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10 Places to Visit in New Zealand's South Island

Updated on March 30, 2012

New Zealand is a magical place with some of the most amazing scenery on Earth. From the highest mountains to the spectacular ocean, there are numerous sites to see and many things to do. Whether you are an adrenaline junkie, a foodie, an outdoors-man, or in pursuit of luxury, New Zealand has something for you. The people are amazing also, showering guests with generosity and kindness. A great thing about New Zealand is the size. One can choose to pick a few places and stay a while, but if in a hurry, each individual island can be travelled within just a matter of weeks. In this hub I discuss New Zealand's South Island, recommending some of the best places to see and things to do. I recently spent 3 weeks on the South island and had some of the most memorable experiences. I am always happy to answer questions about my New Zealand experience so feel free to contact me.

Map of New Zealand's South Island


Helpful New Zealand Travel Guides

Moeraki Boulders & Fleur's Place

The Moeraki Boulders are a collection of spherical boulders scattered along a narrow beach along New Zealand's Otago Coast located on the Eastern shore. The boulders form over millions of years within mudstone. As the mudstone erodes, these boulders are exposed and scattered along the beach.

The small strip of beach lies between the towns of Moeraki and Hampden. There is a small turnoff from the highway and ample parking in front of a small cafe and gift shop. The boulders are a short walk down to the beach. The photo opportunities are great and the boulders can look so amazing at different times of the day.

A short drive south of the boulders is an amazing restaurant called Fleur's Place. If you arrive on a sunny day, enjoy a glass of New Zealand white wine with a bowl of green lip mussels on the patio outside. Fleur is a gracious host offering amazing food and great travelling advice. I took home her cookbook and love the recipes.

Kayak Okarito Lagoon

Along the Northwest coast of New Zealand's South Island lays Okarito Lagoon. Kayaking the lagoon is an amazing way to experience some of New Zealand's birds and see some less travelled land. Okarito Nature Tours will set you up with kayaks for the day, a map, and advice on your route. It's best to start early when the tide is coming in as it will be easier to get out into some of the smaller channels. Bring lunch as there are small isolated patches of land to enjoy a romantic picnic.

Dolphin Encounter

The Dolphin Encounter in Kaikoura is one of the highlights of New Zealand's South island. This is an amazing way to experience dolphins up close that are not in captivity. Strict regulations are enforced as not to disturb the dolphins' natural habitat. A boat leaves Kaikoura and only a few miles off shore a school of over 100 dolphins can be found. With wetsuit and snorkel gear, participants jump off the back of a boat and snorkel among these amazing creatures. While participants act playful and excited, dolphins will take interest and hang out just inches away. If I only had one day to spend in New Zealand, I would go back to Kaikoura and do the Dolphin Encounter.

To experience dolphins without supporting dolphin captivity, please choose Dolphin Encounter in Kaikoura, New Zealand. Dolphin captivity is a huge problem all over the world.

Skydive Queenstown

Queenstown is definitely an adrenaline junkie's paradise. Bungee jumping, jet-boating, and skydiving are all ways to get your fix for extreme. Nzone Skydive is one of the many great companies that offer skydiving. Tandem is a great way to go if it's your first time, but Nzone also offers classes in order to jump alone. Queenstown has some of the most breathtaking scenery and a great way to experience it is from 15,000 feet.

Wine Tasting in Marlborough

Marlborough has some great wineries and a day is well spent driving or cycling to all the various wineries for a quick taste. Most tastings are free and the tasting list is generally quite long. Nelson and Blenheim are great towns in the area with beautiful country. A winery map can be picked up from any local information center. Local specialties are sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, and chardonnay.

Boat Ride Through Milford Sound

Milford Sound is an amazing fjord to the southwest of the South island. Some of the world's most amazing hiking is in this area. The scenery is breathtaking including several peaks, the Tasman Sea, a glacier, and wildlife. A boat ride can be arranged from Te Anau and after a short drive you will arrive at the sound. The boat departs and travels out to the Tasman Sea with great views, dolphins swimming along the boat, and a close up of a waterfall. Bring your raincoat!

