Best South Island Destinations - Travelling K
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Best South Island Destinations

The South Island of New Zealand is full of stunning spots. In this list, I’ve included some of my favourites, with reflective lakes, waterfalls, dense bush and plenty of great hikes. I’ve realised they are all far from the cities and require a bit of organisation before visiting.

Do you have any you would recommend? Leave them in the comments at the end and I’ll explore.

Milford Sounds


Milford Sound in New Zealand is a fiordland with incredibly beautiful scenery tucked away at the bottom of the island. Every time I visit, I’m in-love and wonder why I don’t come more often. Water is everywhere – waterfalls appear down the mountains after it rains, clear blue rivers, reflective lakes, snow even in summer and the sea comes in around the fractured land.

The trip from Te Awau to Milford Sound is a great scenic drive. There are so many hiking tracks in the area, it’s crazy! I still haven’t managed one of the famous multiple day hikes like Milford Track or the Routeburn Track, but there are plenty of unbelievably beautiful day hikes like Key Summit Track or Lake Marian Track. Then there is the option of cruises on the sound or even kayaking. If you are after THE photo of Milford Sound, go on the Piopiotahi Milford Foreshore Walk, which is right next to the Milford Sound carpark.

Tips before visiting
  • It’s very isolated once you leave Te Anau. There is only an emergency petrol station that is not always working and a bad cafe. Best to buy everything you need in Te Anau.
  • Check the weather beforehand on metservice. Sometimes the road is closed due to bad weather.
  • The road is very winding, steep and narrow in parts. Consider leaving your caravan around Knots Flat before carrying on.
  • Take warm clothes! I needed a hot water bottle in summer.



Glenorchy is a small town surrounded by Lord of the Rings quality scenery. Where is it? Just an hour from Queenstown!

Driving beyond Glenorchy, the road eventually forks and becomes a gravel road. If you carry on after Paradise (yes, there is a place called Paradise), the road becomes more rugged with rivers fording the road and feels more like you’re on someones private land. There are a crazy number of hikes in the area and even one right in town.

Tips before visiting
  • The are limited campgrounds and currently no dumping station.
  • Only a few small shops with Mrs Woolly’s General Store selling fresh product and some nice bars and restaurants. Best to stock up with general food in Queenstown.
  • There is a small petrol station.
  • The road becomes gravel beyond Gelnorchy and some river fording is required.



Karamea is a small town 99km north of Westport, on the South Island of New Zealand. The area has been described as “New Zealand’s best-kept secret”. Because it’s out of the way, a lot of people don’t bother visiting.

The main reason for it’s multiple accommodation options are from people completing the Heaphy Track. But there are other activities in the area with plenty of shorter hikes. It feels untouched and has a lot more wildlife than other parts of New Zealand. There are wild beaches, red rivers, mossy forests and caves – plenty of natural beauty.

Tips before visiting
  • There is a Four Square supermarket for basics and a petrol station with a surprising number of restaurants and cafes.
  • There are a couple of dumping stations.
  • Beware of the weather. After a lot of rain, you might be trapped until the water goes down.

Abel Tasman

Generally thought of as the warmest part of the South Island – it has a beautiful coastline and dense bush. There is a 3-5 day hike through the national park. You can easily do a day walk and just explore a section of the track by organising a water taxi (Abel Tasman Aqua TaxiAbel Tasman Sea Shuttle  or Wilsons Abel Tasman). It’s advertised as an easy walk, but I know people who struggled with the hills and nearly missed the water taxi!

Tips before visiting
  • The road beyond Motueka becomes extremely winding.
  • There are campgrounds on both sides, with a Doc campground in the park that you can drive to on the far side.
  • Motueka is a good sized town with supermarkets and petrol stations. There are just a couple of petrol stations beyond this town.

Mt Cook

The drive along the intense chalky blue Lake Pukaki is the perfect entrance to this park. After a decent length drive, the road becomes a gravel carpark with a Doc campsite and toilet. There are a plenty of walking options and not all for mountaineers. The Kea Point Track is an extremely easy and short walk. I started the Hooker Valley Track, but realised I didn’t have enough time… will just have to go back.

Tips before visiting
  • The closest town is Twisel with a supermarket and petrol stations. There are no shops at Mt Cook except an information centre.
  • The campground is a Doc campground with just a toilet.
  • The road is only gravel for the last tiny section.
  • Take warm clothes!

The rest of the South Island

There is such a variety of landscapes in the South Island – far more diverse than the North Island. Below are a few more destinations that I ALSO love:

  • The Catlins are at the very bottom of the island and are extra green. It does get a lot of rain and can get extremely windy. I enjoy the rough beaches, sealions and many waterfalls. The towns are cute too!
  • Fox Glacier and Frans Joseph Glacier are close to each other on the west coast. I was very excited to finally see Lake Matheson on my last trip – with a mirror finish.
  • Poor Kaikoura hasn’t had an easy time with the recent earthquake. I’d heard the road north was opening soon, but it still looks closed. Kaikoura is north of Christchurch and is usually a sleepy town until tourist season. I highly recommend swimming with the dolphins – I’ve never seen so many in one spot! There is also a great coastal walk and plenty of sealions.
  • Nelson Lakes has a great campground in the park where you can instantly be on a peaceful bush walk. Each time I’ve visited, it’s ended up raining while the coast is dry. But even in the rain, it’s a special place.

I imagine there are a few spots I’ve never heard of and there are a couple high on my wish-list.

Stewart Island would be amazing to see. It always sounds isolated, relaxing and beautiful.

Doubtful Sound is also a place I would love to visit. I can’t get enough of Milford Sound and I imagine Doubtful would be similar yet with less tourists!

Do you have a recommendation? I’d love to hear what spot you would recommend visiting in the comments below.


  1. Geoff says:

    Colac bay Karen,loved it so much I brought a section there 8 years ago.Its a long way to go from Tauranga to mow the lawns tho

  2. Josy A says:

    This is soooo helpful!

    I am just trying to work out my plans for a trip to Kiwiland so I really really appreciate this post. 🙂

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