New Zealand is a country famous for its natural beauty – mountains and volcanoes, coastline and beaches, lakes, numerous waterfalls, glaciers and simply breathtaking landscapes. We have been lucky enough to live in this beautiful country for many years and believe that New Zealand should be on everyone’s bucket list.
If you still don’t have it on your bucket list or if you’re wondering why you should visit New Zealand, here is our list of at least 15 reasons to visit New Zealand’s South Island. Read on to discover top things to see in New Zealand’s South Island, get some travel inspirations and to see why New Zealand is a must visit destination.
Don’t forget to read our previous post on 15 reasons to visit New Zealand’s North Island
The highest mountain in New Zealand – Mount Cook (also known as Aoraki) – is a great reason to visit New Zealand’s South Island. Mount Cook National Park has spectacular scenery with mountains, snowy peaks, lakes and even glaciers. There are numerous walks and hikes for different abilities as well as glacier lake boat tours and scenic helicopter flights.
Arthus’s Pass National Park is famous for its mountains, waterfalls, wide rivers and sightings of Kea (native New Zealand parrots). We’ve been there so many times and still enjoy every single visit. See amazing limestone formations of Castle Hill (which by the way was a filming location of Chronicles of Narnia). Take one of the many walking tracks in Arthur’s Pass, see waterfalls, admire landscapes and maybe even see Kea parrots in the wild.
Southern Alps in the South Island is the home of New Zealand glaciers. Visit the popular Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glaciers on the west coast of the island, or the largest glacier in New Zealand – Tasman Glacier – at Mount Cook.
Unfortunately, over the recent years glaciers in New Zealand (as well as in the rest of the world) are melting rapidly. So, don’t postpone your visit for too long 😉
You won’t find many big cities on the South Island, even though New Zealand’s second largest city Christchurch (with population of only around 380000 people) is located here. But you will definitely find some of the prettiest small towns of New Zealand here.
One of them – Queenstown – is famous for its adventure activities such as bungy jumping, skydiving, mountain biking and ziplining. Sitting on the shore of Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by mountains, Queenstown is a must visit town on the South Island of New Zealand.
A popular alpine town, gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park and home of #ThatWanakaTree, Wanaka is another small town on our ‘15 reasons to visit New Zealand’s South Island’ list.
Visit one of the nearby ski resorts in winter, admire blooming lavender fields in summer, enjoy scenic views, take one of the many hikes in the area or go to Puzzling World attraction at any time of the year – you will always find something to see and do in Wanaka.
Beaches and coastlines
While in general the North Island is considered to have the best beaches in New Zealand, there are still many beautiful beaches and dramatic coastlines on the South Island too.
Scenic coastline of Tunnel Beach near Dunedin. White sand beach of Wharariki in the north part of South Island, along with its Archway Islands that were featured in Windows backgrounds. Beautiful beach Aramoana where you can often see some of the marine life such as penguins or sea lions. Picturesque coastline of Banks Peninsula. White sand beaches of Abel Tasman National Park. Just to name a few.
Abel Tasman National Park at the northern end of South Islands is famous for its golden beaches and granite cliffs. It’s a wilderness reserve and therefore you can find there fur seals, little blue penguins and bottlenose dolphins. There are many scenic walks and tracks in Abel Tasman, as well as boat tours and water taxis if you prefer more leisury activities.
There are many places on the South Island where you can encounter marine wildlife. Go for a whale watching tour in Kaikoura. Watch fur seals while cruising Milford Sound. Take a boat tour in Akaroa or Abel Tasman to see dolphins. Visit Curio Bay to see yellow-eyed penguins in the wild. Go to Oamaru to see the blue penguins colony. Or maybe even go for a hunt for Paua shells (New Zealand species of large sea mollusks with a colorful shell) in shallow waters of many coasts in the South Island.
Christchurch is the largest city of the South Island and is known for its English heritage. Unfortunately, many of its buildings were destroyed during the earthquake in 2011, including the iconic Christchurch Cathedral. These days there are many murals and street arts on bare walls left after demolished buildings, and some of the new buildings were added since the earthquake.
