The 10 Best Free Things To Do In New Zealand: South Island

Attractions in South Island New Zealand

New Zealand Attractions / December 5, 2020

Isabel Leong has chosen her favourite South Island spots after a recent road trip.

Travel blogger Isabel Leong visited New Zealand for 10 days in May, travelling with three friends in a campervan. Here, she chooses her top 19 favourite places in the South Island.

"There was so much to do and see in the South that the only limiting factor was time and weather, " she says.

"While everyone's travelling pace and priorities might differ, there are certain attractions in the South you simply cannot leave without witnessing, for the sights are simply stunning."

Isabel Leong

"Visiting New Zealand in winter does have its own set of scenery to marvel at."

1. Castle Hill/ Arthur's Pass

Our main intention to come here was to climb. With hundreds of boulders splayed across hectares and hectares of land, the boulder choices were endless.

Only… we didn't climb much because our fingers weren't acclimatised to the cold and we were rather amateur at outdoor bouldering.

2. Lake Pearson

This wasn't an essential sight to catch, but since we camped here (with and in our campervan) overnight, we were greeted by a magnificent view of the still waters over Lake Pearson.

3. Franz Josef Glacier

A town that is somewhat similar to Fox. We did our glacier hike at Fox Glacier, but went for the terminal face walk (a walk along the base of the glacier and is free) at Franz Josef. More information on how to access the terminal face walk in See New Zealand's Glacier For Free.

4. Fox Glacier

5. Lake Matheson

6. Lake Paringa (Viewpoint)

7. Knight's Point (Viewpoint)

8. Ship's Creek (Viewpoint)

9. Haast Pass/ Blue Pools

A short 15-20 minute hike will get you this view over a suspension bridge. The colours change according to the weather and the amount of light that reflects into this water, so again, weather-permitting.

10. Lake Hawea (Viewpoint)

This big blue body rests between Blue Pools and Wanaka. It's a spectacular sight to behold. Then again, almost everywhere in New Zealand is.

11. Lake Wanaka/ That Wanaka Tree

Rach captures some of the most breathtaking pictures of New Zealand. With over 48, 000 followers on Instagram, it's proof enough that her feed will inspire New Zealand wanderlust.

12. Roys Peak

If you're looking for an easy hike, this is not for you. But if you'd do anything for a million-dollar shot and great views (especially at sunrise!), then give this a go.

Total distance: 11km. Duration: 5-6 hours return. Directions: The track starts at the Roys Peak Track carpark, 6km from Wanaka town

Also note that you cannot camp on this trek.

13. Queenstown

I was so thrilled as I drove in to Queenstown. First, it was the subtle change in the scenery. The leaves seem to have more colour here than anywhere else in the South in May. I swear I was not imagining this. As I drove into the heart of the town, there seemed to be more shops, more people, more life. Shops close past 10pm here, unlike smaller towns in the South that close by 6pm. Only then did it dawned on me what we had been missing while being on the road – civilisation.

Granted, Queenstown is probably the most expensive town in the whole of South New Zealand, because it is where most of the tourist attractions can be found. But this is also the place to get your adrenaline fuelled, and your adventure bucket list checked off. Skydiving, jet boating, bungee jumping, paragliding… I was jumping on the inside at the prospect of trying them out.

But first, you've got to get your hands greasy with their famous Fergburger.

14. Te Anau/ Milford Sound

We booked a cruise tour with Jucy. There are plenty of tour operators online or in Queenstown. Do note that some operators do not operate in winter.

15. Mirror Lake

16. Lindis Pass/ Mount Cook/ Hooker Valley

En route while hiking on the Hooker Valley trail. Visiting New Zealand in winter does have its own set of scenery to marvel at.

This video sums up our hike on Hooker Valley when we were in Mount Cook.

17. Lake Pukaki

If I haven't mentioned already, it rains A LOT in New Zealand. While we went in May (the beginning of winter), summer in New Zealand would still require you to dress warm, especially when night falls. Because we went close to winter, it rained exceptionally much, and they were relentless. The only good hours were in the morning, before the sky would loom for the rest of the day. Sunrise is at 7.30am, and sunset begins at 4.30pm.

As such, we weren't able to capture as much as we had hoped. I should make another trip to New Zealand, shouldn't I?

18. Lake Tekapo/ Church of the Good Shepherd

Lake Tekapo is the site of New Zealand's premier scientific astronomy observatory, Mt John Observatory. The observatory site was chosen in 1963 for the clarity and darkness of the night sky. In other words, the skies are almost totally free from light pollution, making it one of the best stargazing sites on Earth.

When we reached Tekapo, it fell on a cloudy night (chances of getting a clear night sky in winter is slim!), so we got a shot of the Church of Good Shepherd in the daylight instead!

19. Christchurch

Just when we thought we'd be leaving New Zealand without witnessing a Milky Way, let alone the Southern Lights, we caught the Milky Way in the unlikeliest place – at Christchurch.

Photos: Isabel Leong

We left Christchurch town at 12 midnight and drove an hour out of town to Birdlings Flat just for this capture. It certainly was well worth the drive and the cold. Birdlings Flat appeared to be a deserted flat land when we went in the dark, bordering creepy. The only light that illuminated us came from the moon. There and then, we were one with nature.

We were based in Christchurch for 5 days before flying off to Melbourne, and while it is not the most happening town (most of New Zealand's shops close by 5, anyway), we managed to fit some day trips out of Christchurch. More on that next time!