Gorgeous amazing images of the South Island, New Zealand and you’re from Australia or elsewhere can be confusing.
What are the best places in the South Island? What can you do apart from taking in the views of the beautiful scenic outdoors? Here is an overseas visitor’s checklist from the top of the South Island to the bottom. Find out about popular places, beautiful spots and travel at your own pace.
Best places to visit – South island New Zealand
Gorgeous amazing images of the South Island, New Zealand and you’re from Australia or elsewhere can be confusing… What’s are the best places in the South Island?
Many overseas visitors ask, ‘Where can I go, in the South Island that’s special and unique? What is the best time to go?
Here is an overseas visitor’s checklist from the top of the South Island to the bottom. Find out about popular places, beautiful spots and travel at your own pace.
Marlborough best things to do
Marlborough is where Picton and the Marlborough Sounds greet visitors arriving on the interisland ferry services.
#Queen Charlotte Sounds, Marlborough’s scenic highlight
Discover an underrated walk. QUEEN CHARLOTTE TRACK is part of the Marlborough Sounds. It’s beautiful and where the sea, sky and land tantilise the senses and calm the soul. Brilliant every day. The area is not a national park but many areas are protected as reserves … read more Queen Charlotte track, top 10 things to do
#Queen Charlotte Sound walks from easy strolls to multiple day hikes
#Queen Charlotte Sound marine life cruises, swimming with dolphins
What is the best time to visit Marlborough Sounds, Queen Charlotte Track?
The best time to visit the Marlborough Sounds, Queen Charlotte Sounds is between December to March in the summer season.
Travelling with kids, check out Top 12 family friendly attractions, things to do in Picton – Best Bits.
#Marlborough is sauvignon blanc award winning wines
Marlborough is the colossus in New Zealand’s wine production. Over three-quarters of total wine production happens in Marlborough. Brilliant sunny days and cool evenings create the perfect drop.
What is the best time to join a Marlborough wine tour?
The best time to join a wine tour in Marlborough, NZ is between January to March (summer season). Check out Marlborough, New Zealand wine trail – Best Bits.
Tips for overseas visitors first time in the South Island, NZ
South Island has four distinct seasons. Check out our handy weather guide, with a month by month guide, top activities in each month are explained.
South Island frequently asked questions about the temperature and, rainfall are answered.
As New Zealand is a premier outdoor destination, weather can play an important role when attractions are open. Let’s get the facts at your fingertips to make the holiday planning easier.
Nelson best things to do
Meet one of New Zealand’s rock stars in the visitor experience market.
Nelson is a great year round destination with landscape diversity, plenty of adventures for the intrepid, leisurely courtyard wineries to linger in and a stimulating art scene.
Nelson is a seasoned host with an extensive range of food / craft markets, cafes and award winning restaurants for visitors to sample. This mix is stirred and mixed in food and wine where the taste buds are tantalized by the bounty of the sea and land. No wonder Nelson is a perennial favourite place for a holiday.
- Art scene, from world class Suter Gallery to artisan pop up stalls in weekend markets. Nelson city has an absorbing art trail from riverside walks to the coast. TIP: Discover Tasman Village art and crafts
- Foodie joy in Nelson’s cafes and capturing a contemporary Pacifica fusion cuisine
- City beaches with sweeps of gold dusted sandy foreshores with cafes and facilities at your fingertips
- Vibrant festival season nestled in heritage Founders Park, Isel Park and public spaces
- Well established theatre and arts culture with live entertainment, nightlife and attractions
- Nelson is a gateway city to the pocket sized Abel Tasman National Park with its attractions from beaches, walks, waterfalls and water sports
- Day trips to Moutere Valley vineyards and artisan stores, Tasman Village galleries and Mapua Wharf attractions
- Nelson city is a hub for the region’s Great Taste Trail, a shared cycling / walk experience exploring the best the region has to offer
- Heritage Nelson has Founders Park village, Isel Homestead brings the past back to life with exhibits, displays and 19th century main street atmosphere.
Nelson is impossibly beautiful with Abel Tasman National Park the celebrity. For outdoors focused visitors Nelson is a must-go South Island destination.
#Abel Tasman National Park, South Island is a top NZ summer destination
Abel Tasman National Park walks, waterfalls and gold sandy beaches are idyllic places to visit. Camping is very popular and tends to be fully booked several months in advance. Abel Tasman Coastal Walk is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. And Split Apple Rock (TIP: location beyond Collingwood, gateway to Farewell Spit) the selfie proves you’ve had a great time.
Abel Tasman National Park is easily accessible with numerous water taxi options to get to beaches and walks.
What is the weather like in Nelson, South Island?
Nelson’s weather is aptly labelled the sunshine capital of New Zealand. Nelson’s weather is one of the sunniest in New Zealand. Sun drenched summers attract visitors to the beaches and the Great Taste Trail. Winter offers relaxation and indulgence in spas. There are opportunities to explore the extensive art and craft trail.
