New Zealand’s South Island is a captivating destination, boasting a plethora of natural wonders and thrilling activities that cater to all interests. From magnificent fjords to snow-capped mountains, pristine lakes to vibrant cities, this region offers a remarkable tapestry of experiences.

Whether you’re an adventure seeker, a nature lover, or a history enthusiast, the South Island has something extraordinary to offer. In this article, we will delve into 20 must-do activities that will help you create lifelong memories in this enchanting part of the world.

How to Get to New Zealand’s South Island

New Zealand’s South Island is a breathtaking destination filled with stunning landscapes and unique experiences. To reach this enchanting part of the country, you have several options.

1. International Flights: If you’re traveling from overseas, your journey will typically begin with an international flight to one of New Zealand’s main international airports. The two primary international gateways on the South Island are Christchurch International Airport (CHC) and Queenstown Airport (ZQN). These airports have direct flights from various international destinations, including Australia, Asia, the United States, and the Pacific Islands.

2. Domestic Flights: Once you arrive in New Zealand, you can take a domestic flight to reach your desired destination on the South Island. Domestic airlines such as Air New Zealand, Jetstar, and Sounds Air operate regular flights connecting the major cities and regional centers on the South Island. Christchurch International Airport and Queenstown Airport serve as major hubs for domestic flights, providing convenient connections to other destinations.

3. Ferry Services: If you prefer a scenic journey and want to bring your own vehicle, consider taking a ferry from Wellington on the North Island to Picton on the South Island. This iconic Interislander ferry crossing is an experience in itself, offering picturesque views of the Marlborough Sounds. The ferry journey takes around three hours and operates multiple times a day, accommodating both passengers and vehicles.

4. Coach and Bus Services: Another option to reach the South Island is by coach or bus services. Several companies offer long-distance bus services connecting major cities and towns on the South Island. Intercity, Naked Bus, and Atomic Shuttles are popular bus operators with extensive networks covering various destinations. The bus routes provide an economical and flexible mode of transportation, allowing you to enjoy the scenic beauty along the way.

5. Rental Cars and Campervans: Renting a car or campervan is a popular choice for exploring the South Island at your own pace. Major car rental companies have offices at airports and in city centers. Hiring a vehicle gives you the freedom to navigate the South Island’s diverse landscapes, stop at scenic viewpoints, and explore off-the-beaten-path destinations. Campervans are particularly popular, as they offer both transportation and accommodation options.

The Church of Good Shepherd, New Zealand
The Church of Good Shepherd, New Zealand | @jatupoom_s

6. Trains: Although limited in terms of destinations, the TranzAlpine train journey is a scenic and memorable way to access the South Island. The TranzAlpine train operates a daily service between Christchurch and Greymouth, taking you through the spectacular Southern Alps and offering panoramic views of the region’s natural beauty.

7. Domestic Ferries: If you’re already on the North Island, you can also take advantage of domestic ferry services that connect Wellington to Picton. Once you reach Picton, you can continue your journey by car, bus, or train to explore the South Island.

Remember to check travel restrictions, visa requirements, and any COVID-19 protocols before planning your trip. It’s advisable to book your travel arrangements in advance, especially during peak seasons, to secure your preferred mode of transportation.

With the various options available, getting to the South Island of New Zealand is an exciting adventure in itself, setting the stage for an unforgettable journey through one of the world’s most captivating destinations.

Colourful scenes in Lake Pukaki
Colourful scenes in Lake Pukaki | @24hourslayover

The Best Things To Do on New Zealand’s, South Island

1. Explore the Fiordland National Park

Embark on a cruise through the breathtaking Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, or Dusky Sound, where towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and lush rainforests create a mesmerizing landscape. Alternatively, take a kayaking adventure or hike the world-famous Milford Track for an immersive experience.

2. Discover the Adventure Capital, Queenstown

Satisfy your adrenaline cravings by trying bungee jumping, skydiving, jet boating, white-water rafting, or canyon swinging. In winter, hit the slopes of renowned ski resorts like Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, or Cardrona for an exhilarating snow sports experience.

3. Immerse Yourself in the Southern Alps

Embark on a scenic flight or helicopter tour to appreciate the awe-inspiring alpine landscapes from above. Hike in Mount Cook National Park, home to New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki/Mount Cook. Visit Lake Tekapo for stunning views and witness the iconic Church of the Good Shepherd.

Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
Lake Tekapo, South Island |

4. Encounter Wildlife

Take a boat tour from Kaikoura to spot magnificent sperm whales, dusky dolphins, and fur seals. Explore the Otago Peninsula near Dunedin to witness yellow-eyed penguins and the royal albatross. Don’t miss the evening tour in Akaroa for a chance to see the adorable little blue penguins.

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