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New Zealand South Island Bucket List – South Island Must Do

The South Island of New Zealand is a captivating destination known for its stunning landscapes, adventure activities, rich cultural heritage, and diverse wildlife. Whether you’re seeking natural wonders, adrenaline-pumping adventures, or cultural experiences, the South Island offers an array of must-visit destinations. To make things easier to plan your epic trip, we have curated an Ultimate New Zealand South Island bucket list that will help you make the most of your journey. You will find over 130 South Island Must Do things to add to your list.

Tasman Glacier
Tasman Glacial Lake at Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

Our bucket list is not just a generic compilation; it’s based on our own personal experiences and things we love about the South Island. We have carefully selected each activity, attraction, and destination to showcase the best of what this remarkable island has to offer. Moreover, these recommendations are not just from our own perspective but also from the feedback and experiences of our valued visitors.

So, whether you’re a nature enthusiast, an adventure seeker, or a cultural explorer, we invite you to keep reading to discover the best South Island attractions. Let our Ultimate New Zealand South Island bucket list be your South Island travel guide to a truly remarkable adventure.

Table of Contents for New Zealand South Island Bucket List

South Island Landmarks & Highlights

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

Visit New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki/Mount Cook, and explore the surrounding alpine landscapes, glaciers, and hiking trails.

Additionally, you can take a scenic flight to witness the awe-inspiring glaciers and snow-capped mountains or a Glacier Explorers boat trip on Tasman Glacial Lake. This tour is out of this world as you visit a glacier and cruise past floating icebergs!

For anyone who loves hiking, the Hooker Valley Track is a must do in South Island New Zealand.

Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound

Mountain & Sea view at MIlford Sound
Romantic getaway at South Island’s Milford Sound

Immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring beauty of Fiordland National Park, home to the iconic Milford Sound.

Hiking the famous Milford Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, and immerse yourself in the majestic mountains, pristine lakes, and cascading waterfalls.

Cruise through the fjords, witness cascading waterfalls and marvel at the dramatic mountain landscapes and towering peaks. Anticipate to see untouched nature and wildlife such as seals and birds.

Additionally, the kea parrot is predominant in the Fiordland National Park. During our stay at Milford Sound Lodge / Rainforest Campervan Park, to our delight, we had many keas visit our campsite in the late afternoon.

Abel Tasman National Park, Nelson

Male hiker walking at the start of the Abel Tasman track

Discover the coastal paradise of Abel Tasman National Park, with its golden beaches, crystal-clear waters, majestic waterfalls and lush forested trails

The Able Tasman National Park is a nature lover and hiker’s paradise and one of our favourite areas on the South Island. One of the most stunning coastal walks in the country, add a visit to this park to your New Zealand South Island bucket list.

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, West Coast

Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk

Experience the extraordinary Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, where you can hike, take a helicopter tour, or even try ice climbing. 

Witnessing the dramatic ice formations and stunning glacial landscapes is a once-in-a-lifetime experience you will cherish for the rest of your life.

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, West Coast

Pancake Rocks limestone formations
Pancake Rocks

Head over to the wild West Coast of the South Island, explore the coastal trails and witness the unique natural rock formations at Punakaiki. In the shape of pancake stacks, the limestone formations will mesmerize you. Try to time your visit during high tide to witness the blowholes when they are most impressive.

Lake Tekapo and the Church of the Good Shepherd, Canterbury

View of Lake Tekapo & The Church of the Good Shepherd
Lake Tekapo & The Church of the Good Shepherd

Another South Island must-do is a visit to the iconic Church of the Good Shepherd and Lake Tekapo, The historic landmark on the lake’s edge is spectacular.

Equally scenic are the stunning turquoise glacial waters of Lake Tekapo, surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Make sure to take a drive around the lake for viewing from different vantage points.

South Island Natural Wonders Bucket List Ideas NZ

Hokitika Gorge, West Coast

Hokitika Gorge view of bush and blue natural pool
Hokitika Gorge

Take a journey to Hokitika Gorge and marvel at the vibrant turquoise waters surrounded by lush native forests. 

This natural wonder offers a serene and picturesque setting. We guarantee you will be absolutely stunned, especially if the sun is shining, at the colour of the water. Make sure to add this gorge to your “Must do New Zealand South Island” list.

Discover the Last Frontier at Doubtful Sound

For those seeking an extraordinary adventure, discover the untouched wilderness of Doubtful Sound, a remote paradise nestled within Fiordland National Park. The pristine wilderness experience will leave you in awe.

To reach this untouched paradise, you cruise across a lake, and then take a bus, and finally board a boat to enter the majestic Doubtful Sound.

This fjord will captivate you with its tranquil waters, towering mountains, cascading waterfalls, and lush rainforests. Look out for dolphins, seals, and penguins that call this place home.

The Catlins, Otago

One of the more remote places to see in South Island New Zealand, is the rugged beauty of The Catlins. 

Marlborough Sounds

The Blue waters of the Marlborough Sounds

Explore the stunning Marlborough Sounds, a network of ancient sunken river valleys featuring pristine waterways, secluded bays, and lush forests. 

Take a kayak or boat tour to immerse yourself in this serene and picturesque natural paradise. 

