I once heard someone call New Zealand boring (what?!), but I guarantee you there are a ton of things to do on the South Island of New Zealand alone. Whether you’re a tree hugger or an adrenaline junkie, you’ll want to come back before you even left. They have breathtaking views around every corner, the bluest lakes you’ll ever see, too many hikes to choose from, unique wildlife encounters, and thrilling adventure activities.
Sounds boring to you? Didn’t think so. Keep reading to find out more about these 34 amazing things to do on the South Island of New Zealand.
Our 5 favourite things to do on the South Island of New Zealand
We’ve enjoyed every moment of our 4 week New Zealand road trip, so picking out a bunch of our favourite things to do on the South Island of New Zealand was rather difficult, but here goes.
In those 4 weeks we spent in New Zealand we hiked more than we did in the last 20 years combined. God, I wish I had a Fitbit then, my stats would have been through the roof! Anyway, our favourite hike of the South Island was the Hooker Valley Track in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. It’s a stunning 3 hour hike through the Hooker Valley, with Mount Cook as backdrop, taking you to the Hooker Glacier. #NZtramping
Read more about our visit to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park in our post Exploring and hiking Mount Cook.
When thinking about New Zealand, its stunningly turquoise blue lakes will always be the first thing coming to mind. For me at least. Lake Tekapo was the first one we saw, making it kind of special for us. The fact that it’s part of a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve (perfect for stargazing), combined with the Church of the Good Shepherd and flowering lupins (mid-November to December) on its shores, makes Lake Tekapo a very popular (photo) spot. For some alone time with this gorgeously blue lake, try hiking the Peninsula Walkway to the White Bluffs. #nofilter
Read more about our visit to Lake Tekapo in our post Things to do in Lake Tekapo.
I know it’s probably the most touristy thing to do on the South Island of New Zealand, but you really can’t miss Milford Sound. It’s inevitable that beautiful places become crowded, don’t you agree? If you refuse to be a sheep in the herds of tourists, just visit in the low season (not summer) like we did. #NZmustdo
Read more about our visit to Milford Sound in our post The Go Orange Milford Sound Cruise.
Ever spotted a whale? We crossed this off our bucket list in New Zealand, together with flying in a small aircraft, by going on a whale watching flight with Wings over Whales Kaikoura. You get a unique perspective and there’s no chance of getting seasick. #winwin
Read more about our whale spotting experience in our post Whale Watching with Wings over Whales Kaikoura.
On our very last day on the South Island of New Zealand we paid a visit to the Ohau Point Fur Seal Colony. When planning your visit right, you’ll see a bunch of fur seal pups playing at a small waterfall. #cutenessoverload
Read more about our encounter with the cutest fur seal pups in our post Visiting the Ohau Point Fur Seal Colony.
5 unique things to do on the South Island of New Zealand
When you want to see a blowhole blow, which is pretty unique in my opinion, timing is everything. Unfortunately our timing was a bit off when visiting the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, so we missed out on what’s supposed to be the highlight of your visit there. We sort of made up for it by walking to the Truman Beach Waterfall, our first beach waterfall!
Read more about our moment of poor timing in our post Visiting the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes.
Believe it or not, but in New Zealand we waited in line for over an hour for a burger. Not just any burger of course, but an epic burger from that widely known and massively popular burger joint in Queenstown: Fergburger.
Read more about our that epic burger from Fergburger in our post Things to do in Queenstown.
Do you love illusions and mind tricks? Visit “Wanaka’s Wonderful World of Weirdness”, called Puzzling World and try to escape their Great Maze.
Read more about our visit to Puzzling World in our post Things to do in Wanaka.
Decided to visit Wanaka? Then make sure to catch a movie at Cinema Paradiso as well. It’s a cute little movie theatre with comfy old sofas and great food before, during or after the movie.
Read more about our night at Cinema Paradiso in our post Things to do in Wanaka.
You’ve probably heard about the shoe fence in Australia. Well, New Zealand has a similar fence: the bra fence in Cardrona. I would say that’s pretty unique! It’s not just a fence with bras though, there’s a donation box as well, for the breast cancer organization in New Zealand. Traveling light I didn’t have one to spare, but I did take a bikini top that was still in good shape. (Kidding!)
3 thrilling adventures on the South Island of New Zealand
Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of the world. In our humble opinion, you can’t leave without doing at least one of the many adventure activities on offer. We did 3. YOLO, guys!
We started our trio of thrilling activities with a jetboat ride with Shotover Jet Queenstown. It was our least favourite and least thrilling one, but still worth a go. The surroundings are beautiful in the fall! Not that you’ll have much time to look around while speeding over the Shotover River.
Read more about our speedy jetboat ride in our post Our Jet Boat Ride with Shotover Jet Queenstown.
Bungy jumping is probably the most popular adventure activity in Queenstown. There are a couple of options, but we went with the AJ Hackett Kawarau Bridge Bungy because that’s the only one you can do in tandem. Over in a second, but you leave with eternal bragging rights.
