The number of awesome places to visit on the South Island makes it difficult to list all of them!
It’s nigh on impossible!
The diversity of landscapes that you see travelling around the South Island is one of the reasons for this!
As I spent most of my working holiday based in Christchurch, working in the rebuild, I’m slightly biased in my love of the South Island.
It’s a fantastic destination for backpacking, as everything is easily accessible and the scenery makes it ideal for road trips! Plus, there are so many things to do in the South Island, you’ll never get bored!
Narrowing down this list to just 17 is difficult because there are many places to see in the South Island.
However, this post should give you a taster of what there is to see while travelling the South Island of New Zealand!
Disclosure:This article may contain affiliate/compensated links. For full information, please see our full disclosure policy.
Places to visit on the South Island
Quick Top 5 Places to visit in New Zealand’s South Island 1 – Milford Sound 2 – Wanaka 3 – Queenstown 4 – Kaikoura 5 – Golden Bay
I spent 10 months working here on the rebuild in 2014 and when I arrived I couldn’t believe the damage that had been caused, it was incredible.
Despite this, the city is in much better shape now, but the scars are still visible. However, it remains one of the best places to visit in the South Island!
There are plenty of great things to do in Christchurch. Check out the container mall in the old Cashel Mall site and have a wander around the CBD, to see the contrast between destruction and resurrection!
The chances of seeing the Sound on a dry day are slim, as the West Coast of New Zealand receives some of the highest amounts of rainfall anywhere in the world.
However, that doesn’t detract from an amazing experience. We visited in the pouring rain and it was still an incredible sight. Be sure to do a boat tour to see the Sound up close and learn about its formation!
For me, Milford Sound is one of the best places to go in the South Island. Wet or dry, the views are incredible!
Wanaka is a beautiful town nestled next to Lake Wanaka and quite simply one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to!
A quieter alternative to Queenstown, the view across the lake is simply spectacular and there is a great relaxed vibe to the place, which I loved! It’s definitely one of the best destinations in the South Island!
If you come during the winter, you can head to Coronet Peak for some great skiing!
Also, don’t leave without checking out the wacky Puzzling World, as someone that loves illusions, mazes and all this stuff it was great fun!
Queenstown is the adrenaline capital of New Zealand and probably the world too. Want to do an activity that will get your heart racing? Chances are you’ll be able to do it in Queenstown.
From bungee jumping to jet-riding, there are loads of activities to do here. I loved visiting here during my New Zealand working holiday because there was always loads to do!
The Remarkables ski area is close by and it’s open during winter. The scenery here is also spectacular and certainly rivals Wanaka.
Queenstown is also renowned for its great nightlife and is the perfect place for a backpacker night out, with lots of cheap bars! 3 days in Queenstown is a good amount of time to see everything in this incredible destination!
Queenstown is definitely one place that should be included on your South Island of New Zealand itinerary!
Franz Josefis home to the Franz Josef glacier and this should definitely be on your list if you are planning on doing a West Coast road trip, as it is one of the best places to visit in New Zealand’s South Island!
The town itself is small with not much to see, but it is a quaint place, and as with anywhere in New Zealand the views are great.
The glacier is the main reason to come here and it is an imposing sight, as it towers above you in the distance. Even in the pouring rain and obscured by grey skies it is still an incredible sight.
There is also the Fox Glacier further down the road. Franz Josef glacier is incredible, there’s no other word o describe it. If you’ve never seen a glacier, I recommend you check it out! Without a doubt, it’s one of the best things to do in the South Island!
7. Slope Point
Slope Point is the southernmost point of the South Island and is an intriguing place. Unfortunately, this is one place that I didn’t manage to visit.
However, from the various photos I have seen, it would have been an interesting place to visit. If I was backpacking New Zealand again, this would be one of the first places I’d go to!
Despite this, it would be great to get to the cliffs and feel like you’re at the end of the world! Due to its quirkiness, Slope Point is one of the South Island’s points of interest you should check out!
