51 Best Things to Do in the South Island
51 Best Things to Do in the South Island

51 Best Things to Do on the South Island

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The Best Activities, Attractions, Sights and Tours on the South Island

When planning a trip to the South Island, it’s difficult to know where to begin. Well, how about you begin with this list of the 51 best things to do on the South Island? It covers a range of experiences; from the must-dos to the surprising finds, from the freebies to the luxurious treats, from the adventurous to the relaxing, and so on. You’re sure to find the South Island must-dos that suit your travel style.

Before we get into the best things to do on the South Island, open up The Best Travel Guide to New Zealand in a new tab to plan the rest of your trip.

1. Experience a Heli-Hike on the Tasman Glacier

You can do a few pretty epic things on the South Island, so let’s start with arguably one of the most epic! In Aoraki Mt Cook, you can land on New Zealand’s largest glacier in a helicopter and explore its ice caves (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and KKday). As you may well know, glacier heli-hiking is also available in Franz Josef and Fox Glacier.

Location: Mt Cook, Canterbury. Learn more in the 7 Ways to Take on New Zealand’s Glaciers.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

2. Meet an Adorable Kiwi Bird

See New Zealand’s iconic flightless bird, the kiwi, at one of the many conservation centres on the South Island, such as the Kiwi Birdlife Park in Queenstown (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).

Location: Queenstown, Otago. Check out all of the locations across the South Island in Where to See Kiwi Birds in New Zealand.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

3. Tour and Taste in New Zealand’s Largest Wine Region

Marlborough is New Zealand’s largest wine-producing region, renowned for its sauvignon blanc. Either visit wineries independently for tastings by hiring some bikes (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) or be chauffeured around on a driving tour (on Viator, Tripadvisor or Klook).

Location: Blenheim, Marlborough. Check out more South Island wine regions in the 10 Best Wine Tours in New Zealand.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

4. Skydive Over Glaciers and the Tasman Sea at Franz Josef

Skydiving is huge in New Zealand; not only because of the country’s adventurous spirit but because of the stunning views seen during the freefall. We like Skydive Franz Josef for its mountains-to-sea views and tight operation (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook).

Location: Franz Josef, West Coast. See more amazing South Island dropzones in the 12 Best Places to Tandem Skydive in New Zealand.

51 Best Things to Do in the South Island© Skydive Franz & Fox

5. Witness Crystal Clear Pools at Te Waikoropupū Springs

Te Waikoropupū Springs is the largest freshwater spring in New Zealand, releasing unbelievably clear water. Enjoy a short walk around the springs to see this natural wonder.

Location: Takaka, South Island. For more Takaka attractions, see the 10 Best Things to Do in Takaka.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

6. Do Some Whale Watching in Kaikoura

Unlike many whale watching hotspots around the world, the whales in Kaikoura are here all year round. See these ocean giants for yourself on a whale watching cruise (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook).

Location: Kaikoura, Canterbury. See more locations for whale watching, particularly on the South Island, in the 5 Best Places to Spot Whales in New Zealand.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© ChristchurchNZ

7. Enjoy a Cruise in the Famous Fiord of Milford Sound

If you know anything about the South Island, it’s probably something to do with Milford Sound. This majestic fiord has been dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, most commonly seen on cruises, which we list and compare in the 6 Best Cruises in Milford Sound.

Location: Fiordland National Park, Southland. Plan your trip to the fiord using The Complete Travel Guide to Milford Sound.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© Pxhere

8. Visit Some Seal Colonies

Seeing these adorable marine mammals is a common occurrence on the South Island. See seal colonies from the Cape Foulwind Walkway in Westport or simply take up parking spots at the Point Kean car park in Kaikoura.

Location: Westport, West Coast or Kaikoura, Canterbury. See locations all over the South Island in the 14 Best Places to See Seals in New Zealand.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

9. Experience Kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park

With more than 5,800km (3,630 mi) of coastline, the South Island is an awesome place for kayaking. A hotspot for the watersport is the bush-clad and golden-sand shores of the Abel Tasman National Park (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).

