Fun things to do in South Island

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Most Viewed Things to Do in South Island

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    Different Sights on Road + TranzAlpine Train Trip

    by Kakapo2 Updated Apr 9, 2012

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    As I have travelled on the TranzAlpine I can compare the road and train trip - and cannot really tell you what to do if you have to choose between the two kinds of transportation LOL

    What is absolutely clear: The train trip is more relaxing, as you do not have to watch the traffic. But I can tell you, I was standing on the viewing platform most of the time, so I surely sit more when travelling by car ;-)

    The road trip

    You get fantastic scenery on the road trip which you do not see from the train:
    1. the fabulous ascent of Porters Pass and the inner sanctum after the highest point of the road, with several beautiful lakes;
    2. the fantastic limestone rock site of Castle Hill;
    3. the dramatic downhill road through the Otira Gorge, with a waterfall diverted over the road.

    And, as said, you can stop anywhere and enjoy the places, you have a chance of encountering wildlife like the keas, etc. I consider Cave Stream as a minor miss if you travel by train. Most people have no torches and do not enter the cave system anyway, and it is just another beautiful place in the tussock grasslands of the High Country.

    The train trip

    On the train trip you get some sights you can only dream of when travelling on the road. The most fantastic stretch is between Springfield and Cass. (Get on Googlemaps and you will see what places I am talking about.) The railway line first follows the Waimakariri River Gorge, your places of interest are Otarama and Staircase, then Avoca. You can access this area by train only. This meandering river gorge is like a mini Grand Canyon, just not red rocks, and the water at the bottom is turquoise blue on a sunny day. Absolutely breathtaking. You pass 19 tunnels and many scary bridges.

    From Avoca you drive through tussock grassland with huge lupin fields in summer (usually late November until early January), and you pass Lake Sarah.

    The railway line joins the road between Craigieburn and Cass, through Arthurs Pass. Then the train passes a 8.5 km long tunnel through the mountain (while car drivers hold their breath on the way down the steep gorge road) and comes out again before Otira.

    Whereas most cars would carry on on SH 73, the train follows the route north (through Poerua), past Lake Brunner (Moana), and then to Greymouth. You can also drive this route by car.

    What to wear and what not to wear...

    A word about the viewing platforms of the train: If you spend a lot of time out there photographing, be prepared to be filthy afterwards. (Dark clothes highly recommended...) I really had a black face and smelled like a car engine under the shower. My hair was oily from the diesel fumes which envelope you especially in the many tunnels, and the shampoo not white but grey ;-)

    Have some of those wet cleansing tissues at hand, for the case the toilet in your part of the train is out of order, as ours on the way from Greymouth to Christchurch, so you can clean your hands after excessive photographing on the platform. And go to the toilet before boarding the train. You never know... The only toilet stop in such a case will be at Arthurs Pass.

    Food and drink on the train is very affordable, so no real need to bring sandwiches.

    Best places to sit and stand

    If you want to take photos of the Waimak Gorge out there make sure to stand on the right side of the platform on the way to the west and on the left on the way east (back to Chch). No need to get outside before Springfield.

    Decision time...

    Surely I am a big fan of the road trip but on the train trip you get other unique sights, especially through the Waimakariri Gorge.

    My latest recommendation therefore is: Travel to Greymouth by train and back to Christchurch by car, or the other way round, and you get it all ;-)

    If you make a return trip, consider staying in Moana on Lake Brunner. Greymouth is not a very spectacular town, and in the hour you have there you cannot do a lot, whereas you would have 2.5 hours in Moana for coffee and a very nice bushwalk or walk along the lake.

    The full train trip takes 4.5 hours each way. Departure from Christchurch is 8.15am daily, departure from Greymouth at 1.45pm.

    Tour and Intercity buses start right at the exit of the railway station in Greymouth. Shuttle services in Christchurch (esp. Canterbury Shuttles) cost NZ$ 5 if you want to go to a place within the so-called Four Avenues (Bealey, Fitzgerald, Moorhouse, Deans) of the central city.

    For more pictures see my Travelogues on this South Island page.

    Related to:
    • Road Trip
    • Trains

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  • SLLiew's Profile Photo

    NZ is so far away, why not send back a postcard

    by SLLiew Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    The many miles or kilometers of air flight hours to get to this Southern Pacific Islands....

