New Zealand is an incredibly beautiful country and Auckland is an incredibly amazing city. However, once you leave the city life of the North Island and head south, you’ll soon find yourself questioning why you spent so much time in the city. New Zealand’s South Island is easily rated the more beautiful of the two islands.The landscapes range from snowy glaciers to crystal clear crater lakes. You will find views of hand gliders gliding over Queenstown and witness mighty whales as they prepare for their deep dive. I traveled the south island for a month and a half and had an absolutely amazing time, words cannot even describe. Below is a list of all of my favorite activities and places to see in the South Island of New Zealand!
1. Nelson Lakes
Nelson Lakes National park was formed in 1956 and it covers 1,020 square Kilometers. It features Lake Rotoiti; a lake with water so crystal clear and fresh that you could drop something into the lake and see it for up to 18ft below the surface before you lost sight of it (so scientists discovered during an experiment in the center of the lake). At the lake, you can take some iconic photographs of yourself jumping in, feed the ducks or even take a swim with the eels.
I visited this lake and took this picture in the middle of winter. It was 9 AM and there was frost coating the ground. I jumped in with my bikini, with a water temperature of 5 degrees! It was deeper than it looked because the water was so clear but it was a really refreshing way to start the morning!
2. Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef is an adorable little town with a population of about 100! In the town of Franz Josef, sits the Franz Josef Glacier. You can either hike up the glacier or take a helicopter tour to view it from above. I hiked the glacier and it was a blast! A minimum of 6 layers is required as well as crampons to keep your grip on your shoes. The views are stunning while you’re surrounded by snow and ice which contrasts the greenery on the mountains, (perfect for Instagram pictures!) It’s such a bizarre feeling standing on so many layers of ice and watching the guide’s pickax their way through tiny gaps. You’ll also see how the glacier is slowly melting and retreating. It’s a constant reminder that we need to protect the planet to preserve glaciers. It’s also a bold reminder that you’re actually just standing on layers of frozen water! This is definitely a must-visit in the South Island.
3. Kaikoura Dolphin Swim and Whale watching
Kaikoura may be under construction for a while after being damaged by the recent earthquake in New Zealand however it’s a great place to observe seals and whales. During the earthquake, the animals left the shores as the earthquake damaged their “seal nursery”. Thankfully, the animals have now returned but they’re still adapting to the new changes. While here, you can snorkel with friendly and playful dolphins. They aren’t afraid to swim right up to your face either! Reach out and touch them if you like.
Once you’ve played with the dolphins, take a boat trip to see some of the local whales. The guides recall the name of each whale based purely on their tail, how cool is that?! You’ll learn some fun facts, and get more great pictures. Here you can also witness the huge splash as the whale’s flip their tails for their grand deep dive!
Similarly to Kaikoura, Christchurch is still recovering from an earthquake that damaged the city. Although the city is still rebuilding itself, there is still a lot to be learned. There’s groovy graffiti around the city that spreads positivity and promotes the rebuild. There’s also a unique shopping mall called Re: Start, made from shipping containers and where the emergency services were based during the crisis of the earthquake. Christchurch definitely gets my vote for being the most creative and open minded city in New Zealand. Take a tour around the “Red Zone” and see the result of the earthquake on some buildings that haven’t been restored like the Cathedral. Beware, this can be truly heartbreaking to see the damage. Leave a message and light a candle at the “white chairs” memorial for all those who lost their lives. Although this city has lost so much, it’s definitely worth a visit. It’s sure to open your eyes and the positivity is sure to stick with you.
Last but not least, Queenstown. The adrenaline capital of New Zealand! I’m sure you’ve heard about Queenstown a million times but it’s really worth the visit. You can taste the best burger in the world, the “fergburger”, although according to locals the best is the “devil burger”. You can complete a bungy with a great view of the city during the day or night. If that’s not enough you can complete the third highest bungy in the world, the Nevis Bungy, standing at 134ft! You can go lunging or even take to the slopes to snowboard or ski! Don’t worry though, if you’re looking for something a little less adrenaline-pumping check out 5 Things to Do in Queensland for the Less Adventurous.
These were a few of the top things to do in New Zealand’s South Island. We hope you enjoy them! If you’re planning on venturing to the “other side” read up on the Top Things to Do in New Zealand’s North Island. Happy travels!