New Zealand's South Island has alpine delights and natural wonders.

From hiking on glaciers to kayaking with dolphins, you can enjoy a range of active experiences while you’re surrounded by some of the most beautiful places in New Zealand’s South Island. If you’re looking for the perfect South Island itinerary, you’ve come to the right place. A New Zealand South Island tour promises breathtaking scenery, heart-pumping adrenaline activities, fascinating cultural experiences, and some of the best food and wine on the planet. If you're having trouble figuring out whether you should explore the South Island or the North Island of New Zealand, you simply have to look at all the fun experiences to be had, from overnight scenic cruises to cultural exchanges and exciting adventure tours. From sampling the region’s famous wine near Queenstown to sleeping on Milford Sound and observing the famous kiwi bird in Christchurch, there are plenty of great things to do in New Zealand’s South Island.

Our South Island Tours

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South Island Highlights

Jetboating on the Shotover River

Jetboat on the Shotover River

Take on New Zealand’s most famous jetboat ride which is located on the Shotover River. You can zoom between high canyon walls, cha cha across the water and spin 360 degrees provided you're nimble (and brave enough) to get in the boat. This experience is run by the local Ngai Tahu people who have called  this land and the river home for many centuries.

Tuatara

Visit the West Coast Wildlife Centre

Join a behind the scenes tour of the West Coast Wildlife Centre which is home to the official breeding program of the world's rarest kiwi. Run in partnership with the Department of Conservation and the local iwi, you can also get up close and personal with other local animals and see New Zealand’s most notable reptile, the Tuatara. 

Franz Josef Glacier

Hike to Franz Josef Glacier

Pull on your walking shoes and hike to the blue ice and rugged mountains of Franz Josef Glacier, which is one of the steepest glaciers in New Zealand, or you could even join a heli-tour. Named after an Austrian emperor, the 13km-long glacier is even grander than its namesake and advancing at around ten times the speed of the world’s other valley glaciers. 

Milford Sound

Overnight on Milford Sound

Surrounded by incredible scenery during the day and a night sky scattered with stars, there is always something to see on Milford Sound. 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 for a very special overnight cruise where it feels like the Sound is yours alone.

Blue Pools

Hike to the Blue Pools

Widely regarded as one of New Zealand’s best short walks, join a biodiversity specialist for a hike along the Blue Pools Track between Wanaka and the West Coast. 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. 

Milford Sound

Surround yourself with wilderness

The South Island of New Zealand is famous for its pristine wilderness and outdoor experiences such as kayak tours, hiking adventures, and rafting trips. With breathtaking scenery, heart-pumping adrenaline activities, and fascinating cultural experiences, the experience-rich South Island offers plenty of adventures for travellers.  

South Island Tour Reviews

South Island FAQs

Everyone travelling on an Intrepid trip must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of carriage. 

All travellers are required to produce:  

  • Proof of COVID-19 vaccination

  • All children aged 5 to 17 years old must provide proof of vaccination (if eligible), proof of recovery or a negative COVID-19 test.

  • If you are unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons, you may apply for an exemption. Exemptions will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. To apply, you must provide a medical certificate from a medical professional. 

In all cases, you must be fully inoculated. This means you must receive the full dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine and allow enough time for immunity to take effect. Each COVID-19 vaccine has different dosages and timeframes for inoculation, so please check the relevant medical advice associated with your vaccine.

Learn more about Intrepid's COVID-19 proof of vaccination policy

The two major airports for New Zealand's South Island are Christchurch or Queenstown. Flying into Christchurch is generally cheaper than flying into Queenstown, especially during ski season. Vehicle ferry services which also take foot passengers travel between Wellington in the North Island and Picton at the tip of the South Island daily and take around three-and-a-half hours. 

Click to read more about getting to the South Island

Most people hire a car or a motorhome or book a New Zealand tour to travel around the South Island of New Zealand. InterCity buses are also available for long distance travel to the major towns in the South Island. 

If you would like to go skiing, the best time to visit the South Island is from late June to early September. Visiting outside the school holidays is the best option if you aren't travelling with school age children as New Zealand's South Island is popular for family holidays and gets busy during these times. Summer is pleasantly warm with low humidity and days which are generally clear and sunny. Winter sees snow on the mountains and in the middle of the South Island. Some inland roads can be closed at times due to snow so plan your journey accordingly. Spring sees less crowds and is ideal for hiking and outdoor pursuits. 

Click to read more about the weather on the South Island

The weather in the South Island can be changeable so pack clothes you can layer plus a jumper or jacket, wet weather gear, a hat and a beanie. Even if you are visiting in winter, a pair of shorts and a t-shirt is a good idea if you are planning on going hiking as it can be get surprisingly warm in the middle of the day during the cooler months. 

The South Island of New Zealand is a fairly casual place although locals do tend to dress up if they are 'hitting the town' at night in major towns like Queenstown or Christchurch. Smart casual is the norm at most restaurants, aside from the signature 'date night' ones where people tend to dress up more. 

There is good WiFi coverage in major towns and tourist centres in the South Island of New Zealand but it is not uncommon to lose coverage in some situations such as when you are driving through mountains or hiking in remote areas. 

There is good mobile coverage in major towns and tourist centres in the South Island of New Zealand but it is not uncommon to lose coverage in some situations such as when you are driving through mountains or hiking in remote areas. 

Intrepid is committed to making travel widely accessible, regardless of ability or disability. That’s why we do our best to help as many people see the world as possible, regardless of any physical or mental limitations they might have. Some of the walking and hiking trails in the South Island are accessible but others can make walking difficult for travellers who are less mobile on foot. However, we’re always happy to talk to travellers with disabilities and see if we can help guide them towards the most suitable itinerary for their needs and where possible, make reasonable adjustments to our itineraries.

Learn more about Accessible Travel with Intrepid

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