Hike The Routeburn Track

The Routeburn Track is a great hike from Lake Wakatipu at the Queenstown side of the Southern Alps to the Te Anau side. The track is roughly 32 kilometers and completed over a few days. Camping is allowed, but reservations are needed in advance. The scenery is beautiful where snow covered mountain tops can be scene from a high elevation as well as the gorgeous Lake Harris. Some of the track can get technical, so some experience and fitness are recommended. This track may be less well known than the Milford Track, but it is equally stunning. The Routeburn Track is a definite recommendation for any traveler and still worth even a day hike out a few miles and back.

Explore Dunedin

Dunedin is the second largest city in the South Island of New Zealand, Christchurch being the largest. For travelers preferring a larger city feel, Dunedin is a great place to explore. Dunedin hosts several great things to see and do: museums, University of Otago, restaurants and bars, shopping, the Cadbury factory, the steepest residential street in the world. With some motivation, many of these things can be seen over a few days. The Otago peninsula is a short drive where visitors can see the Larnach Castle. At the tip of the peninsula are an albatross colony and penguin place. As far as accommodations, there are several great motels right in the heart of the city. Bluestone on George is highly recommended.

Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier lie relatively close to one another along the west coast. In town, an organized glacier hike (required to even get on the glacier) can be arranged. A bus equips participants with jacket, pants, cramp-ons, gloves, and a hat and delivers them to a hiking trail. A short hike out and the glacier is visible. There is brief instruction on safety and a hike is led up the front of the glacier. The scenery is beautiful with surreal glacier features such as crevasses and seracs. There are a few tunnels to enter with an incredible blue glow. Once on the glacier, one can really appreciate the size and mass. Lunch is enjoyed midway up the glacier before a decent back to the bus. It is a tiring trip and some fitness is recommended. For the more adventurous, ice climbing and helicopter trips are also available. A must do for anyone visiting New Zealand.

Jade Carving in Barrytown

Jade is abundant in New Zealand and a very sacred stone to the native Maori. As a tourist attraction, jade carving has become very popular. Hokitika is likely the town everyone will recommend as there multiple places to carve and a huge amount of jade jewelry stores. However, a more personalized and intimate encounter can be had in Barrytown. Hamish runs a small studio for jade carving and the experience was a true find. He assists in selecting a piece of jade and allowing freedom with design selection and creation. He is a great carver and really lets each participant work independently helping only when really needed. You can spend as long as you like at his studio and leave with a prized piece of jade that was carved by you.


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    • freecampingaussie profile image


      6 years ago from Southern Spain

      I enjoyed your hub as even tho I was born in Wales I grew up in the South Island . After we have been to Europe we want to explore NZ in a campervan.

      we are traveling around Australia at the moment .

    • Martins Fraulein profile image

      Martins Fraulein 

      6 years ago

      Ive always wanted to travel, so if i do decide to visit, i will definitely be reading this hub again :) thanksss!

    • BEAUTYBABE profile image


      6 years ago from QUEENSLAND AUSTRALIA.

      Hi Matt,

      This is an amazing hub to read.

      In fact, my husband and I have just returned from a two week cruise on the "Sun Princess" which toured around both the North and South Islands. It was my first cruise and also my first time to New Zealand. However, due to inclement weather in the South mainly, we missed out on seeing Dunedin,The Fjords where we were booked to go on a boat ride through Milford Sound and Christchurch. We also missed out some places in the North Island as well.. we do intend to go back again. It is such a disappointment but overall the voyage was sensational.

      I love this hub as it shows just what a fantastic country New Zealand is. I can tell from what you have written in this hub that we still have a lot of places to explore which hopefully one day we will be able to see. I intend to read more of your hubs.You are a great writer and have created a very informative hub Matt that shows this beautiful country's magical wonders. Yes, I agree with you. It is a magical country with so many great places to visit.

      Because I am in a wheelchair, my husband was able to go ashore more than myself, and he took lots of pictures which made up for not being there in person.

      Thank you so much for showing me what I missed seeing in this excellent hub which I enjoyed reading immensely. This has given me the opportunity to see some of the amazing features on this island.

      I hope to go back there again very soon and catch up with the places I still want to visit.

      Until next time Beautybabe (Pam)

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 

      7 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      This is a great resource for anyone who will be visiting the South Island. Thanks for putting this together!


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