New Zealand: 6 Breathtaking Places to Visit on the South Island

New Zealand: 6 Breathtaking Places to Visit on the South Island: Have you ever dreamed of going to New Zealand? Well here's your chance to add a few stunning places to your bucketlist!

New Zealand is a diverse island in the southwestern Pacific Ocean comprised of two main islands. The North Island and the South Island. Home to an array of tropical beaches, geothermal activity, and vast mountain ranges, it’s no wonder Peter Jackson chose this breathtaking country as the filming locations for all six Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies.

My experience in New Zealand captured my heart in more ways than one which is why this country is my absolute favourite.

Below, I’ve created a summary of my favourite places on the South Island while travelling by the Hop-On Hop-Off bus Stray New Zealand. Including where I stayed and activities I recommend in hopes that you’ll someday find yourself planning your own trip to this gorgeous-beyond-words country.

Read:  New Zealand: 6 Breathtaking Places to Visit on the North Island

Stray NZ - Cathedral Cove

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6 Breathtaking Places to Visit on the South Island


1 | Abel Tasman National Park

New Zealand: 6 Breathtaking Places to Visit on the South Island: Have you ever dreamed of going to New Zealand? Well here's your chance to add a few stunning places to your bucketlist!

Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman is a coastal national park on the Northwest coast. Home to one of New Zealand’s famous Great Walks and a collection of tropical beaches, you’ll definitely want to hop-off the bus and stay a few days longer to truly embrace this tropical oasis.

Sail + Walk Combo: Determined to hike a portion of the Great Walk, I chose to do a full day tour with Abel Tasman Sailing Adventures. This gave me the opportunity to sail the Tasman Sea. Hike the trail from Anchorage to Marahau (Approx. 3-4 hours). Relaxing in the morning with a cool beer on the water and following that up with lunch on the beach and a hike made for one of my favourite days on the South Island.

Accommodation: The Barn


2 | Franz Josef

New Zealand: 6 Breathtaking Places to Visit on the South Island: Have you ever dreamed of going to New Zealand? Well here's your chance to add a few stunning places to your bucketlist!

Franz Josef Heli Hike

After a long and gorgeous drive down the West Coast (with a brief stay in Westport), you’ll find yourself in a small Jurassic-Park-esque town called Franz Josef. Normally covered with clouds of rain, this unique rainforest location is home to a range of hikes and Franz Josef Glacier.

Things to do:

Glacier Heli Hike: This is one of the most expensive activities to do on the South Island but after doing my research beforehand, I knew I had to save enough money to do it. After taking a short Helicopter ride, you’ll land on a massive glacier in what feels like the middle of nowhere. I don’t want to spoil too much, because it was an amazing experience. But there are hot pools included with the fee valid for the entire day of purchase.

The tour is about four hours long and since the weather changes so drastically in this region, it’s often canceled. So if you can spare a few days, I’d recommend extending your time here if you’re keen to do this activity.

Tatare Tunnels Walk: At 3.6km return (approx 80 minutes), this short walk through the rainforest (and if you’re brave a 2km long tunnel) is great to do after the heli-hike and before you relax your hard-working muscles in the hot pools.

Lake Matheson: Located a few kilometers outside Fox Glacier, is the reflective Lake Matheson. You can choose to do a few different walks and grab your first view of Mt. Cook in the lake’s waters.

Accommodation: The Rainforest Retreat


3 | Wanaka

New Zealand: 6 Breathtaking Places to Visit on the South Island: Have you ever dreamed of going to New Zealand? Well here's your chance to add a few stunning places to your bucketlist!

Roys Peak Summit

Just the rolling mountains on your drive into Wanaka will surely make your jaw drop. This small town surrounded by the Southern Alps and its namesake lake is the perfect place to spend a lifetime. Especially with the autumn leaves colouring the town in various hues of yellow, orange, and red. It was so hard to leave this little town but if you’re strapped on time, I’d definitely recommend at least 2-4 days here.

As with most places in NZ, there were multiple hikes to break in my new hiking boots but Roys Peak was by far the best:

Things to Do:

Roys Peak: Roys Peak is a mountain just outside of Wanaka with a 16km track (5-6 hour hike) to the summit. The best time to do the Roys Peak track is early in the wee hours of the morning so you’re able to get to the summit by sunrise. It’s a challenging hike with a consistent incline the entire way up. But even if you fall behind your new friends, you’ll still have the famous NZ sheep as company.

My advice if you’re going in autumn is to bring extra layers, a hat, and gloves as the summit was freezing at the top. But the view is honestly worth every staggered breath, step, and chill when the sun finally peaks above the mountains.