In fact, the best way to get to the South Island is via Marlborough Sounds on the ferry from the North Island to South Island New Zealand.   

Every time we take the trip between the two islands, we feel smug, as not only is the cost of the ferry paying for our transport costs, but it’s also paying for a scenic tour of the Marlborough Sounds!

You will find yourself surrounded by dramatic coastlines, stunning beaches, native forests, picturesque waterfalls, and opportunities to spot native wildlife.

Drive Through Arthurs Pass and the Southern Alps

Journey through Arthur’s Pass National Park, a mountain pass connecting the east and west coasts of the South Island. The mountainous region is known for its rugged landscapes, waterfalls and deep gorges.

If you only have time for one road trip, make it a scenic drive through the Southern Alps and Arthrus Pass. It’s one of our favourite road trips in New Zealand.

Explore the walking tracks, take in the panoramic views, and spot native birdlife such as kea parrots.

Te Waikoropupu Springs / Pupu Springs

the clearest blue waters of Te Waikoropupu Springs

Visit the largest freshwater springs in New Zealand, renowned for their incredible clarity and cultural significance to the local Māori iwi (tribe).

Pupu Springs is one of the freshest and most beautiful springs we have seen!

Nelson Lakes National Park

Boat at boat launch on Lake Rotoiti, South Island.

Explore the alpine landscapes, glacial lakes, and hiking trails in this stunning national park, including the picturesque Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoroa.

Just take note, they are very cold. While they are dazzling, we prefer hiking in the area over swimming in the chilly glacial water.

Mount Aspiring National Park

Venture into Mount Aspiring National Park, characterized by its pristine wilderness, towering peaks, waterfalls and glacial valleys. 

Mount Aspiring National Park is home to some epic New Zealand hikes, such as the Routeburn Track and Rob Roy Glacier Track. Additionally, go kayaking, jet boating or take a scenic flight and view it all from above. 

South Island Bucket List Alert- Take Some Photos at Lake Matheson

Lake Matheson Jetty Lookout view of mountain and bush reflection in lake

Those photos you have seen of picture-perfect reflections of snow-covered mountains were likely taken at Lake Matheson, near Fox Glacier. 

This picturesque lake, known for its mirror-like surface, offers stunning views of the surrounding Southern Alps.

The best times to go are at sunset for the gorgeous light and colours on the lake. 

South Island Beaches for Your New Zealand Bucket List

Kaikoura

A whales tail seen in the ocean at Kaikoura
It was a thrilling experience seeing the whales in Kaikoura.

Relax on the picturesque shores of Kaikoura, known for its abundant marine life and opportunities for whale watching, swimming with dolphins, and sampling delicious seafood.

Kaikoura is one of our favourite towns on the South Island. We especially love the coastal walks where we always see plenty of birds and seals up close!

Kaiteriteri Beach, Nelson

Golden sands and clear water of Kaiteriteri Beach.
Kaiteriteri Beach. A South Island Must Do!

Another of our favourite destinations on the South Island, we have been having family trips here for over 20 years.

Kaiteriteri Beach, renowned for its clear turquoise waters and stunning coastal scenery, has been voted one of the best beaches in New Zealand.

You can choose to relax on the golden sands of Kaiteriteri Beach, take a cruise, or hike in the nearby Able Tasman National Park.

Tahunanui Beach

Another childhood favourite, Tahunanui Beach, the closest beach to Nelson City, is an expansive golden sand beach.

Relax on the sandy shores of Tahunanui Beach, enjoy a swim in the calm waters, partake in various water sports or simply enjoy the views of the picturesque bay.

Moeraki Boulders, Otago

One of the more popular NZ South Island attractions with international visitors is the unique spherical boulders scattered along Koekohe Beach. 

The Moeraki Boulders create an otherworldly atmosphere and offer beautiful photo opportunities.

Wharariki Beach, Golden Bay

Female walking on sand dunes at Wharariki Beach, Golden Bay.

Discover the rugged beauty of Wharariki Beach, with its dramatic rock formations, dunes, and long stretches of sandy coastline.

After a scenic walk to get there, you will feel like you have reached the end of the world.

More information on Golden Bay

Wharariki Beach is just one of the many extraordinary walks in Golden Bay; for a complete list of the best walks, read The Best Golden Bay Walks for Short Adventures.

For a list of the best things to do in Golden Bay, read, Discover The 24 Best Things To Do In Golden Bay, New Zealand.

St Clair Beach, Dunedin

Take a stroll along St Clair Beach in Dunedin and enjoy the picturesque views, coastal cafes, and the iconic St Clair Hot Salt Water Pool.

Tunnel Beach

Uncover the beauty of Tunnel Beach, located just south of Dunedin. 

Walk through a hand-carved tunnel to reach a secluded beach surrounded by towering cliffs and natural rock formations.

Hokitika Beach, West Coast

Hokitika Beach sign at sunset

Wander along Hokitika Beach and witness the stunning driftwood sculptures that line the shore, creating a unique and artistic atmosphere.

Sumner Beach, Christchurch

Enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of Sumner Beach, popular among locals and visitors alike for its beautiful scenery, surf breaks, and beachside cafes.

