50+ things to do in New Zealand South Island: The Ultimate Bucketlist
After heading to New Zealand’s South Island to celebrate the magical wedding of Nicole Warne and Luke Shadbolt, it is safe to say we fell in love a thousand times over. This trip was full of so much joy, and although I didn’t expect to enjoy NZ as much as I did, I was blown away by the incredibly diverse landscapes, the lovely locals and the fresh produce.
While exploring New Zealand’s South Island for two weeks in our campervan, everywhere place we called home (for the night) left us speechless! It’s safe to say that our traverse around the South Island was one of the most spectacular adventures we have been on!
To inspire and give you some ideas for your own itinerary, I’ve put together this ultimate bucket list of things you should do in New Zealand- South Island. With over 50 + cool things to experience in New Zealand’s South Island, you are sure to have an epic time! Enjoy wanderers xx
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Roadtrip in a Campervan
One of the best things to do in New Zealand South Island is to road trip! This is a non-negotiable guys! I think this is why we enjoyed ourselves so much! The freedom of exploring in a campervan is amazing!
We spent 2 weeks with the Apollo motorhome as our abode and transport around New Zealand’s South Island and it was great. We choose the ‘euro tourer’ 2 berth campervan as it came with the shower and was the perfect size for us!
Editors Tip: Read before you leave ‘Everything you need to know before renting a campervan in New Zealand‘
Hike The Ben Lomond Summit
There are many start points to the summit, we decided to start early and explore the falls, creeks and forest along the one-mile track but you could definitely knock some hours off the hike and begin your adventure from the Skyline Gondola (Tiki track).
Once you reach the bench known as Ben Lomond Saddle, you are around another hour and a half from the summit (DO NOT GIVE UP). Prepare for a steeper rockier incline but take in those outstanding views, put on a song and power through! The summit provides 360° views of Queenstown, The Remarkables, Mount Aspiring and Coronet Peak. Definitely one of my favourite treks and top things to do in New Zealand’s South Island!
See Queenstown from the Sky Gondola
One of the top things to do in Queenstown is to ride the gondola to the Skyline restaurant for a picturesque meal or simply enjoy the scenic views over Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables range! A great way to see the city below and a great activity for all the family!
Join the line at Fergburger
Ok, now if you are willing to queue for ‘the world greatest burger’, this is the place to go! No matter what time of day there’s literally a line of people waiting for the juicy burgers!
Hike Queenstown Hill
I loved this little hike up Queenstown Hill. This is one of the more easier walks to do whilst you are in Queenstown taking just 2-3 hours return. Although a much shorter walk to the summit the views are still pretty epic! See the evidence below.
Go Skiing in Queenstown
The Queenstown ski season is one of the best in the world, every year people come to ski or snowboard NZ famous peaks like Remarkables, Coronet Peak, Cardrona and Treble Cone. If you are interested in Skiing whilst you are on the South Island here is a complete guide to the Queenstown ski season!
If you are new to the ski world make sure you check out the – https://www.globosurfer.com/best-ski-boots-for-beginners/
Have Brunch at Bespoke Kitchen
During our 3 days in Queenstown we found a great little cafe on the corner of isle street in the centre of town! It was fairly busy but we managed to grab a table during brunch without waiting! Bespoke Kitchen is one of the best places to eat in New Zealand and they have carefully crafted their menu, offering foods and drink with wellbeing in mind. I got the breaky board which came with a juice shot, smashed avo on toast with an egg and scrumptious chia pudding!
Known as the gateway to the incredible Routeburn Track, this small town is a great option if you want to be removed from the hustle of Queenstown. If you are a fan of The Lord of The Rings be sure to book a safari tour. The LOTR safari offers breathtaking mountain and forest views along the shore of Lake Wakatipu towards Glenorchy and the Paradise Valley. Visit the filming locations for Isengard, the Ithilien Camp, Lothlorien & Fanghorn forest and the Seat of Seeing/ Battle of Amon Hen!
Indulge at the Onsen Hot Pools
This is one of the best things to do in New Zealand South Island if you need a bit of RnR! The Onsen Hot Pools are a great way to relax whilst still taking in the magnificent landscapes of Queenstown!
Book prior to arriving to ensure a spot, you can check available times on their website. We choose the 1-hour Tandeki, where your pool booking comes with a selection of locally sourced New Zealand treats including Gibbston Valley wines, ice cream and a chocy bar!
Explore the Queenstown Waterfront
Home to some beautiful restaurants and epic views!
You could sit here for hours in the sun people watching and admiring your surroundings!
Get Adventurous in Queenstown
You cant write a list of things to do in New Zealand South Island without mentioning the adventure capital of the world! Take your pick of its adrenaline-inducing activities including bungy jumping, skiing, jet boating, quad biking, canyon and skydiving its all on offer in the cool town of Queenstown!
