7 New Zealand South Island Destinations You Must Visit

Today’s blog is brought to you by our student ambassador, Alyssa Tran, from the University of California, Riverside. After catching the oh so familiar travel bug that hits every student after their first study abroad, she’s here to tell us all about her top 7 trips you NEED to see in any trip to New Zealand’s South Island.  

New Zealand is undoubtedly the most beautiful country I have ever visited. Just imagine the most beautiful forests you’ve ever seen in California and then multiply that by 100. Driving only 20 minutes out of the main cities will lead to vast mountain ranges, waterfalls, and wild animals roaming around the roads. Here are a few of my favorite destinations from the South Island and the wild West Coast.

1. Milford Sound

 

Drive through Fiordland National Park and stumble upon the majestic Milford Sound. A two-hour cruise will take you through the fjord and the guides will tell you all about how this came to be. Throughout the tour, you get to see some wildlife and go under a waterfall! When we began our tour, the sky was overcast and musty, giving the Milford Sound a very mysterious and ominous vibe but by the end of our tour, the weather had cleared up so we could see the fjords in all their majesty.

2. Skyline Gondola, Queenstown

 

 

One of the best day trips I’ve ever done- you can either hike up the mountain or take a scenic gondola up to the Skyline! From there, try your hand at luging- riding down this track using gravity. If you are wanting a more relaxing day, take your time walking around and enjoying the different scenic viewpoints throughout the area.

 

3. Ben Lomond Trail, Queenstown

 

 

This trailhead starts at the Skyline in Queenstown. Take one of the six hikes available at the Skyline and you’ll rewarded with views like this! We chose a random trail up and veered off for this beautiful shot, which is completely unedited!

 

4. Punakaiki Pancake Rocks

 

This is a beautiful detour when road tripping down the west coast! Cruise down the one lane road that goes through Punakaiki National Park while taking in the surrounding trees and mountains that tower over the road. The Punakaiki Rocks is a small trail that takes no more than 30 minutes to explore- a perfect rest stop to stretch your legs and enjoy the geological wonders of our world. Bonus points if the tides are in your favor and you get to see the blowhole as well!

 

5. Abel Tasman National Park

 

This beautiful national park has a multitude of trails, ranging from a few hours to a few days. I opted to go on the 10.6 km hike and spent a full day hiking through the park. The trail alternates from beach to forests and the varied landscapes give so many opportunities for scenic photos, like this one!

 

6. Hokitika Gorge

The water here is UNREAL. After driving from the nearest town through some rural farm land, you get to a small car park. After a mere 15-minute hike, you reach this incredible scenery. The beautiful blue water gets its bright color by glaciers melting and gathering minerals from the limestone as it flows into the gorge. This area really has a revitalizing feeling and it’s the perfect place to spend a few hours just enjoying the view and reflecting upon yourself.

 

7. Franz Josef Glacier Hike

 

If you’re on a budget and don’t want to go on the helicopter glacier hike (or don’t want to contribute to melting the glaciers even faster), take a hike around Franz Josef! This quick one-hour hike has some of the most amazing views! As you hike up the trail, you are surrounded by mountains and valleys. The glacier has retreated and melted over the years, so it may be more difficult to see, but the surrounding area compensates for that. Be sure to grab a water bottle and taste the glacier water!

 

Ready to head to New Zealand? Let Air New Zealand take you there with special students and under 26 traveler fares for travel to the South Pacific.

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