I don’t know about you, but I’m not the kind of traveller who is content with looking at scenery. I prefer to get into the scenery. Give me adventure over armchair travelling any day. So, if you're at the action and adventure end of the scale, then the top of South Island is set to become your new best friend.
The top of the South Island is one of the jewels of the New Zealand tourist scene, and should absolutely make its way into your New Zealand itinerary. Its treasures include Abel Tasman National Park, Marlborough Sounds and Nelson Lakes National Park (to name just a few). This really isn't the place for those don't like getting their boots dirty.
If you’d prefer to hike, bike, swim, raft or paddle your way through New Zealand, here our top 5 favourite active adventures to do in the top of the South Island of New Zealand. And don't forget, if you need help planning the specifics of your New Zealand adventure, look no further than our FREE New Zealand Travel Planning Service.
1) Mountain Biking in Nelson
Sunny Nelson offers some of the best biking in New Zealand. Whether you’re looking for a multi-day challenge or something cruisy, it’s all on offer here. To keep everyone happy, here are two Nelson biking options at either end of the scale.
The Heaphy Track is one of New Zealand's Great Walks. But we reckon it's even better by bike. This 2 or 3-day bike trail covers 78 kilometres of spectacular mountain and coastal wilderness. The trail runs through Kahurangi Forest, a stunning landscape that is home to an exceptional variety of native plants and some weird and wonderful wildlife too. If you're lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the great spotted kiwi (roa), the spikey weta and the giant nocturnal carnivorous snail. Yes, that’s a thing, Google it.
The track retraces the steps of Maori pounamu gatherers and gold prospectors who travelled between Golden Bay and the West Coast years ago. Today, you can enjoy well-formed tracks, the odd suspension bridge and comfy huts. You can do the journey in 2 days, but most riders say 3 days is even better giving you plenty of time to appreciate the environment. The Heaphy Bike Trail is open May to October and is best suited to intermediate riders.
If you’d prefer something a little easier to tackle, we’d recommend the Tasman Great Taste Trail. This 174 km loop trail offers a taste of everything that is great about Nelson - wineries, breweries and orchards. You can jump on the trail wherever you like and do a short ride or a longer day ride. It’s the perfect excursion if you fancy a gentle ride with a delicious drink as your reward at the end.
2) Angelus Circuit, Nelson Lakes
In Nelson Lakes National Park, in the shadow of the Southern Alps, you will find the charming township of Saint Arnaud. Saint Arnaud is the stepping off point for the Angelus Circuit. The 3-day Angelus circuit is regarded as one of New Zealand’s best walks. The walk culminates at Angelus Hut, perched at 1,650 metres on the ranges between and Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoroa.
The hike requires a moderate level of fitness, and you will need to make sure you book the DOC hut accommodation along the way. The walk takes in beech forest, river crossings, grassy clearings, and the stunning spectacle of Angelus hut, and its stunning alpine lake.
3) Sea Kayak Marlborough Sounds
The wonderful world of the Marlborough Sounds can be explored by boat, bike or foot. But if you want the best experience it has to be by sea kayak. The labyrinthine waters of the sounds provide an endless showcase of water and bush landscapes so the great beauty of a sea kayak is that you can get up close to it all. Paddle your way through the overhanging native ferns, rata vines and coastal beech trees and discover the isolated bays and inlets.
Travelling quietly through the water, you’re more likely to get a visit from the local wildlife like fur seals, dolphins and little blue penguins. With 1,500 km of coastline, there is plenty to explore and plenty of chances you'll find a private inlet all to yourself. Rental kayaks come with all the storage capacity you’ll need for a few days out on the water.
4) Ride the Golden Mile, Blenheim
Just a short skip from Blenheim is Rapaura and an area known as the Golden Mile. Named for its impressive line up of wineries and scenery, it's the perfect spot to spend a long afternoon out on the bike.
The 6km Golden Mile ride runs from Rapaura to Renwick and takes in 9 wineries and plenty of places to stop for food, art and refreshments along the way.This cellar door cycle tour takes you to some of the big names of the region like Giesen Wines and Seresin and covers the full range of Marlborough varietals including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cuvee, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Montepulciano and of course, the world famous Sauvignon Blanc.
5) White water rafting in Murchison
Where the Buller and Matakitaki Rivers meet, you will find Murchison. A perfect storm of wild water, Murchison is regarded as one of the best spots in New Zealand for white water rafting.
Murchison won the lottery in the outstanding wilderness stakes and is a dream come true for rafting fans. This wild landscape is loved by mountain bikers, jet boaters and fishing fans but for thrills, you can’t go past the whitewater rafting.
Murchison was once a gold rush town, but after being destroyed by an earthquake in 1929, the town now trades on its pristine rivers, beautiful swimming holes and outdoor pursuits. Ultimate Descents offer a brilliant whitewater rafting trip down the Buller River taking in the spectacular grey and pink granite canyons. The trip is a mixture of fast and furious water and relaxing pools in between the rapids. One not to be missed.