12 Fun Things to Do on the South Island, New Zealand: Top Attractions to Visit

by Emil Backup
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Looking to visit South Island, New Zealand anytime soon? Here are some of the most fun and unique things to do on the South Island. These spectacular sights, activities, and attractions are sure to make for an unforgettable vacation experience.

Embark on a journey to the land of mesmerizing landscapes and thrilling adventures—South Island, New Zealand! With a multitude of things to do on the South Island, this magical land is a treasure trove of natural wonders. This includes everything from the towering peaks of the Southern Alps to the crystal-clear waters of the fjords. It’s a place where every turn reveals a scene more breathtaking than the last. This invites travelers to immerse themselves in its beauty and embrace the endless possibilities for exploration and discovery.

South Island is not just about the stunning scenery. It’s a playground for adventure seekers and a sanctuary for those longing for tranquility and relaxation. Whether you’re soaring through the skies on a skydiving adventure over Abel Tasman, exploring the icy wonders of Franz Josef Glacier, or savoring the exquisite wines of Marlborough, South Island offers a myriad of experiences that cater to every taste and preference.

So, pack your bags and let your spirit of adventure guide you through this extraordinary island, where unforgettable memories await around every corner. Get ready to be captivated by the charm and diversity of the South Island, and discover the unique experiences that make it a must-visit destination on every traveler’s bucket list! Here’s everything you need to know about these fun things to do on the South Island of New Zealand.

The best things to do in South Island, New Zealand right now.
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Best Places to Visit on the South Island

Ready to jump into all the coolest things to do on the South Island? As noted above, there’s something for everyone at this unspoiled vacation spot in New Zealand. So keep reading to discover all these unique South Island places to visit.

Are you looking to indulge in a diverse range of outdoor activities, from hiking in pristine national parks to experiencing thrilling water sports on its crystal-clear lakes and rivers? Or would you prefer to explore traditional art, cuisine, and history at the island’s rich Maori culture and heritage? Whatever you’re planning, these must-sees on the South Island can accommodate your needs. Here’s all the best attractions on the South Island that you should know about.

1. Fiordland National Park

Embark on an unforgettable journey to Fiordland National Park, a realm of ancient rainforests, pristine lakes, and towering peaks. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a haven for nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts alike. It offers a plethora of awe-inspiring sights and exhilarating activities.

Dive into the myriad of Sound Island things to do in this natural paradise, from cruising the serene waters of Milford Sound to hiking the iconic Routeburn Track. Every moment spent in this enchanting park brings a new opportunity to connect with nature and revel in its untamed beauty.

Fiordland National Park is a true gem of the South Island, showcasing the diverse landscapes and unique wildlife that make this region so special. It’s a place where the wonders of the natural world come to life. This invites you to explore its secrets and create lasting memories.

Discovering the South Island gems like Fiordland is a journey like no other, a chance to immerse yourself in the extraordinary and experience the greatest of what New Zealand has to offer. So, let the magic of Fiordland captivate your heart and ignite your passion for adventure!

Untouched wilderness of Fiordland National Park, showcasing majestic mountains, pristine lakes, and lush rainforests.
Untouched wilderness of Fiordland National Park, showcasing majestic mountains, pristine lakes, and lush rainforests.

2. Queenstown

Nestled beside the sparkling waters of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is a vibrant hub of excitement and scenic beauty. This makes it one of the best places on the South Island to immerse oneself in New Zealand’s rich landscapes and dynamic culture. It’s a place where every day is a new adventure, filled with opportunities to explore, relax, and create unforgettable memories.

From the thrilling rush of bungee jumping to the serene beauty of the surrounding mountains and lakes, Queenstown offers a diverse range of experiences for every type of traveler. Wander through its lively streets, indulge in its culinary delights, and let the breathtaking scenery inspire your soul.

For those seeking where to go on the South Island, Queenstown is a treasure trove of natural wonders and exhilarating activities. Whether it’s exploring the nearby vineyards or soaring through the skies on a paragliding adventure, this enchanting town has something for everyone.

Let this charming town steal your heart and fuel your wanderlust! Is this city among the top things to do on the South Island of NZ? 100%!

Queenstown's vibrant heart, Lake Wakatipu, cradled by majestic mountains under the endless Kiwi sky.
Queenstown’s vibrant heart, Lake Wakatipu, cradled by majestic mountains under the endless Kiwi sky.

3. Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park is a haven of pristine beaches, turquoise waters, and lush forests. It makes it a dream destination on the South Island for those who crave the beauty of untouched nature. This coastal paradise invites visitors to step into a world where the soothing sounds of waves and the whispering breeze are a constant melody.

The park is a dream come true for outdoor enthusiasts. It offers a plethora of the best things to do on the South Island such as kayaking, hiking, and wildlife spotting. Every trail leads to a new discovery, every view is a masterpiece painted by nature itself. It’s a place where the spirit of adventure and the serenity of nature coexist in perfect harmony.

