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South Island
Travel Guide

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

Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa
Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa
5 out of 5
Kawarau Village, 79 Peninsula Road, Queenstown
The price is $96 per night from Mar 2 to Mar 3

Situated on the waterfront, this luxury hotel is within 2 mi (3 km) of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown Event Centre, and Remarkables Park Town Centre. Alpine Aqualand ...

4.4/5Excellent! (955 reviews)

"Great location, excellent views across the lake. Very relaxing atmosphere."…"

Reviewed on Feb 21, 2021

Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa
Rydges Latimer Christchurch
Rydges Latimer Christchurch
4.5 out of 5
30 Latimer Square, Christchurch
The price is $112 per night from Mar 7 to Mar 8

Located in Christchurch City Centre, this luxury hotel is within a 15-minute walk of Riverside Market and Christchurch Casino. Christchurch Public Hospital and ...

4.5/5Wonderful! (942 reviews)

"Other then the Receptionist on arrival the staff and Hotel experience was fantastic, however the Receptionist on arrival did put a dampener on the experience as she was a little rude and short even though there were no other gusts arriving or departing at the time."…"

Reviewed on Feb 20, 2021

Rydges Latimer Christchurch
Holiday Inn Express And Suites Queenstown
Holiday Inn Express And Suites Queenstown
4 out of 5
CNR STANLEY AND SYDNEY STREET, Queenstown
The price is $96 per night from Mar 5 to Mar 6

Located in the heart of Queenstown, this hotel is within a 10-minute walk of St Josephs Parish and Lake Wakatipu. Skyline Gondola is 0.7 mi (1.2 km) away.

4.8/5Exceptional! (91 reviews)

"Everything is perfect , staff is great, service is amazing ."…"

Reviewed on Feb 23, 2021

Holiday Inn Express And Suites Queenstown
Lowest nightly price found within the past 24 hours based on a 1 night stay for 2 adults. Prices and availability subject to change. Additional terms may apply.

Vacation Rentals in South Island

Oaks Queenstown Club Suites
Oaks Queenstown Club Suites
4 out of 5
171-179 Frankton Road, Queenstown
The price is $83 per night from Feb 28 to Mar 1

Situated on the waterfront, this luxury apartment building is within 1 mi (2 km) of St Josephs Parish and Lake Wakatipu. Skyline Gondola is 1.4 mi (2.2 km) ...

4.2/5Excellent! (899 reviews)

"We had a amazing day here , will definitely come back! We got a free upgrading and private balcony for our anniversary. The staff at reception is very nice and polite. The view is worth the price! The bed is big and comfortable, normally I am not comfortable with the hotel bed as some of them are ..."…"

Reviewed on Feb 22, 2021

Oaks Queenstown Club Suites
Oaks Queenstown Shores Resort
Oaks Queenstown Shores Resort
4.5 out of 5
327-343 Frankton Road, Queenstown
The price is $83 per night from Feb 28 to Mar 1

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

4.1/5Very Good! (1,224 reviews)

"The staff there are so helpful and friendly, we had a lovely spot the room itself was so good."…"

Reviewed on Feb 21, 2021

Oaks Queenstown Shores Resort
Southwark Hotel & Apartments
Southwark Hotel & Apartments
4 out of 5
25 Southwark Street, Christchurch
The price is $54 per night from Mar 19 to Mar 20

Located in Christchurch City Centre, this aparthotel is within 1 mi (2 km) of Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, Christchurch Public Hospital, ...

4.2/5Very Good! (1,561 reviews)

"I liked the accessibility and modern interior. I hope they can add more spaces for parking and the lift was not working"…"

Reviewed on Feb 8, 2021

Southwark Hotel & Apartments
Lowest nightly price found within the past 24 hours based on a 1 night stay for 2 adults. Prices and availability subject to change. Additional terms may apply.

Popular places to visit in South Island

Top things to do in South Island

Read travel guides and advice on visiting South Island

Image for 8 of the World’s Most Beautiful National Parks as Illustrated Topographic Maps

8 of the World’s Most Beautiful National Parks as Illustrated Topographic Maps

8 of the World’s Most Beautiful National Parks as Illustrated Topographic Maps
Image for 9 winter wonders around the world

9 winter wonders around the world

9 winter wonders around the world

Cities near South Island