South Island Destinations: Places to go in the South Island, New Zealand

Mclean Falls the largest waterwall in the Ctalins, The Catlins Waterfalls

There are a ton of South Island destinations that tourists should see when they visit the South Island of New Zealand. This blog is all about the best places to go in the Sout Island, New Zealand.

South Island Destinations: Places to go in the South


New Zealand is a beautiful country to travel as it is very diverse. The North and South Islands that makeup New Zealand are very different from one another. The South features incredible mountain ranges, alpine lakes, waterfalls, and a rugged coastline.

On the South Island in New Zealand, there are endless amounts of things to do. When travelling there it can be overwhelming to know what to do just because there is so much to choose from! I spent 8 months travelling and living in the South Island and have discovered what are the best South Island destinations, and in this blog, I’m going to share what are the best places to go in the South Island, New Zealand.

Mount Cook National Park

Mount Cook National Park is first on my list of the best South Island destinations because it is my favourite place in all of New Zealand! Mount cook national park is centred around the mountain, mount cook is the largest mountain in all of New Zealand. Within the national park, there are various things to do and see that could keep you busy for a couple of days.

Hooker Valley Track

If you only have time for one hike while in Mount Cook National Park then the Hooker Valley Track should be it! This track is 10 km return. It is very well maintained and is an easy track that is relatively flat. Along the hike, you cross several suspension bridges and have views of surrounding mountains, but the main attraction is at the end of the trail when you reach Hooker Valley Lake which is at the base of Mount Cook. On a calm day, you’ll get amazing reflections of mount cook in the lake.

hooker valley lake is one of the best south island destinations
Hooker Valley Lake is one of the best places to go in the South Island, New Zealand.

For more information on the Hooker Valley Track, read our blog which is a complete guide.

Sealy Tarns Track

The Sealy Tarns Track is a longer hike and more difficult with 2,000 stairs taking you to an incredible lookout. If you are up for the challenge, the view from the top is astounding!

sealy tarns track new zealand pinterest
The top of the Sealy Tarns Track.

Tasman Glacier

The Tasman Glacier has receded quite a lot so it isn’t too easy to see these days, that being said, the lake at its base is full of icebergs and is a sight to see all on its own. The walk to Tasman Lake is a short 20-minutes and to experience a sunrise at Tasman Lake is really something!

tasman lake is one of the best places to take a photo in mount cook
Tasman Lake at sunrise.

The Mueller Hut

The Mueller Hut hike starts with the Sealy Tarns Track but goes about another 1-2 hours further past the Sealy Tarns viewpoint until you reach the Mueller Hut. You can stay overnight in the hut and watch the sunset from up there!

In winter, hiking to the Mueller Hut can be challenging but it is an adventure and not very busy. In the summer, make sure to book the hut in advance if you want to stay the night as it books up! If you have time to hike to the Mueller Hut and spend the night, I highly recommend it! The Mueller Hut is easily one of the top South Island destinations!

the mueller hut is one of the best places to go in the south island new zealand
The Mueller Hut!

Milford Sound

Of course, no trip to New Zealand is complete without a visit to the “8th Wonder of the World” – Milford sound! Milford Sound is an incredible fjord offering scenery I have never seen anything like elsewhere in the world.

Milford Sound Nature Cruise
Milford Sound boat cruise!

The trick to visiting Milford Sound is to go late in the day. Large tour buses leave Queenstown every day to go to Milford for a day trip making it extremely busy between the hours of 11 am and 4 pm. If you spend the night in Milford Sound you’ll be able to watch the sunset and pretty much have the place to yourself!

Read our full Milford Sound suggested itinerary here, and also find out where to stay in Milford Sound.

the sunset in milford sound
Enjoying sunset in Milford Sound!



Queenstown in the adventure capital of New Zealand! If you are after an adrenaline rush then Queenstown is the place to get it. In Queenstown, you’ll find whitewater rafting, canyoning, via Ferrata and rock climbing, bungu jumping, skydiving, and lots more!

canyoning in queenstown is a best tour in Queenstonw
Canyoning in Queenstown

But Queenstown isn’t just for adventure, it is also just a beautiful town to check out. The Remarkables mountain range sits on the edge of Lake Wakatipu which is simply picture perfect! There is also a huge selection of bars and restaurants and some foods that you absolutely must try!

Some of my personal favourite things to do in Queenstown include:

hike to bobs peak is one of the best cheap things to do in queenstown
That is Queenstown! Arguably, one of the most beautiful towns in the world!