Location: Abel Tasman National Park, Nelson Tasman. Hit more kayaking spots using the 10 Best Kayak Tours in New Zealand.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© www.nelsontasman.nz

10. Take a Scenic Train Journey  on the TranzAlpine

The South Island is home to one of the world’s most scenic rail journeys, as appeared on countless rankings, the TranzAlpine train (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook). This is mainly due to the gorgeous mountain scenery of the Arthur’s Pass National Park, which you can also drive through.

Location: ChristchurchGreymouth, Canterbury – West Coast. Learn more about taking the train in our New Zealand Train Guide.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© KiwiRail

11. Have Way Too Much Fun on the Downhill Go-Karts of The Luge

It might seem daft, but don’t underestimate the fun factor of The Luge. These downhill tracks in Queenstown are made for gravity-powered go-karts providing heaps of fun for all ages.

Location: Queenstown, Otago. See more wacky activities like this in the 9 Newest & Weirdest Extreme Activities in New Zealand.

51 Best Things to Do in the South Island© Julian Apse - New Zealand

12. Carve Your Own Maori Greenstone Pendant in Hokitika

Greenstone, also known as jade or pounamu, is a precious stone, particularly to the local Maori people. The shores of Hokitika and the West Coast have an abundance of the stone, making it a worthy place to try carving your own greenstone pendant.

Location: Hokitika, West Coast. See more Hokitika attractions in the 10 Best Things to Do in Hokitika.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© Miles Holden - Tourism New Zealand

13. Watch Penguins, Sea Lions, Albatross and More Wildlife on the Otago Peninsula

The Otago Peninsula is a mecca for some of the world’s rarest species of penguins and sea lions, as well as the largest seabird, the royal albatross. Join one of the guided tours on the peninsula to pretty much guarantee good viewings (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).

Location: Dunedin, Otago. See more Dunedin highlights in the 10 Best Things to Do in Dunedin.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© Tourism New Zealand

14. Explore Caves and Giant Arches in the Oparara Basin

A real hidden gem, the Oparara Basin has short walks to multiple caves and arches, including a 200m (656ft)-long arch! Plan your visit using the 7 Amazing Oparara Basin Walks.

Location: Karamea, West Coast. For more activities nearby, see the 7 Best Things to Do in Karamea.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© westcoast.co.nz

15. Take the Leap with a Bungy Jump in Queenstown

Do this iconic adrenaline activity in the place where it was invented, Queenstown. There’s the original bungy jump from the Kawarau Bridge, the highest jump from the Nevis Bungy, and one that allows you to do a freestyle jump, The Ledge. Learn more about these jumps in the 7 Best Places to Bungy Jump in New Zealand.

Location: Queenstown, South Island. See more adrenaline activities in the 10 Epic Adventure Activities in Queenstown.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© AJ Hackett Bungy - Tourism New Zealand

16. Step Back in Time on Ulva Island

Experience what New Zealand used to be like before human migration on Ulva Island (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook). Native parrots cackling in the trees and kiwi birds running across your path are not uncommon on this island which is just a short boat trip from Stewart Island.

Location: Stewart Island, Southland. See more Stewart Island experiences in the 10 Best Things to Do on Stewart Island.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

17. Soak in the Spring Water of Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools

While the North Island might steal all the limelight for geothermal experiences like hot pools, there are still some noteworthy hot pools experiences on the South Island. One of the most famous is the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools, the largest in the country.

Location: Hanmer Springs, Canterbury. See the locations of other South Island hot pools in the 10 Best Hot Pools in New Zealand.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© ChristchurchNZ

18. Tackle a “Great Walk”

Backpacking/tramping/multi-day hiking is a classic way to connect with nature and see the South Island’s breathtaking scenery. While there are hundreds of multi-day hikes in New Zealand, the ones with the best facilities are known as the New Zealand Great Walks. Add the Kepler Track or Abel Tasman Coast Track to your itinerary for a real adventure.

Location: See the locations of all of the Great Walks in The 10 Great Walks of New Zealand. For cheaper options, see the 12 Awesome Alternatives to the New Zealand Great Walks.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© S Hall - Destination Fiordland

19. Experience a South Island Ski Season

In winter, the mountain comes alive with skiers and snowboarders carving the slopes. Skiing hotspots include Queenstown, Wanaka and Methven but you’ll find all sorts of small towns and old-school ski areas too.

