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New Zealand: 6 Must-See South Island Spots

When I spent a year travelling and working in Australia, I knew that before eventually heading home to the UK, I had to visit New Zealand. It’s too close to Australia, and too far a distance from home to not see it! Plus, you can bet that half the backpackers you meet in Australia have either already been or are planning to go, so it ranks pretty high in the travelling conversations between backpackers! And the more I heard about New Zealand, the more I couldn’t wait to see it for myself.

I spent a month travelling New Zealand’s stunning South Island, where almost everywhere you go looks and feels as though you’ve been plonked in the middle of a postcard. Here’s six of the best spots to check out in the South…

Monkey Creek

KAIKOURA

Just over a 2-hour drive from Christchurch is this rugged little coastal town, famous for it’s abundance of wildlife and most commonly known as the place to see whales in the wild. Whale-watching tours don’t come cheap, but with a 95% chance of spotting whales, it’s very tempting.

I was lucky to see two sperm whales, a flash of a humpback and several pods of adorable dusky dolphins. But spotting wildlife in Kaikoura begins way before joining a tour. Colonies of seals can be seen laid out on the rocks along much of the coastline – and if you go for a stroll along the rocks at Point Kean, there’s a high chance you’ll come pretty close to them!

Kaikoura views

Read more: Wildlife Encounters in Kaikoura, New Zealand

ABEL TASMAN

The one area of the South Island where I almost felt I wasn’t in New Zealand, but instead somewhere more exotic. Golden sands, bushlands and bright blue, translucent shades of water make Abel Tasman National Park a total oasis! There’s plenty of water sports and activities to get involved in when the weather’s good, but there’s also heaps of gorgeous walks, ranging from a few hours to a few days for keen hikers.

A popular option is also to grab an aqua taxi to a specific point in the park and then choose to chill and catch a later boat back, or to walk. I opted for an aqua taxi to Anchorage and did the 3-4 hour hike back to base, Marahau.

Kaikoura
Pristine beaches of Abel Tasman

QUEENSTOWN

Arguably the most popular spot on the South Island, if not the whole of New Zealand due to it’s astounding beauty but also it’s huge selection of activities and a buzzing social life. Queenstown’s the place to be. When you’re not bungy jumping, skydiving or paragliding, you can be jetting around Lake Wakatipu or relaxing in hot pools overlooking the mountains. You can also take a drive out to explore nearby towns like Glenorchy, famous for Lord of the Rings filming locations and Arrowtown, a historic gold-mining town just 30 minutes away. And by night, the town is alive with an amazing selection of restaurants and bars.

If you’re not big on thrills, check out my post on 10 things to do in Queenstown if you are NOT an adrenaline junkie.

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Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown

WANAKA

Often referred to as a ‘small Queenstown‘, Wanaka has just as much to boast about! A gorgeous little town, where once again you are spoilt for choice when it comes to amazing eateries and bars, plus there’s heaps of activities right on Wanaka’s doorstep. The lakefront view is pretty unbeatable, and travellers flock to the site of the lonely Wanaka tree – amazing that one small tree can be quite so photogenic!

A couple of bonus pit-spots nearby to Wanaka are the Blue Pools and Thunder Creek Falls, providing incredible views just a short walk from the roadside.

Blue Pools

LAKE TEKAPO

I’m just a sucker for unbelievably-blue water. If you are too, then you’ll love Lake Tekapo. Glacier particles called ‘rock flour’ make their way into the lake, giving the water this dreamy, milky shade of turquoise blue. I’ll be honest, there isn’t a hell of a lot to do in Tekapo, but it’s worth the visit purely for the lake and the surrounding views, including yet another iconic, postcard symbol of New Zealand, the Church of the Good Shephard.

Tekapo is just about an hour’s drive from New Zealand’s highest peak, Mount Cook. The only reason Mount Cook doesn’t feature in this post is because the weather was so shocking at the time I visited, the entire mountain was completely invisible! BUT as with most locations I miss on my travels due to poor weather, it simply gives me another reason to return one day!

Church of the Good Shepherd, Takepao

FIORDLAND

Besides being home to the spectacular Milford Sound, Fiordland is a region in the South Island, hugely dominated by Fiordland National Park – the largest in the whole of New Zealand. And although this may be an unpopular opinion, I much preferred seeing the surrounding areas of Fiordland National Park than Milford Sound itself!

