New Zealand’s South Island is larger than its sister island in the north, but less densely populated. Because of this it has become a haven for those seeking to experience some of the world’s most spectacular scenery without the chaotic, touristy bustle that you might expect, and that it definitely justifies. The landscape of much of the South Island was made famous in recent years following the film adaptation of Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings trilogy, but there is plenty more to see and do besides what was included in Frodo’s adventures. Here’s my list of the top destinations in South Island...

1. Visit Christchurch

Top Ten South Island Destinations

New Zealand’s second largest city is affectionately referred to as the gateway to the South Island, whilst also being an official departure point for a number of Antarctic expeditions. To dismiss Christchurch as a mere stepping stone though, would be a big mistake. Despite suffering a series of terrible earthquakes in 2011, out of the ongoing rebuilding process a modern, vibrant and creative Christchurch is beginning to blossom. 

2. Witness the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers

Top Ten South Island Destinations

The South Island’s west coast is home to New Zealand’s Glacier Country. The two most popular glaciers are the Fox and the Franz Josef which, aside from offering countless opportunities for icy adventure, provide a stunning, world renowned backdrop for any activities that you do decide to do. The glaciers can be found in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park, and a guided trek on either (or both!) is highly recommended. To take your trip that little bit further, consider a helicopter tour.    

3. See one of the New Zealand’s stunning lakes

Top Ten South Island Destinations

Just west of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu is the third largest lake in New Zealand, and is bordered spectacularly on all sides by dramatic peaks. A kayak trip on the lake is a fantastic way to appreciate the landscape, whilst there are also plenty of hiking trails that skirt around the water’s edge. Alternatively, Lake Tekapo is a few hours south-west of Christchurch, and as well as being ridiculously picturesque, offers the chance for keen stargazers to look up with wonder after sunset within what is a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve.

The mystical Lake Wakatipu.

4. Spot the Sealife in Kaikoura

Top Ten South Island Destinations

Kaikoura is a small, charming east coast town with a big reputation for whale watching. Various agencies provide trips all year round, giving you the chance to spot some enormous marine mammals whilst staying dry in the process. Daily tours can be taken by boat, whilst those seeking a little more adventure can take to the skies in a plane or helicopter. For an incredible spectacle that doesn’t even require leaving dry land, check out the seal pups playing in the nearby Ohau waterfall.

5. Visit Milford Sound

Top Ten South Island Destinations

Utterly captivating and deceptively named, Milford Sound is not a second hand record store, but in fact New Zealand’s best known and most breathtaking fiord. Located in the Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound runs for 16km until it reaches the open ocean, and is one of several fiords which can be hiked, kayaked or simply appreciated.   

6. Take the plunge with Deep Canyon at Lake Wanaka

If sitting back and admiring the scenery leaves you wanting a more extreme type of adventure, look no further than Deep Canyon, Wanaka- New Zealand’s top canyon guiding company. They specialise in a variety of outdoor activities, including waterfall abseiling, climbing and diving. Many of the trips start with a helicopter drop off amongst Lake Wanaka’s surrounding wilderness, ensuring an unforgettable experience in some of the country’s most unspoilt locations.     

7. Enjoy six of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks

Top Ten South Island Destinations

Walking enthusiasts visiting South Island are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing one of the many famous routes to hike. Of the country’s premier tracks and trails, six are found on South Island, namely the Milford, Routeburn, Kepler, Rakiura, Heaphy and Abel Tasman Coastal tracks. Each offers a unique, enchanting perspective on a different part of the South Island, and some take a long as a week to complete. 

8. Seek some thrills in Queenstown

The adventurer's paradise of Queenstown

At the centre of New Zealand’s adventure tourism is the city resort of Queenstown, which attracts adrenaline junkies and more casual visitors from the world over. There is plenty to do, including skiing, bungee jumping, fishing and skydiving, all which are all available on several nearby mountains and Lake Wakatipu. Just in case you hadn’t noticed the recurring theme by now, all of these activities take place against a backdrop of spectacular alpine views, in this case the aptly named ‘Remarkables’, as well as the pristine blue waters of Lake Wakatipu.     

9. Wander along the coastline in Abel Tasman National Park

Top Ten South Island Destinations

Arguably New Zealand’s finest coastal region is found in the National Park at the top of South Island. Abel Tasman has the more hours of sunshine all year round than anywhere else in New Zealand, making it a great destination in any season. Take a hike along the golden sands, but be wary of the area’s famously large tidal ranges, which have been known to leave many a visitor surprised. And wet.     

10. Drink!

Top Ten South Island Destinations

New Zealand is widely appreciated as producing some of the world’s finest wines, and there are several wine regions on the South Island alone. A must visit, or taste, is the wine from the Neudorf Vineyards in the north of the Island, who produce internationally acclaimed pinot noir, and welcome wine tourists all year round for tasting and other special events.