At the number one spot is doing a skydive with Skydive Franz at Franz Josef Glacier. This premier skydive encapsulates everything that the South Island has to offer –dramatic wilderness, self challenge, life time memories and happiness. Skydive Franz has three different heights to jump from including New Zealand’s highest at 19,000ft (nearly 6000m).
The skydives take place right in front of (and above) NZ’s highest mountain Aoraki/Mount Cook, Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, lakes, rivers, forests and ocean and the fun and professional skydiving team love introducing their passion to visitors. Skydiving is one of those things you really should do at least once in a lifetime so you may as well do the best.
It’s an amazing, sometimes emotional experience to see a whale up close and the Whale Watch Kaikoura team are pretty spot on when it comes to finding them out in the harbour. They have a 95% success rate in spotting a whale while on their trips and they’ve got a slew of awards recognising their commitment to the environment. It’s a winning combination and another must-do activity.
Yes Milford Sound and/or Doubtful Sound are a long way from anywhere and it will take a lot of travelling to get there, that said don’t sulk about the hassle and just go, it will be all worth it. Visitors come here to check out the stunning scenery and wildlife and there are plenty of ways to check it all out including flights, tours, cruises and guided walks.
One of our favourite ways to explore is by kayak and Go Orange have some great options at both locations. This company’s emphasis is on safe adventures with fun, personality and pride and their smaller groups will ensure a personal experience. They also do cruises and other options so check them out. An awesome company to fly with are Fly Fiordland based in Te Anau. They fly to Milford and Doubtful Sound and can also get you to the lesser known places like Dusky Sound, ultra remote airstrips and even land on uninhabited beaches if you want to really get away from it all.
Punakaiki is right in the middle of The Great Coast Road which you should definitely drive along – Lonely Planet is right in saying it’s one of the top ten coastal drives in the world. There are heaps of scenic photo opportunities as the ocean is spectacular, the limestone cliffs look amazing and there are lots of Nikau palm trees which create a real tropical feel to the area. The main attraction is the pancake rocks and blowholes at Punakaiki. They do look like piles of big stone pancakes and when the ocean is pounding in through the rocks the water thunders underneath you and is forced out the blowholes quite spectacularly. If you’re not there during high tide the blowhole walk and a few others in the area are well worth doing anyway. The best place to stay is the Punakaiki Resort. It’s right on the beach, the rooms are lovely and the restaurant is positioned to make the most of the ocean view and the renowned West Coast sunsets.
One of the best spots for relaxing in natural geothermal hot pools is Mariua Hot Springs. The indoor and outdoor pools are set in a scenic beech forest mountain environment and there’re a whole heap of complimenting facilities such as sauna, plunge pool, restaurant and accommodation. It’s well worth the time to check out this boutique hot pool complex especially if you enjoy bathing in natural geothermal mineral water in a relaxing environment.
The West Coast Tourism Board’s catchphrase is ‘untamed, natural wilderness’ and these are words that spring to mind when out on Lake Mapourika. There are no cafes, houses, marinas or generally anything man-made (apart from a boat ramp and jetty) on the shores of the lake and that’s what makes it so special. The ancient forest grows right to the waters edge and the water is often very reflective making for awesome photo opportunities, especially with the Southern Alps as a backdrop. The best way to get out on this lake is with Glacier Country Kayaks even if you’ve never kayaked before. The kayaks are the super floaty, non-tippy types and it’s easy to paddle about on the flat water.
This gallery is in a roadside house bus and garden and holds the world’s largest rustic automata. If you’re not sure what that is, it’s things that used to be something else, made into something that you can interact with, not a very good explanation and even the creator Blair Somerville has difficulty explaining what he does but describes himself as an organic mechanic and tinkerer. Anyway this place is super cool and very unusual. The Lost Gypsy Gallery has a website with a great video showcasing this must see gallery.
