Lonely Planet New Zealand's South Island

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Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet New Zealand's South Island is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Gaze upon the spectacular ice flows of Fox Glacier, commune with marine life at Kaikoura, and relive your adventures over dinner in Queenstown; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of New Zealand's South Island and begin your journey now!

  • Inside Lonely Planet New Zealand South Island:
  • Colour maps and images throughout
  • Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests
  • Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots
  • Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices
  • Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss
  • Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - history, art, music, M?ori language and culture, wildlife, cuisine, wine, landscapes, politics, literature, cinema.
  • Free, convenient pull-out New Zealand Touring sheet-map (included in print version), plus over 55 maps
  • Covers Marlborough, Nelson, West Coast, Christchurch, Canterbury, Dunedi, Otago, Queenstown, Wanaka, Fiordland, Southland and more

eBook Features: (Best viewed on tablet devices and smartphones)

  • Downloadable PDF and offline maps prevent roaming and data charges
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  • Seamlessly flip between pages
  • Bookmarks and speedy search capabilities get you to key pages in a flash
  • Embedded links to recommendations' websites
  • Zoom-in maps and images
  • Inbuilt dictionary for quick referencing

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet New Zealand's South Island, our most comprehensive guide to New Zealand's South Island, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.

  • Also check out Lonely Planet New Zealand's North Island.
  • Looking for more coverage? Check out Lonely Planet New Zealand for a comprehensive look at what the whole country has to offer.

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travellers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

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Marlborough & Nelson

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For many travellers, Marlborough and Nelson will be their introduction to what South Islanders refer to as the ‘Mainland’. Having left windy Wellington, and made a white-knuckled crossing of Cook Strait, folk are often surprised to find the sun shining and the temperature 10°C warmer.

These top-of-the-South neighbours have much in common beyond an amenable climate: both boast renowned coastal holiday spots, particularly the Marlborough Sounds, Abel Tasman National Park and Kaikoura. There are two other national parks (Kahurangi and Nelson Lakes) amid more mountain ranges than you can poke a Leki-stick at.

And so it follows that these two regions have an abundance of produce, from game and seafood to summer fruits, and most famously the grapes that work their way into the wine glasses of the world’s finest restaurants. Keep your penknife and picnic set at the ready.

AThe forecast is good: Marlborough and Nelson soak up some of New Zealand’s sunniest weather, with January and February the warmest months when daytime temperatures average 22°C.

 

The West Coast

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Hemmed in by the wild Tasman Sea and the Southern Alps, the West Coast is like nowhere else in New Zealand.

The far extremities of the coast have a remote, end-of-the-road feel, from sleepy Karamea surrounded by farms butting up against Kahurangi National Park, to the southern end of State Hwy 6, gateway to NZ's World Heritage areas. In between is an alluring combination of wild coastline, rich wilderness, and history in spades.

Built on the wavering fortunes of gold, coal and timber, the stories of Coast settlers are hair-raising. A hardy and individual breed, they make up less than 1% of NZ’s population, scattered around almost 9% of its land area.

Travellers tend to tick off the ‘must see’ sights of Punakaiki, and Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, but sights such as Oparara Basin, Okarito Lagoon and the Coast's many lakes will amaze in equal measure.

ADecember through February is peak season, so book accommodation ahead during this period.

AThe shoulder months of October/November and March/April are increasingly busy, particularly around Punakaiki, Hokitika and the Glaciers.

 

Christchurch & Canterbury

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Nowhere in New Zealand is changing and developing as fast as postearthquake Christchurch. Visiting the country’s second-largest city as it's being rebuilt and reborn is both interesting and inspiring.

A short drive from Christchurch's dynamic re-emergence, Banks Peninsula conceals hidden bays and beaches – a backdrop for wildlife cruises with a sunset return to the attractions of Akaroa. To the north are the vineyards of the Waipara Valley and the family-holiday ambience of Hanmer Springs. Westwards, the chequerboard farms of the Canterbury Plains morph quickly into the dramatic wilderness of the Southern Alps.

Canterbury's summertime attractions include tramping along alpine valleys and over passes around Arthur’s Pass, and mountain biking around the turquoise lakes of Mackenzie Country. During winter, the attention switches to the ski fields. Throughout the seasons, Aoraki/Mt Cook, the country’s tallest peak, stands sentinel over this diverse region.