Hanmer Springs is one of the best places to visit on New Zealand’s South Island if you want to go somewhere to relax! As the name suggests, the town has several hot springs, which are located in a water park.
If you fancy a break from somewhere such as Christchurch or Dunedin, this is the place to go!
As with almost everywhere in New Zealand, the scenery in Hanmer Springs is amazing. There’s plenty of hikes that you can do in the area if you want something a bit more energetic than the springs!
I didn’t really know what to expect when I visited Nelson, but I was pleasantly surprised as it’s an interesting and lively city! It’s the oldest city on the South Island and has a thriving cultural scene.
Nelson regularly hosts arts and music festivals throughout the year, the Nelson Arts Festival being the most famous!
If you want to explore the top of the West Coast, then Nelson is the place to visit. There are some of the best things to do in the South Island nearby, such as Abel Tasman National Park.
It may not be the most famous place on the South Island, but it’s one of the best to visit!
I can safely say that Te Anau is one of the most picturesque places that I have visited. Not just in New Zealand, but the whole world!
Te Anau is home to the second largest lake in New Zealand and the views across it are simply spectacular!
Te Anau is the gateway to Fiordland and is the perfect place to base yourself if you’re visiting there. There are numerous hiking tracks in the area, the most popular of which are the Kepler and Milford tracks.
If you like nature and being in and around it, Te Anau is the place for you!
If you’re looking for one of the quirkier places to visit on the South Island, then you should visit Akaroa! The town used to be a French settlement and their influence is still apparent today!
Street names are in French and some places are in French as well!
As well as the French influence, Akaroa also has some incredible scenery! It’s set on a harbour and surrounded by the remnants of an ancient volcano.
It’s ideal for kayaking and boat trips, with local wildlife including dolphins! As it’s only 84 km (52 miles) from Christchurch, Akaroa is an ideal place to visit for a weekend away!
17. Fiordland National Park
The Fiordland National Park is the most uninhabited part of the South Island, but perhaps the most beautiful! Located on the West Coast of the Island, Fiordland is home to some of the most spectacular scenery in all of New Zealand.
As well as Milford Sound, there’s also Doubtful Sound and plenty of amazing walking trails!
The name Fiordland comes from the steep peaks and valleys that form much of the landscape. There are many ways to see these landscapes from helicopter rides to boat trips.
Whichever one you choose, you will be in some incredible views! This was one of the places to visit on the South Island that I enjoyed the most. Words cannot describe how beautiful it is.
Come rain or shine, it’s a place you have to check out!
Where to stay on the South Island
If you’re wondering where to stay on the South Island, then you’ll be glad to know that there is plenty of accommodation available! Virtually, everywhere you go you’ll be able to find decent priced places to stay!
Obviously, you’re more likely to find cheap hostels in the South Island outside of the main tourist area. although, you can find cheap places to stay in Queenstown for example, despite it being full of backpackers!
Below are just a few of my recommendations for hostels in the South Island, that I suggest you check out!
The best time to visit New Zealand is an important thing to consider when visiting the country. This is because the weather can be very different depending on when you visit!
I would only advise visiting the South Island during the winter months if you want to go skiing or snowboarding. There are a lot of ski fields such as the Remarkables and Coronet Peak in the south Island and they are great if you love skiing.
Otherwise, I would avoid visiting from May to September and visit during the remainder of the year. Summer in the South Island is normally quite hot, although the weather can change in an instant.
Most days you would be looking at temperatures over 20 degrees, although this will decrease the further south you go!
It really depends on what you want to do, but I would advise going to the South Island during the summer!
Narrowing this list down to 17 was extremely difficult, as there are lots of great places to visit on the South Island. My advice would be to spend as much time as possible here.
The South Island is one of the best places for road trips in New Zealand, which will allow you to see all this great island has to offer!
Have you been travelling to the South Island of New Zealand? Do you agree or disagree with my selections? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!
Need travel insurance?
You can buy and claim online, even after you’ve left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.