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South Island

Nature & adventure

Our most recommended South Island Nature & Adventure

Kaikoura: Whale Watching Cruise

1. Kaikoura: Whale Watching Cruise

Take a whale-watching cruise off the Kaikoura coast, and see giant sperm whales in their natural environment. Enjoy onboard commentary as you encounter a range of wildlife, including fur seals, pods of dolphins, and the endangered wandering albatross. Set sail on a catamaran, equipped with engines that minimize underwater noise and nonpolluting toilets. Take in the views from the large outdoor decks or stay inside the air-conditioned interiors with comfortable seating and plasma screens displaying marine wildlife animations. Gain an insight into the habitat with scientific information and indigenous knowledge about these creatures from the crew. Passenger numbers are kept well below the vessel's capacity to ensure a more personal experience.

TSS Earnslaw: Queenstown Cruise & Walter Peak Gourmet BBQ

2. TSS Earnslaw: Queenstown Cruise & Walter Peak Gourmet BBQ

This half-day activity begins and concludes with a 45-minute cruise across Queenstown’s Lake Wakatipu onboard the historic TSS Earnslaw. Spend a few hours enjoying the culinary delights at Walter Peak High Country Station, including an entertaining farm demonstration the whole family will enjoy. Feel free to take advantage of the extensive lay-out of this incredible steamship – she is a floating museum of her own history, and you are more than welcome to enter the engine room where you can watch our hardy coal-stokers as they keep this beautiful lady of the lake gliding across the waters of Lake Wakatipu. Overlooking Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown’s incredible alpine scenery, the Colonel’s Homestead at Walter Peak is the perfect place to spend a beautiful day in Central Otago. Its colonial architecture and sweeping grounds evoke the elegance of a bygone era. Spend your time wandering the award-winning gardens, or saying hello to the animals that call the station home. The BBQ Buffet includes salads, vegetables, and succulent local meats cooked on the outdoor rotisserie or grill. There is a wide range of desserts on offer, including a vast array of fresh bread and cheese. If you have any dietary restrictions, please let the supplier know directly so we can safely accommodate your requests.

Fiordland National Park: Doubtful Sound Wilderness Cruise

3. Fiordland National Park: Doubtful Sound Wilderness Cruise

Spend a day in the remote wilderness of Doubtful Sound, located in the heart of Fiordland National Park and three times longer than Milford Sound. Self-drive to Manapouri and board a cruise across picturesque Lake Manapouri, followed by a coach trip across Wilmot Pass. Stop en-route to experience the dense Fiordland rainforest. At Deep Cove, board the Patea Explorer, a purpose-built catamaran, for a 2 hour and 45-minute cruise on Doubtful Sound. See waterfalls, rainforest and mountains during the cruise. You might spot the resident pod of bottlenose dolphins, the colony of fur seals at the mouth of the fiord, or even rare Fiordland crested penguins. During the cruise, knowledgeable nature guides will provide informative commentary.  When it rains in Fiordland, the landscape is dramatic - rock faces stream with waterfalls, mist hangs around the tops of the mountains, and rivers and streams rage.  From a dry comfortable vantage point on board the coach or vessel this landscape is spectacular. Always be prepared to enjoy some rainfall during your visit. Many say you have not seen Fiordland unless you have seen it in the rain!

Milford Sound Nature Cruise on Premium Glass-Roof Catamaran

4. Milford Sound Nature Cruise on Premium Glass-Roof Catamaran

Climb aboard 'Gem of the Sound', the newest vessel to cruise in the fiord, for a Milford Sound nature cruise. Capture the best views of the incredible fiord with three-levels of indoor and outdoor seating, unique glass roofs, and large viewing decks. Your friendly crew will welcome you on board and embrace you as one of the family, whilst you marvel at one of the most stunning places on earth. Relax in the comfortable booth seating with stylish decor and ambient lighting. High-definition cameras project outdoor footage live onto TV screens throughout the vessel - so no matter where are, you won't miss a thing. Admire New Zealand fur seals basking on rocks and feel the spray of cascading waterfalls. Look out for playful dolphins and, if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of the rare and elusive Fiordland Crested Penguin. Travel the length of the fiord and out into the Tasman Sea, to see why Captain Cook failed to discover Milford Sound after charting the Fiordland National Park.

