Go big or go home: The South Island’s biggest wonders and thrills
PHOTO: Bobbi Lee Hitchon returns to safe ground after her ride on the Nevis Swing, Queenstown. Photo by Richard John Hackey.
It may be small in space (151,200 km²) and population (1,038,400), but what the South Island lacks in size and people it makes up for in sizable spectacles. Mountains in the Southern Alps towering 3,000 meters in the sky, massive glaciers that can be reached on foot and even the world’s largest swing.
New Zealand’s South Island packs some heavy hitters and all of its biggest things to see and try are musts on any trip to the country. This list includes some of New Zealand’s highest, longest, largest and biggest natural wonders and thrills, all located on the country’s lower half.
BIGGEST NATURAL WONDERS
Any talk of New Zealand’s biggest wonders has to start with Mt. Cook. One of the most breathtaking features to the South Island’s renowned scenery is its mountains. Peaking up above them all, at 3,754 meters, is Mt. Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain.
With a country as adventurous as New Zealand, you can only imagine all the ways to experience its highest point. Of course, people can take in the sight at scenic lookouts like the one on SH 8 that allows visitors to see Mt. Cook on a light blue Lake Pukaki. People can also view the mountain on a number of trails in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.
But those who want to take an even closer look at Mt. Cook, can try climbing it. Companies like Alpine Guides and Alpine Recreation offer guided adventures on Mount Cook. Guides are highly recommended here. Mountaineering can be dangerous, especially for people unfamiliar with the area and its weather patterns.
In a country known for its snow sports, Mt. Cook is a very unique catch for skiers and snowboarders alike. Visitors can also try heli-skiing with companies like Harris Mountains Heli-Ski. The company flies its guests up to the peak of Mt. Cook as well as other behemoths in the Southern Alps and allows them to play in the untouched snow.
Located not far from Mt. Cook is another one of the South Island’s biggest natural wonders, Tasman Glacier. Just as Mt. Cook is the highest of several mountains in the Southern Alps, Tasman Glacier is the largest of several glaciers in this area. It’s also New Zealand’s longest glacier measuring up to 27 kilometers long and 4 kilometers wide.
As you can imagine, this glacier is pretty hard to miss.
Walks in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park allow people to see Tasman Glacier as well as the Blue Lakes. Those who want an even closer look can try Glacier Explorers. The company offers boat tours of the glacier as well as a guided walk through the National Park.
Fiordland National Park
Preserving 1,260,200 hectares of national wilderness, Fiordland National Park is New Zealand’s largest national park and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Not only is this park the country’s biggest, but it’s also home to two of the country’s disputably largest items.
First, in the southwest corner of the national park is Dusky Sound. Measuring 40 kilometers long and up to 8 kilometer wide, Dusky Sound is one of New Zealand’s largest fjords and home to one of its cutest birds, Fiordland Penguins.
Next is Sutherland Falls, located near Milford Track and Browne Falls located in Doubtful Sound. With a drop of 836 meters, Browne Falls could be the highest waterfall in New Zealand and in the top ten highest in the world, but people argue that Browne’s water does not fall but cascade as none of its water actually falls free from rock. Whereas Sutherland Falls actually does and the drop is 580 meters.
Either way, New Zealand’s highest waterfall is located in Fiordland National Park.
With how vast Fiordland is, there are endless ways to explore it. The most popular is tramping the park’s many trails. Visitors can also drive through it on SH 94 Milford Sound Highway, but that will only show a small glimpse of the park. Explore its many sounds by boat or view the park’s biggest items, such as Browne Falls, with a scenic flight.
Nevis Bungy Jump
Maybe its New Zealand’s dramatic scenery that inspires Kiwis to create such death-defying thrills. They’ve come up with many ways to get their kicks over the years and bungy jumping might be the most famous. So it only seems natural to try the extreme sport not far from where it was first commercialized in Queenstown, at New Zealand’s highest jump, Nevis Bungy.
The bungy jump takes place from a pod suspended by cables between two mountains over the Nevis River. The drop is an epic 134 meters with an 8.5 second free fall. Feet hanging over the edge, looking way down on New Zealand, you’ll begin to grasp how big things actually are on the South Island.
Not only is AJ Hackett’s Nevis Bungy Jump New Zealand’s highest, but it’s also one of the world’s highest.
The company offers free transport from Queenstown to those who book a jump ahead. Those just watching will have to pay $50 to visit as the jump is located on private land and only accessible by 4WD.
Topping Nevis Bungy in accolades but not quite as much in fear, the Nevis Swing is the biggest swing in the world.
Not the South Island, not New Zealand, the world.
Located not far from the Nevis Bungy, the swing also takes place from a metal pod 160 meters over the Nevis River. The swing’s rope is 120 meters long, giving the swing an arc of 300 meters. With rope that long and an arc that massive, you will certainly feel a free fall at first.
What makes the swing slightly less scary? The free fall isn’t as long as with the bungy and you don’t have to actually bring yourself to jump. Someone else pushes a button to release you, which might actually be scarier for some. It’s definitely not the type of swing you would find at a playground.
Sky dive Franz Josef
New Zealand’s biggest fall is saved for last. While most skydives around the world boast 12,000, 14,000 or even 16,000 feet falls, Sky Dive Franz Josef tops them all with an epic 19,000-foot skydive. Not only New Zealand’s highest, but also the world’s highest tandem skydive.
The company usually only offers skydives up to 18,000 feet, which is the undisputed highest skydive in New Zealand. They will only be offering this 19,000 foot tandem skydive until October 31.
During the 19,000-foot skydive you’ll free fall for 80 seconds over New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Amongst all your screaming be sure to take a look at the snow-capped mountains, colorful waterways and glaciers below.
To point out just how high this skydive is, oxygen is provided to people in the plane before exiting. Yes, it’s that high.