Places to visit in New Zealand - South Island

In the first part of the article about New Zealand we introduced you the North Island. Now we will have a look on the South Island where we spent more time because we were working there.

1. Blenheim - the town of wine
If you take a ferry from the North Island you will arrive to a small town called Picton. From there you can easily continue to Blenheimthe town of wine. This region is well known for its wine and we stopped there to visit our friend that worked in one of the wineries. He said it’s one of the hardest jobs for working holiday visa holders in New Zealand and so we didn’t even try it there. However, we highly recommend you to visit free wine tastings! You can rent a bike and make your own wine tour around several wineries that offer you tastings for free.

2. Nelson and Abel Tasman National Park
When going to Abel Tasman National Park you should stop in Nelson. The weather up there is usually warm and sunny. The town is a bit sleepy and almost all shops close very early but it has a perfect location by the ocean with nice beaches. We continued to Abel Tasman National Park to do Abel Tasman Coast Track. We did this “Great Walk” in 3 days and we really enjoyed it accompanied by our Slovakian friends. You walk along the coast and stopped on various beaches, cross rivers or climb the hills. The hard part of almost all Great Walks is that they are not loops and you usually finish at completely different place than you started. Thus we had to drive one car to the end of the track, come back and then start the hike. Another good option how to get back from the end is hitchhiking that works really well in New Zealand.

3. Kaikoura and seals playing in the waterfall
Kaikoura is a nice town by the ocean where you can meet playing small seals right in the parking lot. You can see more of them along the road and our secret tip is to go to Ohau Stream Walk where you find the seals playing in the waterfall. It’s amazing because they go all the way up the stream from the ocean just play there! Kaikoura is also the best place in New Zealand to see the whales! The best chances to see migrating Humpback whales are from June to August.

4. Arthur’s pass and Castle Hill
If you are crossing to the West Coast via Arthur’s Pass make sure you visit Castle Hill. You can’t miss it because the rock formations are easily visible from the main road. Once you climb up to the rocks you will be rewarded by excellent views of surrounding mountains. You can do various hikes in this area. Unfortunately, the weather was really bad when we were passing there and so we didn’t do much.

5. Rainy West Coast and the glaciers
It’s really important to check weather forecast before you go to the West Coast of the South Island because it’s one of the rainiest places in New Zealand. When we got there it was of course raining and it was raining a lot! It was so bad that we could only go to the thermal pools where we spent all day. In the evening the weather looked a bit better so we placed our tents for a night. It turned to be our worst night in the tent ever and probably the worst rain we have experienced. We woke up exhausted because we couldn’t sleep well because of heavy rain and strong wind.

We still don’t get it how our tents from HudySport could survive! Only one tent was little bit damaged by the wind. It happened when we tried to pack our gear in the morning and it just didn’t stop raining even the next day. We were completely soaked and so we went to organize our things to the gas station under the roof. After a while they told us we have to leave if we are not taking any gas. It was still raining like crazy and David was trying to drive away. „I can’t see anything!“ he tried to leave the place. „Bummm! Shit! We hit a car! David didn’t see well and hit a big jeep right in the gas station. „David! Leave the car and talk to the driver! What are you waiting for?“ We asked. „I don’t wear pants. Everything is wet!” he said. „OMG! He is driving naked! I am going to talk to him!“. Fortunately there was no damage on his truck but our left side of the car was crashed. After that terrible experience on the West Coast we decided to move on and we came back another time on our way back from the North Island.

When we returned to Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier a month later we were happier because it surprisingly didn’t rain but we were quite disappointed because we didn’t find the glaciers breath-taking. They are quite grey and you can’t go very close to them. Another option is to pay a helicopter and take a glacier tour where you walk inside the ice tunnel which is cool but it was way far from our budget and style of travelling. A good place to stop is definitely Pancake Rocks and Hokitika. It’s a lovely small town where you can also see glow worms at night and for free! You will see the sign once you pass the town from the South.

6. Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
We came to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park with our Czech friends that visited us in Queenstown in March and we were very lucky because the weather was sunny both days we were there. The first day we did a track that became our favourite track in New Zealand. It’s called Mueller Hut Route and it took us about 9 hours return because it’s quite challenging and steep hike. The great option is to spend a night there with unique views of NZ’s highest mountain – 3724m. If you decide to camp in the base make sure you have a good sleeping bag because it can get really cold at night. We had a temperature around 0°C in March which is the end of summer.

On our second day we did several shorter hikes. The first one was to see mountain parrots Kea and we really discovered 5 of them while walking on Bush Track and Red Tarns Track. After that we went to see Tasman Glacier and we also did Hooker Valley Track. It’s probably the most popular hike in the park that leads up the Hooker valley towards Mount Cook. The track ends at the glacier lake where there are stunning views of the highest mountain.

