South Island Vacations

New Zealand's South Island is, according to Maori legend, the canoe which demigod Maui was sailing in when he caught the giant fish, North Island. And to this day, the South Island is still the outdoor adventure capital of the world. From whale watching to iceberg cruises in Christchurch and the Canterbury region or bungee jumping to, yes, ... Read more
canoeing, all around the island, the South Island is an adrenaline junkie's paradise. Looking for natural beauty? If you liked the mystical terrain in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, you'll like the fjords, waterfalls, rain forests and misty hills of the South Island, where most of the films were shot.

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South Island reviews & trip reports

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    Green Travelers
  • 8.3
    Outdoor Enthusiasts
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Member Reviews(17)

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Fullerton, California

The South Island is still wild & remote. A cruise down Milford sound should be taken
To see the dusky dolphins that are so playful & maybe you can be lucky to see the yellow eyed penguin too!

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

I have to say it is unlike anything I've ever seen before. There is something incredibly majestic about the south island's mostly untouched natural beauty. It really is magical! I can see why they use it in films to depict places that are other worldly.

Recommended for:BackpackersGreen TravelersOutdoor Enthusiasts
Frederick, Maryland, USA

Who'd expect to see penguins in a land that looks surprisingly (or not) like the Lord of the Ring's Middle Earth? But even weirder than that is, who'd expect to find penguins living in the rainforest?? Well, that's New Zealand for you, a land of oddities and contradictions at every corner. Here on the South Island, you'll find three of the world's most unique penguins - the little blue penguin (the world’s smallest penguin), the rare yellow-eyed penguin, and that rainforest-dwelling fiordland crested penguin. And in such a dramatically beautiful landscape, these are truly penguins in paradise!

Recommended for:Adventure TravelersGreen TravelersFamily TravelersOutdoor Enthusiasts
New York City

I am partial when it comes to New Zealand. I left my heart there. North Island is absolutely amazing but nothing prepared me to what South Island had to offer. No words can do it justice - it nothing short of magical.

Recommended for:Green TravelersWellness
Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

Almost the entire island seems like a landscape photographer's paradise. Public transport around the island is possible, so personal transport is not strictly necessary if one wants to explore the island.

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Back in 1989/90, Been on the South Island for 3 weeks
Places I have been is Christchurch , Queenstown ,Lake Tekapo , Wanaka & Dunedin...
Note ... I would love to go back again to do a whole trip around the South Island again & would love to see North Island ( haven't been there yet )...

Mountain View, California, USA

Back from my trip to South Island, New Zealand. (Nov 5th – Nov 13th 2011)
Here’s a brief report - an extremely dry debrief. No promise of humor or good writing.
Flew into Christchurch and rented a camper(Cabana) from Jucy Rentals. With 25$ of insurance, it came to about USD75$ a day. Rented a campervan – essentially a refitted van. Think a smaller version of the Honda Odyssey. Good for two people. Has a basic stove(not very efficient if windy or rainy, since it pops from the back of the van and is subject to the elements), a good fridge (froze my beer one day), a sink, all required utensils. The Jucy folks provide a really good service and were very responsive to calls/emails. Also supplied me all local info that I asked for. First rate service. Preferred a smaller van to an RV for driving comfort. Didn’t want to lug a beast around.

• Fuel prices in NZ are about 6USD a gallon, nearly double the price in the US. This adds to your daily cost, since you’re driving most of the time. The van gave me about 10 kmpl. Higher fuel costs mean higher transportation costs. Buffer this into all goods and services, and NZ is an expensive place. No tax on food though.
• You drive on the left side, unlike the US. All roads had two lanes going in opposite directions. No 4 lane freeways. The scenery on both sides of the road for all 8 days was pastures .. so lots of green.
• Speed limits inside the city were 50, 60 70 kms per hr. Outside the cities was 100 kmph.
• Bridges here have only one lane (at least 95% did). So you actually need to stop, look and go. Not sure why they couldn’t build two laned bridges. Bridges are fairly narrow as well. No big rigs allowed !!
• The New Zealand dollar is about 30% lesser that the USD in value. So 1 USD = 1.30 NZD. The rate I got at the airport from Travelex, minus all their charges was $1.15.

