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.