South Island is a complete contrast to North Island. Where the North Island is fairly industrial and the climate warmer the South Island is where the scenery is at, and the climate much cooler.
There are many ways to enter South Island. You can either take the Inter-Island ferry from Wellington to Picton, or, you can fly into South Islands main airport at Christchurch.
The picturesque seaside town of Picton is the South Island base for the Inter-Islander ferry service that links the main islands of New Zealand. If you decide to travel on the ferry Picton will be the first town you meet as the ferry navigates the waters of the Cook Strait (named after the British explorer Captain James Cook). It is also the gateway to the marine, forest and island attractions of the Marlborough Sounds. Ferry fares are roughly NZ$53 (GB£30) to travel as a foot passenger or NZ$173 (GB£97) is you plan to take an untowed car onto the ferry.
Picton is built around a very sheltered harbour, the town has an attractive seafront dotted with cafes, restaurants and various types of galleries. There’s also a floating maritime museum and an aquarium. Local operators can take you cruising, fishing, dolphin watching or sea kayaking.
Nelson is a small but really cool town. Nelson is filled with excellent cafes, restaurants and pubs. While the town itself is super small, the area is surrounded by wonderful mountains and beaches plus it also serves as the gateway for Abel Tasman National Park. There’s not much to do here but it makes for a great base to explore the area from.
A couple of days in Nelson is all that is needed unless you plan to make it your base for several days hiking. Whilst in this town there are two sights you must do.
operates all year round in the Montgomery Square car park on Saturdays, stalls overflow with local fresh organic vegetables, fruit, and flowers, locally farmed salmon, and many kinds of crafts including silk painting, jewellery, pottery, weaving, and wood turning
The Centre of New Zealand
on Botanical Hill is one of Nelson’s most popular walks. The starting point is the Botanical Reserve, over a footbridge from the end of Hardy Street, or you can start at the Nelson Visitor Information Centre and follow the Maitai Walkway to the Hardy Street footbridge.
To reach the Centre of New Zealand will take roughly 40 minutes depending on your fitness. The main track is suitable for sturdier push chairs and buggies. At the top take a seat, enjoy the stunning view and pick out the features of Nelson’s geography from the information panels. You can go downhill on one of the other tracks on the Botanical Hill, or opt to head along the hillside to Walters Bluff.
Franz Josef and Fox Glacier
Franz Josef is a popular jumping-off point for all the glaciers in the area. The Glacier was first explored in 1865 and is about 3 miles from town, and a 20 minute walk will take you to its face. This area is one of the major highlights of the South Island and a great opportunity to walk across a glacier and explore a variety of ice tunnels.
If you have the money, do the full day hike so you get the most of it. The full day tour will also allow you to explore some of the ice tunnels that are around. Expect to pay around NZ$75 (GB£42) for a glacier walk. Be sure not to miss it!
Fox glacier is a little further towards the Southern Alps mountain range. The incline at Fox glacier is a shallower incline whereas at Franz Josef glacier the landscape is steeper which means the glacier here in moving faster.
Mount Cook National Park is home of the highest mountains in New Zealand. It is an alpine setting – with skyscraping peaks, glaciers and permanent snow fields.
There is a legend here: Aoraki and his three brothers were the sons of Rakinui, the Sky Father. While on a sea voyage, their canoe overturned on a reef. When the brothers climbed on top of their canoe, the freezing south wind turned them to stone. The canoe became the South Island (Te Waka o Aoraki); Aoraki and his brothers became the peaks of the Southern Alps.
Everyone loves Queenstown. Really, everyone; and it’s no surprise why! It is a phenomenal little city. It is surrounded by mountains, has an amazing lake, tiny pedestrian streets, great food, a cool nightlife, and is the focal point for dozens of adventure activities. There is such a great vibe and energy in this city. People usually end up spending more time here than originally intended. I planned for three days and ended up staying over one week. It is a city that lives up to all the hype. It is a very good base for the region and this guide will help you get the most from your stay!
Ride the Shotover Jet Boat
This ultrafast speed boat whips around the local rivers at neck breaking speed. Sometimes the water is so shallow you think you are going to crash — it’s quite the rush! Adults tickets are NZ$145 (GB£80)
Nevis Bungy Jump
If you have ever considered bungy jumping and have not done it, Queenstown is the place to do it! It’s home to a 500 foot Nevis bungy jump, one of the highest in the world. Expect to pay around NZ$275 (GB£155) for a jump. For me this was too much and only participated in spectating others.
The easiest way to ascend this mountain is to step aboard the Skyline Gondola. Priced at NZ$35 (GB£19) the Queenstown Gondola is the steepest in the southern hemisphere and takes you 1475 feet (450m) above Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu for some stunning panoramic views.
Christchurch tends to be the second point of entry into New Zealand by international travellers. Known as “The Garden City,” Christchurch boasts beautifully sculpted parks and gardens very reminiscent of Victorian England.
The city has a lively student population, is multi-cultural, and is a popular backpacker destination. Though severely damaged by a few earthquakes in the last few years, the city is slowly being rebuilt and the city is moving forward. It’s still a wonderful place to see and the people there are super amazing and friendly.
Whilst in Christchurch why not check out the following?
The Antarctic Centre
This has to be one of my favourite interactive museums I have ever been to. This tourist attraction near the airport is worth considering if you are interested in Antarctica. There is a lot of information on the environment and wildlife of the continent. It features a simulated Antarctic environment and you can even ride in a Hägglund Antarctic vehicle. Tickets are NZ$59 (GB£33).
Inside the experience is a snow room that is cooled to the temperatures found at the Antarctic. Tourists dress in warm clothing where you can enjoy igloos and a slide.
River Gondola Ride
Why not pass some time relaxing on a river Avon in a gondola that offers excellent views of the city centre and surrounding areas. Adults ride for NZ$28 (GB£15).
Cathedral Square and Tramcars
This is the main centre of town where all the markets, fairs are found, and where locals hang out. During the weekend, there is usually an event occurring. The main square has to be one of the most beautiful I have ever witnessed – truly magical!
The tram station is found here too. Why not take a tramcar tour of the city? Travelling by tram is a great way to see some of central Christchurch. The commentary is good and you will learn some history of the city and the sadness of the 2011 earthquake. The trams are very well maintained and are really quite beautiful.
There really is so much more I could say about New Zealand and its South Island. I would , however, be writing for months. You fully appreciate the country you really do need to spend some considerable time touring.