Exploring the South Island of New Zealand

New Zealand has always been high on our bucket list. We were looking at the best flights from the states and planned our whole trip around the North Island. After talking to a few friends, they all said we HAD to make time to go to the South Island and that it was just unbelievably beautiful so we booked 2 nights in Queenstown!

Until we saw both the North and South Islands of New Zealand for ourselves, we had NO idea just how stunning and different they were! We only had 3 days in the South Island and felt like we could have spent months exploring but we made the most of the time we had. As with all my other blogs I outlined the best things to do with 3 days in the South Island (and included some other suggestions if you have more time!) Hope you get to make it to New Zealand soon! These suggestions are all with Queenstown as a home base but the whole island is just stunning and have plenty of other towns or remote spots to center your trip from.

What to do

  • Skyline Queenstown- this gondola takes you to the top of the mountain overlooking the gorgeous city of Queenstown. The views are breathtaking and the options at the top are perfect for adventure seekers (luging) or foodies (fancy restaurant with star gazing). We opted for luging and went back to town for dinner and had an absolute blast!
  • Explore downtown Queenstown- because it’s so small it won’t take long, but the little shops and waterfront cafes make it a fun place to spend an hour or two!
  • Skydive (Nzone)- we researched a bunch of skydiving companies since this was high on our list when coming to New Zealand. We opted for Nzone and could NOT have been happier with our experience! The shop is in the city center and you check in on the day of (get reservations in advance) and get a safety briefing! Then they either shuttle you or you drive to the drop sight and WOW what a view! So safe, so gorgeous, definitely worth the investment if you were planning on going anyway!
  • Stop at Bennett’s Bluff Lookout- this little lookout is on the way to Glenorchy and boasts some incredible views!
  • Visit Glenorchy- the quaint town of Glenorchy is abut a 45 minute drive directly north of Queenstown and wow the views along the way are absolutely stunning. The town has a little main road and ends at a red cabin (everyone takes awesome IG photos here) and the water where you can see a beautiful panoramic view of the mountains.
  • Horseback riding- we opted for a 1.5 hour horseback riding trip just outside of Glenorchy and did the Lord of the Rings tour! It wasn’t a tourist trap at all but a beautiful ride through Isengard and the misty mountains of LOTR. We loved every minute.
  • Helicopter ride- this was definitely a splurge but it was our honeymoon and on both of our bucket lists so we couldn’t resist! We went on a day that was a little bit cloudy but the views and experience were unreal. If you’ve ever wanted to go, I’d definitely say this is the place to do it!
  • Visit Arrowtown- if you have a car, (which we absolutely recommend you rent one), definitely spend an afternoon in Arrowtown! This tiny town tucked about 15 minutes from the center of Queenstown has a beautiful Main Street with art galleries, bars, and restaurants, and also is home to a historic Chinese settlement which is fascinating. Definitely worth the trip!

Where to eat/ drink


  • Public Kitchen & Bar- this whole area is beautiful and right on the water. We opted for public kitchen and loved the baked camembert and short ribs. The sun didn’t set until 9:30pm so we enjoyed scenic views and a sunset for a late delicious dinner!
  • 1876- awesome place for happy hour. Great beers and tons of outdoor seating. Their French fries (chips) are also incredible for a snack!
  • FINZ Seafood- right next to public kitchen and bar and on the water. Amazing views, great menu!
  • Fergburger- (we never made it) ALWAYS a line and the burgers look amazing!
  • Searchlight brewing- if you have a car and are looking to explore this brewery is right outside of the city center and has awesome beers on tap
  • Canyon brewing- also outside the city center but on the way to Glenorchy and is nestled into the side of a mountain on a river. The views are stunning and the beers are moderately priced and delicious!

Surrounding areas

  • Arrowtown- Provisions of Arrowtown (awesome food and vibe)
  • Arrowtown- Fork & Tap (gorgeous outdoor seating area and great cheese boards)
  • Glenorchy- There are only maybe two restaurants in all of Glenorchy but they offer great burgers and views. There’s also a little shop right outside of town called Mrs. Woolly’s General Store which has grab and go sandwiches, a little grocery section if you’re looking for a picnic, espresso drinks, and some really cute souvenirs!

Where to stay/ how to get around

  • Definitely fly into Queenstown! You fly right through the mountains to land which is another beautiful scenic view and the airport is basically next to the city center!
  • Stay either in the main center of Queenstown or opt for on the water with a few minutes walk to the center. We opted for QT Queenstown and LOVED our room. It was themed after a mountain cabin and had the most beautiful view and cozy bed and bathtub!
  • Rent a car! We couldn’t have imagined seeing enough without a car. It’s very safe, everyone drives slow and courteous, there are tons of places along the highway to pull over and take pictures, and it really gives you freedom to explore. Some even rent RVs if you’re feeling adventurous!

Other suggestions we didn’t get to do but look amazing!

  • Hike Mount Cook
  • Explore Fiordland National Park
  • Visit Milford Sound by boat
  • Explore the Moeraki region

Can’t wait for our trip back one day. There is still so much to see and we would love to do everything we already did, again!

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