20 January 2016

Exploring New Zealand’s South Island

Towards the end of last year I spent a good six weeks road tripping around New Zealand’s south island, trying to tick off as many places as I could. I found that many other tourists along the way tended just to visit the south island as the spectacles surrounding this isle are vast and incredible! You can drive for a few hours and witness glorious beaches, glaciers, crystal blue lakes, forests and vast fields of luscious green. It’s amazing to think just how much can be packed into this pretty small country, and there is a lot to tick off so let me narrow it down for you on what I think are some of the highlights of New Zealand’s south island.


Many tourists start their south island route from Christchurch, but if you are arriving from the north island then Nelson may be your first spot. Nelson is one of the driest places in New Zealand so you won’t be short of finding some good weather here and picking up a tan. There’s a ton of stuff to do in this town and I think it was one of my favourite places in New Zealand!
The town has a cute and quirky charm to it with ample walks and some really good breweries and wineries but the gem of Nelson is Abel Tasman National Park. About a 45 minute drive from the centre, you can explore one of the great walks of New Zealand. I won’t go into too much detail about Abel Tasman in this post but it’s a great park to explore and do some great walks and kayaking. The pictures pretty much speak for themselves…

Franz Josef and Fox Glacier

These two beasts are pretty epic pieces of scenery and one my favourite places in New Zealand. Although they’re in the middle of the west coast so take a while to get to, they’re totally worth it. The towns are small and there are no supermarkets but there is a strong tourist foothold. I first heard that the glaciers couldn’t be enjoyed without paying for an expensive helicopter ride or even some kind of glacier tour where you have to rent a bunch of equipment, and these sure would be the best ways to see the glaciers but you don’t have to spend a fortune here. There are plenty of walks around the area, and up to the edge of the glaciers which are breath-taking, and of course all are free! 


The party capital of New Zealand! Queenstown is the place to get drunk, ski and try anything adventurous you’ve ever wanted to try. Home to the creation of bungee jumping, you won’t be short of finding ways to satisfy your inner thrill seeker here, but of course all of these activities come with a hefty price. However, if you’re on a budget Queenstown is still achievable! The area is beautiful and if you head up towards Glenorchy then you really will see some fantastic bits of scenery (also a fandom area for Lord of the Rings…). But I believe Queenstown’s main appeal is the snowy fields and its adventurous party vibe. During the ski season the town is ransacked full of both Kiwis and foreigners, taking a slice out of the New Zealand snow action, and still out of season the town has its appeal for sky-diving, bungee jumping and rafting. So at least pass through it as it’s not a town to miss out on.

Milford Sound

The place in New Zealand you have to go! Cruising through the middle of Milford Sound makes you feel so tiny and so in awe of these magnificent fjords! The drive up to Milford Sound can take a few hours of your time as the scenery, walks and views are some of the most impressive in New Zealand. Then you reach your destination and marvel at these breath-taking sights. There are many cruises that go through Milford Sound, and although you don't have to take them to enjoy it, I would advise it. They vary massively in price but they all do the same route, so I just went for the cheapest which was with Jucy Cruise at $45. Not too shabby for a two hour boat trip.

The Catlins

The Catlins is a bit off the beaten track for most backpackers, especially if you don’t have your own car. I won’t say too much as I explored The Catlins in a shiny post all by itself, but in short this section of the south island is beautiful and there’s so much nature surrounding this area. Think beaches, seals, penguins and dolphins!


A student town and the town with the steepest street in the world! But that’s all I really thought about Dunedin… if you’re looking for some good bars, good live music and a place to kick back then head over to Dunedin. But if you’re in New Zealand for hiking, scenery and the sort then maybe skip Dunedin on your trip.

Lake Tekapo/Pukaki/Mount Cook

My favourite place on the south island, although I’ve said that about nearly every place now… These three beauts can be covered in a few days and you can’t miss them out! Lake Tekapo is beautiful but I believe Lake Pukaki to be even better and one of the bluest lakes I have ever seen. Just driving through between these three hotspots is incredible in itself. Huge mountains and hills, with bright blue lakes, then snow covered glaciers! Every ten miles has a change of scenery and it’s hard to believe this is a just a few hours’ drive from the busy likes of Christchurch and Queenstown! You have to also head to Mount Cook if visiting this region, as it’s the biggest mountain in New Zealand. Unachievable to climb without a guide, training etc. etc. but there are walks up to certain points and it’s worth the drive to the middle of nowhere to do it.


Finally, Christchurch. Not the most thrilling of places in New Zealand, especially after the tragic earthquakes in 2011 but it is interesting to see how this city is still pretty damaged even five years later. Christchurch is a good starting or ending point to New Zealand’s south island, mainly due to its airport. I sold my car here in just a few days, and that’s all that I really did whilst around Christchurch, so you could even skip it out…

I haven’t labelled EVERYwhere to visit on the south island as there are some little nooks and crannies that I feel should be included, but if you have just a short time here then this is a pretty good guide. What was your favourite place on the south island? Did you become best friends with a penguin?

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