Things to Do in South Island - page 4
In a town that runs on non-stop adrenaline, sometimes it’s nice to simply slow down, relax, and catch your breath. Set minutes outside of downtown Queenstown, Queenstown Gardens is the perfect spot for a relaxing moment of tranquility, where walking paths hug the shore of the lake, and flowers burst with brilliant color from spring through early fall.
Horticulturists will appreciate the wealth of native and indigenous plants, and joggers will love the network of trails that weave across 36 acres. Even if it’s just stopping to play on the rope swings, or feed the ducks at the pond, Queenstown Gardens is a place where families can find some free entertainment. It’s also a popular place to spend an hour riding a bike, or visit as part of a Segway tour of central Queenstown sights. Of all the different flowers in the park, it’s easily the roses that get the most attention when they begin to bloom in the spring, engulfing whole hillsides in blankets of color as fountains splash in the distance. You’ll also find two memorials in the garden, one of which honors Robert Falcon Scott and his team that died in Antarctica, and the other commemorates the city’s first settlers, who arrived in 1860.
The New Zealand Garden Trust classifies Glenfalloch Woodland Gardens, on the Otago Peninsula near Dunedin, as a Garden of National Significance. Established in 1871, the gardens are full of flowering trees, ferns, and a Matai tree that’s around 1,000-years-old. The gardens are a must-visit for keen gardeners and nature lovers to explore.
Most places in New Zealand are known for the attractions that make the area famous. In the case of the Mackenzie Basin (Mackenzie Country), however, it’s what isn’t here—rather than what is—that make it such a legendary spot. Located between the cities of Queenstown and Christchurch, the Mackenzie Basin is a vast swath of dry, undulating grasslands, where the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps dramatically rise above the plains. Of the five villages inside of the basin, Twizel is the largest with about 1,000 people, whereas Tekapo, Omarama, Fairlie, and Mt Cook Village all have fewer than 800.
With the dry, clear skies and lack of development, the stars at night shine brighter here than anywhere else in New Zealand, which has led to the establishment of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. By day, the famously turquoise Lake Tekapo is a favorite of South Island photographers—not only for the stunning Church of the Good Shepard that silently sits near the shore, but also for the epic alpine backdrop that’s formed by the Southern Alps.
An elegant, Victorian homestead presides over 9.9 acres (4 hectares) of gardens and landscaped lawns in this Christchurch park. With blooming flowers, walking paths, and manicured garden beds, Mona Vale is primarily used for weddings and events. The gardens, however, are open to all, with an onsite restaurant serving light meals.
The Hollyford Track might not have the profile of Fiordland’s Great Walks, but it’s no less impressive. This low-altitude walk runs through the Hollyford Valley, part of the Te Wāhipounamu UNESCO World Heritage Area, and alongside the roaring Hollyford River, past towering mountains and crystal-clear lakes all the way to Martins Bay.
Dedicated to the Royal New Zealand Air Force, this museum’s exhibits go from historic aircraft to a hands-on flight simulator. Memorials here are dedicated to members of the air force who have died in service, while a great collection of photographs offer a window into New Zealand’s military history.
The Te Anau Glowworm Caves are one of New Zealand's most mesmerizing natural wonders, boasting a labyrinth of grottoes, tunnels, dramatic rock formations, and underground waterfalls. Adventure abounds—visitors can cruise across Lake Te Anau, scramble through the caves, and marvel at a glittering canopy of tiny glowworms.
Set smack in the middle of Dunedin’s Octagon—and thereby the center of town—St. Paul’s Cathedral is unlike any other in New Zealand. First constructed in 1862, the cathedral endured an entire century of half-completed jobs, often because the building party eventually ran out of funds. Though the stone structure is still impressive, the multi-period styles of architecture created a noticeably curious look. The architectural oddities aside, the cathedral today isn’t known for looks, but rather, for its sound. Numerous professional musicians and singers have gotten their start in this choir, and the enormous organ with its 3,500 pipes is the Southern Hemisphere’s largest. On occasion, the cathedral will open around 1pm for a 20-minute concert, and the general public is welcome to attend and experience the holy acoustics. When the light is right, it falls through the stained glass of the large Dunedin Window, and Maori, Christian, and historical themes can be found in the colorful panes.
Soaring peaks dive into lush forests on the 4-day Milford Track, New Zealand’s most famous hiking trail. Often called the “finest walk in the world,” the Milford Track travels through the UNESCO-listed Fiordlands, a dramatic setting crisscrossed by a network of suspension bridges, winding waterways, narrow trails, and open valleys.
At the Odyssey Sensory Maze in central Queenstown, visitors navigate a course with obstacles, illusions, and strange lighting, sound effects, and smells. As the name suggests, this unusual attraction requires visitors to engage all their senses as they move through various rooms. The maze is just as popular with adults as it is with older kids and teens.
More Things to Do in South Island
In 2010 and 2011, the city of Christchurch and the surrounding areas of Canterbury were hit by two powerful earthquakes. The first, in September 2010, was larger, but the second, in February 2011, caused more damage and loss of life. Opened in 2017, the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial in Christchurch commemorates these natural disasters.
