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Things to do on the South Island

Things to do in  South Island

Welcome to South Island

New Zealand's South Island is one of the earth's best outdoor playgrounds—and what it lacks in human population, it more than makes up for in pristine forests, fjords, lakes, beaches, and mountains. Guided tours reach nearly every corner of the island, offering expert instruction, informative commentary, and effortless access to these truly great outdoors. A popular base is Christchurch, the island's biggest city, full of Anglo-influenced architecture and an array of cultural offerings. Visitors enjoy peaceful punt rides down the Avon River, visits to the verdant Christchurch Botanic Gardens, and gondola rides into the Port Hills. Farther south, the Remarkables preside over Queenstown, known as the global adventure capital thanks to its seemingly unlimited menu of extreme tours and activities. Besides being an arts and dining destination in its own right, the town acts the jumping-off point for adventures at nearby Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier, Mount Cook, and Milford Sound. Many visitors arrive ready to tackle one of the South Island's six Great Walks, or a variety of shorter or longer guided forays into the island's valleys, mountains, and fjords. Dunedin, proud of its Scottish history and full of bustling student life, boasts the scenic Taieri Gorge Railway, and is a departure point for tours to the Otago Peninsula, which teems with wildlife—including whales, dolphins, and sea lions—pristine beaches, and interesting historic sights.

Top 10 attractions in South Island

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

With its soaring cliffs, dramatic glacial valleys, and thundering waterfalls, it’s easy to see why Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most visited sights. This natural wonder is the star attraction of Fiordland National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and wildlife haven for dolphins, seals, and penguins.More
Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu

Surrounded by mountains and shrouded in legend, Lake Wakatipu and its crystal waters draw visitors as the longest lake on New Zealand's South Island. As a popular spot for adventure activities—from fishing to catamaran cruises—a day on Lake Wakatipu is arguably the highlight of any trip to Queenstown and the Otago region.More
Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo

A glacial lake on New Zealand’s South Island, Lake Tekapo is an adventurer’s playground by day—and a stargazer’s heaven at night. On a clear night, southern hemisphere constellations, plus the Milky Way and the southern lights, shine spectacularly in the UNESCO-listed Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve.More
TranzAlpine Train

TranzAlpine Train

The TranzAlpine Train is New Zealand’s most spectacular train journey, one which winds its way through the dramatic gorges and alpine forests of the Southern Alps, over staggering viaducts and dizzying mountain passes. From Christchurch on the East Coast to Greymouth on the West Coast, this almost 5-hour trip serves up endless photo opportunities as it runs through the heart of the South Island.More
Taieri Gorge Railway

Taieri Gorge Railway

Taieri Gorge Railway isn't just a way of getting from Dunedin to Pukerangi. It’s an experience in itself. The train travels through the Central Otago landscape of hills and gorges, pastureland and forests. It follows part of the route of the historic Otago Central Railway, constructed in the late 19th century during Otago’s Gold Rush.More
Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier

One of New Zealand’s most photographed natural wonders and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Franz Josef Glacier serves up a dazzling landscape of snow-smothered peaks, rocky gorges, and icy waterfalls, feeding into the Waiho River that's ripe for exploration.More
Fiordland National Park

Fiordland National Park

Sprawling along New Zealand’s southwest coast, Fiordland National Park represents the country at its most photogenic: jagged mountains, rugged glacial valleys, and glittering fjords. This UNESCO World Heritage Site harbors some of New Zealand’s most impressive natural wonders, including Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, and Lake Te Anau, as well as rare Fiordland penguins, dolphins, seals, and sea lions.More
Church of the Good Shepherd

Church of the Good Shepherd

Built in 1935 as a memorial to the pioneers of Mackenzie County, the Church of the Good Shepherd is set on the scenic shores of Lake Tekapo, framed by snow-capped mountain peaks. In addition to being a popular tourist attraction, this heritage building continues to serve as a place of worship.More
Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound

While tour buses may flock to neighboring Milford Sound, the wild landscapes of Doubtful Sound are equally enchanting and much less crowded. Framed by looming cliffs and dotted with rocky islets and tumbling waterfalls, this natural fjord is three times longer and has 10 times more surface area than Milford Sound. It is also centrally located at the heart of Fiordland National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.More
Te Anau Glowworm Caves

Te Anau Glowworm Caves

The Te Anau Glowworm Caves are one of New Zealand's most mesmerizing natural wonders, boasting a labyrinth of grottoes, tunnels, dramatic rock formations, and underground waterfalls. Adventure abounds—visitors can cruise across Lake Te Anau, scramble through the caves, and marvel at a glittering canopy of tiny glowworms.More

Trip ideas

Ways to Experience Maori Culture in Christchurch

Ways to Experience Maori Culture in Christchurch

Top activities in South Island

TSS Earnslaw & BBQ Buffet Lunch

TSS Earnslaw & BBQ Buffet Lunch

Milford Sound Scenic Cruise

Milford Sound Scenic Cruise

Premium Milford Sound Small Group Tour, Cruise & Picnic Lunch from Queenstown

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Recent reviews from experiences in South Island

Great trip
Jennifer, Sep 2020
Queen Charlotte Sound Mail Boat Cruise
Great way to see the sights of the Sounds.
Memorable trip
Jeffrey_S, Mar 2020
Half-Day Milford Sound Nature Cruise and Flight from Queenstown
Stunning aerial views followed by a wonderful cruise on a boat small enough to approach the waterfalls.
Excellent value and venue
Dave_G, Mar 2020
Dunedin Shore Excursion - Taieri Gorge Train One Way with City Sights
An excellent way to see this part of the South island, both by rail and coach.
This is an excellent tour for a...
5-Day South Island Tour from Christchurch
This is an excellent tour for a family who wants to see most of the South Island in a short time with less or no stress.
This tour was the ideal way to see...
ruthorders, Aug 2017
5-Day South Island Tour from Christchurch
This tour was the ideal way to see all the highlights on the South Island.
This is a good way to see the South...
Terry_L, Jan 2017
4-Day Great Southern Island Circle Tour from Christchurch
This is a good way to see the South Island on a short stay.
Wonderful day at Aoraki-Mt Cook National Park
David_D, Jan 2020
Aoraki-Mt Cook Tasman Glacier & Alpine Centre scenic day tour from Christchurch
We would definitely recommend this tour company if you are staying in Christchurch, because outside of renting a car and trekking yourself, it is the easiest way to get out to see Mt Cook that we could find, and definitely the best value.
Spectacular views and amazing experience!
Ranjit_G, Nov 2019
Small Group, Award Winning, Full Day Milford Sound Experience from Queenstown
On the cruise we enjoyed the natural beauty, lots of waterfalls, tiny penguins and seals.
Peter our tour guide did a fantastic...
Thomas_M, Mar 2018
Kaikoura Day Tour with Whale Watching
We were able to see four sperm whales, porpoises, fur seals and many different sea birds.
We had a perfect day - on our walk...
Stuart Y, Mar 2018
Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary and Ship Cove Cruise from Picton
Ship Cove we had time to explore the waterfall track for a short way and to view the monument.
This is a must do trip if visiting...
Anton_D, Mar 2017
Milford Sound Scenic Flight and Nature Cruise
On the 35 minute flight you get to see all of the huge mountain peaks as well as all of the lakes, things you won't see in a car or bus.
The 7-Day South Island Coastal...
Anne S, Mar 2017
7-Day South Island Coastal Splendor Tour from Christchurch
The area had had rain the day before, so there were a lot of waterfalls on the journey to photograph.
Fantastic trip that I would highly...
Fiona C, Jan 2017
Full-Day Milford Sound Extraordinaire Tour from Te Anau
It was raining most of the time and while it limited visibility in some places the resulting waterfalls were spectacular and something we would not have experienced had it been fine weather.
We had a wonderful tour of the City...
Sarah_S, Feb 2017
Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula Wildlife Tour
From walking up the steepest street in Dunedin to observing penguins up close at The Peninsula I felt like I experienced one of the best places to visit on the South Island.
This tour was a perfect survey...
Susan P, Mar 2017
3-Day South Island Circle Tour from Christchurch
This tour allows you to see a lot of lovely scenery, and the coach drivers who also act as guide were all knowledgeable and friendly.
This was one of our first excursions...
Elizabeth_G, Feb 2017
Milford Sound Cruise with Optional Kayak Tour
Though we were catching the tail end of summer in February -the weather was all over the place.
This was a great way to see the...
Clare F, Mar 2011
5-Day South Island Tour from Christchurch
This was a great way to see the highlights of the South Island and the free day in Queenstown was perfect for people wanting to try the various adventure sports The trip was very well organised and would be suitable for all types of traveller.
What a Fantastic trip we had! Thank...
Jing C, Mar 2016
8-Day Tour: South Island from Christchurch, Franz Josef, Wanaka and Queenstown
Our tour guide was eager to show us all the beautiful scenery and activities that are available at the south Island.
What an amazing and beautiful trip...
Michelle D, Jun 2011
Doubtful Sound Wilderness Cruise from Queenstown
At first it was really cold and cloudy, but once we got to Doubtful the sun came out and we got to see beautiful dramatic landscape with lush green forests, some seals and even really cool bottlenose dolphins!
From the moment we left Te Anau on the...
Gary S, Feb 2011
Milford Sound Sightseeing Cruise Including optional lunch
The majestic mountains, beautiful waterfalls and the clear water will make this boat trip one we will never forget.
Frequently Asked Questions
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