The South Island is the larger of New Zealand's two main islands. The North Island is home to the largest city, the capital, Hobbiton, and over three-quarters of the population. The North Island is dominated by rolling hills and the occasional volcano. In contrast, the South Island is a dramatic mountainous landscape filled with the landscapes people associate with Middle Earth of Lord Of The Rings. In this article, we will discuss how to plan the perfect holiday on the South Island (assuming you are coming from Wellington.


The Northern South Island

From Wellington, you take the ferry to the South Island port of Picton. This is a stunning ferry ride and soak in the veiws as you pass through the majestic Malborough Sounds. It is worth exploring these Sounds some more. The Malborough Sounds were the famous explorer Captain Cook's favorite destination in the world and he visited them repeatedly.

  • Main Ferry Company: Interislander
  • Cost Foot Passenger: Starting At Around $40
  • Duration: 3.5 Hours

The South Island is arguably filled with more spectacular scenery than the North Island. Just 20 minutes drive from Picton is the heart of New Zealand's wine-growing region - Marlborough. Be sure to visit a winery or two!

From here you should have a side trip up to the sunny and stunning coastal town of Nelson but spend the night further up the coast at Kaiteriteri. This tiny nook and resort village is one of the most beautiful pieces of coastline in New Zealand. It is even possible to see penguins nesting in the rocks. Must-dos here are to hike the coastal Abel Tasman National Park Great Walk and visit Farewell Split.

Related: Australia Vs New Zealand: 20 Reasons To Choose One Over The Other

Coastal Town Of Kaikoura

After wine tasting and visiting the Nelson region, travel to the eastern coastal town of Kaikoura. Here the mountains flow straight into the sea and the sea is teeming with marine wildlife. You will see hundreds of fur seals lining the beach.

What To Do In Kaikoura

  • Must-Do: Whale Watching Cruise
  • Optional: Charter Fishing Tour
  • Eat: Local Crayfish (Lobster) And Other Seafood
  • See: The Many Fur Seals Lining The Beaches

From here it's time to soak in some thermal springs in the heart of the South Island. Head over to Hanmer Springs in northern inland Canterbury.

The Central And Lake District Of The South Island

Now take the scenic middle route down the South Island. This will bypass the coastal cities and the scenery will be never-ceasing dramatic. Drive into the middle of the island and stay at the glacier-fed turquoise-colored Lake Tekapo. Here you can gaze up the lake to New Zealand's highest mountains - the glacier-capped Mt Cook. The next day you should drive up and hike around this national park.

Movies Filmed In This Part Of The South Island

Lord Of The Rings Trilogy & Hobbit Trilogy

The Upcoming Amazon Lord Of The Rings TV Series

2005 The Chronicles Of Naria - The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe

2020 Disney Live-Action Mulan

2008 10,000 BC

2018 Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Next, continue your trip south and call into Wanaka on Lake Wanaka, and then after stopping there drive to Queenstown - the adventure capital of the Southern Hemisphere. Be sure to spend time here and explore sky diving, water rafting, and every other adventure sport known to man.

Main Adventure Sports In Queenstown

  • White Water Rafting
  • Canyon Swinging
  • Bungy Jumping
  • Skiing And Snow Boarding
  • Sky Diving
  • Many Other Water Sports
  • Hiking And Camping
  • Sightseeing (Including Lord Of The Rings Tours)

Southern South Island

From here travel south to Lake Te Anau and go on a cruise in Milford Sound in New Zealand's largest and wildest national park - Fiordland National Park. You will not forget this day! If you enjoyed it as much as expected, then consider going on the even more remote Doubtful Sound cruise as well - to get there you must cruise across Lake Manapouri and then take a bus through the mountain.

Important: Bring Good Quality Mosquito Spray (In New Zealand They Are Called "Sand Flies")

Related: Exploring The Overlooked Penguins Of New Zealand

From here it's recommended to visit the penguins of New Zealand. New Zealand has three pieces of penguins; the Fiordland Penguin, the Little Blue Penguin, and the Yellow-Eyed Penguin. The Little Blue Penguin is all over New Zealand and you may have already have seen a Fiordland Penguin on your cruise. But the really awesome penguin to see (and the world's most endangered) is the Yellow-Eyed Penguin found in the southeast of the island.

New Zealand's Penguins

  • Fiordland Crested Penguin
  • Little Blue Penguin
  • Yellow-Eyed Penguin

To see these, travel all the way south and east to the Catlin region. Don't worry if it rains here, it rains 2 days out of 3! You can spot them along the coastline, you can also get a tour if you prefer. Another wildlife hotspot is the Otago Peninsula. Here you can see the Royal Albatross, Yellow-Eyed Penguin, and the rare New Zealand Sea Lion, as well as the Little Blue Penguin and Fur Seals.

Optional Extra: Visit New Zealand's Third Island - Steward Island

The West Coast To Christchurch

Start to travel up the West Coast through the eye-watering Haast Pass (historically home to the largest species of eagle). The West Coast of the South Island is wet, very wet, just expect it to rain. Along this coast, you can visit the stunning Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers - glaciers that extend down into the rainforests!

If you are out of time by now, then it's time to head over to Christchurch - the South Islands' main city. But take your time crossing Arthur's Pass. It is one of New Zealand's most spectacular roads.

In short New Zealand's South Island is full of utterly stunning sights and things to see and do. And this is just barely scratching the surface for those on the clock.

Next: 10 Of The Best Things To Do In New Zealand