The South Island of New Zealand is absolutely stunning and bursting full of must see Instagrammable places! From the famous Wanaka Tree to the lupins at Lake Tekapo to the majestic Mount Cook, you’ll definitely not be short of places to go and landscapes to photograph! Without a doubt New Zealand is one of the most picturesque countries in the world and there are so many incredibly beautiful places to discover despite it’s small size. Below you will find all the must see Instagrammable places in New Zealand South Island as well as top tips for each location.
New Zealand is divided into two islands: the North Island (Te Ika-a-Māui in the Maori language) and the South Island (Te Waipounamu). The South Island is covered in glaciers, mountains and lakes whereas the North Island is full of geysers, hot springs and volcanic land. The South Island is without a doubt the most photogenic and the best island in terms of the most Instagrammable places. It is often where most tourists will spend the majority of their time. Nevertheless, there are still many incredibly stunning Instagrammable places on New Zealand’s North Island and it definitely shouldn’t be missed.
MUST SEE INSTAGRAMMABLE PLACES IN NEW ZEALAND SOUTH ISLAND
The first glimpse of Lake Tekapo will literally take your breath away. What makes it so special is the colour of the water: it is such a striking turquoise colour and reminded me very much of Lake Louise in Banff, Canada.
The best place to stop for pictures of Lake Tekapo is by the iconic and extremely Instagrammable Church of The Good Shepherd right in front of the lake. There are lots of places for you to pull over and park here. During the day the Church is open and the view from inside looking out across the lake is stunning. Note you cannot take pictures inside the Church but you are free to take pictures outside. It does get quite busy by the lakeside here but it is easy to break away from the crowds and get photographs without other people in.
Whilst Lake Tekapo is most famous for it’s breathtakingly blue waters, it is also known as one of the best places in New Zealand to spot lupins during the lupin season in spring/early summer. Come here between mid-November and the first week in January and you’ll witness an incredible sea of lupins right next to the lake and The Church of the Good Shepherd. The majority of the tourists will just stay within a few metres of the Church, but if you head across the bridge to the left of the church (about 150 metres) then you’ll come across a beautiful field full of lupins that is practically empty! Click here for more information on the lupins by Lake Tekapo as well as where to find the giant lupin field!
Another reason that makes Lake Tekapo so special is that it is located inside the UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve. This means that stargazing from here is absolutely incredible due to the lack of light pollution. Even with the naked eye the amount of stars you can see is incredible and it gave me goosebumps! The stars and constellations were so clear – it was completely magical. The only other place in the world I had experienced something like this was in the Atacama Desert in Chile. If you have the correct camera gear you can get some stunning night shots of the stars here, plus there are plenty stargazing tours you can go on if you want to see the stars a lot clearer.
Continue driving past Lake Tekapo and after about half an hour you will come to Lake Pukaki – another stunning large aqua blue glacial lake that is on the way to Mount Cook. What is really nice about Lake Pukaki compared to Lake Tekapo is that it is less crowded with tourists and there are more places where you can stop off along the lake – the most popular stops being by the Mount Cook Alpine Salmon Station and Peter’s Lookout for a really stunning view of Mount Cook/Aoraki. Peter’s Lookout is located on Highway 80 – the ridiculously picturesque road that runs all the way along the side of Lake Pukaki to the base of Mount Cook (see below right).
New Zealand Alpine Lavender Field
As if lupins wasn’t enough, lavender is also in bloom in New Zealand in December/January! You’ll see many lavender fields in New Zealand as you are driving along the road, but the lavender field right next to Lake Pukaki – NZ Alpine Lavender, is my favourite.
Complete with photo props such as bales of hay, a lilac tractor, chairs and benches in between the rows of lavender, it is certainly a popular and often impromptu stop for many people on their way to Mount Cook.
The NZ Alpine Lavender farm is the largest organic lavender farm in the Southern Hemisphere and during bloom the field is covered in the most beautiful purple – you absolutely can’t miss it from the road. Entry is $5, the staff are very friendly and they also sell lots of lavender oil products and delicious ice-cream too. The lavender field is open from 9 until 5 (last entry 4pm) – after this the gates are locked so you can not enter!
Mount Cook (Maori name: Aoraki) is New Zealand’s highest peak at 3,274 metres and is so stunning. It lies in the Southern Alps and on a clear day it’s snow capped summit can be seen for miles. Note if it is really cloudy you won’t be able to see Mount Cook at all so do check the forecast beforehand.
The best way to see Mount Cook is either to hike to it, or to do a helicopter ride around Mount Cook. The most popular hike people do around Mount Cook is the Hooker Valley Track. Is it a fairly easy and flat day hike, plus the views are incredible and totally Instagrammable – it is definitely one of the best hikes in New Zealand! The walk is 10km return (roughly 3 hours), but if you only want to/only have time to do part of the walk, don’t worry as you can still get great views near the beginning of the hike near the first suspension bridge (there are three swing bridges in total on this track).
