Regional Image of Southern AlpsSouthern Alps

A long tube of an island split down the middle by the Southern Alps, New Zealand's South Island is a land of incredible variety and natural beauty. Christchurch, the island's largest city, is also its transportation hub, and this is your likely point of entry. The city itself is a lovely place, with elegant gardens, grand old buildings and an ideal setting on the Avon River. Other important centres are Dunedin, a stately Victorian city that still holds tight to its Scottish heritage, and Queenstown, a lakeside resort known as 'the adventure capital of the world'.

While the South Island's towns and cities offer great dining, noteworthy historic sights and a unique culture made up of European, Asian and aboriginal influences, few people travel to New Zealand for its man-made attractions. Without doubt, the stars of the South Island are its unparalleled natural resources. The island's rugged alpine slopes, lush forests, pristine lakes and rivers, and long coastline combine to form one of Mother Nature's most spectacular offerings. You can explore these on foot, by bicycle, in a car or on the water, making your journeys around the island as memorable as the destinations themselves.

Some of the most important natural sights on the island include Mt. Cook National Park, home of the island's highest peak, and Stewart Island just off shore, where you can see a wealth of native flora and fauna, including the famed kiwis. The Catlins, a protected wilderness area on the coast, is another great place to see native animals in the wild. The Marlborough Sounds are also well-worth visiting, especially for wine lovers who will enjoy touring area vineyards and wineries.

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Regional Image of Southern AlpsSouthern Alps

The South Island enjoys all four seasons, with a long, hot summer (highs in the mid-80s), a mild autumn (highs in the mid-70s), a crisp winter perfect for skiing (lows in the 40s) and a pleasant springtime (highs in the upper 50s). All temperatures are in ?F. The warmest months, from November to April, see the largest crowds, but there are activities to enjoy year-round on the South Island.

Beware that the weather in the mountains is unstable year-round, and can change quickly. Always be prepared with a jacket and rain gear.

Regional Image of Southern AlpsSouthern Alps

The main airport on the South Island is in Christchurch, which is connected to Sydney and to larger New Zealand airports, like Auckland. The trip will take about 30 hours from London. Once on the island, you can get around by taking short commuter flights to large towns like Queenstown, or you can hire a car and drive on the island's excellent road system. There's a great bus system, but to best explore the South Island's nooks and crannies, you'll need a car. Most destinations are within six hours of Christchurch.

Regional Image of Southern AlpsSouthern Alps

With its mountains, rivers, lakes and coastline, the relatively compact South Island is a paradise for those who love the great outdoors. It would be impossible to mention all the possible activities in this small space, especially since new travel routes and adventure sports are popping up constantly, but here we've listed some of the highlights.

There are no less than nine national parks on the island, proof of the unique natural beauty you'll find here. Hikers (called 'trampers' in New Zealand) looking for a challenge can head to the high-altitude Mt. Cook National Park, while those wanting a less strenuous but still beautiful stroll can head to Te Anau, a resort on the lake of the same name that's famed as one of the best walking sites in the world.

The coast offers countless options as well. Lovers of marine animals can swim with dolphins and observe whales off the coast of Kaikoura, a small fishing village and coastal resort.

Thrill seekers will want to head south to Queenstown, known as the adventure capital of the world. Whether you want to jump out of airplanes, leap off bridges or fling yourself into deep canyons, the outfitters here are glad to make your wish their command. There is seemingly no end to the adventure sports on offer, from white water rafting to windsurfing, trekking (make that 'tramping'), and more.

June through October the island becomes one of the Southern Hemisphere's best skiing destinations. You'll find great conditions and quality resorts throughout the island, especially around towns like Queenstown and Dunedin.

After playing hard, relax in one of the island's renowned spas. The spa town Hammer Springs is one of the best-known spots for relaxing and unwinding.

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