Taylors Mistake, Christchurch

Appreciate the peaceful ambience of Taylors Mistake, a secluded beach offering excellent surfing and beautiful views of the surrounding cliffs.

New Brighton Beach, Christchurch

Our favourite beach in Christchurch is close to the city, yet you feel a world away from the bustle of the city.

Stroll along the New Brighton Pier and the long beach, and make sure to visit the new hot pools.

We haven’t been to the hot pools yet, but we hear it’s becoming a must-visit destination in Christchurch. We have it listed on our very own New Zealand South Island bucket list!

South Island Adventures for Your South Island Bucket List

River and bush view at Kohaihai campsite.
West Coast South Island in our campervan

Go on a New Zealand South Island Road Trip

Embark on a memorable South Island road trip and explore the stunning landscapes, captivating towns, and iconic destinations. 

Drive along the Wild West Coast across the Southern Alps, visit the breathtaking Milford Sound, explore the adventure capital of Queenstown and the scenic wonders of Southland, and immerse yourself in the pristine beauty of Abel Tasman National Park. 

A South Island road trip offers an unforgettable journey through New Zealand’s remarkable natural wonders and is a New Zealand South Island must do!

Campervan Road Trip and Freedom Camping

Experience the ultimate freedom of exploring New Zealand on a campervan road trip. 

With a campervan, you have the flexibility to create your own adventure and immerse yourself in the country’s natural beauty. 

One of our favourite adventures is to take advantage of freedom camping, where you can park your campervan in designated areas and enjoy the serenity of the surroundings. 

Nothing is more thrilling than waking up to stunning landscapes from the best campsites in the South Island, from beachside spots to remote wilderness, and embracing the true essence of freedom.

Christchurch Gondola

Ride the gondola to the top of the Port Hills for panoramic views of Christchurch, the Southern Alps, and the Canterbury Plains.

Take a Tram Around Christchurch

Hop aboard the Christchurch Tram, a heritage tram that takes you on a scenic journey through the city’s major attractions, including the Botanic Gardens, Cathedral Square, and more.

Visit Glenorchy

Venture to the scenic town of Glenorchy, located at the head of Lake Wakatipu. Surrounded by mountains, forests, and pristine lakes, it’s a perfect spot for outdoor activities and breathtaking natural beauty.

Glenorchy is approximately 45 kilometres northwest of Queenstown, making it a scenic and easily accessible road trip.

See Lake Wanaka & Lake Hawea

Visit the beautiful Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, located near the town of Wanaka. 

These picturesque lakes offer stunning views, tranquil surroundings, and a range of water activities.

While you are there, look out for the iconic Wanaka Tree and capture an iconic Instagram photo.

Centre of New Zealand

For those who are after unique things to do in South Island New Zealand, take a hike up Botanical Hill to reach the Centre of New Zealand. The significant landmark offers panoramic views of Nelson and its surrounding region.

Read Next – Transport NZ: Travelling Around New Zealand.

Cable Bay Adventure Park, Nelson

Get your adrenaline pumping with a range of adventure activities, including paintball, mountain biking, ziplining over the forest canopy, and quad biking at this scenic park.

If you are wondering where to go for family fun, add the Cable Bay Adventure Park to your New Zealand South Island bucket list.

International Antarctic Centre

Experience a simulated Antarctic storm, meet Little Blue Penguins, and learn about the remarkable scientific expeditions to the icy continent.

Stargaze at Mount Cook and Tekapo’s Dark Sky Reserve

Experience the awe-inspiring beauty of the night sky by stargazing at Mount Cook in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. 

As a designated Dark Sky Reserve, this location offers exceptional visibility for stargazers. There is also a possibility to see the mesmerizing Southern Lights.

The elusive Southern Lights are on our own NZ bucket list!

While in the area, from Tekapo, you can join tours that specialize in stargazing experiences. They take you on a journey through the universe, sharing fascinating insights about the night sky and celestial wonders.

Read Next –Romantic Getaways South Island New Zealand.

Go on a Hike on one of South Island’s Great Walks

Swing bridge across the river.

Go on an unforgettable hiking adventure along South Island’s renowned Great Walks.

Discover the Fiordland National Park’s mesmerizing rainforests and awe-inspiring panoramic mountain views on the more famous walks, the Milford Track, the Kepler Track or the Routeburn Track.

However, there are 7 South Island Great Walks to choose from. They range in length from 32 km to 78km. Make sure to book early, as they are in demand.

Hike Iconic Roy’s Peak  

For a shorter walk, just a few kilometres from Wanaka, go on a memorable hike up Roy’s Peak. 

The trail spans approximately 16 kilometres (10 miles) roundtrip and typically takes around 5 to 6 hours to complete. 

Ascend through alpine meadows and be rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of Lake Wanaka, the Southern Alps, and the surrounding landscapes. 

Take a Scenic Flight Over the Southern Alps

We are in awe of the Southern Alps and consider a scenic flight over them a South Island must do!

We have done a flight in Franz Josef, and the views are mind-blowing! The next one on our own bucket lists is Mount Cook National Park.

