New Zealand is a country full of hidden gems and picture-perfect attractions. Despite being relatively expensive to travel in, New Zealand is very safe and friendly to backpackers. When visiting such a country, you never want to leave with any regret. And it can get confusing with all the best things to do in New Zealand South Island.
Which is why this post was born! Hooray!
So let’s start with the best things to do in New Zealand South Island first!
- 1 Go On A Road Trip
- 2 Hop On A Cruise In Milford Sound
- 3 Hiking Roys Peak
- 4 Crayfish Feast in Kaikoura
- 5 Whale & Albatross Watching
- 6 Watch Sunrise at Moeraki Boulders
- 7 Visit Oamaru’s Victorian Precinct
- 8 Embrace The Cuteness of Blue Penguins
- 9 Feast On Best Salmon In Lake Pukaki i-Site
- 10 Be Impressed By Reflective View at Lake Matheson
- 11 Camping in Mt Cook National Park
- 12 ‘Hunt’ For Kiwi Birds in Stewart Island (With A Chance Of Southern Light)
- 13 Stroll Along Wharariki Beach
- 14 Mourn For The Whale Carcasses in Farewell Spit
- 15 Enjoy Autumn in Arrowtown
- 16 World’s Steepest Residential Road?
- 17 The Paradise on Earth
- 18 Glamping in Akaroa
- 19 Picking Mussels in Timaru
- 20 Skydive in Franz Josef
- 21 Feel Tiny in Castle Hill
- 22 Trek Abel Tasman Coast Track
- 23 Lupins in Lake Tekapo
- 24 Queenstown Winter Festival
- 25 Venture To Purakaunui Falls
- 26 Unfold The Camouflage of Fur Seals In Tauranga Bay
- 27 Feast On in Bluff Oyster & Food Festival
Go On A Road Trip
I have to mention this first and foremost. There is no other way to explore this sparsely-populated island other than road-tripping. Roaming with your own vehicle can get you to any corner of the country, thus more convenient to discover hidden gems and have everything to yourself.
It’s annoying to share the attraction with a bunch of tourists right? Totally understand that.
But if you’re going to have a road trip in New Zealand, I have good news for you.
Check out my Ultimate Guide to New Zealand Road Trip! The 5000+ words article guides you through every step from choosing your mechanical partner to things to know before hitting the road and where to go.
But let’s move on. There’s a lot more I want to share with you.
Hop On A Cruise In Milford Sound
Cruising in Milford Sound is one of the best experiences I had in my life. Literally. If you think it will hurt your pocket, think twice. The package can be very cheap at way under $100 when you book early. It’s still less than $100 when you book a day before though.
Imagine cruising in crystal clear waters surrounded by ultra-steep peaks with snow on top and waterfalls plunging down the sides. Several companies run different tours so you might need to choose the one best suits you. Did I mention dolphins love to swim along with cruises?
Check out this post if you’re planning an overnight cruise tour in Doubtful Sound!
Hiking Roys Peak
This is the one thing you should do in Wanaka, hiking the legendary Roys Peak! From the parking lot, it’s a steep zig-zag trail all the way up to the summit which spans overs 8km and 1.2km elevation gain. The whole hike takes around 4 to 5 hours depending on your stamina. During the winter, enjoy the green grass full of sheep’s poos at the bottom of the hill and one-meter-thick snow at the summit.
Upon reaching the top, you will be rewarded with the 360° panoramic view of the surrounding hills and lakes. It’s perfect if you brought some food with you so you could have a glamorous picnic up there! The summit is worth spending hours just relaxing and enjoying the impressive scenery. Don’t forget to bring your rubbish back on the way.
Check out the guide by the Department of Conservation New Zealand.
Crayfish Feast in Kaikoura
In Maori language, Kai means ‘eat’ and Koura means ‘crayfish’. Now you know what to do. Eat crayfishes! It’s one of the best things to do in New Zealand South Island.
Kaikoura is the best place to enjoy your feast on crayfishes, probably the only place. Stalls and restaurants serving the dishes can be found almost everywhere in the town. But Kaikoura Seafood BBQ Kiosk is the most popular choice among backpackers.
Whale & Albatross Watching
You probably won’t visit Kaikoura just for the crayfishes huh? Wait, there are more things to do in Kaikoura.
Whale watching and albatross tours in Kaikoura are famous and are worth your consideration. During May to August, humpback whales migrate to Australia and Tonga for their mating season, passing through Kaikoura. If you’re lucky enough, with some help of binoculars, you can wait for the whales at the shore!
Kaikoura is also home to albatrosses, the bird with the longest wingspan in the world. Boarding on the tour will bring you out to the middle of the ocean while crews toss out a piece of food for albatrosses. Enjoy the close-up views of the gigantic birds. It’s a bit touristy so it’s understandable if you don’t support this.