Christchurch is still worth visiting as a main hub to Canterbury region, and a starting/ending point for road trips to Arthur’s Pass, Kaikoura, French settlement of Akaroa, Mount Somers, Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook.
There are not that many countries in the world where you can find fjords, but New Zealand is one of them! New Zealand’s fjords (or ‘fiords’ – more common spelling in New Zealand) are located in the south-west of the South Island. The area is known as Fiordland National Park. Some of the most popular and spectacular fiords in the area are Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound fiords.
Take a cruise or a boat tour among the fiords to enjoy stunning landscapes and scenery, numerous waterfalls and marine life (you can frequently spot sea lions in the area).
Next in our ‘15 reasons to visit New Zealand’s South Island’ are limestone formations known as Pancake Rocks at Dolomite Point. Located on the West Coast of the South Island, Pancake Rocks is a popular tourist destination not only to see rocks resembling stacks of pancakes, but also admire the beautiful rocky coast with water blowholes in places.
Te Anau Lake
There are abundance of gorgeous lakes in the South Island and Te Anau Lake is the largest one of them. It’s located in the south-west of the island and covers more than 300 sq kilometers. Some of the popular activities at Te Anau are walking/hiking, cycling, fishing, kayaking and boating.
Lake Tekapo is another gorgeous lake on the South Island. A small town located on the lake is famous for its iconic Church of the Good Shepherd, the picturesque landscapes in the area, for stargazing and for winter activities.
If you’re travelling in alpine regions of the South Island of NewZealand, there is a big chance that you will see Kea in the wild. Keas are large parrots that native to New Zealand and live only in alpine regions of South Island. They are one of the most smart birds in the world and are quite mischievous species.
Among the places to see Kea are Arthur Pass, Homer Tunnel at Milford Sound and Mt Cook village.
Dunedin is a city on the east coast of the South Island known for its Scottish heritage. Even its name comes from the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh – ‘Dùn Èideann’. I love Dunedin for its architecture. Stone buildings, public squares, gardens and colorful yellow trees in fall remind me of European cities.
Not far from Dunedin is Moeraki Boulders Beach where you will find large sphere-shaped boulders on the beach. The beach with its natural round rock formations is beautiful during low tide, high tide (when the boulders are partly covered by the sea water), at sunrise or basically at any time.
There are many-many waterfalls in New Zealand. We’ve included waterfalls in the 15 reasons to visit New Zealand’s North Island and we’re including them in the ‘15 reasons to visit New Zealand’s South Island’ too. There are more than one hundred named waterfalls on the South Island alone. Whatever part of New Zealand you’re travelling in, the chances are that you’ll find at least one waterfall around there!
Again, like with my previous post on 15 reasons to visit New Zealand’s North Island I couldn’t stop at 15 reasons. There are so many things to see and do in New Zealand’s South Island!
See our other posts about New Zealand to read more about places to visit and things to experience in our beautiful country.
I hope I gave you more than enough reasons to visit New Zealand. Time to plan your trip!
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10 thoughts on “15 reasons to visit New Zealand’s South Island”
Wow! It’s all so stunning. I would love the see some of those waterfalls!
Oh I would love to be able to travel to New Zealand sometime. Thanks so much for sharing all the reasons why we should!
New Zealand is so beautiful. The views are breathtaking. I am hoping to visit one day! This was very inspiring, thank you for sharing!
Your pictures! I need to get to New Zealand, I just love it – a love which started after watching LOTR years ago!
What a great guide to the south island. Queenstown is one of my favourite cities i have ever visited while the Abel Tasman is certainly of the best remote places. Oh i need to return to NZ soon
What spectacular scenery! New Zealand is so beautiful. We would be particularly interested in seeing the marine wildlife – and the kea of course – as well as the curious pancake rocks, fjords and waterfalls. I think we would need to stay for several weeks to see as much as possible!
Indeed, there are so many things to see in New Zealand, and taking into account long flights it’s better to plan at least few weeks for a visit! 🙂
These images are beyond stunning. What a place to visit!
New Zealand is such a stunning place. I can’t wait to visit one day and explore. Thanks for the awesome suggestions!
Those pancake rocks are really interesting. It looks like someone stacked them. Some beautiful pictures and places here. Who knew there were parrots native to New Zealand!