12 Most Beautiful Places in the Southern Alps to Visit

by Reyna
Most Beautiful Places in the Southern Alps
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Are you thinking about visiting the Southern Alps this year? Here are some of the most beautiful places to visit in the Southern Alps. Your mind will be blown by these captivating sights and destinations.

Welcome to the land of towering peaks, serene lakes, and endless adventure—the Southern Alps of New Zealand are filled with hidden gems. This mountain range is the backbone of the South Island, stretching over 500 kilometers and offering some of the most beautiful places in the Southern Alps of New Zealand. From the iconic Aoraki/Mount Cook to the adventure capital of Queenstown, the Southern Alps are a playground for nature lovers and thrill-seekers alike. So no matter what type of trip you are looking to take, the Southern Alps have something for everyone to cross off of their bucket list.

But it’s not just about the adrenaline rush or the Instagram-worthy views. The Southern Alps are steeped in Maori culture and history, offering a rich tapestry that goes beyond the surface. Whether you’re a history buff, an outdoor enthusiast, or someone simply looking to escape the daily grind, this region has something for everyone.

So, pack your bags, fly to New Zealand, and get ready to explore. This guide will take you through 12 must-visit destinations in this awe-inspiring region, each offering a unique blend of natural beauty and cultural richness. From national parks to charming towns, these are the places to visit in the Southern Alps of New Zealand that you won’t want to miss.

The most beautiful places in the Southern Alps right now
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The Most Beautiful Places to Visit in the Southern Alps 

Eager to explore the stunning landscapes of the Southern Alps? This region of New Zealand offers a diverse range of experiences for every type of traveler. Read on to uncover the breathtaking vistas that await you in the Southern Alps.

Whether you’re interested in vibrant cities and cultural landmarks or you’re seeking a tranquil retreat amidst nature, the Southern Alps have something to suit your preferences. Here are the must-visit spots in the Southern Alps that you won’t want to miss:

1. Nelson Lakes National Park

Nelson Lakes National Park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. With its pristine lakes, rugged mountains, and dense forests, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the Southern Alps. Whether you’re into hiking, fishing, or simply soaking in the natural beauty, this park has something for everyone.

The park is home to two major lakes—Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoroa—which offer excellent opportunities for boating and kayaking. The surrounding trails range from easy walks to challenging multi-day hikes, making it a versatile destination for adventurers of all levels.

If you’re a wildlife enthusiast, keep your eyes peeled for the native birds that inhabit the area, including the Kea, New Zealand’s alpine parrot. In the winter, the park transforms into a snowy paradise, ideal for backcountry skiing and snowshoeing.

To sum it up, Nelson Lakes National Park is not just a travel destination; it’s an experience that encapsulates the very essence of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. From its diverse landscapes to its abundant outdoor activities, it’s a must-see in the Southern Alps.

Discover the tranquil beauty of Nelson Lakes National Park, one of the most beautiful places in the Southern Alps
Discover the tranquil beauty of Nelson Lakes National Park, one of the most beautiful places in the Southern Alps

2. Lewis Pass (Kaikoura)

Lewis Pass serves as a gateway to the Southern Alps and offers a scenic drive that’s second to none. Winding roads take you through lush forests and past alpine meadows, making it one of the pretty places in the Southern Alps. The pass is also a starting point for several hiking trails, each offering its own set of natural wonders.

The area is rich in biodiversity. Native plants like the New Zealand flax and various species of ferns line the trails. Birdwatchers will delight in spotting native birds such as the Kiwi and the Tui. It’s a Southern Alps destination that promises a rich ecological experience.

Adventure seekers can explore the numerous hiking trails that branch off from the pass. These trails lead to hidden waterfalls, secluded lakes, and panoramic viewpoints. Each trail offers a unique adventure, making Lewis Pass a must-see in the Southern Alps.

Winter brings a different kind of beauty to Lewis Pass. Snow-capped peaks and frozen lakes offer a magical landscape for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding. The pass becomes a winter wonderland, attracting visitors from all over.