Nelson offers a depth of choice in places to visit creating an ideal holiday destination. Couples and families can slowly cycle the Great Taste Trail while thrill seekers skydive over the stunning Abel Tasman.
#cycling the Great Taste Trail Pass a well known peanut manufacturer or a family owned winery while soaking up the views of a picturesque coastline.
#Nelson beaches & summer festivals, fun, sun and summer holiday magic
Music, entertainment, plenty of space on a Nelson beach to go around and we’ve found spots for your slice of paradise.
A family favourite is Tahunanui Beach with its camping ground, playgrounds, rock pools, cafes and lifeguards as well as it’s a city beach with Nelson cafes a short walk away.
Go for gold in Golden Bay and take a selfie at Wharariki beach Split Apple Rock.
Take a journey to the remote beautiful Farewell Spit and meet the resident wildlife from soaring ocean gannets to seals resting on quiet beaches.
Stay awhile in Golden Bay and explore the small heritage towns of Golden Bay and the perhaps the most well known beach Kaiteriteri.
The best time to visit Nelson, South Island is summer, between mid-December to mid-March.
Forward bookings are strongly recommended for visitor hot spots such as Kaiteriteri Beach.
Check out Things to do in Nelson City Attractions, Activities & Places to Visit, getting there and how to get around.
Nelson is a place where romance flourishes. Paddling along the Abel Tasman coastline during the day and then pulling your kayak up onto a beach to camp for the night is simply magical.
Golden Bay Kayaks, a local family business who can show you round their backyard. The kayaking operation has no age restrictions:
- Paddle entire length of the Abel Tasman National Park
- Bespoke Eco Private tours and Luxury Packages
Find a slice of paradise and visit Awaroa or now known as Peoples beach in the Abel Tasman National Park. The maze of waterways recedes at low tide exposing ribbons of gold sandy bars. Dip into the romance funds and helicopter to Awaroa. The scenic flight is amazing. For an additional treat stay overnight Awaroa Lodge with its pizzeria and restaurant creating a truly memorable experience.
The beach was purchased for New Zealanders in a crowdfunding campaign.
Canterbury High Country & Christchurch top attractions
New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki Mount Cook dominates the horizon with its supporting cast of massive mountain ranges, the Southern Alps of the South Island. Year round activities from swimming in lakes, summer hiking trails and ski and snowboarding in winter. And, always the temptation of a delicious soak in warm natural hot springs at Hanmer Springs travel guide, activities, what to do & see and elsewhere.
#visit Lake Tekapo, crystal clear glacial lakes, majestic mountains, South Island scenery on steroids
#Mackenize country, is year round a feast for the eyes. From summer gold mining trails on your cycle tour to skiing in the winter
#darksky sanctuary at Lake Tekapo, night skies, heavenly delights
#Hooker Trail a premier walk with superb views of New Zealand’s highest alpine peak, Aoraki Mount Cook
MacKenzie country is New Zealand’s high country landscape. The alpine terrain is dominated by native tussock, sweeping views of mountains, ravines and deep blue lakes reflecting the sky and earth. The scenery is a photographer’s delight with its depth of light and sweeping views. The stark contrast between winter and spring is an added bonus for the keen photographer.
Mountaineers and experienced Southern Alps hikers frequent Aoraki Mount Cook village. Mount Cook village is a summer holiday hub.
What is the weather like in around Lake Tekapo, South Island?
WEATHER in the Mackenzie country around Lake Tekapo is alpine with hot dry summers, brightly lit days and cool summer evenings. The climate is alpine, with its ability to turn on and off the sunshine with a bout of crisp, sharp wind flurries. Even in the depths of summer, anticipate four seasons in one day. Winter expect snow, ice and sub-zero conditions. Aoraki Mount Cook is best tackled with an experienced mountaineering guide.
Where to spot a kea, NZ's native wild mountain parrot?
Wildlife encounters with Kea parrots are found in the South Island’s high country from Arthurs Pass to the Mackenzie country. There is something magical about a parrot that has figured out people’s weakness for an adorable cute rounded green and red bird. No wonder the Kea is a survivor. Be Kea smart and let’s not feed the cheeky parrot.
Church of the Good Shepherd, Canterbury high country a well known photo stop
Unmissable for Twizel visitors is the Instagram famous Church of the Good Shepherd for a selfie moment. Sometimes being stunningly attractive is not a good thing. The Church of the Good Shepherd, selfie hot spot can be overrun with hordes of people wanting a photograph the place. Pick your moment before and after the large tour buses for your snap of a picture postcard church. The best time is early morning or late afternoon.
