The South Island of New Zealand packs a lot of beauty and potentially awesome experiences into a small space. For the adventurous and energetic of the study abroad students heading to New Zealand here’s five must do experiences on the South Island.

Otago University hiking club
“Every year, Otago University’s Tramping Club has a trip to Mount Aspiring National Park called Bushball. With a group of over 70 people… the good vibes, good company and good walks made it an incredibly successful weekend with the mountains.” | Tiffany Young, University of Hartford

1. Hike (tramp) across the South Island (not all at once of course)

Take advantage of the multitude of national parks to do some amazing walks.

My favourite big hike is the Routeburn; a three-day alpine ‘tramp’ on one of NZ’s Great Walks between Queenstown and Milford Sound. Hint: book bunk space in the huts or tenting sites early on during the season to avoid being disappointed; it’s quite a popular hike. While out of season it is cheaper I would not recommend this as it is much more dangerous. There are high avalanche risks and some of the bridges are taken out by the Department  of Conservation because of potential for flooding so you have to be comfortable with river crossings. The weather is also less dependable at that altitude out of season.

For college study abroad students both Dunedin and Christchurch also have easy access to amazing sights, even if it’s just walking in the hills overlooking each city.

Mt Cook hiking
Stopping for a snack while hiking at Aoraki Mt Cook National Park | Emily Yu, University Pittsburgh
Kepler Track hike
“During the last few weeks in New Zealand, I had the opportunity to do my first multi-day tramp (hike) carrying a pack. Kepler Track was the perfect option for this because the breathtaking scenery made me forget all about what I was carrying and how long I had left to hike. Waking up each morning and literally being above the clouds was indescribable.” | Marne Wiklanski, University of Iowa

2. See the glaciers before they disappear

With global warming glaciers all over the world are receding at an alarming rate each year. On the west coast of the South Island we’re lucky enough to have easily accessible glaciers pretty much at sea level. My parents can remember when the glaciers were closer to the start of the valleys they’ve carved out, but now you have to walk up the valleys to see the huge rivers of ice. If you have the spare cash (or go on the TEAN South Island mid-semester excursion) you can even get a helicopter ride right up onto the glacier and hike on the ice with a guide!

Glacier hike
“We did the full day hike on Franz Josef Glacier, complete with ice axes, climbing through caverns, abseiling down ice cliffs, and crawling through ice tunnels.” | Karl Reiter, Purdue University
Glacier hike
“This ended up being one of my favorite experiences. We took a helicopter onto the Franz Joseph Glacier and received a guided tour around the crevasses, and ice structures of the ever changing glacier. Our guide told us the glacier moves 2 meters a day, the paths from the day before were usually gone and our guide was constantly carving us steps with his ice ax.” | Charles Stemen, Champlain College

3. Do something outside your comfort zone

Skydiving, bungy jumping, paragliding, jet-boating, rafting. There are so many amazing places to do this in New Zealand, but Queenstown has it all if you’re looking for choice. The Nevis Bungy is the highest in NZ; there’s a lot of time to scream on the way down! Always do your research and go with a reputable company. And play it safe – check your insurance coverage!

“Queenstown is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.” | Sarah Bonneson, University of Rhode Island
Jet boating during the TEAN South Island excursion. | Eleni Tsakiris, Temple University
Jet boating during the TEAN South Island excursion. | Eleni Tsakiris, Temple University

4. Hang out with the locals and try a new sport

Whether it be playing rugby with a social university team, skiing or boarding at the fields a bus ride away from both Christchurch and Dunedin, or learning to surf at the beaches in each city. This is a great way to make new friends and meet some Kiwis, as we’re a pretty active bunch. Get involved!

Mt Aspiring
“Midway through our day of skiing and riding, we climbed to the summit and were immediately blown away at the view from the top. As we gazed towards Mt. Aspiring National Park, we looked in awe upon the vast stretches of snow-capped mountains.” | Ian Hedges, Hofstra University

5. Meet the Wildlife

New Zealand is a unique country in many ways, and this is also reflected in its native animals. We don’t have any predators (no foxes, bears, mountain lions, snakes or even many venomous spiders, bonus!) but we more than make up for this with our amazing birds. The Kiwi is probably the most famous and you can see it in the wild on Stewart Island (the small island at the bottom of the South Island), or in breeding programmes in different centres (Dunedin and Queenstown, for example). But the Kea is my personal favourite; it has beautiful orange underwings and is the smartest (and cheekiest) bird around. You’ll have to watch out for this bird when you’re hiking as it often steals boots or other things if they’re left outside a hut/tent.

Kea bird
Curious Kea – Photo by Alice Milne, TEAN Resident Advisor