Thrilling Adventure Activities in the South Island of New Zealand

Franz Josef or Fox Glacier Heli-Hike, West Coast

Franz Josef Glacier view up close.
Franz Josef Glacier is a must for your New Zealand South Island Bucket List

Experience the exhilaration of a heli-hiking adventure on Franz Josef or Fox Glacier, exploring the icy terrain and enjoying breathtaking views.

If that’s too extreme, just take a scenic flight which lands on top of the mountain where you get off for 5 minutes for a stroll in the snow and photos.

Heli-Skiing in Wanaka

Take to the skies in a helicopter and access remote mountain peaks for an exhilarating heli-skiing adventure in the stunning backcountry of Wanaka.

Ride the Great Taste Cycle Trail

Cycle the Great Taste Cycle Trail in Nelson and explore the region’s stunning landscapes, vineyards, and orchards. 

This New Zealand Great Ride is 200km long though you can choose to make it as long as you prefer.

White Water Rafting in Buller River, Westport

Navigate the rapids of the Buller River on an adrenaline-pumping white water rafting expedition, taking on thrilling drops and challenging rapids.

Skydiving in Franz Josef

Feel the rush of adrenaline as you leap from a plane and experience the thrill of freefall before parachuting to the stunning landscapes of Franz Josef Glacier.

Ziplining in Christchurch Adventure Park

Soar through the treetops on a zipline adventure at Christchurch Adventure Park, enjoying panoramic views of the Port Hills and the surrounding landscapes.

Climbing to the top of Baldwin Street, Dunedin

Conquer the world’s steepest residential street by walking or simply admiring this quirky and iconic attraction from your car.

Canyoning in Abel Tasman National Park

Discover the natural beauty of Abel Tasman National Park through canyoning, descending waterfalls, jumping into pools, and navigating through stunning canyons.

Thrilling Adventure Activities in Queenstown

Indulge in the Adventure Capital of New Zealand, where you can go skiing or hiking and partake in an oversupply of adventure activities. 

A visit to Queenstown is usually at the top of most travellers’ South Island bucket list.

  • Skiing: Enjoy world-class skiing or snowboarding at one of Queenstown’s four ski fields- The Remarkables, Coronet Peak, Treble Cone or Cardrona
  • Bungy Jumping: Dare to bungy jump from the Kawarau Bridge or the Nevis Bungy, the highest in New Zealand.
  • Skydiving and Paragliding: Experience the thrill of flying over Queenstown and its stunning scenery.
  • Jet Boating: Ride a jet boat through the narrow and fast Shotover River canyons. This is a thrillseekers South Island must do event!
  • Hiking: Hike to the summit of Ben Lomond or Queenstown Hill and admire the amazing views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and beyond.
  • Skyline Queenstown: Take a gondola to the Skyline complex and enjoy attractions such as luge rides and views.

Discover all the things New Zealand is known for. Read next – What is New Zealand Famous For?

South Island Historical Landmarks 

Larnach Castle

Explore New Zealand’s only castle. Located on the Otago Peninsula, you can wander through its stunning gardens while enjoying panoramic views.

Olveston Historic Home, Dunedin

Step back in time at the Olveston Historic Home, a beautifully preserved mansion in Jacobean architecture style.

The Octagon, Dunedin

Discover Dunedin’s central hub, surrounded by beautiful historic buildings and landmarks.

Akaroa Historic Village, Banks Peninsula

Akaroa Lighthouse, South Island New Zealand

Explore the charming French heritage of Akaroa and its historic buildings.

Nelson Provincial Museum, Nelson

Immerse yourself in the history and culture of Nelson at the Nelson Provincial Museum. Discover artifacts, artworks, and exhibitions that tell the stories of the region.

Visit the Lighthouse at Nugget Point

Journey to Nugget Point, located on the Otago Coast, and visit its iconic lighthouse. Enjoy stunning coastal views and the chance to spot seals, sea lions, and seabirds.

The Nugget Point Lighthouse was first lit on March 4, 1870. This historic lighthouse has been guiding ships and sailors for over 150 years, standing as a testament to New Zealand’s maritime heritage.

Oamaru Victorian Precinct, Oamaru

View of Victorian buildings in Harbour Street, Oamaru Victorian Precinct
Oamaru Victorian Precinct

Enthral at the preserved Victorian-era buildings and charming streets of Oamaru. “New Zealand’s most complete collection of Victorian buildings” dates back to the 1860s.

The Oamaru Victorian Precinct is one of our favourite historical sites in New Zealand. We consider it a do not miss on the South Island bucket list.

Dunedin Railway Station, Dunedin

Admire the grand Edwardian architecture of the Dunedin Railway Station, often called the “Gingerbread House.”

Take a tour of the beautifully restored interior and admire the grandeur of this historic landmark.

Christchurch Cathedral, Christchurch

Visit the iconic Christchurch Cathedral, a symbol of the city’s resilience and restoration. 

The Christchurch Cathedral was damaged in the Canterbury earthquakes. The current rebuild includes its stone structure, a reinstated bell tower, a viewing platform, a cafe and a visitors centre.

Construction is expected to finalise by 2028.

Shantytown

Transport yourself back in time at Shantytown, a living museum that recreates the Gold Rush era. This immersive West Coast experience allows you to explore a reconstructed pioneer village complete with heritage buildings, vintage machinery, and interactive displays. You can even try your hand at gold panning.

