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South Island Things to Do for Australians

Australians make up a significant proportion of New Zealand’s total tourism, and the rugged and mountainous environment of New Zealand’s South Island is a favourite destination for many Australian visitors. Visiting Milford Sound is a priority for most visitors but with the South Island’s array of stunning landscapes, thrilling activities, and great food stops, there are other numerous options to create a spectacular getaway.

With so many great activities and stops on offer, it can be difficult to narrow down where to go and what to do, so here we’ve outlined some ideas for how you can experience the wonders of New Zealand's South Island with our holiday idea guide tailored just for you.

Getting to New Zealand’s South Island

Compared to other countries, New Zealand is just a short flight across the ditch for Australians, and there are numerous direct flights from Australia to New Zealand throughout the year. To get to New Zealand’s lower South Island, you can choose to fly into Queenstown or Christchurch. The majority of Australian visitors choose to fly into Queenstown, hire a vehicle, do some activities in Queenstown, explore some other amazing South Island locations, and then fly out of Christchurch. It’s easy to hire vehicles in Queenstown and Christchurch, and most hire companies will also have options for one-way travel, so you can hire a vehicle in one city, and then drop it off in the other.

Airlines providing direct flights to Christchurch and Queenstown include Air New Zealand, Qantas, Jetstar, and Virgin Australia, and you can expect to pay between $250 - $450AUD for a standard flight one way to Queenstown or Christchurch, but airlines also run deals throughout the year to grab cheaper flights. 

When to visit

The best time of year to visit the South Island will depend on your preferences, and Australians visit New Zealand throughout all seasons of the year, averaging around 46% of New Zealand’s total tourism numbers. 

Summer is a popular month for most international visitors to New Zealand, but while visitor numbers from other countries decrease in the colder months, Australian tourism numbers remain steady, and often increase, making up around 69% of New Zealand’s total tourism in the off-season. 

Eglinton Valley, Milford Sound, Luxe Tours NZ

Why do Australians enjoy New Zealand’s colder months? It’s hard to know, but based on what we’ve heard from our Australian visitors, many like the months of May to October because New Zealand’s South Island experiences more defined seasonal patterns compared to most places in Australia. Australian visitors often love the vibrant colours of Autumn in the lower South Island and the multiple opportunities to get out in the snow over winter, particularly in higher altitude areas like Milford Sound. Visiting in the colder months also means there are fewer people on the roads and at the popular locations. So if these factors sound good to you, then hopping on over here during the autumn to winter months could be a great option. 

Exploring Fiordland 

Milford Sound

Milford Sound is on the travel itinerary of most international travellers, and when you enter the world-famous fiord, it’s easy to see why. In every direction, towering mountains stretch into the sky, draped in lush green forests and tumbling waterfalls. In the colder months, the area is particularly stunning, where you’re surrounded by snow-cloaked mountains and glass-like fiord waters. 

Milford Sound in South Island Things to Do, Luxe Tours NZ

Guided Tours and Cruises 

The best way to see the fiord is from the water on a Milford Sound cruise. There is a range of cruise operators to choose from, and many have fully equipped restaurants and bars on board.

The only road access to Milford Sound is via Milford Road from Te Anau, and taking a guided tour will ensure you get to see all the best spots on the road and get to your cruise on time. Tours also include a cruise as part of the package, so all the timing and organisation will be done for you. Tours are especially recommended in winter when there is ice and snow on the road. Milford Sound tours are easily booked online, just make sure you book in advance. 

Helicopter Flight Milford Sound

Milford Sound Tour Helicopter Add-On 

For a truly spectacular Milford Sound visit, consider a helicopter tour add-on. A helicopter trip add-on will see you flying over Milford viewing the mountains from above before landing on the top of a glacier. You’ll also get to drink some pure glacier water and view alpine lakes. This experience is even more incredible in winter when the landscape is blanketed with snow. 

Te Anau, Luxe Tours NZ

Staying in Te Anau

Most Australian visitors fly into Queenstown and then head over to Te Anau for a few nights, visit Milford Sound, then travel back to Queenstown and do other South Island activities from there. Visiting Milford Sound from Te Anau allows a more relaxed visit than trying to drive to Milford Sound from Queenstown all in one day, and it also allows you to explore Te Anau. Te Anau has beautiful scenery, multiple dining options, and fun activities to add to your Fiordland visit, such as the mystical glowworm cave tour and Wings & Water Float Plane. 

Central Otago Highlights

Queenstown and Wānaka


Adrenaline-Fueled Activities 

Queenstown and Wānaka are popular destinations for skiing, as there are four world-class ski areas close by. The Remarkables, Coronet Peak, Treble Cone, and Cardrona all provide great ski and snowboarding experiences paired with spectacular views.

Queenstown is also home to the world’s first bungy-jump location off the Kawaru bridge. Or if you’re after the ultimate adrenaline hit, Queenstown also has the Nevis bungy, New Zealand's highest bungy at 134m, and the longest free-fall time of 8.5 seconds. Wānaka and Queenstown are also popular skydiving locations, offering incredible views while you fall (safely) out of the sky.

Tasty Food Stops

Fergburger Queenstown, Luxe Tours NZ

Ferg Burger: This popular stop is Queenstown's most famous eatery, and when you see the queue of people lining the main street, you realise pretty quickly that it’s not your average burger bar. With generous filling portions, housemade ingredients, and burgers assembled freshly on-demand, their fame is justified. Waiting in the Ferg Burger queue has become an essential Queenstown experience, but if you don’t fancy waiting, it’s possible to strike a queue-free time outside prime meal hours. 

