What better way to start your South Island trip than in Marlborough Sounds, one of the most famous regions of New Zealand for its incredible wine and seafood, but also the beautiful scenery; here you can see orcas, go for great walks (try the award-winning Queen Charlotte track), explore the sound by boat and hit the beaches.
The Abel Tasman National Park shares the beautiful northern coastline of South Island with Marlborough, but is largely unvisited in comparison. Beautiful, empty beaches, almost guaranteed sunshine and the stunningly clear sea mean everything is focused on the water; boat taxis are readily available to deliver you to the next delectable lunch spot or secluded bay, while sports such as kayaking and paddle boarding are popular.
Kaikoura, literally translated from Maori as 'eat crayfish', is a fantastic spot for seafood but is best known for its still-live sea life; whales, dolphins and seals a plenty, bringing in crowds of day trippers desperate to catch a shot of a Dusky in mid-air or a breaching Sperm whale. Visitors can immerse themselves in the deep blue for an intimate encounter with seals and dolphins, either snorkelling or scuba diving, or keep watch from a boat, light aircraft, helicopter or dry land.
Currently in the middle of major rebuilding after the 2011 earthquake, resilient Christchurch's exciting developments include the 'Cardboard Cathedral', Quake City and various Gap Filler projects. Not many cities are able to reinvent themselves from scratch, so Christchurch is worth a stop. A guided tour on a segway (or by bicycle for the more traditional visitor) is a great way to start, while the lush Botanical Gardens and Orana Wildlife Park are family-friendly and fun.
In the centre of the South Island, the Southern Alps dominate. At the heart, Arthur's Pass National Park can be explored on foot along a multitude of DOC trails (the Department of Conservation maintains many fantastic routes across New Zealand, as well as managing campsites in some of the wildest, woolliest parts of the country). The Devil's Punch Bowl waterfalls and Castle Hill (a Lord of the Rings filming location) are great places to explore, while over the winter the Temple Basin ski field is popular. Mount Cook, the highest in New Zealand, towers over beautiful lakes, rivers and glaciers; try the Hooker Valley track for a relatively easy hike, or if that sounds like too much effort take in the scenery on a four wheel drive safari, fixed-wing plane or helicopter flight, or horse trek. The Franz Josef glacier descends to just 300m above sea level, making it very accessible for adventurous explorers - you can get onto the ice on a guided hike or by helicopter, and even try your hand at ice climbing.
On the edge of this dramatic mountain range lies a small town on a big lake. Wanaka, home of amazing food, soft adventure and actually quite a few expatriates. Visitors loved it so much they stayed. Here there is a range of walks for all abilities, fishing, boat activities, heli trips, glaciers, oh and mountain ranges. Not to mention there are some great lodges here.
Queenstown, the heart and soul of the active scene with a number of extreme sports available here, as well as great golf and fishing for those with a rather nervous disposition. It is also home to the Fergburger, which is so good even vegetarians may be converted. Although a popular back packer destination, there are some secluded luxury lodges, fine dining restaurants and buzzing cafes. It is a very picturesque destination surrounded by the Southern Alps, ideal to sit and view with a glass of wine, or alternatively visitors can jump out of a plane to take in the views.
Fjordland and Milford Sound are also worth a peek whilst travelling the South Island, as they are by far the most beautiful and dramatic parts of New Zealand. With waterfalls cascading into fjords, ancient untouched rainforests, glaciers, and shimmering lakes. Worth noting that Milford Sound is one of the eight wonders of the world, need we say more. Here visitors can explore by boat or take advantage of the many walks in this region, it is also home to the crested penguins.