Photo: Hikers on a forest trail

Hikers follow Milford Track in Fiordland National Park on New Zealand’s South Island.

Photograph by Mark Cosslett, National Geographic

Seventy percent of New Zealanders (aka Kiwis) live on the more urban North Island. But the South Island is full of places to explore. Renting a camper van and driving around may just be the most authentic way to experience the South Island.

Start in Queenstown, known as Adventure Capital of the World for offering every adrenaline-fueled activity you can think of: bungee jumping, paragliding, Zorbing (rolling down a hill in a giant clear plastic inflatable ball), snowboarding, and more. Northeast of the city is pristine Lake Wanaka, where you can kayak, swim, fish, or just about anything else. Two and a half hours north of Christchurch, head out on the water to look for giant sperm whales with the Maori-owned Whale Watch Kaikoura. A short drive from Dunedin in the south is the Otago Peninsula, home of fur seals, sea lions, and rare royal albatrosses.

Where to Play

A must-see on the South Island is Fiordland National Park with its rock walls towering 4,000 feet (1,220 meters) in the air. Take a flight over Milford Sound, one of the most scenic areas of the park, or spend a night exploring the Sound on the Milford Wanderer. To swim with some of the world’s smallest dolphins, book a cruise with Black Cat Cruises in the town of Akaroa, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Christchurch. Make your way back to Christchurch, where the famous Botanic Gardens are an oasis where indigenous and exotic plants flourish.

At Day’s End

Explore the Te Anau Glowworm Caves on an early-evening, two-hour-15-minute tour. It begins with a boat ride across breathtaking Lake Te Anau. Then a guide will lead you through a network of passages through the caves, where you will see underground waterfalls and more. Then, in a small boat, you will visit a dark area of the cave, where thousands of glowworms live and light up the space. The tour is suitable for all ages except infants.


For more New Zealand travel information, go to

Book a cruise on the Milford Wanderer. Tours run from October through April.

Check out tour options for the Otago Peninsula at

Based on articles from National Geographic Traveler and compiled by Stephanie Robichaux

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