Six of the best South Island scenic highlights

Think of New Zealand and what do you picture? Green fields dotted with sheep, lakes and mountains in the background - and maybe a bungy-jumping kiwi!

Visit the South Island of New Zealand and you’ll manage to tick off all these sights in one place! Here are some of the best features of the South Island and the best places to see them – make sure you have your camera at the ready...


New Zealand’s West Coast is home to some of the most accessible glaciers in the world. Descending from the Southern Alps, carving out a path as they flowed through valleys and rainforest, these ancient rivers of ice are a phenomenal sight.

The Franz Josef and Fox glaciers both finish much closer to sea level than most other glaciers worldwide, and are conveniently located close to their townships. Hiking or helicopter rides over the glacier are very popular activities here. New Zealand’s longest glacier at 27 kilometres in length is the Tasman Glacier – you’ll find it in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park.

Fiords and Sounds

Milford Sound is an absolute must-see on any visit to New Zealand. Despite its name this UNESCO World Heritage Area is actually a fiord, carved out by ancient glaciers and then flooded by the sea. Visit Milford Sound on a day tour from Queenstown and be enthralled by its beauty as you cruise its inky depths – sheer rock cliffs, lush green forest, gushing waterfalls and the imposing figure of Mitre Peak rising out of the water.

Doubtful Sound (another misnomer – also a fiord) is larger but less accessible than its more famous neighbour. At the top of the South Island the Marlborough Sounds are a vast network of peninsulas, islands and true sounds – there are some amazing walking tracks here just waiting to be explored.


The Southern Alps are the mighty spine of the South Island, stretching 450km in length and separating the two coasts. Views of their snowy peaks dominate the view in most South Island locations. From the dizzying heights of Aoraki / Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain, to the powdery skifields of the Remarkables, Cardrona and Treble Cone in Queenstown, they are truly awe-inspiring. Whether you’re a ski bunny, a hiker or prefer to enjoy the view from below, New Zealand’s Southern Alps are guaranteed to be a highlight of your visit.


New Zealand’s pristine South Island lakes are famed for their picturesque beauty. Lakes dot the South Island from top to bottom, many of them formed and fed by glaciers descending from the Southern Alps centuries ago.

The Lake District around Queenstown includes Lake Wakatipu, nearby Wanaka and Hawea. In Southland, Te Anau (the largest South Island lake) and Manapouri to the southwest are worth a visit, while lakes Tekapo and Pukaki in the Mackenzie Basin between Christchurch and Mount Cook are unique for their bright turquoise blue water caused by tiny particles of glacier dust.


The east and west coasts of the South Island have markedly different terrain. The East Coast is more sedate, with family-friendly beaches. Over on the West Coast you’ll find rocky shores, black sand beaches and wild conditions. There are fascinating rock formations around the South Island coast, including Split Apple Rock near Kaiteriteri in the north, the famous layered Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki in the West and the enormous Moeraki Boulders in Otago.


The South Island’s fertile soil and diverse terrain makes it suitable for all kinds of farming: fruit and vegetables in the north, vineyards throughout and sheep and cattle farming everywhere from wide plains to remote high country areas. A visit to a high country sheep station is a great way to learn about a very traditional part of Kiwi culture.

More South Island highlights

Wine tasting, adventure activities like jet boating and bungy jumping, tours of Lord of the Rings locations... it’s all in the South Island!

How to get around the South Island

Driving around New Zealand’s South Island is a huge undertaking – you’ll travel thousands of kilometres, many of them on twisty, narrow roads or over high mountain passes. To truly enjoy the scenery, why not sit back and let someone else do the driving?

InterCity’s popular TravelPass range lets you pick an itinerary and travel along it at your own pace, so you can stop along the way and really get to know the real New Zealand. Travel by bus around the South Island and see its natural beauty in comfort. Some TravelPasses even include travel on the stunningly scenic TranzAlpine train which runs between Christchurch and Greymouth, crossing over the Southern Alps. Find out more about InterCity South Island TravelPass.

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