The South Island of New Zealand is the larger of the two main islands but it has only about one-third of the population. New Zealand’s South Island is without a doubt one of the world’s most beautiful places. The island is packed with everything an outdoors person could imagine. The island has golden sand beaches, dense rainforests, snow caped mountains, massive glaciers, aquamarine glacial lakes, fantastic waterfalls, crystal clear rivers, rugged coastlines, magnificent fjords, rolling hillsides, secluded calm harbors and some really unusual rock formations.

It is hard to imagine that a single island can contain this much diversity but some of that diversity is separated between the East and West Coasts. This is why it only makes sense to separate my article into what you can expect to see when visiting the East or West Coast.

West Coast

The west coast is lined by the Southern Alps mountain ranges with most of the nature components being created by the mountains. Mount Cook is the highest point at 3,724 meters (12,218 ft.) above sea level.

The Southern Alps are home to two impressive glaciers, the Fox Glacier and the Franz Josef Glacier. Photos of these glaciers are shown below.

The snow melt from the Southern Alps produce beautiful rivers, waterfalls and lakes. A sample of the rivers and lakes that can be seen along the western coast are shown in the following photos



One of the most scenic lakes that I saw was Lake Matheson. Lake Matheson is a small glacial Lake that is located near Fox Glacier.

The New Zealand Fjords are probably the most famous natural attractions in the country. I have previously made posts on Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound and a link to those posts is located at the bottom of this post but I have included a photo of Milford sound and a waterfall in Milford Sound to show examples of this part of the south island.

The coastline along the West Coast is extremely picturesque but very rugged with large waves pounding on the rocks and beaches with stones and pebbles instead of sand. A sample of the scenery that you can see along the west coast drive are shown below.

There are places on the west coast that are covered in lush rainforest. The rainforest in the south island are classified as temperate with ferns and mosses growing on the trees. The trails are easy to hike and photos below are examples of the south island rainforests.

East Coast

The east coast is a dramatic contrast to the west coast but I think it is equally beautiful just less rugged. The highlights of the east coast are rolling hills, calm harbors, seaside towns, springtime colors, unusual rock formations and scenic ocean views.

Rolling Hills

The landscape on the east coast is strikingly different than the west coast. The coastline is primarily rolling hills with green pastures and patches of trees.

Many areas along the coast have sheltered harbors with calm waters where fishing boats and sailboats are anchored.

Most of the population on the south island is located on the east side of the island and many of those towns are quaint seaside towns. Two of the towns that I visited are shown below.

My visit to the east side of the island was during the spring. I thought the spring colors were beautiful as some of the hillsides were lit up with large sections of yellow flowers.

Many places that I travel have unusual rock formations and the south island of New Zealand has two noteworthy unusual rock formations. One on the west coast and one on the east coast. The formation on the west coast are the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and the formation on the east coast are the Moeraki Boulders. I will have future posts on both of these but I have included a photo of the Moerake Boulders for an example of this unusual formation.

One of my favorite parts of the east coast was sailing along the coast line and enjoying the beautiful natural scenery. Many places along the coast are sparsely populated and the natural state is still undisturbed. For me, it was nice to sit back and enjoy seeing unspoiled nature.

The Dust on My Shoes

I enjoyed both sides of the south island. There is so much to see in the south island. No matter how much time you plan to stay, it won’t be enough!

The west coast has jaw dropping scenery and everywhere I looked was another example of pure nature at is finest. Many of the places that I experienced gave me the feeling that I was looking at something that hasn’t changed from the time it was formed.

The east coast is also very pretty but it is more developed and is more designed for enjoying nature in comfort.

Driving along the west coast is like seeing one post card view after another. Every time you round the corner there is another beautiful natural scene. It is tempting to stop at every place there is to pull over but if you do that then you will never finish the drive. If you do decide to drive the west coast then you should double the time you estimated. The roads are windy the views are spectacular and you will stop more than expected.

The south island is known for its low population but don’t be surprised if you get stuck in a traffic jam!

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5 thoughts on “South Island of New Zealand”

  1. Thank you for sharing the adventure! We never made it there-so travel while you are young! Beautiful!

    1. Thanks Marlene! I agree, there is never enough time to see everything that I want to see and do. I have been traveling for almost 40 years and there are so many things that I still want to experience.

  2. Doug, thank you for sharing this. These are beautiful pictures, particularly the glacier pictures. I have heard that New Zealand is beautiful, now I can see all the pictures. Thank you.

    1. Ashoak, I am glad that you enjoyed the photos from the South Island of New Zealand. New Zealand is a truly beautiful country. My photos only show a small portion of the nature that can be seen there. Hopefully you will be able to go to New Zealand and see it for yourself!

      1. Sure Doug, I will certainly have to plan to visit there

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