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Things to do on the South Island

Things to do in  South Island

Welcome to South Island

New Zealand's South Island is one of the earth's best outdoor playgrounds—and what it lacks in human population, it more than makes up for in pristine forests, fjords, lakes, beaches, and mountains. Guided tours reach nearly every corner of the island, offering expert instruction, informative commentary, and effortless access to these truly great outdoors. A popular base is Christchurch, the island's biggest city, full of Anglo-influenced architecture and an array of cultural offerings. Visitors enjoy peaceful punt rides down the Avon River, visits to the verdant Christchurch Botanic Gardens, and gondola rides into the Port Hills. Farther south, the Remarkables preside over Queenstown, known as the global adventure capital thanks to its seemingly unlimited menu of extreme tours and activities. Besides being an arts and dining destination in its own right, the town acts the jumping-off point for adventures at nearby Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier, Mount Cook, and Milford Sound. Many visitors arrive ready to tackle one of the South Island's six Great Walks, or a variety of shorter or longer guided forays into the island's valleys, mountains, and fjords. Dunedin, proud of its Scottish history and full of bustling student life, boasts the scenic Taieri Gorge Railway, and is a departure point for tours to the Otago Peninsula, which teems with wildlife—including whales, dolphins, and sea lions—pristine beaches, and interesting historic sights.

Top 10 attractions in South Island

#1
Christchurch Tram

Christchurch Tram

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The Christchurch Tram combines leisurely transportation with narrated city sightseeing aboard a restored vintage tram. Visitors learn about historical landmarks in central Christchurch as well as the Garden City’s revival efforts following the earthquake damage of 2011. With 17 hop-on hop-off stops, it’s an easy and fun way to get oriented to New Zealand's third-largest city.More
#2
Westcoast Treetop Walk & Cafe

Westcoast Treetop Walk & Cafe

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Just south of the town of Hokitika, the West Coast Treetop Walk & Café offers a fun natural experience for adults and kids. A steel platform allows visitors to walk through the canopy of native rimu and kamahi trees, 65 feet (20 meters) above the ground. A 131-foot-high (40-meter-high) lookout tower offers views of the forest and the surrounding areas.More
#3
Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier

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One of New Zealand’s most photographed natural wonders and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Franz Josef Glacier serves up a dazzling landscape of snow-smothered peaks, rocky gorges, and icy waterfalls, feeding into the Waiho River that's ripe for exploration.More
#4
Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu

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Surrounded by mountains and shrouded in legend, Lake Wakatipu and its crystal waters draw visitors as the longest lake on New Zealand's South Island. As a popular spot for adventure activities—from fishing to catamaran cruises—a day on Lake Wakatipu is arguably the highlight of any trip to Queenstown and the Otago region.More
#5
The Chasm

The Chasm

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When visiting New Zealand’s Milford Sound, you’d be forgiven for driving straight through from Te Anau and simply just wanting to get there. After all—Milford Sound is one of the world’s most stunningly scenic areas, and it’s hard to bottle the excitable urge to get there as fast as you can. As it turns out, however, the journey to famous Milford Sound is all a part of the experience, and the Milford Road is lined with hikes, viewpoints, and scenic adventures. One of these stops is known as “The Chasm,” where wooden boardwalks weave through the rain forest amidst a canopy of ferns. After only a couple of minutes on the trail, the sound of waterfalls thundering in the distance gradually begins to get louder, until the Cleddau River is powerfully splashing beneath your feet. From the bridge overlooking The Chasm, you’ll notice a series of massive rocks that are riddled with oversized potholes, which have been naturally formed by water swirling in circles within the canyon. Over the course of thousands of years, the swirling water has created these smooth depressions and holes in the rocks, which only add to the impressive nature of this short, but worthwhile hike.More
#6
Lake Wanaka

Lake Wanaka

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The town of Wanaka is a lakeside escape that drifts by under the radar—nowhere as busy as neighboring Queenstown, but arguably even more scenic. Rung by the mountains of Mt. Aspiring National Park, Wanaka also cradles Lake Wanaka inside of its river valley, where boating, kayaking, and standup paddling are popular summer activities. Imagine casually paddling a kayak beneath the Southern Alps, or parasailing in a canopy of silence while gazing toward hanging glaciers.Of all the adventures you’ll find on Lake Wanaka, perhaps the quirkiest is a half-day tour to explore Mou Wahou Island. This offshore bird sanctuary is not only known for its wealth and diversity of bird life, but also the fact that it’s small lake, known as Arethusa Pool, is a lake on an island in a lake on an island that’s surrounded by the Pacific. Activities and offshore islands aside, Lake Wanaka is also popular for just swimming, since the shallow areas at the shore of the lake can reach as high as 65°F on the warmest days of summer.More
#7
Marlborough Sounds

Marlborough Sounds

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A series of sunken river valleys at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, the Marlborough Sounds offer a range of sights and adventures—hiking, biking, camping, and wildlife watching, to name but a few. Many travelers pass through Queen Charlotte Sound and the town of Picton on the ferry between the North and South islands.More
#8
Tasman Glacier (Haupapa)

Tasman Glacier (Haupapa)

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Carving its way through the Southern Alps, the Tasman Glacier (Haupapa) is the largest glacier in New Zealand and a highlight of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. It’s also stunning—pristine white snow and ice at the glacier’s peak give way to craggy rocks and debris at the bottom, where glacier melt meets the silver waters of Lake Tasman.More
#9
Milford Sound

Milford Sound

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With its soaring cliffs, dramatic glacial valleys, and thundering waterfalls, it’s easy to see why Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most visited sights. This natural wonder is the star attraction of Fiordland National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and wildlife haven for dolphins, seals, and penguins.More
#10
Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre

Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre

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New Zealand took a heavy toll in the fighting of World War I. By most estimates, the young nation lost 5% of its men of military age—a proportion that far outnumbered any of the other nations at war. Despite New Zealand’s heavy losses, the nation still commemorates the event and is proud of its military involvement, and the Omaka Aviation Heritage Center nearly brings the war back to life.Through the use of historic World War I aircraft and the help of Peter Jackson—who created Hollywood-quality exhibits to show the atrocities of war—the center has become one of the world’s foremost exhibits on early aviation. While strolling the exhibit calledKnights of the Sky, admire the impeccable dioramas that detail the tragedy of war—all of them featuring historic aircraft that served in World War I. There are scenes of pilots being shot down and artifacts belonging to The Red Baron, and by the time you finish wandering the halls of the shockingly real exhibits, you might swear you were actually on the Western Front in the summer of 1918. There’s also a museum with general info on World War I aviation, and even if you aren’t an aficionado of military biplanes or aircraft, the special effects and professional lighting combine to create a museum experience that's impressively entertaining.More

Trip ideas

Top activities in South Island

Recent reviews from experiences in South Island

star-5
Great trip
Jennifer, Sep 2020
Queen Charlotte Sound Mail Boat Cruise
Great way to see the sights of the Sounds.
star-5
Memorable trip
Jeff-Sheila, Mar 2020
Half-Day Milford Sound Nature Cruise and Flight from Queenstown
Stunning aerial views followed by a wonderful cruise on a boat small enough to approach the waterfalls.
star-5
Excellent value and venue
Carolyn_G, Mar 2020
Dunedin Shore Excursion - Taieri Gorge Train One Way with City Sights
An excellent way to see this part of the South island, both by rail and coach.
star-5
This is an excellent tour for a...
NADARAJAH J, Jan 2018
5-Day South Island Tour from Christchurch
This is an excellent tour for a family who wants to see most of the South Island in a short time with less or no stress.
star-5
This tour was the ideal way to see...
ruthorders, Aug 2017
5-Day South Island Tour from Christchurch
This tour was the ideal way to see all the highlights on the South Island.
star-5
This is a good way to see the South...
terrynancylynch, Jan 2017
4-Day Great Southern Island Circle Tour from Christchurch
This is a good way to see the South Island on a short stay.
star-5
Took this tour on Dec 26, 2015. It...
Amit P, Jan 2016
Swimming with Wild Dolphins in Akaroa
It was one of the best activities we did on South Island.
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Wonderful day at Aoraki-Mt Cook National Park
daviddannecker, Jan 2020
Aoraki-Mt Cook Tasman Glacier & Alpine Centre scenic day tour from Christchurch
We would definitely recommend this tour company if you are staying in Christchurch, because outside of renting a car and trekking yourself, it is the easiest way to get out to see Mt Cook that we could find, and definitely the best value.
star-4
Spectacular views and amazing experience!
RGAmazing, Nov 2019
Milford Sound Experience Full Day from Queenstown
On the cruise we enjoyed the natural beauty, lots of waterfalls, tiny penguins and seals.
star-5
Peter our tour guide did a fantastic...
Tom M, Mar 2018
Kaikoura Day Tour with Whale Watching
We were able to see four sperm whales, porpoises, fur seals and many different sea birds.
star-5
We had a perfect day - on our walk...
Stuart Y, Mar 2018
Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary and Ship Cove Cruise from Picton
Ship Cove we had time to explore the waterfall track for a short way and to view the monument.
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The 7-Day South Island Coastal...
Anne S, Mar 2017
7-Day South Island Coastal Splendor Tour from Christchurch
The area had had rain the day before, so there were a lot of waterfalls on the journey to photograph.
star-5
This is a must do trip if visiting...
adold22, Mar 2017
Milford Sound Scenic Flight and Nature Cruise
On the 35 minute flight you get to see all of the huge mountain peaks as well as all of the lakes, things you won't see in a car or bus.
star-5
This was one of our first excursions...
Lisa G, Feb 2017
Milford Sound Cruise with Optional Kayak Tour
Though we were catching the tail end of summer in February -the weather was all over the place.
star-5
Fantastic trip that I would highly...
Fiona C, Jan 2017
Full-Day Milford Sound Extraordinaire Tour from Te Anau
It was raining most of the time and while it limited visibility in some places the resulting waterfalls were spectacular and something we would not have experienced had it been fine weather.
star-5
We had a wonderful tour of the City...
ssstarr, Feb 2017
Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula Wildlife Tour
From walking up the steepest street in Dunedin to observing penguins up close at The Peninsula I felt like I experienced one of the best places to visit on the South Island.
star-4
This tour was a perfect survey...
Susan P, Mar 2017
3-Day South Island Circle Tour from Christchurch
This tour allows you to see a lot of lovely scenery, and the coach drivers who also act as guide were all knowledgeable and friendly.
star-4
The train Journey was interesting...
Appuswamy R, Feb 2016
Taieri Gorge Railway and the Otago Peninsula Day Trip from Dunedin
After motoring through various parts of South Island where there was abundance of greeneries and waterfalls this trip offered another side of boulders and Gorges.
star-5
What a Fantastic trip we had! Thank...
Jing C, Mar 2016
8-Day Tour: South Island from Christchurch, Franz Josef, Wanaka and Queenstown
Our tour guide was eager to show us all the beautiful scenery and activities that are available at the south Island.
star-5
This was a great way to see the...
Clare F, Mar 2011
5-Day South Island Tour from Christchurch
This was a great way to see the highlights of the South Island and the free day in Queenstown was perfect for people wanting to try the various adventure sports The trip was very well organised and would be suitable for all types of traveller.
Frequently Asked Questions
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