Explore snow-capped mountains, glaciers and towering fiords in The Lord of the Rings territory.

South Island has some of the best scenery New Zealand has to offer, from sparkling lakes and snow-topped peaks to sweeping beaches and rolling countryside. Around every corner there is something to photograph. Be sure to visit Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand where Sir Edmund Hillary developed his skills in preparation for Mount Everest. If you visit nearby Lake Matheson on a clear day, you’ll have the chance to capture the famous mirror image of the lake reflecting the mountain.

There’s more to New Zealand’s South Island than just its scenic beauty. There are plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities from kiwis and albatross to dolphins and sperm whales. The cities of Christchurch and Queenstown are popular year-round and both must-sees for an authentic taste of Kiwi life and adrenaline-fuelled adventures.

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South Island Regions

Our recommendations for the best places to visit in South Island

Marlborough & Kaikoura Holidays

South Island’s region for walking, wine tasting and whale watching.

Christchurch & Akaroa Holidays

Rare dolphins and penguins, vintage trams, a dash of Frenchness and a city reborn: Christchurch &...

Abel Tasman & the North West Holidays

From a 20-mile sandbar echoing with birdsong to quirky coastal towns on classic road and rail rou...

West Coast Glaciers & Southern Alps Holidays

The South Island’s spectacular snow-capped mountain and glacial region.

Queenstown & Wanaka Holidays

From bungee jumps and canyon swings to lake cruises in spectacular surroundings, Queenstown & Wan...

Fiordland, Invercargill & Stewart Island Holidays

Escape to New Zealand’s southernmost reaches for jaw-dropping national parks, encounters with uni...

Dunedin & Otago Peninsula Holidays

A Scottish heritage city, dramatic coastlines and rare wildlife encounters.

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Central Otago Wine Tour from Queenstown

Depart from Queenstown for this full-day tour of the Central Otago Wine Region. Explore, taste and savour the flavour at four separate wine tasting experiences around the wine regions of Gibbston, Bannockburn and Cromwell, with a delicious lunch and platters enjoyed at locally renowned locations. Throughout the day you will enjoy wine tasting experiences at both smaller boutique cellar doors as well as more established locations, including a barrel room tour, where you will witness stories and facts about the region and wine. Enjoy a cheeseboard to round off the day.

• Duration: full day
• Start time: 9.30am • Departs Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday
• Operates November to March
• Group experience

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Marlborough Icons Tour from Blenheim

Depart from Blenheim for this full-day tour which journeys through the renowned Marlborough wine region. Visit wineries and enjoy two fine wine experiences before continuing on through the Marlborough Sounds for a unique seafood cruise. Learn about the local history, visit a marine farm and stop to sample some fresh seafood paired with a glass of sauvignon blanc before your return journey.

• Departs daily
• Operates year-round
• Group experience

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Milford Sound from Queenstown

Depart from Queenstown and travel along through the picturesque Southland farming country to Te Anau. Continue to the Fiordland National Park and the renowned Milford Road. This corridor to the fjord unveils a different side of New Zealand, with its majestic mountains and winding rivers. Throughout the journey, there will be multiple stops for photo opportunities, short walks, and the chance to learn about the fascinating local facts and stories. Embark on a nature cruise that takes you beneath the towering peaks of the fjord. Admire spectacular alpine scenery and look out for unique wildlife including dolphins and seals, before heading back to Queensland.

• Duration: full day
• Start time: 7.30am
• Departs daily
• Operates year-round
• Group experience

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Lord of the Rings Full Day Tour from Queenstown

Discover locations from The Lord of the Rings films on this 4x4 off-road adventure which departs from Queenstown. See The Remarkables (The Misty Mountains), Deer Park Heights (The Battle of the Wargs) and the Kawarau Gorge (Argonath/Pillars of the King) plus many more. Continue to Arrowtown and experience some off roading as you follow a gold mining road up the river where you can try gold panning before enjoying views of the Wakatipu Basin from Skippers Canyon.

• Duration: full day
• Start time: 8am
• Departs daily
• Operates year-round
• Group experience

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TranzAlpine Train from Christchurch or Greymouth

Journey aboard the renowned TranzAlpine train from Christchurch and Greymouth via Arthur’s Pass. Enjoy the magnificent alpine scenery as the train crosses the Canterbury Plains and heads through the Southern Alps where it wind its way through the Waimakariri Gorge. The train arrives in Greymouth at 12:45pm which allows you plenty of time to pick up a hire car and continue your journey to the glacier region. The excursion also operates in reverse or as a return. You can upgrade to the Scenic Plus Dining experience which includes local delicacies which are created on board using the finest farm-to-rail produce.

• Duration: full day
• Times: 8.15am to 7pm
• Departs daily from October to April
• Departs Friday to Monday between May and September
• Operates year-round
• Group experience

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Whale Watching from Kaikoura

Every whale watching tour is different. Sperm whales are yearround residents so your chances of spotting one are very high. You can also see dusky dolphins, New Zealand fur seals and albatross year round. Dependent on season you can also spot Humpback whales, Pilot whales, Blue whales and Southern Right whales. There are also opportunities to see orcas as well as the world's smallest and rarest dolphin - the Hector's dolphin.