Watch Sunrise at Moeraki Boulders
Have you ever seen massive perfect-sphere rocks? If not, definitely visit Moeraki Boulders. The spherical boulders were made in the sea bottom millions of years ago. Scientists said that the boulders might have taken 5.5 million years to grow to that size.
The best thing? The beach is located on the eastern side of New Zealand South Island, which is perfect for catching the sunrise! Don’t worry about tourists flooding in because they won’t be coming that early. Enjoy the view, take a photo and have everything to yourself!
By the way, I’m sure you will love my 25 Best New Zealand South Island Attractions.
Visit Oamaru’s Victorian Precinct
Home to one of the country’s oldest public garden, renowned Victorian architectures, and penguin colonies. Oamaru is very comfortable to spend time just walking around the streets and enjoying everything you come across.
There are several streets you should consider visiting in Oamaru to truly experience the Victorian vibes. Thinking of buying souvenirs, do that in Oamaru.
Embrace The Cuteness of Blue Penguins
Oh, penguins, arguably the cutest mammals on our beloved planet Earth.
Blue penguins are the smallest type of penguins out there, which adds to their cuteness. Not to mention their clumsy movements. You got the idea. But where to ‘hunt’ for them?
While there is a tour company, Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony running exclusive close-up views of penguins returning to the shore, I do not recommend that.
The best way is to park your vehicle in Waterfront Road, Oamaru outside the tour company, and wait for the penguins to return from the ocean. Some penguins will lose their way and eventually have to cross the roads themselves, returning to their colony. Stand quietly at the roadside, embrace the coldness of New Zealand weather and wait for them.
I once waited for an hour and 5 penguins were literally running clumsily towards me, almost crashing themselves to my legs. Such an intimate experience. Oh, penguins.
Check out my customized 10 Days New Zealand South Island itinerary here!
Feast On Best Salmon In Lake Pukaki i-Site
If you never heard of this, the salmons sold in Lake Pukaki i-Site are worth your every penny. The salmons came from the freezing lake in Mt Cook National Park, and the freshness and quality are at top-notch. Dip the salmon slices into Japanese Soyu, put it into your mouth, and boom! Your day is made.
Be Impressed By Reflective View at Lake Matheson
A few minutes’ drive from Fox Glacier and you’ll be in one of the most visited lakes in New Zealand, Lake Matheson. Upon arrival, Mt Cook and Mt Tasman, the first and second tallest peaks in New Zealand are in sight at your right.
Walk all the way in following the beaten trail until the viewing deck, where you can enjoy the reflective view of the two mountains if you’re lucky.
Reflective views are highly sensitive to wind. Even the slightest wind can destroy the whole reflection. Visit in the early morning to secure yourself a spot in the deck (because there will be crowds of Asian tourists visiting as well), when the wind is minimal. Try out the desserts in Matheson Cafe just beside the parking lot, they serve great foods.
Camping in Mt Cook National Park
What’s better than staying a night beside the tallest mountain in New Zealand? With your own vehicle, you can opt for camping in the designated area with a fee around NZ$8. You might have to arrive earlier to secure yourself a spot in summer because there’s really not many campsites there. Use Campermate and check the locations and all details regarding the campsites!
‘Hunt’ For Kiwi Birds in Stewart Island (With A Chance Of Southern Light)
Anybody ever told you there is a third island in New Zealand? Yep, it’s Stewart Island. Located south of the South Island, Stewart Island is accessible via ferry from the southernmost city in South Island, Bluff.
Stewart Island has the world’s highest population density of kiwi birds, the legendary birds that visitors dreamed of stumbling upon in the wild. Stay for few nights in the rural hostels and go for night hikes, when the kiwi birds came out from their nests. Sound like hunting legendary Pokemon huh?
Due to the low human population, the light pollution is almost zero. It’s one of the best places for stargazing in New Zealand. Oh ya, you have a great chance of catching the Southern Light (Aurora Australis) in Stewart Island too!
Stroll Along Wharariki Beach
If you’re a Windows user you’re most likely to be familiar with this. Remember the Archway Islands with a woman jogging on the beach? Yep, that’s Wharariki Beach!
It’s a super-wide stretch of white sandy beach so prepare yourself for a long walk! Have fun at the sand dunes there after paying the Archway Islands a visit. Some might encounter troubles locating the islands so you might need some help from Google Maps. But it’s also fun to explore around, the beach is just wonderful.
Mourn For The Whale Carcasses in Farewell Spit
Farewell Spit is also located in Golden Bay. Remember the incident where hundreds of whales have washed ashore and most of them never made it? Yep, it was in Farewell Spit.
Along the shore, you’ll find an abundant of whale carcasses and bones. The downside is that you need to join a tour to get into the area as entry is not permitted without permission. Personally, I recommend doing the tour with Farewell Spit Tours. But if you love riding on animals, consider Cape Farewell Horse Treks.
Enjoy Autumn in Arrowtown
Arrowtown is home to New Zealand’s largest autumn festival held mostly in April every year. The event had been running for 30 years, attracting Kiwis from all over the nation.
