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New Zealand

South Island holidays

Things to do

SOUTH ISLAND TRIP? SIMPLE.

Few places on Earth are as dramatic as New Zealand’s South Island. Staggeringly beautiful, this place has views around every corner. On a holiday to the South Island, you can expect to discover mountains and glaciers, forests and vineyards, lakes and beaches – and much more besides. Whether you’re driving, sailing or walking, you’ll be constantly surprised by the island’s jaw-dropping landscapes.

If you love the great outdoors, this place will be right up your street. New Zealand’s South Island boasts endless natural wonders, from the luscious north all the way to penguin-inhabited south. Wildlife enthusiasts can spend their days walking through bird-filled forests, kayaking alongside wild seals, and marvelling at caves filled with glittering glow worms. Keen hikers can take in the snowy peaks of the Southern Alps and traverse the icy tunnels of Franz Josef Glacier. And even the most seasoned travellers will be amazed by Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park.

Plus, if you’re a thrill-seeker, a South Island holiday will never disappoint. Nicknamed ‘the adventure capital of the world’, Queenstown has a number of heart-racing activities – from skydiving and bungee-jumping, to white-water rafting and zip-lining. When you want some downtime though, the South Island offers plenty of opportunity to relax. Foodies will love Marlborough’s world-class wineries, while Dunedin serves up historical attractions and powdery beaches.

However you want to spend your time, our experts will help you create the perfect South Island itinerary. You could hire a campervan and drive the well-trodden route from Christchurch to Queenstown, taking in Mount Cook and Glacier Country. Alternatively, venture northwards to rugged Kaikoura and sunny Marlborough – or perhaps you’d prefer to focus on Southland, ticking off Milford Sound and Stewart Island? Whether you’re dreaming of a two-week road trip or a month-long adventure, we’ll help you plan the perfect South Island holiday.

Cites

Natural wonders

Wine & wildlife

Best time to go

South Island cities

If you’re planning a holiday to New Zealand’s South Island, you’ll probably fly into Christchurch. This modern city has a lengthy list of top-notch restaurants, laidback bars and trendy coffee shops. Enjoy a long lunch on a sun-soaked terrace by the Avon River, then catch a show at The Court Theatre. Or head to one of the many beaches near Christchurch, where you’ll find watersports, seafront cafés and coastal walks.

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But Queenstown is the undoubtedly the most-loved city in the South Island. On the shore of Lake Wakatipu, this scenic city offers all kinds of water-based fun, including wake-boarding, jet-boating and white-water rafting. Adrenaline junkies will be in their element, too, as Queenstown is famous for its daredevil activities. You can brave New Zealand’s highest bungee jump, zoom down the steepest zip-line on the planet, and face up to the world’s highest cliff jump.

If history’s more your thing, though, make sure you visit Dunedin. This time-stamped city is home to Victorian buildings and New Zealand’s only castle, as well as plenty of museums, beaches and craft breweries.

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Glaciers, fjords & more

During your South Island holiday, you’ll be able to see some of New Zealand’s most impressive natural sites. The Southern Alps run like a spine down the western side of the isle, so you’ll be greeted by snowy peaks and turquoise lakes around every bend. Westland Tai Poutini National Park is a must-visit. You can go kayaking on Lakes Matheson, and admire the jagged faces of Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. If you want to get even closer, why not book a heli-hike? You can fly over your glacier of choice, before walking through its blue-tinged caves and tunnels.

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Show Less

Further south, Fiordland will take your breath away. Cruise across Milford Sound, taking in the surrounding mountains and waterfalls – and keep your eyes peeled for seals and dolphins. And, for a truly magical experience, visit the glow worm caves in Te Anau, where you’ll be able to see hundreds of twinkling glow worms.

But it’s not all about lakes and mountains. In the northwest corner of the South Island, Abel Tasman National Park is a mishmash of lush forests and sugary beaches. There are all kinds of ways to explore this beautiful area, from canoeing and horse-riding, to hiking and zip-lining.

Show More
Show Less

Wine & wildlife

Besides its stunning scenery, New Zealand’s South Island is best known for two things – delicious wine and incredible wildlife. The world-famous Marlborough region produces three quarters of New Zealand’s wine, namely its hugely popular sauvignon blanc. Why not take a tour of a few Marlborough vineyards, where you can try a variety of vintages and learn about the grape-to-glass process?

Show More
Show Less

Elsewhere, there are plenty of opportunities for wildlife-watching. Visit Kaikoura to watch fur seals lolloping over the rocky beach, or head out to sea in search of orcas, dolphins and sperm whales. If you’re keen to see penguins on your South Island holiday, make tracks for the Otago Peninsula. This rugged headland is home to yellow-eyed penguins and little blue penguins – and there’s a colony of nesting albatross, to boot. Or you could journey even further south and travel to Stewart Island. This remote isle is a haven for native birds like kaka and weka, and kiwi birds outnumber humans by 50 to one.

Show More
Show Less

Best time to visit New Zealand’s South Island

Like the UK, New Zealand has four seasons – but, on this side of the world, they’re at opposite times. Summer lasts from December to February, while winter runs from June to August. Temperatures vary across the island, and it gets cooler the further south you go – you’ll notice a big difference between Marlborough and Queenstown, for example. Whenever you’re planning to go on holiday to the South Island, it’s worth packing plenty of layers as rain is always a possibility.

Show More
Show Less

During summer, the days are sunny and warm, with temperatures hovering in the mid-to-high teens. You’ll have perfect conditions for outdoor activities, whether you’re hiking through Abel Tasman National Park or sailing across Milford Sound. But it’s worth bearing in mind that summer is peak season in New Zealand, so some attractions and walking trails can get busy.

