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South Island Area Guide

The South Island's stunning scenery ranges from the deserted sandy beaches and crystal clear waters of the Marlborough Sounds at its northern end to the rainforest-covered mountains and deep water fiords of the wilderness area of Fiordland in the south west.

At the island's northern tip is remote Farewell Spit, a narrow sandbar reaching into beautiful Golden Bay, its tidal waters a haven for water birds and migrating godwits. State highway 1 traverses the length of the country from Picton, at the head of the Marlborough Sounds where ferries from the North Island dock, to the historic fishing community of Bluff in the south, a last outpost of civilisation before the wilds of the southern ocean. The snow-capped southern alps form the spine of the South Island, dividing the rainforest-covered west coast from the dry farmlands and sandy beaches of the east coast.

The South Island's main city, Christchurch, on the central east coast, sprawls over the patchwork Canterbury Plains, the southern alps forming a backdrop to the west, the braided river system carrying the mountain rains and snowmelt out to the Pacific Ocean. Just to the north lies the stunning coastal scenery of Kaikoura, with its whale watching and dolphin swimming trips.

To the south west is New Zealand's highest mountain, Aoraki Mount Cook, named 'cloud piercer' by the Maori people. From here, the adventurous leave on ski planes and helicopters to ski the country's longest glacier, the 29-kilometre long Tasman Glacier. To the north west lie the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, their rivers of ice making spectacular crevasses and pinnacles of ice as they flow down the valleys.

The sparsely populated West Coast region, which stretches 550 kilometres from Karamea in the north to remote Jackson Bay in the south, is affectionately referred to as 'The Coast', a place where even the tiniest of settlements has its own pub thanks to the gold rush days of the 1860s.

Inland is the southern lakes region, with its beautiful glacial lakes, lakeside resorts and ski areas. The country's adventure capital, Queenstown, is on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, the Remarkables Mountains forming the backdrop to its adrenaline-pumping activities of bungy jumping, rock climbing, paragliding, jetboating, skiing and snowboarding.

The South Island's second city, Dunedin, is on the south east coast, its Scottish heritage and fine old stone buildings contrasting with its youthful bohemian student population.

From the southern city of Invercargill, it's a short flight across to New Zealand's third main island, tiny Stewart Island, where the Rakiura National Park provides a habitat for the country's national bird, the rare flightless kiwi.