13 Best Experiences in New Zealand’s South Island according to Lonely Planet
13. The Catlins
A rugged, sparsely populated area, the Catlins features a scenic coastal landscape and dense temperate rainforest, both of which harbour many endangered species of birds, most notably the rare yellow-eyed penguin. The coast attracts numerous marine mammals, among them New Zealand fur seals and Hooker’s sea lions.
Oamaru is a town in North Otago, New Zealand, with beautiful Victorian buildings crafted from the fine, white local limestone, and colonies of penguins. Oamaru does two things better than anywhere else in New Zealand – beautiful Victorian architecture and little blue penguin viewing. A strange mix in a strange, interesting town.
11. Stewart Island
Most of the island is covered in native forest and virtually the entire small population is concentrated in the township of Oban on the east coast. Commercial fishing and tourism are the two main occupations for residents. The main attractions for visitors are hiking, birdwatching, fishing and deer hunting.
10. Skiing & Snowboarding
You’re guaranteed to find decent South Island snow right through the winter season. The most famous slopes are around hip Queenstown and laidback Wanaka, with iconic ski runs such as Coronet Peak, the Remarkables and Treble Cone close at hand. There are also dedicated snowboarding and cross-country snow parks here.
9. Milford Sound
Milford Sound is a spectacular glacier-carved fiord in the Fiordland National Park on the west coast of New Zealand and isone of New Zealand’s most well known scenic attractions. On display in the fiord is a spectacular combination of mountains, sheer cliffs, waterfalls and marine life. It is the best known of a series of fiords in the park, and the only one which is accessible by road.
In less then five hours the TranzAlpine crosses from the Pacific Ocean to the Tasman Sea. Leaving Christchurch it speeds across the Canterbury Plains to the foothills of the Southern Alps. After negotiating tunnels and viaducts, the train enters the broad expanse of the Waimakariri Valley. Then it’s all downhill: through the Taramakau River Valley, past Lake Brunner, and finally into sleepy Greymouth.
7. Otago Peninsula
The Otago Peninsula is stunning proof there’s more to the South Island’s outdoor thrills than heart-stopping alpine and lake scenery. Amid a backdrop of coastal vistas combining rugged, hidden beaches with an expansive South Pacific horizon, it’s very easy to spot penguins, seals and sea lions. Beyond the rare yellow-eyed penguin, or hoiho, other fascinating avian residents include the royal albatross.
What was once a small, remote, South Island town has transitioned, first to a busy ski destination, and now to a year round tourist mecca and centre for adventure tourism. It is a world famous destination attracting around 1.9 million visitors every year, undoubtedly the tourism capital of the South Island if not New Zealand, and a must-see stop for most visitors to New Zealand.
5. Central Otago
Here’s your chance to balance virtue and vice, all with a background of some of NZ’s most starkly beautiful landscapes. Take to two wheels to negotiate the easygoing Otago Central Rail Trail, cycling into heritage South Island towns such as Clyde and Naseby. Tuck into well-earned beers in laidback country pubs, or linger for a classy lunch in the vineyard restaurants of Bannockburn.
4. Franz Josef Glacier
The 11 km long Franz Josef Glacier is one of New Zealand’s most spectacular natural attractions, a remnant from the Ice Age which is one of South Westland’s major drawcards for visitors. The recent spectacular ice retreat at the Franz Josef Glacier has surprised even the experts and shocked local businesspeople who thought the formerly impressive ice river would be a reliable cash-cow for years to come.
3. Akaroa & Banks Peninsula
Akaroa is a charming town on Banks Peninsula in Canterbury. It is the only French settlement in New Zealand. Akaroa’s harbour is home to an array of wildlife, most notably the rare Hector’s dolphin. Cruises and dolphin swimming are popular attractions. A popular drive is to Pohatu Marine Reserve, centered on nearby Flea Bay.
Kaikoura is a small coastal town on the east coast, about 180 km north of Christchurch. It is famed for its marine mammals (whales, dolphins, seals) and other sea-life, all of which you can see, some of which you can swim with, and some you can eat. In Maori, kai means “eat” and koura is “crayfish’ (rock lobster). So Kaikoura is a place to eat crayfish!
1. Abel Tasman National Park
Here’s New Zealand nature at its most glorious and seductive: lush green hills fringed with golden sandy coves, slipping gently into warm shallows before meeting a crystal-clear sea of cerulean blue. Abel Tasman National Park is the quintessential postcard paradise, where you can put yourself in the picture, assuming an endless number of poses: tramping, kayaking, swimming, sunbathing, or even makin’ whoopee in the woods.