My route for the trip was as follows.
Day 0 Christchurch
Day 1 Lake Tekapo
Day 2 Lake Pukaki, Mount Hood
Day 3 Queensland / Lake TeAnau
Day 4 Lake TeAnau / Milford Sound
Day 5 Curio Bay / Waipapa Lighthouse
Day 6 Mt Aspiring
Day 7 Paparoa National Park
Day 8 Arthur’s Pass National Park
Back to Christchurch

We had a list of places to visit, but did not book any campgrounds in advance and took things by the day. We planned to rent a GPS, but they had none in stock. Worked for us, since the one big map we had, was all we needed. Every town/city has a information center where you can get a free map. All cities in NZ are pretty small and the map is all you need.

All prices below in NZD.

Day 1 Lake Tekapo
The lake is spectacular, the blue really stands out. We have some fantastic pictures of the lake with clear skies. A good local attraction here is the St John’s Observatory. It’s on top of a hill, a 4 km winding road gets you there. The road closes at 6 pm. Given the height you have a fairly good view of the surroundings from up the hill.
There are 3-4 observatories here and there is a night tour from 8 pm for about 100$ a head. You need to book the tour from the village.
We camped at the McGregor Lake campsite. 10$ for 2 people. Pretty basic. Has a restroom and that’s about it. Most of the people who come here are regulars and pay 80$ for the entire season (Sep-May).
First attempt at cooking. Was windy and it took 40 minutes for tea and eggs.
The sleeping are in the van is adequate.

Day 2 Lake Pukaki, Mount Hood
Drove further South towards Lake Pukaki. Was a clear day and we could see Mt Hood from the Lake. We were lucky that the skies were clear. Visibility is affected on rainy/foggy days (obviously ).
Didn’t do much at the Lake except take pictures. Had breakfast at the Mountaineer’s Café in Mt Hood. The day hikes there were at Hooker Point and Tasman Lake. Both hikes were fun. Not strenuous. Views were great. Tasman Lake and the Glacier are quite picturesque.
There are a few hotels in the area. Also a public shower (2$). This was the only place where we found a public shower.

Day 3 Queenstown / Lake TeAnau
We stayed at the Top10 Holiday Park in Queensland. 44$ a night. Had a good kitchen, bathrooms etc.
Had dinner at one of the restaurants off the waterfront. The lamb was very well made. The main dish is usually 30-35$ in most restaurants. Unlike the US, there is no tax. Tips optional. Visited a micro brewery as well. Good place for good beer.
Bought a 6 pack the next day. Was about 15$. Alcohol is expensive in both Aus and NZ.
Interestingly there are quite a few road signs related to speeding, motorcycle accidents, sleeping at the wheel etc. 'The World's Most Exciting Jet Boat Ride' and the only company permitted to operate in the spectacular Shotover River.
The boats cost about a quarter of a million each, are driven really really fast, come extremely close to the rocks on either side, also spin 360 degrees. A lot of fun. Costs 118$.
Is a star tourist attraction. The world’s first bungy AJ Hackeet is also located here.. Since I had jumped in Nanaimo Canada didn’t go for it. If you have to choose the bungy is more bang for the buck than the ShotOverJet.

Queenstown is where you go to get all the action. So if you’re into adventure sports/activities you may want to spend more time here.

