New Zealand’s South Island has only a fraction of the population of the North Island, but boasts a good number of attractions, both natural and cultural. Plan your trip around these great NZ tourist attractions as you plan your itinerary around the South Island.
The Nelson Tasman region makes up the northwest section of the South Island. This area is notoriously sunny, making it ideal for a wide range of outdoors activities. The laid-back, outdoorsy lifestyle of the locals is reflected in a lively arts and food scene.
- Gallery hopping in Nelson, the arts capital of New Zealand.
- Breaking in your hiking boots on the Abel Tasman Coast Track.
- Sampling the offerings of local microbreweries.
If you’re arriving via ferry, Marlborough will be your first introduction to the South Island. As you pull into port, you’ll be treated to a cruise through the stunning Marlborough Sounds. In addition to the area’s natural beauty, Marlborough is known as New Zealand’s most acclaimed wine region—don’t forget to try a few glasses of sauvignon blanc before you leave the area.
- Wine tasting around Blenheim.
- Cruising through the beautiful Marlborough Sounds by boat.
- Spotting whales, dolphins, seals and albatross on the Kaikoura Peninsula.
Canterbury tourism is still in the process of recovering from a devastating earthquake in February 2011. While the city of Christchurch was severely damaged, most of Canterbury was untouched and there’s still plenty to see and do in the region. Check out the natural highlights as well as the charm of Canterbury’s small towns.
- Paying a visit to quake-hit Christchurch. Plan a return visit in five years, and see how the city changes.
- Spend a night in the historic Hermitage Hotel at the base of Mt. Cook.
- Soaking in the natural hot pools at Hanmer Springs.
Otago has a little bit of everything. From the urbane chic of college-town Dunedin, to quaint small-town pubs built during the gold rush to an abundance of bungee jumps in the world’s adventure capital: Queenstown.
- Spending an evening bar-hopping around downtown Dunedin.
- Pulling over at a roadside stand in central Otago to buy fresh-from-the-orchard fruit.
- Thrill-seeking in Queenstown and Wanaka.
Southland and Fiordland
Milford Sound is the most popular destination in New Zealand, and for good reason. The area is unlike anything else you may have seen before, and well worth the trip to get there. On the way, don’t forget to drive through scenic Southland, where sheep farms meet an untamed coastline.
- Taking a scenic drive through the rough and remote Catlins.
- Seeing first-hand what makes Milford Sound New Zealand’s preeminent destination.
- Spending a few days in scenic resort town Te Anau.
One of the least visited, and least populated, regions in New Zealand, the wild West Coast is ideal for travellers trying to get off the beaten path. Use your time here as an opportunity to check out some astounding feats of nature, from ancient glaciers to unexpected rock formations.
- Getting dropped off by a helicopter in the middle of Franz Josef Glacier.
- Admiring the blowholes and stacked limestone formations at the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki.
- Exploring spacious caverns in the Karamea.
Whitney Cox is a Christchurch, New Zealand-based travel blogger.