South Island
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Things to do on the South Island

Things to do in  South Island

Welcome to South Island

New Zealand's South Island is one of the earth's best outdoor playgrounds—and what it lacks in human population, it more than makes up for in pristine forests, fjords, lakes, beaches, and mountains. Guided tours reach nearly every corner of the island, offering expert instruction, informative commentary, and effortless access to these truly great outdoors. A popular base is Christchurch, the island's biggest city, full of Anglo-influenced architecture and an array of cultural offerings. Visitors enjoy peaceful punt rides down the Avon River, visits to the verdant Christchurch Botanic Gardens, and gondola rides into the Port Hills. Farther south, the Remarkables preside over Queenstown, known as the global adventure capital thanks to its seemingly unlimited menu of extreme tours and activities. Besides being an arts and dining destination in its own right, the town acts the jumping-off point for adventures at nearby Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier, Mount Cook, and Milford Sound. Many visitors arrive ready to tackle one of the South Island's six Great Walks, or a variety of shorter or longer guided forays into the island's valleys, mountains, and fjords. Dunedin, proud of its Scottish history and full of bustling student life, boasts the scenic Taieri Gorge Railway, and is a departure point for tours to the Otago Peninsula, which teems with wildlife—including whales, dolphins, and sea lions—pristine beaches, and interesting historic sights.

Top 15 attractions in South Island

Lake Wakatipu

Surrounded by mountains and shrouded in legend, Lake Wakatipu and its crystal waters draw visitors as the longest lake on New Zealand's South Island. As a popular spot for adventure activities—from fishing to catamaran cruises—a day on Lake Wakatipu is arguably the highlight of any trip to Queenstown and the Otago region.More

Franz Josef Glacier

One of New Zealand’s most photographed natural wonders and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Franz Josef Glacier serves up a dazzling landscape of snow-smothered peaks, rocky gorges, and icy waterfalls, feeding into the Waiho River that's ripe for exploration.More

TranzAlpine Train

The TranzAlpine Train is New Zealand’s most spectacular train journey, one which winds its way through the dramatic gorges and alpine forests of the Southern Alps, over staggering viaducts and dizzying mountain passes. From Christchurch on the East Coast to Greymouth on the West Coast, this almost 5-hour trip serves up endless photo opportunities as it runs through the heart of the South Island.More

Marlborough Sounds

A series of sunken river valleys at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, the Marlborough Sounds offer a range of sights and adventures—hiking, biking, camping, and wildlife watching, to name but a few. Many travelers pass through Queen Charlotte Sound and the town of Picton on the ferry between the North and South islands.More

Milford Sound

With its soaring cliffs, dramatic glacial valleys, and thundering waterfalls, it’s easy to see why Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most visited sights. This natural wonder is the star attraction of Fiordland National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and wildlife haven for dolphins, seals, and penguins.More

Lake Tekapo

A glacial lake on New Zealand’s South Island, Lake Tekapo is an adventurer’s playground by day—and a stargazer’s heaven at night. On a clear night, southern hemisphere constellations, plus the Milky Way and the southern lights, shine spectacularly in the UNESCO-listed Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve.More

Lake Wanaka

Lake Wanaka is one of New Zealand’s largest lakes, surrounded by the mountains of the Mt. Aspiring National Park. The town of Wanaka on its southern shore is a relaxed spot that offers easy access to lake-based activities. In summer, paddleboarding, kayaking, boating, and swimming are popular, while in winter, skiing is available nearby. More

Coronet Peak

Coronet Peak is New Zealand’s oldest ski field and remains a popular choice for people heading to the slopes during the southern hemisphere’s ski season. Snow bunnies can take to one of the ski field’s many trails, while sightseers can enjoy the stunning views of the Wakatipu Basin and the Southern Alps from the summit of the peak.More

The Chasm

The short walk to the Chasm, in the South Island’s Fiordland National Park, is an ideal family excursion as it’s not challenging, and kids will love the sight of the powerful waterfalls. The high volumes of rain in this part of the country have carved interesting shapes into the rocks here over thousands of years.More

Dunedin Railway Station

Made of bluestone with marble floors and stained glass windows, the Dunedin Railway Station is one of Dunedin’s most impressive buildings and purportedly the most photographed in New Zealand. Far more than a railway station, here you can also grab something to eat, visit a sports museum, or photograph the attractive building.More

Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre

The Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, just outside Blenheim, tells the story of New Zealand’s involvement in World War I and II through vintage aircraft. Two permanent exhibits—Knights of the Sky and Dangerous Skies—present aircraft alongside rare memorabilia, recreate battle scenes, and tell the story of the pilots who flew these impressive aircraft in each of the early-20th century wars.More

Arthur's Pass National Park

In the heart of New Zealand’s Southern Alps, Arthur’s Pass National Park is a sprawling landscape marked by soaring mountains, lush valleys, and powerful rivers. It offers adventurous visitors of all levels varied hiking tracks, open ski fields, and remarkable natural wonders such as forests, caves, waterfalls, glaciers, and more.More

Fiordland National Park

Sprawling along New Zealand’s southwest coast, Fiordland National Park represents the country at its most photogenic: jagged mountains, rugged glacial valleys, and glittering fjords. This UNESCO World Heritage Site harbors some of New Zealand’s most impressive natural wonders, including Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, and Lake Te Anau, as well as rare Fiordland penguins, dolphins, seals, and sea lions.More

Avon River

The Avon River (Otakaro) flows from its source in the western suburbs of Christchurch and through the central city, making it a focal point for recreation. Leaving the central city, the Avon flows west and out to the Avon Heathcote Estuary. A popular destination with locals and tourists alike, you can walk along the Avon’s banks, relax in Hagley Park or the Botanic Gardens with a view of the river, or go on an English-style punt boat.More

