New Zealand’s South Island is a wild place filled with magnificent attractions and of course, many amazing things to see and do. I fell in love with the South Island so much that I decided to call it home. And ever since, I’ve fallen in love more and more every day that I’ve been lucky enough to explore all corners of the South Island.
For new or returning visitors you’re about to go on an epic adventure that I’m sure will be filled with bucket list experiences you’ll remember for the rest of your life. You may even return one day to call the South Island home (just as I did!)
To help you plan your upcoming adventure I’ve come up with over 50 amazing things to do on the South Island. From epic hikes to unique adventure activities to those must-do NZ experiences, here’s the only list you need to plan your visit!
This list will begin with activities you can do all over the South Island before breaking down into regions with location-specific attractions.
Things to do all over the South Island
1. Go bungy jumping
Commercial bungy was born on the South Island of New Zealand! In fact, the first-ever commercial bungy in the world was the Kawarau Bridge Bungy and it’s now considered one of the best adventure activities in Queenstown. That’s why there’s no better place to bungy jump in New Zealand than on the South Island.
When it comes to the best place to bungy, Queenstown really is the place to go. There’s not one but three places to bungy in Queenstown all offering a unique experience. The first is the 43 meter-high Kawarau Bridge Bungy which offers fantastic views and the bragging rights as the first-ever commercial bungy jump in the world. This is also the only place on the South Island where you can do a tandem bungy jump (perfect for any thrill-seekers on their honeymoon in Queenstown.)
Next up is the Ledge Bungy. This bungy jump is located right in Queenstown at the top of the gondola. The bungy is only 47 meters high but with an elevation gain of 480 meters over Queenstown it sure has the best views!
Last is the Nevis Bungy which is the tallest in NZ at 134 meters! Although the views don’t compare to the above two options, you’ll get one hell of an adrenaline rush. To me, this is the best option when it comes to an adrenaline-filled activity on the South Island.
Fun fact: New Zealand spells it “bungy” jumping (not “bungee” like the rest of the world.) This is how they spelled it back in the day when the first commercial bungy jump opened, so the spelling has remained to this day!
Without a doubt, bungy jumping is one of the best things to do on the South Island. So what are you waiting for? Take the plunge!
2. Relax in some hot springs
After a day exploring New Zealand’s South Island what could be more rewarding than relaxing in warm hot springs? Soothe those muscles and get some much-needed relaxation time while you’re at it!
There is a huge range of hot springs all over the South Island of New Zealand and they range from natural outdoor springs to indoor heated pools. Here are the 7 best you need to check out:
Omarama Hot Tubs (Omarama) – These artificially heated hot tubs sit in a beautiful valley with the Southern Alps as a backdrop. The tubs are private so it’s a really intimate experience located in the town of Omarama near Mount Cook National Park.
Onsen Hot Pools (Queenstown) – The Onsen Hot Pools are the most popular hot pools in NZ. They overlook the Shotover River near Queenstown and the private setting makes them one of the best. Be sure to book in advance though as this is one of the most popular relaxing activities in Queenstown!
Kamana Lakehouse (Queenstown) – This next hot pool is located in Queenstown as well and it has arguably the best views of any hot springs on this list. Unfortunately, only guests who stay at Kamana Lakehouse can use them, however, the hotel itself is one magnificent place to stay in Queenstown.
Glacier Hot Pools (Franz Josef) – This is one of my favorite public hot pools on the South Island. Set in a beautiful tropical garden in, the three pools provide the most relaxing place to unwind after exploring the best things to do in Franz Josef. They also have private experiences available but the public pools cost less than $30 NZD to enjoy.
Tekapo Springs (Lake Tekapo) – Tekapo Springs is another very popular public hot spring on the South Island. Set near the shores of Lake Tekapo the springs have magnificent views over the blue lake. Better yet, visit at night and see the stars in an official dark sky reserve!
Maruia Hot Springs (Lewis Pass) – One of the least known hot springs on the South Island is Maruia Hot Springs. Located on the beautiful Lewis Pass these natural thermal spas will have you soaking up minerals and giving your skin some much-needed pampering.
Waiho Hot Tubs (Franz Josef) – For a more luxurious and private experience in Franz Josef visit the Waiho Hot Tubs. Situated among stunning rainforest, the hot tubs offer a very intimate experience for up to 4 people. Also, the water is changed out between visits so it’s always fresh!
3. Go on a road trip
Road trips are what make the South Island such an awesome place to visit. I myself have done so many that I’m now an expert at finding the best places to stop between each destination. Don’t believe me? Then check out the road trip category on my blog. You’ll find all the best itineraries there as well as lots of road trip ideas (there’s too many to talk about here!)
Without a doubt, the best way to road trip around the South Island is in a campervan or motorhome. “Vanlife”, as it’s called, is an adventurous way to travel that has you staying in remote DOC campsites, freedom camping spots, and holiday parks. You’ll have your very own home on wheels and get to explore the South Island at your own pace. Plus, staying in a campervan is generally much cheaper than hotels!
Campervan rentals start at around $100 NZD per day, but for two people in a comfortable van, you’d best budget around $200 NZD. Of course, motorhome rentals in New Zealand cost a lot more but they are pretty comfortable. With that said, traveling in winter will save you a ton as discounted winter rates are always available. The best place to find a campervan or motorhome is on Motorhome Republic. It’s a huge search engine for rentals (similar to Booking.com for hotels!)
Of course, if you don’t want to live in a vehicle you can also rent a car in New Zealand and explore. It’s cheap and by using the website Discover Cars you’ll find great deals. Once you have your transport you’ll need to plan your routes and stops. To help, check out my blog about the best road trips on the South Island!
4. Go jet boating
On a high-powered boat, you’ll scream across the water doing 360’s and coming within inches of rocks, trees, you name it. You’ll get wet, let out a few screams, and have so much fun.
On the South Island, Queenstown is the home of jet boating in New Zealand and being a local there means I’ve been lucky enough to go more than a few times. There are actually 5 jet boating experiences that leave from Queenstown – talk about being spoilt for choice!
Most jet boating tours around the South Island are the same. You’ll basically book your tour based on the amount of time in the jet boat and most tours run for 1 hour. Then with your experienced guide, you’ll set off and his job is to scare you as much as possible in that time. Most tours also involve a talk about the area at beautiful locations.
Jet boating is easily one of the best activities you can do on the South Island and the best part is that tours start from as low as $50 NZD! Some of the other best locations include one of the three operators in Wanaka, Tekapo Jet in Lake Tekapo, Waiaurahiri Jet in Fiordland National Park, Discovery Jet near Mt Hutt, and Goldfields Jet between Queenstown and Cromwell.
5. Hit the slopes
Did you know I came all the way to New Zealand from Canada to enjoy my first ski season? A pretty silly thing to do when I think about it now, but “Spring” skiing all year round sounded like my kind of season! The winter temperatures in New Zealand are pretty mild and remind me of what I could expect in Canada in the Spring months.
There are ski fields (resorts) all over New Zealand, but mostly on the South Island. The ski season in NZ runs from around the start of June to the middle of October depending on where you are. To play it safe, go in July and August for the best conditions.