See Lake Wanaka & Lake Hawea
These glacier-carved lakes can be appreciated from the water, by hiking the shoreline tracks, or you might choose to take some photos and just enjoy views!
Hike the Famous Roys Peak
One of the best things to do in New Zealand South Island is to hike Roy Peak. Take in breathtaking views over Lake Wanaka, Mount Aspiring and surrounding peaks after a steep climb through alpine meadows and tussock grasslands to the summit. This is a popular track is around 16km and although an easy hike can take 5-6 hours return.
See the Iconic Wanaka Tree
Known as the “lone tree of Lake Wanaka,” it is one of the most photographed trees in the world. There are no signs directing you to the solitary tree so make sure you do your research if you do want to venture off the beaten path to see it.
Relax and have brunch at Alchemy
There are many lovely spots in Wanaka to have a bit to eat, one of my favourites was Alchemy on the main road. On arrival, you are blessed with the smells of fresh baked goods and aroma of organic fair trade coffee. Wheather you need to do some work, want to read the paper with a cuppa or just want brunch with a view this is the spot to do it!
Stop in at the Blue Pools
About an hour out from Wanaka you will find the amazing blue pools. The walking track is off the Haast Highway, which is just a 20-minute walk down to the swing bridge crossing the Makarora River that boasts the famous crystal clear water!
Visit the Wanaka Wineries
Wanaka is home to incredible wineries including Rippon Winery and Maude. We were lucky enough to share Nicole and Luke Shadbolt’s special day during their ceremony and reception at Rippon winery!
Cruise the Fiord with Juicy Cruz
Milford Sound is a fiord in the southwest of New Zealand’s South Island. It is famous for towering peaks, majestic rainforests and stunning waterfalls. The fiord is home to fur seal colonies, penguins and dolphins. A true natural wonder that is best experienced during a raining/cloudy day!
Spot some Friendly Locals
Whilst we were cruising around Milford we spotted lazy seals sleeping on a rock and school of dolphins. We also wandered through a rainforest and were able to see some birds! If you are with a guide ask about the Keas and other native animals.
Explore Fiordland National Park
Fiordland National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and features the majestic Milford and Doubtful Sounds which you can experience by boat, air or on foot. The drive here from Te Anu is one of the best parts, be sure to stop along the way to admire the changing scenery.
Explore the Marlborough Sounds
The Marlborough Sounds is made up of four distinctly different Sounds – Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru, Pelorus, and Mahau, at the top of New Zealand’s South Island. The winding waterways of the Marlborough Sound make for brilliant boating, fishing, diving and wildlife viewing including dolphin watching.
Admire Dunedin from Unity Park Lookout
Dunedin has many magnificent viewpoints. I just loved the view from unity park that overlooked the city below
Visit the Steepest Residential Street in the World
Baldwin Street in Dunedin is the world’s steepest street. You can access it either by car or by walking. If you wish to walk up you will find it easier to climb the steps located on the right side. Reaching the top the view is beautiful and worth the effort
Explore Tunnel Beach
Just out of Dunedin you will find magical Tunnel beach. Explore the sea-carved sandstone cliffs, rock arches and caves!
Check out Larnach Castle in Dunedin
The Larnach castle is a must do if visiting Dunedin, the tower boasts sweeping views of the Otago Peninsula and stunning Victorian style gardens. The castles offer an array of experiences including a tour of the ground, luxury accommodation, unique dining experiences, events and high tea!
Marvel at the Dunedin Railway Station
Used as part of the commercial centre in the 1990’s Dunedin railway station is a no longer functioning station but because of its size, history and architecture, this site is a great tourist attraction! The ornate Renaissance-style architecture features white Oamaru limestone facings on black basalt rock. The one-kilometre main platform is the country’s longest and every year in October becomes the stage for the South Island’s main fashion show.
Visit the Lighthouse at Nugget Point
Nugget Point is one of the most distinctive landforms along the Otago coast. It’s has a steep headland with a lighthouse and a scattering of rocky formations surrounding the coast. A leisurely five-minute walk takes you to the lighthouse, where you’ll enjoy amazing views if you are lucky you might be able to spot some fur seals!
Sleep Under the Stars in a Purepod
Plonk your self in the middle of nowhere and immerse yourself in the land. There are five Purepods dotted across the South Island. The pods are a total private experience, made of heavy duty glass (so you can see everything) and is powered by solar!
Take a Scenic Flight Over Mount Cook
Choose from a ski plane or a helicopter for unforgettable views of Aoraki/Mount Cook. The scenic adventure includes a glacier snow landing on the Tasman Glacier!
