Inspiration Destinations New Zealand Wow-Worthy Wonders on New Zealand’s South Island 

Wow-Worthy Wonders on New Zealand’s South Island 

April 14, 2023

Whale-watching expeditions, bungee jumping over a river gorge and mountain hikes – it doesn’t get much better than an epic adventure to New Zealand’s South Island.

Snow-capped mountains, glacier-blue lakes and dark skies punctured with stars: Mother Nature puts on a show on New Zealand’s postcard-perfect South Island (Te Waipounamu). There’s something for every traveller on this idyllic island, from adventure sports for adrenaline seekers to a famous wine region for pinot noir lovers, and free-roaming kiwi birds for wildlife enthusiasts. No matter what you came for, you’re bound to fall hard for the South Island with these bucket-list experiences.

Want to explore New Zealand on your own terms? Car hire is now hire available through Luxury Escapes. Book your wheels of choice from the world's leading suppliers for your next road trip here.

Find adventure in Queenstown

Image by Miles Holden.

Cradled by the dramatic Southern Alps, Queenstown is New Zealand’s hub for adventure sports. In winter, keen snowboarders and ski bunnies flock in droves to carve up the slopes, while summertime is a thrill seeker’s dream, with sky-high bungee jumping, heart-racing jet boat rides and skydiving over pristine lakes, rocky gorges and mountains. If soft adventure is more to your pace, the town is crisscrossed with exceptional hiking trails that snake through pristine scenery – just make sure to rug up, wear your most sturdy shoes and arm yourself with a camera to capture the views. 

Reach new heights at Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

Image by Rob Suisted.

Follow in the footsteps of Sir Edmund Hillary to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, home to New Zealand’s tallest mountains. Hillary practised mountain climbing on the park’s namesake, Aoraki Mount Cook, before famously tackling Mount Everest (and becoming the first man to reach the summit). Fresh air and vast wilderness are in abundance, with 10 short mountain walks at your disposal, the most popular being the Governors Bush Walk, Bowen Bush Walk and Tasman Glacier View Walk. If you’re enjoying an overnight stay, you’re in luck. The park falls under New Zealand’s International Dark Sky Reserve, which means you’ll be privy to simply spectacular stargazing. 

Glide across Milford Sound (Piopiotahi)

Image by Matt Crawford.

Along the west coast of the South Island you’ll discover the fiord cliffs, cascading waterfalls and mountainous peaks of Milford Sound (Piopiotahi). A certified bucket-list experience during any trip to New Zealand, the natural attraction has been dubbed the ‘eighth wonder of the world’. One of the best ways to see the majestic region is aboard a cruise. Feel the spray of the waterfalls, skirt the cliffs to see native forests at close quarters and catch a glimpse of New Zealand fur seals, dolphins and Fiordland crested penguins (among other fascinating wildlife). If you’re a keen hiker, the Milford Track is a four-day trek through jaw-dropping wilderness.

Taste your way across Central Otago Wine Region

Image by Alistair Guthrey.

Fan of a ruby-red drop of smooth pinot noir? If so, you can’t miss a trip through storied vineyards and vast open plains of the Central Otago wine region, home to some of the world’s best red wine grapes. Take the short journey from Queenstown to Chard Farm Winery, an Italian-style building set on a mountain and surrounded by acres of vines. If you’re based around Wanaka, Rippon Vineyard & Winery not only boasts award-winning pinot noir but also a phenomenal view of Lake Wanaka. Gibbston Valley Winery is a popular choice for travellers and locals alike: visit for a tasting in the leafy courtyard, stay for a leisurely lunch at the restaurant or pop into the cheesery for a selection of artisan cheeses. 

Connect with nature at Abel Tasman National Park

Image by Fraser Clements.

In the north-western corner of the South Island, you’ll find a pocket of natural paradise home to sandy beaches, granite formations, moss-covered valleys and native forest. Abel Tasman National Park invites visitors to stay, play or relax with an abundance of things to do. See an ancient Māori pā (fort) site at Pitt Head, spot petite blue penguins and lounging fur seals and trek to numerous lookouts for epic views (we recommend Skinner Point for a spectacular view of Totaranui Beach). Feeling adventurous? Join a canyoning tour to abseil through waterfalls and slide down rock chutes for a guaranteed adrenaline rush. 

Go whale watching in Kaikōura 

Image by Miles Holden.

Just a 2.5-hour drive north of Christchurch is Kaikōura, the whale-watching capital of New Zealand. Whale-watching tours depart daily and you’re likely to spot giant sperm whales (year-round residents), dolphins and New Zealand fur seals. If you time it right, you may also see migrating humpback whales, blue whales, southern right whales and pilot whales. And if you’re really lucky, you may see a number of Hector’s dolphins, the world’s smallest and rarest dolphin species.  

See wild kiwis on Stewart Island

Image by Miles Holden.

Wild kiwis (the native bird, not the locals) can be found roaming freely on Stewart Island, just a one-hour ferry from Bluff, a town along the southern coast of the South Island. Stewart Island is occupied by just 400 or so friendly human residents, who are outnumbered by the indigenous brown kiwi birds 50-to-one. There are over 280km of walking tracks across the island, many of which delve into national park territory, so you can rest assured you’ll pass stunning scenery during your wanderings. If you visit between March and September, your chances of seeing the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) are at an all-time high.

Feature image: Kyle Mulinder. All images courtesy of 100% Pure New Zealand.

Want to explore New Zealand on your own terms? Car hire is now hire available through Luxury Escapes. Book your wheels of choice from the world's leading suppliers for your next road trip here.

For more South Island inspiration, read Laidback Activities in Queenstown: Finding Tranquility in New Zealand’s Adventure Capital.

About Felicia Arhontissas
A keen traveller and a margarita enthusiast, Felicia is all about getting to the nitty gritty of each destination she visits and discovering its hidden gems (and then running home to write about it).

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