6 Most Popular Places to Visit in New Zealand’s South Island in Summer

List of 6 of the most popular places to visit in New Zealand South Island during summer months (December - February).

The South Island is famous for its stunning scenery. If you’re planning to tour New Zealand’s South Island during the summer months (December - February), you won’t want to miss these must-see locations. Here is a list of the most spectacular places to include in your New Zealand summer South Island road trip.

1. Abel Tasman National Park One of the most beautiful places in the South Island, and with the most sunshine hours, Abel Tasman National park is home to the Abel Tasman coastal track which attracts around 300,000 visitors every year from all over the world. And it’s no wonder, the Abel Tasman is famous for its lush native bush, golden sands and blue water. The many idyllic bays and coves offer fantastic swimming and kayaking, and it’s not uncommon to see seals and dolphins when you’re out on the water.

2. Marlborough Sounds A favourite coastal holiday spot for Kiwis, the Marlborough Sounds is an intricate network of waterways flanked by rich forested hills. This stunning landscape is a fantastic place for boating, fishing, and kayaking and it’s an excellent place for spotting wildlife. As you explore the area listen out for native birdsong.

3. Kaikoura The whale watching capital of New Zealand, here you can encounter whales, orcas, dolphins and seals. The water is warmer in summer (although still chilly) making it the best time to swim with the dolphins. Kaikoura is known for its beautiful rugged coastline and for its crayfish. Keep a look out for seals playing in the waves as you drive along the coast.

4. Franz Josef Glacier The surrounding mountains will not be covered in snow during summer (the highest peaks will still be snow-capped) but the sunny days are perfect for seeing the magnificent blue ice caves and peering down the icy crevasses of this magnificent glacier. A “heli-hike” (a helicopter trip to hike on the glacier) is the coolest way to explore this stunning landscape, but just a hike to the base of the glacier is impressive.

5. Lake Tekapo Tekapo is a fantastic place to relax and connect with nature. Lake Tekapo a mesmerising turquoise blue colour and in summer the landscape is covered with colourful lupin flowers. There is a range of hiking tracks to choose from, and the Tekapo Springs hot pools and spa is a great way to unwind. The area is blessed with very low light pollution, Tekapo is fortunate to be almost right beneath the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, which means it’s a fantastic place for stargazing. 

6. Punakaiki is home to probably the most famous attraction on the South Island’s West Coast, the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. These spectacular coastal limestone rock formations formed about 30 million years ago, and yes, they are like stacks of pancakes. The short walking track around the rocks lets you explore these curiously shaped rocks and their many surge pools and blowholes.

Summer in New Zealand is all about enjoying the outdoors, as you can see the South Island has a lot to offer during the summer months. These destinations are some of the most highly rated places for South Island summertime adventures, but there are loads more amazing spots to discover and fantastic outdoor activities to enjoy.

Our guides at The Road Trip are experts in finding all the best spots and can design a customised itinerary to make your trip even more special. Our private guided tours can take you places the group tours can’t, and our self-drive tours ensure you find all the spectacular sites without the hassle of figuring it all out. If you’re thinking of touring New Zealand during summer get in touch with us to talk about how we can help you make the most of your New Zealand adventure.

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