Things to Do in New Zealand South Island

written by local expert Anna Faustino

Anna is a co-founder of Adventure in You and has been traveling the world for the last 9 years. She has spent time living in Thailand, Mexico, Indonesia, and Spain and is our local expert in these areas. Her expertise on travel, gear, and building businesses have been featured on Foundr, Business Insider, Yahoo Travel, and more.

Full of exciting adventures, stunning hiking trails, and the most incredible natural scenery, the South Island of New Zealand is a place that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Boasting of snowcapped mountains, heart-thumping adventures, and hiking paths taking you through some of the most stunning landscapes, here’s a list of incredible things to do in the South Island of New Zealand.

Known for its incredible natural scenery, it is one of those places that has a little bit of something for everyone. Attracting a wide array of people from backpackers to luxury travelers, New Zealand’s South Island is noted to be a premier destination thanks to its many attractions. Without further ado, here are a few of the best things to do in the area.

Join a Cycling Tour

The cycling in New Zealand South Island is world-famous for its scenic and often times historic trails. A few must-dos are the Great Taste Trail Coastal Route from Stoke to Kaiteriteri, the Queen Charlotte Track, and the Otago Central Rail Trail. Spend a few days in New Zealand, exploring the countryside on two wheels.

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Discover New Zealand’s Great Walks in the South Island

If nature and hiking is your jam, there is no shortage of it while on the South Island. Home to some incredible treks, the hiking in New Zealand South Island alone is worth going there for.  From the world-famous Milford, Routeburn and Lake Marian Tracks to the hikes all over Queenstown and the Southern Alps, there is no shortage of beauty here.

Here are a couple of trails that are worth exploring:

  • Milford Track (or take a Milford Sound cruise if you don’t feel like walking)
  • Routeburn Track
  • Kepler Track
  • Abal Tasman Coastal Track
  • Queen Charlotte Track
  • Hollyford Track

Walking you through pristine alpine lakes, lush valleys, and picture-perfect landscapes, the hiking trails here are out of this world. If you prefer to explore the area by navigating the waters, kayaking through Abel Tasman & Marlborough Sounds is also highly recommended.

For those that are interested to explore the area, we can recommend the services of OnlyLuxe which has local guides who live, work, and play in the area. Their guided tours for hiking and cycling give you a local insight into the area, expertly showing you around some of the best parts of each trail.

Gawk at West Coast Glaciers

Hands down, one of the main attractions in the South Island of New Zealand is the Franz Josef Glacier and Fox glacier. These steep glaciers are home to ice caves, crevasses, and tunnels, all which you can explore through guided valley tours, heli tours, and more.

The sheer size of these glaciers, not to mention the amount of movement (they move around 50cm per day) is fascinating so much so that people flock here just to catch a glimpse of these impressive ice formations. If you do head to Fox Glacier, the side trip to Lake Matheson is worth it!

Editors Note: I recently did the Franz Josef Helihike and it was the most amazing experience of my life. If you’re looking for the most incredible thing to do on the South Island, click here to book a glacier flight today.

franz-josef glaciers

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Explore the Otago Beaches and Coastline

Being the nature freak that I am, the coastline along the Otago Peninsula is one of my favorite views. Hop on a rental car and take a scenic drive from Portobello Road to the Otago Peninsula where you can see a variety of wildlife.

Home to creatures such as the Royal Albatross, Yellow Eyed Penguins and the Blue Penguins at Pukekura, seals, and sea lions, the Otago Peninsula is full of incredible eco-experiences.

Adventure On in Queenstown

No New Zealand South Island itinerary is complete without a trip to stunning Queenstown. Apart from epic mind-blowing scenery, Queenstown is a place that is a must-visit for adrenaline junkies. In fact, it will be one of our first stops when we head to New Zealand next year, only because there is SO MUCH to do. From bungy jumping, white water rafting, canyon swings, to skydiving, there is literally a plethora of adrenaline-pumping outdoor activities to do here.

If activities and adventure is what you want, we recommend staying here for at least five days in order to make the most out of every experience. If you want an incredible view of the city, catch the gondola up to the skyline which will give you jaw-dropping views of Lake Wakatipu. Otherwise, hiking in Queenstown will also take you to Skyline via the Tiki Trail if you’d rather work for the views.

And in between each of your adventures, tuck into a delicious meal at one of the best restaurants in Queenstown… Eating here is an adventure itself sometimes!

Read More: Stunning Airbnbs in Queenstown for an Unforgettable Trip


Visit the Gibbston Valley Vineyards

If you want to unwind and relax after a few too many days of adventure, we recommend visiting the vineyards in the Gibbston Valley. Known as the valley of vines, this scenic landscape is home to a number of vineyards which produce some of the best wines in the region. Here are a couple of vineyards which are worth visiting.

  • Gibbston Valley Winery
  • Coal Pit Wine
  • Amisfield Winery & Bistro
  • Mt Rosa Winery
  • Brennan Wines

Visit the Many National Parks

Known for the incredible amount of nature and landscapes, the national parks in the South Island of New Zealand are worth visiting. The only trouble I can honestly say you will get into is choosing which ones to visit! Boasting of an incredible 9 national parks (on the South Island alone) spread out over 30,000 sq. km., nature lovers are spoilt for choice. Listed below are a few of the places we recommend you visit.

  • Abel Tasman (perfect for sailing or kayaking)
  • Mount Aspiring National Park (have an epic canyoning adventure!)
  • Fiordland National Park (for mind-blowing scenery)
  • Aoraki Mount Cook National Park (Sir Edmund Hilary’s stomping grounds while training for Everest)

mount-cook Explore the Scenery Around Mount Cook

Aoraki or Mount Cook is New Zealand’s highest peak and is one of the most iconic destinations of the country. Full of stunning snow-covered peaks, clear skies, and beautiful alpine lakes, it is no wonder this area is frequented by many. Apart from the national park itself, the view of Lake Pukaki is nothing short of breathtaking.

Hire a Campervan and Drive Around All Over

Saving the best for last, one of the most recommended experiences while in the South Island is to drive a campervan all over. With a campervan (or a rented car), you can easily explore the many points of interest in the South Island at your own convenience. newzealand van

While I can obviously go on and on (and on) about the many things to do in the South Island, hopefully, this post has given you a general overview and has inspired you to include New Zealand into your bucket list!

Looking for more adventures around New Zealand? Check out these articles below

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New Zealand | Looking for places to go to and things to do in the South Island of New Zealand? Take a look at our guide featuring the best things to do in the South Island. #newzealand #southisland

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