Indulge in a lifetime memory a helicopter flight over the Southern Alps and Mt Cook National Park
Plan a helicopter flights for a birds eye view of the panoramic Southern Alps with Aoraki Mount Cook and Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers as highlights. A fabulous way to get around and visit those places where footsteps are few and far between.
Visit a Salmon Farm in the Mackenzie country
Visit a salmon farm. Feed the salmon while munching on a salmon pie or purchase ready to cook fresh salmon fillets to thrown on the BBQ in your camping ground. Salmon is delicious and very healthy, a very good reason to have a second helping.
Christchurch, gateway city to the South Island, things to do
Planning a few days in Christchurch with the vintage tram (and its 21 stops) is a great idea. Christchurch is ideal for first time visitors to start their exploration of the South Island with plenty of things to do as well as its excellent location in the South Island.
Punt on the Avon River
Christchurch water sports take the slow lane. Not a jet ski or jet boat in sight, rather it’s elegant Edwardian clothing, a pole and a slowly guided punt on the gently flowing Avon river. Sea kayak the Lyttelton Harbour or explore nearby Diamond Harbour. The Groynes waterways provide opportunities for families to indulge in family fun in pedal boats.
Year round is the best time to visit Canterbury
Where to go wildlife spotting in Canterbury?
Wildlife spotting hot spot is found in visit Akaroa and swim with dolphins.
West coast, South Island best places to visit
Rugged temperate rainforest nudges against a sliver of coast. The West coast has extraordinary rock forms, National Parks and wilderness scenery. For outdoors enthusiasts, nature and scenery the West Coast is stunning, remote. Consider the Great West Coast Highway 6 road trip for its panoramic views.
#visit Punakaiki Pancake Rocks
Rock layered towers with massive blow holes as the ocean swells pound the coast. Memorising sight. A great short walk through an attractive native bush reserve.
#Routeburn Track is a NZ Great Walk through Kahurangi National Park finishing in Karamea and Oparara Basin where dinosaurs once roamed. Primaeval scenery.
#Haast Pass, Blue Pools
West Coast is a place for photographers with the evocative Lake Mathieson’s mirror reflection of clouds, the moody atmosphere of the Denniston Plateau, Pancake Rocks, Charleston and adrenaline inducing underground river rafting, Hokitika Gorge and the blue pools of the Haast Pass.
What is the best time to visit the West Coast, NZ?
The best time to visit the West Coast is between November to mid-March. Check out West Coast National Parks & Scenic Reserves best things to do. Summer means less rain however invest in insect repellant, West Coast, NZ frequently asked questions – Best Bits.
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Where to go wildlife spotting on the West Coast, NZ?
The West Coast is a great place to visit for wildlife holidays. Observe New Zealand’s rarest kiwi, the Rowi, at the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef. Gawp at fur seals at Cape Foulwind. Admire the elegance of white herons at Okarito wetland sanctuary what to see and do. And enjoy the waddling Jackson Bay penguins.
#visit Glacier country, West Coast
Glaciers can be walked on (a bit of a hike) over glacial scree or enjoy an exhilarating, magical helicopter flight over the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers with the surrounding mountain ranges, the Southern Alps as a backdrop. This activity is largely limited to the summer months
Otago, South Island best places to visit
Dunedin is an underrated city with an interesting heritage past and quirky student vibe. Dunedin is an excellent place to start exploring the wild, remote The Catlins with its stupendous waterfalls, scenic coastline and wildlife. Dunedin easily leads visitors on a journey following the footsteps of 19th century gold miners.
#cycle or walk gold mining trails in Central Otago
#enjoy the fruits of Central Otago summers, plums, peaches and apricots while you wander Central Otago wine trails
#discover heritage gold mining buildings and relics slowly ageing in beautiful tussock clad hills
Tips for your otago south island holiday
- Plan two days to drive between Christchurch and Dunedin with Oamaru as a highlight
- Central Otago is best explored on a self-drive holiday as it is a sparsely populated region with little public transport. You will discover places less travelled.
Where to go wildlife spotting in Otago, South Island?
Otago is a premier destination for wildlife enthusiasts. Visit Oamaru and become entranced with BLUE PENGUINS. Visit Dunedin and Otago Peninsula and wonder at the sheer endurance of Northern Albatross.
Cruise the Otago harbour, witness Albatross launching into flight with their massive wind span, observe seals lounging on rocky outcrops and enjoy the spectacular sight of seabirds dining on the ocean’s bounty.
And take a road trip, explore The Catlins with fur seals, penguins, sea lions, seabirds and the photogenic Nugget Lighthouse as scenic treats along the way.
Wanaka, south island a premier holiday destination
Wanaka forms the triangle between Queenstown and Cromwell where most visitors congregate. Impossibly beautiful Wanaka #thatwanakatree and 11 selfie locations – Best Bits.
#thatwanakatree of instagram fame and #ROYS PEAK
Visit Wanaka’s hot spot selfie location.
