10 Must See Places in South Island New Zealand
If you’re planning your dream trip to New Zealand, get ready for an incredible experience. From lush rainforests to rugged mountains and glacial lakes, the landscapes of New Zealand are pretty spectacular and there are plenty of amazing places to them, especially in the South Island.
If you have a limited amount of time to explore the South Island you’ll want to ensure you cover the best spots. We can help you with that! We’ve put together a list of the top 10 must-see places in South Island New Zealand for a truly unforgettable visit.
The Milford Sound is often referred to as the 8th Wonder of the World (unofficially). With its towering peaks, hundreds of waterfalls, lush rainforests and majestic fjords Milford Sound tops the list of must-see places in New Zealand.
A boat cruise along Milford Sound is a must-do experience and not to be missed. You’ll get to see the whole length of the 16km (9.9 miles) Milford Sound. The captain may even dip the bow of the boat under Stirling Falls and expert guides will keep watch for wildlife such as dusky dolphins, seals and maybe even penguins or whales.
Milford Sound is the highlight of a trip to New Zealand for many visitors.
Lake Tekapo is a beautiful resort town located on the shores of, you guessed it, Lake Tekapo. The turquoise-blue lake is flanked by mountains on one side and the town on the other. It can only be described as stepping into a postcard.
From late November to February, visitors from all around the world flock to Lake Tekapo to see the colorful lupins in bloom all along the shores of the lake. They are actually quite controversial because they are an invasive weed and not very good for the New Zealand environment. But there’s no denying they are beautiful to see.
The Lake Tekapo Springs, Church of the Good Shepherd and Mt John Observatory are other popular attractions you can see in Lake Tekapo. Being a dark sky region, the observatory is a spectacular experience at night when the sky is filled with stars and you can see the Milky Way, planets and solar systems during certain times of the year.
Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook
The Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook National Park is one of New Zealand’s most popular day walks and for good reason. It’s located in a remote alpine area of the South Island where you can see Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain peak.
The Hooker Valley Track is a 5-kilometer (3-mile) walk on a well-formed track that is suitable for most fitness levels. You’ll walk over swing bridges and past glacial lakes with snow-capped mountains all around you. The scenery is truly breathtaking.
At the end of the track, you are rewarded with the spectacular iceberg-spectacled Hooker Lake and the legendary Mount Cook mountain peak.
The Lindis Pass
A road trip is the best way to explore the South Island and experience the endless scenic roads on offer. If you are driving from Mt Cook to Queenstown you’ll go through a stretch of road called the Lindis Pass that can only be described as otherworldly.
It’s a stretch of road that crosses a saddle between tussock-covered mountains. It's pretty any time of year but especially magical with a dusting of snow.
There is a lookout at the highest point where you can pull into a parking lot to check out the views. There is a viewing platform as well as two short trails to other lookout points. Definitely worth a stop!
Standing 1578 meters above sea level with expansive views over Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountain ranges, Roys Peak is one of the most photographed locations in New Zealand.
You’ll need to climb the Roys Peak Track to get to the famous lookout point, which starts from just outside the town of Wanaka. The track is around 8 kilometers (5 miles) and uphill the whole way. It’s steep and challenging, but the views once you reach the lookout are absolutely worth the effort to get there.
Being Instagram famous, the track gets pretty busy, especially during the summer months from December to February. The best time to go is early morning and during the autumn months of March and April when it is less busy.
New Zealand’s Oldest Hotel
The Cardrona Hotel is one of New Zealand’s oldest and most iconic hotels located on the Crown Range Road between Queenstown and Wanaka.
There is an award-winning restaurant and souvenir shop on site. The pub restaurant has a cosy rustic feel with stone walls, wood beams and a roaring fireplace in winter. In summer the beer garden is a great spot to grab a drink and take in the mountain views. Personally, this place looked like the place from another century.
Why you should visit this place? It’s seriously charming in an old-west kind of way.
Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand and home to the world's first bungy jump. It’s a fun and vibrant resort town nestled in the mountains and known for adventure activities.
If skydiving is on your bucket list, Queenstown is the place to do it! Not ready to take the plunge, that’s okay, there’s plenty of other activities on offer from jet boating and ziplining to canyoning and mountain biking.
If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, you can ski and snowboard at one of the nearby ski fields in winter, there are 3 to choose from. Or go hiking on one of the nearby trails.
Glenorchy is a charming rural town located at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and rolling green hills, it's a little slice of paradise on earth. Plus, the drive to get there is one of the most scenic drives in the South Island.
The little red shed, waterfront reserves and scenic walkway are all highlights to see in Glenorchy. For Lord of The Rings fans, the biggest highlight is that Glenorchy and the nearby town of Paradise were used as filming locations for Lord of The Rings films and you can take a tour to see all the filming spots.
The best thing about Glencorchy is that despite its ties to Hollywood it remains one of the most down-to-earth and charming places to visit in New Zealand.
The Hokitika Gorge is located on the west coast of the South Island and is worth stopping at if you are traveling that way.
It’s located in a scenic reserve and the scenery is absolutely stunning. The blue-green water of the Hokitika River carves its way through the jagged rocks of the gorge creating a unique and interesting landscape. The color of the water is a magnificent shade of blue that really pops on a sunny day.
An easy walk will take you in a loop through the forest and over swing bridges for the best views of the gorge.
Franz Josef Glacier
Have you ever walked on a glacier? If you are feeling adventurous, there are guided tours that will take you right onto the Franz Josef Glacier. You can choose from a heli-hike or ice-climbing adventure for the ultimate bucket-list experience.
Tours start from the Franz Josef Glacier Village. A small but lively town located near the glacier on the West Coast of the South Island. You can actually walk to the glacier from the village.
In fact, the Franz Josef Glacier walk is a great alternative to see the glacier if a guided tour is not within the budget. You won’t be able to walk on the glacier from here but it’s still amazing to see it so close up.
There you have it, the top 10 must-see places in South Island New Zealand. From alpine adventures to lakeside retreats and adrenaline-pumping activities, the South Island offers a fantastic mix of experiences for visitors.
As you plan your trip to New Zealand, be sure to include some of these must-see spots, and leave some time to explore off the beaten path too. The South Island is full of hidden gems waiting to be explored.