20 Places Off the Beaten Track in the South Island

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Find the Hidden Gems of the South Island.

Adventures are not adventures until you get off the beaten track. Some of the South Island’s most mind-blowing features are in remote locations. It might mean you need to take a detour on a road trip or hike for 3 days, but to see things that most backpackers only see in photographs, it is definitely worth it. So with that in mind, take a look at these places off the beaten track in the South Island of New Zealand!

You might also want to browse our whole category of “Hidden Gems” for the South Island!

For North Island wonders, check out: 20 Places Off the Beaten Track in the North Island.


1. Stewart Island

A commonly forgotten island off the south coast of the South Island. It is New Zealand’s third populated island, with isolated beaches and bush walks. Find out more about the island here: Stewart Island – Guide for Backpackers.

Location: South Island
BackpackerGuide.NZ(c) BackpackerGuide.NZ

2. Springfield

New Zealand’s very own Simpson’s town. There is a giant doughnut sculpture in the town. It is not edible, though, which is slightly less impressive. Springfield is a good base if using the Porters Ski Field.

Location: Canterbury, South Island
Mattinbgn on Wikipedia(c) Mattinbgn on Wikipedia

3. Oamaru

The best place to see the little blue penguins! The quirky town has a rich Victorian heritage hosting a Victorian Fete every year. Plus, there’s a museum dedicated to all things steampunk! Check out more about Oamaru in Otago – Guide for Backpackers.

Location: Otago, South Island
BackpackerGuide.NZ(c) BackpackerGuide.NZ

4. Moeraki Boulders

These marvels have taken millions of years to form! See these perfectly spherical boulders at low tide for the best views. Moeraki is between Dunedin and Oamaru.

Location: Otago, South Island
 Bernard Spragg. NZ on Flickr(c) Bernard Spragg. NZ on Flickr

5. Nugget Point

Beautiful photos can be taken from the lighthouse overlooking the “nuggets” of rock and seal colony. Check out more about Nugget Point here: Catlins – Guide for Backpackers.

Location: Catlins, South Island
BackpackerGuide.NZ(c) BackpackerGuide.NZ

6. Blue Lake

In the Nelson Lakes National Park, it is a multi-day hike to get to this unbelievably clear lake. It is said to be the clearest water in New Zealand.

Location: Nelson Lakes National Park, South Island
Squashem on Wikipedia(c) Squashem on Wikipedia

7. Mt Fyffe

This mountain is part of the Seaward Kaikoura Range. An 8-hour return to the summit provides amazing views over the Kaikoura plains and peninsula.

Location: Canterbury, South Island
 Sid Mosdell on Flickr(c) Sid Mosdell on Flickr

8. Methven

The closest town to Mt Hutt ski field, Methven is a bustling hub in winter yet an off the beaten track destination in summer. Nearby things to do include the Rakaia Gorge and Washpen Falls.

Location: Canterbury, South Island
BackpackerGuide.NZ(c) BackpackerGuide.NZ

9. Mavora Lakes

A beautiful lake and mountain landscape between Lake Te Anau and Lake Wakatipu (Queenstown). It is a dreamy place for a camping trip and a Lord of the Rings filming location.

Location: Southland, South Island
 Jeff Hitchcock on Wikipediar(c) Jeff Hitchcock on Wikipediar

10. Karamea

Karamea is a wilderness wonderland on the West Coast. It is the gateway to the Kahurangi National Park, with heaps of beautiful walks including the Heaphy Track.

Location: West Coast, South Island
BackpackerGuide.NZ(c) BackpackerGuide.NZ

11. Lake Manapouri

Getting on the lake is the best way to take in the unique beauty of the 35 islands and rainforest shoreline. It’s also the gateway to Doubtful Sound.

Location: Fiordland National Park, South Island
BackpackerGuide.NZ(c) BackpackerGuide.NZ

12. Farewell Spit

The South Island’s most northern tip is a long sand spit. The old lighthouse, rolling sand dunes and gannet colony provide excellent photo opportunities. It’s one of the 19 Epic Natural Attractions in Golden Bay.

Location: Golden Bay, South Island
BackpackerGuide.NZ(c) BackpackerGuide.NZ

13. Doubtful Sound

In the shadow of Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound gets less attention due to its limited access. You can only get to this much longer sound by water.

Location: Fiordland National Park, South Island
BackpackerGuide.NZ(c) BackpackerGuide.NZ

14. Earnslaw Burn

These waterfalls cascade from the end of a glacier. Earnslaw Burn is a filming location for The Hobbit, with good reason: it’s absolutely stunning.

Location: Glenorchy, South Island
Jeff HItchcock on Wikipedia(c) Jeff HItchcock on Wikipedia

15. Lake Gunn

Often bypassed by travellers on the way to Milford Sound. Lake Gunn is worth sticking around to take in that sensational Fiordland beauty.

Location: Fiordland National Park, South Island
Jocey K onb Flickr(c) Jocey K onb Flickr

16. Curio Bay

At low tide, a fossilised forest emerges at Curio Bay. Distinguishable tree stumps and logs can be seen in the rock. It’s one of the 18 Amazing Attractions You Can’t Miss in The Catlins

Location: Catlins, South Island
BackpackerGuide.NZ(c) BackpackerGuide.NZ

17. Clay Cliffs

The Waitaki Valley holds many rock formations and fossils. One of the most impressive is the Clay Cliffs!

Location: Canterbury, South Island
BackpackerGuide.NZ(c) BackpackerGuide.NZ

18. Lake Hauroko

The deepest lake in New Zealand and in the top 10 deepest lakes in the world, Lake Hauroko has many features to make it wonderful. Situated deep in the Fiordland National Park, there are some walking tracks in the area to take in lake and mountain backdrop.

Location: Fiordland National Park, South Island
BackpackerGuide.NZ(c) BackpackerGuide.NZ

19. Welcome Flat Hot Pools

Along the Copland Track, about a 7-hour walk away from the nearest car park, are some natural hot pools nestled in mountain scenery.

Location: Glacier Country, South Island
hikingisgood.com Wikipedia(c) hikingisgood.com Wikipedia

20. Akaroa

Many people forget about this peninsula just outside of Christchurch with is a wildlife mecca and formed by volcanoes! Find out more in 10 Things We Love About Akaroa.

Location: Canterbury, South Island
BackpackerGuide.NZ(c) BackpackerGuide.NZ

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