Must see attractions in South Island

  • Top ChoiceSights in Punakaiki & Paparoa National Park

    Pancake Rocks

    Punakaiki's claim to fame is Dolomite Point, where a layering-weathering process called stylobedding has carved the limestone into what looks like piles of thick pancakes. Aim your visit for high tide (tide timetables are posted at the visitor centre, or look them up online). If the swell and wind are cooperating, the sea surges into caverns and booms menacingly through blowholes. See it on a wild day and be reminded that nature really is the boss. Pancake Rocks geology The foundations of the Pancake Rocks were formed 30 million years ago. Fragments of plants and marine life solidified into layers. Seismic movements lifted the limestone above the seabed, then over time the rocks have weathered by wind, rain and sea spray, eroding the softer layers, leaving behind the stacks you see today. Pancake Rocks walk Allow 20 minutes for the straightforward (1.1km) walk, which loops from the highway out to the rocks and blowholes. Make that at least 40 minutes if you want to take photos. Part of the trail is suitable for wheelchairs. Keep children close by, especially at the end of the walk when it approaches the highway.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Curio Bay & Around

    Slope Point

    South Island’s true southerly point lies not in Bluff, as many mistakenly believe, but at the end of a 20-minute trudge through a windswept cliff-side sheep paddock. A humble signpost marks this spectacular spot where blackened rocks tumble into turquoise sea while waves smash and swirl below. Trees Local sheep farmers planted small groves of hardy trees here to protect their livestock from the weather. Today the photogenic trees are one of the main visitor draws. The wind has moulded these stands into twisted sculptural formations. Weather The weather buffeting this point has travelled 3200kms over the Southern Ocean causing consistently strong winds year-round. You know you're pretty much at the bottom tip of the world when you're standing here looking out over the ocean towards Antarctica. Accommodation The nearest accommodation is on a working farm in the Catlins, with self-contained options for different budgets, and the opportunity to recharge your electric vehicle if needed. How to find Slope Point Signs south from Haldane point the way. From the car park, walk towards the sea and veer left along the fencing. The car park at the start of the track is 4km south of Slope Point Accommodation. Be aware: there is no public access across the farmlands during lambing season.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Arthur's Pass

    Arthur's Pass National Park

    Straddling the Southern Alps, known to Māori as Ka Tiritiri o Te Moana (Steep Peak of Glistening White), this vast alpine wilderness became the South Island's first national park in 1929. Of its 1144 sq km, two-thirds lies on the Canterbury side of the main divide; the rest is in Westland. It is a rugged, mountainous area, cut by deep valleys, and ranging in altitude from 245m at the Taramakau River to 2408m at Mt Murchison.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Oamaru

    Blue Penguin Colony

    Every evening the tykes from the Ōamaru blue penguin colony surf in and wade ashore, heading to their nests in an old stone quarry near the waterfront. Stands are set up on either side of the waddle route. General admission will give you a good view of the action but the premium stand (adult/child $55/32), accessed by a boardwalk through the nesting area, will get you closer.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Otago Peninsula

    Nature’s Wonders Naturally

    What makes the improbably beautiful beaches of this coastal sheep farm different from other important wildlife habitats is that (apart from pest eradication and the like) they're left completely alone. Many of the multiple private beaches haven't suffered a human footprint in years. The result is that yellow-eyed penguins can often be spotted (through binoculars) at any time of the day, and NZ fur seals laze around rocky swimming holes, blissfully unfazed by tour groups passing by.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Oamaru

    Victorian Precinct

    Consisting of only a couple of blocks centred on Harbour and Tyne Sts, this atmospheric enclave has some of NZ’s best-preserved Victorian commercial buildings. Descend on a dark and foggy night and it's downright Dickensian. It's also ground zero for all that is hip, cool and freaky in Ōamaru, and one of the best places to window shop on the entire South Island.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Christchurch

    Botanic Gardens

    Strolling through these 30 blissful riverside hectares of arboreal and floral splendour is a consummate Christchurch experience. Gorgeous at any time of the year, the gardens are particularly impressive in spring when the rhododendrons, azaleas and daffodil woodland are in riotous bloom. There are thematic gardens to explore, lawns to sprawl on, and a playground adjacent to the Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre, which also contains a lovely cafe and gift shop.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Takaka

    Te Waikoropupū Springs

    Around 14,000L of water per second bubble up from underground vents here, making it the largest freshwater spring in the southern hemisphere. It's also among the clearest in the world. The colourful little lake is reached via a 45-minute forest loop from the car park, where there are Māori carvings and illuminating information panels.