Franz Josef Glacier: 2.5-Hour Hike with Helicopter Transfer

5. Franz Josef Glacier: 2.5-Hour Hike with Helicopter Transfer

Soar to Franz Josef Glacier and see this 12-kilometer-long behemoth from above on a roundtrip helicopter tour from Franz Josef. Touch down on the glacier and follow your guide on a guided hike. Take in dazzling ice formations and stay warm with winter clothing and snacks along the way.  Start your journey at the glacier base in Franz Josef Town, where the team will check you in. Get kitted out with the essential gear and listen to a safety briefing. Once you are ready, follow your guide on a short walk through the native forest to the helipad to board the helicopter. After a thrilling scenic flight high above rugged terrain, land on Franz Josef Glacier and set off on a 2.25-hour guided hike. With an eye for the most spectacular ice formations, your guide will lead you through some of the most awe-inspiring glacier scenery New Zealand has to offer.  Each trip is tailored to the ability of your group, as well as the conditions on the day of your tour. During the hike, your guide will tell you stories about the local area and share their knowledge of the glacier and surrounding terrain. The glacier's features are constantly changing, so you might find yourself sliding through a narrow crevasse or between towering walls of ice, crawling through blue ice tunnels, hanging out in ice caves, or witnessing the glacier calving. 

Franz Josef: Half-Day Glacier Helicopter and Hiking Tour

6. Franz Josef: Half-Day Glacier Helicopter and Hiking Tour

Get out into nature and experience the wilderness on this tour of the Franz Josef Glacier. Soar in the air in a helicopter, trek with glacier boots and crampons, and take in the fascinating colors of the ice flow. Meet at the Franz Josef Village base in the Westland National Park and hop into a helicopter. Fly up to the glacier and land on a section pre-checked for safety by your guide. Equipped with glacier boots and crampons, walk through ice formations and pinnacles for 2 hours. Touch the ice, breathe in the fresh air, and take note of the unique color of the glacier. Hike back to the helicopter and return to the base with a profound respect for nature.

Te Anau: Glowworm Caves Guided Tour

7. Te Anau: Glowworm Caves Guided Tour

Experience a mysterious underground world of rushing water before drifting in darkness beneath the luminous shimmer of hundreds of glowworms.  Your trip to the Te Anau Glowworm Caves begins with a cruise to the western shores of Lake Te Anau. At the entry to the caves, view the informative displays and learn about this geological wonder before you head underground. On the tour of the caves, your friendly guide will point out the highlights and share their knowledge of the caves and its history. This underground world is astonishingly beautiful. The cave are 12,000 years old which by geological standards is still very young and they are still being carved out by the force of the river that flows through them. The result is a twisting network of limestone passages filled with sculpted rock, whirlpools and a roaring underground waterfall. Deep inside the caves, beyond the roar of the water, you will be taken by small boat into a silent hidden grotto inhabited by thousands of glowworms, unique to New Zealand. In the subterranean darkness, they produce a glittering display that is nothing short of extraordinary.

Mount Cook: Scenic Helicopter Flight with Alpine Landing

8. Mount Cook: Scenic Helicopter Flight with Alpine Landing

Experience Mount Cook National Park from the sky. Enjoy a 25-minute scenic adventure that includes an alpine landing amongst the mountains. Have exceptional views of Aoraki (Mt Cook) and the surrounding snow-capped mountain ranges right from take off.  Be captivated throughout the entire flight. Explore the valleys and peaks of the national park. Journey through the Tasman Valley and over a breathtaking blue glacier lake. Experience an alpine landing on the stunning upper snowfields in the Southern Alps.  Disembark the aircraft and enjoy the elevated alpine landscape before returning to the helicopter to fly back to Mount Cook Airport. Your expert pilot will offer informative and interesting commentary throughout the flight to ensure you receive the best possible experience.