I’ve personally only ever skied on the South Island in NZ visiting 4 different ski fields in that time. If you want to ski on the South Island then heading to Queenstown or Wanaka is the best option as there are 4 ski fields (The Remarkables, Coronet Peak, Cardrona, and Treble Cone) in that area with another large one near Christchurch called Mt Hutt. In fact, skiing is easily one of the best things to do in Queenstown in the winter.
There are also a few other small ski fields on the South Island. These include Ōhau, Mt. Lyford, Mt. Dobson, Porters Alpine Resort, Roundhill Ski Area, and many more you can check out here. I’ve never visited the small family-run resorts but I have heard amazing things especially if you love off-the-beaten-path experiences!
6. Go on a scenic flight
I did my first ever scenic flight on the South Island of NZ and to this day it’s still hard to process the experience! I chose to do my scenic flight in Mount Cook National Park and without sounding biased, it’s got to be the most beautiful place to do it.
In a helicopter I soared above the Southern Alps coming so close to Mount Cook I felt as though I could reach out and touch its sharp peak. We also landed on a glacier, which in itself was an experience I’ll never forget. If you’ve never done a scenic flight before then consider making the South Island your first!
You can do scenic flights all over the South Island and although Mount Cook is a great place to do it, I also have Milford Sound on my bucket list. Other places to consider include Franz Josef, the Marlborough Sounds, Kaikoura, Wanaka, and Queenstown – there are lots of scenic flight options in Queenstown! Without a doubt, a scenic flight is one of the best activities on the South Island of New Zealand.
7. Tour Boutique Wineries
Did I move to the South Island for the gorgeous landscapes, food, and lifestyle – or was it for the wine? Who knows, maybe it was a little bit of everything…but the wine certainly helped!
Regardless though, if you love wine you’ll love the South Island. You’ll find some of the best boutique wineries here that produce amazing wine. The best part is there isn’t a South Island itinerary that doesn’t bring you close to a winery!
Some of the best wine regions to check out on New Zealand’s South Island are:
Central Otago – My hometown doesn’t disappoint when it comes to wine, and without a doubt one of the most romantic things to do in Queenstown is to tour the Gibbston Valley on a wine tour. The Central Otago Wine Region is one of the best and most beautiful. Within that region is the Gibbston Valley, my absolute favorite place to tour the best wineries and drink wine on a hot summer’s day in Queenstown.
Marlborough – With the South Island’s beautiful beaches, bays, and islands it’s no wonder the Marlborough Sounds is one fabulous place to drink wine. Visit the wineries on a tour or let your designated driver lead the way.
Nelson – Nelson is a small and rather unknown (to visitors) wine region on the South Island. It’s well known for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.
Waitaki Valley – Located in Northern Otago on the east coast, Waitaki is a small wine region that produces amazing Pinot Noir.
North Canterbury – Last is the North Canterbury Wine Region. This popular wine region is located north of Christchurch along the South Island’s stunning eastern coastline. It’s the perfect place to try a variety of wines with stunning views.
8. Hike one of the South Island’s Great Walks
The Great Walks are some of New Zealand’s most amazing multi-day hikes. There are 10 Great Walks and they’re known as some of the most diverse in the country showcasing New Zealand’s unique landscapes, flora, and fauna. They’ve been hand-picked by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and hiking part or all of at least one Great Walk is a must.
The trails are spread over both islands and range in difficulty and length. One of the Great Walks, the Whanganui Journey is actually a canoe trip down a river and not a hike at all! I’ve done it before and wow, what an adventure! Personally, though, I love the 6 Great Walks on the South Island the most. My favorites are the Routeburn Track and Kepler Track. Both are alpine hikes on the South Island with some of the most magnificent views in New Zealand!
On the Great Walks, you’ll stay in either campsites or New Zealand huts if you plan to hike the entire trail or go overnight. Of course, you can do shorter day hikes on some of the Great Walks completely free, which I do often!
The 6 Great Walks on the South Island are:
Abel Tasman Coastal Track
The Great Walks do need to be booked before you go if you plan on spending the night. Trails such as the Milford, Kepler, and Routeburn Track book up months in advance. If you plan on hiking one of the above trails, be sure to do some research before you go and plan ahead to avoid disappointment!
Related Read: Another great way to combine hiking and sightseeing (and not have the hassle of planning it all) is on a multi-day guided tour in New Zealand!
9. See glowworms
Can you really come to New Zealand and not see glowworms? Although not entirely unique to New Zealand, you won’t see the sheer number occupying the inside of caves and lighting them up like a starry night sky anywhere else. I was blown away the first time I saw them.
You can see glowworms all over New Zealand and on both islands. And, if I’m being honest seeing them on the North Island is a much better experience. Places such as the Waipu and Waitomo Caves are hard to beat. With that said, there are some good places to see glowworms on the South Island too.
The two best places are:
Te Anau Glowworm Caves – One of the youngest glowworm caves in New Zealand at only 12,000 years old is the Te Anau Glowworm Caves. Because they’re located so close to Queenstown, they are popular especially for those who road trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound. This is easily one of the best things to do in Te Anau and done on a guided tour.
Paparoa National Park – Next is the glowworm caves on the west coast of the South Island in Paparoa National Park. These caves are visited on an epic cave tubing tour that has you floating below what appears like the night sky. It’s an adventure activity as well as a glowworm cave tour!
10. Spend the night in a mountain hut
New Zealand is famous for its 950 mountain huts dotted all over the country. From the Southern Alps to the epic coastlines of the North Island there are huts everywhere for hikers to take refuge and spend a night.
These huts range in size and comfort level but can be broken down into 4 categories; Great Walk huts, serviced huts, standard huts, and free huts. Prices vary depending on the hut, and bookings are required for the most popular huts in NZ.
On all the Great Walks there are mountain huts, but below I’ll list the best South Island huts you can hike to in a day and spend one night. I’ve stayed at them all and you should seriously consider adding them to your South Island bucket list!
Mueller Hut – This is my favorite hut on the South Island! Located in Mt Cook National Park its location over the valley is out of this world. The hut costs $45 NZD per night and needs to be booked in advance in the summer months. In winter, it’s first come, first serve but still costs the same. Getting there is easily one of the best hikes in Mount Cook National Park.
Brewster Hut – On the rugged west coast of the South Island the Brewster Hut sits high above the clouds accessed by a gruelingly steep 3-hour hiking trail. It’s more off the beaten path than most and only sleeps 12 people.
Luxmore Hut – The Luxmore Hut is the most breathtaking hut on the Kepler Track. Although part of the 3 days trail, you can hike up to the Luxmore Hut for the night and back down the same way the next day.
Routeburn Falls Hut – Another Great Walk hut you can visit for a night is the Routeburn Falls Hut. Once again, its location is magnificent and the views over the valley are epic. If you’re up for the challenge, hiking to the Routeburn Falls Hut and back again is one of the day hikes you can do on the Routeburn Track.
Liverpool Hut – Last is the Liverpool Hut located in Mount Aspiring National Park. The hut is accessed via the Liverpool Track which is a 15-kilometer advanced hike each way. Once there you can enjoy this tiny 10 bunk alpine hut.
Be sure to click the link for each hut for more info on bookings and the difficulty of each huts’ hiking trail.
11. Go stargazing
With such a small population you don’t have to go far to see the stars without any light pollution on the South Island. I actually first started astrophotography in NZ and haven’t looked back – I love it.