Location: See all the locations in the Top 24 Ski Fields in New Zealand.

51 Best Things to Do in the South Island© Destination Queenstown

20. Swim with Seals

While seals might not like to be approached on land, they are curious and playful in the water. That’s why seal swimming is one of our most recommended wildlife encounters in Kaikoura (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).

Location: Kaikoura, Canterbury. For more activities, see the 10 Best Things to Do in Kaikoura.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

21. Ride the Rapids in White Water Rafting

Along with the dramatic landscapes on the South Island are dramatic rivers for white water rafting! Rafting in Queenstown is a worthy option, taking you through old mining tunnels (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor, Klook and KKday).

Location: Queenstown, Otago. For more South Island rafting locations, check out the 7 Best Places to Go White Water Rafting in New Zealand.

51 Best Things to Do in the South Island© NZPocketGuide.com

22. Admire the Vibrant Blue Pools of Hokitika Gorge

As if painted in a picture, Hokitika Gorge boasts vividly blue pools. Enjoy a short walk to this beautiful river gorge on the West Coast, which you can learn more about in the 23 Best Walks in Hokitika.

Location: Hokitika, West Coast. See more photo spots like this in the 10 Picture Perfect Bridges in New Zealand.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

23. See Glowworms in Te Anau

As vivid as the stars in the sky are the glowworms in the caves of Te Anau. Located across an expansive lake, the Te Anau Glowworm Caves has underground waterfalls and glowworm colonies (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor, Klook or KKday).

Location: Te Anau, Southland. Check out more locations with glowworms in the 7 Best Places to See the Famous Glowworms in New Zealand.

51 Best Things to Do in the South Island© NZPocketGuide.com

24. Check Out McLean Falls in The Catlins

A road trip around the South Island is typically full of waterfalls. Arguably, some of the most beautiful can be found in The Catlins. McLean Falls is a rewarding waterfall to visit with climbable terraces. Also, add the nearby Purakaunui Falls to the list.

Location: The Catlins, Southland-Otago. For more South Island waterfalls to visit, check out the 12 Most Wonderful Waterfalls in New Zealand.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

25. Explore the Shores of Farewell Spit and Wharariki Beach

Get off the beaten track to the sandy shores of Golden Bay where two ruggedly beautiful coastal sights await. Farewell Spit is New Zealand’s longest sandspit and one of the most protected places in the country. Nearby, Wharariki Beach looks out to the photogenic Archway Islands.

Location: Golden Bay, Nelson Tasman. For more things to see in the area, see the 19 Epic Natural Attractions in Golden Bay.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© www.nelsontasman.nz

26. Wander Among the Forest Canopy on the West Coast Treetop Walkway

The elevated walk of the West Coast Treetop Walkway (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) features towers and lookouts to take in the views of the surrounding coast, lake and trees. See the forest from a completely different perspective!

Location: Hokitika, West Coast. Plan more of your visit in the 10 Best Things to Do in Hokitika.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© westcoast.co.nz

27. Stargaze in an International Dark Sky Reserve

New Zealand is not only home to a Dark Sky Reserve in Mt Cook and Lake Tekapo but a Dark Sky Sanctuary on Stewart Island. This basically means that these South Island locations are among some of the best places in the world to stargaze.

Location: Aoraki Mt Cook/Lake Tekapo – Stewart Island. See more locations in the 5 Best Stargazing Sites in New Zealand.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© Unsplash

28. Do Horse Riding in Peel Forest

Gallop across the plains or beaches, climb the hills and navigate the forests on a horse trekking tour on the South Island. An excellent choice is Peel Forest Horse Trekking in Canterbury, but you can take your pick from the 11 Best Horse Treks in New Zealand.

Location: Peel Forest, Canterbury. For more activities nearby, see the 10 Best Things to Do in Geraldine.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

29. Experience New Zealand’s Farming Culture at Walter Peak

Farming has been a way of life in New Zealand for more than a century and tours like those at Walter Peak give visitors a fun insight into sheep shearing, cattle rearing and more (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor, Klook and KKday).

