There are few places in the world with a plethora of stunning scenery all in once destination, and New Zealand’s South Island is one of them. Home to the snow-capped heights of the Southern Alps, sun-drenched coasts and the beautiful landscapes famous from The Lord of the Rings films, this island is a visual delight. And you can see this unforgettable part of the world in all sorts of different ways. Take your pick of a few and start a journey you’ll be telling stories about for years to come.
Experience Milford Sound
Dubbed the eighth natural wonder of the world by writer Rudyard Kipling, Milford Sound is the place you will remember the most. Cliff faces drop directly into the Tasman Sea, which makes for breathtaking scenery. A cruise takes you out to see ancient glaciers, cascading waterfalls and intimidating mountains. Cruises come in all shapes and sizes — you can go out for a few hours at a time or stay overnight. Take to the sky to see the beauty of wider Fiordland from the air, with mountains stretching as far as the eye can see on one side and the wide Pacific Ocean on the other. There are also many hikes on offer — watch the icefalls from the Herbert Icefields at the end of the Tutoko Valley Route (between a five- and six-hour round-trip journey) or climb to mountain peaks with the roughly three-hour Key Summit Walk.
Take a train into the Southern Alps
There’s something to be said about traveling by train, and New Zealand’s KiwiRail provides trips directly through the hills. For the day-long experience, the train departs from Christchurch and zips you directly into famous South Island mountainscapes, with dry beech forests on one side and lush green landscapes on the other. Try the company’s South Island Alpine Safari, where you’ll be whisked into a scenic paradise for a day of jet boating and four-wheel driving.
Watch whales in Kaikoura
Explore New Zealand’s whale-watching mecca, coastal Kaikoura, to see the majesty of giant sperm whales, humpbacks and orcas in their natural environment. The town — a two-hour trip from Christchurch — has scenic whale-watching cruises with a 95 percent success rate of spotting the beautiful creatures. Whales are very common sights off of the seaside village’s coast, where the 1.2-mile Hikurangi Trench draws strong currents and their powerful inhabitants close to the shore.
Fly over Aoraki/Mount Cook
As New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook towers more than 12,300 feet above the sea, offering the highest vantage point in the country. Thousands climb it every year, but there’s a shortcut to the scenery that’s just as rewarding. The Helicopter Line transports you up and over the mountain, so you can get incredible up-close views of hanging glaciers, rivers of moving ice and a snow landing in some of the harshest conditions in the world. This trip is a standout experience — you don’t want to miss it.
Walk through Fox Glacier
The West Coast’s Fox Glacier is home to some of the most striking ice formations in the world. Easy walks and guided tours take you up through ancient river valleys, showing millennia of slow movement. The sheer enormity of this eight-mile-long glacier will astound you. The ice is more than 984 feet thick, and there are rocky ravines (needless to say, taking a swim is out of the question). Helicopter tours can bring you to a snow landing 1.6 miles up into the Southern Alps, where this frozen wilderness begins.
Skydive in Abel Tasman National Park
This activity is only for the thrill seekers who will welcome jumping above the golden beaches, mountaintops and lazy countryside of Abel Tasman National Park. You’ll plummet into a 16,500-foot drop zone, with a wide view over most of the South and part of the North Island. The whole adventure will be recorded through a high-definition camera, so you’ll have something to remember your picturesque (and brave) feat.
Ski in Canterbury
With winter well on its way in New Zealand, your adventure can be more than just a scenic tour. Take to the frigid mountaintops with a ski trip in Canterbury. There are more than 10 ski spots, including large commercial fields, well-loved backcountry resorts and huge heli-skiing paradises. This winter is shaping up to be one of the best in the region’s history, with a massive storm bringing plenty of fresh snow early in the season. So come and escape your summer and enjoy the wintery paradise in this little corner of the Southern Hemisphere.
Photo Courtesy of Whale Watch Kaikoura