The Milky Way core is only visible on the South Island during winter but at any time of the year, you can see amazing stars and even do stargazing tours. The most popular place is Lake Tekapo. In the region, there is an official dark sky reserve, and on the tour, you’ll visit the Mt John Observatory to stare through a high-powered telescope at the planets. It’s one of the best things to do in Lake Tekapo.
Other places you can view the stars include Queenstown, Glenorchy, Wanaka, and anywhere outside a large city or town. Seriously, on the South Island, the stars come alive!
Oh, and did I mention the Southern Lights? Yep, that’s right, during the wintertime you can see the Southern Hemisphere’s answer to the Northern Lights. You do have to check the forecast and have a little luck on your side, but if you do get to see them, you’ll be amazed!
12. Drink the best craft beer on the South Island
The craft beer scene on the South Island has exploded in recent years. Nowadays, in just about every city and tourist town, you can drink delicious NZ craft beer straight from the tap. For beer lovers like myself, trying a little craft beer in each town and city is one of the best things to do on the South Island.
There’s certainly no shortage of craft beer in Queenstown, in fact, there are four breweries within a 30-minute drive of town that you can either visit on your own or on a tour. The same goes for Wanaka which is actually home to the most craft breweries per capita in NZ!
There are many more breweries all over the South Island so be sure to look them up in each city and town you plan on visiting – you’ll be surprised just how many there are! Also, before going ask if they offer a brewery tour. They’re usually free and involve a tasting!
13. Sample the local cusine
New Zealand is the perfect place to stuff your face with great food. One of the most famous foods to try is a New Zealand Meat pie.
My partner is Australian and loves meat pies. However, you may be surprised to know that he says the best meat pies come from New Zealand, and I agree (sorry Aussies!) The best part is they are literally everywhere on the South Island, seriously, I don’t think you’ll ever be more than 15 minutes from a meat pie.
You can get a huge range of flavors but my favorite is steak and mushroom, steak and blue cheese, lamb, or butter chicken. There isn’t one single must-try place but be sure to hit up the small corner store bakeries. Support the local businesses and you’ll find the best pies in NZ!
Other than pies, be sure to try some New Zealand lamb and if you get a chance a Hāngi (a traditional underground oven used by the Maori.)
Another adventure activity you can do all over the South Island is skydiving. Now, this sport may not have been born in NZ, but after going twice I can say it’ll make you feel more fear and excitement than you’ve ever felt before. Afterward though, you’ll be so high from the feeling you won’t be able to wipe the smile off your face.
Without a doubt, the best place to skydive in New Zealand is on the South Island. I might be a little biased, but hear me out. Imagine skydiving over the breathtaking Southern Alps! Falling from 9,000, 12,000, or 15,000 feet over huge mountain peaks, glaciers, and lakes. It’s basically a scenic flight and skydive all in one – not that you’ll remember much of it!
Fun fact: When you skydive it’s hard to remember the jump because you get a thing called sensory overload. That’s why you need to get the video!
Some of the best places to skydive on the South Island include Queenstown, Glenorchy, Franz Josef, and Wanaka. Using the links above you can book your jump in so you don’t chicken out – that’s what I did!
15. Go on a bike ride
Bike riding on the South Island has to be one of the best ways to get around and explore the stunning natural landscapes. There are trails everywhere and even some hiking trails and bike-rider friendly. Some of the best places to go bike riding include my hometown, Queenstown. In Queenstown, there are a ton of awesome bike trails to explore and even some really crazy downhill tracks.
Other places to enjoy a bike ride include trails around Wanaka, Franz Josef, The Catlins, Punakaiki, Abel Tasman, and the Marlborough Sounds. Seriously, no matter where you’re visiting there’s a place to rent and ride a bike!
Things to do in Otago and the Lakes District
The Lakes District on the South Island is known for, you guessed it – plenty of beautiful freshwater lakes! This region includes my hometown of Queenstown, Wanaka, Kingston, and Glenorchy. These next best things to do on the South Island are all located in and around these towns so be sure to add them to your bucket list if you’re heading this way.
16. Explore Glenorchy and Paradise
Glenorchy is one of the most picturesque towns in New Zealand. I love a day trip to Glenorchy via the stunning Glenorchy-Queenstown Road.
There are actually a ton of awesome things to do in Glenorchy and one of my favorites is this tour with Wilderness Jet. On this epic jet boating experience, you’ll zoom down the Dart River making crazy twists and turns on a thrilling jet boat ride. After, you’ll get off in a remote region called Paradise (yes there’s a place called Paradise) to explore on a guided walk. It’s a nature and adventure tour in one.
Of course, if you’re looking for a free thing to do in Glenorchy consider walking the Glenorchy Walkway. This 5-kilometer (3-mile) completely flat walk takes you through the Glenorchy Lagoon to view stunning reflections of the Humboldt Mountain Range. It’s an easy hike that’ll take your breath away.
Regardless of what you do, you need to explore Glenorchy so be sure to read up on my blogs before you go!
Related read: Love hiking? There are a ton of awesome hikes on Glenorchy for all fitness levels.
17. Go on a Lord of the Rings Tour
Any Lord of the Rings fans here? If you are then you already know the movies were filmed in New Zealand. All over the country, you can visit famous film locations.
Living in Queenstown means I have a ton right at my doorstep, in fact, in the small town of Glenorchy you’ll find lots of famous scenes including Isengard, Ithilien Camp, Forest of Fangorn, and more! Visiting them is one of the best free things to do in Glenorchy. You can also choose to join a Glenorchy LOTR tour from Queenstown, which is a super popular option!
Obviously, there are a ton more so if you’re a LOTR fan be sure to check out the best film locations around NZ before you go. Map them out and hit the road!
18. Cruise Lake Wakatipu
A scenic cruise on Lake Wakatipu is the perfect way to take in Queenstown’s stunning scenery. Cruises depart from right in town and head along Lake Wakatipu towards Glenorchy and back.
There are two different scenic cruises you can choose between in Queenstown. The first cruise is on the Spirit of Queenstown vessel operated by Southern Discoveries and involves riding on a catamaran. This cruise goes the furthest along the lake, and it’s also one of the cheapest things to do in Queenstown at about $59 NZD per person. For an extra special experience, you can book their sunset dining cruise and wine and dine with some of the best views around!
The other scenic cruise is onboard the TSS Earnslaw operated by Real Journeys. It’s the last remaining vessel from the gold rush and somewhat of a historic experience. The TSS Earnslaw is a traditional coal-powered ship where you can actually observe workers shoveling coal into the burner as you cruise along the lake. You can combine this scenic cruise with a gourmet BBQ lunch that is super tasty and one of the best meals you can have in Queenstown – trust me on this!
I’ve done both cruises and honestly can say they are both great! The TSS Earnslaw is unique in the fact it is coal-powered, but it is also always a lot busier onboard and almost double the price. The Spirit of Queenstown is a more relaxing journey with a smaller group on board and plenty of space. Ultimately the choice is yours, but just do one or the other, there is no need to do both.
19. Ride the Skyline Gondola and the Luge
The gondola in Queenstown takes visitors up 450 meters to the top of Bob’s Peak in a quick 5-minute ride. It’s from here that you’ll see that famous view of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, and The Remarkables – it’s easily one of the best views on the South Island!
