The Best South Island New Zealand Adventures

By Ziggy Dukes

5 minute read

Get hold of your free New Zealand Trails brochure here

If there’s one thing Kiwis do well, it’s figuring out the best ways to chase an adventure! Whether it be on land, sea or sky we Kiwis have figured out a way. From bungy jumping to glacier hiking or even swimming with dolphins, we’ve got you covered on your New Zealand adventure.

Whether you're looking for a heart-pumping adrenaline rush or an authentic wilderness experience New Zealand has something for you. Here is our list of the top adventures to be found on New Zealand's South Island and there's something for everyone no matter how big or small a thrill you’re seeking. 

South Island Top 9 Adventure Activities

1. Heli-hiking

With the ever-changing nature of New Zealand’s glaciers, stepping out onto one is something you will remember forever. Donning your glacier boots and crampons, you’ll take a helicopter ride up to a glacier and marvel at its ice formations. You might even get the chance to explore some enchanting ice caves. Often it’s just mountaineers that get to experience such things, however, heli-hiking opens up a whole new world for you to elevate your hiking trip to the next level. For the best heli-hiking in New Zealand head to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park or Franz Josef.   

Heli Hiking Adventure

Heli-hiking in Fiordland National Park.

2. Caving/Visiting our glow worms!

New Zealand and Australia are the only two places in the world where you can see glow worms. These unique creatures reside in the darkness within our caves, emitting a small glow to attract prey. In large groups, these wee creatures light up our caves like a starry night sky! Te Anau is a great spot to catch a glimpse of these critters and makes a great addition to any Fiordland adventure. 

3. Dolphin swimming

From sky to sea, dolphin swimming is another activity we can’t get enough of! One of our favourite swims is in Kaikoura, which we’ve built into our Masterpiece and Kiwi Classic itineraries. A purpose-built boat takes you right into our Dusky dolphins’ natural habitat and before long you’re surrounded by a pod of these playful and acrobatic creatures! This is the best of New Zealand’s open ocean wildlife interactions and is done entirely on the dolphins’ terms.

Dolphin Swim

Swimming with dolphins at sunrise is truly a magical experience.

4. Diving

New Zealand is a scuba diver’s dream due to its accessible coastlines, crystal clear waters, diverse wildlife and many marine reserves. The iconic Milford Sound is a bucket list destination for divers as it’s one of the easiest spots in New Zealand to spot the rare black coral that grows shallower here than usual. Other popular spots for diving on the South Island include Kaikoura, Marlborough Sounds and Stewart Island.

5. Hiking

Our personal favourite, New Zealand is home to some of the best hiking in the world. Whether you're looking for multi-day tramps (kiwi slang for a multi-day hike), day hikes or short walks New Zealand's South Island has something for everyone. From the lush beech forest of the Kepler Track to the snow-capped peaks of Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, hiking allows you to access New Zealand's pristine wilderness and truly immerse yourself in all of its natural beauty. Check out our guide to the best times to hike in New Zealand. 

Routeburn Track Adventure

Exploring New Zealand by foot is our favourite way to explore our country.

6. Jetboating

With the wind in your hair and beaut scenery whizzing by, it’s impossible not to have fun on a jetboat ride! An entirely Kiwi invention, jetboats are designed to let you make easy work of even the shallowest rivers. You’ll speed down our braided rivers and gorges, and the highly skilled drivers have endless ways of keeping the ride exciting, including throwing in a few 360° spins. Along with the scenic flight in and day hike through the gorgeous valley, jetboating down the Sibera Stream in Mt Aspiring National Park is one of the highlights of our Pure South adventure. 

Jetboat Siberia Valley

Jetboat down the Siberia Stream.

7. Kayaking

If you prefer your watercraft without an engine, the South Island is a kayaker’s paradise with countless lakes, rivers and beaches to choose from. Our top picks are Lake Mapourika (Franz Josef) with its mysterious dark waters and Kiwi bird habitat, the sun-soaked Marlborough Sounds region and of course the golden-sand beaches of the Abel Tasman. 

Kayaking on Lake Mapourika

Kayaking on Lake Mapourika.

8. Ziplining

We love exploring our forest floors on foot but ziplining is another fun way to explore the forests from above. Strapping yourself into a harness you’ll fly through the treetops – sometimes at speeds of up to 60km per hour! You can zipline at Queenstown’s Skyline complex, near the start of the famous Ben Lomond hike. For those with some time in Queenstown, you could even combine ziplining with a luge ride and parasailing for a triad of adventure activities all within the same picturesque precinct!

Hiking Ben Lomond trail

Zipline, bungy, luge and hike all on Queenstowns doorstep.

9. A Glacier Explorer Boat Trip

Next on our list of ultimate New Zealand adventures, the glacier explorer is an experience like no other. This incredibly unique adventure on the water of the Tasman Lake in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park is the only one of its kind in New Zealand. Run by our friends at the Hermitage Hotel you'll hop aboard a zodiac boat to weave through giant floating icebergs and get up close with New Zealand's largest glacier. It's an experience you won't forget and an option on all our New Zealand adventure tours that visit the area. You won't want to miss it! 

Tasman Lake and Glacier Explorer

10. Bungy Jumping

Last but certainly not least, is New Zealand’s best-known adventure activity – the bungy jump. Strap yourself in and leap off a bridge - that’s all there is to it. There are three bungy sites in the South Island and they are all located in Central Otago. If you’re game, the Arrowtown bike ride or hike on our Pure South, Masterpiece and Kiwi Classic trips finish up at the Kawarau Bungy Bridge. It’s no worries to organise a jump, in fact, we’d love to see it and your travel buddies will too!

Adventure Travel at Its Best

Here at New Zealand Trails we believe the best way to truly experience all our beautiful country has to offer is to get out there and explore it with the locals. Our fully guided New Zealand adventure tours encompass the very best of New Zealand’s bucket list destinations, activities and experiences. We make it easy to hike, bike, paddle, fly and jetboat around New Zealand so all you have to do is sit back and relax...or bungy from the Kawaura Bridge - it's up to you. 

If you'd like to find out more about our New Zealand hiking and adventure tours grab a copy of our FREE BROCHURE HERE or reach out and get in touch - we'd love to hear from you. 


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