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With such diverse scenery, wildlife and endless adventure activities it’s no surprise that the South Island is so popular! While we strongly believe that all the bungy jumps, sailing trips and glacier hikes are worthy ways to spend your hard-earned savings, it’s always satisfying to find free things to do:
1) Brave a dip in Lake Tekapo
Close your eyes and picture crystal clear blue waters surrounded by snow-capped mountains – nope, it’s not a dream, it’s exactly what you’ll see by the lake in Tekapo. If you visit during November or December then you’ll be there for lupin season - a photographer’s heaven!
2) Hike a trail in Mt Cook National Park
No matter what your ability, there’s a hike for you in this stunning National Park. The 4-hour Hooker Valley track proves to be one of the most popular walks year after year – offering incredible views of Mt Cook from a glacier lake. Alternatively, you can do a short walk through the Tasman valley or tackle a 2-day hike and stay overnight at Mueller Hut.
3) Swim in the Makarora Blue Pools
Nestled among the forest, these tranquil blue pools provide a picturesque background for a quick dip. The perfect way to break up a long bus ride! If you’re a strong swimmer and feel adventurous, you can even jump off the swing bridge into the water.
4) Feel like a Queen and cool off at Cleopatra’s Pools
Some of New Zealand’s most stunning beaches can be found in Abel Tasman National Park but if you’re not big on sunbathing then you can hike parts of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track instead. Pack your sunscreen, water and your Stray mates and embark on a journey to Cleopatra’s Pools. Word of warning – you’ll need to put in the hard work to reach this location for free as it’s a full day walk from Marahau but you’ll reap the rewards at the end.
5) Marvel at a mirror lake near Franz Josef
If this easy loop track to a mesmerising mirror lake isn’t on your NZ bucket list then it should be! On a calm day, you’ll witness the reflection of New Zealand’s highest peaks (Mt Cook and Mt Tasman) in the water making for a pretty awesome photo opportunity!
6) Reach the top of Roy’s Peak
It’s a tough climb to the top but the view is worth it! Roy’s Peak is an increasingly popular hike in Wanaka thanks to its growing presence on social media. The 360 degree views of the lake and its surroundings are so ‘Instagrammable’ – you’ll finally understand what all the hype is about.
7) Stargaze under the Dark Sky Reserve
Aoraki/Mt Cook and Tekapo are both located within the NZ Dark Sky reserve – taking stargazing to a whole new level. Look up and spot shooting stars, planets, constellations and galaxies as you remember just how tiny we really are down here!
8) Act out scenes from the Lord of the Rings
Calling all Lord of the Rings fans! In that case, it’s time to don your best costumes and re-create snippets from the movie. There are tons of filming locations near Queenstown and Glenorchy. Follow in Frodo’s footprints and check them out for yourselves!
9) Play a game of frisbee golf in Queenstown
All you need is a frisbee and a group of friends and you’re good to go! Head to the Queenstown gardens and enjoy this 18 ‘hole’ course, free of charge.
10) Drive along the Haast pass
Considered to be one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand – the Haast pass is not to be missed! From the beautiful lakes of Wanaka and Hawea to wild West Coast beaches to swing bridges in Mt Aspiring National Park, there are plenty of awesome pitstops. To those in the passenger seats – try not to fall asleep for this part of your trip as you’re going to want to keep your eyes glued to the windows.
11) See if you can spot a kiwi on Stewart Island
Stewart Island kiwis are a little different to their mainland relatives as they feed both during the day and the night, making them easier to spot! Make sure to keep your eyes peeled when you explore this southern island.
12) Catch the sunrise and sunset
There are plenty of wonderful places to watch the sun rise and set each day and the best part is that they’re absolutely free. From ‘That Wanaka Tree’ to a Westport beach to the top of a mountain you’ve just hiked up – take a picnic and some good company and watch the magic unfold before your very eyes.
13) Explore the Punakaiki Pancake rocks
Located in between Westport and Greymouth, this is a West Coast highlight! The Punakaiki Pancakes rocks and blowholes walk takes about 20 minutes through limestone formations, blowholes and surge pools – a great road trip pit stop to stretch those legs!
14) Visit the Queenstown winter festival
Are you ready for 4 days of non-stop fun? The Queenstown winter festival runs every year in June. Whilst you’ll need tickets for a few shows, there are always plenty of free events to get involved with. Forget about the cold temperatures as you join in the electric atmosphere and dance the night away!
15) Chase waterfalls
Whether it’s a road trip pit stop or a designated day out, there is an abundance of waterfalls worth checking out in the South Island. Some of our very favourites include Thunder Creek falls in Haast and the Purakaunui Falls in the Caitlins – both accessible on the Stray route!
So, there you have it. ‘I’m short on cash’ is no longer an excuse – it’s time to get out there and start exploring the South Island.
Stray Travel’s Hop-on Hop-off Bus Route covers the entire country. Travel for up to a year on a hop-on hop-off pass and see all the highlights and some unique off the beaten track places too.
Find out more about Stray.