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South Island, New Zealand Guide for UK Travellers

New Zealand is at the top of the destination wishlist for many UK travellers, and the South Island is rich in sweeping landscapes, glaciers, rare wildlife, and great activities to add to your travels. 

Most UK visitors stay in New Zealand for 3-4 weeks, usually hiring a campervan and driving between cities. The most popular time to visit New Zealand is during the summer months, with locations rich in natural attractions and historical sites being of particular interest. While the summer months are great for getting out and exploring, the warmer weather means the best locations can be loud and crowded.

With these factors in mind, here we’ve outlined ideas for key locations and activities for an amazing South Island travel experience while minimising time in crowds. 

Fiordland Region

Te Anau 

Te Anau is known as the Gateway to Fiordland National Park, and we’d recommend spending at least a few nights here to do some of the great activities in the area. From Te Anau, you can access two of New Zealand’s Great Walks, The Kepler Track, and the Routeburn Track, both with day hike options. A visit to the glowworm caves is also a magical underground activity to add to your travels, and you can visit the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary to see the endangered Takahē bird. Te Anau also serves as the perfect base for exploring Milford Sound, which is a priority destination for international travellers. 

Milford Sound

Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most breathtaking locations, where you’ll be mesmerised by the dark fiord waters surrounded by towering mountains and cascading waterfalls. A Milford Sound Cruise is a must-do activity while in New Zealand, offering the best way to see the famous fiord and surrounding landscape. 

Milford Sound, Luxe Tours NZ

Milford Sound is around a 2-hour drive from Te Anau, but it will take around 4 hours when accounting for all the amazing stops along the road. The only road access is via Milford Road, which is narrow and winding, and it can be very crowded during the warmer months, making it difficult to navigate. Many visitors find that a guided tour is the best option for getting to Milford Sound, as it ensures a stress-free visit where you’ll be guided through all the amazing stops along the way and delivered safely, and on time, to your cruise. There are many tour operators to choose from, but if you want to avoid crowds, then it’s a good idea to choose a small group tour, and just make sure you book tours and cruises in advance.

Queenstown and Wanaka

Queenstown and Wanaka Lake Walks

The Queenstown lakefront walk is easy to access from the centre of town and is a 25-minute easy loop track. You’ll get great views of the Remarkables mountain range, which are quite hidden if you’re in town. 

In Wanaka, you can take the easy 1-hr Waterfall Creek Track from the centre of town, heading left along the lakefront. You’ll get to walk past the famous Wanaka tree, and you can stop in at the Edgewater Resort for a coffee and a bite to eat. 

Queenstown Gondola and Kiwi Park

Luge Queenstown, Luxe Tours NZ

Hop on board a gondola for beautiful views out over the landscape. The lines can be busy, but you can enjoy a private viewing experience once inside the gondola. 

The Kiwi Park is beside the gondola terminal and allows for some peaceful nature time in the middle of town. There are a variety of New Zealand wildlife species to see, such as the Tuatara, and you will also get the opportunity to see a kiwi bird up close. 

Famous Food Stops

Ferg Burger: World-famous for high-end and inventive burgers, Ferg Burger is a Queenstown must-do. If you go after 6 pm, you can usually avoid long lines and wait times. 

Patagonia: For delicious ice cream and luxurious chocolates, stop in at Patagonia Ice Creamery and Chocolaterie, found in both Queenstown and Wanaka. The quietest times to go are usually between 12-3 pm. 

Cromwell and Bannockburn

Cromwell and Bannockburn can sometimes be overlooked, but exploring these towns will provide you with some of the best views of Central Otago Landscapes. Cromwell is located between Queenstown and Wanaka, and Bannockburn is a six-minute drive from Cromwell. 

Cromwell Heritage Precinct: Lake views and golden mountains form the backdrop of Cromwell’s heritage precinct, where you’ll find charming historic buildings, boutique shops, art galleries, and cafes. Stop in at Penny Black Bar for tasty sharing plates, signature cocktails, and local beer and wine. 

Coffee Afloat: Beginning from the Cromwell Heritage Precinct, The Lake Dunstan trail takes you past this floating cafe. With a 2-hour one-way lakeside walk or an 11-minute drive from Cromwell, you can enjoy barista coffee, ice creams, and delicious baked goods with a view.

Cromwell Bannockburn Sluicings, Luxe Tours NZ

Bannockburn Sluicings: A local favourite, this 1.5-hour walking loop track takes you through the historic Bannockburn gold field, where you’ll find the remains of dams, water races, and caves. In summer, you can even sample fruit from the trees planted in the 1860s.

The Catlins: The Catlins Coastal area is a beautiful rugged coastline located on the Southeastern corner of the South Island, where you can explore native forests, swim beneath waterfalls, and encounter rare marine life.

Purakaunui Falls: An easy 20-minute walk will lead through dense native forest to this beautiful three-tiered waterfall that is one of the most photographed places in the Catlins. 

