New Zealand is divided into 28 regions, and each region offers something unique. Below we briefly summarize the regions in the South Island and what you might see on your travels.
Nelson is high in sunshine hours and next to a beautiful coastline which you will see a lot of, especially if you are walking or kayaking in the Abel Tasman National Park. The Golden Bay Area is worth a drive over Takaka Hill. The little towns of Collingwood, Pohara, and Takaka are great for an explored.
The small town of Picton is where the Interislander Ferry arrives and whilst it is easy to jump straight in your car and drive out of the town, it is a pleasant stopover for lunch or a night before your next destination. It is also the departure point for a number of water taxis that can take you to some fantastic lodges in the Marlborough Sounds inlets.
3. West Coast
The rugged West Coast is low in population and high in spectacular coastal and glacier scenery. Punakaiki or the Pancake Rocks are a popular road trip stop, as is the seal colony at Cape Foulwind near Westport. As you head further South down the coast there are the two glaciers, Franz Josef and Fox. Franz Josef is a bustling little town that offers a warm meal and bed and some hot pools to warm up with after a day of hiking on the glaciers.
The beautiful little settlement of Okarito is worth a detour to. Hire a kayak and meander your way through the lagoon.
Lonely Planet recently listed Christchurch as one of the top ten cities lists. Since the earthquakes of 2010/2011, the city is going through a major rebuild and each month there are new buildings completed. There are innovative places to visit like The Tannery. You can also check out Sumner and Lyttleton and view the city from the Port Hills.
Kaikoura is a small town based on the East Coast, in North Canterbury. This is home to one of the most popular whale watching places in the country. Slightly inland is the resort town of Hanmer Springs. The popular hot springs are perfect to relax in after a day of skiing, mountain biking, or hiking.
South Canterbury is a popular dairy farming region, and Ashburton is typical of a town that supplies the local farming community. Geraldine is well worth a stop. This small town has a number of gourmet food shops, including the ever-popular Barkers, for fruit syrups and jams.
6. Mt Cook
Aoraki, Mount Cook, is the highest mountain in New Zealand. Located in the Mackenzie Region, there are the small towns of Lake Tekapo and Twizel nearby. Tekapo Springs offers hot pools, ice skating, and tubing depending on the season. This region offers day hikes into the Aoraki National Park.
Wanaka is located under an hour’s drive from Queenstown and is sometimes referred to as Queenstown’s laid-back cousin. Located next to a lake, the region offers walks, cycling, and winter ski activities.
Known as the adventure capital of the world, Queenstown is located next to a lake, surrounded by mountains, and offers an endless array of activities. Think skydiving, bungy jumping, lugging, canyon swinging, mountain biking, jet boating, and of course skiing and snowboarding in the winter months. A popular shortish drive from Queenstown is up to Glenorchy, home to Paradise Valley and a starting/finishing point of the popular Route burn track.
The Central Otago region of the South Island includes the very popular Central Otago Rail Trail. This three-day bike ride takes you through 150 km of the region. The scenery is varied, including farmland, viaducts, rocky landscapes, preserved gold mining settlements, and even tunnels.
Dunedin is the second-largest city on the South Island. Its history is steeped in Scottish culture, In fact, the rough layout of parts of the town is based on Edinburgh. Many street names are similar. Dunedin is home to the very popular Otago University, and you can not avoid the prevalent student culture that exists during semester time in the city. If you drive out of the city, you can meander your way up the Otago Peninsula. It is known as an ecotourism destination.
Some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world can be found in Fiordland. This is home to the Milford Track, the Kepler Track, Te Anau and the Doubtful, and Milford Sounds. There are self-drive options that will take you right into the Milford Sound area, as well as boat cruises, kayak trips, and scenic flights. To arrange to walk off the tracks, you need to book your accommodation and transport via the Department of Conservation Website.
The rugged coastline of the Catlins offers the opportunity to park up for lunch near penguins, seals, and sea lions. The small town of Bluff is the access point to the rough and wild Fouveaux Straight, which leads to Stewart Island. Invercargill is the main city of this region.