The Perfect Week on New Zealand’s South Island

Postcards were invented for New Zealand’s South island. Blue alpine lakes, snow-capped mountains, breathtaking fjords, and numerous adventure activities guarantee loads of stories to share with friends back home. From your homebase in Queenstown you can explore Milford Sound, Franz Josef Glacier, Wanaka, skifields, and wineries. Or hire a camper van and make the road and the island’s campgrounds your home.

Franz Josef Glacier, West Coast 7886, New Zealand
I was a glacier virgin. I had never seen one in person before, much less set foot on one. That all changed though as the helicopter lifted off and took off towards the incredible Franz Josef Glacier on New Zealand’s South Island. Almost as soon as the Glacier Helicopters flight lifted off, Mt. Cook popped into view, a looming presence throughout the area. We skirted over the lush rainforest and before I knew it, we were on top of the glacier. It’s amazing really; the glacier looks exactly like a glacier should look. It was a vast, frozen river leading from the tops of the mountains to the valley below. We landed at the top for a little exploration and impromptu snowball fights before taking off again to zoom past the massive crevices of the ice mountain. The ride back included even more impressive views of the glacier and the flat plains below leading to the Tasman Sea. It really is strange to see the glacier adjacent to the mild valley below. There’s something surreal about it all and that makes it one of the best adventure activities in New Zealand. For your own glacier adventure, visit the small mountain town of Franz Josef where you can find tour providers operating a variety of ice-based activities, including these extraordinary helicopter tours.
Milford Track, Fiordland National Park 9679, New Zealand
One of the greatest walks in New Zealand, the Milford track is just over 50 kilometers and leads into the famous Milford Sound. Considered one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand, the Milford Track is categorized as one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks,” prompting many people from near and far to come hike the 5 day circuit. Giant waterfalls crash down from vertical cliffs, and mist usually hangs about the tops of the peaks creating a mysterious, almost legendary feel to the place. Whether you are hiking the track or cruising in a boat around the fiords, or even kayaking the Milford Sound, definitely don’t skip this remote part of New Zealand on a visit.
Spitfire Ln, Wanaka 9343, New Zealand
While there are many ways to experience the incredible landscapes of the South Island, perhaps none is so vast or as exciting as from the skies. With plenty of helicopter and scenic flight companies to chose from, it can be hard to decide which way to go. Being a history fan and a lover of experiential travel, I am always on the lookout for very unique experiences on the road. As soon as I found out that you could fly in a vintage WWII plane over Lake Wanaka, I was sold. After pulling on the classic jumpsuit, bomber jacket, goggles and hat, I strapped myself in the front seat of the plane for the ride of a lifetime. Soaring high over the blue lakes and snow-capped mountains, just as they did 70 years ago, was something I’ll never forget.
Lake Tekapo 7999, New Zealand
Lake Tekapo is one of those places in New Zealand that is instantly recognizable but few know its name. Bright blue with clear water surrounded by pink and purple lupines in the summer, it’s the perfect background for these blooming flowers. A perfect holiday destination, there are heaps of treks, walks, and lake activities to participate in while visiting. There are even scenic flights over the lake that show the surrounding mountains.
Queenstown, New Zealand
If you visit one place in the South Island of New Zealand, let it be Queenstown. One of the most popular tourist destinations in New Zealand, and for good reason, Queenstown couldn’t be in a better location. Surrounded by sweeping mountains alongside a gorgeous blue lake, Queenstown looks like a postcard from every angle. In addition to being picture perfect, Queenstown is also the adventure capital of New Zealand. If you want to try something daring in New Zealand, do it here. Whether you’re jumping off bridges or falling out of planes or jet-boating through gorges, there’s no shortage of adrenalin sports in Queenstown.
216 Okuti Valley Rd, Okuti Valley 7591, New Zealand
A farm-style experience about an hour from Christchurch, Okuti Garden caters to travelers who love to create and play. An art box encourages crafting; “tree circles” are great for yoga and meditation; and a small lake features a boat popular among readers and small children. Bohemian accommodations include yurts, a tepee, a caravan, and a cabin. Each is homespun and handmade, decorated with drawings, wind chimes, and dream catchers left by former guests.

The property is completely off grid, relying on composting toilets, a solar shower, and a gray-water system that recycles wastewater to irrigate the wetlands. One area of the wetlands grows willow rods, which are woven into arches, domes, and tunnels—turning waste into wonders.
1431 State Highway 1
A short drive north of the South Island town of Oamaru, Riverstone Kitchen is often lauded as one of New Zealand’s best regional restaurants. The stylish dining room is anchored by a robust fireplace crafted from local river stones, and much of the seasonal menu is crafted from the restaurant’s own organic orchards and gardens. A more relaxed café ambience for daily breakfast and lunches segues to a more formal mood at dinner from Thursdays to Saturdays, and the savvy drink list includes wines from the nearby Waitaki Valley as well as small-batch beers from around New Zealand. Ask if any of the excellent Belgian-style farmhouse ales from Oamaru’s Craftwork Brewery are available.
Te Nuku, 43 Ballarat St, Queenstown 9348, New Zealand
Combining fine-dining flair with the relaxed ambience of a mountain resort town, Rata in Queenstown is one of the New Zealand eateries operated by well-known Kiwi chef Josh Emett. With a CV that includes cooking stints in the United States and London, Emett has crafted a menu that deftly marries a range of international influences to proudly local produce. Sharing plates include New Zealand octopus with saffron aioli or Marlborough salmon with horseradish and green apple, while local venison and merino lamb are standout main courses. The colors and feel of the forest inform the stylish decor—the eponymous rata is a tree native to New Zealand. Two- and three-course lunch menus are both a good value.
16 Kahu Rd, Fendalton, Christchurch 8041, New Zealand
Across New Zealand you’ll find weekend farmers’ markets packed with vendors of artisanal products and organic fruit and vegetables, as well as innovative food trucks providing tasty options for breakfast or lunch. Held in the leafy surrounds of Christchurch’s historic Riccarton House, this Saturday-morning institution attracts gourmands from across the city. For travelers, it’s a great place to try cheese and salmon from around the South Island, sample craft beer from local breweries, and stock up on baked goods for on-the-road picnics. Must-visit stalls include Sausage Sisters (for hearty pork-and-apple-sausage rolls) and Utopia Hot (for freshly baked waffles with seasonal fruit).
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