    New Zealand is such a far away country. The postal system is highly efficient and so your postcards will reach your mailing destination.

    So grab some postcards and mail back some. Keep some as your souvenir as the scenery of New Zealand is breath taking.

    Postcard postage to Malaysia is NZ$1.50 by airmail.

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    Franz Josef Glacier - Up close

    by SLLiew Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    It is amazing that you can visit this glacier easily. Walked right up to the edge of the glacier.

    For a more rewarding experience, join a guided tour with different trip options up the glacier, hiking up or by helicopter. This is an wonderful experience of a life-time.

    Remember to play it safe and follow the guides always.

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    Arthur's Pass National Park

    by ATXtraveler Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    There are many reasons why you may consider adding Arthur's Pass National Park to your itinerary. For some, it makes a great coffee break between Christchurch and the West Coast of the South Island. For others, there is a natural beauty about it. There are even a few adrenaline challenged people who need to hike for days on end throughout the natural beauty that is New Zealand. I also do believe this is a day stop location for the Tranz-Alpine train from Greymouth to Ch-Ch.

    Whatever the reason, I would definitely but the Pass on your agenda. This National Park is located just outside of Christchurch to the West, and is a good 1/2 day trek, or a solid 1-2 hour stop if you are heading through to the West Coast. There are waterfalls well within walking distance, as well as some larger extended hikes for those with more time to take in the country side.

    In addition, you could even trek to my surname-sake, Carroll Hut!

    Related to:
    • Trains
    • Road Trip

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    Mount Cook National Park

    by ATXtraveler Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Aoraki, as she is known to the Maori, is truly a sight to see. Unfortunately, sometimes this sight is not to be seen as was the case for Sarah and I on our trip to NZ this time. Mount Cook is the Western name for this mountain majesty, but plan your trip wisely if this is your only reason for trekking. Mount Cook is a very stingy mountain, who only likes to venture out in the best of weather! We had 3 different days and nights where it might have been possible to get a glimpse, and each time, rain and haze covered her.

    The nice part about this however is that Mount Cook National Park is still a must do location. Beautiful 1 hour to 1 week walking tracks up to, and through magnificent glaciers will keep you well occupied. One of the most beautiful lake views you will ever see greets you at the entrance, and the view just gets better.

    Without spoiling the rest of it for you, I would recommend checking out the Mount Cook National Park pages on VT!

    Related to:
    • Road Trip
    • National/State Park
    • Photography

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  • TheWanderingCamel's Profile Photo

    Scottish heritage

    by TheWanderingCamel Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Dunedin wears its Scottish heritage proudly. Founded by Scots settlers who found sufficient similarity between their new home and the old to name the new settlement with the old Gaelic name for Edinburgh, they brought with them not only their sheep, but their Scottish high regard for the importance of education - the country's first university was established here along with one of the world's first public girls' High Schools. They also brought their strict Presbyterian faith - something that was to cause more than a few problems when the town found itself the centre of the Southern Otago goldrush in the 1860s - an event that saw the town grow so rapidly that by 1870 it was the biggest and richest city in the colony. You'll find plenty of tartan here still, along with excellent golf courses, a statue of Robbie Burns in the city centre, pipe bands and a whole week in the year given over to a Scottish festivities.

    The mix here of grand Victorian buildings, a lively student population, proximity to the beautiful Otago peninsula with its many attractions - both natural and man-made, and its position as the gateway to the scenic south-east corner of the country make the city a great place to visit and spend a few days.

    A s well as spending time in the city itself, do make the trip out to the Otago Peninsula to visit quaint little Lanarch Castle, the Royal Albatross Centre (visit historic Fort Taiaroa whilst you're out there)and perhaps catch a glimpse of the world's rarest penguin -the hoi-hoi - at the privately-run Penguin Place. If you have more time up your sleeve, the Taieri Gorge Railway will take you on a journey into some wonderfully wild and remote countryside.

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    Explore Banks Penninsula and the Port Hills

    by allikat Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    When I was new to this country and living in unfamiliar Christchurch, half a world away from my friends and family, the Port Hills were a frequent saviour of my sanity. You can buy the most amazing postcards showing aerial shots of this penninsula, named after botanist Joseph Banks, which show clearly that this is a vast, ancient volcano crater. The views from the high roads are amazing and I constantly tell visitors to Christchurch to go check the area out for themselves - a little off the beaten path for most, but so very well worth the effort. If you look at a map of New Zealand's South Island, Banks Penninsula is the round, sticky-out bit about halfway down the East Coast.