Milford Sound: 2-Hour Small Boat Scenic Cruise

9. Milford Sound: 2-Hour Small Boat Scenic Cruise

Embrace the grandeur of Milford Sound's towering peaks and tumbling waterfalls on a scenic and boutique 2-hour cruise. Self-drive to Milford Sound Visitor Terminal enjoying the views en route. Sit back and relax as your cruise departs from Milford Sound Wharf and makes its way out past the iconic Mitre Peak. Cruise the length of the 16-kilometer fiord and out past St Annes Point Lighthouse. Go further and get closer to the magic that is Milford Sound as you travel through the fiord and out into the Tasman Sea. Hold your breath as your Skipper navigates closer to the shoreline, getting you right up close to the incredible surroundings. Be sure to bring your camera, as you'll be close to sights like the mighty Stirling Falls and Copper Point. Keep an eye out for seals basking in the sun, pods of dolphins or rare Fiordland Crested Penguins that can be found seasonally within the region.

Milford Sound: Cruise, Underwater Observatory, and Lunch

10. Milford Sound: Cruise, Underwater Observatory, and Lunch

Explore the beauty of the fiord on a vessel that’s purpose-built for the best daytime viewing. Set off on a day-trip that includes a delicious lunch, complimentary tea and coffee, and a visit to the Milford Sound Underwater Observatory. Climb aboard a smaller vessel at the Milford Sound Cruise Terminal to discover more of the fiord on an authentic and insightful experience. Get within touching distance of impressive rock walls and waterfalls. Join the skipper in the open wheelhouse and say hello to the native seals basking on the rocks as you pass them by. A knowledgeable local guide will ensure you discover the wildlife, nature, and history of this remarkable sanctuary. Take a break for a picnic lunch. Choose between a regular, vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free picnic option that includes a wrap, cheese, and crackers, seasonal fresh fruit, crisps, a cookie, and a small chocolate bar. Visit the Milford Sound Underwater Observatory, New Zealand's only floating underwater observatory for an experience unlike any other. Hidden under the surface in Harrison Cove in the middle of Piopiotahi Marine Reserve, the Observatory enables you to experience a different perspective of the fiord. Descend 64 steps (10-metres) underwater into a large, fully air-conditioned viewing area and peer out through large windows at the deep underwater haven. Unlike an aquarium, the fish are free to come and go; it’s the people who are contained.

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What people are saying about South Island

Overall rating

4.7 / 5

based on 1,630 reviews

One of the most incredible scenic flights I've ever taken for sure, and an absolute must-do while you're in Queenstown. The staff were fantastic, our flight time had to moved slightly due to availability but the admin team went above and beyond to ensure the time suited us as we were departing Queenstown straight after. Our pilot was entertaining & informative, the flight itself was quite bumpy due to wind but he talked throughout the flight explaining what was happening and ensuring everyone felt comfortable. The flight went over tonnes of snowy mountains and glaciers around Queenstown, with an alpine landing in a gorgeous spot with panoramic views. It was absolutely freezing outside, -4 for us, so take warm clothes and gloves in winter. On the way to and from the landing we saw Skippers Canyon and some incredible braided rivers. The only downside is that two people sit in the middle seats without a window but we were able to switch seats at the snow landing so everyone got a turn.

The coach tribshowed us some spectacular scenery and the driver was knowledgeable and informative in his commentary and extremely friendly. We had a nice stop or two on our way to the sound. The same experience on the boat lots of photo opportunities and information comfortable seating and good views both inside and out. Highly recommend and value for money. 3 very happy customers

The whole experience was fantastic. Everything is so well organised and the information is interesting and informative. The skipper is knowledgeable and friendly and went out of his way to ensure we got to see the wildlife. Coulkdn't have asked for more. The picnic lunchg was fresh and tasty too.

A nice relaxed trip with breathtaking views, the farm visit was a highlight especially Dougal the Highland cow, and the amazing working dogs ,the trip was topped off with a delicious afternoon tea

Wonderful, knowledgeable and funny driver, well planned and perfectly timed. Good tour to go on if you don’t mind a long bus journey!