With just over a million people scattered across 151,215 sq km, you'll have no trouble finding your own slice of wilderness on New Zealand's 'mainland'. The only problem will be choosing between the sublime forests, mountains, lakes, beaches and fiords that make this island one of the best outdoor destinations on the planet. Lace up your boots and tackle one of the South Island’s six Great Walks, or choose from countless other options ranging from short nature strolls to multiday, backcountry epics. The Department of Conservation's track and hut network makes it easy to find a way in.
Hiking (known as 'tramping' here) may be the South Island's quintessential activity, but there are racier ways to immerse yourself in its landscapes. Tumble down the Buller or Rangitata Rivers in a raft, or paddle the glassy coves of the Marlborough Sounds, Abel Tasman National Park or Fiordland. In winter, slice up the slopes around Wanaka, Queenstown or Mt Hutt, while in warmer weather the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail and Central Otago Rail Trail beckon to those on two wheels. For the hardcore thrill-seekers, Queenstown's gravity-defying menu of bungy, paragliding or skydiving is sure to get your adrenalin pumping.
Tantalise Your Tastebuds
Epicurious travellers will delight in the South Island's smorgasbord of seasonal produce, from luscious berries, stone fruit, asparagus and root vegetables, to local seafood, lamb, beef and a plethora of artisanal dairy delights. Roadside kiosks sell everything from farm eggs to grandma's tomato relish, while world-class regional restaurants skim the cream of local crops for innovative tasting menus. Add some of the world's best cool-climate wines, from Central Otago's superb pinot noir to Marlborough's renowned sauvignon blanc, as well as some of the most exciting craft breweries in the country, and you have a recipe for a foodies' paradise.
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; endangered Hector’s dolphins cavort alongside penguins in Akaroa Harbour and the Catlins; and the Otago Peninsula shelters penguins, sea lions and even a colony of royal albatrosses. Further south, remote Stewart Island is the perfect place to spot the iconic but shy kiwi, alongside a profusion of other feathered friends. The South Island is also home to two special parrots, the kaka and the kea – the latter is particularly partial to car aerials and unattended tramping boots.