Visitors often find themselves lost in the myriad of cool destinations on the South Island that Abel Tasman National Park offers, with its golden beaches and crystal-clear waters beckoning them to explore and unwind. The park’s enchanting landscapes and tranquil ambiance create a magical setting for reconnecting with nature and oneself.

Embark on a journey to Abel Tasman National Park and let its serene beauty and vibrant ecosystems captivate your senses and rejuvenate your spirit!

Golden beaches meet lush greenery at Abel Tasman National Park, a serene paradise where nature's beauty unfolds at every turn.
Golden beaches meet lush greenery at Abel Tasman National Park, a serene paradise where nature’s beauty unfolds at every turn.

4. Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

Situated amidst the rugged terrains and majestic peaks, Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is a treasure trove of natural wonders and one of the South Island destinations for those with a penchant for awe-inspiring landscapes. The towering presence of Aoraki/Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand, adds a touch of grandeur to the already stunning scenery.

Visitors are treated to a visual feast of glaciers, alpine meadows, and starry nights. It makes it a prime location for those compiling a list of must-see on the South Island. The park’s diverse ecosystems and breathtaking vistas are a testament to the enchanting beauty of Mother Nature.

Hiking trails abound, each offering a unique perspective of the park’s multifaceted charm. The celestial display at the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is a celestial ballet that leaves spectators in awe. This makes it one of the South Island spots to witness the wonders of the cosmos.

So, immerse yourself in the ethereal beauty of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park and let the beauty etched in its landscapes fill your soul with wonder and joy!

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. A realm of azure lakes and sky-touching snowy peaks.
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. A realm of azure lakes and sky-touching snowy peaks.

5. West Coast Glaciers

The West Coast Glaciers, specifically Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier, are among the essential destinations on the South Island that captivate the hearts of many. These glaciers are renowned for their dynamic nature and accessibility. It offers a rare opportunity to explore icy landscapes in a temperate climate zone.

The glaciers hold a world of fascination, with their ever-changing icy formations and the surrounding lush rainforests creating a striking contrast. It’s a place where the refreshing breath of glaciers whispers tales of ancient times, and the landscapes tell stories of the relentless dance between ice and fire.

For those seeking South Island attractions that combine adventure with natural beauty, a guided ice walk or a helicopter ride over these glaciers is a must. The panoramic views of the icy expanses intertwined with the vibrant greenery are a sight to behold. It showcases the diverse destinations on the South Island.

In this land of ice and mist, every step unveils a new perspective, a fresh wonder. This makes it a pivotal point in the list of coolest things to do on the South Island. So, let the allure of the West Coast Glaciers draw you into a world where time seems to stand still, and nature paints its masterpiece with ice and green! Other fun things to do on the South Island don’t measure up to these glaciers.

Franz Josef Glacier: A stunning frozen cascade, etching its icy path through New Zealand's dramatic landscape.
Franz Josef Glacier: A stunning frozen cascade, etching its icy path through New Zealand’s dramatic landscape.

6. Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo, with its turquoise waters and stunning alpine backdrop, is a jewel on the South Island. It’s a serene escape where the azure sky kisses the crystalline waters, and the Southern Alps stand as silent guardians, watching over the tranquil landscapes.

Visitors to Lake Tekapo are greeted with a visual symphony of colors. This is where the vibrant lupins paint the shores in shades of purple, pink, and blue. It’s one of those unique places on the South Island where every moment feels like a brushstroke on a canvas of natural beauty.

Wondering where to visit on the South Island for the best stargazing experience? A journey to Lake Tekapo is the answer. It’s also a gateway to the stars. As part of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, it offers some of the most beautiful views of the night sky. This makes it a South Island destination for those who wish to whisper their dreams to the stars.

Lake Tekapo invites you to step into a realm where gentle waves and twinkling stars narrate tales of the infinite. The beauty of the universe unfolds in the silence of the night.

Lake Tekapo: A sapphire gem nestled in the heart of New Zealand, framed by blooming lupins.
Lake Tekapo: A sapphire gem nestled in the heart of New Zealand, framed by blooming lupins.

7. The Catlins

The Catlins, a hidden gem on the South Island, beckons travelers with its untamed beauty and diverse landscapes. It’s a place where the lush forests whisper secrets of ancient times, and the rugged coastlines tell tales of the relentless dance between land and sea.

The Catlins offers a treasure trove of natural wonders, from cascading waterfalls to secluded beaches. It’s a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, with opportunities to spot rare yellow-eyed penguins, sea lions, and dolphins frolicking in the waves.

One of the unique things to do on the South Island is exploring the enchanting Cathedral Caves, where the echoes of the ocean create a symphony of sounds, and the towering limestone walls hold the whispers of the ages.