The Remarkables

Looming over nearby Queenstown, the Remarkables are a formidable mountain range and one of New Zealand’s most popular ski fields. The Remarkables Ski Area has a wide range of exciting slopes and runs for skiers and snowboarders people of all ages and skill levels. Warm weather sees adventure here too, with hiking and biking trails galore.More

Trip ideas

Top activities in South Island

Cruise Milford NZ Small Boutique Cruise Experience
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Small Group, Award Winning, Full Day Milford Sound Experience from Queenstown
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TSS Earnslaw & BBQ Buffet Lunch
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TSS Earnslaw & BBQ Buffet Lunch

Shotover River Extreme Jet Boat Ride in Queenstown, New Zealand
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Half-Day Milford Sound Flight and Cruise from Queenstown
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Milford Sound Sightseeing Cruise with Scenic Round-Trip Flight from Queenstown
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Franz Josef Heli Hiking Guided Tour
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Franz Josef Heli Hiking Guided Tour

Whale Watching in Kaikoura by Boat
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Whale Watching in Kaikoura by Boat

Milford Sound Nature Cruise

Milford Sound Nature Cruise

Doubtful Sound Wilderness Day Cruise from Manapouri
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Te Anau Glow Worm Caves Tour
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Te Anau Glow Worm Caves Tour

Lord of the Rings Scenic Half Day Tour
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Recent reviews from experiences in South Island

Exhilarating awesome experience!
Andrew_P, Aug 2022
Shotover River Extreme Jet Boat Ride in Queenstown, New Zealand
A really unique way to see some awesome scenery and river gorges in the South Island.
Cruising birdwatching a little hike Captain Cook History wonderful
Frank_M, Nov 2022
Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary and Ship Cove Cruise from Picton
An hour on the Island to see South Island Robins darting around, Kureru flying at the hilltop lookout and I’m sure I heard a Kiwi call near the pathway on arrival.
Great tour with a great guide! #James
Garrett_C, Nov 2022
Sunrise wildlife sea kayaking in Akaroa marine reserve
Super friendly and so glad we had an opportunity to see Akaroa with him.
Charissa_B, Jul 2022
Mt Cook Small Group Tour from Queenstown with Optional Activities
Perfect winter day to see Mount Cook and a great hike to the Hooker Valley, which I chose as an option (others opted for a heli ride or a shorter hike).
Great trip
Jennifer, Sep 2020
Queen Charlotte Sound Mail Boat Cruise
Great way to see the sights of the Sounds.
Memorable trip
Jeffrey_S, Mar 2020
Half-Day Milford Sound Nature Cruise and Flight from Queenstown
Stunning aerial views followed by a wonderful cruise on a boat small enough to approach the waterfalls.
This is an excellent tour for a...
5-Day South Island Tour from Christchurch
This is an excellent tour for a family who wants to see most of the South Island in a short time with less or no stress.
This tour was the ideal way to see...
ruthorders, Aug 2017
5-Day South Island Tour from Christchurch
This tour was the ideal way to see all the highlights on the South Island.
This was a great way to see the...
JULIA T, Jul 2017
6 Day South Island Circut: Milford Sound, Queenstown and Glaciers
This was a great way to see the south island.
All the arrangements were perfect...
Marguerite_A, Jul 2016
6 Day South Island Circut: Milford Sound, Queenstown and Glaciers
However, we did get to see a lot of the South Island.
This is a good way to see the South...
Terry_L, Jan 2017
4-Day Great Southern Island Circle Tour from Christchurch
This is a good way to see the South Island on a short stay.
Took this tour on Dec 26, 2015. It...
Amit P, Jan 2016
Swimming with Wild Dolphins in Akaroa
It was one of the best activities we did on South Island.
Wonderful day at Aoraki-Mt Cook National Park
David_D, Jan 2020
Aoraki-Mt Cook Tasman Glacier & Alpine Centre scenic day tour from Christchurch
We would definitely recommend this tour company if you are staying in Christchurch, because outside of renting a car and trekking yourself, it is the easiest way to get out to see Mt Cook that we could find, and definitely the best value.
Spectacular views and amazing experience!
Ranjit_G, Nov 2019
Small Group, Award Winning, Full Day Milford Sound Experience from Queenstown
On the cruise we enjoyed the natural beauty, lots of waterfalls, tiny penguins and seals.
Peter our tour guide did a fantastic...
Thomas_M, Mar 2018
Kaikoura Day Tour with Whale Watching
We were able to see four sperm whales, porpoises, fur seals and many different sea birds.
We had a perfect day - on our walk...
Stuart Y, Mar 2018
Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary and Ship Cove Cruise from Picton
Ship Cove we had time to explore the waterfall track for a short way and to view the monument.
This is a must do trip if visiting...
Anton_D, Mar 2017
Milford Sound Scenic Flight and Nature Cruise
On the 35 minute flight you get to see all of the huge mountain peaks as well as all of the lakes, things you won't see in a car or bus.
The 7-Day South Island Coastal...
Anne S, Mar 2017
7-Day South Island Coastal Splendor Tour from Christchurch
The area had had rain the day before, so there were a lot of waterfalls on the journey to photograph.
This tour was a perfect survey...
Susan P, Mar 2017
3-Day South Island Circle Tour from Christchurch
This tour allows you to see a lot of lovely scenery, and the coach drivers who also act as guide were all knowledgeable and friendly.
Fantastic trip that I would highly...
Fiona C, Jan 2017
Full-Day Milford Sound Extraordinaire Tour from Te Anau
It was raining most of the time and while it limited visibility in some places the resulting waterfalls were spectacular and something we would not have experienced had it been fine weather.
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All about South Island

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