New Zealand: South Island Travel Guide

I just returned from a trip to the South Island of New Zealand and I’ve come up with my top 10 must sees! This beautiful country is an amazing destination for nature lovers and adventure lovers alike. With a population of just over four million, it’s one of the least populated countries in the world. Though it’s population is low it’s filled with some of the friendliest locals I’ve had the pleasure of encountering. There is no shortage of lakes, mountains, hikes, waterfalls, glaciers – really just all the nature you could ever dream of! In addition to the nature, there are also stunning cities and some of the best food and wine.

There’s something for everyone in New Zealand, and it should definitely be added to your travel bucket list!


1.   Explore New Zealand in a Campervan

New Zealand is full of campgrounds that make traveling via campervan such a great way to explore the country and so affordable! You can rent campervans in different sizes (mini van to RV!) depending on the number of people you’re traveling with. Because this is such a common way to travel in New Zealand there are places to camp all over the country.

2. Milford Sound

Milford Sound is actually a fiord! Found in the Southwest portion of the South Island you will find rainforests, waterfalls, and unique marine life. Boat tours are an amazing way to take in the beauty and really explore. You’ll also have the chance to see fur seals, penguins and dolphins. Definitely a place worth visiting.

3. Hiking

There are so many hiking locations in New Zealand – people travel from all over the world to take on these incredibly breathtaking sights. With so many choices you’ll have a hard time narrowing it down! Milford Track, the Kepler Track and the Routeburn Track are three popular and challenging hikes.

4. Go Whale Watching in Kaikoura

Because of the underwater trench nearby many different forms of  wildlife can be found here. Whale watching can be done any time of the year! Enjoy the stunning background of the Pacific and Southern Alps and beautiful coastal views.

5. Queenstown

If you’re looking for adventure, Queenstown is the city for you! It’s the proud home of the first commercialized bungy jump, among many other extreme sports and activities. Zip lining, luging, mountain biking, skydiving, all the snow sports during the winter and more!

6. Drive the Southern Scenic Route Through the Catlins

On this drive you’ll get to see New Zealand’s Southernmost point. With the coastline, fur seals, hooker sea lions, and the rare yellow eyed penguins there are so many things to enjoy. Along the Southern Scenic Route is the world’s least disturbed Jurassic fossilized forest. Temperate rainforest, the Cathedral Caves are special to see as well!

7.  Stargaze at Lake Tekapo

Because the skies are so clear over Lake Tekapo, this is an ideal place to take in the stars. The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is 1 of 11 worldwide and the largest one in the Southern Hemisphere.There are even tours available where you can learn about the astrology and associated myths through storytelling. Following the stargazing, you can even take a dip in a hot pool to continue the experience.

8. See Mount Cook

Mount Cook is New Zealand’s tallest mountain standing at 12,218 feet. You can spot this massive mountain from afar (sometimes as far as Lake Pukaki!), or spend time exploring up close. This could even be an entire day trip as there are hiking trails that take you around the mountain.

9. Witness the Southern Lights

I don’t think the Southern Lights get the credit they deserve. I think most people have probably heard of the Northern Lights, but the Southern Lights?! Don’t worry they’re just as beautiful! They can be seen all year round, but from March to September (winter time) when the sky is darkest.

10. Motorcycle Tour

We work with a company who leads guided motorcycle tours on both the North and South islands. This is such a unique way to see the islands. South. Island tours are available from Dec through end of March. Experiencing New Zealand from the back of a motorcycle is so unique and well suited to this part of the world.

An extra piece of advice would be to not overlook the small towns! One of my favorite places was Arrowtown, formerly a mining town near Queenstown and now a look into what once was.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any of your New Zealand travel questions! I’m already planning my next trip back, I loved it that much. Whether you’re up for an adventure or just want to take some time to enjoy the beauty of nature, New Zealand is your place!