Why you should visit New Zealand's South Island 8

Why you should visit New Zealand’s South Island

Toying with the idea of visiting New Zealand’s South Island but not sure what there is to see? You won’t be disappointed; the “mainland” is full of scenic delights, thrills and history. Check out our list of reasons to see it for yourself.


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The national parks

Nine of New Zealand’s 14 national parks are in the South Island. You’d need a decent chunk of time to see all the parks in one trip, though. If you can only fit in a couple, Abel Tasman, Mt Cook and Fiordland National Parks have some pretty impressive scenery.

Abel Tasman National Park. Photo by Andrea Schaffer.

Outdoor enthusiasts will love the opportunities for walking, kayaking, climbing, hunting and much more. Fiordland is particularly spectacular, with its large lakes, towering mountain peaks and waterfalls that tumble to meet the fiords.

The walks

In New Zealand’s south there are glacier-carved valleys and cross mountain passes to be discovered. Just the thing if you’re an experienced or adventurous tramper. For the more sedate day walker, the South Island also boasts coastal, bush and historic walks galore.

Top picks include the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, which is great for walkers of any levels. The 50km route is lined with golden beaches, and there are huts and campsites along the way. At the other end of the scale, Stewart Island is ideal if you want a rugged experience. One of the best walks on New Zealand’s southernmost and least populated island is the three-day Rakiura Track, home to varied bird life and taking in a range of scenery.

Trampers on the Rakiura Track relax below North Arm Hut. Photo by Department of Conservation.

New Zealand’s huge wilderness areas mean many walking tracks are remote. Hut facilities are basic, and you’ll need to carry your own food and clothing. Weather conditions can change rapidly, especially in the mountains, so ensure you have warm, waterproof clothing whatever the time of year. You should also always let someone know where you’re heading.

The mountains

New Zealand’s 10 highest mountains are all in the South Island, with Mt Cook the highest at 3754m. The Southern Alps run the length of the island and have at least 223 named peaks higher than 2300m. Many of these have snow on them year-round.

Coronet Peak, Queenstown, New Zealand. Photo by Willy Hunt.

The South Island boasts ski areas set in some of the world’s most dramatic scenery in the world. Many major ski areas are an easy drive from at least one international airport. Given the number of ski areas, there’s a mountain experience to suit everyone, from large, bustling ski areas to smaller boutique fields. Heli- and Nordic skiing are also on offer.

Terrain and price varies between mountains. Do your homework before you go, and choose ski areas that suits your requirements, budget and comfort zone.

Ski fields are open from June until October, depending on conditions.

The wine

Home to some of the world’s most picturesque and productive wine settings, the South Island is a wine buff’s paradise. There are five renowned wine regions, Central Otago, Marlborough, Canterbury, Nelson and the Waipara Valley. Each has award-winning vineyards and produces distinct wine types, including zesty sauvignon blancs and pinot noirs.

Otago Wine Experience. Photo by Robert Young.

Tastings are widely available at cellar doors.

There are also plenty of tours that take in a range of vineyards, such as the Top of the South Wine Trail. This begins in the Waipara Valley and will lead you north to the acclaimed Marlborough wine region. Both ends of the trail are easily accessible from Christchurch or Picton.

The glaciers

New Zealand has 3,144 stunning glaciers. Most are near the Main Divide in the Southern Alps. Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers – among the largest and most-visited – descend from the Southern Alps and flow almost to sea level. Both are easily accessible by foot.

Fox Glacier. Photo by Paulo and Andrea.

The country’s largest glacier, the Tasman Glacier, is 27km long and covers 101sq km, and sits below Mt Cook.

The people

The hospitality of South Islanders – as with all New Zealanders – is well known, and an attraction in itself. The people you’ll meet here are friendly, down to earth and welcoming. They’re proud of their piece of paradise and love sharing it with visitors.

Whether you’re driving down a country road or walking through town, wave and smile at the locals. We guarantee you’ll get a wave back.

The adventure

If adventure’s your thing, you won’t want to miss the South Island. Especially Queenstown. The birthplace of bungy jumping, this picturesque city boasts the latest and greatest adventure activities. There’s something to satisfy the thrill seeker in everyone, from bungy jumping to white-water rafting, river surfing, canyon swinging and jet boat rides.

Kawarau Bridge – Bungee dipping. Photo by Mat79.

If death-defying adventure’s not for you but you still want some action, there are plenty of hiking and biking trails on offer. Most activities can be done year-round. For more ideas on things to do in South Island, check out blog post by backstreetnomad.com.

Remember, Queenstown is always busy, so it pays to book accommodation ahead of time.
(Feature image: Andrea Schaffer)

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