Striking Scenery: New Zealand’s South Island

Updated August 10, 2020.

If you’ve been following along on my Instagram and Facebook, you already know that this year’s Trip of a Lifetime was to stunning New Zealand. This trip was exclusively to the South Island (though we would love to try out the North Island soon!), and we couldn’t have been more impressed with the scenery, people, and culture. It’s like the whole island is one great big small town. New Zealand’s landscape is like every beautiful place, and yet it is its own. We kept looking around thinking, “Am I in the San Juan Islands?” “Am I in Iceland?” “Am I suddenly in Hawaii?” New Zealand is a unique place, and I hope these photos will give you a glimpse of why!

Dunedin Railway Station

Would you believe me if I told you this is the most photographed building in all of New Zealand? It’s true! Would you believe me if I told you it’s also the most photographed train station in the world? That’s also true! And given the beautifully manicured landscaping and the incredible architecture, you can see why!

Dunedin Railway Station, Dunedin

Queenstown Sunset and Sunrise

After quite a rainy drive, Steve and I were delighted to see the sun come out in all its glory as we made our winding descent into Queenstown! We arrived just in time to check in and enjoy “golden hour,” the time when the sun is setting. We walked down to the lake and took in the sights from every vantage point. 

Sunset on the Southern Alps, Queenstown

The Next morning, we were in for an even better treat. We went for a run, starting just before the sun started to come up. It was cold, but incredibly worthwhile. Just look at that pink sunrise! I’ve never seen one quite like it before, anywhere else in the world. I think it went through every shade of purple and pink. 

Sunrise on the Southern Alps, Queenstown
More here: Epic Landscapes of the World

Callery Gorge

This unexpected beauty was hiding just behind our cottage accommodation! The Callery gorge hike was lush and green. Despite a bit of rain on our return, it was just what we needed to inspire us before a day of driving. At the end of the trail, there’s a bridge that allows you to see the gorge from the middle. That perfect glacier water, the greenery, the sheer cliffs, it was all a sight to behold!

Bridge over Callery Gorge, Franz Joseph
Glacier Blue Waters, Franz Josef
Read more: Why You Need to Visit Franz Josef Village

Tunnel Beach Walk Arch and Boulders

And speaking of inspiring hikes, I have to recommend the Tunnel Beach Walk just outside Dunedin. Even on an overcast day, this hike was like something out of the movies! The yellow wildflowers, the crashing Pacific, the natural stone arch, and the larger-than-life rock faces down on the incredible beach—-it was all just about too beautiful and dramatic to take in! 

Tunnel Beach Walk, Dunedin
Cliffs at Tunnel Beach, Dunedin
More here: Packing for Ladies: New Zealand in Winter

Lake Wakatipu

This lake goes up and down in depth. The Maori legend has it that the lake possesses a heartbeat. The lake is a feature of Queenstown, and rightfully so, but just a few kilometres outside the town, it’s as if you have the lake to yourself. 

Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown

View from Bob’s Peak with Paraglider

Holy Smokes, y’all. The view from Bob’s Peak is really something! Not only can you see some of the most incredible scenery in the world, you can watch people do some amazing adventure sports—-or do them yourself! Check out this paraglider on his way down:

Paragliding over Queenstown
More here: 10 Things to Do in Queenstown

Southern Alps

The Alps are known all around the world for their majestic beauty. I have seen Europe’s Alps, and I must say that the Southern Alps are certainly a worthy rival. Photos simply can’t do them justice. These mountains are tremendous, and they can be seen from almost anywhere the South Island!

All roads lead to the Southern Alps, Arthur’s Pass
Read next: Tips for Driving on the Left

Waterfall Hikes

Who doesn’t love a good waterfall? We stumbled upon many the odd waterfall, but the most impressive ones were tall, rushing, cold, and involved a hike. The Devil’s Punch Bowl Hike was certainly worth the climb up the mountain, but the waterfalls on the way to Franz Josef Glacier were unexpectedly impressive as well. 

Devil’s Punch Bowl, Arthur’s Pass
Waterfall on the Glacier Hike, Franz Josef


Oh, my stars, the sheep! They were everywhere, and they were so fluffy. We must have been there in the midst of sheering season because toward the beginning of our trip, the sheep were full and fluffy; toward the end of our trip, many had been shorn! Either way, I couldn’t get enough of them.

Here’s looking at you! On the roadside between Queenstown and Dunedin
Essential Info: What to Know Before You Visit New Zealand

Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks)

When I heard there were “pancake rocks” in New Zealand, I envisioned flat-topped rocks and wasn’t too excited to put them on my list. But they came highly recommended, so we went. The reality was so much better! It’s baffling how erosion can happen in such a way that it looks like the rocks are actually pancakes stacked on top of each other. Take a closer look!

Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki

Even better? You can get a stack of pancakes all day long at the cafe across the street!

Rocky Coastline

Aside from the “event” destinations like hikes, waterfalls, and national parks, New Zealand’s South Island did not disappoint when it came to landscape from every angle. It was hard to keep driving when I wanted to stop for photos every half-mile or so, but the good thing is that all the scenery is epic. Check out this misty morning shot of the rocky West Coast:

Road-side beach, West Coast

Bright Poppies in Winter

So much of New Zealand’s South Island was truly stunning. But this summer girl most appreciated one thing: the color. Everywhere we went, it was definitely winter—kind of gray, kind of drizzly, quite cold. And yet somehow, there were pops of color that just lifted the whole mood of a potentially gray day. Check out these beautiful poppies growing just outside the Canterbury Museum!

Bright Poppies in Winter, Christchurch
More here: 10 Days on New Zealand’s South Island

Little Blue Penguins

Well, we didn’t see a kiwi in the wild (they’re nocturnal!), but we did get to see sweet little blue penguins at the International Antarctic Centre! These special little guys and gals have injuries or were born in captivity, which means they would not survive long in the wild. There was a board on the wall next to their enclosure with each penguin’s name and a little bit about their personalities. One like to call for her boyfriend, one is sneaky and swipes fish when you’re not looking, one has brain damage from a boat accident, and one little lady does not like water! She was easy to spot—she stood far away and didn’t get in at all!

Little Blue Penguins, International Antarctic Centre, Christchurch
Keep reading: 10 Things to Do in Christchurch

Earthquake Devastation

Lastly, Steve and I were absolutely shocked at the devastation from the 2010 and especially 2011 earthquakes. They are rebuilding, but having 90% of their architecture damaged or lost entirely, it will still take many years to rebuild. Most devastatingly, to us, was the cathedral at Cathedral Square. It was such a fixture and a landmark in Christchurch, and now it’s simply rubble. I couldn’t help but think how I would feel if something like this happened to the historic buildings in my beloved Alexandria, VA. I would be heartbroken for the lost history, and I think that’s probably how many Christchurch citizens felt as well. I wish I could have gotten a photo without the black walls in front, but you can see the general picture.

Before Photo and the After Effects of the February 22, 2011, Earthquake, Christchurch
More here: How to Spend 2 Days in Christchurch

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little photo journal of “Pure New Zealand” and its beauty! Are you ready to put New Zealand on your “to go” list? Comment below!

Need more? Check out my New Zealand Page!

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3 responses to “Striking Scenery: New Zealand’s South Island”

  1. Stunning photos! I would really love to visit New Zealand, it is such a beautiful country.

    1. quickwhittravel Avatar

      It really is beautiful! I hope you will make it there one day soon!

      1. So do I. Thanks. 😊

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