lake Tekapo

5 stunning must see places in New Zealand’s South Island

Posted In: blog | New Zealand

When it comes to the most spectacular natural wonders of the world, New Zealand undoubtedly belongs to the world’s most stunning destinations. It’s no surprise that this fairyland attracts an endlessly increasing number of travellers – most of which head for the South Island that is scattered with outstanding natural wonders, stunning must see places in New Zealand.

We travelled 10 weeks in New Zealand and since the very first moment we were absolutely impressed by its beauty. While hiking the Tongariro Crossing was our best experience in the North Island, the following 5 natural wonders of New Zealand’s South Island will stay in our memory forever.

Let us now take you to the southern part of the country of Lord of Rings and other fairy tales, and show you

5 of the most amazing must see places in New Zealand. 


Lake Pukaki

Lake Pukaki, the largest alpine lake in South Island, is distinguished by the exceptionally turquoise colour caused by sediments of glacial erosion that come from Tasman and Hooker Glaciers. On sunny days, Mount Cook, the highest mountain (3754 m) of New Zealand, appears in the background and adds to the dramatic scenery of the place.

The breath-taking beauty totally captivated us, and that’s why we’ve put Lake Pukaki on the first place of all the stunning must see places in New Zealand’s South Island.

After wandering along the shore of the lake, we discovered that the lower hills beside the lake made a perfect place for camping and decided to pitch a tent there.  We camped at that wonderful spot for two nights, before travelling down the south to explore more of the stunning must see places in New Zealand’s South Island.

must see places in New Zealand, lake Pukaki

We loved Lake Pukaki so much and knew we’d be back before leaving for the North Island. Three weeks later we found ourselves at the same place again; fortunately our hidden camping spot hadn’t been discovered and we could spend a few more days by this incredibly beautiful lake.

must see places in New Zealand,lake Pukaki

The third day we left only because of the strong wind that came as a precursor of huge summer storm that hit 15 minutes after we packed up and run to hide ourselves in the Visitor Information Centre on the other side of the lake. If there hadn’t been such a sudden change in the weather, we’d have hung around for a bit longer for sure! 

must see places in New Zealand,lake Pukaki



  • You can camp by lake Pukaki at a campsite called The Pines. This campsite has basic amenities such as running water and toilets and there is no fee to pay if you want to camp or stay in a camper van or a car by the lake. If you’re coming from Tekapo, turn right before the bridge to get to The Pines. You’ll see the pines, so you can’t miss the campsite. 
  • Beware of the wind that often comes from the lake; it can be really strong and cold. Don’t forget to bring warm clothes with you, even in summer.
  • There are toilets and a tap with water on your left side when coming from the highway.
  • You can stock up in nearby Twitzel or Tekapo. In both towns you will find slightly overpriced 4square shops.
  • From The Pines, it takes an hour to get to Mount Cook (by your car or hitch-hiking). 




Lake Tekapo

The second natural wonder of the South Island we love the most is Lake Tekapo. It’s the second largest alpine lake on the South Island that lies beside a well-known little town Tekapo in Mackenzie Basin.

The Church of the Good Shepherd is the main landmark of the shore of the lake. Built in 1935, it was the first church built in the Mackenzie Basin.

must see places in New Zealand, lake Tekapo

The best view of lake Tekapo we had was the day we walked up Mount John. It was amazing to have the 360 degrees view of the stunning lake and the Southern Alps towering in the background! 



  •  Climb Mount John for the amazing view of Lake Tekapo, one of the most stunning must see places in New Zealand’s South Island.  The trek starts behind the campsite and the newly built Spa park called Tekapo Springs.
  •  You can also get to the top of Mount John by car.
  • Visit the astronomical observatory at the top and have a cup of coffee in the adjacent coffee shop.

Where to stay:

Find the best deal on accommodation in Lake Tekapo on Agoda here:  Lake Tekapo on Agoda



Wharariki Beach 

Situated very near to the northern-most point of New Zealand’s South Island, Wharariki Beach is a breathtaking beach with huge waves, impressive cliffs,  massive sand dunes and mysterious caves. On top of all attractions of the fabulous beach, it’s possible to watch wild baby seals in one of its natural pools. 


After you’ve read all about this beach and imagined how amazing this place must be, you probably think that this place must be packed with visitors and there’s a high fee to be paid to enter? 

Not at all!

This beach remains off the beaten path and truly is a real hidden gem of New Zealand’s South Island.  

