South IslandNew Zealand

Image for Queenstown showing a river or creek and boating

Larger, less populated and harder to reach than the northern “Main Island,” this area features New Zealand’s longest glacier, its highest mountain and much more.

The landscapes of New Zealand’s South Island are hard to believe. Perhaps this is why New Zealand film director Peter Jackson featured them so often in his world-famous adaptations of the fantasy book trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Massive peaks rising out of plains, crystal-clear mountain lakes and near vertical-faced fjords all await you on New Zealand’s less populated but more picturesque island.

Begin by discovering the island’s Pacific Coast. Christchurch is the largest city on South Island and the second largest in New Zealand. Enjoy the massive Botanic Gardens of the “Garden City,” and then travel nearly a kilometer out of town by gondola to get an overhead view of Crater Rim, a collapsed volcano to the east. If you’re looking for more of a beach town, drive south along the coast to Dunedin. Surf on St. Clair Beach, then head into town to enjoy its heritage buildings and Scottish charm.

Running all the way along South Island is a dramatic mountain range that rises abruptly from the eastern plains. Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain, stands at the heart of the range. Hike along one of the many lakes nestled at the foot of the mountains, like Lake Wanaka. Come during winter to ski down from the mountains while you overlook this 75-square-mile (193-square-kilometer) body of crystalline glacier water.

Take a long mountain drive to Fiordland National Park in the island’s southwest for even more breathtaking sights. Here, the towering mountains have been carved into sheer cliffs shooting up from the shores of inlets from the Tasman Sea. Milford Sound is perhaps the most beautiful, as its high annual rainfall causes giant waterfalls to stream down from the cliffs. Do some hiking around the area. When night falls, take a tour of the nearby Te Anau Glowworm Caves.

The South Island has direct flights to the North Island and Australia from Christchurch, Dunedin and Queenstown. The South Island may be harder to reach and larger than its northern neighbor, but the views here are more than worth the extra effort.

Top Hotels in South Island

Estimated price for 1 night / 2 adults
BreakFree on Cashel
BreakFree on Cashel
3 out of 5
165 Cashel Street, Christchurch
Free CancellationReserve now, pay when you stay
$53
per night
Feb 23 - Feb 24

Located in Christchurch City Centre, this hotel is within a 15-minute walk of Re:START Mall and Christchurch Casino. Christchurch Public Hospital and Hagley ...

4/5Very Good! (1,933 reviews)

"Small rooms but for the price we paid was very nice and clean. Lovely staff."…"

Reviewed on Feb 16, 2020

BreakFree on Cashel
Oaks Shores
Oaks Shores
4.5 out of 5
327-343 Frankton Road, Queenstown
$121
per night
Mar 13 - Mar 14

Situated on the waterfront, this luxury apartment building is within 3 mi (5 km) of St Josephs Parish, Queenstown Gardens, and Lake Wakatipu. Skyline Gondola ...

4.1/5Very Good! (1,131 reviews)

"Wonderful view with great balcony looking over the lake. Very spacious apartment. Friendly staff. Had great food in restaurant."…"

Reviewed on Feb 12, 2020

Oaks Shores
Sudima Christchurch Airport
Sudima Christchurch Airport
4.5 out of 5
550 Memorial Avenue, Christchurch
$109
per night
Mar 20 - Mar 21

Situated near the airport, this luxury hotel is 0.1 mi (0.2 km) from International Antarctic Centre and within 6 mi (10 km) of University of Canterbury and Canterbury ...

4.3/5Excellent! (2,801 reviews)

"Close to the airport. Complimentary shuttle bus. Beautiful food in the restaurant."…"

Reviewed on Feb 15, 2020

Sudima Christchurch Airport

Popular things to do in South Island

Milford Sound
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Milford Sound

5/5(8 reviews)

Explore the great outdoors with a trip to Milford Sound, a popular green space in Milford Sound. Discover the area's waterfalls and glaciers.

Lake Tekapo
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Lake Tekapo

4.5/5(78 reviews)

Explore the great outdoors at Lake Tekapo, a popular spot to commune with nature in Lake Tekapo. Wander the lakeside in this quaint area.

Lake Wanaka
Image for Lake Wanaka

Lake Wanaka

5/5(126 reviews)

Enjoy gorgeous hiking trails and deserted beaches at this pristine lake with the magnificent backdrop of the Southern Alps.

Lake Pukaki
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Lake Pukaki

5/5(72 reviews)

Be amazed by the color of the lake against the snowy backdrop of Aoraki/Mount Cook as you hike, drive or ride through this incredibly picturesque landscape.

Lake Wakatipu
Image for Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu

5/5(301 reviews)

Explore the great outdoors at Lake Wakatipu, a popular spot to commune with nature in Kingston. Amble around the area's beaches or visit its shops.

Lake Te Anau
Image for Lake Te Anau

Lake Te Anau

5/5(136 reviews)

Explore a geologically active glowworm cave, relax in a lakeside town and organise a kayaking adventure when visiting this spectacular glacial lake.

Top activities in South Island

Milford Sound Coach & Nature Cruise with Lunch
Image for Milford Sound Coach & Nature Cruise with Lunch

Milford Sound Coach & Nature Cruise with Lunch

$157

Join our seamless day trip to Milford Sound on board brand new glass-roofed coaches connecting with a spacious purpose built catamaran. Board the coach in Queenstown and travel alongside Lake Wakatipu and through farming countryside to Te Anau where you will enjoy a short rest stop.

Te Anau Glowworm Caves Tour
Image for Te Anau Glowworm Caves Tour

Te Anau Glowworm Caves Tour

$59

Enjoy a scenic cruise through calm waters before descending into the curious caves to see walls covered in the sparkles of glowworms. Led by an ecological expert, ride on a small boat into a hidden grotto and witness the glittering displays of thousands of these luminous insects.

Milford Sound Coach & Cruise Day Tour departing Te Anau
Image for Milford Sound Coach & Cruise Day Tour departing Te Anau

Milford Sound Coach & Cruise Day Tour departing Te Anau

$93

Once referred to as the 8th Wonder of the World, Milford Sound has to be seen to be believed! The journey there is just as spectacular as the destination, and thus the Milford Road through the Fiordland National Park is deemed as one of New Zealand's most stunning drives! Begin the tour with a coach drive along the renowned Milford Road accompanied by some of Te Anau's most experienced guides.

Taieri Gorge Scenic Railway Ticket
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Taieri Gorge Scenic Railway Ticket

$74

Explore the beautiful scenery east of Dunedin as you travel by train through the majestic Taieri Gorge. The ever-changing scenery and dramatic landscapes provide an idyllic backdrop for a memorable journey through some of New Zealand's finest landscapes.

Lord of the Rings Glenorchy Safari Tour
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Lord of the Rings Glenorchy Safari Tour

$144

For Lord of the Rings fans, this is the trip where Nomad Safaris really does take you There and Back again. Bring the films to life with our authentic replica props, dress up and take photos, or simply soak up the scenery.

360° Virtual Reality - Single-player VR
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360° Virtual Reality - Single-player VR

$22

Visit: Thrillzone, 53 Shotover Street, Queenstown 9300 New Zealand Make your own way to Thrillzone in central Queenstown any day between 10am and 9pm to enjoy the 360° Virtual Reality simulator.