A scenic view of Lewis Pass with towering mountains and lush greenery
A scenic view of Lewis Pass with towering mountains and lush greenery

3. Arthur’s Pass

Nestled between the towering peaks of the Southern Alps, Arthur’s Pass is a marvel of natural beauty and engineering ingenuity. The pass itself is a feat, cutting through rugged terrain to connect the east and west coasts of New Zealand’s South Island. It’s a must-see in the Southern Alps, offering some of the most dramatic scenery in the region.

Visitors are greeted by the sight of the Otira Viaduct, an engineering marvel that adds to the area’s allure. The viaduct is a popular spot for photography, capturing the essence of this Southern Alps destination.

Hiking trails abound, each offering its own unique view of the surrounding landscape. The Bealey Spur Track is a local favorite, leading to stunning vistas of the Waimakariri River and surrounding peaks. For those interested in alpine flora and fauna, the Dobson Nature Walk is a shorter trail that offers educational insights into the local ecosystem.

Winter or summer, Arthur’s Pass is a hub of outdoor activities. Skiing, snowboarding, hiking, and birdwatching are just a few of the activities that make it one of the most beautiful places in the Southern Alps.

Escape to the breathtaking beauty of Arthur's Pass, where nature paints the most stunning landscapes
Escape to the breathtaking beauty of Arthur’s Pass, where nature paints the most stunning landscapes

4. Ashburton Lakes

A collection of serene bodies of water, Ashburton Lakes offers a tranquil escape in the Southern Alps. The lakes are a popular destination for fishing, with abundant trout and salmon populations. Anglers consider it a Southern Alps destination worth the journey for the catch alone.

The area around the lakes is equally captivating. Vast meadows sprinkled with wildflowers stretch as far as the eye can see. These meadows are home to a variety of bird species, making it a must-see in the Southern Alps for birdwatchers.

For those who prefer more active pursuits, the lakes are surrounded by trails suitable for mountain biking and hiking. Each trail offers its own set of challenges and rewards, from steep climbs to panoramic views. The area is also a hotspot for water sports like kayaking and paddleboarding.

When the sun sets, the lakes offer another spectacle: stargazing. With minimal light pollution, Ashburton Lakes is one of the most beautiful places in the Southern Alps to observe the night sky.

Escape to the tranquil shores of Ashburton Lakes
Escape to the tranquil shores of Ashburton Lakes

5. Lake Tekapo and the Mackenzie Basin

Lake Tekapo and the Mackenzie Basin are a feast for the eyes, offering a blend of azure waters, golden tussock lands, and the snow-capped Southern Alps in the backdrop. With its iconic Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo is a must-see in the Southern Alps. The church offers a picturesque setting for photography, especially during sunrise and sunset.

The Mackenzie Basin extends the experience. Known for its clear skies, it’s a Southern Alps destination that’s part of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. Stargazing here is an otherworldly experience, with the Milky Way clearly visible to the naked eye.

Outdoor activities are plentiful. From jet boating on the lake to cycling through the basin, adventure awaits at every turn. The area is also rich in flora and fauna, with several native species that are unique to this region.

In winter, the area transforms. The lake’s shores become dusted with snow, and the basin’s fields turn into a winter playground. Skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating are popular, making it one of the most beautiful places in the Southern Alps during the colder months.

Adventurous hikes and stunning vistas await at Lake Tekapo
Adventurous hikes and stunning vistas await at Lake Tekapo

6. Mount Cook National Park

Mount Cook National Park is the epitome of New Zealand’s alpine beauty. Home to the country’s highest peak, Aoraki/Mount Cook, the park is a Southern Alps destination that captivates visitors with its grandeur. The towering mountains are complemented by glaciers and alpine meadows, creating a diverse landscape that’s a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts.

Hiking is a popular activity, with trails like the Hooker Valley Track offering stunning views of the mountain and surrounding glaciers. For a more relaxed experience, the Tasman Glacier Lake offers boat tours that get you up close to icebergs. It’s a must-see in the Southern Alps for anyone interested in glaciology or simply looking to experience the awe of nature.

The park is also a hub for extreme sports. Mountaineering and ice climbing attract adventurers from around the world, each looking to conquer the challenging terrains that the park offers. Skiing and snowboarding are also popular during the winter months.

Stargazers will find the park’s clear skies a dream come true. As part of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the Southern Alps to observe celestial events.