We loved Wharariki Beach and watched the cute seal pups playing and having fun in the sea for two hours!

must see places in New Zealand,Wharariki Beach

For directions and tips, check out the guest post  Hitchhiking New Zealand – Hidden Gems and Wild Seal Pups we wrote for The Planet D, the awesome adventure travel blog. 

Did we tell you that we hitch-hiked all around New Zealand? Not yet? Well, you can have a read of how it was like to hitch-hike in New Zealand in the guest post too. 

Watch our video of the wild seal pups on Wharariki beach right here. 🙂

What do you think, would you add Wharariki Beach to the list of must see places in New Zealand’s South Island?


Where to stay:

The closest places to stay to Wharariki Beach are located in Pohara or Takaka.

Lake Hawea

The iconic lake Hawea, with its clear blue water and framed by dramatically looking mountains, is a beautiful and tranquil place to stop at on the way to the West coast and glaciers. Located near the popular Lake Wanaka, Lake Hawea lies in a glacial valley, it’s 35km long and covers an area of approximately 141 km2.

must see places in New Zealand,lake Hawea

We spent a few days in the area; three days at Lake Wanaka and two days at Lake Hawea. Although Lake Wanaka has got some charm too, we liked Lake Hawea more because of its tranquility and the dramatic look. 

The lakeside trail running along the lake provides stunning scenery if you want to stretch your legs, or you can just relax on the shores and admire the beautiful scenery, or you can even have a swim if you don’t mind the cold water of the lake.

Where to stay:  

You can stay right in Hawea or in nearby more busy and touristy Wanaka by Wanaka Lake.



Abel Tasman National Park & Rawhiti Cave

Located at the top of the South Island, Abel Tasman is New Zealand’s smallest national park. The park features gold sandy beaches washed by clear waters of Tasman Bay, impressive rock formations and interesting wildlife; this is an ideal place to have a swim with dolphins, to watch seals and blue penguins! Most travellers also hike the world-famous coastal track or choose one of the less demanding but still very nice tracks in Abel Tasman National Park.

Abel Tasman NP was our last stop on the South Island before heading for the North Island. We did a half-day track starting on the west side of Abel Tasman NP and spent the afternoon relaxing on one of its beautiful beaches.

must see places in New Zealand, Abel Tasman National Park

Next day we ventured to Rawhiti cave close to Takaka. The track to the cave was quite steep and narrow, leading through beautiful forest resembling rainforest. 

Rawhiti cave features a large number of stalactites and old stalagmites which are growing towards the entrance of the cave. The cave was really impressive and even if it’s a less visited attraction of the region we met Japanese travellers there.

must see places in New Zealand, Rawhiti cave



  • How to get to Rawhiti cave: drive towards Pohara beach from Takaka. In Motupipi turn right into Glenview Road and then left into Packart Road through a private property to a carp park. It takes about 15 minutes to get there by car.
  • The track is rather demanding. It takes about an hour to get to the cave and about 45 minutes back. The cave is located on the top of a mountain, so to get there you ascend the whole way. The hike up is definitely worth the effort. Don’t forget that the Rawhiti cave is one of the must see places in New Zealand. 

Where to stay:

The closest places to stay can be found in Pohara, Takaka or on the other side of Abel Tasman NP in Motueka.


Have you been to New Zealand? What were the most spectacular must see places in New Zealand’s South Island you discovered on your journey?

Did you like this post? Would you like to stay up to date with our new adventures?

Just ‘Like’ our Facebook Page – and we will keep you informed! 

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  • Jasmin
    September 21, 2015

    Oh wooooow – this looks incredible!! These colors <3 And the water in combination with the mountains… just stunning!
    Thanks for inspiring me to go to NZ soon!!! Cheers, Jasmin

    • Simply Nomadic Life
      September 21, 2015

      Yes, Jasmin, New Zealand is such a stunning destination! We loved every minute of the time we travelled in this incredibly beautiful country!
      You’ll find so many breathtaking sceneries in NZ – those that we’ve included in this post and lots more. Happy travels, Petra & Veru

  • Dukelyer
    October 6, 2015

    Agree with all of your choices, especially since, although I live in China, Hawea is where my family and I call home. As a side note, on the shores of Lake Pukaki was the refugee scenes of Laketown were filmed after Smaug had destroyed the town, so I guess that Pukaki is Esgaroth and if you walk its shores you can imagine that you are stepping into the pages of JRR’s writings.

