New Zealand has to be one of the most picturesque countries I have ever seen. The whole country is incredible but if you are looking for snow capped mountains, beautiful lakes, & glaciers the South Island is the place to be. No matter what time of year you choose to travel here you’ll witness the most incredible natural scenery. Are you ready to fall in love with New Zealand? Here is your New Zealand South Island ultimate travel guide.
HOW TO GET THERE
To get to the South Island you can fly into either Christchurch or Queenstown. Either airport is a reasonably close drive to many tourist destinations. If you’re coming internationally from a country a far distance to New Zealand most airlines will take you to Auckland first, on the North Island, then you can proceed to take another flight to the South Island. Alternatively if you have more time I suggest driving through the North Island to the South Island.
If cruising is your thing there are plenty of cruises that depart from Australia and travel to New Zealand. This is a great relaxing way to travel but can leave you with less freedom on the destinations you travel to.
HOW TO GET AROUND
The best ways to get around New Zealand are to either rent a car & stay in hotels or rent a camper van & camp throughout New Zealand. All the rentals in Queenstown have an extra fee so you can expect to pay a bit more for your rental compared to other parts of New Zealand. The best place I found in Queenstown to rent a car is Discount Car Rentals who had significantly lower prices than anywhere else I found. I highly recommend them, they had great customer service and low prices. If you’re interested in renting a camper van there are a lot of choices all generally in the same price range. Some of the popular ones include Maui & Juicy rentals.
BEST PLACES TO GO
There are so many incredible places to visit throughout the South Island. I’ve narrowed down a few of my favourites. Add all of these places to your itinerary, no trip to New Zealand would be complete without them.
LAKE TEKAPO & LAKE PUKAKI – Possibly two of the bluest lakes I’ve ever seen, both of these lakes are a must see! The lakes are glacier fed which gives them their incredible blue colour. Both of these lakes are located within half an hour drive from each other so it’s easy to visit both. There’s a village with accommodation around Lake Tekapo so this is the place to stay if you want to hang out here for a couple days.
MOUNT COOK – For some of the most picturesque scenery with snow capped mountains all year round, Mount Cook is the place to visit. There are some beautiful hiking tracks around Mount Cook with something to suit all fitness levels. The Hooker Valley Track is an easy flat track with breathtaking views the entire way.
MILFORD SOUND – No trip to New Zealand is complete without a visit to Milford Sound. This is honestly one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen. There are plenty of boat cruises that take you throughout Milford Sound getting up close to the wildlife. This is an experience you won’t forget!
For more inspiration on destinations to visit, check out my complete South Island Road Trip Guide.
WHERE TO STAY
If you’re planning on travelling to New Zealand in the peak seasons (winter & summer) I highly recommend booking your accommodation well in advance. Many of the smaller towns have very limited accommodation and will book up early. You can find all South Island accommodation here. Below are my top recommendations for each location.
QT Queenstown – For a beautiful relaxing hotel with and incredible lake view QT Queenstown is the hotel to stay. You’ll receive world class customer service during your stay here. The hotel features a pool, amazing views, and an onsite bar & restaurant.
YHA Queenstown Central – For budget accommodation in the centre of Queenstown, I love to stay at the YHA Central Hostel. They have everything you need for an enjoyable stay including a kitchen, tv room, and a great location. They also have a Lakefront hostel location if you prefer some beautiful views.
Oakridge Resort Lake Wanaka – I stayed at this beautiful hotel during my time in Wanaka. It’s very reasonably priced and has some beautiful outdoor hot pools to relax in. It’s surrounded by nature but still close to the town.
Wanaka Haven – If you’re looking for a luxurious and secluded resort, check out Wanaka Haven. This picturesque hotel ensures a beautiful and peaceful stay in Wanaka. During your stay here you’ll get an outdoor fireplace, a delicious breakfast and an outdoor swimming pool.
YHA Lake Tekapo – For affordable & comfortable accommodation in the best location, the Lake Tekapo YHA Hostel is the perfect place to stay. It’s located right in front of the lake with lake views from the common rooms. And it is probably one of the most well thought out hostels I’ve stayed at with literally everything a traveller needs.
Peppers Bluewater Resort – For an upscale hotel resort near Lake Tekapo, Peppers Bluewater Resort is the ideal hotel. It’s close to the lake and features incredible lake views. The is a top awarded hotel with upscale modern amenities .
Mount Cook has very limited accommodation so I recommend booking well in advance no matter what time of year you’re planning on travelling there.
Mt Cook Lodge & Motel – This is a great option for Mount Cook . They have both hotel rooms and dorm rooms so there’s something to suit every budget. It’s been recently renovated so you can expect modern amenities in the heart of Mount Cook.
Hermitage Hotel Mount Cook – If you’re looking for a beautiful high-end hotel then this is the option for you. You’ll get breathtaking mountain views from your room, modern facilities and great service.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
TOURIST VISA – Recently implemented in October 2019, all people entering New Zealand (with the exception of New Zealand residents & Australian citizens) need an ETA visa. The ETA Visa (Electronic Travel Authority) needs to be applied for and approved before you are able to enter New Zealand. To get the visa you can apply on the New Zealand government website or on the app “NZeTA” which gives you a bit of a discount.
LUPIN SEASON – If you’re visiting from mid November to mid December it’s one of the most picturesque times to travel to New Zealand. This is the time of year that the Lupin flowers are in bloom. The most beautiful fields of Lupins lie around Lake Tekapo. The peak of the season is at the end of November where you’ll find endless fields of flowers throughout the South Island. But be warned, this season comes with large crowds so make sure you book your Lake Tekapo accommodation early.
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