The ever-shifting geography on the South Island of New Zealand makes it one of the most spectacular places in the world for nature lovers. In a day’s drive you can encounter mountains, plains, fiords, alpine lakes, and glaciers, and while you won’t need to pack your bikini for them, the South Island also boasts some beautiful and unique beaches along its East and West Coasts. We have rounded up four of our favourites that you won’t want to miss on your South Island tour.
On the way from Abel Tasman National Park to the famous Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, Punakaiki Beach is often skipped by most tourists in favour of the more popular Hokitika, but if you are looking for a quieter stop with plenty of active options to partake in, this beach would be our choice. Well known for its pancake rocks (limestone cliffs carved by the ocean’s waters to resemble layered pancakes) and roaring blowholes, it also offers several half day hikes through coastal forests leading to ocean views or limestone caves. Catching a west coast sunset is also a must-do on your visit, so save some time for an easy stroll along the main beach during the magical golden hour.
Also along the West Coast, this tiny fishing village is often overlooked by most as they head inland towards Aspiring National Park, but if you keep heading south just an hour past Haast, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning combination of that wild west coast scenery with a beautiful Southern Alps backdrop (captured in the cover image). Once in Jackson Bay make a lunch time stop at The Craypot, a tiny caravan right on the waterfront, where you can sample fresh fish and chips or whitebait, a local New Zealand favourite. During various times of the year, you might also be lucky enough to spot Fiordland Crested Penguins, Hector Dolphins and Fur Seals. If fishing interests you, the area is also one of the best places for hooking tuna and you can even try your hand at diving for local Paua (abalone) right off the coast.
A word of caution, the west coast is notorious for the pesky sand fly, so you’ll want to stay covered and bring plenty of sandfly repellent with you.
This quiet beach along the Southern part of the island is located between Fiordland and Invercargill, and while you’ll find thousands of colourful stones, semi-precious stones such as garnet and if you’re lucky, sapphires, you won’t find many people. Aside from the colourful, washed up stones, the area is also surrounded by beautiful stratified and crumbling coastal cliffs with views of the fiordland in the distance. This beach is best appreciated with a picnic and a famous New Zealand pinot, so don’t forget to pick up supplies in Riverton, the closest town to this tucked away gem.
This might be the most well-known beach on the list, but it’s popular for a reason. Located in the Catlins on the Southeast tip of the island, you’ll find unique wildlife, a range of easy to challenging hikes, heaps of waterfalls, some of the island’s best surf breaks, and picturesque lighthouses. During the summer, you’ll spot rare Yellow-Eyed penguins at both dusk and dawn on a part of the beach that is equally as unique as the wildlife as it happens to contain a petrified forest. The bay is also home to a pod of Hector dolphins, a small and rare breed of dolphins known for their playfulness and curiosity. Take in a surfing lesson on the bay and they might just join in on the fun. Once you’ve gotten your fill of swimming with dolphins, penguin spotting, and whale watching, don’t miss a stop at Slope Point – the most Southern point on the South Island, where you’ll be rewarded with stunning cliffside views and a straight line to the South Pole.