As with much of the South Island, there were heaps of wonderful photo opportunities before even reaching Milford Sound. As you journey along the State Highway 94, also known as The Milford Road, landscapes like Eglinton Valley, the Mirror Lakes and Monkey Creek are all incredible stops, as well as short footpaths that lead off to forested trails, usually across streams and thundering waterfalls, like The Chasm.

These six spots show merely a tiny glimpse of how stunning New Zealand is! The landscapes across this country, particularly the South Island are INSANE. And as great as it is to check out top-rated, tourist attractions, sometimes it’s even better to stop at the less-crowded, off the beaten path spots – of which New Zealand has an endless supply!

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13 Comments

  • Passport Overused
    March 1, 2020 at 12:28 pm

    Great post 😁

    Reply
  • travelling_han
    March 1, 2020 at 6:03 pm

    This post was really useful for planning my trip to the South Island – thank you!

    Reply
  • Bexa
    March 5, 2020 at 1:36 pm

    Wow, New Zealand looks absolutely stunning! I love the sound of Abel Tasman, it looks beautiful, such a nice place to chill, walk and explore. Lake Tekapo looks gorgeous too, that water is so amazingly blue and calming. Thank you for sharing your favourite places Lucy, everywhere looks so peaceful and idyllic ❤ xx

    Bexa | http://www.hellobexa.com

    Reply
    • Fiona Sommer
      March 12, 2020 at 4:43 am

      These photos are absolutely stunning, but even without them your descriptions are fantastic. I just love your writing style.

      Reply
  • Nic | Nic's Adventures & Bakes
    March 5, 2020 at 2:30 pm

    I have not yet been to the south Island, thanks for sharing the areas to visit 🙂
    Nic | Nic’s Adventures & Bakes

    Reply
  • Francesca
    March 11, 2020 at 7:48 pm

    Aaaah, the Fjordland is what I think of when I think of New Zealand – so so beautiful! And Lake Tekapo looks like the stuff dreams are made of – what a gorgeous country!
    I’ve not managed to make any travels down under yet but both New Zealand and Australia are definitely on my bucket list!
    Francesca X
    http://www.glutenfreehorizons.com

    Reply
  • alisoninandalucia
    April 7, 2020 at 3:02 pm

    I spent six months working on a vineyard in the Marlborough region and three months travelling around the South Island but I never made it to Abel Tasman. If I ever get back to NZ that’s one of the first places I’m going – it looks amazing.

    Reply
  • Ashleigh
    April 12, 2020 at 4:10 pm

    stunnings shots!! the south island is a really special place

    Reply
  • Robert
    April 13, 2020 at 3:05 pm

    Excellent post and photos for visiting New Zealand. I can’t believe we haven’t traveled to New Zealand yet from BC Canada. We just returned from Australia in February on our way home from Thailand. Definitely must make vacation plans to visit very soon! 🙂 I’ve also Pinned your post here. 🙂

    Reply
    • Lucy Thurlow
      April 13, 2020 at 8:29 pm

      Thanks Robert! You must make a visit someday, it’s beautiful almost everywhere you go, particularly in the South Island 😊 thanks for reading.

      Reply
  • Jamie Boucher
    August 17, 2020 at 9:46 am

    The second I read Kaikoura it put a huge smile on my face! I spent the summer working for the Dolphin Encounter and absolutely loved it! You pretty much nailed it, beautiful ocean & an absolute tonne of incredible wildlife! It also had the most amazing sunrises & sunset!

    I relate to your impression of Mount Cook on another level! I’ve been three times now because the first two were so incredibly cloudy I couldn’t see a thing! It’s probably my favourite place in the South Island though, so if you ever come back make sure to visit again! The other place that is really worth a visit is Hokitika for its incredible gorge.

    Loved reading your top six! They’re all such amazing places.

    Jamie Boucher | Bristolian Abroad

    Reply
    • Lucy Thurlow
      August 18, 2020 at 11:31 am

      Thanks Jamie! Your summer in Kaikoura sounds awesome, it’s a special little place. And yes, I would definitely love to return one day in the summer and hope to see some places again, as well as some new places! Beautiful country. Thanks for reading 🙂

      Reply

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