• Start times: 7.15am, 10am, 10.30am, 12.45pm, 3,30pm
• Departs daily
• Operates year-round
• Group experience

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Get to know New Zealand’s South Island and those important practicalities when planning your perfect holiday.


GMT +12 (with New Zealand Daylight Time and New Zealand Standard Time applied, this largely equates to 11 hours ahead of the UK from early April to late September and 13 hours ahead from late September to late March)


New Zealand dollar


25½ hours (not including stopover time)


New Zealand has no state religion but the majority of people are Christian


Māori and English

Where is the South Island?
South Island lies between the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean and is the larger of New Zealand’s two main islands. There is a regular ferry service across the Cook Strait to North Island that takes three and a half hours. The main international airport is at Christchurch.

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New Zealand’s winelands
At the north-eastern tip of the South Island, you’ll find Marlborough, one of New Zealand’s most celebrated wine regions known for its outstanding Sauvignon Blanc. Tours depart from Blenheim and often include a visit to perhaps the region’s most famous winery, Cloudy Bay. From Queenstown, the vineyards of Bannockburn and Gibbston Valley in the central Otago wine region are within reach and can be visited for tastings. Here you will also find the largest underground wine cave in New Zealand.

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Beauty of the coast
Spend time soaking up the sun in blissfully secluded Abel Tasman, a superb coastal getaway. It’s a remote and picturesque wilderness reserve near the north-west tip of South Island, with deserted golden beaches, secluded coves and lush forests. Explore the spectacular Abel Tasman Coast Track, a long trail winding over beaches and across ridges – the headland at Separation Point is home to New Zealand fur seal colonies, and the adjacent Tonga Island Marine Reserve has little blue penguins, bottlenose dolphins and seals. The enchanting seaside town of Kaikōura is overlooked by majestic mountains and is a fantastic place to visit if you’re looking for a magical wildlife experience – its coastal waters are home to albatross, dusky dolphins and it’s also one of the best places to see sperm whales.

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Mountains and glaciers
Striking glaciers and towering mountains make the West Coast an unmissable destination on South Island. Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier are two of New Zealand’s most imposing natural wonders, and some of the most impressive and accessible glaciers in the world. These ice rivers descend down from the Southern Alps into temperate rainforest less than 300 metres above sea level. A great way to discover these superb ice formations up close is on a heli-hike, where you can admire the panoramic views from the air before walking through its icy terrain. New Zealand’s Southern Alps were named by Captain Cook in 1770 and the region is instantly recognisable as The Lord of the Rings territory, with its shimmering glacial lakes and rugged snow-capped mountains.

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Thrill-seeking adventures
The city of Queenstown is one of the most popular places to visit in New Zealand, nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and overlooked by the majestic Remarkables Range. It’s famous for its exhilarating adventure sports; you can go sky diving, jet-boating, bungee jumping or face the heart-stopping Shotover Canyon Swing – a cliff jump with 60-metres of free fall. Head to the small town of Wanaka to enjoy a superb peaceful setting on South Island. It’s sheltered by the Southern Alps on the shore of its namesake, Lake Wanaka, and is the gateway to the spectacular Mount Aspiring National Park. Cycle along the lakefront, follow pretty walking trails, glide along crystal-clear waters in a kayak or head to the ski slopes at nearby Treble Cone.

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Towering fiords
The attractive lakeside town of Te Anau is gateway to the Fiordland National Park, home to some of the most spectacular natural landscapes on South Island. In Maōri legend, the Fiordland landscape was said to be created by a godly figure, who carved the fiords from the rock walls. The area is famous for the glacier-carved fiords, Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. Milford Sound changes with the seasons and can be stormy, brooding or peaceful – but always majestic and awe-inspiring, and Mitre Peak rising high out of its waters is a memorable picture to add to your Instagram collection. Doubtful Sound is remote, beautifully unspoilt and only accessible by boat. Both sites are utterly picturesque and great options for a day trip or an overnight cruise.

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South of the south
Head to the south-eastern coast to explore Dunedin, a city known for its Scottish and Maōri heritage as well as its Victorian and Edwardian architecture. It’s a great place to spend a couple of days; take a walk up (and up…) Baldwin Street, one of the steepest residential streets in the world. Visit nearby Larnach Castle, with its breathtaking views and manicured gardens. The Otago Peninsula is on the southern side of Dunedin Harbour and is known for its excellent walking trails and wildlife. Stop off at Victory Beach to see the Egyptian-looking rock formation known locally as The Pyramids, and head down to Allans Beach for the chance to see wildlife including fur seals, sea lions and rare, yellow-eyed penguins. Invercargill is the gateway to New Zealand’s beautiful Stewart Island, 20 miles below South Island and 85% national park. To really soak up the vibe and views, hike the Rakiura Track, one of the New Zealand Great Walks.

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South Island Weather

Dec - Apr