    Lyttelton Harbour, still a busy port, is where the first European settlers landed. I have always imagined how strange it must have been to climb over the Bridal Path and find themselves confronted by the vast spaces of the Canterbury Plains with the snow-capped Southern Alps in the far distance.

    Akaroa is a popular township to visit for those who do explore the penninsula. Settled by the French, the name Akaroa is Maori for Long Harbour, and the harbour is one of the few places that Hectors Dolphins are found - the worlds rarest.

    There are numerous other small bays and inlets - Governors Bay, Diamond Harbour, Purau and more. For those finding themselves for a few days or more at Christchurch I really do recommend you explore these areas if you possibly can - those with hire vehicles, there is no excuse!!

    Related to:
    • Hiking and Walking
    • Road Trip
    • Historical Travel

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  • kris-t's Profile Photo

    The Pacific Ocean

    by kris-t Updated Feb 20, 2011

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    New Zealand's forests were inhabited by a diverse range of birds including the flightless Moa which is now extinct, the Kiwi, Kakapo, and Takah which are all endangered due to human actions.

    Unique birds capable of flight include the Haast's eagle which was the world's largest bird of prey before it became extinct and the large parrots Kakapo and Kea.

    Related to:
    • Birdwatching
    • Eco-Tourism
    • Family Travel

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    Trains

    by kris-t Updated Feb 20, 2011

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    Unique Train Jorneys.

    The TranzCoastal trevels daily between the delightful port of Picton - where it connects with sailings of The Interislander and The Lynx - and Christchurch, gateway to South Island adventure....

    The TranzAlpine takes you into the heartland of the South Iland. It travels daily from Christchurch to Greymouth and back, making day trips or longer stays on the spectacular West Coast possible.

    Intersting commentary gives you information about the route's history and scenery while you sit back and enjoy it. :)

    You can add to your Scenic Rail Pass a range of bus and coach passes for travel within New Zealand after travelling on the TranzAlpine train.

    Related to:
    • Family Travel
    • Adventure Travel
    • Eco-Tourism

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    Rivers

    by kris-t Updated Feb 20, 2011

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    I have not seen turoid water there :)

    The South Island of New Zealand is the larger of the two main islands though it has fewer people. Geographically it is dominated by the Southern Alps and the Canterbury Plains.

    Related to:
    • Rafting
    • Sailing and Boating
    • Eco-Tourism

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    Unexplored wilderness

    by kris-t Updated Feb 20, 2011

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    You will never stop to wonder at South Island nature... You can see a new one every 5 minutes here :)

    New Zealand's climate is complex and varies from warm subtropical in the far north to cool temperate climates in the far south, with severe alpine conditions in the mountainous areas.

    Related to:
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    • Eco-Tourism
    • Work Abroad

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  • Kakapo2's Profile Photo

    Milford Sound - of course!

    by Kakapo2 Updated Nov 18, 2009

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    To tell you that you should visit Milford Sound if you travel in New Zealand would be like carrying coal to Newcastle. Of course you have to go there if you have enough time and are in the area. Well, probably not if you are from Norway! You have fiords as fanstastic as Milford Sound and even better.

    To me, Milford Sound was even the trigger for my first trip to NZ. I had seen a photo in a magazine. The fiord, the nearly 1700m high Mitre Peak, white sand and a cabbage tree of which I thought it was a tropical palm... This was the perfect picture postcard of NZ, so many features of the world at one small place.

    Already on my first trip to NZ I visited places I found more magic than Milford Sound but it always remains a very special spot.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. We stayed at Te Anau and drove to Milford Sound early in the morning, so we already came back from our boat trip out to the sea when the tour buses from Queenstown arrived. On the way to Milford Sound and back to Te Anau we stopped for keas and spend a long time just playing with them. Of course, they inspected the rubber parts of the car, but they also loved to play with coins we gave them.

    In the meantime the fiord has become a rather crowded place, and sometimes even noisy when all the sightseeing airplanes and helicopters start and land. I do not like this at all in such pristine environments - but I must admit that you get such incredible views in this remote region which is inaccessible on land in many parts, and you can imagine the creation of Fiordland by huge glaciers.