There are more than ten commercial ski fields in the South Island and even more club fields and heli ski options. One of the best ways to experience skiing or snowboarding is to join a snow tour with Haka Tours. They take small groups and get you to and from different ski fields, sort out passes, gear, accommodation etc. They’ve got packages to suit every ability level and the guides are friendly and well informed. It’s nice to have someone else do the organising making for a stress-free fun time on the snow.
When was the last time you had a chance to go curling? Possibly never, so that’s precisely the reason you should try curling at Naseby. If you’re not even sure what curling is then google it but it’s vaguely like bowling on ice. This rink is the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and is the training facility for the NZ Olympic team. In saying that curling here is suitable for all ages including children and for all abilities and it’s easy to get very competitive. You don’t have to wear a hat with a massive pom pom, but go for it if that’s your thing, but do wear some warm clothes.
eason to visit, they can show you round the brewery where they make beer and you can drink it. Need more reasons? Well this brewery may be in a flash, modern, refurbished building but the proud history of beer brewing on the West Coast goes back nearly 150 years.
Monteiths is the leader in the NZ craft beer market and the brewers are rightly proud of their creations. The brewery tour will take you through the facility and ends with a tasting of three beers of your choice. There’s also a cafe within the brewery serving tapa style portions of food that’s matched with the beer. This brewery was controversially closed by Dominion Breweries’ head office in 2001 but the public backlash was so fierce they reopened it again four days later and it’s gone from strength to strength ever since. Smart move.
There are heaps of walks branching off from this alpine highway but the best one is the Castle Hill Limestone Reserve. It’s 80 minutes’ drive from Christchurch towards the West Coast and only a short walk which gets you up in amongst a really weird natural stone landscape. The limestone rocks are all different shapes and heights and are popular with climbers but the majority of people come here for photo opportunities and hiking around. It’s a neat place for a sheltered picnic spot as the maze of rocks are surrounded by flat grassy sections. It is in the middle of nowhere with the only facility being toilets so come prepared if you think you might get hungry or thirsty.
No visit to the South Island is complete without a trip to Franz Josef and/or Fox Glacier. These are the easiest glaciers to visit in the world so no excuse to miss out on these rivers of ice. They plunge down dramatically from NZ’s highest mountains in between the rain forest to almost sea level.
You can walk unguided up the glacier valleys to get reasonably close to the front of the glaciers but if you want to check things out beyond the barriers you’ll need to go on a guided tour. Glacier Valley Eco Tours specialise in, you guessed it, glacier valley tours. You’ll learn more than the freedom walkers with this NZ family owned and operated company and get to spend some quality time with people passionate about this area. Another way to check out the glaciers is to land on one in a helicopter and throw some snow at your companions.
The Helicopter Line can land you up there or simply fly over the glaciers for a great view. The Franz Josef Glacier Guides and Fox Guides will fly you up in a helicopter and guide you on and amongst the awesome ice formations. It’s a unique experience to be somewhere so foreign and beautiful relatively easily and then transported back to the real world in the blink of an eye.
Reason to visit – hot pools. Need more of an enticement? Ok well the town is cute and it’s in amongst the mountains and it’s well set up for visitors so plenty to do, see and eat etc. The hot pools are the town’s main feature and rightly so, the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools are mineral rich hot pools with numerous options catering to all ages. Hydro slides, small pools, big pools, day spa even some child-free areas too.
You wouldn’t know there was much to it from the highway but set down below the horizon is a huge racing track. The Highlands Motorsport Park has quite a few attractions, all car related, such as a museum, cafe and sculpture park. But targeting the petrol heads are the action experiences including drive your own racing go karts, or driving a variety of real racing cars. The Highlands team have racing drivers on hand for support and they can also take you out as a passenger for a few laps at their speed. Awesome.
The Mt Hutt area deserves a few mentions. The main feature here is the Mt Hutt ski resort. Voted the best ski resort in New Zealand, this ski field has superb conditions and terrain and kids 10 years and younger ski for free. Bonus! It has all the things you’d expect from a ski resort, awesome facilities, great views etc etc but it’s the friendly local’s vibe that makes it a really nice ski field to visit for beginners and experts alike. It’s the number one choice for returning guests and staff so the Mount Hutt team are doing something right.
