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The Ultimate New Zealand South Island Itinerary

south isalnd landscape to milford

New Zealand’s South Island is without doubt one of the world’s most awe inspiring locations, but with such a variety of things to do, a well-planned South Island itinerary is essential to making the most of your holiday. Checking out Queenstown Life or My Destination Queenstown is a good place to start if you want to dive into planning activities on your own. If not, whether you’re a young family, an experience hungry couple, or a lone ranger travelling on a shoe-string budget, our NZ South Island itinerary has you covered.

Week 1 – The South Island’s Natural Beauty

Your first couple of days in the South Island are going to be best spent taking in its natural beauty - believe us when we tell you, it’s staggering. And there’s no better way to let it take your breath away than on foot.

A walk around Queenstown’s town centre is a simple and eye-opening way to get the blood pumping and it’ll give you an entrée to the epic experiences to come. While you’re there, check out the local burger scene at Fergburger, pop into The Station and see what awesome activities are available, put your feet up for a drink at the stunning Crown Plaza – or do it all. Everything’s relatively close-byand despite the jaw-dropping landscape most places are a cinch to explore regardless of fitness level and age.

But if leisurely strolling about town isn’t your thing, there are plenty of affordable options for the more adventurous. You’ll find signs everywhere pointing out various walking tracks and their difficulty levels, but the best way is always going to be following a local guide. With dozens of options available – all run by friendly and experienced operators – these 3 are our recommended top contenders for the South Island’s best:

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Week 2 – The South Island on the Water

After a few days of walking around the sites and taking in some seriously life-altering natural beauty, it’s time to get into the guts of what the South Island is all about. If you haven’t already heard, the place carries quite a reputation for all manner of exciting and adventurous activities…

Being surrounded by lakes and rivers, Queenstown is in a prime position for water entertainment. The world famous Shotover Jet is a winner for people of all ages as it’s the perfect combination of an exhilarating ride and scenic tour of the Shotover River’s amazing network of canyons on-board ‘The World’s Most Exciting Jet Boat’. Just 10 minutes out of Queenstown, this one is an absolute must for anyone and everyone. 

Shotover speeding out of canyons

If high speed isn’t your thing, how about some kayaking or white water rafting? Check out Glacier Kayaks in Franz Josef and you’ll find a tonne of different options ranging from a classical lake kayak you can take at your own pace, to combination experiences like skydiving into a kayak adventure! There’s also a load of guided kayaking tours available so there’s always going to be something that appeals.

If you’re into animals, the South Island also has a huge number of incredible wildlife skewed things to do. Check out the West Coast Wild Life Centre where you can visit New Zealand’s rarest kiwi, the Rowi. For a more hands-on experience, take a ride with South Westland Horse Treks which offer some incredible horse-back treks (either 1, 2 or 3 hours long) around the iconic region.  Some free alternatives in the wildlife scene are the sea lions at Sandfly Bay, watching baby seals playing at Ohau Waterfall Walk, swimming with dolphins at Porpoise Bay or seeing the blue and yellow-eyed penguins around Oamaru. 

Rowi kiwi

Week 3 – The South Island At Altitude

By now you should’ve experienced a fair amount of what the South Island has to offer from a relatively grounded perspective. But some of the most exciting and best holiday memories in this place are forged from a little bit more altitude.

As we’ve said, thrill seeking is all the rage in Queenstown and we’ll get into some of the more risqué activities you can take part in in just a minute. But first, why not take a scenic helicopter ride and experience the impressive landscape from a bird’s eye view? Glacier Southland Lakes Helicopters  is awesome for a safe and child-friendly take to the skies and it’s guaranteed the pilots at both will show you a perspective unlike any other in the world. 

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A more tempered experience can be found at Skyline Queenstown’s Gondola – something the not so height-friendly may prefer. Take the Southern Hemisphere’s steepest cable-car lift 450 meters up Bob’s Peak, stop for lunch at the panoramic bar and restaurant, then Luge all the way back down – it’s a day that anyone of any age will find entertaining.

But if you really want a time to remember, there’s no going past the numerous opportunities to skydive, ice climb, bungy jump or cliff ‘swing’. Check out some of our favourites below: