10 Must-see must-do on the South Island of New Zealand

Learn what are 10 of the not to be missed places on the South Island of New Zealand.

The following must-see locations are based not on popularity with tourists (although many of the locations are popular tourist spots), but on the potential emotional impact you may experience by seeing the scenery.

Starting from the top of the South Island of New Zealand going in a counter-clockwise direction, here are my top 10 places not to miss on the South Island of New Zealand…

1. Marlborough Sounds
If you take the ferry from Wellington to Picton, you will already experience part of the grandeur of the Marlborough Sounds. However, you can also go for a hike to see one or more of the sounds.

The Marlborough Sounds is all about bush-clad "mountains" jotting out into the sea, where the color of the water enclosed by the sounds will mesmerize you.

Kenepuru Sound, Marlborough Sounds, South Island, New Zealand

2. Abel Tasman National Park (and perhaps Golden Bay if you can get there)
When I think about Abel Tasman and Golden Bay, beaches, beaches, and more beaches with gorgeous golden sand and water come to mind, in combination with bush that refreshes the mind and soul, especially if you go for a long hike along the coast.

Frenchman Bay inlet, Abel Tasman National Park, South Island, New Zealand

3. Punakaiki pancake rocks, blowholes, and the rugged coastline along the West Coast
While the rocks at Punakaiki are something special to see (if you are a Geologist or Geophysicist like myself), the blowholes make them extra special for normal tourists. And why not make a short stop there to stretch your legs as you drive down the West Coast? The rugged coastline on the West Coast – especially the top-half of the western side of the South Island – is sure to impress you.

Also visit: The seal colony near Westport and Mangatini Falls if you are into a little bit of history with a huge waterfall as the climax.

4. The glaciers (Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier)
If you can book a glacier hike, do it. The glaciers are slowly melting away as Earth gets warmer. To be able to walk on and see all of that ice - sometimes with a nice light-blue color - is an experience of a lifetime.

Also visit: Lake Matheson if you visit Fox Glacier. Lake Matheson is best viewed in the morning, since the chance of no wind and thus also a reflection of the mountains in the lake is greater.

Lake Matheson near Fox Glacier, West Coast, South Island, New Zealand

5. Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook
The first time I saw Lake Pukaki "live" I literally screamed in my rental car. I had seen it many times on photographs, but to see the real thing was incredible. Combine this with a view of Mount Cook on a perfectly cloudless day, and you've got yourself a view that everyone should see before they die.

6. Scenic flight over Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook
The South Island of New Zealand always looks gorgeous from above, especially during winter. The mountains, glaciers, lakes, and rivers are guaranteed to impress you, especially if you view them from above.

Pick a nice day, book a scenic flight that has a route that passes above Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook, and you’ve got yourself a winner. Try a scenic flight with Air Safaris in Tekapo.

Scenic flight over Mount Cook and Tasman Glacier, South Island, New Zealand

Also visit: Mount John Observatory or do the Mount John walk.

7. Milford Sound
Milford Sound is known for its mountain peaks jotting out as towers out of the water in combination with huge waterfalls. Therefore, I highly recommend doing a Milford Sound boat tour.

Milford Sound boat tour, South Island, New Zealand

8. The Catlins
When I think of the Catlins, the color green comes to mind: Green rolling hills, green bush, and mossy green rocks around waterfalls. The Catlins also has beaches and wildlife such as seals.

Roaring Bay, Catlins, South Island, New Zealand

Also visit: Nugget Point.

9. Otago Peninsula beaches and coastline
While I’m not a big fan of Dunedin – or any of the larger cities in New Zealand – I am a big fan of the coastal scenery around Dunedin and especially the Otago Peninsula. Therefore, if you visit Dunedin, I highly recommend you take a scenic drive on Portobello Road and Harington Point Road on the Otago Peninsula.

Also in the neighborhood: Larnach Castle.

10. Kaikoura coast
Most of the coast along the eastern side of the South Island is "littered" by water running off mountains into rivers and eventually into the sea. This water takes rock particles along with it, which eventually mixes with the seawater. This gives the water along the coast a weird, but very beautiful light-green color.

You can see this light-green water when driving along the east coast from Picton to Kaikoura or lower down the South Island between Christchurch and Dunedin.

East coast near Hinds, South Island, New Zealand


Note: This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm all details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.


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