13 Sublime Destinations on New Zealand's South Island

The Mirror Lakes | © Arran Bee/Flickr
The Mirror Lakes | © Arran Bee/Flickr
Photo of Thalita Alves
4 April 2017

New Zealand is a treasure trove of scenic wonders. The country’s South Island is brimming with sublime destinations that will leave everyone absolutely breathless. These 13 landscapes and rivers will give you a quick sneak peek of what awaits all travellers upon landing.

The Mirror Lakes

The Mirror Lakes are a popular stopover for those driving to Milford Sound. As you can guess by its name, this is a network of small lakes with spectacular reflected views of the nearby Earl Mountains. A beech forest backdrop adds to the exquisite scenery, which can be accessed through an easy walking track that even the youngest family members can manage.

The Mirror Lakes | © Arran Bee/Flickr

Fiordland National Park

Fiordland National Park entices hikers of all levels, as well as nature-loving travellers, with its unspoiled beauty. The park has World Heritage status, and is home to some of New Zealand’s Great Walks, a trove of marine reserves, valleys, glaciers and ice-carved fiords. There is also plenty of wildlife nestled in this stunning natural scenery.

Fiordland National Park | © Bernard Spragg/Flickr

Aoraki/Mount Cook

New Zealand’s highest mountain is a favourite among adventurous skiers and, because of its enormity, filmmakers too. Aoraki/Mount Cook comes in at 3724 metres (12218 feet) in height, and is part of a national park and reserve with the same name. Rugged terrains surround this Southern Alps wonder, which is located near the town of Twizel. Keen explorers are able to discover Aoraki through a network of alpine hiking routes and short parkland trails.

Aoraki/Mount Cook | © Wikimedia Commons

Skippers Canyon

The picturesque Skippers Canyon gained international fame after being transformed into the Ford of Bruinen in the The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is located on a very narrow winding road, just 25 minutes from Queenstown, which traverses the same route that takes skiers to Coronet Peak. A guided tour would the best way to immerse yourself in this remarkable landscape, as those roads are among the world’s most dangerous. The breathtaking gorge is approximately 22 kilometres (13.67 miles) long, and the adrenaline-filled Shotover River flows right through it.

Skippers Canyon | © Bernard Spragg/Flickr

Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu is New Zealand longest, and third largest, lake. It stretches across 80 kilometres (50 miles) and has a surface area of 291 square kilometres (112 square miles). This glacial beauty is surrounded by mountain ranges, and Queenstown’s parks and gardens will bring you up close and personal to some of those exquisite terrains. Kawarau River is where Lake Wakatipu drains, and the Remarkables Mountain range is the most prominent sight by the lake’s southeastern side.

Lake Wakatipu | © Bernard Spragg/Flickr

The Tasman Glacier

New Zealand’s longest glacier covers a good 27 kilometres (16.8 miles) in length, flowing from the Southern Alps right into the Mackenzie Basin. The Tasman Glacier is also home to one of the very few lakes that contain icebergs, thanks to an ice shelf that is gradually tearing away from the surface. At some point, it is predicted that the 300-500 year-old ice shelf will retreat completely. For now, the majestic glacier can be admired by air, on foot, or by hitting the ski slopes.

Tasman Glacier | © Paul Stewart/Flickr

The Marlborough Sounds

There’s a reason why the Marlborough Sounds have become a popular destination for day trippers, trekkers, and wine connoisseurs. Located in the upper part of the South Island, this lovely gem is home to a collection of river valleys, forested hills, sandy bays, predator-free reserves and sheltered inlets. The Queen Charlotte Track and Perlonious Sound are among the scenic highlights you’ll find within the Marlborough Sounds’ diverse landscape.

Marlborough Sounds | © macronix/Flickr

Mount Aspiring National Park

Mount Aspiring National Park is New Zealand’s third largest reserve. The Lord of the Rings fans will recognise it as the location for Isengard, while wildlife enthusiasts might know the park for its impressive ecosystem — there are 59 recorded birds and more than 400 butterfly and moth species in this national reserve alone. The epic Blue Pools on Haast Pass are not too far away from Mount Aspiring, and there’s an array of tracks and trails for keen hikers to explore too.

Mount Aspiring National Park | © Andrea Schaffer/Flickr

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo’s dazzling turquoise waters make a positive impression on all travellers who visit. A three hour drive from Christchurch to the Mackenzie Basin will take you to this remarkable lake and namesake township. Lake Tekapo is also a UNESCO Dark Sky reserve, making it the ideal spot to get into a bit of stargazing. If you’re visiting between April and September, you might even catch a glimpse of the wondrous Southern Lights — also known as the Aurora Australis.

Autumn at Lake Tekapo | © Bernard Spragg/Flickr

Lake Wanaka

For a splash of beauty in all seasons, you can’t go past Lake Wanaka. The lake sits at the heart of the Otago region, within close quarters to Queenstown, and is a popular spot for scenic walks, mountain biking, kayaking, and fishing. Lake Wanaka is 45 kilometres (28 miles) long, and covers an area of 193 square kilometres (74.5 square miles). As with many sublime South Island destinations, the town of Wanaka and its lake are engulfed by sweeping alpine views and expansive river valleys.

Lake Wanaka | © Ilfacolor/Flickr

Hanmer Springs

Hamner Springs is a resort town in the Canterbury region, approximately 90 minutes from Christchurch. The area is renowned for its iconic hot pools, though powder-shredding skiers are also attracted to its mountains. Other scenic highlights in the vicinity include the Conical Hill and Heritage Forest, known for a series of winding trails and a picturesque lookout point. The rugged Waiau Gorge, with its whitewater rapids and abundant fishing locations, is also worth checking out if you’re in the area.

Hanmer Springs by Moonlight | © catnthehat/Flickr

Cathedral Caves

While the North Island brings us the Cathedral Cove, the South Island gifts us with the wondrous Cathedral Caves. Its formations are among the longest in the world, and will be a true highlight for travellers visiting The Catlins. Two sea-formed passages along the Waipati Beach, carved over several thousands of years’ worth of boisterous waves, come together to form the impressive 200-metre (656-foot) long and 30-metre (98-foot) high caves. Access is seasonal and highly dependent on tide times — the area is only open for tours in October and May.

Cathedral Caves | © ItravelNZ/Flickr

The Moeraki Boulders

The fascinating Moeraki Boulders are located on Koekohe Beach, near the Otago town of Moeraki. They were originally formed some 60 million years ago, through shoreline erosion from the neigbouring coastal cliffs. Crowds are drawn to these compelling rock formations because of their magnificent size — some of those huge boulders reach up to three metres (9.8 feet) in diameter and weigh several tonnes. Photographers also love to congregate on the beach to capture the incredible rocks in all their glory.

Moeraki Boulders | © ItravelNZ/Flickr

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