South Island Attractions: 10 Hidden Spots to Explore

It's no secret that New Zealand is uniquely beautiful, with rolling green hills inland and stunning white (or black, depending on the coast) sand beaches spanning our coastlines. It's the picturesque dream that we're known for, and we're proud to call it home.

If you've lived in NZ for a while, you'll already have a few favourite spots on the list to take the family to. Perhaps it's a bach you head to every summer, or a beach you know the waves will be perfect for boogie boarding at - we've all got our little gems that we love to visit.

This summer, if you're not sure where to go on a beautiful day, check out this list of top 10 hidden locations to visit this holiday season and enjoy exploring something new!

In this blog we focus on the hidden gems of the South Island, but you can check out our North Island blog where we cover the secret spots at the top of the country.

1. Waipara River Boys Brigade Camp

waipara-boys-brigade-swimming hole

One of the best kept secrets and fondly noted as a favourite swimming spot on the Southern end of the country, is the Waipara River Boys Brigade Swimming Hole. Nestled in an incredibly discrete location, this little spot is only ever used by locals and those in the know. It's even equipped with it's own rope swing and tarp-slide straight into the water, that'll entertain the kids and give you a dose of nostalgia in one fell swoop.

  • Easy to drive to with a parking lot to conveniently stop at before making your way to the water
  • A safe spot to swim that's not too deep for the kids to enjoy
  • Lots of banking with beautiful, shady trees perfect for picnics

2. Castle Hill Rocks

Castle Hill Rocks

About an hours drive from Christchurch city on the eastern side of the Southern Alps, is one of the more peculiar natural sights to be seen - the Castle Hill Rocks. This one's a rock climber's favourite, with hundreds of gigantic volcanic rock faces to scale, but if you're trekking there with the family, there's plenty of smaller sized boulders to clamber over and around. Take lunch, embark on this adventure and enjoy the biggest game of hide and seek you've ever played.

  • There's an easy to find path that takes you through the clusters of rock formations
  • You might come across 500-year-old drawings from the first communities to pass through the area
  • Some of the Narnia movie was actually filmed here!

3. Rakaia Gorge Walkway

rakaia-gorgeGlacial and river carved terraces leading into a canopy of forest, against a backdrop of snowy-peaked mountains - need we say more? The Rakaia Gorge Walkway is an infamously breathtaking slice of the Canterbury region. It's an easy walk and not too long, so it makes for a very family-friendly day of exercise.

  • Keep your eye out for ancient lava flows in this geological wonderland
  • Explore the Snowdon Coal Mines on the way through
  • As the walkway goes through private farmland, please respect the owners and keep to the track

4. Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve

aoraki-dark-sky-reserve

Most Kiwi adventures are best undertaken during the hot summer sunshine, but this one is best kept for a perfect, clear summers night. The International Dark Sky Reserve is home to New Zealand’s premier astronomical research centre, the Mount John Observatory. Plus, with strictly controlled light pollution in the area, the stellar display above stretches as far as the naked eye can see.

  • The reserve is the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, and one of only eight in the world
  • It's possible to drive to the top of Mount John if you'd rather not walk
  • If a guided star gazing tour with telescopes is more your style, you can book them here.

5. Tunnel Beach

tunnel-beach

At the bottom of the South Island you'll find a stunning, secluded beach rich with history that's only a short walk away. Jump right into the plot-line of a Victorian novel, as you follow the path that son of Captain William Cargill excavated so that his family could bathe in the sun away from the public. Once you make it through the tunnel, you'll see a gigantic sandstone sea arch and fossilised cliffs - a magnificent site to see that makes the short walk worth it.

  • We wouldn't recommend swimming here as it's quite well known for bad rips
  • The area is best visited at low tide - perfect for exploring!
  • You can either park at the small car park, or catch the regularly scheduled bus from town

6. The Blue Pools

the-blue-pools

A quick 30-minute walk including a stroll over a swing bridge will take you to the clear-water phenomenon that is Wanaka's Blue Pools. The deep, fresh water basin is home to stunning rainbow trout which feed in the pools and enjoy the clean glacial waters. This one's worth a visit if you're a fan of New Zealand's undeniably beautiful scenery, and the amazing colour of the water is unmatched. If all else fails, the kids will love the swing bridge!

  • Although there is trout, no fishing is allowed
  • Both the Thunder Creek Falls and the Fantail Falls are very nearby if you wish to visit
  • As it's in an alpine region, the weather can change quickly - pack some warm clothing!

7. Earnslaw Burn

earnslaw-burnCalling all Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fans - the glacial waterfalls that cascade down the mountainside ridges of this spot were used as a shooting location in The Hobbit! But Tolkien aside, this is an astonishing display of natural, untouched New Zealand. If you're feeling adventurous, take a dip in the Gilkison waterfall (it'll be cold!) and if you're really keen, you can book Heli-Hobbit flights to see the nature from a birds-eye-view.

 

  • There's river crossings involved if you're doing the larger track, which isn't recommended for younger children
  • As with any alpine exploration, make sure to pack gear for all weather
  • For the fans... you can follow Bilbo's tracks when he and his company of dwarves continue their quest after leaving Rivendell

8. Te Anau Glowworm Caves

teanau-glowwormsAn underground and dark world lives beneath Te Anau and thanks to the thousands of tiny glowworms that reside there, it's worth a visit! The darkness of the limestone caves make a perfect backdrop for the glittering display. Unfortunately this isn't one you can stumble into unguided (as the caverns are water-logged), but you can book a tour to take a boat trip through the caverns and explore with a guide.

  • The caves are a slice of NZ history at 12,000 years old
  • The trip only takes two and a half hours, so the kids wont get too bored and you don't have to worry about taking food
  • Sound good? You can book here

9. Wharariki Beach

Wharariki-Beach-seal-pup

Love fur seals? Love white sand? Love a backdrop of sea-spray sculpted rock-stacks? Wharariki at the very top of the South Island, and is as Kiwi as a remote and beautiful beach gets. The rocks are inhabited by the adorable fur seal colonies, and if you're really lucky, the occasional leopard seal - which is a real treat for the kids! To get there it's a 20-minute tramp through farmland and over sand dunes, making the beach just far enough out of reach that it's never overpopulated.

  • FUR SEALS. Also seasonally, BABY FUR SEALS.
  • There's a campground at the holiday park nearby if you want to make a weekend trip of it
  • The region is filled with scenic nature walks if you'd like to stretch your legs after a road trip

10. The Toy Collector

the-toy-collector-christchurch

A collection sure to make you smile and remind you of the times you spent on your bedroom floor playing as a kid. This privately funded museum in the heart of Christchurch will have your kids excited by the broad range of toys they've never seen before right in front of their eyes. Pop down and watch the magic of imagination and play come to life.

  • It's a cheap entry fee of $10 for adults and $5 for kids to see the magic
  • Everything from recent Hunger Games collectables, to olden-day puzzles and board games are on display
  • If you're itching to play after your visit, there's an awesome gift shop filled with a great range of toys you can purchase onsite

After your big day out...

Of course, after any big day out with the family involving bush treks, off the beaten path routes, sand and surf, you're going to be bringing a little more of the outdoors inside when you get home than you might like. If you do end up with a few outdoorsy stains here and there, don't worry, we've got you covered with our FREE stain guide which you can download below.

Get the Ultimate Stain Guide CTA

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