New Zealand is hands down one of the most beautiful countries on the planet. The South Island has SO much to see and do that it can be quite overwhelming, especially if you're planning to visit for the first time. Luckily, we've got you covered!
Where To Stay
If you’re not renting a camper van, but still looking to save cash on accommodation, then Airbnb is your best option by far. New Zealand is known to have some of the best Airbnb hosts in the world, and there's a huge range of options from converted campervans, to treehouses and your usual apartments or homes for rent.
How To Get Around
South Island Views
Renting a Car: This is a MUST while visiting New Zealand, as most of its sights are very far apart from one another and the best locations are outside of the main towns and cities, so travelling by bus doesn't allow you to explore them. Be sure to rent a GPS as well, especially if you won’t have Wifi on your phone.
Campervan Rental: Many people rent a campervan and utilize that as both their transport and accommodation. It's an awesome way to save cash and get the most authentic experience of the island.
You could very easily spend a month or more exploring the South Island, and barely scratch the surface. If you're limited on time, a minimum of 7 - 10 days is recommended to cover the top sites without feeling rushed.
What To See
Milford Sound is a fjord located in Fiordland National Park that was created when the sea flooded a glacial valley. Hop aboard a boat tour to take in the stunning peaks and waterfalls and, if you get lucky, you may see seals, dolphins and even penguins! You can take a day trip to Milford Sound from Queenstown or stay several nights, depending on your time and availability.
Queenstown Gondola Views
Queenstown sits on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, set against the gorgeous Southern Alps. You'll fall in love with Queenstown's people, atmosphere, scenery and food. Allow two or more days to explore this magnificent city. Take a ride on the Gondola for breathtaking views overlooking the city, stroll through the town’s shops and cafes or explore Lake Wakatipu by boat on the TSS Earnslaw Steamship.
Be sure to eat at Atlas Beer Cafe, Flame Bar & Grill and Fergburger for a taste of Queenstown's best eats.
Mount Cook is New Zealand's highest mountain, topping up at 3,724 meters (12,218 feet) and is a three-hour drive north from Queenstown. While journeying to Mount Cook, you'll drive alongside the South Island's largest alpine lake, Lake Pukaki. This massive lake at a size of 178.7 km2 (69.0 sq mi) was created by glacial water, giving it its electric blue color.
Upon arriving at Mount Cook, be sure to stop at Tasman Glacier, which happens to be the country's largest glacier. You can climb up the short, 10-minute hike to see the glacier from above, or take a boat tour to see the glacier up close, if time permits.
If you can squeeze 1-2 hours extra into your itinerary, be sure to explore the 5km (3.1mi) Hooker Valley Track, which winds through Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park and ends at Hooker Glacier with a stunning view of Mount Cook in the backdrop.
The second largest lake in New Zealand, Lake Tekapo is just a one-hour drive from Mount Cook and is near the iconic landmark, The Church of the Good Shepherd. This church was built in 1935 as a memorial to the pioneers of the Mackenzie Region. This is popular place for photos, so try to arrive early or late to avoid the crowds. Don't miss the New Zealand collie sheepdog statue nearby as well!
Fox Glacier & Franz Joseph Glacier
High on Franz Joesef Glacier
These two glaciers are located in the Southern Alps just 30 minutes apart from one another and four hours driving from Queenstown. They are a popular site for heli-hikes, ice climbing, glacier walks and sky diving. Both Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph Glacier are quite similar in size, with Fox being a bit longer. If time is limited, I suggest sky diving over one and taking a heli ride/hiking the other.
The largest city in the South Island, Christchurch offers up a lot to do, whether it be skiing/snowboarding, bungy jumping, hiking, mountain biking, surfing, exploring beaches, golfing or whale watching … the choices are endless. Sadly, in 2010 and 2011, earthquakes damaged many of the city’s historical sites, but the city is still very vibrant and rebuilding by the day!
Be sure to ride the Gondola for amazing views of the city, take a tour on the city tram, and take a boat ride on the Avon River. If time permits, hit Sumner Beach to relax, soak in the sun and enjoy some unforgettable sunsets. Be sure to grab takeout at Pedro’s House of Lamb, it’s mouthwateringly delicious!
Needless to say, the South Island is full of amazing sites and scenery everywhere you turn. If you’re coming to New Zealand, then put the South Island at the top of your list. We can help you plan an unforgettable South Island itinerary through our Free Travel Planning Service - get in touch with us with questions, we're happy to help!
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