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The South Island


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The South Island is legendary for its sharp, steep Southern Alps that rise from sea level to heights of 12,000 feet. It's also the hub for New Zealand's best hiking routes, including the Routeburn and Milford Tracks. Add fjords, glaciers, hidden beaches, glow-worm grottoes, whale watching, fur seals, albatross colonies, penguins, huge sheep stations, and a wide range of sporting activities, and you have the makings of your wildest New Zealand travel dreams come true.

Christchurch & surroundings

New Zealand's "Garden City," Christchurch is a gorgeous, tranquil and fun city. Decidedly English in feel, the third-largest city in the country has exquisite Gothic and Victorian-era architecture, lush gardens, peaceful parks and the picturesque Avon River. One of the best ways to enjoy the river is aboard a traditional punting boat.

Explore the shops, galleries and theater of the Arts Center. Check out the Canterbury Museum for a great perspective on Maori and pioneer history, and the world's best collection of artifacts from early Antarctic exploration.

Climb the steep steps up to the bell tower balcony of Christchurch Cathedral for marvelous views of the city and distant mountains. Atop lovely Cashmere Hill sits "The Sign of the Takahe," an excellent place to have tea and soak up the city views. Learn to windsurf in the shallow waters of the estuary or rent a bicycle and see the sites as the locals do.

If you decide to travel to New Zealand in the winter, take advantage of great skiing at Mt. Hutt, about two hours from Christchurch.

Marlborough Sound

Marlborough Sound is an area of great natural beauty, with its deep blue waters and lush surrounding vineyards. An essential stop for the wine enthusiast traveling New Zealand, this area produces award-winning vintages of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Malbec and Merlot.

The clear waters of the Sound may be explored on an informative cruise that explores the greenshell mussels farmed in this area, among other sites. Take in the natural beauty of this tranquil environment and learn about the history of Marlborough Sound and the pioneering families who settled here. While on ship, sample the fresh mussels for which this region is renown, perhaps complemented with a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc.


With its black volcanic beaches and sheer limestone cliffs, Kaikoura is an amazing setting for hiking and viewing fur seals that sun themselves on the rocky shore. Or perhaps try swimming with the dolphins; these intelligent and engaging creatures are a particular hit with children (and the young at heart).

Kaikoura is the best place in New Zealand for whale watching. Sightings of orca and huge sperm whales are common December to May. Other common sightings include dolphins, penguins and albatross. Feast on delicious fresh lobster-this area is famous for them. Kaikoura may be visited as a day trip from Christchurch or as a destination in its own right on your New Zealand tour.


Akaroa means "Long Harbor" in the native Maori tongue. A naturally blessed, sheltered harbor was the site of a large Maori settlement, and during colonial times was settled by the French. The surrounding village exudes the quaint charm of a provincial French.

The Maori and Colonial Museum is worth a look, as is the Akaroa Museum. Take a harbor cruise to spot pods of dolphins, or perhaps try getting up close in a sea kayak for an unforgettable New Zealand vacation experience.

Abel Tasman National Park

Explore the glistening golden sand beaches, tidal estuaries and rivers of beautiful Abel Tasman National Park on a day trip during your New Zealand tour, or better yet, by a combination of trekking and sea kayaking on a three-day program.

If conditions allow, paddle out to the seal colony on Tonga Island. Stay at gorgeous lodges and homesteads along the way. Delicious cuisine and friendly locals round out this classic adventure, high on our list of great things to do in New Zealand.


Not only is Nelson the jumping off point for exploring much of the upper South Island, it's a charming and lively city in its own right. Take in its art-deco architecture, the Nelson Provincial Museum, the Botanical Reserve, and beautiful surrounding beaches of Tasman Bay. Nelson is encircled by mountains on three sides and enjoys New Zealand's best climate, making it a delightful place for a stroll.

Mt. Cook National Park

In the heart of the Southern Alps, Mt. Cook National Park is packed full of rugged peaks, glaciers, pristine lakes and great valleys forged by prehistoric ice flows. New Zealand's two highest mountains, Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman are located here. Nearby are two of the most scenic glacial lakes in the country-Lake Tekapo, an opaque turquoise hue and Lake Pukakai, with its milky blue-green waters.

Great hiking, biking (guided or on your own) and camping are easily accessed here, as well as world-class mountaineering. A number of fabulous mountain lodges dot the area, including the historic Hermitage, the most famous hotel in New Zealand. A scenic plane ride can take you on an up-close-and-personal tour of the mountain peaks-you'll understand first hand why the Maori call Mt. Cook, "Aeorangi"-the Cloud Piercer.

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers

On the Western coast of the South Island is Westland National Park featuring the impressive Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. Hike to the mouth of the mighty glaciers, or take an exhilarating helicopter ride to the top of a glacier for unforgettable views and a rare chance to do some heli-hiking or heliskiing during your New Zealand holiday. The views are absolutely extraordinary, with glaciers terminating in tropical rainforests that fringe the open ocean.


New Zealand's undisputed adventure capital, Queenstown, is a popular resort town for locals and foreigners alike. It's fabulously scenic and chockfull of possible adventures. Choose from New Zealand travel adventures such as high-speed jet boating, horseback riding and hiking.

Or savor more relaxed pursuits such as nature walks, quaint strolls around Lake Wakatipu or window shopping and relaxing at cafés in the city center.

For a nostalgic outing, take a boat ride across Lake Wakatipu aboard the vintage steamer ship, Earnslaw, to the Mount Nicolas Sheep Station. An outing on the America's Cup can also be arranged. Or ride the Skyline Gondola for panoramic views of the entire area. Queenstown offers fabulous skiing, heliskiing and snowboarding at the surrounding Remarkables and Coronet Peak.

Fiordland National Park & Milford Sound

This park is arguably the most gorgeous area in all of clean and green New Zealand. Take an exhilarating boat ride around Milford Sound, stopping on deserted islands covered in lush rainforest and fern gardens. These islands are scattered amongst stunningly beautiful fjords.

The lakeside town of Te Anau is the jumping-off point for boat excursions and hiking in the area. You can also take a punting (pole-driven) boat ride through the magical realm of Te Anau Caves, huge limestone caverns sparkling with glow worms. Note that this area of New Zealand sees a great deal of rainfall annually. Just bring a raincoat, some water-worthy boots and an umbrella and get into it-the myriad waterfalls that suddenly appear are part of the great spectacle. A great way to experience this area is with an overnight cruise on the sounds. See the New Zealand Activities page for our favorite ways to cruise the South Island.

Arthur's Pass/Tranz Alpine Train

The timeless elegance of train travel is exalted to new levels of grandeur by the spectacular views found on the coast-to-coast Tranz Alpine train, from Christchurch to Greymouth. This four-hour trip is an excellent way to tour New Zealand and see some of its best scenery in a relaxed fashion.