Wanaka is a laid back version of the tourist town Queenstown with many similar activities and attractions. Wanaka is home to stunning Lake Wanaka. The lake issues a beguiling invitation to hire a kayak or SUP. Consider cycling Otago’s bike trails. Bikes are readily available for half or multiple day hire. For the kids Puzzling World is a must.
Wanaka is home to one of the world’s award winning wineries with glorious views of Lake Wanaka and a great drop,
Queenstown adventure capital of New Zealand
Explore Queenstown. Adventures galore in Queenstown from bungy jumping from the Kawarau Bridge to skydiving or body rafting the glacial fed rivers.
Can you explore Queenstown, South Island in a day?
Yes, you can explore Queenstown in a day. Discover the best things to do in Queenstown, New Zealand. The South Island’s premier visitor destination is adventure with a iconic bungy jump. Perhaps watch your friends do the jump and offer to take a great snap. Consider popping over the hill to a charming Victorian 19th century heritage gold mining Arrowtown, or cruise on Lake Wakatipu and, the best bit … some time to go shopping.
It’s a lot to cram into the suitcase of activities in Queenstown. Let’s start the day early with a great breakfast on the go. For pesky details about getting to Queenstown, getting around, best time to go, the weather and transport / accommodation check the Travel Pack Section at the bottom of the itinerary.
Your Queenstown day at a glance:
- Arrowtown for a town heritage walk (2 hours +)
- Bungy jump at Kawarau Gorge (photos of screaming with joy bungy jumpers)
- Gibbston Valley vineyards (optional)
- Roaring Meg Waterfall (time the visit with the dam’s water release)
- Lake Wakatipu cruise (half day option)
- Squeeze in shopping (compulsory, you are on holiday)
- Sunset views – Queenstown wharf + ice creams (compulsory food sampling)
- Gondola and Bobs peak panoramic views (compulsory for the scenic highlight)
Cycle wine trails nearby Queenstown, Gibbston Valley
Embark on a bike ride designed for wine enthusiasts. In the peak summer season bookings for restaurants and cafes are recommended. Planning an overnight stay in the Gibbston Valley forward bookings are recommended to avoid disappointment.
ARROW RIVER BRIDGES TRAIL bike trail highlights
- Crosses five bridges over the Arrow River creating a cycle trail interesting for kids as well as all age groups.
- Arrowtown Dudley’s cottage is the start for the journey
- Willow lined Arrow River forms part of the trail
- Southern Discoveries suspension bridge is a favourite for photographers
- Knights Family Underbridge and take in a spectacular downstream view of where the Arrow River drops into the gorge.
- The 80-metre Edgar Suspension Bridge is a showstopper with views of down into the Arrow Gorge
- Trail partially follows old gold mining paths with information plaques detailing the history of the paths.
- Cross over the historic Kawarau Suspension bridge and AJ Hacket’s bungy centre. There are cafes, toilets and perhaps a bungy jump in the day
- Bungy viewing deck has information plaques about the history of the area, the bridge and tips about where to get the best photos.
Arrowtown, picture perfect historic gold mining town highlights
- Arrowtown is a great place to shop for New Zealand souvenirs
- Try your hand at gold panning the old fashioned way in the Arrow River
- Investigate the story of Arrowtown at the museum, located on the main street
- Explore the heritage Chinese gold mining precinct (by the river)
Crown Range Highway Highlights
The Crown Range Highway is an amazing hairpin journey across the mountain ranges with Cardrona, a premier ski resort town open throughout the year.
- Stop at the Cardrona Distillery or
- Enjoy a beer and a meal at the historic Cardrona Hotel.
Don’t forget the selfie beside the vintage Cardrona hotel truck permanently packed outside the front entrance.
Fiordland National Park & Milford Sound – top NZ attraction
FIORDLAND NATIONAL PARK where sunken glacier valleys and consistent rainfall create a misty magical world of dense forests, high mountain peaks and waterfalls. Visit Milford Sound and discover one of NZ’s premier holiday destinations. Glaciers carved out channels forming the fiords of Milford, Dusky and Doubtful Sounds.
What is there to do at Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park?
There is plenty to do on your tour of Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park. Cruise on a day tour through cascading waterfalls. Sea kayaking is popular with visitors on the lookout for dolphins.
Hike one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Milford Track.
Self-drive on one of New Zealand’s picturesque routes Queenstown to Milford Sound. TIP: Check weather forecast and road conditions beforehand.
Are you interested in a holiday focused on scenery and outdoors New Zealand?
NZ scenery is the premier reason people visit New Zealand. Over 30% of NZ National Parks offer countless opportunities for wildlife watching, scenery from volcanic plateaus, high country tussock to mountain ranges. Check out New Zealand attractions and find out why New Zealand’s National Parks are a must-go destination.
BEST BITS TRAVEL GUIDE