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15 Best Things to do in the South Island of New Zealand


New Zealand is a destination brimming with jaw-dropping scenery and unique experiences for all types of travellers. This island nation is packed with things to do, from pristine sandy beaches and a hive of geothermal activity on the North Island to snow-capped mountains and charming alpine towns in the South. And there’s no better way to explore than by camper.

There is something for everyone, whether you’re keen to tick off the iconic sights, tour world-class wineries, climb challenging mountain peaks for unparalleled views, or just kick back and embrace the lifestyle. If you’re looking for some vacation inspiration for your next road trip to New Zealand’s South Island, we’ve got you covered with our guide on the 15 best things to do in the south.

Why you should take a campervan trip around New Zealand

A campervan is the ultimate way to explore New Zealand. Embrace the feeling of adventure, views, unexpected delight, and plenty of fun as you take control of your holiday destiny behind the wheel of a campervan.

Campervan travel allows you the ultimate freedom and flexibility to travel at your own pace. Follow wherever the road takes you, and wake up to a new view each day. However you’re spending quality time, couple time, or with the kids in tow, you’ll find plenty of epic spots along the way all year round.

Campervan travel is the perfect option for family travel. In a campervan, you have everything you need to have an unforgettable experience at your fingertips. Best of all, you can keep costs down with free camping spots and affordable holiday parks. Discover all the hidden treasures of New Zealand and admire the beautiful scenery that makes New Zealand an unforgettable road trip destination. Be sure to have your camera at the ready!

Top 15 things to do in New Zealand’s South Island

1. Tick off a Great Walk of New Zealand

Kick-off your vacation in true Kiwi style and enjoy a hike or ‘tramp’ as the locals call it. You’ll be spoilt for choice, with seven of the 10 Great Walks of New Zealand located in the South Island. Choose from the Abel Tasman Coast Track, Heaphy Track, Kepler Track, Milford Track, Routeburn Track, Rakirua, and Paparoa. To help guide your decision, compare the Great Walks and see what one suits you best.

These tracks offer a world-class hiking experience and the ultimate way to get out and explore New Zealand’s wilderness and stunning landscapes first-hand. Get even further off the beaten track and admire charming coastal views, lush trails, or alpine climbs; there's something for everyone.

2. Explore Marlborough Sounds

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Marlborough Sounds is home to 1500 km of pristine New Zealand coastline. Hop on a water taxi to discover the sea-sunken valleys filled with waters of the Pacific Ocean that make up the region. With three main bodies of water, Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru, and Pelorus Sounds, this scenic playground is the ultimate getaway for exploring New Zealand’s natural beauty.

Finish this adventure by sampling some of the local and delicious fine wine of the Marlborough region. As one of the most picturesque parts of New Zealand, there are so many ways to explore this destination. Be sure to include a trip to Marlborough Sounds on your campervan road trip through New Zealand’s South Island!

Top tip: As Marlborough is located at the top of the South Island, pick up a camper from our Auckland Mighty branch and drive down the North Island before taking the Interislander ferry to Picton, or collect in Christchurch and drive up the South Island.

3. Discover the rugged West Coast

The South Island’s wild West Coast is home to incredible rugged views. An untamed wilderness, the West Coast is a 600 km stretch of coastline running along the wild Tasman Sea and surrounded by the snow-dusted Southern Alps. With five national parks containing a collection of glaciers, rainforests, mountains, crystal clear lakes, and wetlands, there’s a lot to see. Travelling by camper is the perfect way to pack all the sights into your itinerary.

Take the drive to visit the charming town of Hokitika and the historic town of Greymouth, often hailed as the heart of the West Coast. Other must-do's when you’re on the West Coast include the Punakaiki pancake rocks and blowholes, exploring Fox Glacier, and getting out on the water with a scenic boat cruise.

4. Whale watching at Kaikoura

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A road trip to New Zealand’s South Island wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Kaikoura. Enjoying a prime spot on the east coast, Kaikoura is a nestled peninsula guarded by the snow-capped peaks of the Kaikoura Range. Home to a unique marine environment, you are likely to spot a range of wildlife, from whales, dolphins, and seals to albatrosses and penguins.

Famed for its incredible whale watching tours, you can also explore a range of other activities including incredible walking tracks, delicious local seafood and kayak tours.

Designed especially for whale watching, modern boats are equipped with engines that minimise underwater noise so they are quieter for marine mammals. This allows you to get up close and personal to sperm whales, orcas and humpback whales migrating.

5. Abel Tasman National Park

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New Zealand’s smallest national park, Abel Tasman National Park is the perfect destination for enjoying a mix of relaxation and adventure. This coastal paradise is easily accessible and can be explored by car, boat, or plane. Summer is a popular time for tourists, but locals believe the shoulder seasons are the prime times for exploring the park. Enjoy crisp mornings, calm waters, and quiet beaches to truly embrace the peace and tranquillity of the park.

Whether you want to explore part of the national park or complete the full 3-4 day walking track, you’re sure to enjoy it. Walk through the soft golden beaches that fill the space between trees and tide lines, kayak through the crystal clear waters, and get up close with the local wildlife.