The gondola leaves from the station at the end of Brecon Street right in Queenstown town center. The ride costs $44 NZD for adults and $26 for children. Package deals are available if you pair the gondola ride with the Luge, lunch or dinner buffets, as well as other experiences like stargazing tours.
Things to do at the top of the gondola at Bob’s Peak include some of NZ’s best ziplines, paragliding, hiking, and downhill mountain biking. The most family-friendly activity at the top of the gondola is riding the Luge! This gravity-pulled go-kart will have you racing down a track on the side of a mountain! The best part is that you control the speed, so if you’re nervous about it, just use the break and have a more controlled ride. But if you’re looking for a thrill, then let go of that break and you’ll fly (seriously, over the jumps you’ll get real air!)
But even if none of that interests you, the gondola ride alone is worthy of your time simply for the view – just be sure to go on a clear day when the clouds won’t block that picture-perfect photo.
The gondola runs every day all year round but times vary depending on the season and day of the week.
20. Hike Ben Lomond Track
Ben Lomond Track is one of my personal favorite trails on the South Island! It is a challenging hike, but the views are so worth it! The stunning scenery is breathtaking.
Ben Lomond Track officially starts at the end of the Tiki Trail at the Skyline building at the top of Bob’s Peak. You can choose to hike the Tiki Trail from Queenstown and then transfer onto Ben Lomond Track or take skip the Tiki Trail and take the gondola. Riding the gondola to the top of Bob’s Peak takes you directly to the start of Ben Lomond Track and makes the track a lot easier and shorter.
If you hike the entire Ben Lomond Track you will end at the summit of Ben Lomond. The views from here are unrivaled by any hike in the area! However, getting to the summit can be a challenge, and in some cases, dangerous when it’s slippery or icy. For this reason, I only recommend hiking to the saddle when trail conditions aren’t ideal.
From Queenstown, getting to Ben Lomond Summit and back down will have you covering 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) return, and gaining 1483 meters (4846 feet) in elevation. It’s a full-day hike that takes most people around 8 hours.
21. Walk up Queenstown Hill for sunrise
Hands down one of the most popular easy hikes in Queenstown is Queenstown Hill! Not only are the views from the top fantastic, but this trail also starts from right in Queenstown making it easily accessible. On Belfast Terrace, you’ll find a small parking lot and signs marking the Queenstown Hill trailhead. You can drive here (but might struggle to get parking during summer months) or walk from downtown Queenstown.
Queenstown Hill Track is an out and back trail that takes you high above Queenstown. At the top, you’ll find the Basket of Dreams which is a sculpture meant to inspire dreaming, as well as some seriously impressive viewpoints. The trail is 2.5 kilometers (1.55 miles) one way and gains about 600 meters in elevation from downtown Queenstown.
It is a really well-maintained trail that is easy to follow, and although somewhat steep in areas, not overly challenging. Most people complete the whole thing in under 3 hours.
Quick tip: If you do drive up to the trailhead at Belfast Terrace, you’ll knock a whopping 200 meter elevation gain off this hike!
22. Tackle Roy’s Peak
Roy’s Peak is an iconic hike on the South Island of New Zealand. The trail starts just outside of Wanaka and is hiked in one day. Although stunning, the trail is considered hard. In fact, there is over a 1,300-meter elevation gain over the 16-kilometer trail. Certainly not for the faint-hearted.
Once at the top though, you’ll get to enjoy one of the best viewpoints in NZ. Stare out over Lake Wanaka and the Southern Alps. You can even spot Mt Aspiring.
Roys Peak is easily the best activity you can do in Wanaka and a must-do for hiking enthusiasts!
23. Eat Fergburger
Fergburger is arguably the most popular place to eat in Queenstown. Visitors from all over the world come to try what many claim to be the best burger in New Zealand (and even the world!) Seriously, Fergburger is so popular that you’ll find a line-up out the door even at 10 am!
Before I ate there for myself I was unsure if the hype was warranted, but now I’m totally sold. The bun is fresh, the patty is juicy, and the selection of sauces and cheese make this quick burger meal feel gourmet. They have a selection of different burgers available including a vegetarian option, but my personal favorite is the Classic Ferg with blue cheese – don’t judge me until you try it!
Eating at Fergburger is one of those “must-do” things to do in Queenstown as a tourist.
Ferg is open daily from 8 am to 4:30 am (you read that right, that’s 18.5 hours!) If you want to skip the line, phone in your order and pick it up for takeout (that’s what us locals always do!)
24. Get a photo with the Wanaka Tree
Easily the most famous tree in New Zealand, if not, the Southern Hemisphere. The Wanaka Tree tells a story of resilience, it has stood the test of time despite flooding and storms in the area. The ‘Tree’ as it is known locally, is extremely photogenic – with the Southern Alps standing proudly in the background.
Aim to get to the Tree for sunrise or sunset for the best photo opp. The Wanaka Tree is a short walk from the town center, it is located along the Lakefront at Roy’s Bay – look for the crowds gathered at the far end of the lake and you’ve found it.
This tree even has its own hashtag #thatwanakatree. This is a must-visit stop on the South Island for photographers who come to shoot this unique attraction. It’s easily one of the best things to do in Wanaka.
25. Spend a day in Arrowtown
Arrowtown is an old gold mining town located only a 20-minute drive from Queenstown. Visiting is a must-do even just for half a day from Queenstown. With that said, It’s very popular to spend a night or two here and enjoy a place much quieter and more relaxing than Queenstown.
The town itself is cute and the streets are lined with old architecture. Go for a day of shopping, a short hike, enjoy some amazing cafes, and even have lunch/dinner at The Blue Door or Slow Cuts. Both places are unique in their own way but serve amazing food and even local craft beer. Seriously, there are a ton of awesome things to do in Arrowtown.
26. Hike Isthmus Peak
Isthmus Peak is known as the “other Roy’s Peak”. The trail starts just outside of Wanaka, and although it’s less popular than Roy’s Peak, is still considered one of the best hikes in Wanaka. The trail is slightly easier (only just) than Roy’s Peak with a 1,113-meter elevation gain over 8 kilometers (5 miles) one way. But it’s still really hard!
The views from Isthmus Peak rival those at Roy’s Peak only you get to enjoy them without the crowds, which I love. Isthmus Peak is perfect for the hiker who really wants to avoid the large crowds that Roy’s Peak attracts. It’s beautiful, and one of the best free things to do in Wanaka!
27. Watch the sunset at Nugget Point
Moving all the way over on the east coast of the South Island sits the epic coastline of Nugget Point. This famous viewpoint and lighthouse is one of the best places to visit on the South Island especially for those driving from Dunedin to Invercargill or those heading north from the Catlins to Christchurch. Like other stops on this list, you’ll only need a short amount of time to enjoy it but if you can, come at sunset.
Stare out at the rough seas and enjoy the rocky coastline and huge cliffs as the sunsets. Or, come at night to see the stars or even the Southern Lights! It’s really a magical place!
28. Surf/explore the coast in Dunedin
I must admit, Dunedin isn’t a city I personally love on the South Island. With that said, the surrounding beaches and landscapes are! When I visit Dunedin I often only spend my nights in the city and during the day I’m out exploring places such as Tunnel Beach.
