New Zealand’s South Island is like something out of a Disney movie with its incredible natural landscapes. And with the weather on your side, summer is the perfect time to embrace said nature with open arms. From legendary hikes and stunning national parks to adrenaline activities and fun for foodies, the mighty south is a playground of summer fun.
Here are eight of the best things to do in the South Island this summer.
Cycle The Otago Central Rail Trail
Clear blue skies and long evenings make summer the perfect time to cycle the Otago Central Rail Trail. Following a historic railway line, the 150-kilometre trail will take you through the region’s heartland with everything from rocky landscapes and river gorges to farmland and gold mining settlements. Breathtaking scenery aside, the trail also showcases world-class wineries, quaint pubs and friendly cafes for well-deserved pit stops along the way. The trail extends from Clyde to Middlemarch and can be travelled in either direction with the ride taking three to five days.
Ring In The New Year At Rhythm & Alps
Nestled in the stunning Cardona Valley, you’ll find Rhythm & Vines’ not-so-little brother: Rhythm & Alps. The NYE festival is expecting yet another sell-out show with 10,000 people heading to the magical Southern Alps to party. The three-day camping and music festival is made special by its unique mountainous setting—just 15 minutes from Wanaka or 40 minutes from Queenstown. This year’s line-up stars Action Bronson, The Cat Empire, Nightmares On Wax, Wilkinson and our very own The Black Seeds. Be there.
Explore Abel Tasman National Park
Golden sand beaches meet lush native forest at Abel Tasman National Park. Explore the beautiful spot via foot along the 60km Coast Track. Taking three to five days, the popular walk is scattered with a number of huts and campsites that can be booked in advance. If you don’t want to do a multi-day trip, you can book a water taxi to take you to popular sections of the track and collect you on the same day. Alternatively, paddle around the pristine bays by kayak—keep an eye out for seals and dolphins.
Eat Your Heart Out At Marlborough Wine & Food Festival
This summer brings the return of New Zealand’s longest running wine festival: Marlborough Wine & Food Festival. Celebrating its 35th birthday, the unmissable February event showcases world-class wines from more than 40 local wineries and gourmet cuisine from more than 20 food stalls. The one-day event will be held at one of Marlborough’s most beautiful vineyards, Brancott Estate. The vineyard will transform into a total summer’s party with live music and performances across two stages.
Conquer Roys Peak For Breathtaking Views
No visit to Wanaka is complete without tackling the popular Roys Peak Track. The zig-zag walk will take six hours as you climb to the impressive 1578-metre summit and back. The step track will take you through alpine meadows, tussock grasslands and along a staggering ridgeline. The pain of getting to the top is worth it for the panoramic views of Lake Wanaka, Mount Aspiring and other surrounding mountain peaks. Remember: the weather conditions can change rapidly—even in summer. Be prepared and pack warm layers.
Take A Leap Of Faith With A Queenstown Bungy Jump
AJ Hackett put New Zealand on the map when he launched the world’s first bungy from Queenstown’s Kawarau Bridge in 1988. Experience the iconic jump for yourself by launching yourself 43 metres towards the stunning river below. Queenstown also has two additional bungys to choose between: the 47-metre freestyle Ledge Bungy or the scream-inducing 134-metre Nevis Bungy. As New Zealand’s highest bungy, the latter features an 8.5-second freefall of pure fear and adrenaline. Yikes.
Cruise Through Milford Sound
Have your breath taken away by the magnificent Milford Sound this summer. Carved by glaciers during the ice ages, the fiord’s cliffs rise sharply from dark waters with mountain peaks seemingly touching the sky. Known as the wettest place in New Zealand, there’s a high chance of rain—even when visiting in summer. But don’t let the forecast cancel your plans—wet weather brings the hundreds, if not thousands, of waterfalls to life. Cruise the area by boat (there’s even the option to stay overnight) or paddle through the majestic waters by kayak.
Sleep Underneath The Stars
Make the most of the warm nights and sleep underneath the stars at one of the countless camping grounds scattered across the South Island. The Mackenzie Region is particularly epic for stargazing—thanks to the International Dark Sky Reserve. Light pollution is strictly controlled in the 4300 square kilometre area, making the night sky stretch on as far as the eye can see. The reserve is the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and one of only eight in the world. Stay up past your bedtime gazing at the Milky Way and you might be lucky enough to see the Aurora Australis (aka the Southern Lights) from the reserve.
Image Credit: Rob Suisted, Miles Holden, Fraser Clements