Because of the differences between the two islands, and because of the fact that there is so much to do in New Zealand, I thought different pages were necessary to separate the north and south islands. When people can only visit one of the two, most travelers suggest the South Island over the North. The terrain is certainly different, and if you are looking for glaciers and snowboarding, then this is the island for you. If you have the time, I suggest visiting both, but the South Island certainly provides some breathtaking memories.
Highlights/What to Do
Even when splitting New Zealand into two, it’s still difficult to pick out just a few highlights. There are so many to choose from, something is going to get left out.
Queenstown- If you’ve come to New Zealand for extreme sports and adventure activities, then look no further than Queenstown. Bungee jumping, snowboarding, boat rides, climbing, whatever you can think of, chances are Queenstown has it.
Christchurch- If flying into New Zealand, then Christchurch is probably where you’ll land. Devastated by a 2011 earthquake, Christchurch is still open for business, so don’t jet out right away. A great little city with some amazing food and extremely friendly people, it would be a shame not to spend at least a few days here.
Inland Scenic Route- If you rent a car or campervan on the South Island, then you have to drive the Inland Scenic Route south out of Christchurch. It’s hands down the most beautiful drive I have ever taken in my life. Simply spectacular!
Glaciers- Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are located on the scenic west coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Both can be explored by hiking and climbing adventures, and if your budget affords, you can even see them by helicopter.
Fiordland- In the far south of island, the area known as the fiordlands is ripe with amazing scenery and unique landscapes. Come take a boat ride through Doubtful and Milford Sounds for some unbelievable sites.
Wine Tasting- The northern part of the island has a bounty of great wineries that produce some of the best wine in the world. The best part is that the owners and winemakers still have that same New Zealand charm that the rest of the countries’ citizens have. No pretentiousness here, which makes for a great time if you’re newbie wine tasters like us.
Hiking (Tramping)- Hiking, or tramping as the locals call it, is extremely popular in New Zealand. You can start with one of the 6 Great Walks that are located on this island (there are 9 great walks in total), but there’s plenty of other amazing hikes all over.
I was pleasantly surprised by food options in New Zealand. There are the famous meat pies that are essentially New Zealand and found all over the country. Then there’s the fudge shops and amazing cheeses that are paired brilliantly with the various wines in the north part of the island. The Asian influence is evident as well, with great Indian and Southeast Asian cuisine available everywhere. Don’t forget to try the amazing fish and chips in various locales in Christchurch (locals all have their own favorites), and if you’re craving a burger, there’s no better place anywhere than Fergberger in Queenstown. Of course you can’t forget the lamb, which is available all over the country for much cheaper than most places in the world.
When to Go/Weather
The weather in the South Island is obviously going to be a bit cooler than in the North Island. Remember that seasons are opposite in the southern hemisphere, so December-February is summer here. Summer temperatures can reach into the 80s and even 90′s F, while winter temperatures don’t usually get below freezing except in the mountains. Fall and spring are both pleasant times to visit, but you never know what you’re going to get. It could be beautiful one day, then windy, rainy, and cold the next. October/November and April/May are the shoulder seasons, so crowds will be much thinner, and you could luck out and get some amazing weather (or not luck out and have the weather suck). June to August is skiing and snowboarding season, and Queesntown will be crowded.
Be sure to check back soon for city guides to all of the south island!