Planning a trip to New Zealand’s South Island can be a bit overwhelming as there is so much to see and do.  Tourism is huge here and it can be easy to get caught up in the commercialized hullabaloo.  Here is a list of the top ten things I recently discovered by chance in New Zealand’s South Island.

1. Dolphin Encounter in Kaikoura

  • One of the highlights of New Zealand’s South Island.  Take a brief boat ride into the Pacific Ocean equipped with snorkel gear and a wetsuit.  Dive into the water with over one hundred dolphins.  The more playful you are, the more interested they are.  Definitely an amazing way to experience dolphins in the wild.

2. Tour Milford Sound

  • Milford Sound is enormous and absolutely breathtaking. There are several great hikes including the Milford Tract, but the Kepler Track and Roetburn Track are not to be underestimated.  Aside from exploring on foot, there are boat tours through the sounds out to the Baltic Sea.  There is beautiful wildlife and the fjords are massive.

3. Party in Dunedin

  • Dunedin is a great college town and a really amazing city.  During the day it is worth exploring the city to see the great museums and the steepest street in the world.  At night, head downtown for a beer in one of the many pubs.

4. Hike a Glacier

  • Two expansive glaciers lie on the South islands west coast: Franz Josef and Fox glaciers.  Both are great, but I highly recommend Franz Josef.  The tours are great with small groups on the ice and the guides are very skilled and knowledgeable.  Afterwards head to Glacier Hot Pools to unwind (discount with purchase of glacier tour).

5. Wine Tasting in Blenheim

  • Blenheim is great for wine.  The wineries are close together and many tastings are free and include a tasting of the entire menu.  Sauvignon Blanc is the popular wine around, but there Pinot Noir is great too.

6. Eat at Fleur’s Place

  • This wonderful restaurant in Moeraki sits on the waterfront with a great space and homely décor.  The food was amazing and nothing beats drinking some local white wine overlooking the water on a warm day.  I highly recommend the green lip mussels.

7. Carve Jade in Barrytown

  • Hokitika is known as the jade capitol, but if you want an authentic jade experience that is far less commercialized and less expensive, check out Barrytown.  We arrived in the morning and were the only ones there.  We had our pick of jade and got excellent instruction on carving from Hamish.  My wife and I made each other a carving that we will always have and love.

8. Stay in Glenorchy

  • This very small town is a highlight of the South Island.  Just about 30 minutes outside of Queenstown, this small town of only a few blocks has some of the friendliest people with some of the greatest scenery.  The Roetburn track is a short drive and there is a great town walk along the water.  One of the better local experiences.

9. Kayak Okarito Lagoon

  • The kayaking here is remarkable.  There are many unique birds to see and many channels to explore.  We paddled up to a small secluded island for lunch and had a peaceful morning on the water.  It was some work getting back, but if you time your day right, the tides do most of the work.

10. See the Moeraki Boulders

  • There is this small stretch of beach where there are large rocks almost perfectly round.  Apparently the tide has shaped these boulders into spheres and they are a wonderful site to see.