7. Milford Sound and the Great Walks
Milford Sound is probably the most popular scenery in all New Zealand. The most tourist fly there or go by bus to take a boat trip before they return back to Queenstown. It’s definitely must to do this boat trip but there is a lot more to do in the area. If you are going there try to find some discount on this website:

We really enjoyed hiking in this area because it’s so green! Walking through the rainforest is just incredible especially a track called Tutoko River. This track is situated only about 10 minute drive from the port. Other nice walks that we did were Key Summit and Marian Lake. The best way is to connect visiting Milford Sound with the Great Walk called Routeburn Track. This track leads from Glenorchy 30 km across the mountains all the way to Divide, close to Milford Sound. This track that connects 2 national parks: Mount Aspiring NP and Fiordland NP was one of our favourite in New Zealand. We didn’t want to pay for expensive huts and campsites so we did the track in one day with sleeping in the tent in Divide. At the end we were quite exhausted after 12 hours of hiking but it’s a possibility how to avoid payment!

After Routeburn Track we hitchhiked to Te Anau from where we started another Great Walk called Kepler Track. This track starts and finishes close to the town and it’s 60 km long. We did that in 2 days with one sleep in a campground in the middle of the way. The first part is quite hard and very beautiful once you reach mountain ridge. The second day was very long and quite boring because you walk almost all 30 km in the forest without any view. You will find other nice track around Manapouri. It’s also a starting point to Doubtful Sound. We didn’t do that one because it’s quite expensive to get there by 2 boats and the bus.

You can find our photos from the Great Walks here:

8. Queenstown - our home in NZ
Queenstown is the adrenaline capital of New Zealand that offers a lot of activities. If you don’t want to spend money you can still enjoy beautiful sceneries of Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables. The most popular hikes are to Bob’s Peak to gondola and Queenstown Hill. Both of them offers amazing view of the town. Our favourite track is Ben Lomond which takes you about 6 hour return. You can enjoy epic 360° view from the top! On the way to Coronet Peak you can visit Skippers Canyon with the most dangerous road in New Zealand and it’s also nice to visit Arrowtown with its gold rush history. A part of our plan was to make money on the way to be able to travel around the world. We decided to find jobs in Queenstownbecause of its strategic position and a lot of job opportunities in hospitality and tourism.

Read more about our life in Queenstown here:

9. Wanaka and Glenorchy
Apart from Queenstown our favourite towns in New Zealand are definitely Wanaka and Glenorchy and it’s because of plenty of hikes you can do around these two places. In Wanaka we can highly recommend Royce Peak Track with magnificent views of Lake Wanaka and also beautiful hike to Isthmus Peak situated between Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea.

You will find other hikes in Mount Aspiring National Park such as Rob Roy Glacier or Liverpool Hut. There are many huts in NZ where you can sleep so you don’t always need to bring your tent. The prices depend on the category. For example basic huts without water are free of charge.

Glenorchy is a small village at the end of Lake Wakatipu. We did a lot of hikes in this area. Our favourite once were Mount Alfred, Jean Hut or Kea Basin Track which leads to Earnslaw Glacier with several river crossings and sleeping in a basic hut in the mountains below the glacier.

8. Moeraki Boulders and a sad story from Dunedin
Moeraki Boulders are very interesting marvel boulders lying on Koekohe Beach. Be sure it is low tide when you go there. Otherwise there will be almost completely under the water. We liked the place very much and we took a lot of photos while jumping over these mysterious boulders on the beach.

We thought New Zealand is super safe country until David went for a trip to Dunedin with his friends. They went for a short track to a viewpoint which is situated out of the town. When they came back they realized the car was robbed. They stole almost all their things including backpacks, clothes, tablet, laptop and passports!! David and his friends left almost everything in the car because they only went for a short track without any backpack. Police has never found anything. It was shocking because we never locked the door in our house in Queenstown but the situation is of course different in bigger cities. You just have to be careful everywhere in the world and never leave your passport in the car!

11. Catlins and the penguins
If you are heading south it’s nice to visit the Catlins that includes Slope Point. It’s the southernmost point of the South Island of New Zealand. You will find a sign saying the distance to the South Pole. It’s nice to visit Porpoise Bay and Curio Bay where you can see the dolphins. It’s also a good place to do surfing. If you continue to Petrified Forest you get to the beach where you will probably see a penguin! You have to wait until the sunset when they come out of the water and start walking on the beach. Don’t expect to see a lot of them. We only saw 2 and we were told there are only a few penguins living there. Other places to see the penguins are Oamaru, Moeraki, Dunedin or Stewart Island. The waters around Stewart Island have quite a few Great White Sharks so if you are brave enough and if you have money you can do cage diving with these scary animals.

You could be hiking in New Zealand for years and you still wouldn’t be bored with its sceneries. However we had to move on to Australia for new adventures. We hope this article will help other travelers while planning the journey around amazing South Island of New Zealand!

Follow the numbers in the map below to find all described places:

Read also about Places to visit in New Zealand - North Island

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