  • Sights in Queenstown

    Queenstown Gardens

    Set on its own tongue of land framing Queenstown Bay, this pretty park is the perfect city escape right within the city. Laid out in 1876, it features an 18-'hole' frisbee golf course, a skate park, lawn-bowls club, tennis courts, Queenstown Ice Arena, mature exotic trees (including large sequoias and some fab monkey puzzles by the rotunda) and a rose garden.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Queenstown

    Lake Wakatipu

    Shaped like a cartoon lightning bolt, Lake Wakatipu is NZ's third-largest lake. It reaches a depth of 372m, meaning the lake bed actually sits below sea level. Five rivers flow into it but only one (the Kawarau) flows out, making it prone to sometimes dramatic floods. The lake can be experienced at any number of speeds: the classic TSS Earnslaw steamboat trip, a spin with KJet, below decks in the Time Tripper, or a shark's-eye view with Hydro Attack.

  • Sights in Fox Glacier

    Lake Matheson

    On a good day, the famous 'mirror lake' reflects extraordinary views of distant Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt Tasman in its forest-shaded waters. The best time to visit is early morning or when the sun is low in the late afternoon, although the presence of an excellent cafe means that any time is a good time. It's extraordinary to think that this lake was carved out by the now distant Fox Glacier before it started its long retreat.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Ruby Coast & Moutere Hills

    Moturoa/Rabbit Island

    With a Māori name that translates as 'Long Island', this low-lying expanse forms an 8km-long barrier to the ocean with a gorgeous sandy beach spread along its entire length. A pine plantation forest provides shade for the cyclists on the Great Taste Trail, which passes through. You're very likely to see weka here, inquisitive flightless birds similar to kiwi but with much shorter beaks.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Stewart Island (Rakiura)

    Ulva Island

    A tiny paradise covering only 269 hectares, Ulva Island / Te Wharawhara is a great place to see lots of native birds. Established as a bird sanctuary in 1922, it remains one of Stewart Island/Rakiura’s wildest corners. The island was declared rat-free in 1997 and three years later was chosen as the site to release endangered South Island saddlebacks. Any water-taxi company will run you to the island (around $25 return) from Stewart Island's Golden Bay wharf, with scheduled services offered by Ulva Island Ferry.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Blenheim

    Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre

    When Sir Peter Jackson has a passion for something, there are no half measures. That's abundantly clear in the 'Knights of the Sky' exhibition, which features the movie director's personal collection of WWI aircraft and memorabilia, brought to life in a series of life-sized dioramas that depict dramatic wartime scenes such as the death of the Red Baron. The other half of the centre, WWII-themed 'Dangerous Skies', is the work of local aviation enthusiasts.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Collingwood & Around

    Farewell Spit

    Bleak, exposed and positively sci-fi, Farewell Spit is a wetland of international importance and a renowned bird sanctuary – the summer home of thousands of migratory waders, notably the godwit, Caspian tern and Australasian gannet. Walkers can explore the first 4km of the spit via a network of tracks (see DOC's Farewell Spit & Puponga Farm Park brochure; $2 or download from www.doc.govt.nz). Beyond that point access is limited to trips with the brilliant Farewell Spit Tours, scheduled according to tides.

  • Sights in Port Chalmers

    Orokonui Ecosanctuary

    From the impressive visitor centre there are great views over this 307-hectare predator-free nature reserve, which encloses cloud forest on the mountainous ridge above Port Chalmers and stretches to the estuary on the opposite side. Its mission is to provide a mainland refuge for species usually exiled to offshore islands for their own protection. Visiting options include self-guided explorations, hour-long 'highlights' tours (adult/child $35/17.50; 11am and 1.30pm daily) and two-hour 'forest explorer' tours (adult/child $50/25; 11am daily).

  • Top ChoiceSights in Invercargill

    Transport World

    A kingdom of shiny chrome lies beyond the doors of Transport World, touted as the largest private automotive museum on the planet. Across 15,000 sq metres of warehouse space you'll find classic cars, hulking tractors and vintage petrol pumps (even the bathrooms are on theme). Kids' play areas, a miniature movie theatre, displays of fashions of yesteryear and a great cafe round out Transport World as a crowd-pleaser, rather than just one for the petrolheads.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Dunedin

    Olveston

    Although it's a youngster by European standards, this spectacular 1906 mansion provides a wonderful window into Dunedin's past. Entry is via fascinating one-hour guided tours; it pays to book ahead. There's also a pretty little garden to explore (entry free) with a beautifully preserved 1921 Fiat 510 on display.

  • Sights in Christchurch

    Arts Centre

    Dating from 1877, this enclave of Gothic Revival buildings was originally Canterbury College, the forerunner of Canterbury University. The buildings are now reopening to the public after extensive restoration work due to quake damage. Inside you'll find the visitor information centre i-SITE, and shops, cafes, museums and galleries. Exhibition spaces play host to regular concerts, rehearsals, markets and events. Of the centre's 23 buildings, 21 are listed by Heritage New Zealand as category 1 Historic Place structures.

  • Sights in Oamaru

    Steampunk HQ

    Discover an alternative past – or maybe a quirky version of the future – at this fascinating art project celebrating steampunk culture. Ancient machines wheeze and splutter, and the industrial detritus of the last century or so is repurposed and reimagined to creepy effect. Bring a $2 coin to fire up the sparking, space-age locomotive out the front.