Travel Consultation:

South Island Highlights

Adventures in the spectacular south

New Zealand - South Island - Highway with mountain and lake

South Island Highlights

Travel time

From 13 days

Type of travel


Best time

October - April

To destination

Approx. 25 hours



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Tourlane Expert

Our Tourlane experts are happy to advise you!

Prepare to be captivated by the natural wonders of the south island. You’ll start and end your trip in Christchurch, known for its British charm. You’ll travel around the island to see its highlights, such as Abel Tasman National Park, Franz Josef glacier, the Fiordland National Park and numerous Lord of the Rings film locations, before returning to Christchurch and the volcanic Canterbury region.

  1. Christchurch
  2. Picton
  3. Marahau
  4. West Coast
  5. Franz Josef
  6. Queenstown
  7. Lake Te Anau
  8. Otago Peninsula
  9. Christchurch
South Island Highlights



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Plan Your Trip

Travel Itinerary

Highlights you can experience

Destination 1 and 9: Christchurch

Christchurch is the south island’s largest city and is renowned for its quaint British charm. Hagley Park with over 40 acres of parkland well as the Canterbury Museum and Botanic Gardens is a must-visit. The Arts Centre is another highlight, offering restaurants and shops as well as art galleries and interactive science displays in heritage-designated buildings. The city also features the International Antarctic Centre which offers exciting Antarctic experiences and simulations. Just outside of town is Adrenalin Forest - an adventure park in the trees! The distinct Banks Peninsula and the town of Akaroa are nearby as well where you can swim with dolphins and paddle a kayak on the countries calmest waters. Jet boat tours in Waimak River Gorge, Hot air balloon trips and canyoning are other exciting activities in the region.

Destination 2: Picton

Located on a protected bay in the heart of Marlborough Sound, the town is an ocean lovers paradise. Picton is the departure point for ferries between the main islands but is much more than just a logistical stopover. Picton Museum and Kaipupu Point Wildlife Sanctuary are local attractions that demand your attention. Kayak tours and scenic cruises in the area’s waters are a highlight on any New Zealand trip. Picton is also near the start point of the Queen Charlotte Track, a superb multi-day hiking (or mountain biking) route that explores the natural diversity of Marlborough Sounds. Winery tours to the nearby Marlborough region, with its world-class wineries, are also an experience not to be missed.

Destination 3: Marahau

To visit Marahau is to explore Abel Tasman National Park and Tasman Bay. Located at the southern entrance of the park, the village of Marahau is perfectly situated for those visiting the park for a day, a week or more. The park is renowned for its golden-sand beaches, ancient Maori sites and crystal-clear waters filled with marine life, like penguins and seals. From Marahau, you can book water taxis or kayak to enter the park to begin your exploration. For day-trippers, there are half-day kayak and walking tours as well as boat cruises to explore the bay and shoreline. Hiring a kayak is a perfect way to explore Tasman Bay and the spectacular shoreline of the park at your leisure. One can also begin the Abel Tasman Coastal Track from Marahau which crosses the park over 3 to 5 days.

Destination 4: West Coast

Wonderful and rugged experiences await you on the west coast of the south island. The main town here is the laid-back Hokitika, known for spectacular sunsets on the beach. Also, be sure to take a Pounamu/green stone tour to better understand the local indigenous culture and the importance of this precious stone. Top attractions in the region include hiking along Hokitika Gorge and the milky-green waters of the Hokitika River below. A cruise or kayak trip on the Mahinapua waterways is another local highlight. A visit to Pancake Rocks will surely thrill you - the limestone stacks have been carved by the wild ocean and are a unique sight. For cyclists, be sure to take the West Coast Wilderness Trail along the coast - as far as the gold rush town of Ross if you choose.

Destination 5: Franz Josef

Franz Josef is a small town located just a few miles from the glacier of the same name. Most of the activities in here are focused on the nearby glacier, such as the popular guided glacier walk (arriving by helicopter). For skilled adventurers, ice climbing on the glacier is also available. For a more cautious experience, a glacier valley walk through the adjacent rainforest is a must-do as this is the worlds only glacier this close to sea-level. Boat and kayak tours of the nearby Okarito wetlands, through a lagoon and ancient rainforest, are wonderful non-ice activities. A visit to nearby Lake Matheson offers lovely walks around the lake and over Clearwater River via a suspension bridge. The lake’s dark colouring offers the perfect reflective surface for catching wonderful reflections of Aoraki (Mount Cook) and Mount Tasman.

Destination 6: Queenstown

New Zealand’s adventure capital, Queenstown offers a wide array of activities for those who like to get their blood pumping. Visit Kawarau Bridge to experience the world’s first commercial Bungy jump centre, take a jet boat ride on Shotover River and in the winter, Coronet Peak and the Remarkables mountain chain calls winter sports enthusiasts. A cable car trip to the top of Bob’s Peak right above town gives wonderful panoramic views over the region. For a more relaxing activity, numerous vineyards dot the region and local cycling trails will take you right to them! Nearby Lake Hayes offers amazing photo opportunities as the mountains in the background are reflected perfectly on the lake’s waters. The nearby town of Glenorchy gives you numerous opportunities to visit Lord of the Rings filming locations.

Destination 7: Lake Te Anau

The Lake Te Anau region offers visitors the perfect base to access the Fiordland National Park and no visit here would be complete without visiting the park and nearby Milford Sound. Milford Sound, with its stunning fjords and waterways, is perhaps New Zealand’s most spectacular natural wonder. A boat cruise of the Sound is a must for anyone visiting the region! Nearby glowworm caves are available to explore, on foot and small boat, on group tours and The Te Anau Bird Sanctuary is a local highlight to see the area’s native bird life. Three of New Zealand’s top hiking trails (tracks), including the famous Milford track, start at Te Anau as well. The tracks are multi-day hiking trips with basic hut accommodation each evening and offer stunning scenery along the way.

Destination 8: Otago Peninsula

Dunedin is the main town of the Otago Peninsula and is one of the country’s oldest cities, featuring excellent examples of Victorian and Edwardian architecture. For history and culture buffs the Toitu Otago Early Settlers Museum and Otago Museum are must visits. The peninsula is known as the wildlife capital of New Zealand. Some of the rare wildlife you will come across include albatross, blue penguins, fur seals and much more. It is best to explore the peninsula by driving the coastal route starting on Portobello Road. Along the way, you can stop to visit white-sandy beaches and wonderful seaside cliffs, such as The Chasm and Lovers Leap. Along the peninsula, you’ll find hikes taking you to cliffside viewpoints to see the area’s abundant wildlife. Also located in the area is New Zealand’s only castle - Larnach Castle, which features public gardens, restaurant and on-site tours.

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