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South Island

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Oceania : New Zealand : South Island
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Hiking in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

The South Island of New Zealand is characterized by grand open landscapes and a sense of space and freedom.

Divided by a backbone of mountain aptly called the Southern Alps, the South Island has spectacular snow-topped mountains and deep, clean fiords, extensive southern beech forests, broad plains and golden sand beaches.

Generally cooler and drier in climate than the North Island but don't forget sun block and T-shirts - temperatures routinely top 30°C (86°F) in summer. The sea moderates winter temperatures so they rarely drop much below freezing except in mountainous regions.

Regions[edit]

Map of New Zealand's South Island
Tasman-Marlborough (includes the Nelson region and Marlborough)
Sun, golden sands, culture, wine and the magical Marlborough Sounds.
West Coast
Glaciers and wild wet wilderness.
Canterbury
The majesty of the Southern Alps sweeping down to the Canterbury plains. Includes the largest city on the South Island, Christchurch.
The South (includes Otago, Southland and Queenstown-Lakes)
Picturesque mountain lakes, snow-capped mountains plunging into fiords and the university town of Dunedin.

Town and cities[edit]

  • Picton - gateway to the Marlborough Sounds
  • Nelson - sunshine city and oldest in New Zealand with gold medal winning wineries and craft breweries
  • Blenheim - sauvignon blanc central!
  • Kaikoura - whales against the backdrop of the seaward kaikouras
  • Christchurch - largest city re-building the centre after recent earthquakes
  • Wanaka - laid back lakeside ski town
  • Dunedin - proud of their Scots heritage, rugby, student shenanigans and railway station
  • Queenstown - stunning setting between lake and mountains
  • Invercargill - southern city

Other destinations[edit]

Understand[edit]

The South Island of New Zealand is the larger of the two main islands though it has fewer people and is sometimes referred to as the 'Mainland' - especially by South Islanders. Geographically the South Island is dominated by the Southern Alps. Dividing the island, the alps affect climate and flora. Most of the South Island's national parks are strung out along the main divide.

Generally, the West Coast is wetter and cooler than the east, and the north of the island is warmer than the south.

Christchurch, Dunedin, Invercargill and Nelson are the main settlements, although the main attractions are rarely in the cities. All four cities are very different. Christchurch is the largest and has a certain English feel to it though it is definitely a New World city. Dunedin was settled by Scottish Presbyterians and is very proud of those roots. It also feels older than other cities in NZ because it was built by gold rush money in the late 19th century but has since been surpassed by bigger and brasher cities to the north.

Nelson is still very young by European standards (although it was the second founded city in New Zealand) but has a very South Pacific feel with palm trees and the long, gently shelving and sheltered white sand beach of Tahunanui.

However, beautiful beaches are a dime a dozen in NZ and some of the best do not average one visitor per day.

Get in[edit]

By plane[edit]

Christchurch is the South Island's biggest international airport with flights from all around the Pacific Rim. Dunedin and Queenstown both have flights from Australia. Celebrities hire private jets to land in Nelson.

There are many airports which have scheduled flights into the South Island, including Picton, Blenheim, Nelson, Takaka, Westport, Kaikoura, Greymouth, Christchurch, Timaru, Dunedin and Queenstown.

Invercargill airport has flights to Stewart Island. Christchurch airport has flights to the Chatham Islands.

By boat[edit]

The Interislander and the Bluebridge ferry companies run from Wellington to Picton through the Marlborough Sounds and across Cook Strait. The ferries take cars, buses and cargo-only trains. The scenery on a good day is spectacular. These ferries are substantial ships designed for the sometimes rough conditions and the journey takes 3-3.5 hours.

Get around[edit]

By train[edit]

Two standout train routes are on the South Island. The Picton - Christchurch Tranzcoastal begins traveling through the Marlborough wine region before hugging the Kaikoura Coast and crossing the Canterbury Plains. The Christchurch - Greymouth Tranzalpine crosses the Southern Alps at Arthurs Pass. Rated as one of the most scenic train journeys in the world.

By bus[edit]

Buses are a cheap way to get around the main destinations of the South Island. There are a range of services, from luxury coach services to minivan shuttles. Shuttles which service a local area can be found in the regions and towns which they service.

  • InterCity, +64 9 623 1503 (), [1]. High quality buses and extensive nationwide network, with fares from $1 plus booking fee.  edit
  • Newmans Coach Lines, +64 9 623 1504, [2]. High quality tourist coach linking Christchurch, Queenstown, Milford Sound and the West Coast Glaciers.  edit
  • nakedbus.com, (), [3]. Cheap, nasty, bad customer reviews, many abandoned passengers.  edit
  • Atomic Shuttles, 03 349 0697 (, fax: 03 349 3868), [4]. Lower cost shuttles with extensive network  edit
  • Knight Rider, 03 342 8055 or 021 781 852 (fax: 03 342 8055), [5]. Evening/night bus service from Christchurch to Invercargill via Dunedin  edit
  • Bottom Bus, 03 434 7370 (fax: 03 434 7376), [6]. Dunedin, Catlins, Invercargill, Te Anau, Milford Sound.  edit
  • West Coast Shuttle, 03 768 0028 or 027 492 7000 (, fax: 03 768 0328), [7]. Daily service departs Greymouth 8 am via Arthur's Pass and Christchurch airport and city. Depart Christchurch at 3pm and airport about 3.15 via Arthurs Pass to Greymouth. Comfortable travel at affordable price, all coaches have on board toilet  edit

By car[edit]

Roads in the South Island vary in quality and traffic, but as long as they are treated with respect they serve you well. Rental cars are available in most sizeable towns. The best range (and hence lowest prices) are in Picton when you come off the ferry and Christchurch.

Rideshare[edit]

Internet based rideshare systems are growing as fuel becomes more expensive. Jayride is a good ridesharing site designed for specifically for carpooling in New Zealand. See the New Zealand page for more options.

See[edit][add listing]

  • Franz Josef glacier, [8]. One of the main tourist attractions on the West Coast, the Franz Josef glacier is a spectacular visit.  edit
  • Milford Sound. One of New Zealand's most well-known scenic attractions, Milford Sound is a must-see for many travellers to the South Island.  edit
  • Yellow Eyed Penguin, [9]. The yellow-eyed penguin is the largest of the temperate penguins, living and breeding in the southern regions of New Zealand.  edit

Do[edit][add listing]

Jetboating near Queenstown

The South Island has become the home of Adventure Tourism. That is, ordinary people being encouraged to do crazy things; such as jumping off a bridge with a rubber band tied to their ankles, riding in a jet boat or rubber raft.

  • Otago Central Rail Trail A 150km trail on disused railway lines between Clyde and Middlemarch for walking, cycling and horse riding.

Eat[edit][add listing]

Drink[edit][add listing]

Stay safe[edit]

Don't eat too much scoop ice-cream!

Get out[edit]


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