Witness the majesty of Mount Cook National Park, where nature's grandeur knows no bounds
Witness the majesty of Mount Cook National Park, where nature’s grandeur knows no bounds

7. Waitaki Valley

Waitaki Valley is a treasure trove of natural beauty and historical significance. The valley is renowned for its limestone formations, which include the Elephant Rocks and the mysterious Maerewhenua Maori Rock Art. These unique geological features make it a Southern Alps destination that stands out for its rich cultural heritage.

The valley is also home to the Waitaki River, a haven for fishing and water sports. Kayaking and jet boating are popular ways to explore the river’s twists and turns. For those who prefer a more leisurely pace, the riverbanks offer excellent spots for picnics and birdwatching. It’s a must-see in the Southern Alps for anyone who loves the great outdoors.

Wine enthusiasts will find the valley’s vineyards a delightful experience. Known for its Pinot Noir and Riesling, the region offers wine tours that take you through scenic vineyards and state-of-the-art wineries. Sampling local vintages is a must when visiting.

The valley’s charm extends to its small towns like Kurow and Duntroon, each offering its own set of attractions from local museums to farmers’ markets. With its blend of natural beauty and cultural richness, Waitaki Valley is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places of the Southern Alps.

Discover the serene beauty of Waitaki Valley, where nature paints its masterpiece in every season
Discover the serene beauty of Waitaki Valley, where nature paints its masterpiece in every season | Source: newzealand.com

8. Central Otago

Central Otago is a region that wears many hats. It’s a wine lover’s paradise, an adventurer’s playground, and a photographer’s dream, all rolled into one. The region is famous for its Pinot Noir, making it a must-see in the Southern Alps for oenophiles.

Adventure activities are abundant. From bungee jumping in Kawarau Gorge to cycling along the Otago Central Rail Trail, the region offers a plethora of options for adrenaline junkies. Each activity presents a unique way to explore the landscape, solidifying Central Otago’s reputation as a Southern Alps destination for thrill-seekers.

The region’s natural beauty is its most enduring feature. Rugged mountains, deep rivers, and expansive plains create a diverse landscape that’s perfect for exploration. Whether you’re hiking, cycling, or simply driving through, the scenery will leave you in awe.

Art and history also have a place here. The region’s gold-mining past is evident in historic sites like the Goldfields Mining Centre. Local galleries showcase the work of artists inspired by the region’s beauty, making it one of the most beautiful places in the Southern Alps for cultural enrichment as well.

Discover the serenity of Central Otago's pristine landscapes
Discover the serenity of Central Otago’s pristine landscapes

9. Queenstown

Queenstown is often dubbed the ‘Adventure Capital of the World,’ and for good reason. From skydiving to jet boating, the range of adrenaline-pumping activities is endless. It’s a Southern Alps beauty that offers more than just thrills; it’s a hub for all things fun and exciting.

The town is set against the backdrop of Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables mountain range, creating a stunning setting for outdoor activities. Whether it’s bungee jumping off the Kawarau Bridge or skiing down the slopes of Coronet Peak, Queenstown is one of the best places to visit in the Southern Alps for adventure seekers.

But Queenstown isn’t just for the thrill-seekers. The town offers a range of more relaxed activities like scenic cruises on Lake Wakatipu and wine tasting tours in the nearby Gibbston Valley. It’s a Southern Alps destination that caters to all types of travelers.

When the sun sets, the town comes alive with a vibrant nightlife. Bars, restaurants, and clubs line the streets, offering a variety of options for evening entertainment. With its blend of adventure and leisure, Queenstown is undoubtedly one of the most scenic places in the Southern Alps.

A breathtaking view from atop a mountain in Queenstown, showcasing rugged terrain and endless vistas
A breathtaking view from atop a mountain in Queenstown, showcasing rugged terrain and endless vistas

10. Wanaka

Wanaka is a gem in the Southern Alps, offering a quieter, yet equally stunning, alternative to its bustling neighbor, Queenstown. Located on the shores of Lake Wanaka and surrounded by mountains, it’s one of the prettiest places in the Southern Alps.

Outdoor activities are abundant here. Whether it’s kayaking on the lake, hiking up Mount Iron, or skiing in Cardrona Alpine Resort, Wanaka offers a range of options for nature lovers. It’s a Southern Alps destination that promises an intimate experience with nature.

