New Zealand’s South Island, though referred to as the “Mainland”, should not be confused with other land masses that bear that name: we tend to associate that term with the most populous areas of any given country, and the South Island is certainly not that (less than a fourth of New Zealand’s total population lives here, despite the South Island covering a third more space than the North Island).
The island largely enjoys a temperate climate (though with winter and summer months being the opposite of what residents of the Northern Hemisphere expect), though a variety of different weather conditions lead to both a diversified terrain and diversified lifestyles among the South Island inhabitants. Though there are plenty of opportunities on this picturesque isle for doing business, its main selling point may be the opportunities it presents for leisure and adventure.Kaikoura
The town of Kaikoura along the northeast coast, with a population of fewer than 3,000, provides an excellent starting point for discovery of the island. Kaikoura prides itself on meeting the highest standards set for “green” or “sustainable” tourism, having been certified according to the UN’s Earthcheck criteria for such. Though this commitment to ecological concerns manifests itself in local activities like an ‘Eco-Art’ show, visitors are more likely to desire immersing themselves in the landscape itself.
For those who are not into athletics, yet enjoy combining personal fitness concerns with an enjoyment of the great outdoors, the Peninsula Walkway along Fyffe Quay in Kaikoura provides a fantastic hiking experience acclaimed by a considerable number of travelers. The walk, for those who are ready for the exercise involved in heavy stair-climbing, is ideal for all-age outings: it features an encounter with a seal colony and with a wide variety of avian life. Those with more of a flair for aquatic activities should certainly also go whale watching in the Kaikoura vicinity, or attempt to swim alongside a dolphin.
The Southern Alps
The Southern Alps looming over Kaikoura bring us to another activity, the South Island’s opportunities for skiing and other winter sports. The aforementioned alpine range forms a backbone running from the extreme north to the southernmost tip of the island, with Mount Cook / Aoraki being the highest point and being therefore one of the most frequented areas by tourists and best served by resort areas. However, there are still plenty of adventures to be had on and around the less obvious peaks: Mount Potts offers daredevil activities like heli-skiing, and also gives one the opportunity to see where key sets of the Lord of the Rings trilogy were filmed (New Zealand’s official tourism bureau, in recent years, invited travelers to the country with the promise of discovering “Middle Earth” there).
Invincible snowfields and other adventures
If rugged reality, rather than the fantasy world of hobbits and elves, is your thing, then by all means look into the Invincible Snowfields about an hour west of the resort area of Queenstown. This area can only be accessed by helicopter, and though it is primarily advertised as a haven for backcountry skiing, it is also recommended for those seeking a sort of ‘nature survival’ experience: there is no more luxurious accommodation in the area than a hut with a gas stove, and no ‘groomed trails’ either. The almost secretive nature of the region makes it a fine choice for those who consider a vacation / holiday an opportunity to evade human influence, rather than a chance to merely conduct business in a more exotic setting.
Deep Canyon in Wanaka does not reach this level of challenge, but remains another of South Island’s highest rated attractions for its abundance of climbing, abseiling / rappeling and rock-sliding activities. Whether you enjoy sliding off of waterfalls or merely taking in the scenery, “exhilarating” is a word that comes up often in relation to the “canyoning” experience here.
Sick of natural splendor already?
If, for whatever reason, the natural splendor of the South Island bores you, or you quickly get your fill of it, there are still ample opportunities for urban recreation in towns like Dunedin. This city, in particular, has historically had a healthy arts culture centering on its university life. Along with the city of Christchurch, Dunedin hosted the celebrated “Dunedin Sound” music scene, whose prime movers have continued to influence new independent rock bands – regionally and globally – in the subsequent decades. “What’s on in Dunedin” is another full report all on its own, but suffice to say that this city to the south has an excellent selection of activities for all but the most insatiable individuals to while away the time – and you can always return to the ocean view if social activities prove too demanding.