Lying in the south-west Pacific, New Zealand is similar in size to Great Britain or Japan and is made up of the North and South Islands. Gloriously uncrowded with a population of only 4 million people, Aotearoa – as we’re also known – is a land of extreme diversity. From pristine, untouched beaches to lush rainforests, snow-capped mountains and glacier-fed lakes, New Zealand packs a lot in for such a small country. Below, we’ve put together a bit of a guide to what the South Island is all about – intended to help you get a feel for New Zealand and help you find out which parts of the country you might like to come and visit. 

An intriguing palette of soaring mountain ranges, dense emerald forests, sweeping plains and picture-perfect coastline, the South Island is distinctly different to the North. Because it’s further south it’s slightly colder, but it is home to comparatively grander landscapes and natural attractions. A small group tour exploring New Zealand’s South Island is one of the best ways to soak up its beauty.

Mountainous wonders

The backbone of the island is the rugged and beautiful Southern Alps, a towering mountain range that runs through the centre of the island. These mountains are surrounded by an environmental wonderland of turquoise lakes, huge glaciers and ancient fiords; all of which are in close driving proximity to one another. This ease of access makes it simple to experience some of New Zealand’s grandest natural wonders.  The Southern Alps feed glaciers that reach almost to sea level and you can walk to the grand ice faces mere minutes from the car park. Further south, the pristine lakes, mountains and national parks that surround the Lakes district are simply spectacular and a must-see for visitors.

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Picture-perfect coastline 

The coastline located at the top of the South Island is one of New Zealand’s best-kept secrets. The picture-perfect beaches and crystal-clear, temperate water of Nelson’s Abel Tasman National Park and the Marlborough Sounds surprise and delight visitors year-round. What’s also surprising is the amount of sunshine hours these regions receive – some of the highest in the country. Kayaking, swimming, snorkelling and boat cruises abound in this part of the country. Further south you’ll find the wild and remote shores of the West Coast – not suitable for swimming or sunbathing; but its wild windswept beauty and fascinating history making it a unique and worthwhile place to visit. On the east coast there are fantastic whale and dolphin encounters to be had just offshore from Kaikoura, and Christchurch is home to some pretty beaches, best visited during the summer months.

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The culture of the South

There’s a real ‘kiwi can-do’ culture in the South Island. Many locals descend from the first New Zealand pioneers; their ethic of hard work and ‘mucking in’ passing down through generations. From huge sheep Stations in the Central Otago high country to the dairy farms of the Canterbury plains, local South Islanders are hardy, down-to-earth and friendly. Stop by for a yarn or two in the local pub or enjoy the hospitality and lunch at a country homestead to learn a little more about life down south.

Inspired to explore New Zealand’s South Island? Consider a small group tour with MoaTrek. From the soaring peaks of the Southern Alps to the glacier carved sounds and the perfect coastline of Marlborough, our tours showcase the very best of New Zealand’s South Island. Find out more here or contact us now.  

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