Witness the Glaciers at Hooker Valley Track
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is home to the highest New Zealand peak and longest glaciers. There are many mountain walks, including The Red Tarns Track, Kea Point and the Hooker Valley Track that all take around 3 hours return. For the more adventurous, helicopters and ski planes provide access to the parks fabulous glaciers whilst climbing Aoraki/Mount Cook peak remains the ultimate challenge.
Stargaze at Mount Cook
Stargazing tours operate every night by Big Sky Stargazing from The Hermitage Hotel in Aoraki Mount Cook Village. Complete your orientation then slip into one of the supplied warm and cosy stargazing coats and put all you have learnt into practice. You are taken on a short drive to the outdoor stargazing site for spectacular views of the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park southern sky.
Admire the Incredible Lake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo is about three hours drive south-west of Christchurch in the Mackenzie Basin. It is most visited for its remarkable turquoise coloured lake that’s surrounded by the dramatic mountain range. The lake gets its unique colour from the fine rock-flour, ground by glaciers, which is suspended in the water.
Camp at Lake Pukaki
Lake Pukaki is the largest alpine lake in the area and is my personal favourite as it proudly showcases New Zealand’s tallest peak, Aoraki/ Mount Cook, from the main campground.
The lake is bright turquoise due to glacial flour and becomes even brighter when the sun hits it surface. The combination of the magnificent lake, snow-capped peaks and wide open skies are a dream for photographers and the free campground makes this place a must-do when visiting New Zealand’s South Island!
Visit Stewart Island
Slow the pace right down and visit Stewart Island. You will find beautiful beaches, great food and national parks. You can reach Stewart Island by plane from Invercargill airport or by ferry from Bluff.
Go on the Christchurch Street Art Trail
The vibrant city of Christchurch is the perfect place to start your South Island journey. But before you hit the road make sure you spend some time soaking up the creative vibe of this city. Grab a Flat White from one of the many eclectic cafes and wander the city streets to admire the creative art that meets you around every corner.
Take a Tram Around Christchurch
Hop on board a heritage tram for an entertaining and informative tour of the inner city! The Christchurch trams offer a unique experience combining history and sightseeing.
Stop in at Hokitika Gorge, West Coast
Enjoy excellent views of the blue-green waters of the Hokitika River as it makes its way through the rock sided Hokitika Gorge – this short, easy walk is a great option for kids.
Experience the Outdoor Fun at Abel Tasman National Park
Located on the top of the South Island this coastal wonderland offers the stunning beaches and many walking trails through Abel Tasman National Park.
Take Some Photos at Lake Matheson
Lake Matheson, near Fox Glacier, is known as mirror lake. Nature has combined exactly the right ingredients to create truly stunning reflections of New Zealand’s highest peaks – Aoraki (Mount Cook) and Mount Tasman. The waters of Lake Matheson are dark brown, so on a calm day, they create the ideal reflective surface. The colour is caused by natural leaching of organic matter from the surrounding native forest floor.
Adventure to Franz Josef Glaciers
Land atop the glacier and explore ice caves and pinnacles. Soar above New Zealand’s Southern Alps during a scenic flight, then grab your crampons and make your way through dramatic ice formations during a moderately difficult 3-hour hike!
Drive Through Arthurs Pass
Perhaps the most scenic drive on New Zealand’s South Island and one of the best things to do! If you’re travelling from Canterbury to the West Coast, this is the road to take. It is a piece of extreme engineering involving viaducts, bridges, rock shelters and waterfalls redirected into chutes. On the eastern side, you’ll see wide, shingle-filled riverbeds and vast swathes of beech forest. Descend the western side and you venture through dense rainforest alongside and over deeply gorged rivers.
Head to Kaikoura
New Zealand’s South Island is home to the picturesque coastal town of Kaikoura, the perfect place for marine life encounters, coastal walks, and tucking into a plate of crayfish. In the Maori language ‘kai’ means food, ‘koura’ means crayfish! So yep this place is famous for its crayfish, it is also home to some incredible marine mammals!
Do the Great Taste Cycle Trail
Starting in Nelson and taking you to the best spots for wine, seafood and produce. Enjoy the leisurely cycle tour along a sparkling coast and through picturesque countryside dotted with galleries, vineyards and restaurants!
Enjoy the Epic Daily Sunsets
And finally, my favourite thing to do and the best way to end an adventure filled day on New Zealand’s South Island!
That was our best things to do in New Zealand’s South Island! As you can see New Zealand is best travelled by car or campervan- Book a rental with Enterprise Car Rentals and travel New Zealand with ease.
Have you been? What was your favourite experience? Leave in the comment below!
Heading to the North Island? Check out this itinerary!
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