New Zealand is a country that knows how to show visitors a good time.
With breathtaking scenery, heart-pumping adrenaline activities, fascinating cultural experiences, and some of the best food and wine on the planet, the experience-rich South Island is the star of the show for many travellers. There are activities to suit everyone, from overnight scenic cruises to cultural exchanges and exciting adventure tours. From sampling the region’s famous wine to sleeping on Milford Sound and meeting the world’s rarest kiwi, here are five fantastic reasons to visit New Zealand’s South Island.
Get your thrills on a jetboat ride
You’re know you’re in for a thrilling jetboat ride when your driver tells you to remove your hat and sunglasses “unless they’re really, really tight” and fasten your seatbelt. Not “low and tight” like they said on the flight here, but “so tight you can’t fit a bit of paper in there”. The Shotover River is home to what is arguably New Zealand’s most famous jetboat ride which is run by the local Ngāi Tahu people. Hang on tight as the jetboat zooms between high canyon walls, cha chas across the water and spins 360 degrees in the middle of the foaming water. You don’t need to be fit or nimble to do this activity, just brave enough to get in the boat.
Hike to Franz Josef Glacier
Named after an Austrian emperor, the 13km-long Franz Josef Glacier is even grander than its famous namesake. It is one of the steepest glaciers in New Zealand and is advancing at around ten times the speed of the world’s other valley glaciers. Sunlight reflects off the shimmering blue ice which contrasts with the rugged mountains emerging from beneath its surface. Pull on your walking shoes and join your leader for a hike that takes you within 750m of the face of the glacier. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can join a heli-hiking tour and get even closer to this incredible glacier.
Spend the night at the “eighth wonder of the world”
The South Island’s Fiordland is a place of dramatic, eye-popping scenery carved by glaciers over thousands of years. The landscape is filled with steep fiords, lush rainforest, cascading waterfalls and mirror-like lakes with granite peaks that have been untouched for centuries. Milford Sound was once described by Rudyard Kipling as the “eighth wonder of the world” – and you can spend the night surrounded by its majesty. Climb onboard your heritage-built vessel and get settled in your comfy cabin, then make your way onto the deck as the boat leaves the dock. Surrounded by incredible scenery during the day and a night sky scattered with stars, there is always something to see on this special overnight cruise.
Hike to the Blue Pools with a biodiversity specialist
Widely regarded as one of New Zealand’s best short walks, you’ll find the Blue Pools Track along Haast Pass, between Wanaka and the West Coast. The ranger-led walk begins with an easy stroll along open flats with spectacular mountain views before you pass through a beech forest and arrive at a swing bridge over the Makarora River. Keep going to the second swing bridge as this offers the best view of the Blue Pools. You won’t need to turn up the colour saturation on Instagram when you post photos from this short but sweet walk. Mother Nature has already dialled up the blue for maximum effect.
Witness the world’s rarest kiwi
Join a behind-the-scenes tour of the West Coast Wildlife Centre, home of the official breeding program for the world’s rarest kiwi, the Rowi. Run in partnership with the Department of Conservation and the local iwi, the centre has also been instrumental in saving the Haast tokoeka kiwi from extinction. Your ranger, who is an expert on all things kiwi, will also introduce you to New Zealand’s most notable reptiles, the Tuatara, which are sometimes referred to as “living fossils” as their lineage is so ancient it is used in the study of the evolution of lizards and snakes.