The festival usually lasts for a week, featuring concerts and performances, parades, exhibitions and a variety of competitions. Visit the official website for more info.
World’s Steepest Residential Road?
It’s Baldwin Street in Dunedin! At the length of a little under 350 meters, the road rises from 30 meters to 100 meters above sea level at the top, giving it an average slope of over 1:5.
Baldwin Street has been welcoming those who are confident enough with their vehicle engines since their Guinness World Record award. Driving up with your car is something exciting to do. But be careful of the tourists!
The Paradise on Earth
Sir Ian McKellen, the actor of Gandalf in Lord of The Ring said, “This is the Middle‑earth I had always pictured”.
Yep, there is actually a place called ‘Paradise’ in South Island. It is surrounded by all the snowy peaks nearby, granting it a 360° breath-taking view. Paradise is located 20km away from Glenorchy, not so far away from Queenstown.
Glamping in Akaroa
Akaroa is one of the first places I traveled in New Zealand. It’s located at the east of Christchurch, often the weekend getaway spot for the locals. The town was French-influenced and offers great amounts of decent restaurants and wines.
But the one thing you must do here is staying in backpacker hostels outside the town. The light pollution is minimal in Akaroa, which means the Milky Way is easily seen at night. Glamping is probably the best way to take them all in.
Picking Mussels in Timaru
Picking mussels is one of the most exciting things to do in New Zealand. You get to spend time with your friends and the freshness of your dinner is guaranteed. It doesn’t have to be Timaru. Basically, mussels are found in almost every shores in South Island.
If you’re traveling with families, I highly recommend trying at least once!
Skydive in Franz Josef
New Zealand is one of the best places on Earth for skydiving because of its otherworldly magnificent landscapes. Plunging from an altitude of 18,000 ft, Franz Josef Skydive offers the highest tandem skydive in New Zealand. Hungry for an adrenaline rush? Look no further.
Feel Tiny in Castle Hill
Remember the scene in The Chronicles of Narnia, where Aslan defeated the White Witch? Those were filmed in Castle Hill in Arthur’s Pass. Having said so, Castle Hill had not been receiving lots of attention from tourists, which left it untouched by the tourism industry.
However it’s a little tricky to get to Castle Hill, you will probably need your own car. If not, try hitchhiking!
Trek Abel Tasman Coast Track
Abal Tasman National Park at the northern tip of South Island is home to one of the most spectacular multi-day treks in New Zealand, Abel Tasman Coast Track. The 3-5 days trek cover the trail along the coast, offering blue and green view most of the time.
There are several other single-day treks too so be sure to check them out. Best to visit during the summer.
Check out this post for more hiking trails in New Zealand!
Lupins in Lake Tekapo
A wide field of Lupins with snowy mountains as a backdrop? Lake Tekapo offers that. For your information, lupins were introduced to New Zealand to make the countryside beautiful. Therefore they are considered a pest plant species.
Lupins usually bloom between November to February so plan your travel accordingly if you’re into this.
Queenstown Winter Festival
For the last 43 years, the winter season has been welcomed with a huge festival in Queenstown. The festival usually falls in June and lasts for 4 days. There will be lots of free events and competitions along with performances during the festival.
Kiwis are amazing at throwing festivals! Here’s the official site for more info.
Venture To Purakaunui Falls
Catlins Forest Park on the south of South Island is home to numerous magnificent waterfalls. The one which received the most attention is Purakaunui Falls. It’s easy to get to as long as you drive slowly and pay attention to road signs.
Park your car as designated lot and follow the trail leading to Purakaunui Falls. Prepare your tripod for a long-exposure shot!
Unfold The Camouflage of Fur Seals In Tauranga Bay
Tauranga Bay is home to thousands of New Zealand fur seals. It’s located on the West Coast of South Island struck consistently by strong winds. No matter what time you go, you’ll find fur seals slacking and relaxing on the boulders on the shore.
There is a huge viewing platform so make sure you stay civilized all the time.
Feast On in Bluff Oyster & Food Festival
The one thing that people think of when they heard the name Bluff is oyster. Bluff Oyster & Food Festival happens every year around May. And like Arrowtown Autumn Festival, it attracts numerous visitors once the gate is open. Eating is one of the best things to do in New Zealand South Island.
But it doesn’t stop there. Seafood like abalones (Paua), scallops, salmon, blue cods and whitebait can be found here too. Also feast on muttonbird, beef, pork, lamb, and venison followed by a glass of New Zealand wine. Visit the official website for more info.
Are You Ready For These Best Things to Do in New Zealand South Island?
Well, thanks for staying with me. These are the best things to do in New Zealand South Island in my opinion. Have any suggestions? Feel free to comment below.
I got the opportunity to see these attractions because I went for the New Zealand Working Holiday. See how you can do it too. See you soon!
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