South Island, New Zealand
South Island, New Zealand
New Zealand is a place high on everyone’s must-see list. But it’s not just about seeing – it’s about experiencing. On an AAT Kings’ holiday, you can explore this great country from top to bottom and experience all of its iconic natural beauty and ancient cultures. Our friendly and engaging guides will share their knowledge and stories with you, bringing your holiday to life.
Find out more about South Island’s top destinations below.
Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand. The cosmopolitan city is lively with its arts scene, abundance of entertainment options and is surrounded by beautiful gardens. Situated in the Canterbury region, it was first inhabited around 1000 years ago and on July 31 1856 Christchurch became a city by Royal Charter making it one of the oldest established cities in New Zealand.
When you tour Christchurch, you’ll experience its old world charm with its English history still evident in its architecture and tram loops. It’s also referred to as “The Garden City” where annually the city comes alive with its flower festivals. What you’ll see are beautiful gardens spread around the city, most notable ones being Mona Vale Park on the banks of the Avon River. In 1997, Christchurch won “Garden city of the world” title.
What also makes this a pretty city is the Avon River that meanders throughout the city. Named after River Avon in Scotland in 1848, you can enjoy your free time whilst on tour just by sitting on the grass banks of the river and watch the world go by. Christchurch weather ranges from dry summers with a nice sea breeze coming from the northeast to chilly winters. It’s always recommended that when you travel in New Zealand to be prepared for all weather conditions in the one day.
There is no missing this mountain on your New Zealand tour of the South Island. Journey from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo to observe the largest mountain in New Zealand, measuring 3754 metres high. Located in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, an alpine park, 40% of it is made up of glaciers. There are 19 other peaks within the park but Mt Cook dwarfs them all in height.
Due to the harsh land and ice, hardly any forest exists here except for alpine plants and around 40 species of birds. The drive there is just as spectacular as you'll drive along Lake Tekapo to view the turquoise glacial lakes and here, you'll visit The Church of the Good Shepherd built in 1935 to the glory of God as a memorial to the pioneers of the Mackenzie Country.
If Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island then Dunedin is the second largest. Its colourful history includes first inhabitants being the Maoris dating back AD1250-133, Scottish Pioneers and Chinese gold miners. Today, the city's biggest industry is no longer gold but tertiary education; The University of Otago. Almost 20% of the population of Dunedin attend this University. Annually, the city hosts the nude rugby international match and a foot race down the world's steepest street with some 30,000 jaffas (hard round confectionery) rolling down just in case the steep hill was not enough of a challenge.
Just 30 minutes out of the city is an abundance of New Zealand wildlife including yellow eyed penguins, fur seals and sea lions. Watch out for them on your optional wildlife cruise. For those with a sweet tooth, maybe a tour of the Cadbury Chocolate factory is more to your liking. What you will also enjoy in Dunedin is Larnach Castle, New Zealand's only castle.
Built in 1871 by William Larnach, who was of Scottish descent but born in NSW, for his wife, it took the Baron and politician three years to build the structure. It then took an additional 12 years to embellish the interior using the first materials from around the world. The Victorian style of living is still quite evident today sitting alongside New Zealand period furniture that was collected by the Barker family who purchased the home in 1967. Still privately owned, doors are open to tourists to tour the castle that has undergone a number of restorations over the years.
Visitors go to Punakaiki for one thing and that is to see the Pancake Rocks and blow holes. The columns of eroded limestone rocks resemble pancake stacks hence its name. Formed some nearly 30 million years ago from the bottom of the sea, it wasn't until an earthquake that lifted the ocean to expose these unique natural formations. At high tide, explosions of water make a thunderous sound as the ocean as they become spectacular blow holes.
Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand. It is here where you can go on an exhilarating shotover jetboat ride, go bungy jumping or white water rafting. For those who would prefer to stay flat on their feet, it is one of the most spectacular cities to just take in the fresh air and the stunning scenery. Built around an inlet called Queenstown Bay on Lake Wakatipu, it’s the ideal tour destination any time of the year. Once an old gold mining town, it now attracts tourists from around the world and was made even more attractive during the making of the trilogy “Lord of the Rings”.
Your Queenstown holiday includes plenty of free time to allow you to relax or the option to go on a garden tour or seek the adventure side of you. Enjoy your Queenstown accommodation whether it be at the 4 star Millennium Hotel or the Mercure Queenstown Resort where you’ll dine with amazing views over Lake Wakatipu.
Queenstown is also the gateway city to Milford Sound. Located within Fiordland National Park that stretches 1.2 million hectares in size, Milford Sound is one of New Zealand's must see destination. When you book a south island tour with us, you'll experience a breathtaking cruise on Milford Sound. Running 15 kilometres inland from the Tasman sea, the sound is surrounded by mountains that reach up to 1512 metres high. One that resembles an elephant's head and the other a crouching tiger are two of the tallest peaks. You'll cruise by cascading waterfalls and don't forget to look below the waters as these mountains plunge to the floor where an underwater world exits.
New Zealand is home to some of the largest glaciers in the southern hemisphere and its accessibility makes it a must see highlight. One of the glaciers you'll visit on your New Zealand tour is Franz Josef Glacier. The glacier measures 12 kilometres long fed by a 20 square kilometre large snowfield and as of 2007, it was still growing due to the strong snowfall in the area.
First explored by Austrian Julius Haast in 1865, it was named after Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph. Just 27 kilometres south of Franz Josef glacier is Fox Glacier. Longer than Franz Josef by 1 kilometre, it was named after the then Prime Minister Sir William Fox. The glacier is fed by four alpine glaciers and is the only one that ends into lush rainforest with the overflow making up Fox River.
The Marlborough region is located at the tip of the South Island. A unitary authority, it is both a region and a district. Its landscape is mountainous with peaks at Kaikoura Ranges and in between are long straight valleys and here is where you'll find the town of Blenheim. Due to its fertile soil and year round sunshine, the Marlborough region is the perfect area for wine making.
It is the largest wine making region in New Zealand, over 9000 hectares of vineyards exist here with some 70 wineries producing award winning Sauvignon Blanc. When you tour New Zealand with us, you'll get the opportunity to experience Georges Michel Wine Estate. Enjoy time here tasting their wines, a tour of the vineyard and dinner.
Wedged between the mountain ranges in the Marlborough region between Christchurch and Picton is Kaikoura. It sits along the rugged coastline on the South Island of New Zealand where the southern alps come close to the ocean making it one of the most picturesque places to visit.
Kaikoura translates to “meal of crayfish” where crayfish business is still thriving today. It’s also better known for its wildlife. Visitors come here for whale watching, dolphin watching and to observe birdlife.
Other must-see destinations