Rakau woodfried pizza: Located in Arthur’s Point, just a five-minute drive from central Queenstown, Rakau may not be as famous as Ferg Burger but is equally delicious. Their pizza bases taste just as good as their locally sourced pizza toppings. The picturesque location tucked below the mountains makes for a lovely lunch or dinner stop, and with rustic outdoor seating and outdoor fire to warm you on cold days, it’s a comforting, cosy food stop for your travels. 

Wānaka Food Truck Village:

In downtown Wānaka, you’ll find the newly-developed food truck village that is the place to go for diverse food options and a tranquil park setting. Crystal-clear waters run through the park, and you can sit on the grass banks or outdoor seating to enjoy a range of food options, including Turkish, Asian, and Mexican cuisines. 

Wanaka Food Truck Village, Luxe Tours NZ

Where is arrowtown, Luxe Tours NZ


Situated between Queenstown and Wānaka, you’ll find Arrowtown, a quaint historic town surrounded by mountains. Arrowtown offers a tranquil break in between the adventurous hustle and bustle of Queenstown and Wānaka, where you can explore the rich gold-mining history, charming village streets, and indulge in delicious food and drink while gazing at beautiful mountain scenery. 

Historic Charms

Wonder around the historic gold mining ruins beneath the trees, try your hand at gold panning, visit the award-winning Lakes District Museum, and even get some fun Victorian-style photographs taken to add to your holiday album. 

Arrowtown Autumn Festival

Arrowtown Autumn Festival

Arrowtown is stunning in Autumn when the hills and streets come alive with the vibrant yellows, reds, and oranges of the season. If you’re visiting the South Island during the last week of April, then consider attending the Autumn Festival for several days of events, including an ANZAC remembrance service, a street market, street performers, an outdoor movie night, a street parade, and participating in a duck race down the Arrow River. Some activities are free, and some need to be booked online. Check out their website for more information. 

Blue Door Bar, Arrowtown, Luxe Tours NZ

The Blue Door Bar

The Blue Door is a speak-easy-style bar hidden away in a little stone alleyway off Arrowtown’s main street. The bar is a local favourite and is loved by visitors and celebrities from all over the world. You probably wouldn’t notice it unless you were looking for it, so keep your eyes peeled. 

At the Blue Door, you can enjoy local wine, beer, and signature cocktails. It’s a perfect place to relax and socialise, and in colder months, you can get cosy by the wood fire and treat yourself to mulled wine and specialty winter cocktails. 

Canterbury Attractions

After you have explored Fiordland and Central Otago, then head over to the Canterbury region. Canterbury is New Zealand’s largest region, and it’s also where you’ll find Mount Cook National Park, home to Aoraki/Mount Cook, NZ’s highest peak. 

Mt Cook National Park

Mount Cook, Luxe Tours NZ

If you’d like to explore on foot, then the Hooker Valley track provides an easy hike that feels as if you’re walking up in the Mountains. The three-hour return track leads you through the Hooker Valley alongside the Hooker River, ending at the glacier lake, where you’ll be rewarded with incredible views of ice burgs and Aoraki/Mount Cook. 

You could also take a helicopter flight tour of Mount Cook, landing on Tasman Glacier, or there are Mount Cook guided tour options as well. We’d recommend having a search online for a guided tour option that’s right for you, and make sure you book in advance to secure a seat. 

Lake Tekapo/Takapō

Lake Tekapo/Takapō is about a 1.25hr drive from Mount Cook,  and as part of a UNESCO Dark Sky reserve, the area is dazzling at night under the star-covered sky. 

There are also some great activities in Tekapo to add to your travels, such as the Tekapo Springs Snowtube Park. From May to October, you can jump on an inner tube and take in beautiful lake and mountain views as you slide down the snowy slope before enjoying a relaxing drip in the outdoor hot springs. Or if you want to skip the snow tubing, a relaxing visit to the Tekapo Springs Hotpools is a superb activity on its own, especially at night under the stars.

Tekapo Stargazing Tours, Luxe Tours NZ

Stargazing Tours

If you’d like to fully immerse yourself in the night sky, you could take a stargazing tour with a professional astronomy guide who will take you on a star-filled journey of ancient stories about constellations and science, as well as Greek mythology and Māori legends. You will also get the opportunity to use a telescope to view a variety of fascinating deep-sky objects. There are private and group tour options available, and you can easily book these online. 

Exploring Christchurch

Christchurch is the largest urban centre in New Zealand’s South Island. There are a range of attractions to choose from in Christchurch, such as the International Antarctic Centre, an award-winning visitor destination where you can see penguins up close, learn about Scott Base, experience the storm dome, and take a ride in an all-terrain vehicle. 

Christchurch New Zealand, Luxe Tours NZ

Christchurch also has a vibrant art scene, and you could explore the street art in the city or visit the Art Centre to check out the current concerts and exhibitions available. If you’d prefer heading to the outer edges of Christchurch, then get in some sightseeing along the Banks Peninsula by heading to Akaroa or Lyttleton, picturesque coastal towns with fantastic cafes and restaurants. Or if you haven’t had enough adventure activities, then spend a day at the Christchurch Adventure Park for ziplining fun over the city. 

From the beauty of Milford Sound to the adrenaline rush of Queenstown, and the serenity of Lake Tekapo under a starry sky, your South Island holiday will be full of diverse and unforgettable experiences. With convenient access, stunning landscapes, and a plethora of activities, the South Island offers Australians a spectacular getaway just across the ditch.

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