    • Simply Nomadic Life
      October 8, 2015

      Hi Luke, thank you for your comment. You and your family are very lucky that you can call lake Hawea your home. It’s such a beautiful place! We haven’t seen The Hobbit and had no idea some scenes of it were filmed on the shores of Lake Pukaki. Thanks for adding this information. Well, New Zealand is such a spectacular country – no wonder that not only travellers, but also famous filmmakers have been attracted by its beauty! Happy travels, Petra and Veru

  • Mike
    October 7, 2015

    Some great places on this list, although it seems you’ve missed milford sound?

    • Simply Nomadic Life
      October 8, 2015

      Hi Mike, thanks for your comment. We didn’t go to Milford Sound on our visit to New Zealand. We had been to Norway before coming to NZ and saw stunning fjords there. That’s why we gave preference to unique places of NZ that we could’t find anywhere else in the world. Nevertheless, we believe that Milford sound is another amazing wonder of New Zealand’s South Island. We heard that Doubtful Sound is fabulous too, and not as touristy as Milford Sound. Happy travels, Veru and Petra

  • Jannick
    October 7, 2015

    i think you should add Akaroa…thats a nice place to go as well!

    • Simply Nomadic Life
      October 8, 2015

      Thanks, Jannick, for your comment. We didn’t visit Akaroa, although it must be a very beautiful place too! We’d love to go to Akaroa next time we visit NZ. Thanks for adding this tip. It’ll be useful for people who will read your comment and will later travel to New Zealand’s South Island. Best wishes, Petra and Veru

  • Monica Wood
    October 9, 2015

    We love living in NZ – moved here 2 years ago from the uk. And yes, the scenery is astoundingly beautiful. The only thing that spoils it for us – and this fact isn’t talked about enough on tourist sites like this – is the proliferation of highly toxic poisons everywhere. In particular Compound 1080 (sodium Fluoroacetate) which is highly toxic and has no antidote. Whether it’s on the beach or on a mountain track or even in an urban public park, substances banned in the rest of the world are left openly around. Dogs and cattle frequently die horrific deaths. The NZ Dept of ‘Conservation’ propaganda is not based on any scholarly research. They continue the unnecessary use of these poisons in the misguided aim of killing ‘pests’ like rats & possums. Financial corruption is evident. But after 60 years, they have been unsuccessful and the risks to our water supply and other public health issues remain unknown (or unpublished). Check out ‘1080 Eyewitness’ or ‘No to 1080 in NZ’ on Facebook for more info. We need to raise international awareness of this ecocide so everyone can enjoy NZ for the qualities it is REPORTED to have, but which are far removed from the realities. #ban1080

    • Simply Nomadic Life
      Monica Wood
      October 10, 2015

      Hello Monica, thank your for taking the time to make this very informative comment on our website. We had no idea that these poisons were used by the NZ Department of Conservation and were shocked to hear about all of this! We’ve checked out both groups on Facebook you mentioned. It seems incredible to us, as we always thought that NZ was taking a good care of its environment. Hopefully your comment reaches a wide audience who will become aware of this serious issue. If there is any way we could help (sign an online petition or anything else), let us know. Best wishes, Petra and Veru

    • Bill Rolfe
      Monica Wood
      October 17, 2015

      Monica Wood’s idea that NZ is drenched in 1080 is not only dishonest, it is intended to destroy the real NZ. It is written by someone with an extremist viewpoint and should be read as such. I do hope you will allow my response to be read – as a direct dispute of the facts. I am 72 years old and not one to be drawn into such things but you attack my country and I resent it.

  • David
    October 9, 2015

    Love and agree with all of these! We had a great trip that was 100% south island last Feb. We loved lake Wanaka, Rob Roy Glacier, and Milford Sound! I’d also say that Milford is truly unique place, even if it is difficult to get to.

    We also paddleboarded the Tasman Bay – lots of waves and sandy beaches! One of these days I’ll get around to posting all the photos from that trip.



    • Simply Nomadic Life
      October 10, 2015

      Thanks for your comment, David. We’re glad to hear you loved NZ too! For sure we’ll be back one day to explore all those wonderful places (like Rob Roy Glacier) we couldn’t fit in our itinerary on our first visit of NZ. Best wishes, Petra and Veru

  • Bill Rolfe
    October 16, 2015

    Ah – you haven’t seen the half of it!
    From time to time I take overseas visitors on fly fishing trips to such places – remote, yet only at most an hour from the main highway, where the fishing was great but the scenery simply stunned them.
    As a Kiwi I guess I took it all for granted, having grown up in this environment, and it took the eyes of others to make me realise what a beautiful country New Zealand really is.

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