On the South Island and not sure what to see?
Well, that area is full of natural beauty, from snow-capped mountains to lush rainforests to glaciers to pristine coastlines. There are so many things to see, in fact, that it gets overwhelming trying to fit in all the sights in one trip.
So, our team took a vote based on our own experiences. These were the winners for the best things to see on the South Island!
1. Milford Sound
Milford Sound leaves us speechless every time we go! This awe-inspiring fiord is a true masterpiece of nature, where towering peaks and cascading waterfalls create a breathtaking setting that feels like stepping into a painting.
The crystal-clear waters of the fiord are teeming with wildlife, from frolicking seals and playful dolphins to the oh-so-charming Fiordland crested penguins.
There are also so many things to do here! From kayaking or hiking to waterfalls, there’s nothing quite like exploring the lush rainforests and rugged coastlines of Milford Sound.
Consider booking an overnight cruise to make your Milford Sound experience even more special. The fiord transforms into an ethereal dreamscape, bathed in moonlight and adorned with a canopy of stars.
It’s a sight that leaves you with memories that will last a lifetime!
2. Doubtful Sound
As much as we love Milford Sound, we always get lost in the surreality at Doubtful Sound—Milford Sounds’ twin fiord.
Doubtful Sound’s pristine wilderness may leave you just as awestruck with its dramatic landscapes, lush rainforests, and serene waters teeming with diverse marine life.
The best way to see the entire Doubtful Sound is to take a scenic cruise to witness the fiord’s cascading waterfalls, playful seals, and penguins that call this paradise home up close.
If you’re an avid hiker, don’t miss the chance to explore the surrounding trails, such as the lesser-known Mount Burn Track. This challenging hike rewards you with stunning views of the fiord and a sense of accomplishment from conquering a less travelled path.
3. Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman National Park is a true gem that promises to captivate your wanderlust spirit. We’ve explored its natural wonders many times!
We can’t get enough of the golden beaches, crisp waters, and lush native forests, making it an outdoor enthusiast’s dream come true. Whether hiking along the renowned Abel Tasman Coast Track or simply lounging on a sun-kissed beach, you’ll be in awe of the park’s beauty.
For a truly unique perspective, take to the skies with a scenic flight over the park, where you’ll be treated to a bird’s-eye view of its vibrant mosaic of turquoise waters and emerald forests.
Time your visit to coincide with low tide, when you can explore the enchanting tidal pools and sandbars that emerge along the coast. This is also the perfect opportunity to spot seals, dolphins, and many birdlife that call the park home.
As you plan your South Island adventure, we implore you not to overlook the charming town of Kaikoura. This coastal haven promises to leave even the most seasoned travellers utterly smitten.
From hiking the scenic Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway to exploring the vibrant marine life beneath the waves, there’s no shortage of adventures waiting to be discovered. And don’t miss the opportunity to encounter the region’s most famous residents—the magnificent sperm whales that call these waters home.
You can go on a whale-watching tour with an experienced local operator, who will guide you to the best viewing spots and share fascinating facts about these gentle giants.
But for a more immersive marine encounter, consider joining a swimming tour with the playful dusky dolphins or snorkelling with the curious New Zealand fur seals. If you’re a seafood lover, try the fresh crayfish from one of the local eateries.
Time your visit to coincide with the annual Kaikoura Seafest, a vibrant celebration of the region’s rich marine heritage, with live music, art displays, and mouthwatering seafood delicacies.
5. Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef Glacier offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness the incredible power of nature up close as you explore its icy crevasses, blue-hued ice caves, and towering ice formations.
Choose from various unforgettable experiences, such as a guided glacier hike, an exhilarating helicopter flight, or even a thrilling ice climb for the more adventurous souls.
If you’re looking to unwind after a day of adventure, don’t miss the chance to soak in the nearby glacier hot pools, where you can relax in steaming, mineral-rich waters surrounded by native forests.
Plan your visit to the glacier early in the morning, when the weather is typically calmer, and the ice takes on a magical, soft hue under the early sunlight. This is also the perfect time to capture some stunning photographs before the crowds arrive, ensuring a more intimate connection with this majestic frozen wonderland.
6. Mount Cook
We highly recommend making your way to the majestic Mount Cook. Mount Cook, also known as Aoraki, holds a special place in our hearts with its soaring peaks, pristine alpine vistas, and rich cultural significance.
Standing tall at 3,724 meters, Mount Cook is New Zealand’s highest peak and the centrepiece of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, offering many exhilarating outdoor experiences for every type of traveller.
From hiking the many well-trodden trails that showcase the region’s flora and fauna to embarking on a thrilling glacier exploration, Mount Cook promises an unforgettable journey into the heart of New Zealand’s alpine wilderness.
Time your visit to coincide with the blooming season of the vibrant Mount Cook lily, New Zealand’s largest buttercup, typically between November and January. This is also the perfect opportunity to spot the cheeky kea, the world’s only alpine parrot, as it flits playfully among the mountain slopes.
Whether you’re exploring the iconic Nugget Point Lighthouse, marvelling at the Cathedral Caves, or spotting rare yellow-eyed penguins at Curio Bay, this unspoiled paradise caters to every traveller’s taste and desire for adventure.
Don’t miss the chance to witness the awe-inspiring sight of the Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights, often seen from the region’s southern coast during winter. Time your visit around the new moon and choose a clear, dark night for the best opportunity to catch this natural light show.
For those keen on exploring the area’s rich marine life, consider joining a guided tour with a local operator who will lead you to the best spots for dolphin and seal encounters, ensuring a memorable and immersive experience.
• Time your visit to coincide with the annual Catlins Coastal Challenge, a fun-filled event that includes trail running, mountain biking, and kayaking races through the region’s breathtaking landscapes.
• It’s the perfect way to immerse yourself in the local community, test your endurance, and create lasting memories of your time in this remarkable corner of the South Island.
Every year we experience Queenstown’s stunning alpine scenery, thrilling adventure activities, and vibrant atmosphere—so it’s definitely a must-see on our list!
Whether you’re bungee jumping from the iconic Kawarau Bridge, skiing down the powdery slopes of Coronet Peak, or sipping world-class wines in the nearby Gibbston Valley, there are so many things to do!
We suggest taking a scenic gondola ride up Bob’s Peak, where you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the town, lake, and surrounding mountains—a perfect spot for capturing those postcard-worthy photos.
For some extra fun, visit during one of Queenstown’s lively annual events, such as the Queenstown Winter Festival or the New Zealand Golf Open.