Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in South Island
Dazzling Lake Wakatipu is New Zealand's longest lake. Shaped like an inverted "n" it is a highlight of a trip to Queenstown, which nestles against a curve near the middle of the lake. During the last ice age a huge glacier carved out the lake, which sinks to a depth of 1,300 feet (400 meters).The surrounding mountains that fed the glacier provide a dramatic backdrop to the crystal waters.
Atmospheric pressures cause the lake to rise and fall about 5 inches (12 centimeters) every 5 minutes. This gave rise to the Maori legend that the rise and fall of the water is the heartbeat of a giant who lies slumbering under the water.
The magnificent lake was the location for the Lothlorein scenes in The Lord of the Rings movie. If you’d like to get out on the water the most genteel way is to climb aboard the refurbished vintage steamship the TSS Earnslaw. Cruises across the lake will take you to Walter Peak where you can see a working high-country farm.
New Zealand’s outdoor playground, the Remarkables, located high in mountainous country, possesses a great sense of excitement for any visitor looking to rip-up the alpines. With fabulous skiing, hiking, snowboarding and opportunities to just hangout, the entire family will get a kick from these majestic reserves.
Cool jumps, tunnels, trails, and even a bouncy castle at the crèche are available for children of all ages, while snow-sports schools are waiting for adults who have put off the slopes for too long.
You can also have a look at how the pros do it, with international competitions that take place. See boarders go sky-high off the half-pipes, or see renowned skier’s flow between slaloms at immense speeds.
Pegasus Bay Winery is a family-owned and run winery and restaurant located in the Waipara Valley, north of Christchurch. Pegasus Bay wines are made with estate-grown fruit from the Donaldson family’s vineyards.
The Donaldsons have been growing grapes and making wine since the early 1970s. A husband, wife and three sons team, the family uses natural methods, and the winery produces a sauvignon, Reisling, chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot and cabernet. The winery is also known for half a dozen reserve wines.
Christchurch is known as the garden city, an Anglophile settlement of well-tended gardens and tree-lined streets. Pride of place in this flower-loving town goes to the Botanic Gardens, attractively set within a loop of the winding Avon River. The gardens are planted with thousands of exotic and indigenous plants, with particular note going to its lime tree walkways, inviting lawns and seasonal flowers such as magnolias, azaleas and roses.
A number of conservatories protect a range of species, including desert plants, tropical blooms, begonias, alpine plants and orchids. The gardens are an ideal location for a picnic, or to find a relaxing spot for an hour or two, away from the bustle of the city.
What was once gold-miners territory is now one of New Zealand’s most scenic tour destinations--with breathtaking mountain views and the always beautiful Shotover River, Skipper’s Canyon presents a great opportunity to splurge in fantastic sites of one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
Hop into a 4WD off-road vehicle available via one of the many guided tours and shoot photos to your hearts delight, while you are navigated through Skipper’s Road, being recited the canyons plentiful and rural history.
For a more romantic experience, Skipper’s wine tours are also a popular and fulfilling way to spend your time here. What could be better than enjoying Queenstown’s mouth-watering venison over a glass of locally made wine in the breadth of New Zealand?
Located only 25 minutes from the adventure capital of Queenstown, Coronet Peak is one of the most popular ski resorts on the entire South Island of New Zealand. This historic ski field is officially the nation’s oldest, and when it opened for business in 1947 there was only a single tow rope.
Today, however, Coronet Peak is a modern ski field on par with the best in the country. Aside from being the nation’s oldest, it’s also one of the last resorts in the country to watch its snow melt away. Given its southerly location, colder temperatures make for a longer season and better conditions for snowmaking. On most years, Coronet Peak will open its slopes sometime during the middle of June, and remain open throughout the winter until the mountain thaws in October. In addition to the long season, the resort offers views over Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding Southern Alps.
To the native Maori, the Avon River was an area of swampland which was used as a seasonal fishing spot. The area around the rivermouth was mostly uninhabited, and fresh water which trickled from springs was used for sacred healing purposes.
Today the Avon is a meandering river which weaves its way through Christchurch, its mellow waters bringing a calming presence to the urban bustle of the city. The river bisects the western suburbs such as Riccarton and Fendalhead, and then passes directly through the center of Christchurch and sprawling Hagley Park. To the east of the city, the Avon finally spills into the Pacific not far from the beach town of Sumner.
In downtown Christchurch, punting on the Avon River from Hagley Park is a popular visitor activity. Sit back and relax as expert steersmen push the flat-bottom craft along the river, and watch as peaceful scenes of Christchurch drift along on the banks.
More Things to Do in South Island
Located at the center of town in what many are deeming the “New Christchurch”, the Bridge of Remembrance is a historical monument that holds significance for numerous sets of people. Initially, this arcing bridge over the Avon River was erected as a public war memorial. Commemorating the soldiers who lost their lives in the battles of World War I, the bridge also remembers the brave soldiers who fought valiantly in ensuing wars. Located on Cashel Street, the bridge was turned into a pedestrian mall in 1976. Then, in February of 2011, the bridge endured a terrible beating during the earthquake that devastated Christchurch. Battered but not broken, the bridge managed to still stay standing amidst the piles of surrounding rubble. Though access to the bridge will once again be available in 2015 (with certain sections re-opening in 2014 for the 100th anniversary of the Great War), the fact it remains standing have made it a memorial for lives which were lost in the earthquake.