The town itself is charming, filled with boutique shops, cafes, and galleries. A stroll around the town reveals its laid-back atmosphere, making it a place to visit in the Southern Alps for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle.

Wanaka is also home to unique attractions like Puzzling World, a theme park that offers a range of mind-boggling puzzles and illusions. For those interested in aviation and automotive history, the National Transport and Toy Museum offers an extensive collection.

In essence, Wanaka is a destination that offers a balanced mix of adventure and relaxation, making it one of the Southern Alps beautiful places.

Exploring the pristine shores of Lake Wanaka
Exploring the pristine shores of Lake Wanaka

11. Mount Aspiring National Park

Mount Aspiring National Park is a wilderness paradise, boasting some of New Zealand’s most awe-inspiring landscapes. From towering peaks to verdant valleys, it’s a place to see in the Southern Alps that offers a bit of everything for nature enthusiasts.

The park is home to Mount Aspiring, one of New Zealand’s highest peaks. Climbers and mountaineers find it a challenging yet rewarding ascent, offering panoramic views from the summit. This peak is the centerpiece of the park, making it a Southern Alps destination for those with a penchant for high-altitude adventures.

For those who prefer water-based activities, the park offers plenty. Rivers like the Matukituki and the Makarora are popular for jet boating and fishing. The park’s numerous lakes and waterfalls add to its allure, making it one of the most beautiful places to visit in the Southern Alps.

Wildlife is another highlight. Native bird species like the Kea and the New Zealand Falcon are commonly sighted. The park is also home to a variety of plant species, adding to its ecological diversity.

A stunning view of Mount Aspiring National Park, with snow-capped peaks
A stunning view of Mount Aspiring National Park, with snow-capped peaks

12. Fiordland National Park

Fiordland National Park is the epitome of natural grandeur. With its dramatic fiords, cascading waterfalls, and dense rainforests, it’s one of the stunning locations in the Southern Alps. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a testament to its ecological and geological significance.

Milford Sound is the crown jewel of the park. Known for its towering Mitre Peak and frequent dolphin and penguin sightings, it’s a must-see in the Southern Alps. Cruises and kayaking tours offer intimate experiences with the fiord’s natural beauty.

The park is also a hiker’s dream. Trails like the Milford Track and the Kepler Track offer multi-day hiking experiences that take you through some of the most scenic landscapes in New Zealand. Each track has its own unique features, from alpine meadows to ancient forests, making Fiordland a Southern Alps destination for avid hikers.

The underwater observatory at Milford Sound offers a unique perspective. Here, you can observe marine life in its natural habitat, adding another layer to the park’s diverse offerings. With its blend of land and water experiences, Fiordland National Park stands as one of the best parts of the Southern Alps.

Discover the serene beauty of Fiordland National Park
Discover the serene beauty of Fiordland National Park

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Visiting the Beautiful Places in the Southern Alps 

Interested in broadening your understanding of Southern Alp’s most picturesque locations? Here are frequently asked questions about its top attractions.

What is the Southern Alps famous for?

The Southern Alps are renowned for their stunning natural landscapes, which include towering peaks, serene lakes, and expansive national parks. They are a hub for outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, and mountaineering. The range is also culturally significant, with a rich Maori history.

What is the best peak in the Southern Alps?

Aoraki/Mount Cook is widely considered one of the most notable and awe-inspiring peaks in the Southern Alps for several reasons:

  1. Highest Point: Aoraki/Mount Cook is the highest peak in New Zealand, standing at an impressive 3,724 meters (12,218 feet) above sea level. Its sheer height and prominence make it a natural focal point in the Southern Alps.
  2. Scenic Beauty: The peak is situated within the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, surrounded by some of the most breathtaking alpine scenery in the world. The park features glaciers, pristine lakes, and rugged mountain terrain, providing visitors with stunning vistas at every turn.
  3. Mountaineering: Aoraki/Mount Cook is a magnet for mountaineers and climbers from around the globe. Its challenging terrain offers a range of routes for climbers of varying skill levels, making it a popular destination for those seeking adventure and the thrill of summiting a major peak.
  4. Astronomy: The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, encompassing the area around Aoraki/Mount Cook, is renowned for its exceptionally clear and dark skies. Stargazing and astrophotography enthusiasts flock to this location to observe the southern hemisphere’s night sky, including the Southern Cross and the Milky Way.
  5. Hiking and Tramping: For those who prefer to keep their feet on the ground, there are numerous hiking and tramping trails in the vicinity, offering opportunities to explore the park’s natural beauty, including the Hooker Valley Track, the Mueller Hut Route, and the Kea Point Track.