If you’d prefer to explore when it’s quieter, consider planning your South Island holiday for spring or autumn. It will be cooler – especially in the very south – but you’ll be able to sightsee without the crowds. The views in April and October are particularly picturesque, as the highest peaks will be covered in a blanket of snow.

Show More
Show Less

Cites

South Island cities

If you’re planning a holiday to New Zealand’s South Island, you’ll probably fly into Christchurch. This modern city has a lengthy list of top-notch restaurants, laidback bars and trendy coffee shops. Enjoy a long lunch on a sun-soaked terrace by the Avon River, then catch a show at The Court Theatre. Or head to one of the many beaches near Christchurch, where you’ll find watersports, seafront cafés and coastal walks.

Show More
Show Less

But Queenstown is the undoubtedly the most-loved city in the South Island. On the shore of Lake Wakatipu, this scenic city offers all kinds of water-based fun, including wake-boarding, jet-boating and white-water rafting. Adrenaline junkies will be in their element, too, as Queenstown is famous for its daredevil activities. You can brave New Zealand’s highest bungee jump, zoom down the steepest zip-line on the planet, and face up to the world’s highest cliff jump.

If history’s more your thing, though, make sure you visit Dunedin. This time-stamped city is home to Victorian buildings and New Zealand’s only castle, as well as plenty of museums, beaches and craft breweries.

Show More
Show Less

Natural wonders

Glaciers, fjords & more

During your South Island holiday, you’ll be able to see some of New Zealand’s most impressive natural sites. The Southern Alps run like a spine down the western side of the isle, so you’ll be greeted by snowy peaks and turquoise lakes around every bend. Westland Tai Poutini National Park is a must-visit. You can go kayaking on Lakes Matheson, and admire the jagged faces of Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. If you want to get even closer, why not book a heli-hike? You can fly over your glacier of choice, before walking through its blue-tinged caves and tunnels.

Show More
Show Less

Further south, Fiordland will take your breath away. Cruise across Milford Sound, taking in the surrounding mountains and waterfalls – and keep your eyes peeled for seals and dolphins. And, for a truly magical experience, visit the glow worm caves in Te Anau, where you’ll be able to see hundreds of twinkling glow worms.

But it’s not all about lakes and mountains. In the northwest corner of the South Island, Abel Tasman National Park is a mishmash of lush forests and sugary beaches. There are all kinds of ways to explore this beautiful area, from canoeing and horse-riding, to hiking and zip-lining.

Show More
Show Less

Wine & wildlife

Wine & wildlife

Besides its stunning scenery, New Zealand’s South Island is best known for two things – delicious wine and incredible wildlife. The world-famous Marlborough region produces three quarters of New Zealand’s wine, namely its hugely popular sauvignon blanc. Why not take a tour of a few Marlborough vineyards, where you can try a variety of vintages and learn about the grape-to-glass process?

Show More
Show Less

Elsewhere, there are plenty of opportunities for wildlife-watching. Visit Kaikoura to watch fur seals lolloping over the rocky beach, or head out to sea in search of orcas, dolphins and sperm whales. If you’re keen to see penguins on your South Island holiday, make tracks for the Otago Peninsula. This rugged headland is home to yellow-eyed penguins and little blue penguins – and there’s a colony of nesting albatross, to boot. Or you could journey even further south and travel to Stewart Island. This remote isle is a haven for native birds like kaka and weka, and kiwi birds outnumber humans by 50 to one.

Show More
Show Less

Best time to go

Best time to visit New Zealand’s South Island

Like the UK, New Zealand has four seasons – but, on this side of the world, they’re at opposite times. Summer lasts from December to February, while winter runs from June to August. Temperatures vary across the island, and it gets cooler the further south you go – you’ll notice a big difference between Marlborough and Queenstown, for example. Whenever you’re planning to go on holiday to the South Island, it’s worth packing plenty of layers as rain is always a possibility.

Show More
Show Less

During summer, the days are sunny and warm, with temperatures hovering in the mid-to-high teens. You’ll have perfect conditions for outdoor activities, whether you’re hiking through Abel Tasman National Park or sailing across Milford Sound. But it’s worth bearing in mind that summer is peak season in New Zealand, so some attractions and walking trails can get busy.

If you’d prefer to explore when it’s quieter, consider planning your South Island holiday for spring or autumn. It will be cooler – especially in the very south – but you’ll be able to sightsee without the crowds. The views in April and October are particularly picturesque, as the highest peaks will be covered in a blanket of snow.

Show More
Show Less

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We Recommend

Franz Josef Glacier

Walk to the face of Franz Josef Glacier and admire its jagged textures. Or, for a closer look, book a heli-hike and explore the 7,000-year-old ice caverns and blue-hued tunnels.

We Recommend

Milford Sound

No holiday to the South Island is complete without a Milford Sound cruise. Surrounded by dramatic peaks, this stunning fjord looks like something straight off a postcard.

We Recommend

Stewart Island

Declared an International Dark Sky Sanctuary in 2019, Stewart Island offers fantastic star-gazing opportunities, with views of the Milky Way and the magical Southern Lights.

We Recommend

Mount Cook

Don your walking boots and hike to the base of Mount Cook. Also known as Aoraki, it’s the tallest mountain in New Zealand and has huge spiritual significance within Maori culture.

We Recommend

Abel Tasman National Park

New Zealand’s smallest national park is a must-visit. Snorkel through bright blue waters, go on a guided kayak tour in search of dolphins, and hike through the bird-filled forests.

Itineraries

Hotels

How to do New Zealand’s South Island

Make the most of your holiday with a tailor-made itinerary

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Take a look at these popular destinations on the South Island

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Whether you're looking for luxury or simplicity, we've got the perfect holiday for you.

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Travelbag is fully protected by ATOL and ABTA, so your booking is completely secure.

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