Separating Christchurch from Lyttleton Harbor, the Port Hills are a playground for Christchurch outdoors-lovers who are looking to work up a sweat. Rising to height of nearly 1,800 feet, the Port Hills are located a short distance from downtown and are criss-crossed by multi-use trails. Hit the hillside on a rented mountain bike or go for a scenic hike, or watch as paragliders leap from the slopes overlooking the beach town of Sumner. Many of the trails were closed as a result of landslides in the 2011 earthquake, but most of the trails have since been reopened and are a refreshing getaway from the city.
In addition to the trails, the Port Hills are known for the native birds which make their homes on the hillsides. Catch a glimpse of a New Zealand wood-pigeon as it floats above the hills, or hear the call of a native bellbird as it rustles about the bush.
Experience everything you want to know about the icy continent of Antarctica at the International Antarctic Centre, from indoor ice storms to ATV rides and penguins.
Feeding time at the NZ Penguin encounter is hugely popular, as is the Penguin Backstage Pass tour for an up-close view of these cute creatures. Go for a rough and ready ride on the Hagglund all-terrain vehicle, watch snow being made and throw snowballs, chill out in an ice cave and see the aquarium displays of Antarctic wildlife. Don’t worry about keeping warm: chillproof jackets and overshoes are provided.
When first constructed in the 1930s, New Regent Street was famously lauded as “the most beautiful street in New Zealand.” Today, after the devastating earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, the street has rebuilt its colorful façade—built in a Spanish Mission style—where colorful, two-story buildings host retailers, restaurants, coffee shops, and cafés. When the street was first built in the Great Depression, only 3 of the original 40 buildings were occupied by lease-paying tenants, due to the economic hardships of the time and the tenants’ inability to pay rent. Gradually, an increasing number of businesses were established, and the street was reconstructed as a pedestrian mall in 1994. When the fateful Christchurch earthquakes struck, New Regent Street was one of the first places to rebuild and reopen its doors—though many repairs were only temporary and are in need of a permanent fix.
Hop aboard a vintage tram for a leisurely tour of central Christchurch. It’s the most relaxing, fun way to get your bearings and see the city's attractions and landmarks.The trams leave from Cathedral Square in downtown Christchurch. The route then crosses Worcester Bridge over the River Avon, loops past the Botanic Gardens and travels along past the shops of Armagh Street. All trams have an informative on-board commentary. Why not combine sightseeing on wheels with your evening meal, and take an evening ride on the Restaurant Tram? The colonial-style tram has every comfort, and the menu features local lamb and seafood.
Without a doubt, Hagley Park is the greenest, most relaxing, yet also most happening 1 sq. mile in Christchurch. On the relaxing side, this central park offers dozens of opportunities for leisurely moments in the city. Paddle the waters of the Avon River which borders the park on one side, or spend an hour sniffing through the botanical gardens which are completely surrounded by the park. Lay a blanket on the expanse of grass and enjoy a midsummer picnic, or photograph the wildflowers which famously bloom as the park comes alive in the spring.
For as mellow as Hagley Park can be, however, it can rapidly change into a pulsing gathering place during one of the numerous Christchurch festivals. At large events such as the World Buskers Festival or the Great Kiwi Beer Festival, tens of thousands of Christchurch locals can descend on the spacious grounds.
Built between 1873 and 1887, the Larnach Castle is the only castle in all of New Zealand. Sitting on a beautiful 35 acres, the castle grounds and interior are a wonderful way to spend a day. For an extended stay, you can stay at the 4-star Larnach Lodge, located on the castle grounds.
Constructed for an Australian banker and politician, the castle presents a combination of American, Venetian, and Gothic styles of decor and architecture, making it wholly elaborate and unique. In addition to its ornate interior and beautifully maintained garden, tourists and guests gather at Larnach for a supernatural experience: the castle is said to be haunted by multiple members of the Larnach family.
Be sure to take some tea or a light lunch in the ballroom, one of the most beautiful parts of the castle, as well as visiting the on-grounds plant nursery.
Praised as one of the most incredibly scenic train journeys in the world, the TranzAlpine chugs its way from Christchurch to Greymouth, via Arthur's Pass, daily.
Making its way from one coast of New Zealand to the other, from the Pacific Ocean to the Tasman Sea, the train crosses the broad expanse of the Canterbury Plains to climb the Alps via a series of four viaducts and 19 tunnels known as the Staircase.
The train journey reveals a stunning sequence of valleys, mountains and Southern Alps, including river valleys covered in beech rainforests, sky-mirrored lakes and snowcapped peaks.
The train carriages include group and individual seating, plus there’s an open-air carriage for top-quality photo opportunities. Food and beverages are available on board.
Known by locals as “Gingerbread George” because of its ornate architecture, the Dunedin Railway Station in New Zealand’s South Island was designed by George Troup and opened in 1906. In those first few years, the station was one of the country’s busiest, with at least 100 trains passing through its tracks each day.
While the station is still in operation, reduced rail traffic means the iconic building serves several other functions, and a tourist train that traverses the countryside via Middlemarch, Palmerston or Pukerangi departs daily from Dunedin. But there’s still plenty to do here without ever leaving the station; the ground floor houses a popular restaurant, and the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame and the Otago Art Society are located on the upper level.
Things to do near South Island
- Things to do in Christchurch
- Things to do in Queenstown
- Things to do in Dunedin & The Otago Peninsula
- Things to do in Akaroa
- Things to do in Wanaka
- Things to do in Blenheim
- Things to do in Picton
- Things to do in Invercargill
- Things to do in North Island
- Things to do in Tasmania
- Things to do in New South Wales
- Things to do in Tongatapu Island
- Things to do in Wellington
- Things to do in Victoria
- Things to do in Coral Coast