Puzzling World: This attraction is filled with strange illusions that’ll definitely get you thinking (or dizzy). This is a great activity to do on a rainy day, or after hiking the 4.5km (1.5 hour) Mt. Iron track next to it.

That Wanaka Tree: This tree is situated directly in the lake and is one of the most photographed trees in the world. In autumn, it’s easy to get a nice picture of it without the large crowds.

Cinema Paradiso: I don’t know about you, but when I’m travelling to another country, I love trying out at least one cinema on a rainy day to see how the customs and culture of going to the movies is similar/different compared to back home. This cinema has an assortment of donated couches to sit on, the most amazing cookies + cider to eat and drink. There’s even an intermission for you to stock back up midway through the movie. This was such a unique experience for me coming from North America so I’d definitely recommend spending an evening here!

Accommodation: YHA Wanaka


4 | Queenstown

New Zealand: 6 Breathtaking Places to Visit on the South Island: Have you ever dreamed of going to New Zealand? Well here's your chance to add a few stunning places to your bucketlist!

Ben Lomond Saddle

Neighbours to Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of the world because everywhere you go there’s something that’ll feed your inner adrenaline junkie (even if you didn’t know you had it in you).

Kawarau Bridge Bungy: Until I got to New Zealand, I had zero intention of partaking in any adrenaline activities. But when the Stray bus stopped at the Kawarau Bridge Bungy, I ignored my fear, welcomed a shit-tonne of courage, and jumped off a bridge at 43 meters high. And I LOVED IT!

There are so many adrenaline activities you can do in Queenstown and it’s definitely not cheap so below I’ve noted a few of the other activities I did that were either free or close to it:

Ben Lomond Track: This 6-8 hour track was almost as challenging as Roys Peak and with an equally magnificent view. Photographed above is the view from the Saddle with Queenstown below and the Remarkables ahead. We started this hike in the morning and ended in late afternoon so I would suggest starting early so you’re back before it gets dark.

Arrowtown: Autumn shows its true colours in this small community outside of Queenstown. I’d highly recommend spending a morning or an afternoon here (perhaps after walking through Queenstown Gardens) and taking a walk along the river to soak up the crisp autumn air.

Accommodation: Absoloot Value Accommodation


5 | Doubtful Sound

New Zealand: 6 Breathtaking Places to Visit on the South Island: Have you ever dreamed of going to New Zealand? Well here's your chance to add a few stunning places to your bucketlist!

Doubtful Sound

Pictures do not do Doubtful Sound justice. In Fiordland National Park, there lies a series of fiords along the south west coast of the South Island. The two most popular collection of fiords are Milford and Doubtful Sound.

I chose to see Doubtful Sound because I’d been with my Driver Guide, Rhino, for approximately three weeks at this point, and I trusted his recommendations.

And it definitely did not disappoint.

Once you survive the various transportation methods to get there, the natural, untouched beauty of the fiords will easily capture your wanderlust. Plus, the tour with Real Journey’s was incredibly enjoyable.

The only downside was the price.

There are cheaper alternatives for Milford Sound which is similar to Doubtful Sound just a tiny bit smaller (but taller fiords).


6 | Mount Cook National Park

New Zealand: 6 Breathtaking Places to Visit on the South Island: Have you ever dreamed of going to New Zealand? Well here's your chance to add a few stunning places to your bucketlist!

Hooker Valley Track – Mt. Cook

Mt. Cook (pictured above) is the highest mountain in all of New Zealand. It’s easily accessible for hundreds of awe-inspiring photographs from the Hooker Valley Track (a 10km return). This 3-hour hike was quite easy in comparison to Ben Lomond and Roys Peak and if you do want to up your hiking game a bit, there are various other track options in the area as well!

Another great attraction in Mt. Cook were the stars at night. Light pollution is limited in the area which creates breathtaking views of the night sky. Add the snowcapped mountains in the distance and the universe is basically at your fingertips.

Other attractions close by include Arthur’s Pass, Lake Pukaki, and Lake Tekapo. I’d highly recommend stopping to soak in the views and do some short hikes in all locations.

Accommodation: Mount Cook Lodge


And that’s that! One of my favourite things about the South Island is how incredibly remote it is. Coming from Toronto, I never felt the hustle and bustle of city life and really enjoyed the break.

As a whole, this trip was a dream. New Zealand felt like home to me. And I can’t wait to go back as there is so much more I want to explore (and hike). If you have any questions about Stray or the places I visited let me know in the comments below!

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.Gandalf the Grey