I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the South Island of New Zealand is more beautiful than the North Island.
Oooh, rocking the boat, Juliette.
But hear me out.
The North Island is stunning. There are beautiful beaches. Warmer temperatures. Beautiful lakes and mountains (hello Mt Ruapehu), lush greenery and more dairy farms than you can shake a stick at.
But the South Island? Oh, you take my breath away every time. The crisp alpine environment, the remote and rugged coasts, the fjords and sounds, the golden bays and inlets – what’s not to love?
Oh, I should probably mention, I’m from the South Island. Cantabrian born and bred. Although I’ve lived in the North Island for over a decade now. I feel that qualifies me to make statements comparing the two islands.
John and I are fortunate to have explored every part of the country from Cape Reinga to Bluff and even down to Stewart Island.
And the best way to explore the South Island? By car, of course. New Zealand drive holidays are the best and easily the most flexible way to travel Aotearoa.
We’ve been fortunate to have spent this summer road-tripping around the South Island once more, discovering new places and re-visiting old favourites.
Here’s how to explore the South Island of New Zealand.
THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO THE SOUTH ISLAND
- Christchurch International Airport
- Queenstown Airport
- Dunedin International Airport
Home of the spectacular Abel Tasman National Park. This area at the top of the South Island is a popular destination for sun-seekers, outdoor enthusiasts and hippies. The beaches of Golden Bay are…well, golden. Golden sands and beautifully clear, calm waters make this region a holiday hot spot for locals and foreigners every summer.
- Hike and kayak the Abel Tasman National Park
- Walk over Farewell Spit
- Swim at Kaiteriteri Beach
- Catch your own salmon at Anatoki Salmon Farm
- See the largest freshwater springs in the southern hemisphere, Pupu Springs
Award-winning wineries lie in this region, thanks to the enviable climate. The beautiful sounds are home to sheltered and secluded bays, some accessible only by boat, as well as historic sites and island sanctuaries. Expect fresh fish to be on the menu most nights.
Don’t forget the gorgeous coastal town of Kaikoura, working to get back on its feet after a destructive 7.8 magnitude earthquake in late 2016.
- Hike the Queen Charlotte Track
- Stroll through Pollard Park
- Visit the Lochmara Lodge Marlborough Sounds Wildlife Recovery Centre
- Take a winery tour
- Go whale watching in Kaikoura
- Bird-watch at the Motuara Island Sanctuary
- Swim with the bottlenose dolphins
Home, sweet home. The biggest city in the South Island is Christchurch, a city that breaks up the vastness of the Canterbury Plains. There are beautiful harbours in Banks Peninsula and an expansive rural and uncrowded setting outside of the main city. Then, further south into the heart of the island, you’ll discover the spine of New Zealand – the magnificent Southern Alps.
- Dine in the French town of Akaroa
- Gaze into the unpolluted night sky at Tekapo
- Eat fish and chips on the beach at New Brighton or Sumner
- Visit Quake City to learn about the tragic earthquake of 2011
- Take a surfing lesson at Scarborough Beach
- Ski and snowboard at Mt Hutt
Otago has some of the best adventures in the country in Queenstown and Wanaka, while also offering a history experience of early colonial life in New Zealand. The landscape is diverse, from towering mountains and mirror lakes, to sun-drenched vineyards and rugged coastlines.
- Ski and snowboard around Queenstown and Wanaka
- Watch the sunrise at Nugget Point
- Visit #ThatWanakaTree
- Cycle, horse ride or walk the Otago Central Rail Trail
- Go panning for gold in Arrowtown
- Visit New Zealand’s only castle, Lanarch Castle in Dunedin
- Go white water rafting down the Shotover River
The most southern part of the South Island is home to some of the most beautiful scenes in the entire country. Just ask anyone who’s been there! The Fiordland area of Southland is not dissimilar to the western fjords of Norway. It encompasses the bottom of the snow-capped Southern Alps, with dramatic glacier-carved valleys. Every angle is breathtaking – this region is the showstopper of New Zealand.
- Visit the Te Anau Glow Worm Caves
- Cruise or kayak the Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound
- Hike the world-renowned Milford, Kepler or Routeburn Tracks
- Taste Bluff oysters in Bluff
- Drive through the Catlins
- Explore Lakes Te Anau and Manapouri
The West Coast of the South Island is the untamed part of New Zealand. It’s wild, it’s rugged, it’s raw, it’s dramatic. In its early days, the West Coast was a thriving gold mining region. These days life on the coast has a slower pace and cellphone reception is limited, so be prepared to take your time to unplug and explore this unspoilt coastal region of New Zealand.
- Take a scenic flight over the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers
- Drive through Mt Aspiring National Park
- Discover the old gold mining towns of New Zealand
- Visit Pancake Rocks and the blowholes at Punakaiki
- Explore the World Heritage area of Haast
- Cross the swing bridge over the turquoise waters in the Hokitika Gorge
Have you explored the South Island of New Zealand? What are your favourite New Zealand drive holidays? Or if you are yet to visit, where would you choose?
This post was brought to you in collaboration with NZ Travel Organiser.
All opinions are my own.Tweet