Location: Queenstown, Otago. See more family-friendly activities like this in the 50 Best Things to Do in New Zealand with Kids.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© Unsplash

30. Gaze Upon the Reflections of Lake Matheson

It doesn’t get more postcard-perfect than Lake Matheson. The loop walk around the lake takes you to various viewpoints with reflections of the Southern Alps in the inky black water.

Location: Fox Glacier, West Coast. For more lakes to admire, see the 21 Mind-Blowing Lakes in New Zealand.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

31. Go On a Jet Boat Excursion in Haast

Jet boating on the South island comes in two forms: a thrill ride or an excursion. Waiatoto River Safari offers the latter, taking you on a scenic journey from the Tasman Sea to the valleys of the Mt Aspiring National Park. Check out the specific tour on Viator and Tripadvisor.

Location: Haast, West Coast. Take a look at the different jet boat tours in the 17 Best Places to Jet Boat in New Zealand.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© westcoast.co.nz

32. Experience Off-Roading in Greymouth

Drive on the off-roading trails of bush, bog and pastures with On Yer Bike in Greymouth (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor). They have self-drive quad bikes and 4×4 buggies, as well as Hagglund rides for families.

Location: Greymouth, West Coast. For more South Island off-roading locations, check out the 10 Best Places for Quad Biking in New Zealand.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

33. Zipline Through the Forest in Queenstown

Soar through the forest on an exciting ziplining tour with Ziptrek Eco Tours in Queenstown (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor, Klook and KKday). There are multiple giant ziplines through the forest which you can even ride upsidedown.

Location: Queenstown, Otago. For more zipline locations, check out the 10 Best Places to Zipline in New Zealand.

51 Best Things to Do in the South Island© NZPocketGuide.com

34. Ride the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail

Just like the multi-day tramping trails, New Zealand is also home to some breathtaking multi-day cycle journeys. Cycle from Aoraki Mt Cook to the Pacific Ocean on the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail or one of the 10 Best Bike Trails on the South Island.

Location: Mt CookOamaru, South Island. For more places to ride your bike, head to The Best Mountain Biking Regions in New Zealand.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

35. Walk to Devil’s Punchbowl Falls

Nestled in the Arthur’s Pass National Park, Devil’s Punchbowl Falls is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the country. It’s also one of the 20 Best Short Walks on the South Island.

Location: Arthur’s Pass National Park, Canterbury. For more waterfalls to see, head to the 12 Most Wonderful Waterfalls in New Zealand.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© ChristchurchNZ

36. See Mountains, Glacier Lakes and More on the Hooker Valley Track

More stellar scenery awaits on the Hooker Valley Track of the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. Walk from suspension bridge to suspension bridge under the gaze of towering mountains until you reach a glacier lake with Aoraki Mt Cook piercing the sky in the distance.

Location: Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, Canterbury. For more unmissable walks, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Mt Cook.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© Tourism New Zealand

37. Wander Among the Boulders of Castle Hill

If you hadn’t had enough of the South Island’s spectacular natural formations then head to Kura Tawhiti, also known as Castle Hill. Here, you’ll find majestic limestone formations on the access track.

Location: Castle Hill, Canterbury. See more sights nearby in the 10 Underrated Places to Visit in Canterbury.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© Unsplash

38. Stretch Your Legs at Christchurch Botanic Gardens

Another reason to stretch your legs on the South Island is for its spectacular gardens, especially those in Christchurch. Check out the duck ponds, rose gardens, native gardens and water features at the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.

Location: Christchurch, Canterbury. Explore more attractions like this in the 17 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Christchurch.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

39. Tour the Shamarra Alpaca Farm in Akaroa

A surprising find in New Zealand is alpaca farms! Feed, stroke and get a photo with the alpacas of Shamarra Alpaca Farm in Akaroa.

Location: Akaroa, Canterbury. Plan more of your trip to Akaroa using the 10 Akaroa Must-Dos.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

40. Try Via Ferrata Climbing with Wildwire Wanaka

You don’t need to be a pro climber to experience the sensation of scouring cliff faces and waterfalls. Wildwire Wanaka has set up a fun via ferrata climbing course with steel ladders and bridges (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).