This is a full day activity where you start with a bit of red hot metal and end with a kick-ass shiny knife with a wooden handle and brass bolsters and pins. The hosts give you the materials and equipment and impart all their professional knife-making knowledge and techniques. You get to keep your knife forever and it’s no worries posting it overseas or flying with it, just don’t put it in your carry on luggage. The cost is $160 per person and includes lunch and of course the knife and a few other things like practising axe throwing, where else are you going to be able to practice that skill without getting locked up?
Everyone loves a beach right? Well there are lots of beautiful golden beaches to love in this region and loads of walking tracks to help people explore them. Some of the loveliest areas aren’t accessible by road so you’ll need to be adaptable if you want to get beyond the beaten track. Luckily there are plenty of operators to get you to cool places by foot, boat or kayak including options for every budget and comfort level. One of those operators is Wilsons Abel Tasman check them out.
If you’re only interested in beaches that are tropical calm lagoon like beaches then don’t go to Wharariki with the same expectation. Go to Wharariki Beach if you like a more dramatic style beach. This one has caverns, cliffs, sand dunes, and photogenic archway islands. If you’re lucky you’ll also see wild seals. You’ll need to walk about 30 minutes from the carpark to get here and it can be windy sometimes, but so what, it’s awesome and worth visiting. To time the tides right for maximum beach exposure then stay nearby at the Wharariki Beach Holiday Park.
You should be visiting Lake Tekapo anyway, it’s one of the most picturesque spots in New Zealand. But from the ground is just the half of it. From the air is a whole other world and Air Safaris have sweet aircraft to get you up and amongst it. More roomy than a helicopter and everyone gets a window seat so no one needs to get shovey to get the perfect scenic photo. Air Safaris also have a base at Franz Josef Glacier.
The Tekapo area is renowned for some of the best star gazing conditions in the world making it the perfect spot for checking out stars, the moon and beyond. The Earth and Sky team offer observatory tours where you can use their awesomely powerful telescopes and the guides will fill you in on exactly what you’re looking at. The Astro Cafe next to one of the observatories is open during the day and well worth a visit for its panoramic views too.
Much like Aoraki/Mount Cook the scenery at the Glaciers is stunning, but there are incredible sights beyond what you can see from the ground. The contrast from being in town to flying around the mountains in a matter of minutes really is a spectacular treat. Both Fox and Franz Josef Glacier are located at the foot of NZ’s highest mountains and the glacier valleys are some of the most popular sights in the country. Franz Josef has New Zealand’s busiest heliport so you’re bound to get a helicopter flight to suit your budget and needs check out.
If you thought Aoraki/Mount Cook looked awesome from the ground and you have a chance to do a scenic flight, just do it. The sights are mind-blowing and there are heaps of add-on activities to cater to every desire and ability. Check out Inflite Experiences who offer scenic flights, glacier guiding, heli-skiing and more.
Ideally located right next to the State Highway just south of Twizel is an excellent spot for buying fresh salmon. High Country Salmon is a salmon farm which utilises the icy waters of the hydro canals. There’s a cafe to hang out in and you can also feed the fish. It’s pretty awesome to eat the fish right where they’ve been farmed and you can buy it smoked, whole or in fillets to take away with you.
Not that far from the South Island’s biggest city Christchurch is Akaroa. This picturesque town is nestled next to the harbour and has a proud French history. A favoured spot for cruise ships, the town is well set up for welcoming visitors and has lots of activities that make the most of the beautiful seaside environment and some amazing accommodation options especially if you’re willing to explore beyond the town itself. One of the must do activities in Akaroa is swimming with dolphins, more specifically the Hectors Dolphin which is only found in New Zealand and is the smallest and rarest of dolphins in the world. Who doesn’t want to swim with a small, cute dolphin?
Staying on Stewart Island could be the furthest south you may ever go so if you want to get away from it all this is the destination for you. Island life is more influenced by the changing tides rather than the time on a clock and you’re sorted whether you want to totally relax or enjoy the land and sea activities.