Day 4 Lake TeAnau / Milford Sound
The first campsite on Lake Te Anau is Henry Creek. This place is beautiful. Borders the lake. Would definitely recommend this place for all campers. There are over 10 campsites/campgrounds from Te Anau to Milford Sound. This one was the best. It’s a DOC site. DOC is the Dept of Conservation and they publish a booklets that lists all campsites under their purview. Std rates are 6$ per person per night. A few sites are free. Free sites have no provisions for water, toilets and only provide parking. The location could be great though. You can buy a 40$ weekly pass at select locations. Check in the DOC booklet or site

Bought some fresh blue cod along the way and had an awesome lunch.
The drive to Milford Sound took 2-3 hours. It’s a 100 plus km stretch, but has quite a few places where you would want to stop and look around. Milford Sound (sound is the same as a fjord – clearing that was once occupied by a glacier which has receded and has now been encroached by the sea.
Need to get through a 1 km tunnel. No signals after 6 pm, so need to drive slowly and look out for oncoming traffic. In the morning they have the signal and the wit time is 15 mins, since they only allow traffic one way.
They have cruises from Milford Sound. (We’ve been to fjord cruises in Alaska, so weren’t interested. Kayaking is a good option and there is a local outfitter(roscoe’s) who provides guided tours.
This region is tropical rain forest and there are some fantastic local hikes which take you through some really wet, mossy topography.
We stayed at the Milford Lodge. Has reasonably priced accommodation. Since we had a campervan, we stayed in the parking lot . Cost us 18$ a head, included a well stocked kitchen (all utensils, basic spices), showers. Provides internet as well. The place is like a hostel and has a good feel. We stayed here since we got late and there were no DOC sites in the vicinity.

Some of the National Parks in New Zealand have a program called the Great Walks. The walks usually take 2-3 days. There are huts provided along the way which have basic facilities. Huts can house about 40 people. Need to book in advance, as they tend to get full. Should have planned for this, but did not.

SandFly alert.
Fiordland National Park encompasses Lake TeAnau and Milford Sound. Most of the South Island is sand fly ridden, this area especially. Need to apply Deet or the organic sand fly oil (primarily eucapyputs) at least 30 minutes before you land here. The oil was very effectively and the 10$ bottle (60 ml) lasted us the entire trip. SandFlies are pretty irritating and attack all exposes body parts, especially the ankles. Out in swarms during dusk. The first thing that you need to buy when you land in the South Island is the Sand Fly repellant/oil. Everything else can wait.

Day 5 Curio Bay / Waipapa Lighthouse
Didn’t really have a plan to visit the Caitlins (southern most tip of New Zealand). Since our guide book recommended a couple of spots very highly we decided to drive south. Impromptu drive - one of the perks of having no plan . Had to pass through Invercargill, the main city down South. The scenic route is not well defined. We didn’t even know the number or name for the road. A gas station attendant gace us the secret code – take a left from McGuire street. Very clandestine and stuff. The drive was smashing. First destination was Waipapa lighthouse. We were the only people there. This was the most beautiful place I visted in NZ. The lighthouse stands tall amidst some spectacular grassy landscape. Was an extremely windy –blow your hat away- kind of day, clear skies. The beach houses the sea lions. We saw 3 of them enjoying the sun and keeping away from the surf. The beach is quite spectacular. Most of the beaches we saw had really good surf .. and no surfers.
20 minutes from the lighthouse is Curio Bay. Curio Bay has two start attractions. One is the endangered yellow eyed penguin and the other is the dolphin. Porpoise bay is where you can see the Hector dolphins. We didn’t see any though. The local outfitter lets you rent surf gear and swim with the dolphins.
The yellow-eyed penguin, also known as Hoiho, is the world’s rarest species of penguin. There are just 5000 of them still living.

The campground here is the most scenic campground on the planet. On a bluff that overlooks the ocean, away form all the crowds. No grocery store in the vicinity, nearest resturamt 10 kms away. There is a hostel as well close by. We paid 16$ for camping. Access to a kitchen 9stove, microwave), paid 2$ showers. Nothing fancy .. but all you need to enjpy the solitude.


The South Island of New Zealand is just one big huge beautiful place. Highlights for me are the South Otago region and the Nelson region.

Singapore, Singapore

it's jus awsm

Ulu Kelang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

i so boring