The Pancake Rocks located at Dolomite Point in Punakaiki, 50km north of Greymouth on the West Coast are a popular tourist destination and an extremely Instagrammable place. They are very unusual rock formations that are indeed named so because they very closely resemble stacks of pancakes! And what is fascinating about these rocks is that they were formed 30 million years ago from fragments of tiny dead marine plants and creatures. The water pressure caused them to solidify into layers, and seismic activity caused them to lift above the level of the sea.
There are also some impressive blowholes here, and especially during high tide the sea water will shoot upwards in between the rock stacks which can be fun to capture on camera! Be prepared to get a little bit wet though!
It will take you around 30 minutes to walk the whole of the Pancake Rocks & Blowholes Walk. Look out for dolphins too as sometimes they like to come near to the shore!
One of my favourite hikes in New Zealand’s South Island is the Hokitika Gorge hike. Normally you would expect to find views like this after a long hike, but it only takes 15 minutes each way to walk the 650 metre long Hokitika Gorge trail! The views are incredible and the colour of the water here is absolutely stunning. The walk down to Hokitika Gorge is very easy and it is uphill coming back but not too challenging at all.
There are several Instagrammable places along the trail where you can take pictures, including on the suspension bridge or at the viewpoint by the boulders at the end of the hike (get someone to stand at the wooden viewpoint area to get the shot above right).
If you visit the nearby small town of Hokitika you’ll also find a couple of Instagrammable locations on the beach – the Hokitika Beach Sign which is a really cool wooden sculpture, and at the very end of the beach at Sunset Point you’ll also find an impressive shipwreck washed up on the beach that you can go on.
Franz Josef Glacier & Fox Glacier
Both Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier are incredibly Instagrammable and must see places on the South Island of New Zealand. Stepping foot on the glaciers and doing a glacier hike is a really popular activity to do! These days however a visit to either Franz Josef or Fox Glacier is a lot more expensive than it used to be: it used to be possible to hike to the glaciers by foot, but the paths are now inaccessible due to landslides so access onto the glaciers is only by helicopter.
If you are happy just to see the tip of the glacier, you can do the 1.5 hour return walk to see the tip of Franz Josef Glacier. However if you want to get up on the glacier you’ll need to go on one of the helicopter rides.
Fox Glacier is a 25 minute drive from Franz Josef Glacier and is equally stunning but again access is only via helicopter due to the massive landslide in April 2019 that took the road with it, making it now impossible to reach the glacier by foot. Doing a glacier tour where you walk amongst the glacier (which is a bucket list item for so many people!) will set you back around $495. It is expensive but absolutely worth splashing out on. Note that this is New Zealand’s most active landslide and the roads won’t be repaired any time soon as they have already spent hundreds of thousands maintaining it, so for the foreseeable future (and probably permanently now) helicopter rides will be the only way to enter.
Just a few kilometres from Fox Glacier is Lake Matheson. Whilst it is less well known than Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki, Lake Matheson is absolutely one of those must see places when you are on the South Island here in New Zealand. Known as the lake where you can see the perfect reflection of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman in it’s still waters, Lake Matheson is so beautiful it literally took my breath away.
Lake Matheson is an incredibly popular place for landscape photographers as you can get some fantastic shots here. The best time to photograph Lake Matheson is early in the morning when the water is still and before any wind picks up or clouds appear so you can see a perfect reflection of Mount Cook. Of course it depends on the weather – I was there at 11am and still the reflection was perfect as the weather conditions were very optimal that day. Sunset would even make a great time to photograph Lake Matheson.
The start of the walk seems a little uneventful at first as you won’t be able to see the reflection of the Southern Alps in the lake just yet. You’ll walk over a suspension bridge to begin with and then you’ll find yourself amongst spectacular giant ferns which will make you feel like you’re in something like Alice in Wonderland! Then as you walk further around Lake Matheson you’ll find several great viewpoints.
The first viewpoint is Jetty Viewpoint which is 1.2km into the walk (there used to be a jetty here where you could get a dingy into the centre of the lake to see the view better), but if you continue walking round to the other end of the lake for another kilometre or so you will reach the best viewpoint: the ‘View of Views’ Lookout. It is a fair few steps (perhaps 30) to climb up but oh my goodness is it worth it! Honestly this was one of my absolute favourite views in the whole of New Zealand! You get a high up view and the lake and reflection is perfectly framed between the trees. 300 metres further along is Reflection Island Lookout: here you’ll be by the shore of the lake and you have the opportunity to take many more photos of this beautiful lake.
You’ll notice that Mount Tasman appears a lot taller from here, but it is just because it is a lot closer. To walk around the whole of the lake will take around 1.5 hours (about 4.5km).
Thunder Creek Falls
Thunder Creek Falls is a huge 28 metre high waterfall that runs into the Haast River. It is literally a 2 minute flat walk from the main road and you’ll find several parking spots next to the road where you can pull in. The viewpoint is at the end of the path, so you can take pictures from here or you can go down a few steps to get onto the rocks.
