New Zealand is one of the happiest countries in the world. It helps that its landscapes are so stunningly otherworldly that New Zealand is a go-to filming location for literal fantasy lands. But for travelers, New Zealand’s natural beauty can be more than just a fantasy. If you’re headed to the Land of the Long White Cloud — a popular translation of Aotearoa, New Zealand’s indigenous Māori name — start with the South Island to see for yourself. These six natural attractions prove just how fantastical the New Zealand’s South Island truly is.
Must-See places in New Zealand. 📹: @kylekotajarvi
Fiordland National Park
Spanning 1.2 million hectares of New Zealand’s South Island, Fiordland is one of four national parks belonging to the Te Wāhipounamu South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. It’s New Zealand’s largest national park, and every inch of it affirms its status as a natural wonder. In addition to fjords, Fiordland is home to soaring peaks, tranquil lakes, tall waterfalls, lush valleys, marshy wetlands, and diverse forests ranging from birch and beech to native bush. Numerous animal species inhabit these environments, including rare bird species such as kiwis, rock wrens, and blue ducks. Come to hike, boat, kayak, fish, camp, and more.
Standing at nearly 4,800 feet of elevation, Brewster Hut is a 12-bunk hut located in Mount Aspiring National Park in the Otago region of the South Island. It’s available for overnights — advance bookings required between December 1 and April 30 while May 1 to November 30 are first-come, first-served — but it’s also the terminus of the Brewster Track, a three-mile out-and-back trail that sets off at Fantail Falls and continues over the Haast River. Despite the relatively short distance, the estimated time for the Brewster Track is six to eight hours.
Blue Pools Walk
The Blue Pools are another highlight of Mount Aspiring National Park, located at the confluence of the Blue and Makarora Rivers. The result is a swath of glacial waters that present a particularly vibrant and icy blue hue. The Blue Pools Track is a mile-long return walking route that traverses beech and podocarp forests until you come across a swing bridge spanning the Makarora River that leads to a viewing platform. This is a particularly worthwhile outing from Wānaka, a popular outdoor resort on the South Island, via the Haast Highway.
Hooker Lake is a glacial lake in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park on the South Island. It’s fed by meltwater from one of New Zealand’s largest glaciers — the mighty Tasman Glacier — and is surrounded on either side by majestic mountains. Impressive views of Hooker Lake can be found all along its shoreline, where you’ll find trails that traverse through nearby meadows and groves. Of course, you can also get out on the water by kayak, canoe, or boat.
Milford Sound is a fjord located in the southwest of the South Island. Its deep blue waters host an abundance of sea life, including seals, dolphins, and penguins. The sound is also home to Mitre Peak — one of New Zealand’s iconic mountains — as well as numerous waterfalls pouring from sheer vertical rock faces. The sound consists of steep granite cliffs, waterfalls, and valleys surrounded by untouched native rainforest. There are countless activities to immerse yourself in such as kayaking, sightseeing tours, cruising, hiking, and diving.
Located in the Southern Alps of the South Island, Lake Pukaki is an alpine lake that’s fed by runoff from glaciers in Mount Cook National Park. Its deep blue waters are unparalleled in clarity and bordered by expansive snow-capped peaks. Visitors can cruise on the lake by canoe or kayak, cast a fishing rod, or hike or bike along the lakeshore. Lake Pukaki is also surrounded by winding roads that are perfect for scenic drives. Either way, keep an eye out for exciting birdlife such as swans, black swans, and kiwi birds.