Why do people go to the Southern Alps?

People visit the Southern Alps for several compelling reasons:

  1. Stunning Scenery: The Southern Alps offer breathtaking landscapes, from towering peaks to deep blue glacial lakes.
  2. Adventure Sports: Thrill-seekers flock to the region for activities like skiing, snowboarding, mountaineering, and paragliding.
  3. Hiking and Trekking: The area boasts numerous trails that cater to both beginners and experienced hikers, with routes like the famous Milford Track.
  4. Photography: The dramatic landscapes provide perfect backdrops for photography enthusiasts, capturing iconic spots like Aoraki/Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo.
  5. Wildlife Encounters: The alpine environment is home to unique species like the Kea, a native mountain parrot, and visitors often spot them in their natural habitat.
  6. Glacier Experiences: Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers attract visitors who want to experience guided glacier walks, heli-hikes, or scenic flights.
  7. Stargazing: Places like the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve offer some of the world’s best stargazing opportunities.

What towns are in the Southern Alps New Zealand?

Key towns in the Southern Alps of New Zealand include Queenstown, Wanaka, and Te Anau. These towns serve as gateways to popular attractions like Fiordland National Park, Mount Aspiring National Park, and Lake Wakatipu.

Epic Views of the Southern Alps: Nature's Majesty Unveiled
Tranquil Retreat in the Heart of the Southern Alps

How do I get to the Southern Alps?

The Southern Alps are well-connected and easily accessible from various parts of New Zealand. The most common entry points are through airports in Queenstown and Christchurch. Both airports offer domestic and international flights, making them convenient options for travelers. Once you land, there are several ways to reach your desired destinations within the Southern Alps.

Renting a car is a popular choice and offers the most flexibility. Many car rental services are available at the airports, and the roads are generally well-maintained, making for a pleasant drive. If you prefer public transport, both Queenstown and Christchurch have bus services that connect to key towns and attractions in the Southern Alps.

For those looking for a more scenic journey, the TranzAlpine train from Christchurch to Greymouth offers breathtaking views of the Alps. From Greymouth, you can take local transport to reach various spots in the region. Additionally, some tour companies offer package deals that include transportation, making it a hassle-free option for those who prefer a more structured itinerary.

What’s the best time to visit the Southern Alps?

The best time to visit depends on what you’re looking to do. Summer (December to February) is ideal for hiking and water activities, while winter (June to August) is perfect for skiing and snowboarding.

Are there any unique animals in the Southern Alps?

Yes, the Southern Alps are home to unique wildlife like the Kea, a native alpine parrot, and the New Zealand Falcon. You may also encounter various species of penguins in coastal areas.

What kind of accommodations are available?

The Southern Alps offer a range of accommodations, from luxury lodges and hotels to budget-friendly hostels and campsites. Many places also offer stunning views of the surrounding landscapes.

Final Thoughts on Visiting Beautiful Places in the Southern Alps 

And there you have it—a comprehensive guide to the Southern Alps of New Zealand, a region that promises an unforgettable blend of natural beauty, adventure, and cultural richness. From the towering peaks of Mount Cook National Park to the tranquil waters of Lake Tekapo, each destination offers its own unique charm and set of activities. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie, a nature lover, or a history buff, the Southern Alps have something to cater to every interest.

This guide has taken you through 12 of the most beautiful places in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, each offering unique experiences that captures the essence of this awe-inspiring region. We’ve also answered some of the most frequently asked questions to help you plan your trip more effectively.

So, what are you waiting for? The Southern Alps are calling, and it’s time to answer. Pack your bags, find the best airlines, and set off on an adventure that you’ll cherish for a lifetime. The Southern Alps are not just a destination; they’re a journey into the heart of New Zealand’s most captivating landscapes.

The most beautiful places in the Southern Alps for all types of travelers
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