If only reality was as peaceful as the picture looks. There were hundreds of sandflies here – I literally couldn’t stand still for more than half a second without feeling them biting me! Needless to say I had bites on my legs for the rest of the trip. So definitely whack on that Insect Repellant before you get out the car! Honestly I can’t even begin to describe how painful it was! In general the whole of the West Coast of the South Island is really bad for sandflies in the summer, but I found Thunder Creek Falls to be the place where there were the most.
Another Instagrammable waterfall that is also just 2 minutes from the road is Fantail Falls 6km down the road – named so because of their fan tail shape.
The Blue Pools of Haast
Located on The Haast Pass 20km past the Thunder Creek Falls, the Haast Blue Pools are a popular place to visit as the water is a spectacular shade of blue and is incredibly clear that you can see the bottom! It is incredible to believe natural pools like this exist! During the summer months you’ll find some people swimming and you might even see some jumping from the suspension bridge into the pool (it is so cold though!). To get to the pools you walk through rainforest and over one swing bridge before you reach the second suspension bridge that is over the pool – it is a 15 minute walk each way. You can get some lovely aerial pictures from this second suspension bridge overlooking the pool.
Lake Wanaka & That Wanaka Tree
Lake Wanaka is famous for ‘that Wanaka tree’ (#thatwanakatree) – a lone tree in the middle of peaceful Lake Wanaka. The tree is iconic and has become so famous – it is without a doubt one of the most Instagrammable and must see places on the New Zealand South Island! The tree is quite small and lies near the edge of the lake on the left hand side – even though it can get very busy here it is quite easy to get photographs of the tree and the mountains behind without anybody else in.
The town of Wanaka is right next to the lake and it has a lovely vibe. It has plenty restaurants and accommodation options and is the perfect place to stay overnight before continuing your journey through the South Island.
The hike up to Roy’s Peak is another one of New Zealand’s iconic hikes and you can do it on a day trip from Wanaka. The 16 km hike takes around 5 hours but the views are stunning. In fact the view from Roy’s Peak is one of the most popular Instagrammable locations in New Zealand South Island!
Please note that from October 1st until 10th November each year the Roy’s Peak Track is closed for lambing season.
Isthmus Peak makes a perfect alternative hike if Roy’s Peak is closed (Isthmus Peak is closed November 20th to December 20th each year).
The lively city of Queenstown is situated on the edge of a beautiful lake and is surrounded by majestic mountains. It is known as being the adventure capital of New Zealand and there are many fun activities you can do Queenstown, including lots of free and fun activities for kids!
For some of the best views of Queenstown take the gondola ride (or hike on the Tiki Trail if you don’t want to take the Skyline Gondola) for an epic panoramic view. You can do some really incredible day hikes from Queenstown – a couple of really good ones are the Queenstown Hill and the Lake Wakatipu Viewpoint Walk. Both are short walks that offer really impressive views.
20km from Queenstown is the incredibly picturesque gold mining town of Arrowtown. You feel like you’ve stepped back in time when you visit Arrowtown plus there are so many cute Instagrammable corners here (see below right!).
Top tip when in Queenstown: Head to Fergburger for the best burgers in town!
The fiord of Milford Sound is another incredibly famous and Instagrammable place in the South Island of New Zealand. It is quite remote to get to (it will be a long day if you drive there and back from Queenstown, therefore a scenic flight is a much more convenient option) and it is simply stunning. Most people will do a 2 hour boat cruise around Milford Sound and in this time you’ll travel the length of the fiord and go very close to and even under some of the waterfalls.
Milford Sound and the Fiordland don’t often get great weather, in fact they are one of the rainiest places in the world receiving over 9 metres of rain per year – but don’t let this put you off! If you are here when it is raining or just after it has rained it will mean the waterfalls will look even more epic!
The unusual Moeraki Boulders are a cluster of incredibly large spherical boulders formed around 65 million years ago in the ocean bed. The mysterious spherical boulders are 1-2 metres in diameter and are truly Instagrammable! They are located 1 hour north of Dunedin, on the east coast of the South Island – on the road that connects Dunedin with Christchurch and Lake Tekapo.
Tunnel Beach is an incredible secret beach and is definitely one of the highlights in Dunedin! The beach is so unique, secluded and rugged and makes for some incredible Instagrammable photographs! Not only this but the walk to Tunnel Beach from the car park provides spectacular coastal views.
Tunnel Beach is called so as it can only be reached via a tunnel. Previously an inaccessible beach, in the 1870’s Mr Cargill had a hand-carved tunnel dug out that would lead to this beach so that his family could go to the beach in private. If you will be spending some time in Dunedin I definitely recommend you to check out my article Unmissable Things To Do In Dunedin for more itinerary inspiration!
Torrent Bay, Abel Tasman
Torrent Bay is an incredibly beautiful beach with perfect white sand located on the north coast of the South Island. You can do the 2 or 3 day Abel Tasman walk to reach here, or alternatively just take a water taxi! If you go to the lookout on the top of the hill that is to the left of the beach you’ll get an incredible aerial view of the beach!