Top 8 Destinations on the South Island for Adventure

Walk on a glacier, raft a raging river, sky dive, go canyoning, bungy jump, or go for a ride in a “semi-submersible shark ride” — whatever adventure you crave, New Zealand’s South Island is happy to deliver.

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West Coast

The West Coast is the place for glacier adventures. Hike through stunning scenery to reach glacier viewpoints in Westland Tai Poutini National Park, or hop in a helicopter to get up close to Franz Josef and Fox glaciers.

I took a ride to Fox Glacier, where the pilot landed long enough for us to pop out and take a look around. Guided heli-hiking expeditions, which drop people off where the ice is stable enough to go for a hike, are also available.

Hiking up Fox Glacier. Photo credit: iStock

Raging white-water is another reason to linger, and rivers range from moderate to extreme. Or, go for a guided spelunking adventure, complete with squeezing through tight cracks and rappelling in the Te Tahi cave system.

Nelson and Marlborough

Known for incredible trekking options like the Abel Tasman and Queen Charlotte tracks, this region offers plenty of other adventures as well. Raft or kayak the Buller River, try out quad biking nearby, go snorkelling, scuba diving, take a sailing lesson, rock climb, or try tandem paragliding.

Or, opt for a ride on the Skywire, a four-seat cable car that soars through the forest at up to 62mi/hour (100 km/hour).

Swingbridge over the Buller River. Photo credit: iStock

Otago

Otago peninsula is one of the best places to watch yellow-eyed and little blue penguins, as well as catch glimpses of other wildlife like seals, sea lions, and royal albatross.

Explore the Sandfly Bay Track, enjoy the beaches, take a scuba or snorkelling lesson, go horseback riding, fly-fishing, or mountain biking.

For a less strenuous activity, stroll around Larnach Castle or ride the Taieri Gorge Railway for spectacular scenery.

The train running through Taieri Gorge. Photo credit: iStock

Dunedin

Home to the University of Otago, Dunedin is well-known for its rugby, scenery, and coast, and it’s a great place to take a surfing lesson or try mountain biking.

See the Moeraki Boulders about 43mi (70km) north of town. When I strolled out to this famous grouping of smooth boulders, people were grabbing some great pictures with this unique photographic backdrop.

Moeraki Boulders at sunrise. Photo credit: iStock

Southland

The wild Southland features adventure after adventure. Take the Stewart Island Ferry across the raging waters of Foveaux Strait to Stewart Island, and explore Rakiura National Park by hiking the Rakiura Great Walk.

Hop on a water taxi to Ulva Island, where I hiked with an eye out for the elusive kiwi. I didn’t spot the famous bird, but I did see plenty of other avian life. Kayak trips are available, as well as mountain biking and horse trekking.

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Fiordland

Kayak or take a cruise to explore Milford Sound’s stunning waterfalls and gorgeous scenery. Milford Road is lined with great hikes, but if you’re looking for a longer adventure, try the world-famous Milford, Kepler, or Hollyford tracks.

To see glow worms in Te Anau, cruise across the lake to explore the cave by foot or via a short boat ride. It’s an otherworldly experience to glide through the pitch-black caves, lit only by thousands of glow worms dotting the walls.

Sunrise on Lake Te Anau. Photo credit: iStock

Queenstown

New Zealand’s adventure capital offers an endless number of adrenaline-charged activities. Select from a number of scenic bungy jumps, ride a jetboat on the Shotover River, go white-water rafting, or try a boat-towed paraflight.

Hydro Attack offers a unique “shark like” aquatic ride in a submersible that dives, leaps, and moves at up to 49mi/hour (80km/hour). Levitate above Lake Wakatipu with a water-jet powered fFlyboard” or take an aqua bike, pedal boat, kayak, or paddleboard for a spin.

The options are endless, including canyoning, river surfing, zip lining, mountain biking, and rock climbing. In winter, skiers and snowboarders flock to Coronet Peak and The Remarkables.

Skiers and snowboarders carving up the powdery slopes of The Remarkables ski fields. Photo credit: iStock

Wanaka

Wanaka has a slower pace than Queenstown, but is still packed with adventure.  Hike Mount Aspiring National Park, go canyoning, rock climbing, mountaineering, skydiving, parasailing, biking, kayaking, rafting, or jet boating. Shop around town to find the best tour operator and price for your budget.

In winter, skiers and snowboarders head to nearby Treble Cone Ski Area and Cardrona Alpine Resort,  cross-country skiers go to Snow Farm, and extreme skiers should give heli-skiing a whirl.

Cardrona ski fields on a clear day. Photo credit: iStock
Want to know more about New Zealand? Check out our podcast. We talk world-class diving, blood-pumping adrenalin, and road-tripping in a camper van.

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