Shantytown offers a fascinating glimpse into New Zealand’s history, making it one of the best places to visit in South Island NZ for history enthusiasts and curious travellers alike.

TSS Earnslaw, Queenstown

Step aboard the historic TSS Earnslaw, a vintage steamship on Lake Wakatipu. 

Enjoy a scenic cruise, learn about the ship’s history, and take in the stunning mountain views.

Historic Arrowtown, Queenstown

Step back in time as you explore the charming streets of Historic Arrowtown. Discover the preserved gold rush-era buildings, visit the local museum, and learn about the region’s rich history.

Another historic town we love. Travellers love it too. Make sure to add it to your New Zealand South Island bucket list.

Arrowtown Chinese Settlement

Learn about Chinese gold miners’ history at the Arrowtown Chinese Settlement. 

The heritage-listed restored village dates back to the Otago Gold Rush of the 1860s.

Nelson Cathedral

Admire the grandeur of Nelson Cathedral, a beautiful Gothic-style church with intricate stained glass windows and a peaceful ambience.

Founders Heritage Park

Step back in time and explore the recreated historic village, complete with heritage buildings, displays, and a vintage railway.

Otago Museum

Immerse yourself in the fascinating exhibits of the Otago Museum, which showcases natural history, Māori treasures, and interactive science displays.

Art & Culture for your South Island Bucket List

Explore the Christchurch Art Gallery/ Te Puna o Waiwhetū, housing an impressive collection of contemporary and traditional art from New Zealand and beyond.

World of Wearable Art and Classic Cars Museum, Nelson

Immerse yourself in the world of creative wearable art at this unique museum, which also features a collection of classic cars, offering a fascinating blend of art and automotive history.

Steampunk NZ

Entry to historic Victorian building of Steampunk HQ
Steampunk HQ

Steampunk NZ, located in Oamaru, is a world where Victorian aesthetics blend with futuristic elements, creating a captivating and whimsical atmosphere. 

Explore the Steampunk HQ, a gallery showcasing imaginative and intricate interactive steampunk artworks. Marvel at the quirky sculptures and vintage machinery and be transported to an alternative reality where creativity knows no bounds.

We’ve voted Steampunk HQ the coolest gallery in New Zealand and had lots of fun there on our recent visit. 

Explore the rich heritage and artistic treasures of the Lakes District Museum & Art Gallery.

In the quaint town of Arrowtown, this cultural gem offers a captivating journey through the history, culture, and art of the region.

Discover fascinating artifacts, delve into local stories, and admire impressive artworks that showcase the talent and creativity of the area.

The Lakes District Museum & Art Gallery is a South Island must do for arts and culture lovers. Ranked in the top 3 art galleries on the South Island of TripAdvisor, add it to your South Island bucket list.

Te Ana Māori Rock Art Centre, South Canterbury

Learn about the ancient rock art and stories of Ngāi Tahu at this informative tribal cultural centre.

Take a personalized guided tour to Māori rock art sites and see New Zealand’s first art galleries.

Rare Creations

Step into the fascinating world of Rare Creations, an interactive wooden art gallery. 

Located in Upper Moutere, this unique gallery showcases exquisite wooden sculptures and artworks. 

Immerse yourself in craftsmanship and creativity as you explore the captivating displays. Engage with the interactive elements and marvel at the intricate details. Rare Creation is a must-visit destination for art enthusiasts and those looking for unique things to do in South Island New Zealand. 

Discover the enchanting world of The Lost Gypsy Gallery. This captivating gallery, located in Papatowai, showcases a collection of whimsical and imaginative creations. 

Step into a realm of art and innovation where recycled materials come to life in unexpected ways. Engage with interactive installations, marvel at quirky contraptions, and let your imagination run wild. 

Immerse yourself in contemporary and traditional art at one of NZ’s four major metropolitan art galleries. The Dunedin Public Art Gallery hosts local and international exhibitions. From stunning paintings to thought-provoking sculptures, the Dunedin Public Art Gallery offers a captivating experience for art enthusiasts of all kinds.

The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora

Immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora. Located in Christchurch, this cultural hub is a dynamic space where art, heritage, and community converge. Discover captivating exhibitions, attend engaging performances, and explore creative workshops. Explore the Gothic Revival buildings and the largest collection of Category 1 heritage buildings in New Zealand.

Waka Tours, Queenstown

Experience a Waka tour on Lake Wakatipu, where you can paddle a traditional Māori canoe (a waka) and learn about Maori customs and the significance of the lake and its surroundings to the local Māori. 

For a unique adventure for your New Zealand South Island bucket list, this cultural experience should be one of your “Must dos South Island New Zealand.”

Arahura Greenstone Tours, Hokitika

Join a guided tour with Arahura Greenstone Tours in Hokitika and discover the significance of greenstone (pounamu) to the Māori culture. Learn about the carving and crafting of this precious stone. Arahura Greenstone Tours’ Maori guides share ancient tales and take you to the sacred Arahura River to try your hand at finding your own greenstone.