Tunnel Beach is the most beautiful place to visit in Dunedin and via a short 20 minute walking trail from the parking lot you can venture down to see the rock formations up close. Low tide is the best time to go and you can access the beach (although I wouldn’t recommend swimming as there are strong currents in the area.)
If you love surfing then I suggest you head to St Clair Beach. It’s one of the best surf spots on the South Island. You can rent a board and a much-needed wetsuit right from the beach so even without your own gear you can give this activity a go.
In the city, I recommend visiting the steepest street in the world. Seriously, Baldwin Street in Dunedin has the title and lots of visitors get some cool photos there. Other than that, some other fun things to do in Dunedin include visiting a museum, walking the Dunedin Street Art Trail, or even just going out for drinks on the town!
Related read: For information on an epic road trip, read my blog about the drive from Queenstown to Dunedin.
29. See the Moerakai Boulders
The most unique attraction I’ve seen on the South Island of New Zealand is the Moeraki Boulders. As you wander Moeraki Beach just north of Dunedin, you’ll come across perfectly round rocks in the sand. Some have cracked open like eggs, others are still intact, but one thing is for sure…they’re weird!
Apparently, the boulders are formed by erosion from the ocean but it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Visiting the boulders only takes an hour or so and there is a café nearby with parking and access to the beach. They do require a small fee to use the beach access though.
If you don’t want to pay, you can also access the boulders via the DOC parking lot nearby. Just be sure to look on Google Maps and go to the public parking area, not the café.
As far as interesting things to do on the South Island go, Moeraki Boulders is a clear winner!
30. Explore the Catlins
Technically in Southland and Otago, the Catlins is one of my favorite places to road trip. Not only does it remain off the beaten path when compared to other regions buts it’s also a wild place with very few people. What it lacks in people though, it makes up with waterfalls, wildlife, and unique attractions. Seriously, it’s my kinda place!
The best way to explore the Catlins is to drive. Start either north from Dunedin or from the South near Invercargill. Head out and explore giving yourself at least two days. Freedom camp along the way or stay in small guest houses either way you’ll fall in love. Some places you need to check out include Curio Bay, Koropuku Falls, Mc Lean FAlls, Slope Point, Jack’s Blowhole, Surat Bay, MAtai Falls, Cathedral Caves, Lake Wilkie, and many more. Just be sure to skip “Niagara Falls” – trust me!
The West Coast
The West Coast region in New Zealand is known as one of the wildest places to explore. Home to Glacier Country, more waterfalls than you can count, stunning mountain views, and lush rainforests it’s certainly a place you need to explore on the South Island. This region includes Franz Josef, Fox Glacier, Punakaiki, West Port, and more.
31. See the famous Pancake Rocks
The Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki are a famous rock formation created over millions of years. As the name suggests, the rocks appear like pancakes stacked on top of each other and there is a large boardwalk that navigates the rock formation for visitors. At sunset, it’s stunning and the boardwalk gives you a clear view of this wild coastline. I was certainly surprised at just how long and well built the boardwalk was!
Along that boardwalk is also the famous Blow Hole. At high tide, you can see the huge power of water beneath the rock that shoots up the hole – it’s impressive to see! This hole has carved its way through the rock over thousands of years and one day may even destroy part of the Pancake Rocks.
32. Take in views of the Franz Josef and Fox Glacier
Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are two of the most accessible glaciers in NZ. Without a tour, you can hike to two viewpoints of the glaciers and get a close look at these huge pieces of ice.
The Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk is a 5.4-kilometer (3.4-mile) return track that is considered easy to moderate and should take most people 1 hour and 30 minutes to complete. The first section of the track is easy and leads to an excellent view of the glacier. It then continues along the riverbed to Trident Falls – this part of the trail is shingle and rock-covered track so appropriate footwear is recommended. The last part of the hike is an uphill climb to the glacier viewpoint.
The scenery is truly stunning! But, exercise caution and stay behind the barrier at all times. Being too close to an actively moving glacier is dangerous as ice and rockfall from the terminal face without warning.
From the end of the trail, you can see the glacier clearly, however, it does sit somewhat in the distance. Unfortunately, Franz Josef Glacier is retreating so the viewpoint is no longer as close as it once was. With that said, this is the best free way to get close to Franz Josef Glacier. If you want a closer look, you can book a heli-ice hiking tour from Franz Josef and explore the glacier up close.
Just over 25 minutes drive from Franz Josef is the popular Fox Glacier. At a whopping 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) in length, Fox Glacier is the West Coast’s longest glacier. It’s also accessed via a walking trail around the same length as Franz Josef. With that said, You get slightly closer to the glacier face. You can also arrange a heli ice-trekking adventure or book a scenic helicopter flight to see the stunning glacier from above.
33. Visit Lake Matheson
Just a 30-minute drive from Franz Josef town on the West Coast sits the gorgeous Lake Matheson. It’s said to be one of the most photographed lakes in New Zealand. On a clear day, be sure to have your camera handy as you will see both Mount Cook and Mount Tasman reflected on the surface of the lake.
To get the famous view of the lake you need to walk a 40-minute trail from the parking lot to the viewpoint called “reflection island” or undertake a slightly longer walk at 1.5 hours round-trip which takes you all the way around the lake. On your walk, you will see the Clearwater River suspension bridge as well as tall rimu and kahikatea trees. If you look closely you may spy long-finned eels in the dark water of the lake. If you want, you can even join a guided nature walk to Lake Matheson.
This is one of my favorite reflections on the South Island and many other photographers will agree!
34. Hokitika Gorge
New Zealand’s rivers on the South Island are stunning. They’re often glacier-fed and rock flour in the glacier melt gives the rivers a bright blue color – especially on a sunny day! A great example of this is the powerful Hokitika River that runs through the Hokitika Gorge.
On any South Island/West Coast road trip, you simply must make a stop here and enjoy the short 2-kilometer walk to the gorge and its viewpoints. There’s not much to do there except stare at the powerful river and take photos, but it’s so beautiful it just had to make my list of best things to do on the South Island.
Hokitika Gorge is located about a 30-minute drive from Hokitika town center. You can park at the Hokitika Gorge Parking for free.
Related Read: Many people stop at the Hokitika Gorge on their drive from Christchurch to Franz Josef, Franz Josef to Punakaiki, or any other road trip along the West Coast.
35. Visit the Blue Pools
Traveling down the South Island’s West Coast is a wild adventure filled with amazing stops. One of the best and most famous is the Blue Pools located just north of Wanaka.
The Blue Pools are most often visited on a West Coast road trip, driving from Wanaka to Franz Josef.
This unique attraction takes visitors on a short walk across two suspension bridges to arguably the bluest river in New Zealand. At this river, there is a calm pool that in the summer, is a very popular swimming area. From above, the pools are breathtaking and on the beach, you can soak up the sun in paradise.
Visiting is one of the best things to do on the South Island and something I’ve done on more than one occasion. Just be sure to bring bug spray because the little black flies leave a long-lasting bite!