ACanterbury is one of NZ’s driest regions, as moisture-laden westerlies from the Tasman Sea dump their rainfall on the West Coast before hitting the eastern side of the South Island. Visit from January to March for hot and settled summer weather, and plenty of opportunities to get active amid the region's spectacular landscapes.

 

Dunedin & Otago

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Otago has attractions both urban and rural, ranging from quirky towns to world-class wineries and some of the country’s most accessible wildlife. Its historic heart is Dunedin, home to a vibrant student culture and arts scene. From the town’s stately Edwardian train station it's possible to catch the famous Taieri Gorge Railway inland, and continue on two wheels along the craggily scenic Otago Central Rail Trail.

Those seeking colonial New Zealand can soak up the frontier atmosphere of gold-rush towns such as Clyde, St Bathans, Naseby and cute-as-a-button Ophir. For wildlife, head to the Otago Peninsula, where penguins, albatross, sea lions and seals are easily sighted. Seaside Oamaru has a wonderful historic precinct, resident penguin colonies and a quirky devotion to steampunk culture.

Unhurried and overflowing with picturesque scenery, Otago is generous to explorers who are after a more leisurely style of holiday.

AFebruary and March have settled, sunny weather (usually…), and the juicy appeal of fresh apricots, peaches and cherries.

 

Queenstown & Wanaka

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With a cinematic background of mountains and lakes, and a ‘what can we think of next?’ array of adventure activities, it’s little wonder Queenstown tops the itineraries of many travellers.

Slow down slightly in Wanaka – Queenstown’s less flashy cousin – which also has good restaurants, bars and outdoor adventures on tap. With Mt Aspiring National Park nearby, you’re only a short drive from true NZ wilderness.

Slow down even more in Glenorchy, an improbably scenic reminder of what Queenstown and Wanaka were like before the adventure groupies moved in. Negotiate the Greenstone and Routeburn Tracks for extended outdoor thrills, or kayak the upper reaches of Lake Wakatipu.

Across in historic Arrowtown, consider the town’s gold-mining past over a chilled wine or dinner in a cosy bistro. The following day there’ll be plenty more opportunities to dive back into Queenstown’s action-packed whirlwind.

AThe fine and settled summer weather from January to March is the perfect backdrop to Queenstown's active menu of adventure sports and outdoor exploration. March also brings the Gibbston Wine & Food Festival to Queenstown Gardens.

 

Fiordland & Southland

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Welcome to scenery that travellers dream of and cameras fail to do justice to.

To the west is Fiordland National Park, with jagged misty peaks, glistening lakes and fiords, and a remarkable surfeit of stillness. Enter this beautiful isolation via the world-famous Milford Track, just one of many trails that meander through densely forested, glacier-sculptured valleys confined by mighty mountain ranges. Fiordland is also home to Milford and Doubtful Sounds, where verdant cliffs soar almost vertically from deep, indigo waters.

In Southland’s east, a sharp turn off the beaten track leads through the peaceful Catlins, where waterfalls cascade through lush forest and diverse wildlife congregates around a rugged and beautiful coastline.

And then there's the end of the line – Stewart Island/Rakiura, an isolated isle home to friendly seafarers and a flock of beautiful rare birds, including New Zealand’s beloved icon, the kiwi.

AVisit from December to April for the best chance of settled weather amid Fiordland's notoriously fickle climate (although chances are, you'll still see rain!).

 

Directory AZ

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For more accommodation reviews by Lonely Planet authors, check out http://lonelyplanet.com/hotels/. You’ll find independent reviews, as well as recommendations on the best places to stay. Best of all, you can book online.

Book your accommodation well in advance during peak tourist times: summer holidays from Christmas to late January, at Easter, and during winter in snowy resort towns like Queenstown and Wanaka.

Bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation in NZ pops up in the middle of cities, in rural hamlets and on stretches of isolated coastline, with rooms on offer in everything from suburban bungalows to stately manors.

Breakfast may be ‘continental’ (cereal, toast and tea or coffee), ‘hearty continental’ (add yoghurt, fruit, home-baked bread or muffins) or a stomach-loading cooked meal (eggs, bacon, sausages…). Some B&B hosts may also cook dinner for guests and advertise dinner, bed and breakfast (DB&B) packages.

B&B tariffs are typically in the $120 to $200 bracket (per double), though some places cost upwards of $300 per double. Some hosts cheekily charge hefty prices for what is, in essence, a bedroom in their home. Off-street parking is often a bonus in the big cities.

 

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