Visiting The Catlins is like stepping into a world where nature’s artistry is on full display. And every moment is an invitation to embrace the wild, untamed beauty of the land. It’s a journey of discovery, a dance with the elements, and a celebration of the untold stories of the natural world.

The Catlins: An untouched paradise of waterfalls, lush forests and rugged coastlines in New Zealand's south.
The Catlins: An untouched paradise of waterfalls, lush forests and rugged coastlines in New Zealand’s south.

8. Stewart Island/Rakiura

Looking for more top attractions on the South Island? Stewart Island/Rakiura, a serene and secluded island, is a paradise for those who desire to be enveloped by pristine nature. It’s where the air is filled with the songs of native birds, and the land is adorned with lush forests and golden beaches.

This island is a perfect spot on the South Island where the kiwi bird can be spotted in its natural habitat, making it a must-visit for wildlife lovers. The azure waters surrounding the island are teeming with marine life. It offers a spectacle for divers and snorkelers.

A journey to Stewart Island/Rakiura is not complete without exploring the Rakiura Track, one of the coolest activities on the South Island for hiking enthusiasts. It winds through diverse landscapes, revealing the island’s breathtaking beauty at every turn.

Stewart Island/Rakiura is a whisper of the world’s ancient beauty. This is a place where the spirit of exploration is rewarded with unforgettable encounters with nature. It’s a reminder of the wonders that await when we venture beyond the known and step into the realm of the extraordinary. Is this a top thing to do on the South Island for travelers? You bet!

Stewart Island/Rakiura: A must-visit for pristine beaches, glowing skies, and national park adventures on South Island.
Stewart Island/Rakiura: A must-visit for pristine beaches, glowing skies, and national park adventures on South Island.

9. Kaikoura

Kaikoura is a coastal haven where the mountains meet the sea, creating a backdrop of unparalleled beauty. This picturesque town is renowned for its abundant marine life and is one of the South Island spots for whale watching.

Visitors to Kaikoura are greeted with the opportunity to witness giant sperm whales, dusky dolphins, and fur seals in their natural habitat. It’s a place where the wonders of the ocean come to life. This offers unforgettable experiences for nature enthusiasts.

Thinking of what to do on the South Island, that’s something out of the ordinary? Exploring Kaikoura is the answer. For those seeking more terrestrial adventures, Kaikoura’s landscapes are laced with trails that lead to stunning viewpoints, revealing the majestic beauty of the surrounding mountains and coastline. 

To witness Kaikoura’s beauty is among the South Island things to do that combines the thrill of exploration with the serenity of nature. Kaikoura is not just a destination. It’s a journey into the heart of New Zealand’s natural splendor. This makes it a place where every moment is a celebration of the extraordinary beauty that our planet has to offer.

A coastal haven for marine life encounters, boasting stunning mountain vistas. A jewel of New Zealand's South Island.
A coastal haven for marine life encounters, boasting stunning mountain vistas. A jewel of New Zealand’s South Island.

10. Nelson

Perched at the top of the South Island, Nelson is a radiant city known for its sunny weather, artistic community, and stunning natural surroundings. It’s a place where creativity and nature intertwine. This offers a plethora of best things to do on the South Island.

Nelson’s bustling arts scene is evident in its numerous galleries, workshops, and craft markets. Each showcases the talents of local artists and artisans. The city’s vibrant atmosphere is complemented by its diverse culinary offerings, with cafes and restaurants serving a range of delicious local and international cuisine.

Venturing beyond the city, visitors will find the pristine landscapes of Nelson Lakes National Park, a paradise for hikers and nature lovers. The park’s crystal-clear lakes and rugged mountain peaks provide a scenic backdrop for outdoor adventures.

Nelson invites travelers to immerse themselves in its colorful world, to explore its artistic treasures, and to savor the natural beauty of its surroundings. It’s a destination that captivates the senses and leaves a lasting impression.

Nelson, South Island: A vibrant arts scene meets outdoor adventure in this sun-soaked New Zealand paradise.
Nelson, South Island: A vibrant arts scene meets outdoor adventure in this sun-soaked New Zealand paradise.

11. Akaroa

Akaroa, a picturesque town on the Banks Peninsula, is a haven of tranquility and scenic beauty. This makes it one of the best places to go on the South Island for those seeking a serene getaway. It’s a place where the mountains meet the sea, creating a stunning landscape that captivates every visitor.

The town’s French and British heritage is evident in its charming architecture and quaint streets. It offers a unique cultural experience. Akaroa is renowned for its delicious cuisine, with a plethora of eateries serving mouthwatering seafood and local delicacies.

For nature enthusiasts, Akaroa Harbour is a gateway to encounters with dolphins, seals, and penguins, allowing visitors to witness the diverse marine life of the region. The surrounding hills and valleys offer numerous hiking trails, unveiling breathtaking views and the serene beauty of the landscape.