Curio Bay: Here you’ll find a picturesque beach where daily dolphin sightings are common in summer. You can also take a 10-minute walk to the petrified forest, where you can see fossilised forest remains from 200 million years ago, and at low tide, you can stroll through the fossilised tree stumps. The petrified forest is also a favourite hang-out spot for fur seals, sea lions, and yellow-eyed penguins. 

Nugget Point: An easy 20-minute return walk will take you along the coastline to one of New Zealand’s oldest lighthouses. You’ll receive panoramic views from the platform, and you’ll likely see fur seals and sea lions basking on the rocks below. Early morning and sunset are particularly stunning viewing times.

Nugget Point, Luxe Tours NZ

Dunedin City

Visitors love Dunedin’s dynamic landscape of hills and valleys at the foot of the harbour, as well as the preservation of Victorian and Edwardian architecture throughout the city. Dunedin is also known as the wildlife capital of New Zealand, as there are many opportunities to see rare wildlife not too far from the centre of town. 

Dunedin New Zealand, Luxe Tours NZ

Heritage Experiences

Toitu Settlers Museum and Otago Museum

Both museums are located near the centre of town, and they offer fascinating insights into New Zealand and Dunedin’s heritage and cultural history. 

Walking the City Streets

What’s great about the centre of Dunedin is that there are many places within walking distance of each other. Strolling throughout the centre of town, you can view historic buildings like the Railway Station, St Paul’s Cathedral, and the Dunedin Court House. 

Olveston Historic Home

You’ll find this home perched on top of an inner-city hill, and you can walk the gardens and tour the home for a glimpse of early 1900s Dunedin. 

Food Stops:

The Perc Cafe: Located on the main street of town, this cosy cafe offers great coffee and delicious cabinet food. Consider trying a cheese roll here, an Icon of New Zealand’s lower South Island invented during the Second World War. 

Good Good: Good Good is the home of simple but delicious burgers in Dunedin. The quirky industrial-style space is fun and inviting, with a cute caravan kitchen, relaxed furniture, and interesting wall art. 

The Esplanade: At the Esplanade, you can find delicious Italian cuisine composed of locally sourced ingredients that you can enjoy while looking out over the stunning St-Clair beachfront. 

Nature and Coastal Activities:

Seasider Train Dunedin, Luxe Tours NZ

Seasider Train: Running every Sunday from 27th December to 28th March, the train takes you on a 3.5-hour journey along the coastline for incredible views of the Otago Harbour and the beautiful bays around Dunedin. The trip includes a 2-hour stop North of town, where you can catch a bus to Arc Brewery and enjoy craft beer and delicious food truck snacks. 

Otago Peninsula Wildlife Stops: Along the Otago Peninsula, many places offer tours for you to get to know some of the rare wildlife around Dunedin. You could take a tour at the OPERA (Otago Peninsula Eco Restoration Alliance) to see the endangered yellow-eyed penguins and head to the Royal Albatross Centre for a guided tour of the only mainland Albatross colony in the world.

Canterbury Region


The township looks out across a vibrant turquoise lake towards the Southern Alps mountain range, providing beautiful views and great photo opportunities. Here you can explore numerous lakeside walking trails, the historic Church of the Good Shepard, and visit the outdoor hot springs. The area is also a UNESCO dark sky reserve, and you can take a stargazing tour for an exploration of the southern night sky.

Tekapo Hot Pools

Aoraki/Mount Cook 

To visit New Zealand’s highest peak, you can drive into the Aoraki/Mount Cook village and choose from various hiking trails that provide views of the towering mountain, such as the 2-hour return Hooker Valley Track ending at a glacial lake, or you can book a helicopter tour for a closer look. 

Mount Cook Hooker Valley Track, Luxe Tours Nz

Omarama Clay Cliffs 

These otherworldly cliffs formed over a million years ago due to ancient glacial flows. Composed of silt layers, the uniquely shaped pinnacles are a stunning piece of New Zealand’s geological history. As they’re on private land, you need to pay $5 to access the track, and there is a donation box at the gate. 

Banks Peninsula - Christchurch

Christchurch is full of numerous activities, but the peninsula is particularly beautiful and great for avoiding inner-city crowds. There are multiple walks along the peninsula to explore beautiful bays, and if you’d like to get out on the water, you can book a cruise with Akaroa Dolphins for some sightseeing and wildlife spotting.

West Coast New Zealand Glacier, Luxe Tours NZ

West Coast Glaciers

Located in South Westland on the South Island’s West Coast, you’ll find New Zealand’s most accessible glaciers, the Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. These glaciers are rare, as they are two of only a few glaciers in the world still flowing to near sea level. 

The glaciers are only a 30-minute drive away from each other, and you can take an easy 30-minute walk to the foot of Franz Josef Glacier. To see Fox Glacier, take an easy 2-hour return walk along the Southside Walkway through ancient rainforest to two glacier viewpoints.

From the breathtaking fiords of Milford Sound to the historic charm of Dunedin and the majestic glaciers of the West Coast, the South Island presents an array of opportunities for exploration and discovery. Whether marveling at mountains, encountering rare wildlife, or taking in local history, the South Island promises an adventure full of rich heritage and spectacular landscapes.

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