36. Hike Rob Roy Glacier Track
If you want to explore beautiful valleys and spot hanging glaciers, then Rob Roy Glacier Track is a top choice located just outside of Wanaka in Mt Aspiring National Park (which is on the West Coast of the South Island). The trail is a 10-kilometer (6.2 miles) return hike with a steady elevation gain of 450 meters. In total, it only takes 3 hours to hike the trail so it’s a perfect half-day hike on the South Island.
The views along the way are typical of New Zealand, just imagine blue rivers, tussock grass, New Zealand sheep, and of course that epic view of Rob Roy Glacier (and the waterfalls the glacier creates below!) The trail is popular, so if you plan on visiting in the summer, be sure to set off early!
Canterbury is one of my favorite regions in New Zealand. It’s home to places such as Mount Cook National Park, Twizel, Omarama, Lake Tekapo, Christchurch, and Kaikoura. Basically, many of the best places to visit on the South Island and it offers such a diverse range of landscapes as well as flora and fauna.
37. Drive through Lindis Pass
Driving through Lindis Pass is truly a unique experience, the landscape and scenery here are unlike anywhere else in New Zealand. At Lindis Pass, huge tussock-covered mountains surround you on every turn of your journey. It’s one of the best stops between Queenstown and Mount Cook.
At the highest point on the Lindis Pass, you will spot a sign for ‘Lookout’. Park in the parking lot here and take the short trail to the lookout point. The platform at the lookout point is 971 meters above sea level and gives an astounding vantage point of the unusual landscape of the Lindis Conservation Area. You will also spot Longslip Mountain range here, standing tall at just under 1500 meters!
For an even better view, you can duck under the animal fence and walk up the hill a little. As you can see from the picture above, the views are even better!
The Lindis Pass road is 63 kilometers (39 miles) long in total and is similar to the Crown Range road in that it has lots of sharp twists and turns. So, I recommend being an experienced driver to drive this road.
38. Hike the Hooker Valley Track
The Hooker Valley Track is at the top of everyone’s New Zealand bucket list, and rightly so. It’s the trail every visitor to the South Island and Mount Cook National Park should do.
The Hooker Valley Track is a relatively flat trail 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) each way that leads through the Hooker Valley (duh!) The trail crosses three suspension bridges over the Hooker River before you arrive at Hooker Lake. The views are beautiful and from the edge of the lake, you can see Mount Cook’s beautiful reflection on the water and also the Hooker Glacier in the distance.
All up, it only takes around 2 to 3 hours to hike the trail and it’s well maintained and suited to families!
39. See the sunrise at Tasman Lake
One of my favorite walks on the South Island is the trail to the Tasman River in Mount Cook National Park. The track leads to a famous viewpoint among photographers who come to the edge of the lake to capture amazing sunrises over the glacier, mountains, and the many icebergs in the lake. I’ve personally spent two sunrises here and loved them!
This almost isn’t a hike because it’s so short, but that makes it great for families. The trail only takes around 20 minutes to walk each way. If you want to watch that glorious sunrise you need to follow the signs to the Tasman River. It’s at the river mouth at the lake where you get the best view and also where you’ll find the icebergs! This must be the shortest hike with the biggest reward on the South Island!
40. Take the famous Mount Cook road photo
While traveling the South Island you’ll want to capture some amazing photos to return home with. If you do add Mount Cook to your South Island itinerary then be sure to get this next photo! This is a favorite stop for Instagram lovers and myself.
This stop is about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Mount Cook Village, before the airport. When you start to see Mount Cook’s peak in the distance, slow down as you’re nearly there. You will come to a long stretch of road that has four small streams in a row on it. It will be difficult to spot the streams from the car so use Maps.me to find them. After the first stream, you will see the road curve to the right with Mount Cook in the background. This is your spot!
This is a quick stop, of course, pull your car safely off the side of the road. Watch out for cars and turn your hazards on. The speed limit on this road is 60km/h so the cars can come up on you pretty quick. The trick to the photo is to stand back and use the zoom on your camera. Without it, Mount Cook appears small.
Although only a quick photo stop, this is easily one of the best things to do on the South Island!
41. Take in the blue waters of Lake Tekapo
Visiting Lake Tekapo is a must on any visit to the South Island! The lake is absolutely stunning and the color will blow you away. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself to know what you’re seeing is real!
One of the most popular activities in Lake Tekapo is to visit the tiny but stunning Church of the Good Shepherd. This Church is especially popular with photographers as the altar window frames a perfect view of the Southern Alps and the milky blue lake.
Did you know – Lake Tekapo is a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve meaning it’s one of the best places in the world to go stargazing. You can stargaze from a hot tub here at Tekapo Springs – what a way to enjoy the night sky all lit up with stars! You may be lucky enough to spot the Southern Lights too (the Southern hemisphere’s equivalent of the Northern Lights). If you want to get an even better view of the stars then you should definitely join a stargazing tour where you’ll head to Mount John Observatory to see them through a high-powered telescope.
Other activities in Lake Tekapo include going jet boating on the lake, wandering the lupin fields (colorful flowers) between October and January, and going for a coffee in town. There’s also an array of restaurants in Lake Tekapo including Our Dog Friday on Motuariki Lane for excellent burgers.
Related Read: Want to spend some time in Tekapo? Check out our guide about where to stay in Lake Tekapo!
42. Get to know Christchurch
Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island and the second-largest city in New Zealand (second to Auckland). It’s easily one of the best places to visit on the South Island!
You may be most familiar with Christchurch from the devastating earthquake that happened here in 2011. An interesting and thought-provoking activity in Christchurch is to visit the many sites that show the city’s dramatic rebuild since the earthquake. Some good places to see examples of the rebuild are Rolleston Avenue, Canterbury Museum and the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, and the Bridge of Remembrance.
There’s a host of family-friendly activities in Christchurch. My favorite is the International Antarctic Center located next to the airport. It’s a great way to spend a few hours and is sure to keep the whole family entertained. Here, there’s an Antarctic storm room, an immersive 4D cinema room, and the opportunity to learn more about the first expeditions to Antarctica.
The Christchurch Gondola is also a fun way to see Christchurch from high up. Offering 360-degree views of the city, the Southern Alps, as well as the Pacific Ocean. The gondola to the summit is 1000 meters and at the top, there are various walking tracks as well as a gift shop, cafe, and the Time Tunnel ride where you can learn all about the history of Christchurch.
As you can imagine, in a large city like Christchurch there are lots of excellent restaurants suitable for all tastebuds. My personal favorites include Earl a laidback eatery on Lichfield Street and the very popular Twenty Seven Steps on New Regent Street.
Related Read: A popular road trip is driving from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo – check out my blog all about the best stops along this route.
43. Drive Arthur’s Pass
If epic road trips along stunning highways are what you came to the South Island for then you’ll fall in love with the scenic drive through Arthurs Pass. This gorgeous drive is one of the only mountain roads that travel over the Southern Alps from east to west. Along the way, you’ll enjoy breathtaking views, explore hidden waterfalls, and even go on epic hikes.
My favorite of all the hikes and things to do on Arthur’s Pass is Avalanche Peak. This grueling day hike takes you high above the pass to summit Avalanche Peak. From the top, the views over the mountains are unmatched. Seriously, it’s as if you’re on top of the world!