Akaroa is not just a visual feast but also a soul-soothing thing to do on the South Island where the harmonious blend of culture, cuisine, and nature provides a refreshing escape from the hustle and bustle. It’s a delightful spot on the South Island places to visit, promising unforgettable moments and picturesque vistas.

A historic French and British settlement offering stunning bays, wildlife encounters, and artisanal cuisine in South Island, NZ.
A historic French and British settlement offering stunning bays, wildlife encounters, and artisanal cuisine in South Island, NZ.

12. Dunedin

Dunedin, with its Scottish heritage and vibrant cultural scene, is a city that invites exploration and discovery. It’s a place where history and modernity intertwine, offering a diverse range of experiences for every traveler.

The city’s architecture is a testament to its rich history, with the iconic Dunedin Railway Station and the University of Otago standing as splendid reminders of the past. Walking through the city, one can’t help but be enchanted by the beautiful buildings and the stories they hold.

For those with a passion for wildlife, the Otago Peninsula is a treasure trove of biodiversity, home to albatrosses, penguins, and seals. It’s one of the South Island destinations where nature and wildlife thrive in harmony.

Dunedin’s culinary scene is equally impressive. It offers a taste of local and international flavors that cater to every palate. From cozy cafes to elegant restaurants, the city is a food lover’s paradise.

In Dunedin, every corner has a story to tell. This makes it a perfect spot on the South Island for anyone looking to experience the richness of New Zealand’s culture, history, and natural beauty.

Dunedin: A city rich in Scottish heritage, home to New Zealand's oldest university, and gateway to diverse wildlife on the South Island.
Dunedin: A city rich in Scottish heritage, home to New Zealand’s oldest university, and gateway to diverse wildlife.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Best Things to Do on the South Island

Looking for more content on the top things to do on the South Island? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to South Island:

Is the South Island worth visiting?

Yes, the South Island of New Zealand is definitely worth visiting. It’s renowned for its breathtaking landscapes, including fjords, glaciers, mountains, and pristine lakes. The South Island offers outdoor adventures like hiking, skiing, and wildlife encounters. This makes it a must-visit for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers.

What is the best time to visit the South Island?

The best time to visit the South Island of New Zealand depends on your interests. For outdoor activities and exploring the stunning landscapes, consider visiting during the summer months from December to February. For skiing and winter sports, the winter months from June to August are ideal in places like Queenstown and Wanaka.

How many days do I need to explore the South Island?

To explore the South Island of New Zealand comprehensively, plan to spend at least 10 to 14 days. This allows time to visit major attractions, hike in national parks, and explore the diverse regions. However, even a shorter visit of 7 to 10 days can provide a memorable South Island experience.

Explore South Island, NZ: Fjords, snowy peaks, wildlife, vibrant cities. Perfect for nature lovers, thrill-seekers, and culture enthusiasts.
Explore South Island, NZ: Fjords, snowy peaks, wildlife, vibrant cities. Perfect for nature lovers, thrill-seekers, and culture enthusiasts.

Is it easy to travel around the South Island?

Traveling around the South Island of New Zealand is relatively easy. It has well-maintained road networks, including highways and scenic routes. This makes it accessible by car or campervan. Domestic flights, intercity buses, and train services are also available, providing options for various travel preferences and budgets.

What is the South Island best known for?

The South Island of New Zealand is best known for its stunning and diverse landscapes, ranging from majestic mountains and lush forests to pristine beaches and fiords. This is a haven for adventure enthusiasts. It offers activities like bungee jumping, skiing, and hiking, and it’s rich in wildlife and cultural experiences, showcasing Maori heritage and local cuisine.

How to spend 10 days on the South Island?

To spend 10 days on the South Island, NZ, explore diverse landscapes from Queenstown’s adventure sports to Fiordland’s dramatic scenery. Discover Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park’s peaks, Abel Tasman’s golden beaches, and Kaikoura’s marine life. Visit charming Nelson, scenic Akaroa, and the rugged Catlins. Allocate time for local Maori culture and cuisine.

Concluding Thoughts on Exploring South Island

The South Island of New Zealand is a land of endless wonders. It’s truly where every moment is an opportunity to experience something extraordinary. From the serene beauty of Lake Tekapo to the thrilling adventures in Queenstown, the South Island offers a plethora of experiences that cater to all types of travelers.

Whether you’re a nature lover yearning for pristine landscapes, an adventure enthusiast seeking the next adrenaline rush, or a culture buff eager to explore the rich heritage of the region, the South Island has something for everyone. So, pack your bags and embark on a journey to explore the coolest activities on the South Island. And from here, let the enchanting land of the Kiwis leave you spellbound!

Best things to do in South Island, New Zealand for all types of travelers.
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