The best place to stay is Pilgrim Cottage because it’s a beautiful example of a historic NZ home. Built in 1930’s but with modern touches this is the perfect base to explore everything on this beautiful island. Stewart Island is famous for its kiwi spotting and abundant other wildlife along with plenty of walks and sea activities such as boating, fishing, diving and kayaking. And it’s kind of like an island that pirates would have liked visiting.
If you’ve got time you should definitely head off the main highway and drive up to Aoraki/Mount Cook Village. The views are phenomenal and whether you’re a mountaineer or simply a mountain appreciator you can’t go past this location for its sheer dramatic beauty. There are heaps of walks, activities and stunning places to stay. The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre is worth a visit to check out the history and information on the area. Oh and Aoraki/Mount Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain so why wouldn’t you want a close up look?
Let the Dart River Wilderness Jet team whisk you away from the hustle and bustle of Queenstown and take you out to Glenorchy at the other end of Lake Wakatipu. The beautiful area has been the location of many movies, most famously the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s easy to see why it’s a movie makers paradise, the mountains, rivers and forest are stunning. The team at Dart River Wilderness Jet are experts at providing an exciting as well as informative jet boat trip in one of the most picturesque spots around.
If there is only one thing you want to pick out of all the things to do in Queenstown it should be the Skyline Gondola. The gondola will get you up above the town for the best views of the mountains and lake. If you’re not content just to take photos then there’s other things to do up there too – luge, restaurants, shops, mountain biking, tandem paragliding and a bungy. The luge is a really fun activity for any age or ability and seems to bring out shameless competitiveness in some, if this sounds like you then curb your gloating about winning or it will be a cold and silent trip back down the gondola.
You should visit Queenstown. Not only is it in a dramatically beautiful setting, there are heaps of things to do and lots of places to eat, drink and stay. It’s an extremely busy tourist town so don’t be surprised if you’re caught up in traffic or have to queue for your latte. If you like busy town energy, scenic spots and plenty of choices then you’re super sorted in Queenstown. An excellent place to stay in Queenstown is the Tahuna Pod Hostel which provides backpacker style rooms but with the added feature of having your own super comfortable bed surrounded by it’s own walls and curtain. This means you’ll have the benefit of low cost accommodation but also have privacy. This hostel is packed with features and is in a primo, central location.
The Moeraki boulders are the main visitor attraction to this spot. The boulders are odd, round and naturally occurring and they do make for a neat photo, but if you require a little more stimulation then head for the nearby village of Moeraki. This sleepy fishing village is very picturesque and located right on the waterfront is Fleur’s Place restaurant, cafe and bar.
It feels like an unlikely find to discover a world class restaurant in such a small town but being surrounded by water and specialising in fresh straight from the fishing boats outside makes all the sense in the world. There are about a dozen holiday houses and a holiday park for accommodation options and some nice walks including spotting penguins, seals and a lighthouse.
The Inland Scenic Route from Oxford to Geraldine is more than 100km long so we’ve included a few features along the way. The road will take you off the main State Highway and take you to the foot of the Southern Alps for a relaxing and scenic drive. This area is known for its farmland, skiing, fishing, golf, river activities and mountain biking.
Tucked away near the small West Coast town of Whataroa is Petr Hlavacek’s gallery featuring large-scale stunning landscape photographs. Petr is one of New Zealand’s finest landscape photographers and his love of South Island scenery is evident in his magnificent photos. These aren’t iphone photos of sunsets, these pieces are from true master photographer and well worth a visit.
You should visit Wanaka. Once again it’s one of the most picturesque spots in the South Island and you’re bound to find dozens of social-media-jealousy-inducing photographic opportunities. Much like Queenstown you’re not going to be short on activities in this town either but if you’re watching your budget then the best value activity has to be Puzzling World. For $16-$20 you can puzzle yourself with illusion rooms, bizarre buildings and find your way around the great maze. This weird and wonderful place also has a cafe and puzzles you can play with while you’re eating. Well worth a visit and as it’s suitable for all ages you’re going to please everyone.