    In winter the road to Milford Sound can be closed occasionally as it is prone to heavy snowfall and avalanches. Always check the weather forecast and get information on the road conditions before your trip, and carry snow chains, just for the case.

    Update 26 September 2008%
    Not only here but also in the forum I often ask people to get information about the condition of the Milford Road before travelling there. And I do it for good reason. Although sometimes Milford Sound is the only sunny place in the whole of New Zealand, this is not the norm. It rains a lot down there (that is why it is so beautiful and green), and while travelling a bit further north or east you do not get aware of it. Yesterday, for example, a huge slip crashed down on the road after heavy rainfalls, and destroyed parts of the road. Luckily nobody was injured, two local ladies had a narrow escape. So again, get your information - and have alternative plans ready for the case you cannot access Milford Sound.

    Road info here:
    http://www.transit.govt.nz/projects/milfordroad/RoadStatus.do
    http://www.aaroadwatch.co.nz/

    Checking both websites out right now only Transit tells you that the road is closed. AA only records that the avalanche risk is low... Not very helpful! So you better use the Transit website, and note their 24/7 freephone hotline:

    0800 4 HIGHWAYS (0800 444 449)



    In the meantime I have written and uploaded a proper Milford Sound page with a lot of information and photos, not just about the fiord itself but also the drive on the Milford Road and the attractions along the way, also information about the Milford Track.

    Related to:
    • Road Trip
    • National/State Park
    • Jungle and Rain Forest

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    The Pink Salt Lake on SH1, south of Blenheim

    by Kakapo2 Updated Feb 19, 2009

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    You cannot do a lot there but it is a spectacular view that you should not miss. In nice weather the colour of Lake Grassmere, about 20km south of Blenheim, is absolutely shocking pink, well, not just a bit surreal.

    This lake is the major source of New Zealand's salt production. As it does not rain a lot in this sunny region this low-level lake offers perfect conditions for the salt industry. The salt works can be visited - but only on Tuesdays and Fridays, as far as I remember. The enterprise's name is Dominion Salt.

    60,000 to 70,000 tonnes of salt (of which most is exported) are harvested from Lake Grassmere each year. Sea water is pumped into the 688 hectare main lake continuously throughout summer. Evaporation increases the sea water's strength, and it is pumped into a series of concentrating ponds, where further evaporation takes place. When the brine reaches saturation point it is transferred into crystallisation ponds during the summer months. You cannot miss the 20 metre high white salt piles from the road.

    The pink to purple colour of the crystallisation ponds is caused by natural microscopic green algae that change to pink in the high salt concentration. There are also small pink shrimps in the water that thrive in this salty environment. Of course, the colour appears most striking in sunshine.

    Side trip:

    If you turn left (when travelling to the south) after the lake or right before the lake (when travelling north) you reach wonderful and peaceful Marfells Beach (see extra tip).

    Related to:
    • Road Trip

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  • amandajayne81's Profile Photo

    Dunedin - Larnach Castle

    by amandajayne81 Written Feb 9, 2009

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    We didn't tour the castle (don't regret not doing the tour) so I have just taken the info below off the website.

    Castle, Gardens & Grounds Access (self-guided)

    Entry to the Castle including the tower, ballroom cafe, gift shop, Castle gardens, grounds, historic stables and outbuildings. Informative brochure provided, in several languages, for self-guided tour of castle, gardens and grounds. Pre-bookings not required.

    Adult $25.00
    Child (5-14) $10.00
    Child (0-4) Free

    Guided Tours

    Exclusive one hour guided tours providing greater detail of either the Castle and its history, or the development and creation of the gardens. Advanced booking required.

    Add $125 per guide to the above prices.

    Castle Open: 9am daily, last admission 5pm
    (Closed Christmas Day)

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    • Road Trip

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    Wanaka - Puzzling World

    by amandajayne81 Written Feb 7, 2009

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    Just over an hour from Queenstown is the town of Wanaka. Friends recommended this as a great place to visit so we spent about and hour and a half enjoying the maze and other Puzzling attractions. It was pretty busy but held the people well.

    Entrance was about 12.50 NZ each for the complete entry (get to see and do everything.)

    Well worth it.

    Related to:
    • Road Trip
    • Family Travel

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South Island Things to Do

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