If you want to relax, then Wanaka is the place for you! This town sits only an hour drive from Queenstown and can be accessed by the windy but very scenic Crown Range road.
In Wanaka, there are several hikes such as Roys Peak or Diamond Lake. You can also do some shopping, have a drink by the lake, or watch the sunset at the famous Wanaka tree!

that wanaka tree
The famous Wanaka tree!


The Catlins

The Catlins is a region in the very south of the South Island between the cities of Dunedin and Invercargill. This area features a ton of natural and free tourist attractions making it one of the top South Island destinations.

If you plan on visiting the Catlins, these are some of the highlights:

McLean Falls

McLean falls is the most famous waterfall in the Catlins region. It is just huge! Two waterfalls can be viewed at once as one sits above the other making the appearance of one massive waterfall!

It is only a short 15-minute walk on a well-maintained path. The downside to McLean Falls is that it is very popular so during peak season there will be lots of tourists around.

Mclean Falls the largest waterwall in the Ctalins, The Catlins Waterfalls
McLean Falls is definitely the largest waterfall in the Catlins

Koropuku Falls

Koropuku waterfall is not very well known which makes visiting it very peaceful. The trail isn’t very well maintained but it is easy to find and it only takes about 20 minutes to get to the falls from the parking spot just off the main highway. When Dan and I went there, we were the only people there and could enjoy the waterfall all to ourselves! To me, Koropuku Falls is the best waterfall in the Catlins, and one of the best places to go in the South Island, New Zealand.

Waterfalls in the Catlins
The most beautiful and peaceful waterfall in the Catlins!

Curio Bay

This turquoise green bay is perfect for swimming in the summer, however, at all times of the year this area is great for spotting wildlife such as whales, seals, dolphins, and penguins. There is a holiday/caravan park in Curio Bay that is a good spot to spend the night right in the thick of it all!

curio bay is one of the est south island destinations
Curio Bay is one of the best South Island destinations!

Slope Point

Slope Point is the southernmost point of New Zealand. Starting at a small carpark you walk through a farmer’s field of sheep to get there and then have views of the ocean and coastline. It’s a fun little adventure and, hey, you get to say you went to the southernmost point of New Zealand!

slope point is a great south island destination
Slope Point, the most southern point of New Zealand!

The West Coast

The West Coast along the South Island offers a ton of unique and beautiful things to do and see. A road trip along the West Coast is guaranteed to be memorable and a great way to explore the many South Island destinations.

Some of my favourite places along the West Coast include:

The Blue Pools

A beautiful blue river that pools under a suspension bridge. It is only a 20-minute walk to the Blue Pools and you can go swimming, take in the views, or even jump off the bridge (if you dare!)

The Blue Pools New Zealand
The Blue Pools is one of the “must-see” places to go in the South Island, New Zealand

Thunder Creek Falls

Along Haast Pass, you’ll see a sign for Thunder Creek Falls. This waterfall towers 96m high and is only a two-minute walk to access. It makes for a great spot to stop and stretch your legs

Thunder creek Falls, New Zealand
Taking in the amazing views at Thunder Cree Falls!


I love the town of Punakaiki and what surrounds it. There is a blowhole, the famous Pancake Rocks, as well as the Truman Walk which takes you to some pretty limestone cliffs on the beach. But overall, the whole area is exciting with lots to explore. I’d recommend spending a day or two there!

pancake rocks
Pancake Rocks

Franz Josef

Franz Josef town is famous for Franz Josef Glacier and the nearby Fox Glacier. To be honest, I didn’t find these glaciers too exciting but if you have never seen a glacier before then they are well worth checking out. In town there is also a wildlife centre which always has lots of kiwis and the best hot springs I’ve been to in New Zealand!

franz Josef Hot pools
The Franz Josef Hot Pools!

The Marlborough Sounds

Beaches, beaches, and more beaches! The Marlborough sounds are located in the north of the South Island and there you will find tons of secluded beach bays. Turquoise bags with towering green covered mountains surrounding them.

Be sure to get out on a cruise in the Marlborough sounds to try and spot some of the unique birds as well as explore one of the islands!

The nearby Abel Tasman National Park is also worth exploring. If you have time, do a multi-day hike in the park and camp along the beaches on the way!

The Marlborough Sounds are a beautiful region!
The Marlborough Sounds are a beautiful region!

And there you have it, the best South Island destinations. These places to go in the South Island are sure not to disappoint and are guaranteed to make your travels very memorable. While you could spend months exploring the South Island, if you focus on these places then you will see the highlights for sure!

Do you know of some South Island destinations that I missed? Tell us about it in the comments! 

If you are travelling more in New Zealand, be sure to check out our other New Zealand blogs, we have tons of tips and info to offer!

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