Denniston is a ghost town near Westport and is located high up on a lonely and remote plateau. You can take a drive up to the once thriving coal town and check out what remains, including a museum housed in the old school hall. The town was famous for its incredibly steep incline railway which was used to get coal off the plateau and down to the port in Westport, originally it was the only way for people to get to and from the town and you’re bound to spot a few ghosts of people killed in collisions and runaways on the incline.
The Siberia Valley is near Makarora between Wanaka and Haast but it’s definitely the closest thing to Siberia that New Zealand’s got. The Siberia Experience is a half day trip that includes a flight, walk and jet boat ride which gets you right in amongst the mountains and away from all signs of civilisation. Every part of this trip is beautiful. It’s an easy way for even day hikers to get the feeling of a truly remote backcountry experience. And still be home for tea that night.
The Catlins coast is located along the south eastern corner of the South Island and is renowned for it’s remote and beautiful coastline, wildlife and rainforest. There’s nearly nothing between the Catlins and Antarctica so it can be warm and sunny one minute and wild and stormy the next which adds to the drama of an already dramatic area. The region has a lot of Maori and European history and has some wonderful geological features including the petrified forest at Curio Bay and no they’re not just a bunch of scared trees, it’s a fossilised forest. If you’re lucky you’ll see penguins, dolphins or sea lions while you’re in the area and there’s a lighthouse at Kaka Point. Everyone likes a lighthouse.
The West Coast is famous for its jade/greenstone which you can find throughout the region, and you can keep only the stones you find on the beach (river finds are off limits). If you haven’t found any of your own then head to the many shops in the region that sell them carved into beautiful pendants etc. Hokitika probably has the most shops selling jade and you can often view the carvers in action too. You can carve your own pendant too, check out Bonz’n Stonz Carving Studio and Gallery in Hokitika or Te Koha Gallery in Franz Josef Glacier.
It’s a pretty underwhelming name – Great Walks, a better description would be Legendary Walks or Epic Walks. The Great Walks are more than great, there are nine of them in New Zealand and six in the South Island. The reason they’re special is that the tracks are in the most awe-inspiring landscapes with diverse scenery and the tracks themselves are well formed and easy to follow. The most famous of them all is the Milford Track and while you can walk it independently, the most popular option is to walk it with a guided group. Ultimates Hikes NZ free you up to enjoy the actual hiking while they concentrate on all the logistics of feeding and accommodating you in their nice lodges. Say no to carrying loads of gear and staying in basic shared huts bunking down with smelly hikers with no showers and say yes to lovely lodges, hot showers, three course meals, bar, picnic lunches and comfortable beds.
Dotted around the Timaru region are hundreds of Maori rock art drawings dating back several hundred years. Some of these sites you can visit freely (they’re fenced off to deter vandalism) but most are on private land. They’re definitely worth a visit if you’re interested in history and as the first form of a written language, it’s fun to try and interpret what the people were saying. Check out the Te Ana Maori Rock Art Centre in Timaru to discover more about the rock art as well as culture, stories and traditions of the Maori people in the area.
If Victorian architecture and/or steampunk is your thing then you must visit Oamaru. The town has the best preserved Victorian architecture in the country and is considered to the world capital of steampunk. If you’re wondering what the heck steampunk is then google it, it’s a whole new world of the weird and wonderful. You’ll have to get your timing right to visit Michael O’Brien the Bookbinder in the Victorian Precinct, he’s only open from 2pm-5pm weekdays unless you book in for one of his book binding courses. His work is stunning and a rare craft worth witnessing. He also gratefully accepts donations of single malt whisky. Respect. Plus he’s also got an achingly lovely cottage for overnight rental.
This train trip will take you from one side of the South Island to the other while you sit back, relax, check out the view and make the most of the on board cafe and bar. Sounds good? Of course it is. It’s one of the world’s most famous train trips through incredibly diverse and beautiful scenery. The highway drive between Christchurch and Greymouth is through similar spots but the difference on a train is that you don’t have to drive, you can walk around and take photos, you can buy food and drinks without stopping, and trains are cool.
Tekapo Springs have several hot pools with an awesome view of beautiful Lake Tekapo and surrounding mountains. The complex has a few additional activities too, depending on the time of year you can go ice skating, snow tubing, watersliding as well as sauna and day spa treatments. Gorgeous spot, great facilities – a definite must-do for hot pool enthusiasts.
What’s so special about a big bird you might ask? Well lots actually. The Royal Albatross are the largest seabirds in the world with wing spans over three metres. They also regularly live to more than 40 years old, pretty damn old in the bird world, and fly as much as 190,000km per year. Phenomenal. How do they do it? Well that’s why you should do the Royal Albatross Tour and find out for yourself. If you’re lucky you’ll get to see these birds hanging out, maybe tending to their young or if you’re super lucky you’ll see these birds that are so graceful in flight looking awkward and clumsy trying to get about on land with big feet and wings. These birds have great spiritual significance and after viewing them they may become the significant bird in your life too.
Arrowtown is another town that’s super Instagram worthy, especially in autumn. Our pick of the bunch for a quiet drink is the Blue Door. This beautiful bar is situated in the historic precinct and is next to the Saffron Restaurant and Dorothy Brown’s boutique cinema, and book store – there’s a night out totally sorted with everything you need within a few feet. All stone, wood, leather armchairs and roaring fires in winter, there’s no sign outside but you’ll find the Blue Door behind, well, the blue door .
This remote spot is worth visiting if you enjoy driving to the end of a road to see where it gets you. The end of this road will get you to a beautiful bay with excellent fishing, a big wharf, a couple of walking tracks and often seals and penguins. In summer time the iconic Craypot Restaurant is open for fish and chips, crayfish, whitebait and more. This wee caravan style cafe has an awesome view and top-notch fresh food.
This 152km cycle trail follows the former train route from Clyde to Middlemarch. It’s an excellent flat wide trail that takes you through some stunning scenery and to some quaint small towns that you might otherwise have missed if travelling by car. The rail trail has been around for a while now so there are lots of places to stay and eat along the way and side activities as well. You don’t even have to do the whole trail, just pick a spot to start and finish when and where you like. Bike it Now in Clyde are an excellent company that hire out bikes, service and sell bikes and put together self guided trips. Bike It Now make it easy to get biking without all the mucking around, and they’ve even got electric bikes for hire, win!
If you’re into cute little towns with a bit of history then take the time to travel to Ophir. Not too far from the main road this tiny old goldmining town has charming, original mudbrick and stone buildings and the best place to stay is Pitches Store. What was a store in the 1800’s is now boutique accommodation, a restaurant and cafe. The whole place has been lovingly restored and is the perfect spot to enjoy the unique and picturesque area.
There are about 100 wine companies in the Marlborough region and nearly 80% of all New Zealand wine is produced in this area. That’s a lot of wine. They must need help to drink it all so it would be rude to not go and try them out. Even if you don’t like wine it’s a beautiful region to visit and a lot of the wineries have cafes or restaurants, all the more reason to go traipsing around the fields of vines. Pick of the bunch for a great visitor experience is the Saint Clair Family Estate. They have a wine tasting area and also have NZ craft beers, cider and non-alcoholic drinks plus the restaurant itself and you can sit at tables placed in between the grape vines.
OK all you instagrammers this spot will get you a lot of love. Vivid turquoise water is the feature at this picturesque gorge and it’s super easy to get to. Only 25 minutes drive from Hokitika on the West Coast and a short easy walk will get you amongst all the prettiness.
Slightly off the main road, these cliffs don’t sound that exciting but they are worth the detour. There are plenty of photo opportunities amongst these weird shaped earth formations and you’ll feel like you’re in another country as they seem so foreign to anything in other parts of NZ. The wild flowers in summer time in the surrounding area are also a beautiful sight and there are outdoor hot pools at nearby Omarama.