Regarded as one of New Zealand’s best golf courses, Jack’s Point is not only known for the famously challenging course, but the phenomenally mind-bending, panoramic scenery that accompanies every hole. Just 20 minutes outside of Queenstown, Jack’s Point Golf Course is framed by the Remarkables and the shores of Lake Wakatipu, and in addition to views that include craggy pinnacles surrounded by alpine waters, rows of rolling, dry stone walls provide the feel of the Scottish highlands and a classic high country farm. Golfers consider it a “bucket list” course that you have to play once in your lifetime, though if you just want to see the remarkable scenery without even teeing up a ball, stop in for lunch at the Jack’s Point restaurant for either breakfast or lunch.
The Catlins landscape south of Dunedin is unlike anywhere else in New Zealand. Waves carve at a forested coastline and waterfalls spill through the trees—the most spectacular of which is McLean Falls, a two-tiered, bridal-veiled beauty. As part of the Catlins Conservation Park, McLean Falls is hidden down a scenic, tree-lined trail, and broken up into two sets of falls that tower over 70 feet (21 meters) while crashing on moss-covered rocks. This part of New Zealand is sparsely populated, and you truly feel a connection to nature when hiking the trail to the falls, where ferns and trees in every shade of green form a colorful canopy around you. Since the area is so remote, however, one of the best ways to experience the falls is on a private tour of the Catlins, where a local guide helps plan an exceptional day trip from Dunedin.
Located at the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island, Port Marlborough is wedged between the mountains and the sea of Queen Charlotte Sound, one of four rugged sounds that make up the Marlborough Sounds. Large cruise liners and inter-island ferries crossing the Cook Strait all stop here.
In the remote Canterbury region of New Zealand’s South Island lies Mt. Sunday—a skyline that fans of The Lord of the Rings trilogy will recognize as the site for the soaring city of Edoras. It’s arguably the most spectacular among dozens of filming locations used by the crew.
At Orana Wildlife Park in Christchurch, visitors will get chance to come face-to-face with gorillas, orangutans, giraffes, and lions. You might even enjoy a rare sighting of New Zealand’s national bird, the kiwi, the In fact, more than 70 exotic species can be found at the only open-air wildlife park in the country.
For wine drinkers the world over, New Zealand is synonymous with sauvignon blanc. While the country produces award-winning varietals like Central Otago pinot noir, it’s the sauvignon blanc from Marlborough vineyards that oenophiles can’t stop talking about. Despite its fame this premier wine region remains blissfully undeveloped.
New Zealand’s largest theater company was founded in 1971, and now puts on 19 productions each year, which range from serious drama to light-hearted comedy. Following the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, the company relocated from the Arts Centre in the heart of the city to a former grain shed in the Christchurch suburb of Addington.
Experience rural life on the South Island with a visit to Walter Peak High Country Farm. This working sheep and cow ranch sits across Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown, along a section of lakeshore that is largely inaccessible by car. To get there, most passengers ride across the lake aboard the beautifully restored TSSEarnslaw, steamship.
Twenty-two of New Zealand’s highest mountains stand proud in the Southern Alps. Magnificent Mt. Cook (Aoraki) rises 12,217 feet (3,724 meters) tall, making it the country’s highest peak and one of the South Island's most prominent natural features. The Maori name Aoraki is aptly translated as “cloud piercer.”
The Shotover River, which drains into the Kawarau River beneath the famous Kawarau Bridge, is renowned as an aquatic playground for visitors traveling to Queenstown. Even the drive toward the Shotover River is an outdoor adventure in itself, as the road leading into Skippers Canyon is a winding, mountainous route.
Go beneath the surface of Lake Wakatipu and discover a marine ecosystem teeming with life just meters from the lakefront at the Underwater Observatory in Queenstown. Watch trout, ducks, and slippery eels swim and feed from the observatory’s large windows, and learn all about the history of Wakatipu’s underwater world.
Burkes Pass in South Canterbury’s Mackenzie Country is a mountain pass with a namesake heritage village tucked at its base. First utilized by indigenous Maori people, the outpost later grew into a township around a hotel that was opened for weary Mackenzie pioneers. Today, it makes an ideal base for outdoor explorations.
Although the Waipara Valley wine region doesn’t always feature in glossy magazines, New Zealand oenophiles flock to this small slice of Canterbury for some of the country’s best gewürztraminer, as well as its uniquely rich pinot noir and riesling. Best of all, it’s more accessible from Christchurch than the South Island’s other wine destinations.
- Things to do in Queenstown
- Things to do in Akaroa
- Things to do in Wanaka
- Things to do in Blenheim
- Things to do in Picton
- Things to do in North Island
- Things to do in Tasmania
- Things to do in New South Wales
- Things to do in Wellington
- Things to do in Tongariro National Park
- Things to do in Hastings
- Things to do in Victoria
- Things to do in South Australia
- Things to do in Queensland
- Things to do in Rarotonga