Welcome to possibly the world’s most scenically diverse island; with lakes, mountains and beaches, often incorporating quintessentially Kiwi ways to get active and adventurous.
Meet the Locals
Prepare to meet the South Island’s idiosyncratic wildlife: whales, fur seals, dolphins and penguins all frequent the coastal waters around Kaikoura, partnered by an armada of pelagic bird species including petrels and albatross. NZ’s endangered Hector’s dolphins cavort in the waters of Banks Peninsula and the Catlins, and the Otago Peninsula has penguins, royal albatross and sea lions. Further south, often battered by Southern Ocean winds, Stewart Island presents opportunities to spy NZ’s iconic but shy kiwi in the wild. More bolshy avian species include the kea, NZ’s native alpine parrot. Keep a close eye on your rental car’s aerial if they’re hanging around.
The easygoing heritage charms of Arrowtown, Dunedin and Oamaru are undoubted, but the South Island’s most iconic experiences are best enjoyed with a healthy sense of adventure. Kayak in the meandering coves of the Marlborough Sounds or amid Fiordland’s remote isolation, scare yourself silly with Queenstown’s gravity-defying menu of bungy options, or take to two wheels through stunning scenery on the Otago Central Rail Trail. During winter, squeeze in a short ski-field break around Wanaka, Queenstown or Mt Hutt, before adjourning to cosy bars and cafes to watch NZ’s rugby legends take on the best of Australia and South Africa.
Why I Love the Destination
By Brett Atkinson, Writer
Although I'm a born and bred North Islander, I'm a huge fan of the South Island. Kayaking around Abel Tasman National Park is truly special – include time to explore Marlborough's craft beer scene – and further south at Kaikoura and Akaroa I've loved swimming with fur seals and dolphins. Historic Dunedin and Oamaru are packed with heritage architecture (and great pubs), and Christchurch's post-earthquake creativity and energy are contagious. Beautiful Central Otago, the sleepy Catlins coast, and wildlife watching on the Otago Peninsula are all special memories.
Walk on the Wild Side
With just a million people scattered across 151,215 square kilometres, the South Island has a population density even smaller than Tasmania. Filling in the gaps are the sublime (and very pretty) forests, mountains, lakes, beaches and fiords that have made New Zealand’s ‘Mainland’ one of the best hiking (locals call it tramping) destinations on the planet. Tackle one of the South Island’s six epic ‘Great Walks’ – you’ve probably already heard of the Heaphy, Routeburn or Milford Tracks – or just spend a few dreamy hours wandering through some easily accessible wilderness.
Food, Wine & Beer
After all this honest exercise, visitors can ease further into the local eating and drinking scene. NZ food was once a bland facsimile of a British Sunday dinner, but these days Kiwi chefs dip into new-world culinary oceans for inspiration. Expect a tasty focus on local and seasonal produce, especially around the stone-fruit orchards of Central Otago and the salty marine larder surrounding Kaikoura.
Thirsty? NZ’s cool-climate wineries have been collecting wine-award trophies for decades now, and Marlborough, Christchurch and Dunedin are all hoppy hubs for the country’s emerging craft beer movement.