from Wanaka is the South Island’s most vibrant and popular city: Queenstown. This city is very popular among adrenaline junkies: you can enjoy bungee jumping, rafting, skydiving, mountain biking and mountain sports. But even if you are less adventurous, Queenstown is an absolute must-see.

The city has a beautiful location on the water and is surrounded by mountains. For example, take the Skyline gondola to Bob’s Peak (or hike up) for a fantastic view of the city, tear a boat over Lake Wakatipu or stroll around the cozy streets of Queenstown with nice shops and many restaurants.

  1. The Catlins

The Catlins is an incredibly beautiful area in the extreme south of New Zealand that has only 1,200 inhabitants and is still barely known to the general public. This allows you to enjoy all the natural beauty in peace. A beautiful coastal route runs between Invercargill and Balclutha, passing old-growth forests, waterfalls, high cliffs and golden beaches. Moreover, there is a good chance that you will spot sea lions, whales, dolphins and/or penguins along the coast! If you have the time, take at least 2 or 3 days to discover the Catlins, because there is plenty to see! In any case, you should not miss the following sights: the Koropuku, Purakaunui, and Mc Lean Falls, Curio Bay and Nugget Point Lighthouse.

  1. The West Coast Route

As a nature lover, you really should drive on highway 6 from Westport to Greymouth. This road meanders along a rugged coastline with jagged rock formations and beautiful rainforests. The west coast of New Zealand, where only 31,000 people live, has surprised us with its unspoilt natural beauty. Despite the fact that the area is known as wetland, we have had little trouble with rain. So don’t let this stop you from visiting the breathtaking coast. You can also spot dolphins, whales and sea lions here!