Hikes, hot pools, wildlife encounters, ghost towns and pies. Book your flights to Christchurch and hit the road (in a clockwise loop) to 14 of our favourite spots around the South Island of New Zealand.
1. Hinewai Reserve – Banks Peninsula
During your adventures in NZ, find out what some of the topography used to be like before Maori and European settlers arrived.
On Banks Peninsula near Akaroa is an ecological restoration project to foster the natural regeneration of native vegetation and wildlife. Known as the Hinewai Reserve, it’s where nature steps back in time.
2. Fairlie Bakehouse – Fairlie
The humble Kiwi pie has existed since colonial times, with one of the earliest mentions of it being in a newspaper ad in 1863. Regardless of when the New Zealand pie began to make inroads into locals’ dietary habits, it’s come a long way with many unique pie varieties throughout the country.
Like many travellers to the South Island, Wanaka is most likely on your wish list. But if you don’t have much time, how can you get the most out of your short visit to the town?
One option is to spend a half day ascending and descending Roys Peak – one of the best day hikes in the area, with rewarding views of Mount Aspiring and Lake Wanaka. The trailhead is only six kilometres past Wanaka on the main lakefront road. It can get nippy here even in summer, so be well prepared with a few layers.
4. St Bathans – Central Otago
Not far off the popular Central Otago Rail Trail is the tiny town of St Bathans. Originally a mining town with a population of 2,000 people, it now has less than ten living inhabitants – and, apparently, a few non-living ones.
The mineral-enriched Blue Lake is a nearby site to behold. It was once the deepest mining hole in the southern hemisphere.
5. Nugget Point – The Catlins
The entire Catlins area is a magic place full of wildlife and waterfalls, but one stand-out setting is Nugget Point. Perhaps the most picturesque location for a lighthouse in New Zealand, Nugget Point also holds its own for spotting rare yellow-eyed penguins.
You’ll likely see New Zealand fur seals, Hooker sea lions and sooty shearwaters as well. Ask the locals about the best places to see these special penguins.
6. A hiking gateway – Glenorchy
A stunning location in itself, Glenorchy is a haven if you’re keen on experiencing some of New Zealand’s most scenic hikes. Only 45 minutes’ drive from Queenstown, you’ll be able to access the:
It’s only fitting that after a seven hour hike up a valley you should be able to rest and recuperate your tired muscles. The Copland Track near Fox Glacier on the West Coast provides just that – a natural hot spring when you reach your hut.
Welcome Flat Hut comes with natural hot pools, stunning mountain scenery and lush forest. It’s a great wee overnighter that will likely be less crowded and more inviting outside of summer. Beware of sandflies!
8. Ballroom Overhang – West Coast
The Overhang is a bit of an institution for younger trampers – so don’t be surprised to see a few university students hanging out here with little water and plenty of other liquids. This huge limestone overhang acts as a natural sleeping shelter.
Accessed from the Inland Pack Track, you can sleep under the stars here. However, rain can fall unexpectedly fast on the Coast so packing a lightweight tent is a smart move.
9. Rongo Backpackers – Karamea
Perhaps the hippest, most random place to stay on the West Coast of NZ. Rongo Backpackers does ‘unusual’ well, from its distinctive rainbow colour scheme to its living, breathing art gallery – to hosting Karamea Community Radio.
A few kilometres away are some amazing landscapes, including the:
• Diverse Heaphy Track where you might see Kiwi birds if you’re lucky • Backcountry Whangapeka Track through beech forests and over high saddles • Secluded Oparara Basin where limestone arches and cave systems rule
10. Buller Gorge – The road to Westport
Few riverside roads in New Zealand are more stunning than State Highway 6 from Inangahua to Westport. The Buller Gorge follows the tarmac, winding through native bush and around cliffs while offering panoramic vistas.
Although the drive is spectacular, consider taking it one step further by entering the Buller Marathon. You’ll be able to take in the scenery in your own time – and take your mind off the pain in your feet.
11. Lake Angelus – Nelson Lakes National Park
Nelson Lakes National Park has a lot to offer – clear lakes, cloud-piercing mountains, secluded huts, even sandflies!
A six hour walk will take you from Mount Robert carpark up a steep zig-zag to an edgy ridgeline walk that leads to this incredible lake up in the mountains.
You’ll have the choice of sleeping in the hut or camping right by the lake. With clouds often dancing amongst the tops, either option is a good one.There are other routes you can take to reach Lake Angelus.
12. Wharariki Beach Holiday Park – Farewell Spit
One of New Zealand’s truly unique landforms sits at the northernmost geographical point of the South Island – Farewell Spit in Golden Bay.
Created by fine golden sand shaped into rolling dunes, this area is special and a little out of the way. Luckily, there’s a range of excellent facilities to stay at nearby Wharariki Beach Holiday Park.
Chill out here for a couple of nights, explore the Spit by foot or on a guided tour, and wander down to isolated Wharariki Beach where you may run into baby seal pups just hanging about in the surf.
13. Davies Bay – Marlborough Sounds
Sample a piece of the Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds. Davies Bay is a relatively short walk in from the southern end of the trail – and it’s only accessible by boat or on foot.
There’s a campsite here if you want to stay the night, with beachfront and bush clearing spots available. Consider our Flinders Hiking Range of gear before you hit the Sounds.
14. A new coastline – Kaikoura
Following the powerful 2016 earthquake that temporarily cut Kaikoura off from the rest of New Zealand, an unheralded amount of time, effort and expertise has gone into re-roading the area.
The new highway is now driveable – and if you decide to take it, you’ll see a coastline featuring some of the newest earth to rise above sea level anywhere in the world.
Indeed, the Kaikoura coastline has completely changed with seabed uplift and multiple landslides making it unrecognisable to those who knew it best. But there’s still plenty to see and do in the Kaikoura area.
It’s almost always windy around the Kaikoura Peninsula, so take a warm down jacket.