If that trail seems a little hard for you then don’t worry, there’s plenty more. The Devils Punchball walking track is one of them and takes you to one of the most powerful waterfalls in New Zealand. It’s 131 meters tall and you can hike to the base of it via a short 20-minute trail. Of course, there’s lots more to do on Arthurs Pass, so be sure to get your bucket list ready before you go so you don’t miss a thing!
Arthurs Pass is one of the most famous highways on the South Island and driving it sure is a bucket list experience!
44. Visit Rakaia Gorge
I stumbled upon Rakaia Gorge on a road trip from Queenstown to Christchurch while trying to explore more hidden gems on the South Island. This majestic landscape will have you in awe and is a great place to stretch your legs and enjoy the sunshine. At Rakaia Gorge, you can walk the Rakaia Gorge Walkway along a 10 kilometer (6.2 miles) return walking track that traverses the edge of the gorge. It should take most walkers 3- 4 hours to complete.
The walkway passes through native forest, then climbs the historic ferryman’s track. From here, continue along one of several glacial and river-carved terraces to a fantastic lookout point. The track then leads downhill to a gully to the site of the former Snowdon coal mines. Here you will spot several coal mine tunnels and even the remains of mining extraction equipment.
Swimming at the river beneath the top bridges on the Rakaia Gorge is a popular activity among locals, but, beware the water is very cold.
Important information – be careful of wasps here from January to March. My advice is to wear light-colored clothing and carry antihistamines and bug spray.
45. Swim with Dolphina in Kaikoura
If you’re a lover of marine life (just like me) then you won’t want to leave Kaikoura off your New Zealand South Island things to-do list. This small coastal town is located in a marine life mecca with regular visits from large pods of dolphins, whales, and even its own seal colony.
What attracts marine life to Kaikoura is a continental shelf around 500 meters from the shore. This shelf plunges 2 kilometers below the surface and provides deep water for marine life to thrive in. Regardless of the reason though, you’re going to see wildlife.
One of the best activities in Kaikoura is swimming with wild dolphins. On this tour, you’ll gear up for the freezing water before jumping in to swim with dusky dolphins. You can even encounter seals in the water too! It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the best part is that it’s heavily controlled to protect the dolphins.
In Kaikoura, you can also join lots of other wildlife tours including whale watching and dolphin watching tours. In fact, whale watching tours in Kaikoura are even more popular than dolphin tours!
Related Read: there are also plenty of spots to see wildlife on the drive to Kaikoura from Christchurch as well as the drive from Kaikoura to Picton.
Moving towards the north of the South Island brings you to the Nelson/Marlborough region. This stunning region is known for its beautiful coastline, warmer weather, and wineries. I love road trips along the coast here and the abundance of marine life for visitors to see. It’s a vibrant place that’s full of life!
46. Cruise through the Marborough Sounds
Located at the very north of the South Island, the Marlborough Sounds are a sanctuary where wildlife thrives. The Marlborough Sounds are best explored on a scenic cruise from the town of Picton and on these cruises, you’ll explore the sounds in search of wildlife.
At first, you’ll spot rare birds and maybe even dolphins. After, it’s off to find sea lions on the many islands around the area. And finally, you’ll visit a predator-free island to look for penguins while enjoying a nature walk. You may even see a kiwi (the bird, not the people) as the islands are used by the DOC in conservation efforts to raise kiwis before being released in the wild elsewhere!
A famous hiking trail that navigates the sounds is the Queen Charlotte Track. This 73.5-kilometer-long trail is famous in the region and can be hiked for a day or over 4 to 5 if you want to complete the trail. Along the way stay in huts/campsites and enjoy the amazing views.
Aside from that, you can also explore the town of Picton and enjoy the magical scenery in the area. Take a drive along the coast from Picton towards Nelson, I guarantee you’ll be blown away by the region’s beauty!
Related Read: From Picton, consider driving down the coast to Christchurch. There are lots of great stops along this road trip that you won’t want to miss!
47. Get lost in Abel Tasman National Park
One of my favorite places on the South Island in the summer is Abel Tasman National Park. Not only does its location in the north provide much-needed warmer weather but the beautiful bays, beaches, and coves are some of the best in New Zealand. Honestly, if you thought the North Island had all the best beaches you were wrong! The South Island has plenty and many of the best beaches in New Zealand are actually located here.
Abel Tasman National Park is home to the Abel Tasman Coast Track which is one of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks. The trail is often hiked over 4 to 5 days and follows the coastline visiting secluded bays and beaches along the way. Of course, most people don’t hike the full trail since you can explore lots of the park on day trips from Nelson.
There is also a huge range of tours to the park and one of my favorites is the boat cruises. On them, you’ll explore the calm waters and visit beaches for a picnic lunch and a refreshing swim. It’s good exercise and really fun! Check out our guide to the best tours of Abel Tasman for more recommendations!
In winter, Abel Tasman National Park isn’t the most ideal place to explore on the South Island so I’d definitely save this for a summer trip!
48. Explore Milford Sound
Milford Sound is the most famous fiord in New Zealand. Carved by glaciers thousands of years ago, the fiord’s steep cliffs and unique marine life make it a spectacular place to visit. I myself, have explored Milford Sound countless times and every time I’m blown away.
Milford Sound is most commonly visited from Queenstown on an organized day trip. These Queenstown to Milford tours include transport to and from Milford Sound as well as a cruise through the fiord (the most common way to see Milford Sound.) Unfortunately, a guided tour like this takes around 13 hours simply because the journey to Milford Sound is almost 4 hours each way from Queenstown. To be honest, I’ve done this once and wouldn’t recommend it as my first choice!
Instead, I recommend booking this tour that includes a scenic flight one way from Milford Sound back to Queenstown. This way, the driving time is cut in half but you also get to enjoy the beautiful road to Milford. Not to mention, a scenic flight over Fiordland National Park is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Alternatively, spending a night in the closest town of Te Anau (118 kilometers away). There are lots of good hotels and hostels available in Te Anau. Or, even consider staying at the Milford Sound Lodge in Milford Sound is a great idea if you have that time. By doing so, you’ll be able to explore the region at your own pace and have a lot more time to do so. Be sure to stop at all of the best attractions on the road from Queenstown to Milford Sound.
Once in Milford Sound, you can choose to simply jump on a cruise, go kayaking, walk one of the amazing hikes in Milford, or even enjoy a scenic flight. There’s certainly no shortage of amazing things to do in Milford Sound!
49. Drive Milford Road
No visit to the south Island can be considered complete without a road trip to Milford Sound. In fact, this is the most popular thing to do in Te Anau. This route is considered one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand and is often called by its Maori name – Piopiotahi Highway. Without stopping the 118-kilometer long journey (one way) takes around 1.5 hours. But, I recommend allowing at least 4 hours on the drive to Milford as there is just so much to see along this route.
If you can’t drive or don’t feel comfortable doing so then you can take a coach tour from Te Anau to Milford Sound. These tours depart at various times throughout the morning and include stops at a few of the key points of interest along the road.
Here are the stops I think are worth seeing on the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound:
Lake Mistletoe Walking Track
First up is the Lake Mistletoe Walking Track just a 27-kilometer drive (16.8 miles) from Te Anau. This walk is located on the outskirts of Fiordland National Park. It’s an easy 45-minute walk that winds through native forest to gorgeous Lake Mistletoe. The lake is home to native ducks, frogs, and other fascinating lake life.
