NZ South Island

New Zealand Flag
Discover the extraordinary landscape of the South Island. Renowned the world over for its spectacular natural beauty, the South Island is a land of vast mountain chains, wild and rugged coastlines, rainforests and deeply indented fiords. The larger of the two islands, the South Island is home to such famous natural icons as Milford Sound, Franz Josef and Fox glaciers and Mount Cook – the country’s highest peak. Also home to the adventure playground Queenstown, the gourmet delights of the Marlborough Wine Region, and the whale-spotting coast of Kaikoura, the South Island is full of myriad other surprises.

History & Culture

Although it is the considerably larger landmass of the two islands, the South Island is the least populated and was settled after the North Island, probably by both Maori and European settlers. There have been Maori living in the South Island for 500-800 years. The first tribe to settle on the island were the Waitaha and they were gradually absorbed into other south-migrating tribes by marriage and conquest.

The first Europeans to arrive in the South Island were Abel Tasman and his Dutch crew in 1642, but the first settlement was founded at Bluff in 1823 by James Spencer, a veteran of the Battle of Waterloo. In 1840 the island briefly became part of New South Wales, but was soon restored to the fold.

Due to a relatively small Maori population, the South Island didn't experience the same level of conflict between Maoris and Europeans as the North Island, to the extent that they even tried to break away from the North as they got sick of funding their wars ...

Today there is a very strong British feel to the South Island, which is a testament to the high numbers of settlers who came from the isles, especially from Scotland. The Polynesian culture isn't as palpable in the South Island but there are still strongholds of Maori culture in places like Kaikoura.

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Natural Wonders

The South Island is blessed with a disproportionate amount of natural beauty ... it often feels like you can just point your camera without even looking and you'll have a postcard-quality image. The South Island is home to 10 of New Zealand's 13 national parks and these parks are well set up to allow you to explore them in full.

The South Island is a fairly young landmass which lends the geography to steep mountains and geothermal activity. Being well in the southern latitudes, the mountains are often snow-capped, which adds an extra touch of ambience.

From windswept beaches to snow-capped mountains and glacial lakes and rivers, the South Island is one of the most beautiful natural environments on earth. 

 

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Outdoor Adventures

New Zealand has been called the outdoor adventure capital of the world and the South Island has a plethora of activities to satisfy any outdoor enthusiast. From hiking to mountain biking to sailing to skiing to fishing ... the list goes on.

The South Island is a hiker's wonderland, with numerous tracks criss-crossing the island. Some of the tracks are justifiably world-famous, like The Routeburn Track and The Milford Track, but there are numerous others that have been by trampers (Kiwi for 'hikers') the world over.

Of course, in the winter, the South Island is a world-class ski destination offering a  number of ski fields to choose from, and at Queenstown and Christchurch, a night life to match.

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Must-Do Experiences

So much to do in the South Island ... make sure you allow yourself plenty of time as this island allows you to tick off a number of items from your bucket list. If you are a hiker, the Milford or Routeburn tracks are a must and if you like pinot noir, Central Otago is heaven.

Fiordland is a must do, even if its only to go for a cruise on Milford Sound, but the park offers so much more. Kaikoura is famous for its whale-watching and the town is also a great introduction to South Island Maori culture. Dunedin is a fine example of Scottish architecture and an elegant city sitting at the bottom of the world. Visit the Church of the Good Shepherd in Lake Tekapo; the location is stunning.

If you can get to a rugby game, especially anywhere in Canterbury, the opportunity should be taken up. Rugby is the religion here and it's a great opportunity to socialise and watch Kiwi's socialise ... it will almost certainly involve beer and mud.

Lake Tekapo
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Points of Interest

Language
English is the first language. Maori is also commonly spoken.
Currency
New Zealand Dollar (NZD)
Electricity
230V 50Hz
Time
NZST: New Zealand Standard Time runs 2 hours ahead of AEST. Daylight Saving Time is observed from the last Sunday in September until the first Sunday in April.
Visas

Visitors from Australia are eligible for a visa waiver and do not require a visa for stays of less than three months. Full details are provided on the Immigration New Zealand website (www.immigration.govt.nz). For visa, passport, health and security advice for Australian travellers, visit the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website - www.smartraveller.gov.au.

 

Important Info
Tipping in New Zealand is not obligatory, even in restaurants and bars, although is always appreciated for good service. On public holidays, restaurants and cafes may add service charges of up to 15% to your final bill.

Useful Phrases

Hello / thank you Kia Ora
See you later Hei konei ra
Yes Ae
No Kaore
How are you? Kei te pehea koe?

Best Time to Visit

New Zealand is a fantastic destination in any season – from the hot days of summer, enjoyed at the beach, to the depths of winter when the ski fields spring to life and whales cruise the coast off Kaikoura. Hiking, cycling and wildlife watching number among the memorable activities that can be enjoyed all year round. The peak travel season is summer, December to February, and through to the end of March. For travel during this time, it is recommended that accommodation, rental cars and campervans, domestic flights, and popular activities and tours are booked well in advance. Travel arrangements should also be made in advance for winter ski season holidays. The shoulder seasons are excellent times to visit. Spring (September–November) bursts with new life, from flourishing gardens and frolicking lambs, to gushing waterfalls powered by mountain snow melt. Autumn/Fall (April–May), meanwhile, brings settled weather, vibrant natural landscapes, and the flexibility offered by fewer crowds.
Activity Time
Skiing June to September/October
Watch an All Blacks game June to September
Freshwater Fishing October to April
Hiking and Tramping Each season offers a unique experience, though winter is traditionally not a busy time.
Whale Watching See giant sperm whales year-round from Kiakoura
White Water Rafting Spring - September to November
Self-Drive Holidays Autumn - March to May

Getting Around

Getting around New Zealand is easy and relatively inexpensive, thanks to a well-developed transport network.
 