6. Experience the world-famous Franz Josef Heli Hike

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Combining an exhilarating helicopter ride with jaw-dropping scenery, the world-renowned Glacier Heli Hike is not to be missed on a trip to the South Island. Admire the spectacular panoramic views of Franz Josef Glacier in all its glory as you glide over this natural wonder in a helicopter, before embarking on a two-and-a-half-hour hike through the most incredible glacier features and take the short walk to the helicopter pad. From there, you will be whisked away over a jaw-dropping landscape.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and very may well be the highlight of your whole trip to the South Island.

7. Unwind at Onsen Hot Pools

A visit to the Onsen Hot Pools in Queenstown is a crowd favourite for both tourists and locals alike. This is the perfect place to relax and recharge your batteries with some pampering and rejuvenation. Enjoy a soak in the hot pools and take advantage of the spa for the ultimate treat.

Sometimes road trips can get tiring with long days of driving, so splurge on yourself and embrace the truly indulgent hot pool experience. Offering a collection of cedar-lined hot pools overlooking the Shotover River, this will be a welcomed interruption to your itinerary!

8. Take on New Zealand’s highest Bungy jump

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If you’re in the market for an experience to get your adrenaline pumping, be sure to tick off the Nevis Bungy - the highest bungy jump in New Zealand.

Located in the adventure capital of New Zealand, what better place to embrace hair-raising activities than Queenstown. Go full throttle with the 134-metre leap and free fall for just under 10 seconds in a flurry of pure adrenaline.

9. Travel back in time at Arrowtown

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The historical and enchanting town of Arrowtown is just a 20-minute drive from Queenstown. Nestled beside the Arrow River and with streets lined with picturesque buildings, Arrowtown is the perfect place to spend a day perusing boutique stores and exploring the gold mining history of this fascinating region.

If you’ve got your bikes on board, explore some of the epic biking trails to see more of the region before visiting the Arrowtown Chinese Settlement.

10. Get the taste of Cardrona on the distillery tour

Just a stone's throw away from Wanaka, sample the fine spirits that are distilled locally for a true taste of Cardrona. Creating the finest spirits with pure alpine water sourced from the heart of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. These locally foraged ingredients give the unparalleled signature taste of Cardrona Distillery. With handcrafted single malt whisky, gin and vodka, you’ll be spoilt for choice in your sampling selection.

Learn about the history of the distillery and the process of making the spirits. From everything to the malt milling, fermenting, and maturing processes before heading to the bar for a taster.

11. Enjoy wine tasting at Rippon Vineyard

When in Wanaka, head to Rippon Vineyard to sample the fine wines of Central Otago. Located in the hills above Lake Wanaka, the vineyard offers the ultimate setting to enjoy the delicious local wines. Embrace a sense of luxury and indulgence when you visit the shores of Lake Wanaka to sip on locally grown, biodynamic wines unique to the region.

Offering only small and personal tastings by appointment only, be sure to get this experience booked in when planning your itinerary.

12. Visit the world-famous Milford Sound

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Milford Sound is arguably the most beautiful part of New Zealand, and that’s saying something! Sitting on the South Island’s West Coast, this destination offers a perfect combination of spectacular natural wonders and unparalleled views. Milford Sound was carved by glaciers during the ice age and is an iconic bucket list experience. Join a tour to witness the cliffs of the fiords rising from dark waters, set against this backdrop of mountain peaks and cascading waterfalls. It is awe-inspiring no matter the season!

Located in the heart of Fiordland, take your pick and explore by foot or on a boat tour. Whichever you choose, you’re bound to have the experience of a lifetime.

13. Discover Larnach Castle

Sitting on the striking Otago Peninsula, Larnach Castle is one of the most popular visitor attractions and the only castle in New Zealand! Built in 1871, a trip to the castle offers an insight into Victorian culture and architecture. Admire the craftsmanship of this well-maintained historic site while admiring the sweeping panoramic views of the peninsula that surround you.

14. Explore the iconic Nugget Point

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If you’re looking for a place to get the camera out and capture New Zealand’s sensational views, Nugget Point is the place to do it! An iconic panoramic platform that looks out to sweeping views of the Catlins coast. Nugget Point houses one of the oldest lighthouses in the country, perched above the famous rocks named by Captain Cook.

Take the short stroll out to the lighthouse and look out to spectacular views of the big blue for as far as the eye can see. Looking down to the rock below, you might catch a glimpse of a colony of fur seals playing in the surf. Also, home to one of the world’s rarest breeds of penguins, pack your binoculars and see if you can spy one.

15. Sample Bluff Oysters

If you’re travelling down south from March to August, be sure to head to Bluff to indulge in some world-famous oysters, Bluff Oysters are known as some of the best in the world and are the national treasures of New Zealand. These delicate shellfish are harvested locally along the coastlines of Southland.

Ready For Your Next New Zealand Adventure?

From adrenaline-packed adventures to exploring coastal havens and indulging in relaxing hot pools, there’s plenty to see and do in New Zealand’s South Island. Get your adventure underway and book a Mighty camper today.

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