Wine. Mountains. Glaciers. Penguins. What more could you want? The South Island of New Zealand really is as magical as everyone boasts. There is beauty around every corner. No joke. No wonder New Zealand ranks high on so many travel bucket lists. Read about our favourite South Island experiences below.
Wine Tasting at Rock Ferry Wines
After our morning Interislander Journey we quickly made our way to Rock Ferry Wines in Blenheim for some vino and lunch. Nestled among the beautiful mountains and endless vines of the Marlborough wine region, Rock Ferry Wines served up delicious food and even more excellent Sauvignon Blanc to wash it down.
Compared to wine tastings we have experienced in Canada, we were surprised with how affordable it was (especially if you eat). We were also surprised to not only find that they were welcoming of our daughter but even had a high chair for her to use to keep those little fingers away from our tasty vino.
Punakaiki Pancake Rocks
The famous Punakaiki Pancake Rocks (located just North of Greymouth on the west side of the South Island) are just like they sound. The flat, circular limestone rocks look like giant stacks of pancakes and can be explored easily by following the marked 20 minute loop walk from the parking lot.
As you can imagine, those of you traveling with babies will want to babywear for this walk. There are many steps in the rocks that are narrow and would be too challenging with a stroller.
Franz Josef Glacier Walk
If you are visiting the South Island, a visit to the Franz Josef Glacier is an absolute must. We also had the opportunity to visit Fox Glacier. If you have time to do both great, but if not we found Franz Josef to be more remarkable. We did the 1.5 hour Franz Josef Glacier Walk (there are shorter options if you have less time) that will get you as close as possible to the Terminal Face.
The walk is easy, but not stroller friendly, so babywearing is essential. Along the walk you will be in awe of the craggy rocks and cliffs on either side of you. You will also come across glacial waterfalls, streams, and moss covered rocks. To this day we consider this day one of our favourites from the whole trip.
Taking silly pictures on Baldwin Street in Dunedin
We’ve all done it. Leaning tower of Pisa. Bolivian Salt Flats. Some tourist attractions are just meant for taking silly pictures. Baldwin Street in Dunedin is no exception. Recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s Steepest Residential Street, it’s definitely a leg workout to get to the steepest point but there are lots of opportunities for rest breaks and fun photos along the way.
Situated on the east coast of the South Island and just outside of central Dunedin, the Otago Peninsula is an animal lovers dream. With opportunities to stroll with sheep and catch glimpses of seals, sea lions and penguins you won’t be disappointed. We spent most of the day exploring the peninsula at our own pace – walking through fields, exploring the craggy coastline and checking out various beaches to see if we could spot any wildlife. We were even able to spot a sleeping sea lion!
You don’t need to book a tour to enjoy the Otago Peninsula but we opted to schedule a 1 hour wildlife tour with Natures Wonders just in case we had been unsuccessful in spotting all the wildlife we had hoped to see. Because Millie was only 7 months old at the time we opted for the “coach” (small bus) option instead of the “argo” (8-wheel drive all terrain vehicle) tour option. The argo option seems like a fantastic option for anyone with slightly older kids as they really go off-roading. We learned a lot on this tour and got to see the Royal Albatross, a blue-eyed penguin and countless seals.
Even though the detour to Slope Point made for an exceptionally long driving day from Dunedin to Te Anau, we just couldn’t resist checking it out. Slope Point is the southernmost point of the South Island of New Zealand. Translation: there is nothing but cool winds and water between you and Antarctica! There is no road to Slope Point so you will need to walk for about 15 minutes through farmers fields to reach the official location.
As you arrive at Slope Point you will notice that the violent Antarctic winds have twisted and bent the trees into the most beautiful natural art installations. These trees are just one of the reasons to make the trek. The views from the southern cliffs, the adorable sheep and the rocky cliffs along the coast aren’t too shabby either.
Milford Sound, located on the West Coast of the South Island, is possibly New Zealand’s most famous attraction. The fjords are best enjoyed from the water, as such there are a number of boat tour operators to choose from. We were happy with our Jucy car rental so we booked a Jucy Cruize to explore the fjords, cliffs and waterfalls of Milford Sound. We would recommend Jucy to anyone exploring Milford Sound. The tours all take the same route and Jucy offers a more affordable option compared to some of the other operators.
Despite how peaceful Milford Sound appears, the wind was crazy the day we visited (60 knots just shy of Category 1 hurricane levels) so we spent a limited time on the upper viewing deck. Instead we sat indoors on the main deck enjoying coffee, tea and a wrap from Pita Pit while we took in the sights of the fjords. When your kiddos aren’t captivated by the peaks of cliffs, spray from glacial waterfalls or playing seals, the boats are big enough for even the most fidgety littles to have space to play. For you parents – just sit back and enjoy the beauty of Milford Sound.
Queenstown is marketed as an adrenaline junkie’s paradise and to be honest I’m sure it is. You can go parasailing, bungee jumping, and jet-boating among a number of other adventures. But adrenaline isn’t really our cup of tea and isn’t the only thing Queenstown has to offer.
Incredible views, great walking trails, delicious food and wine are also part of the package and with a 7 month old in tow, that was perfect for us. Queenstown is also within a short drive from the peaceful resort town of Wanaka as well as Arrowtown, a former gold rush village. Both options are baby-friendly and warrant an afternoon of exploration. Older kiddos will especially love gold panning in Arrowtown.
What were your favourite South Island activities? Want some ideas for the North Island? Read about our North Island adventures here.