If you’re anything like me, picking a starting point can be a fairly daunting prospect. Over the years and after many road trips, I’ve finally compiled a list of the best views you can find on the South Island. Which one is your favourite?
1. Mitre Peak in Milford Sound
Few spots in New Zealand can wow quite like Milford Sound. Topping everyone’s bucket list, it’s always worth the long drive down or costly flight over. It’s one of those rare places that’s beautiful no matter the weather. Even if it’s raining you’ll be graced with hundreds of temporary waterfalls cascading down from the mists and, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a glimpse of the iconic Mitre Peak dominating Milford Sound.
2. Curio Bay in the Catlins
If you’re looking for a peaceful and quiet seaside escape, the Catlins tucked away on the bottom of the South Island has always been one of my favourite spots. Endless beaches, beautiful forest walks, and a few quirky spots in between await you down here.
Well off the beaten tourist trail, you’ll only find the most interesting of people down here, if you meet anyone at all. My go-to camping location is in Curio Bay, a great little surf spot, and home to a colony of endangered Hector’s dolphins, which might even accompany you on a surf.
3. Mt. Roy, Wanaka
Roy’s Peak (or Mt Roy) in Wanaka is quite possibly one of the most Instagrammed spots in New Zealand.
Overlooking Wanaka and down the Matukituki Valley with a panorama of Tititea/Mt Aspiring, this is not a hike to forget your camera on.
It’s a bit of a slog uphill, along an easy four-wheel-drive track for a few hours with no shade or water spots, but trust me, it’s worth it. And if that’s not up your alley, you can always hop in a helicopter and fly to nearby Coromandel Peak for the same views without the hassle.
4. Punakaiki on the West Coast
The West Coast represents what the rest of New Zealand used to look like back in the day, before so much of the forest was cleared for farming. As you drive along the coastline, or wander in the rainforests, it’s easy to see why.
I’ve never seen such a wild and ancient place. It’s as if dinosaurs or moas could pop out at any instant. And nothing is more spectacular than watching the huge waves pummel against Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki, shooting water dozens of metres into the air through the many blowholes.
5. Abel Tasman
While the South Island is known for its stunning glaciated peaks around the Southern Alps, let’s not forget the tropical white sandy beaches and turquoise waters of the Abel Tasman.
Whenever I am in need of some sunshine, I head there. Make time for a paddle around coves and inlets like Torrent Bay, or at Split Apple Rock in Kaiteriteri.
If I didn’t live in Wanaka, I’d probably live in Kaikoura. With huge mountains and an epic coastline, it really is the best of both worlds.
Whether you are whale-watching from a plane or boat, or swimming with dolphins, there is an activity for everyone in Kaikoura. Just make sure to eat some crays while you’re there, and watch the sunset from the viewpoint above the town. It’s a stunning spot.
7. The Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve
The South Island has some of the world’s best stargazing, especially around the Mackenzie Basin in Canterbury. This encompasses Mt Cook, Tekapo, and Twizel. That means this area is intentionally maintained with almost no light pollution, so the stars shine here in a way you have likely never seen anywhere else in the world.
And if you are really lucky, and are facing south at the right moment, you might even get a glimpse of the Aurora Australis or Southern Lights.
8. Autumn in Arrowtown
Few places on the South Island experience autumn colours quite like Arrowtown. By April, this area comes alive with reds, oranges, and yellows, and makes it a beautiful place to spend a day or weekend, with so much to do within arm’s reach.
One of my favourite spots to see the colours is on the back road from Queenstown to Coronet Peak to Arrowtown.
Marlborough is one of those areas I retreat to for some rest and relaxation. There’s a superb foodie scene, and the abundance of Sauvignon Blanc certainly helps. While I have a handful of favorite wineries I love to visit, none stand out quite like Yealands Estate near Blenheim. If you want to a visit a winery that packs a punch and has some of the best views, it’s this one.
10. Aoraki/Mt Cook
I have saved the best for last, Aoraki/Mt Cook, New Zealand’s biggest mountain. No matter where you stand, it never fails to impress. Just the drive down to the village will knock your socks off. You come in along neon blue Lake Pukaki, with Mt Cook shimmering in the distance.
My top must-do is the Hooker Valley walk because it’s stunning and pretty easy, and I love taking people who visit out there, but if you are feeling more intrepid, I’d prepare an overnight pack and head up to the Mueller Hut. It’s one of the most epic hikes I’ve ever done.