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.
Sun, golden sands, culture, wine and the magical Marlborough Sounds.
Glaciers and wild wet wilderness.
The majesty of the Southern Alps sweeping down to the Canterbury plains. Includes the largest city on the South Island, Christchurch.
Town and cities
- 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
- Abel Tasman National Park
- Aoraki Mount Cook National Park
- Arthurs Pass National Park
- Fiordland National Park - access to several great hikes and the route to Milford Sound
- Kahurangi National Park
- Marlborough Sounds
- Nelson Lakes National Park
- The Catlins - rough road through gorse bushes and scrub
- Westland National Park - ice, luscious bush and the wild sea
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.
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.
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 between 3 and 3 1/2 hours.
Two standout train routes are on the South Island. The Arthurs Pass. Rated as one of the most scenic train journeys in the world.
Buses are a cheap way to get around to the main centers of the South Island. There are a range of types of services, from a luxury coach service to minivan shuttles. Shuttles which service a local area can be found in the regions and towns which they service.
- InterCity Coachlines, ☎ 09 623 1503 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . High quality coaches and extensive nationwide network. edit
- Newmans Coach Lines, ☎ 09 623 1504, . High quality tourist coach linking Christchurch, Queenstown, Milford Sound and the West Coast Glaciers. edit
- nakedbus.com, (email@example.com), . Cheap, nasty, bad customer reviews, many abandoned passengers. edit
- Atomic Shuttles, ☎ 03 349 0697 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: 03 349 3868), . Lower cost shuttles with extensive network edit
- Knight Rider, ☎ 03 342 8055 or 021 781 852 (fax: 03 342 8055), . Evening/night bus service from Christchurch to Invercargill via Dunedin edit
- Bottom Bus, ☎ 03 434 7370 (fax: 03 434 7376), . Dunedin, Catlins, Invercargill, Te Anau, Milford Sound. edit
- West Coast Shuttle, ☎ 03 768 0028 or 027 492 7000 (email@example.com, fax: 03 768 0328), . 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
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 (off the Interislander ferry) and Christchurch.
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.
- Spectacular scenery
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.
Things to do include:
- Otago Central Rail Trail  A 150km trail on disused railway lines between Clyde and Middlemarch for walking, cycling and horse riding.
- Crayfish - from the seas around Kaikoura
- Mussels - farmed in the Marlborough Sounds
- Scallops - from the seabed off Nelson
- Lamb - most notably from Canterbury
- Wine - from Marlborough or Central Otago.
- Beer - watch out for the local brews.
- Fruit Juice - in Central Otago.
Don't eat too much scoop ice-cream!