Read more about our epic tandem jump in our post Our AJ Hackett Kawarau Bridge Bungy Queenstown.
However, if you only have time for one extreme sport, we’d recommend Flyboarding with Flyboard Queenstown. It might just be the best bang for your buck in Queenstown.
Read more about flyboarding in our post Fly like a Superhero with Flyboard Queenstown.
7 stunning hikes on the South Island of New Zealand
Hiking, or tramping as Kiwis like to call it, is one of the top activities in New Zealand. You’ll see awesome sights while road tripping the country, but even more stunning ones if you get your hiking shoes (sturdy sneakers in our case) out. Here are a couple of stunning hikes you can do on the South Island of New Zealand.
I wouldn’t call the Sandymount Loop Track off the beaten track, but we were more or less alone up there during our hike. Except for that flock of sheep. The track is located on the Otago Peninsula, making for awesome views of the coastline. Definitely worth it!
Read more about those stunning coastline views in our post Hiking in Dunedin: the Sandymount Loop Track.
The Waipohatu Waterfall Loop is supposed to be a must-do loop track in The Catlins. The waterfalls are pretty awesome, but trust us when we say it’s best to stay away when it has been raining.
Read more about that muddy day in our post Hiking the Waipohatu Waterfall Loop in The Catlins.
When you plan on visiting Milford Sound, don’t forget to explore the rest of Fiordland National Park, especially the Key Summit Track. It’s a pretty popular half-day walk, leading up to amazing 360° panoramic views.
Read more about New Zealand’s largest National Park in our post Exploring and hiking Fiordland National Park.
Queenstown is more than the adventure capital of the world, it has hiking opportunities too. Take the Queenstown Hill Time Walk, a 2 hour semi-loop track with (once more) 360° panoramic views at the summit.
Read more about this scenic walk in our post Things to do in Queenstown.
Our legs were jelly after hiking the Rob Roy Glacier Track, but it was worth it. You feel pretty small looking up to the Rob Roy Glacier from the rocks below. Keep an eye out for snow or ice thundering down!
Read more about this exhausting, but beautiful hike in our post Hiking the Rob Roy Glacier Track near Wanaka.
Locals seem to love jogging the Mount Iron Track, but you won’t catch me trying that. It’s a loop track UP to a stunning view over Wanaka, both the lake and the town.
Read more about this 40 minute climb to the top of Mount Iron in our post Things to do in Wanaka.
When hiking the Lake Matheson Walk, you’ll come across one of the most perfect reflections you’ve ever seen: Lake Matheson mirroring the Southern Alps.
Read more about the magical Lake Matheson in our post Hiking Fox Glacier Valley and Lake Matheson.
6 jaw-dropping views on the South Island of New Zealand
A bunch of jaw-dropping views require some hiking, but there are tons of them that you can reach by car (or campervan) as well. Hell, New Zealand is nothing but jaw-dropping views, everywhere you look!
At the southernmost tip of the New Zealand mainland there’s a small town called Bluff. Drive up to the Bluff Hill Lookout for amazing 360° panoramic views. Unfortunately we didn’t get a great shot because of the pouring rain.
If you want to see Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu from above, you must drive up The Remarkables Road, leading to The Remarkables Ski Area Lodge. It’s the highest public-access road you can drive in New Zealand, and the views are jaw-dropping to say the least.
Read more about the jaw-dropping views from The Remarkables Road in our post Hiking The Remarkables in Queenstown.
Queenstown has an amazing scenic drive as well, following the shores of Lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy. It’s a lovely and peaceful break from the hustle and bustle of the adventure capital of the world. Check out the sunset as seen from the 25 Mile Creek Lookout!
Read more about the Queenstown – Glenorchy scenic drive in our post Things to do in Queenstown.
The road between Queenstown and Wanaka is the highest sealed road in the country, which makes for some amazing views. A couple of days later, when driving from Wanaka to Fox Glacier, we pulled over at the Lake Hawea Lookout for an awesome view over, you guessed it, Lake Hawea.
We also visited a couple of waterfalls along the Haast Pass Highway between Wanaka and Fox Glacier. The Fantail Falls were not that special, but waterfalls are always worth a quick (photo) stop in my opinion. It’s only a 2 minute walk from the car park, but we walked the detour to the sign with the secret of the waterfall on it as well. We’ll spare you that detour: it was used as power (via a waterwheel) for road working equipment.
About 4 km down that same road, there are the Thunder Creek Falls: a nice photo opportunity, just a 3 minute walk from the car park. If you only have time for one waterfall though, we’d recommend pulling over at the Roaring Billy Falls. It’s the coolest waterfall of these 3, with a nice blue river and a geocache along the path. During the 30 minute return walk you’ll hear the birds (or your significant other) whistle and the falls roar.
Still on the same road, after passing Haast, we stopped over at the Knights Point Lookout for a great view along the coastline.
On our way from Fox Glacier to Punakaiki we held our lunch break on the shores of Lake Mapourika. There were a couple of sandflies (most annoying insects ever), but the view is nice, and there’s a picnic table and a toilet.
Before reaching Punakaiki we passed New Zealand’s twelve apostles, but we’re not sure where precisely. They reminded us of the Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road in Australia, but smaller and darker. They’re beautiful too and looked kind of mysterious due to the overcast and rainy weather. Not much later, the landscape reminded us of Bali: green mountains, the ocean, and palm trees. Technically they’re fern trees, but they can be easily mistaken for palm trees.
4 great wildlife spots on the South Island of New Zealand
It’s said there are more sheep than people in New Zealand. We did see a lot of sheep, but there are way more interesting animals to spot on the South Island of New Zealand.
Katiki Point is the place to be to see one of the world’s rarest penguin species: the yellow-eyed penguin. There are little blue penguins and New Zealand fur seals as well, so if you know when to go, this is a perfect spot to meet a bunch of wildlife up close.
Read more about when to visit Katiki Point and how to get there in our post Yellow-Eyed Penguins at Katiki Point.
Another top location to spot New Zealand fur seals up close is Shag Point, located in the Matakaea Scenic Reserve. Just don’t block their path to the water and you’ll be able to watch them do their thing from real close without disturbing them.
Read more about our meeting with NZ fur seals at Shag Point in our post Are the Moeraki Boulders worth a visit.
Want to see more yellow-eyed penguins? Head over to Curio Bay in The Catlins area for a penguin parade. Plan your visit well though, or you’ll have to do with a photo of the petrified forest instead of a YEP.
Read more about when to plan your visit to Curio Bay in our post Yellow-Eyed Penguins at Curio Bay.
When driving from Wanaka to Fox Glacier we lunched at Ship Creek. There are picnic tables and toilets, but we wouldn’t recommend it for lunch though, there are way too many sandflies. Brecht left the car door open for a minute while taking out our picnic and our car was invaded with sandflies! We had to go ride around with our windows open to get them out. Their bites itch like hell, so you’ll want to avoid them at any cost. Ship Creek is worth a stop though, as you can spot dolphins from there. We saw a couple of them from the watchtower and headed to the beach to get closer. Wish we had our binoculars then!
4 cool geocaches on the South Island of New Zealand
We love geocaching and are proud to say we’ve now logged 326 geocaches around the world. It can lead you to the weirdest creations and most awesome views. A great outdoor hobby leading you to places you normally wouldn’t go! Here are a couple of cool geocaches to do on the South Island of New Zealand.
The most peculiar geocache on the South Island of New Zealand was called HIS or HERS (GC46PMV). It’s located in someone’s front yard filled with toilets.
Another geocache called Turbine Lookout (GC43W1F) made us pull over at Lake Ruataniwha, the only man-made lake in the Mackenzie Basin.
We found one of our favourite views through a geocache called Pumpkin Point (GC11BJ2). It’s located on the shores of Lake Benmore. We had to climb a small hill to get to the cache, but we loved the view.
A geocache named Castle Top View (GCY43K) provided a pretty awesome view as well. It’s located just outside of Te Anau.
3 things to skip on the South Island of New Zealand
We spent our first few days in New Zealand in Christchurch. Even though Quake City, a museum about the earthquakes, was pretty interesting, it’s in our opinion a city you can skip when you’re short on time.
Read more about our visit to Christchurch in our post Things to do in Christchurch.
The Moeraki Boulders are a pretty popular tourist attraction. For us they were just some boulders on the beach, not worth the $2 you technically have to pay to get there. They’re supposed to be pretty spectacular at sunset, but because of the rain we didn’t go see for ourselves.
Read more about our visit to the Moeraki Boulders in our post Are the Moeraki Boulders worth a visit.
Another overrated tourist attraction is Stirling Point in Bluff. Tourists are pushing for a photo with the famous (but dull) Land’s End signpost. We’ve found way prettier ones in Bali. On top of that it’s a struggle to find a parking spot. Not worth the hassle!
Things to do on the South Island of New Zealand with toddlers
We don’t have children (yet), but if you’re looking for toddler friendly activities to do on the South Island of New Zealand, head over to the Thrifty Family Travels blog for some tips.
Tip: While road tripping the South Island of New Zealand we got a lot of inspiration and information from the NZ Frenzy guidebook.
After 2.5 weeks on the South Island of New Zealand, it was time to cross the Cook Strait over to the North Island. We would continue our road trip by campervan, so we took it with us on the Bluebridge Ferry from Picton to Wellington.
New Zealand is without a doubt one of our favourite countries ever. If you like hiking, nature, and quiet places, it’ll be love at first sight, but even if you’re more of an adrenaline junkie, New Zealand won’t let you down.
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