South Island Shopping and Markets for your South Island Bucket List

Street art mural on wall in Takaka
Street art on the main street in Takaka

Village Market Takaka

Discover the eclectic Golden Bay Market in Takaka. This cool market has lots of vintage items and live entertainment. It features local produce and arts and crafts.

If you visit only one market on The South Island, make sure it’s this quirky local market. Add it to your New Zealand South Island bucket list and also spend the day perusing the diverse shops on the main street of Takaka.

Lyttelton Farmers Market

Immerse yourself in the vibrant community spirit of the Lyttelton Farmers Market in Christchurch. 

Held in the charming port town of Lyttelton, this bustling market showcases the best of local produce, artisanal goods, and delectable treats. Experience the lively atmosphere while supporting local growers and artisans.

Otago Farmers Market, Dunedin

Experience the bustling Otago Farmers Market, where you can sample local delicacies, purchase fresh produce, and explore a wide variety of artisanal products from the region.

Marlborough Farmers Market, Blenheim

Indulge in the flavours of Marlborough at the Marlborough Farmers Market, featuring fresh local produce, delicious food stalls, and a lively community atmosphere.

Nelson Market, Nelson

Browse through the stalls of the Nelson Market, held every Saturday morning, showcasing a diverse range of products, including arts, crafts, clothing, jewellery, and delicious food.

Nelson Market is one of our favourite New Zealand markets for fresh produce. Much of the produce comes from the local gardens in the area.

Arts and Crafts Market, Queenstown

Experience the Arts and Crafts Market in Queenstown, where you can find locally made arts, crafts, jewellery, and unique souvenirs.

Located on Lake Wakatipu, the Arts and Crafts Market in Queenstown is one of the best markets in the South Island as far as scenery is concerned.

Christchurch Farmers Market, Christchurch

Explore a treasure trove of delightful offerings at the Christchurch Farmers Market, a vibrant gathering held every Saturday morning. Indulge in a diverse selection of fresh produce, artisanal food, locally crafted goods, and handmade treasures.

High Street, Christchurch

Explore the trendy boutiques, designer stores, and specialty shops along High Street in Christchurch, offering a range of fashion, homewares, and unique gifts.

The Tannery, Christchurch

Step into The Tannery, a boutique shopping precinct in Christchurch housing all things Kiwi-made and vintage in a beautifully restored historic building. Browse through a variety of fashion, homewares, and artisanal products, and enjoy a meal at one of the charming cafes.

Visit South Island’s largest mall, Westfield Riccarton

If large malls are your thing, add Riccarton Westfield to your South Island things to do bucket list NZ. 

The largest mall in the South Island, Riccarton Westfield, has a variety of shops, a food court and a cinema.

Riccarton Market

Discover the vibrant atmosphere of Riccarton Market, the largest outdoor market on the South Island with over 200 stalls. This bustling marketplace offers a wide variety of products, from fresh produce, unique souvenirs, delectable treats, and gourmet food to handmade crafts, clothing, antiques and more. Pretty much anything you can think of. We once bought a sky satellite dish from a stall owner at this market.

Riccarton Market is a NZ must do and a must for the “New Zealand South Island bucket list” for those who love shopping!

Wildlife in the South Island Highlights

Kea in the wild
Spotting a kea is a South Island Bucket List Must Do!

Kaikoura

Embark on a wildlife adventure in Kaikoura, known for its abundant marine life. Take a boat tour to see whales, dolphins, and seals in their natural habitat.

Akaroa

Akaroa offers the opportunity to indulge in a wildlife cruise. You can swim with dolphins in Akaroa too.

The Akaroa wildlife cruise was one of our favourites as we witnessed an abundance of wildlife in a short span. 

If you adore wildlife, history, and quaint towns, Akaroa is an unquestionable New Zealand South Island must do.   

Read Next – Romantic things to do in Akaroa, NZ.

Willowbank Wildlife Reserve

Encounter New Zealand’s native wildlife, including kiwis, tuataras, and keas, as well as exotic animals like wallabies and lemurs.

Willowbank has three different sections, one of which is a farmyard section which is fantastic for families from cities that don’t usually get to see farm animals.

Otago Peninsula

Visit the Otago Peninsula near Dunedin, where you can spot rare and endangered wildlife, including the Royal Albatross, Penguins, and New Zealand Fur Seals.

Stewart Island/Rakiura

Discover the untouched wilderness of Stewart Island/Rakiura, home to the iconic kiwi bird. Take a guided tour to increase your chances of spotting these elusive creatures. Rakiura National Park is known for its rich Māori history and cultural significance. 

Te Anau Glowworm Caves, Fiordland

Explore the magical Te Anau Glowworm Caves, where thousands of luminescent glowworms create a mesmerizing sight in the underground caves.

Penguin Colonies, Oamaru

Visit the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, one of the largest breeding colonies of Blue Penguins in New Zealand. Watch as these charming creatures return to shore at dusk.

Orana Wildlife Park, Christchurch

Experience the Orana Wildlife Park, where you can encounter a wide range of native and exotic animals, including lions, giraffes, kiwis, and many more.

Orokonui Ecosanctuary

Visit this 307-hectare native forest sanctuary and spot endangered species and rare wildlife, such as Takahē, Kākā, Tūī, Kererū, and Tuatara, in their natural habitat.