Location: Wanaka, Otago. Check out The Complete Travel Guide to Wanaka to plan more of your trip.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

41. See How Beer is Made on the Monteith’s Brewery Tour

Discover New Zealand’s passion for beer making on a brewery tour, such as the Monteith’s Brewery in Greymouth (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).

Location: Greymouth, West Coast. More brewery tour locations can be found in the 10 Best New Zealand Beer Tours.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

42. Check Out the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes

For more reasons to travel to the West Coast, the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks are a must-see. Feast your eyes on these oddly-shaped rocks stacked like pancakes with powerful blowhole displays at high tide.

Location: Punakaiki, West Coast. There’s more stuff to do here, which you can find out about in the 9 Best Things to Do in Punakaiki.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

43. Enter the Alternative World of Steampunk HQ

One of the quirkier attractions on the South Island, Steampunk HQ is a sci-fi museum and art gallery with all sorts of wacky inventions. What’s more, it’s an excellent rainy day activity.

Location: Oamaru, Otago. Check out more attractions nearby in the 10 Best Things to Do in Oamaru.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

44. Visit Larnach Castle, New Zealand’s Only Castle

That’s right, Larnach Castle is New Zealand’s only castle and boasts a position fit for a king on a hilltop of the Otago Peninsula. Visit the castle for high tea, tours and accommodation (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).

Location: Dunedin, Otago. Check out The Complete Travel Guide to Dunedin to plan your trip.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© DunedinNZ

45. See Realistic World War Scenes at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre

Forget your tired museum displays, the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre is a high-budget affair showcasing warplanes and memorabilia in realistic static displays (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook).

Location: Blenheim, Marlborough. Explore more of Blenheim using the 10 Best Things to Do in Blenheim.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

46. Get a Photo of the Moeraki Boulders

A popular stop between Dunedin and Oamaru, these perfectly spherical boulders are a cool feature to see at low tide. Plan your visit using The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Moeraki Boulders.

Location: Hampden, South Island. See more attractions nearby in the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Oamaru.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© Pxhere

47. Stand on the World’s Steepest Street

That’s right, Baldwin Street in Dunedin holds the Guinness World Record for the steepest street! Need we say more?

Location: Dunedin, Otago. Add a visit to Baldwin Street to your 18 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Dunedin.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© DunedinNZ

48. Find the Hidden Gem of Washpen Falls

You wouldn’t think there’s much to see among the endless fields of the Canterbury Plains, but that’s what makes Washpen Falls such a hidden gem. More than just a waterfall walk, Washpen Falls features volcanic remnants, Maori archaeological sites, stunning viewpoints and a lagoon with a cute rowing boat.

Location: Methven, Canterbury. Plan more items for the itinerary in the 10 Best Things to Do in Methven.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

49. Race a Go-Kart or Ride in a Supercar at Highlands Motorsport Park

If you have the need for speed then get yourself down to Cromwell where the Highland Motorsport Park offers a supercar lap (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) and outdoor go-karting (on Viator and Tripadvisor).

Location: Cromwell, Otago. You can do all of these 10 Best Things to Do in Cromwell too.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

50. Walk Among the Otherworldly Landscape of the Clay Cliffs

Weathered into the cliffs of Omarama is an array of pinnacles and canyons to explore. After a road trip down the Lindis Pass, take a short detour to the Clay Cliffs and be amazed.

Location: Omarama, Otago. Find more activities in the 5 Best Things to Do in Omarama.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

51. Cycle the Roxburgh Gorge Trail

There’s no real reason that we’ve left a day-long mountain biking trail until point #51; there’s just too much to do on the South Island! Regardless, an awesome day trail is the Roxburgh Gorge Trail near Alexandra.

Location: Alexandra, Otago. See more top trails in the 10 Best Bike Trails on the South Island.

51 Best Things to Do in the South Island© James Jub - Destination Central Otago

More Things to Do on the South Island and New Zealand

That’s it for the best things to do on the South Island. Now discover more activities to do around New Zealand:

Author

Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor in chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in New Zealand over 10 years ago and with a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to travel New Zealand. She knows Aotearoa inside-out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience New Zealand’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also editor of several other South Pacific travel guides and is the co-host of NZ Pocket Guide’s live New Zealand travel Q&As on YouTube.

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