Introduction to New Zealand Part Two: South Island
In the second of our two-part introduction to New Zealand, we take a look at some of the highlights that can be found on the awe-inspiring South Island.
Located at the top of the South Island, Marlborough enjoys high sunshine hours and a temperate climate so that visitors can experience all of Marlborough’s diversity through the seasons. No matter what time of year, there is always something going on in Marlborough. The region has long been known for the beauty of the Marlborough Sounds and its world class wine output.
Adventurers young and old will find a great choice of activities on land, water and in the air. Hiking, sea kayaking, sailing, cruising, mountain biking, rafting, scenic flights, fishing, diving, horse trekking, or just relaxing and enjoying the views: from laid back to full adrenaline rush, there is an experience waiting for you in Marlborough.
The Marlborough Sounds are best explored on water, with a range of cruises and activities from a self-guided kayak excursion to sailing on a luxury yacht. Get active by swimming with dolphins, diving or fishing in the Sounds. Walk the length of the Queen Charlotte Track as it makes its way through native forest alongside view filled ridges and idyllic coves.
CHRISTCHURCH – CANTERBURY
Canterbury is New Zealand’s largest region with a vast landscape of outdoor nature and adventure opportunities. Stretching from the ocean to the Alps, it is a land of plains and peaks, and a variety of innumerable attractions. Within two hours of Christchurch airport, you can ski, golf, bungy jump, go whitewater rafting, mountain biking, wind surfing, whale watching, and visit world-class vineyards and gardens. Christchurch, New Zealand’s ‘Garden City’, is a vibrant centre of art, culture and beautiful gardens, hosting two international flower festivals every year.
Canterbury’s landscape is dominated by Mount Cook - New Zealand’s highest mountain - and the Southern Alps, a chain of mountains larger than its Northern hemisphere counterpart. Aoraki National Park is a world-renowned climbing and hiking destination, with glaciers covering 40% of the park and 23 stunning peaks rising over 3,000m.
Canterbury is an adventure and nature haven of unique outdoor experiences – you can watch whales cruise the Kaikoura coast and dolphins playing in Akaroa Harbour, while sighting alpine parrots over Arthur’s Pass National Park. Kaikoura – located between Christchurch and Picton - is an eco-tourism wonder. This little town offers abundant marine life, with Dusky and Hector’s dolphins, and fur seals common, along with many sea birds and other marine life. Canterbury’s vast plains, alpine and coastal landscape, and favourable atmospheric conditions make it one of New Zealand’s finest ballooning locations.
Dunedin is a region of unique landscapes and fascinating cultural history. Enjoy getting close to rare wildlife and soaking up the quirky city vibe. Known as the ‘Edinburgh of New Zealand’, Dunedin is the country's city of the south. Surrounded by dramatic hills and at the foot of a beautifully picturesque harbour, Dunedin is one of the best-preserved Victorian and Edwardian cities in the Southern Hemisphere. The entertainment available is good and plentiful: the nightlife buzzes with funky bars and delicious restaurants and the local natural attractions are unique and diverse.
Don't miss a drive up the Otago Peninsula - the views are endless and the beaches are beautifully rugged. Located at the foot of Taiaroa Head is the Royal Albatross Centre, the only place in the world on the mainland where you can view Northern Royal Albatross in their natural habitat. On Dunedin’s doorstep you will also find incredible wildlife including the world’s rarest penguin colonies. Head further south, and you join the Southern Scenic Route, a must-do of the South Island that follows the wild coast down to Invercargill and then north-west to Manapouri and Te Anau.
The town of Wanaka appeals to both adventure lovers and relaxation-minded travellers. Situated on the crystal-clear waters of New Zealand's fourth-largest lake, just a short drive from Mount Aspiring National Park, Wanaka is an ideal spot to go hiking, skiing, wine-tasting or golfing. The city also hosts Warbirds Over Wanaka, the largest three-day air show in the Southern Hemisphere. At 45 kilometres long and covering 193 square kilometres, the crystal clear waters of Lake Wanaka are perfect for jetboaters, sailors and kayakers. Nestled below towering mountains, Wanaka is the most tranquilly set of the South Island lakes.
In winter, skiers flock here from all over the world for skiing and snowboarding at Cardrona and Treble Cone, cross-country skiing at Snow Farm and heli-skiing high in the Harris Mountains. But Wanaka is much more than a winter destination. Year round activities include fishing, hiking, canyoning, climbing and skydiving. Visit the nearby towns of Queenstown, Cromwell and Alexandra, go shopping, or simply sit in a café and watch the world pass by.
Southland is a land of rugged coast and rolling plains, world-renowned oysters and the launching place for a visit to Stewart Island. Southland’s largest city is Invercargill. If you’re a garden lover you must see Queens Park and its 80 hectares of tree-lined walkways and beautiful gardens. The city turns on the hospitality so, if you’re looking for somewhere to stay, you’ll find plenty of friendly and high standard accommodation.
Half an hour drive from Invercargill is the fishing port of Bluff. Known for its fabulous seafood, this is the place to taste the famous Bluff oysters. If you like bird watching, catch a ferry to Stewart Island where you’ll find a haven for native bird life and the only place in New Zealand where you have a good chance of seeing kiwi in their native habitat.
Situated along the Southland coast, The Catlins River Walk leads you through beech forest and is known for its hidden waterfalls and rare native birds. At Curio Bay you’ll find fossilized trees, over 180 million years old, embedded in coastal bedrock. And at Nugget Point you’ll find fur seals, sea lions, sooty shearwaters, shags, yellow-eyed penguins, spoonbills and a breeding colony of gannets. And if you look closely, you may see Hector's dolphins frolicking out in the waves.
Queenstown lies at the outlet to Lake Wakatipu, one of New Zealand's most scenic lakes. The town is surrounded by the Southern Alps, and has spectacular views of nearby mountains such as The Remarkables, Cecil Peak, Walter Peak and just above the town; Ben Lomond and Queenstown Hill. It is the second largest city in Otago, after Dunedin.
A resort town, Queenstown boasts over 220 adventure tourism activities. The lake and mountain landscape make it suited to all kinds of adventure. There’s skiing in the winter and activities such as bungy jumping, sky diving, canyon swinging, jet boating, horse trekking and river rafting all year round. If hardcore adventure isn't your thing, there are plenty of mellow options available. Experience one of the many walking & hiking trails, sightseeing tours or indulge yourself with spa treatments, boutique shopping and excellent food and wine.
Head out of Queenstown and the drama of the Central Otago landscape unfolds around you. If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan you’ll recognize many of the locations of Middle-earth here. Twenty minutes from Queenstown, Arrowtown’s gold-mining history is alive and vibrant. Visit the Lakes District Museum or go gold panning. Forty minutes from Queenstown at the northern tip of Lake Wakatipu is rural Glenorchy and Paradise Valley. From here it’s a short drive into the Mt Aspiring National Park and the start of some of New Zealand’s great walks.