They also have a cafe serving classic Kiwi food with a view.

For nature photographers and lovers, Orokonui Ecosanctuary is a NZ must do!

See a Kiwi on the South Island

Spotting a kiwi in the wild can be challenging due to their nocturnal habits and shy nature. 

However, you can increase your chances by visiting wildlife sanctuaries and conservation centres dedicated to protecting these unique creatures. 

West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef, Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch, and the Kiwi Park in Queenstown are just a few places where you can get up close and personal with Kiwis while learning about their conservation efforts.

Don’t miss your chance to encounter New Zealand’s elusive kiwi bird. This national treasure is a South Island must do for your New Zealand South Island bucket list!

Spot a Kea

Keep an eye out for the mischievous and intelligent kea birds. These alpine parrots are known for their playful behaviour and vibrant plumage. You might spot them in the mountains around Queenstown and Wanaka.

Indulge! 

Mountain and hot spring view
New Zealand South Island Bucket List alert for Maruia Hot Springs

Maruia Hot Springs

Escape to the serene oasis of Maruia Hot Springs and immerse yourself in the therapeutic waters of these natural mineral-rich thermal springs.

Nestled amid breathtaking wilderness, this tranquil destination offers a haven for rejuvenation. For the ultimate relaxation experience, indulge in the sauna and steam room, and enjoy the panoramic mountain views from the glass doors.

Thermal pools are “our thing,” and Maruia Hot Springs are our favourite hot pools in the South Island. For this reason alone, you need to add it to your South Island bucket list.

Indulge at the Onsen Hot Pools South Island

Relax and unwind at the Onsen Hot Pools, situated in Arthur’s Point near Queenstown. Soak in private cedar hot tubs while enjoying magnificent views of the Shotover River and the surrounding mountains.

If you don’t add this to your South Island Bucket list, you are missing out on one of life’s greatest pleasures!

Hanmer Springs Hot Pools South Island

Speaking of indulgence, there’s nowhere more luxuriating than the hot pools at Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa. 

Nestled in the heart of picturesque Canterbury, the charming alpine village, Hanmer Springs, is renowned for its soothing hot springs. Immerse yourself in the therapeutic waters and let your worries melt away. 

Escape to the tranquil oasis of Hanmer Springs, where you can book a massage, a private spa and a sauna, as well as soak in numerous public hot pools. 

Visit a Winery, South Island New Zealand   

To start with, we need to advise you that going to a New Zealand winery is a must-do for your bucket list New Zealand South Island.

New Zealand excels in winemaking and has many awarded winemakers. So do yourself a favour and visit at least one winery while you are in NZ.

Central Otago Wine Region

Explore the world-renowned Central Otago wine region, known for its exceptional Pinot Noir. Visit wineries such as Felton Road, Mt. Difficulty, and Carrick Winery to indulge in wine tastings and breathtaking vineyard views.

Visit the Wanaka Wineries

Indulge in the flavours of the Wanaka region by visiting local wineries. Sample a range of award-winning wines while enjoying the beautiful vineyard surroundings.

Marlborough Wine Region

Discover the Marlborough wine region, famous for its Sauvignon Blanc. Take a tour of wineries such as Cloudy Bay, Brancott Estate, and Villa Maria, and savour the region’s signature varietals.

Waipara Valley Wine Region

Journey to the Waipara Valley, just north of Christchurch, and explore its boutique wineries. Taste a variety of wines, including Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, while enjoying the beautiful landscapes.

Gibbston Valley Winery

Explore the renowned Gibbston Valley wine region for tastings. Take a cellar tour at wineries such as Chard Farm, Gibbston Valley Winery and Peregrine Wines.

Peregrine Wines is a state-of-the-art winery known for its stunning architectural design and exceptional wines with an underground cellar.

South Island Food & Nightlife

Seafood platter with sea view
Indulging in a seafood platter at The Pier, Kaikoura

The Pier, Kaikoura

One of the most enjoyable dining experiences we’ve had was the waterfront dining at The Pier. Their diverse menu focuses on local ingredients and seafood. The best thing about this place is the incredible views over the ocean. We were there at sunset and also saw the moon rise at the same time! Magic!

Queenstown

Discover the lively atmosphere of Queenstown, where you’ll find an array of restaurants, bars, clubs, and entertainment options. 

Queenstown is not only known as the adventure capital of South Island but also as the party capital.

If you want to start drinks early, there are happy hours and sunsets drinks, and then you can party into the night and go dancing at one of the Queenstown nightclubs. Check out the bars in and around Church Street.

The Octagon: Dunedin’s Vibrant Nightlife Hub

Though just as vibrant is the nightlife of Dunedin’s Octagon, lined with lively bars, restaurants, and live music venues. This dynamic area serves as the heart of the city’s social scene, offering a perfect opportunity to mingle with locals and experience the vibrant energy of this student city. 

The World Bar, Queenstown

Experience the eclectic and lively atmosphere of The World Bar in Queenstown. Enjoy a range of drinks, live music, and themed nights at this iconic nightlife spot.

