Top 10 Things to do in the South Island of New Zealand

Block Out the Sun

If New Zealand is the Adventure Nation of the world, then its South Island is definitely the adventure capital. It is, after all, the birthplace of the commercial bungy jump. Who else would think to jump off high ledges with nought but a rope, than those who were already skiing down mountains, jet-boat racing in small ravines and rafting down wild rapids.

Thankfully though, for those out there who like to keep your feet firmly on the ground, there is still plenty more to do on the South Island. Here, we narrow it all down to the top ten “must do’s” to put on your list.

Bungee Jump / Canyon Swing

Kiwi AJ Hackett brought bungy jumping into the spotlight when he orchestrated the first jump off the Eiffel Tower in 1987. Having worked with New Zealand universities he developed the elastic rope used for bungy jumping today and invited everyone to come along and try it out in Queenstown.

So, if you can stomach it then you can’t miss it. Book a time, get strapped in and jump off a cliff. There are many places you can bungy jump, particularly in Queenstown. There are even variations, do you want to jump off a cliff into a canyon? Or just off a bridge? Do you want to jump off backwards, blindfolded or upside down?

If bungy jumping sounds too much you could always try the Queenstown Canyon Swing. After all, swinging sounds easier than bungy jumping, right? Even if it is the highest cliff jump in the world…


If the bungy doesn’t do it for you then there’s no better place in the world to Skydive than in New Zealand’s South Island. As if the grassy rolling mountains weren’t a sight to see, entwine this with big blue lakes and giant glaciers and you’ve got yourself a spectacular view. Plunging 15,000ft at 250kph, who wouldn’t want to take a moment to stop and look at the view?

Queenstown again is the hotspot for this but further north at Lake Wanaka in Otago you’ll find skydiving alive and well out over the lakes.


If snow skiing is your interest then Queenstown is the place to be. All Aussies and Kiwis, families and backpackers, professional skiers and novices, migrate here in the winter in search of the ski mountain. Set against the backdrop of the mountain ranges and surrounding the peaceful lake Wakatipu, skiing here can be combined with the other extreme adventure sports for that action-packed holiday, or go hand-in-hand with a quiet winter getaway by a lake in the mountains.

Queenstown is home to two of New Zealand’s best ski resorts, The Remarkables and Coronet Peak. Coronet peak reaches 1649 metres with a vertical slide of 481 metres. Its terrain is very hilly, providing both small tracks for beginners and a more thrilling challenge for the more experienced. The Remarkables, while reaching 1943m, has a vertical slide of 357 metres. It boasts slopes for beginners and is a family favourite.

Jet Boat

While in Queenstown, be sure to check out the Shotover Jet. This specially designed speedboat takes up to 15 passengers and races through the ravine of Shotover River Canyon at up to 85kph. Gliding along the water with the wind and water-spray flying in your face, you come almost within arms length of the ravine wall as the boat driver flirts with the edges of the river.

And just when you think you’ve come to a slow pace in some open waters, just when you think you’ve got your heart rate back down, again the boat starts up and is thrown into a series of clever twirls and tricks, including a full 360 degree spin!

Looking up, the view of the canyon is majestic, when it’s not whirling passed you at rocket pace that is. Just make sure you wear sunglasses to keep the water out of your eyes!

Milford Sound

Moving north-west from Queenstown towards the coast, you’ll find what is arguably one of the biggest drawcards of all of New Zealand, let alone the South Island. Milford Sound. A large, majestic fiord carved out and left behind by old glaciers. This is one of the most captivating places you’ll find in New Zealand, and this is saying something given this is a country immensely gifted with natural beauty.
Sail into the mystery of the mists and hold your breath as you pass under the towering cliffs and cascading waterfalls. Marvel at the stillness, photograph the hidden wildlife and experience a modern-day Eden.

Franz Josef Glacier

Further north, the other of New Zealand’s major drawcards is the Franz Josef Glacier. Descending from 2700 metres above sea level this is the world’s largest and fastest flowing glacier open to tourists. It is both a challenge to conquer and spectacular to behold.

There are multiple activities to choose from when you get to the glacier. For either half a day or a full day you can opt for a simple hike or a challenging ice climb. If view is what you’re after then you can’t pass up the helicopter tour, taking you over the glacier and mountains and giving you plenty of holiday snaps to make everyone back home jealous.

The tours operate all year round, but the most popular season is between November and March.

Lord of The Rings Tour

Ever wonder just what it was Legolas was seeing in The Lord of The Rings when he looked out over the mountains? Well now you can find out. After all, this was where the trilogy was filmed. Just outside of Queenstown tours are run that take you up through the mountains of Middle Earth and offer you insights into both the dramatic landscape and the making of the movies. Opt for a half or full day tour and get your hands on some of the original movie props. Whatever you do though, don’t touch the ring…


What about just a hike, you say? All this talk of ski adventures, extreme sports and movie tours, it’s easy to overlook the basics! And in New Zealand, the basics of the land and its natural beauty is really what it’s all about. Thankfully there are ample hiking opportunities on the South Island, for hikers of all levels. Climb the mountains, camp in a valley or simply take a half-hour walk at the foot of the mountains by the seaside. No matter where you go you will encounter fascinating scenery.

The whole island is an outdoor playground so get a map, close your eyes and pick a place!

Antarctic Experience

Over near Christchurch you’ll find the International Antarctic Centre. Aside from being a museum and information centre for the mysterious land of ice down south, here you can experience just what it’s like in the Antarctic without having to hand over your life savings for an actual Antarctic Expedition. Suit up and walk into a little piece of the Antarctic right there in Christchurch. Feel the temperatures, explore the slopes and brace yourself for the replicated Antarctic storm generated every half hour.

When the chill gets too much venture out through the centre to visit the penguins, view the spectacular images in the gallery, watch one of the 4D ice shows or take on the simulated Antarctic travel conditions in the Haggland Ride.

Take a Break

You’ve been hiking, skiing, sailing, freezing and jumping off cliffs, it’s time to take a break. Escape to a luxury retreat at Kaikoura on the east coast and nestle in by the seaside. Here you can sit back and look out over the spectacular landscape where the snow-capped mountains meet the sea and break off into playful jagged rocks in the bay. Sail out into the ocean or perch yourself on a cliff by the shore and watch the whales swim by.

Here you can engage in a number of activities, from visiting galleries and quaint cafes to bird watching and 4wd motor-biking. But if a rest really is what you need then sit back, relax and enjoy the show.