South Island of New Zealand

The South Island of New Zealand is a land of stunning contrasts, from the snow-capped mountains to the golden beaches, from lush rainforests to dry plains, from bustling cities to the tranquil lakes. It is the larger but less populated of the two main islands of New Zealand, covering about 150,000 square kilometers and home to about 1.2 million people. It is also known as Te Waipounamu, meaning “the Water of Greenstone” in Māori, the indigenous language of New Zealand.

An Overview of the South Island of New Zealand

South Island of New Zealand Location:The South Island of New Zealand is located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, separated from the North Island by the Cook Strait. It is bordered by the Tasman Sea to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the south and east.
Island Size (km2):150,437 square kilometres (58,084 square miles)
Population:The South Island has a population of 1,225,000 as of June 2023, which is only 23% of New Zealand’s total population of 5.2 million.
Regions of the South Island of New Zealand:Nelson-Tasman, Marlborough, West Coast, Canterbury, Otago, Southland
Main Cities and Towns in the South Island:There are 4 cities in the South Island of New Zealand; Christchurch, Dunedin, Invercargill, and Nelson.
Other major towns include Blenheim, Kaikoura, Ashburton, Queenstown, Timaru and Wanaka.

Upper South Island

The upper part of the South Island of New Zealand consists of three regions: Nelson-Tasman, Marlborough, and northern Canterbury.


Nelson Tasman region South Island of New Zealand

The Nelson-Tasman region is the sunniest in New Zealand! With three national parks, golden beaches, and the thriving arts and crafts scene of Nelson City, it is a stunning region of the South Island of New Zealand to explore!


Marlborough South Island of New Zealand

Marlborough is a region in the north-east of the South Island, and is famous for its incredible wine industry, producing some of the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc! The region has a diverse landscape, from the incredible beaches and coves of the Marlborough Sounds to the fertile Wairau Valley. The main towns are Blenheim and Picton


Kaikoura South Island of New Zealand

Kaikoura is a charming sea-side town on the east coast of the South Island, and is a part of the Canterbury Region. It is famous for its dramatic landscapes and incredible marine-life, and is one of the few places you can see whales, dolphins and seals all year round! The town is also surrounded by the majestic Kaikoura Range, which offers hiking, skiing, and scenic flights.

Central South Island

The central part of the South Island encompasses the vast Canterbury region, stretching all the way from the vibrant city of Christchurch to the snow-capped peaks of Aoraki Mount Cook. This region offers a little bit of everything; from skiing in the Alps, to cycling in the plains, to surfing in the gorgeous Pacific Ocean!


Canterbury Region of New Zealand

Canterbury is the largest region in New Zealand, and covers an area of 44,503 square kilometres! The region has a diverse landscape, from the silvery beaches of the East Coast to the jagged peaks of the Southern Alps. Canterbury is home to New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki / Mount Cook, as well as more than 400 lakes and 78,000 km of rivers! The region is also known for its rich agricultural and pastoral heritage, producing some of the country’s finest wool, meat, dairy, and wine. The main centre of Canterbury is Christchurch, the South Island’s largest city and a cultural hub.


Christchurch South Island of New Zealand

Nestled on the east coast of New Zealand is Christchurch, the largest city in the South Island! Christchurch is known as the Garden City, for its beautiful tree-lined streets, parks, and gardens. The Avon River / Ōtākaro flows through the centre of the city, surrounded by cafes, restaurants, boutique shopping streets, and art galleries! This city is also a gateway to many natural attractions, such as the vast Canterbury Plains, the Southern Alps, and the gorgeous Banks Peninsula.

Aoraki Mount Cook

Aoraki Mount Cook South Island of New Zealand

Aoraki Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand, at around 3,724 metres tall! It is located in the stunning Southern Alps, the dramatic mountain range that runs the length of the South Island. Aoraki Mount Cook is a popular tourist destination and a favourite challenge for mountain climbers. The mountain is part of the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, which contains more than 140 peaks over 2,000 metres and 72 glaciers. The park is also part of the Te Wāhipounamu World Heritage Site.

West Coast

West Coast South Island of New Zealand

The West Coast is the wildest and most remote region of the South Island, stretching for 600 kilometers along the coastline of the Tasman Sea. It is a place of natural wonders, where you can witness the glaciers of Franz Josef and Fox, the rainforests of Paparoa and Westland, the national parks of Kahurangi and Mount Aspiring, and the gold mining history of Hokitika and Greymouth. The West Coast is also home to the famous Pancake Rocks, a geological formation of layered limestone rocks that resemble stacks of pancakes.

Lower South Island

The lower part of the South Island comprises the regions of Otago and Southland, and encompasses a number of incredible destinations!

Central Otago

Central Otago South Island of New Zealand

Central Otago is an area in the inland part of the Otago region, known for its dry and sunny climate, stunning landscapes, and fascinating gold mining history. Due to its climate, the Central Otago Region is also a major wine-producing area in New Zealand, and is known especially for its Pinot Noir! The area has a distinctive character and charm, with many historic towns and attractions to explore. The main towns in Central Otago are Alexandra, Cromwell, Ranfurly, and Roxburgh


Dunedin South Island of New Zealand

Dunedin is the second-largest city in the South Island and the main city of the gorgeous Otago region. It is known for its Scottish heritage, its vibrant culture and arts scene, and its wildlife and natural attractions. Dunedin is also home to the University of Otago, the oldest university in New Zealand! Some of the highlights of Dunedin include the Dunedin Railway Station, the Otago Museum, the Otago Peninsula, and the Royal Albatross Centre.

Queenstown Lakes District

Queenstown Lakes District

Queenstown Lakes District is a district in the Otago region, covering an area of 8,719 square kilometres. The district is named after its two main towns, Queenstown and Wānaka, which are both popular tourist destinations and adventure hubs. Queenstown Lakes District is famous for its stunning scenery, featuring mountains, lakes, rivers, and forests. The district offers a wide range of activities, such as skiing, snowboarding, bungy jumping, jet boating, hiking, biking, golfing, and wine tasting. The district is also home to some of the most iconic attractions in New Zealand, such as the dramatic Remarkables mountain range, Coronet Peak, Cardrona Alpine Resort, and Lake Wānaka!


southland region new Zealand

The Southland region is the southernmost region of the South Island of New Zealand! It stretches from the dramatic fjords and snow-capped mountains of the Fiordland National Park to the lush forests of the Catlins.

The region has a population of about 103,900 people, most of whom live in the city of Invercargill, Southlands main city! Some of the other towns in Southland include Gore, Te Anau, Riverton, and Bluff – home of the famous Bluff Oysters!


Fiordland South Island of New Zealand

Fiordland is a National Park found in the south-western corner of the South Island of New Zealand, comprising the westernmost third of Southland. This magnificent national park is dominated by the steep sides of the Southern Alps, deep lakes, and its dramatic, glacier-carved and ocean-flooded valleys, called fiords. The most popular activities in Fiordland are cruising through Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, or exploring the pristine wilderness on the Routeburn Track

The Catlins

The Catlins South Island of New Zealand

The Catlins is a scenic coastal area in the southeastern corner of the South Island of New Zealand, stretching between Balclutha and Invercargill. The area is known for its rugged, sparsely populated landscape and diverse wildlife, including seals, penguins, dolphins, and sea lions. The Catlins features sandy beaches, blowholes, a petrified forest, and the Cathedral Caves. It is also home to some of the most iconic waterfalls in New Zealand!