By road, national coach services crisscross the North and South Island daily, with the Cook Strait in between them crossed via frequent interisland ferries between Wellington and Picton. Scheduled boat services ply other popular routes such as those around Auckland Harbour and Foveaux Strait from Bluff to Stewart Island/Rakiura. Long-distance train travel is limited to the KiwiRail scenic journeys counted amongst world’s most scenic rail journeys.
 
New Zealand is one of the world’s greatest road-tripping countries, with quiet highways and epic landscapes ensuring that the journeys really are as enjoyable as the destinations. A well-planned journey will maximise enjoyment of attractions along the way, as well as alleviate pressure on itineraries. Driving times and distances can be found at www.newzealand.com/int/travel-times-and-distances-calculator

Dining

An abundance of superb ingredients mixes with inspiration from around the world to produce a culinary scene that is diverse and delicious.
 
It starts in the orchards and fields, where sensational fruit and vegetables grow, and creamy treats such as artisan cheese and authentic gelato are made from free-range milk. Green pastures produce beef, lamb and venison that is the envy of the world. From the ocean comes seafood such as greenshell mussels, you can buy fresh lobster on road-side stalls in Kaikoura, and Bluff oysters so special they’re celebrated in their own festival.
 
New Zealand is also a wine-lover’s delight, with two of the countryies most famous drops comoing from the South Island. Marlborough's signature varietal, the zingy sauvignon blanc is famouns the world-over, as is Central Otago's pinot noir.
 
No visitor to Dunedin should leave without taking the Speight's Brewery tour. Since 1876 the brewery has been proudly producing Speight's legendary ales from the same site in Rattray St, Dunedin, and craft-beer-drinkers are well served by a thriving craft brewing industry, exploding with the flavours of New World hops.

Shopping

Shopping is a real pleasure, with plenty of markets, gift stores and designer fashion boutiques, with a high number of unique, independent outlets. New Zealand-made specialities include beautiful pounamu (jade) and paua (abalone) shell ornaments and jewellery; handcrafted glass and local wood products; luxurious merino or possum knitwear; sheepskin and leather goods.

What to Pack

Visitors should come prepared for all conditions, at any time of year. Local weather conditions and forecasts can be found on the MetService website (www.metservice.com).

Overall, New Zealand enjoys a mild climate with moderate rainfall, although its mountain ranges and maritime environments create varying microclimates and sudden changes in weather. In general, though, the far north of New Zealand is subtropical, with average temperatures generally decreasing towards the south.

Wildlife
The Kea, a bird native to New Zealand, is known for pulling windscreen wipers off cars and eating the strips of rubber.

New Zealand's South Island offers wildlife, wineries, glacial valleys, dramatic coastlines, mountain peaks and action-packed adventure. Head to Marlborough in the north of the island to discover some world-renowned sav blanc. Explore the West Coast's rugged beauty, glaciers, rivers and rainforests. On the East Coast you'll find some amazing wildlife spotting opportunities, such as seals, whales and dolphins off the little fishing village of Kaikoura. Adventure capital Queenstown is the go-to place for jet boating, white water rafting, skiing and snowboarding. Hiking and tramping is big at Mt Cook. The list goes on.

Our Top Tours and Experiences

Hanmer Springs Thermal Pool & Spa - Basic Pass Day Tour

New Zealand

Hanmer Springs

Hanmer Springs Thermal Pool & Spa - Basic P...

Star
  • Basic admission to all outdoor thermal pools.
  • Basic admission to all freshwater lap pools.
  • Basic admission to all lazy river and family pools.
  • Use of a towel.
from$25*
Fox Trail - Terminal Face Walk Day Tour

New Zealand

Fox Glacier

Fox Trail - Terminal Face Walk Day Tour

Star
  • Qualified guide.
  • Ground transport.
  • Leather boots and woollen socks.
  • Waterproof raincoat and over trousers.
  • Alpenstock.
from$65*
Skyline Gondola, Buffet Lunch & 3 Luge Ride Day Tour

New Zealand

Queenstown

Skyline Gondola, Buffet Lunch & 3 Luge Ride...

Star
  • Return scenic Gondola ride.
  • Buffet lunch.
  • 3 Luge rides.
from$85*
Dolphin Encounter Watch Day Tour

New Zealand

Kaikoura

Dolphin Encounter Watch Day Tour

Star
  • Transfer from our base to the harbour and back.
  • Video safety briefing prior to departure.
  • An expert crew.
  • Light refreshments on board (hot chocolate and ginger cookies).
  • Complimentary information pack on return to base.
  • Use of on board facilties - toilet and ample seating.
  • Blankets.
from$95*
Doubtful Sound Wilderness Cruise Day Tour

New Zealand

Queenstown

Doubtful Sound Wilderness Cruise Day Tour

Star
  • Return luxury coach transfer from Queenstown.
  • Doubtful Sound Wilderness Day Cruise.
  • Nature guide.
from$299*
Mt Cook Day Tour (Lunch)

New Zealand

Christchurch

Mt Cook Day Tour (Lunch)

Star
  • Scenic drive through beautiful Southern Alps visiting Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki.
  • Canterbury Plains.
  • Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park.
  • Mackenzie Country scenery.
  • Lunch.
from$309*