The Eglinton Valley is famous not only for its stunning golden tussock-covered valleys but because it was the location of the Misty Mountains in the Fellowship of the Ring. If you want to stretch your legs I recommend the East Eglinton Track but do be warned, it’s a challenging track. A high level of fitness is advised as well as experience with river crossings. The track takes 2 hours to the fork of the Eglinton River.
Just under 56 kilometers (37.8 miles) from Te Anau is the very popular Mirror Lakes walking track. A quick 400-meter walk on flat ground takes you into the aptly named Mirror Lakes – named so because of its reflective surface. On a calm day see the Earl Mountains reflect on the surface of the lake.
Lake Gunn Nature Walk
A short 45-minute walk that offers a true taste of the wilderness of Fiordland National Park (also one of the best hikes in Milford.) Spot mossy trees, stony beaches, and unique birdlife. The lake itself is located at 480 meters above sea level. Similar to Mirror Lakes – the surrounding mountains seemingly disappear into the flat surface of the lake. You can also spot paradise ducks here.
In the Hollyford Valley, Monkey Creek is a glacier-fed spring and is a popular stop on Milford Road. The water here is so pure you can drink it straight from the source! The name is deceiving as there are definitely no monkeys in Fiordland. The tale goes that this creek got its name from a European settler who lived in the area over 200 years ago. He had a pet dog named Monkey and so, decided to name this creek in his honor.
Rare Whio (blue duck) live in the creek and the car park is a good place to see the cheeky kea again.
Possibly one of the most recognizable stops on the road to Milford Sound is the Homer Tunnel – a 1.2-kilometer narrow tunnel that goes through a rocky cliff. Built in 1953, the construction of the tunnel took almost 20 years due to the dangerous nature of its location. Visiting the Homer Tunnel is most spectacular on a rainy day when the valley surrounding it has hundreds of skinny waterfalls gushing down its rocky face.
During the busy summer months, entry to the tunnel operates on a traffic lights system- so you won’t pass oncoming traffic inside the tunnel. In the winter months, these traffic lights aren’t in operation so be careful and drive slower inside the narrow tunnel.
Other worthy stops on the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound include The Divide, Key Summit Hike, Hollyford Lookout, Lake Marian, Gertrude Valley Lookout, and Hundred Falls.
50. Hike in Fiordland National Park
There are a ton of amazing things to do in Fiordland National Park and the majority of them are hikes. The park which spans all nine fiords ion the South Island is filled with breathtaking hiking trails that suit every fitness level.
One of my personal favorites is the Lake Marian Track. This stunning hike takes around 3 hours in total and leads to one of the most gorgeous alpine lakes in NZ. Another is the Key Summit Track. This trail is actually part of the Routeburn Track, however, a quick 45-minute detour from the trail takes you to the Key Summit. From here you can enjoy stunning views over Fiordland National Park. In total, the Key Summit takes around 3 hours return also.
Those looking for a shorter trail can hike the Milford Sound Lookout Track, the stunning walk to the Chasm Waterfall, or even the Mirror Lakes Boardwalk. Regardless, Fiordland National Park offers some of the best hikes on the South Island all in one place!
51. Enjoy the town of Te Anau and Lake Te Anau
Te Anau is a common stop for people on their way to Milford Sound, however, exploring Te Anau is one of the best things to do on the South Island all on its own. Te Anau sits on the shores of Lake Te Anau, New Zealand’s second-largest lake. It’s surrounded by unique attractions including a famous glow worm cave which you can tour through, Doubtful Sound (New Zealand’s second most popular fiord), and my personal favorite, the Kepler Track.
The Kepler Track is actually one of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks and after completing over half of them, the Kepler Track is my favorite. From Te Anau, you’re only a short drive from the trailhead and you can choose to either hike the entire 60-kilometer loop track or simply enjoy a day hike up to the Luxmore Hut and back down again.
Te Anau is also the ideal place to explore Milford Sound from. I personally stay a night here before and after a trip to Milford so I can spend lots of time on the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound. Plus, there are lots of hotels and amazing restaurants in Te Anau that make it a comfortable place to stay.
It’s almost impossible to explore the South Island without visiting Te Anau, so stay a while and explore all the best things to do in Te Anau!
Getting to Te Anau from Queenstown: You can either book a transfer or drive yourself. If you’re driving from Queenstown to Te Anau be sure to read my blog about all the best places to stop to ensure you enjoy this epic road trip!
52. Cruise through Doubtful Sound
The second-largest fiord in Fiordland National Park is nicknamed “the sound of silence.” That’s because it doesn’t receive the same level of tourism as neighboring Milford Sound. Its lesser popularity has nothing to do with the scenery of the fiord (that’s epic) and more to do with how difficult it is to reach. With no direct road access into Doubtful Sound, you will start your journey with a cruise from Manapouri across Lake Manapouri and then a very bumpy coach ride down the Wilmot Pass.
The cruise through Doubtful Sound is 3 hours in total and takes you to where the fiord and the sea meet. A major drawcard is that you are unlikely to spot any other cruise boats.
With its rugged peaks, lush green rainforest, and many hidden coves and caves – Doubtful Sound will leave you speechless. Dare I say that I sometimes prefer Doubtful Sound to Milford Sound! Not only are you very likely to spot dolphins and seals on your cruise but you have a high chance of seeing a rare Fiordland Crested Penguin.
Drive from Te Anau to Manapouri (a short 30-minute drive) but be sure to book your cruise in advance. Also worth noting is you can actually do an overnight cruise in Doubtful Sound for an even more memorable experience.
53. See a Kiwi on Stewart Island
Stewart Island isn’t technically on the South Island, however, the only way to get there is to take a ferry from Bluff just outside the city of Invercargill. This small predictor-free island is one of the best places in New Zealand to spot a wild kiwi. Their population numbers on the island outnumber humans, so it’s your best chance of seeing one that isn’t behind a glass panel.
Another thing to do on Stweart Island that attracts a lot of visitors is the Rakiura Track. This 32-kilometer trail is usually completed over 2 to 3 days. As a Great walk, you do need to book huts and campsite in advance so be sure to do so!
If you’re visiting New Zealand in winter then be sure to get out at night to view the stars here. Not only is there very little light pollution around but you also have a great chance at spotting the Southern lights (of course, it’s still rare.)
To reach Stewart Island you’ll need to take the ferry with Stewart Island Experience. Also, be sure to book your accommodation in advance and look on Airbnb, there are lots of great options!
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It is what most budget backpackers get for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic. We also have a 5% discount code (DTRAVEL5) with Mad Campers, which you can use at checkout.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! We are also partnered with Kiwi Motorhomes, which is well known as the top motorhome rental company in New Zealand. You can get 5% off using the code Queen5. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
Thanks for reading!
Wow, what a list! It’s hard to think I’ve been lucky enough to do all these amazing activities on the South Island. The best part is I am so excited for you, my readers, to get out and explore even just a few of these bucket list things to do. I really hope this list has helped inspire your trip and made planning your trip to New Zealand’s South Island even just a little bit easier!
Thanks so much for reading! If you enjoyed this blog then don’t run away just yet. I have so many in-depth blogs about the South Island that I’m sure you’ll love too!