New Zealand’s South Island might be less populated than the North Island, but that doesn’t mean there is a shortage of activity. On the contrary, the South Island delivers countless activities, whether you’re looking to hike, bike, swim, see wildlife, and enjoy big-city life. When your campervan hire New Zealand takes you to the South Island, your biggest challenge will be fitting everything into your itinerary. Use this guide to discover everything that you can see and do when you visit the South Island.
Choosing Your Route
Several scenic routes weave through the South Island, so pairing your route with your preferred activities can simplify your road trip planning. If you’d prefer driving a rural route in your campervan hire New Zealand, try the Inland Scenic 72 Route, which will offer views of both the Southern Alps and Canterbury Plains. Along the Alpine Pacific Triangle, you’ll enjoy countryside views as you explore Waipara’s wine and food region and Kaikoura animal encounters. Finally, you might want to try the Southern Scenic Route, which will weave you through Dunedin, Queenstown, and Te Anu.
Must-See Spots in the South Island
Regardless of the route you choose, you’ll discover unique New Zealand experiences in every city you encounter. Consider these must-see spots as you devise your road trip itinerary.
1. See National Parks.
New Zealand’s national parks offer unforgettable views, along with outdoor experiences that you won’t soon forget. Ten of the country’s 13 national parks are located on the South Island. So, you won’t be too far from one, no matter what route you take on your South Island road trip. Fiordland National Park might be the South Island’s best-known national park. This park offers a variety of landscapes, from cascading waterfalls to jaw-dropping fiords and snow-capped mountains. One fiord, Milford Sound, located within this national park is worth a visit. Here, you can see two permanent waterfalls, or spot seals, penguins, or bottlenose dolphins. Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations thanks to its stunning views and countless opportunities for outdoor adventure.
Another national park to visit on the South Island include Paparoa National Park, located at the South Island’s northern end. This national park is best known for its varied land formations. You’ll discover caves, pancake-like rock formations, and limestone canyons to explore here.
2. Visit Queenstown
No matter what season you visit the South Island, Queenstown has something to offer. In fact, this city is a must-visit during your South Island road trip because it changes with the seasons. In the winter, you can experience world-class ski areas that transform the city into a snow lover’s paradise. Here, you can also enjoy big-city amenities, whether you’re looking for top-quality restaurants, nightlife, or relaxing spas. If adventure is more your style, try bungee jumping, skydiving, whitewater rafting, or jet boating in Queenstown. Outdoor activities include boating, hiking, and biking as well. Clearly, there will be an activity for every member of your road trip in Queenstown.
3. See Aoraki/Mount Cook.
If you’re in the South Island, you need to see Aoraki/Mount Cook, the highest peak in New Zealand. Outdoor lovers will delight as they traverse the Hooker Valley Track, which allows you to get an up-close view of the mountain. While you’re there, check out the Mount John Observatory at night. You can take in the world’s largest Dark Sky Reserve, allowing you to see a starlit sky that you won’t soon forget.
4. Go Whale Watching.
The South Island’s Kaikoura is replete with whales, thanks to a coastline canyon that spans 2 kilometres. This canyon is filled with fish that, in turn, attract a variety of whales. Many boat cruises in this area allow you to spot whales in their natural habitat. You can see giant sperm whales, humpback whales, pilot whales, and orcas. Witnessing these majestic creatures in person will be an experience of a lifetime.
5. Enjoy a Hike
Hiking opportunities abound on New Zealand’s South Island, so your only challenge will be choosing just one trail. You can find both single-day and multi-day hikes, depending on your stamina and interest level. Canterbury features plains and peaks, offering you a variety of day walk and hiking options. Try the Kaikoura Peninsula Parkway, which offers ocean views and the occasional seal, whale, or dolphin sighting. If you’re a skilled hiker, you can challenge yourself on Ball Pass Crossing, which offers panoramic views of Tasman Glacier. Bundle up because this hike will take you through ice and snow.
New Zealand’s South Island offers varied landscapes ready for exploration. You can relax beside the ocean, navigate snow-capped mountains, and hike through rainforests. This unique design means that you can enjoy a variety of outdoor activities during your road trip. Design an itinerary that suits your tastes, and take your campervan hire New Zealand along one of the Island’s many scenic routes. You’ll find plenty of spots to park and explore along the way.