Pegasus Bay Winery, Waipara

Indulge in a culinary experience at Pegasus Bay Winery’s acclaimed restaurant. Sample their exquisite wine selection, expertly paired with seasonal and locally sourced dishes that showcase the best of New Zealand’s produce.

Monteith’s Brewery

Discover the rich brewing heritage of Monteith’s Brewery. Located on the West Coast, this brewery offers guided tours that provide insight into brewing techniques and a chance to sample their wide range of beers, including their famous Monteith’s Original.

We went to this brewery recently, and the food was outstanding, as was the experience.

A visit to Monteith’s Brewery is a must for your West Coast South Island bucket list.

Kaikoura Nins Bin

Delight your taste buds with fresh, locally sourced seafood from Kaikoura Nins Bin. This charming coastal town is renowned for its delectable seafood dishes, including crayfish and other ocean delicacies. Nins Bin is a local icon; the food truck serves fresh seafood with sea views. Don’t miss your chance to try a delicious New Zealand crayfish.

Christchurch Riverside Market

Immerse yourself in the vibrant food scene at Christchurch Riverside Market. This bustling marketplace is home to a variety of vendors offering an array of delicious treats, from artisanal bread and pastries to gourmet cheeses and international cuisine.

We adore this market. It’s one of the places to see in South Island New Zealand that we take all our visiting relatives to.

Tramway Restaurant, Christchurch

Enjoy a unique dining experience aboard the Tramway Restaurant in Christchurch. The beautifully restored heritage tram travels through the city’s picturesque streets while you savour a gourmet meal.

Fergburger, Queenstown

Sink your teeth into a legendary Fergburger in Queenstown. This iconic eatery is famous for its mouthwatering gourmet burgers, made with fresh, high-quality ingredients that leave a lasting impression.

Whitebait, West Coast

Sample the delicacy of whitebait on the West Coast. These tiny, translucent fish are a local specialty, typically served as a fritter, allowing you to savour their unique flavour.

You can find them in pubs and local takeways in season.

Mussels in Marlborough

Plate full of deep fried mussels from the Mussel Pot in Havelock

Visit Marlborough, renowned for its world-class wine production and delectable green-lipped mussels. Indulge in these plump and juicy shellfish, best enjoyed steamed or in a flavorful seafood chowder. 

Head to Havelock and explore the Mussel Pot, where you can savour freshly cooked green-lipped mussels in various mouthwatering preparations. 

Enhance your experience with a Greenshell Mussel Cruise, cruising through the picturesque Marlborough Sounds while savouring the flavours of these renowned delicacies. 

Ice Bar Queenstown

Step into the icy wonderland of one of Queenstowns ice bars, where everything is made of ice. Brace yourself for an exhilarating experience as you enter the bar, surrounded by walls, furniture, and even glasses sculpted from ice. 

Don your provided warm jackets and gloves as you sip on your favourite drink in this unique and frozen setting. 

An Ice Bar Queenstown visit offers a one-of-a-kind experience. The experience is ranked No. 1 for nightlife in the South Island on TripAdvisor. That makes it a South Island must do for your South Island bucket list.

Speight’s Brewery Tour & Meal, Dunedin

Experience a fascinating tour of Speight’s Brewery in Dunedin and get a behind-the-scenes look at the beer-making process. 

Learn about the history of this iconic brewery and enjoy a delicious meal paired with its renowned craft beers.

South Island Bucket List for Festival and Show Lovers

People in the Feral Fashion best-dressed competition at Hokitika Wildfoods
Hokitika Wildfoods Festival Feral Fashion best-dressed competition

Hokitika Wildfoods Festival, Hokitika

Venture to the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival, where you can try unique and adventurous culinary creations, such as huhu grubs, whitebait fritters, and wild game delicacies.

Arts Festival Dunedin

Experience the Arts Festival Dunedin, a celebration of local and international arts and culture. Enjoy a diverse range of performances, including music, theatre, dance, and visual arts, held in various venues across the city.

Marlborough Wine and Food Festival, Blenheim

Join the annual Marlborough Wine and Food Festival, a showcase of the region’s renowned wine and culinary delights. Sample a wide variety of wines, indulge in local gourmet food, and enjoy live entertainment.

New Zealand International Film Festival

In various locations around NZ, catch the New Zealand International Film Festival, which brings a curated selection of international and local films to cinemas across the South Island. 

Dunedin Craft Beer and Food Festival

Experience the ultimate celebration of craft beer and delectable cuisine at the Dunedin Craft Beer and Food Festival. This lively event brings together local brewers, food vendors, and beer lovers for a flavorful extravaganza. Indulge in a wide range of craft beers and savour mouthwatering dishes prepared by talented local chefs. With a vibrant atmosphere and entertainment, the Dunedin Craft Beer and Food Festival is a must-visit for beer enthusiasts and foodies alike.

These recommendations offer a glimpse into the diverse and captivating experiences available on the South Island of New Zealand. Whether you’re seeking iconic landscapes, cultural immersion, vibrant nightlife, thrilling activities and adventures, stunning beaches, or natural beauty, the South Island offers something for everyone on their bucket list.

So, pack your bags, prepare for breathtaking moments, and get ready to tick off the items on your South Island bucket list. 

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