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The South Island is ruggedly beautiful, dominated by the Southern Alps, which run through the heart of the island from north to south. It is larger than North Island, but only holds a quarter of the nation's population. Much of the island is undeveloped and inaccessible, though most of the main tourist attractions can be reached by road.
Charcoal drawings can be found on limestone rock shelters in the centre of the South Island, with over 500 sites stretching from Kaikoura to North Otago. The drawings are estimated to be between 500 and 800 years old, and portray animals, people and fantastic creatures, possibly stylised reptiles.
Early inhabitants of the South Island were the Waitaha. They were largely absorbed via marriage and conquest by the Kāti Mamoe in the 16th century.
The first Europeans known to reach the South Island were the crew of Dutch explorer Abel Tasman who arrived in his ships Heemskerck and Zeehaen. In December 1642, Tasman anchored at the northern end of the island in Golden Bay which he named Moordenaar's Bay (Murderers Bay) before sailing northward to Tonga following a clash with Māori. Tasman sketched sections of the two main islands' west coasts. Tasman called them Staten Landt, after the States General of the Netherlands, and that name appeared on his first maps of the country. Dutch cartographers changed the name to Nova Zeelandia in Latin, from Nieuw Zeeland, after the Dutch province of Zeeland. It was subsequently Anglicised as New Zealand by British naval captain James Cook of HM Bark Endeavour who visited the islands more than 100 years after Tasman during (1769–1770).
The first European settlement in the South Island was founded at Bluff in 1823 by James Spencer, a veteran of the Battle of Waterloo.
The South Island, with an area of 150,437 km2, is the largest land mass of New Zealand; it contains about one quarter of the New Zealand population and is the world's 12th-largest island. It is divided along its length by the Southern Alps, the highest peak of which is Aoraki/Mount Cook at 3754 metres, with the high Kaikoura Ranges to the northeast. There are eighteen peaks of more than 3,000 metres in the South Island. The east side of the island is home to the Canterbury Plains while the West Coast is famous for its rough coastlines such as Fiordland, very high proportion of native bush, and Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. The dramatic landscape of the South Island has made it a popular location for the production of several films, including The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
South Island is divided into seven regions:
The cathedral city and transport hub of Nelson is somewhere you'll invariably find yourself passing through whether you're going west to Abel Tasman National Park and Golden Bay, south to explore the wild west coast of the South Island or heading up to Picton to catch the ferry back to the North Island. The city has enough to keep you occupied for a couple of days, with many restaurants, cafe and bars, sea side walks and small city parks. There's a cinema showing new releases if the weather is unfavourable, though this won't be often as the city has earned the title 'Sunny Nelson'. Usually topping the list of places in New Zealand with the most sun hours per year (2,500), holding on to the title makes them a competitive lot.
Christchurch is the largest city on South Island. Founded in the mid-1800s, the city boasts a rich history, readily apparent through its Gothic architecture. Its parks and museums are unique to the country and have a distinct English feel. This is as a result of the large numbers of English settlers who have moved here during its development. The cathedral in the centre of the city looks like it has been taken straight from the United Kingdom. It is also home to a British style seaside pier. Christchurch gets many cruise ship visits during the summer months and the visitors spend lazy afternoons punting on the river avon. Unfortunately, Christchurch got damaged severaly by two earthquakes recently, one in September 2010 and one in February 2011, the latter killing many people and damaging the beautiful cathedral as well.
Queenstown lies on the edge of Lake Wakatipu in South Island, overlooking the magnificent Southern Alps. It became a growing settlement after gold was discovered in the area in 1862. Besides offering beautiful views, Queenstown is also now the adventure capital of New Zealand. It is has more recently been identified as the party capital of the country. Queenstown is the winter-sports capital of New Zealand and maybe even the Southern Hemisphere. During the winter season the city is full of skiers and snowboarders and it is difficult to look in the air without seeing a skydiver or paraglider. Backpackers (New Zealand name for hostels) abound along with motels and 3, 4 and 5-star hotels. Hire shops will be able to rent you anything you need for the slopes.
Dunedin is the country's fifth largest city, located on the southeast coast of South Island. It has been described as a southern hemisphere version of Edinburgh due to the high numbers of Scottish immigrants who have settled here. The city is located on the southeastern coast of the South Island, on the Otago Peninsula. It is home to numerous 19th century buildings from an era when it was New Zealand's largest city. It is home to the University of Otago, New Zealand's oldest university and the South Island's largest employer. During the university summer holiday (November - February), the city is notably quieter as a result.
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The South Island generally has a more invigorating climate than the North Island; all the major weather records in New Zealand have been set in the South Island.
The sea and the Southern Alps are the main contributors to the island's climate. The moist westerly air flow from the Tasman Sea rises as it hits the mountains. This causes orthographic rain which is dumped on the West Coast of the island; most areas receive over 2,000 mm of rain per year here. This rain does have its benefits though, supporting the lush, temperate rain forests of Fiordland.
With very little moisture left in the air after crossing the Southern Alps, eastern areas of the South Island are generally dry, with the Pacific Ocean the only main influence on the moisture. Coastal Christchurch receive only 620 mm of rain per year, while Alexandra, over 100 km away from the ocean in central Otago, receives just 360 mm of rain per year.
Temperatures generally become cooler the further south you go – but you can still experience the classic New Zealand "four seasons in one day" in any part of the island. Coastal regions are generally milder because the sea buffers temperatures. The hot and dry northwesterly winds off the Southern Alps can push temperatures in Canterbury into the mid-to-high 30s and even the low 40s during summer. Rangiora, 25 km north of Christchurch, holds the national record with a high of 42.4 °C (108.3 °F) on 7 February 1973. Elevated regions in the centre of the island have a more alpine climate, being cooler in winter and hotter in summer. Many of the mountains themselves are permanently capped with snow.
In winter, snowfalls are common in central, elevated regions (occasionally leading to the temporary closure of roads). During winter, snow also occasionally falls down to sea level and even coastal region temperatures can often drop below zero overnight (32 °F) – although rarely by much.
Christchurch International Airport (CHC) is 12 kilometres northwest of Christchurch and was originally opened in 1953. The airport has connections to all cities in New Zealand, most major cities in Oceania and a few other international destinations. Air New Zealand and Air Chathams operate most of the domestic flights. While international flights, even some as far away as Bangkok, Dubai or Seoul, are operated by Fiji Airways, Emirates, Jetstar, Korean Air, Pacific Blue, Qantas and Singapore Airlines.
To/from the airport
There are also international airports in Dunedin, and Queenstown (Queenstown Airport), though these airports only have flights to/from Australia. Air New Zealand and Qantas have domestic and international flights and other airlines serve Christchurch as well.
Bluebridge also operates between the North (Wellington) and South Islands (Picton) with up to four sailings a day between the two cities.
Though there are flights to various destinations within the South Island, most travellers use buses, cars or the scenic trains. Christchurch International Airport (CHC) has most flights, for example with Air New Zealand and Qantas.
One of the most scenic routes in the world is the Tranz Alpine between Christchurch and Greymouth on the South Island. It is operated by Tranz Scenic.
The TranzCoastal is a daily passenger service between Picton and Christchurch, stopping en route in 6 other places, including Blenheim and Kaikoura.
Renting or buying a car is incredibly cheap and easy and coupled with the relatively short distances it helps explain why road transport is the preferred way to travel around. It is quite possible to see several major attractions in the space of a few weeks when travelling by car. Driving is on the left hand side of the road. Explore More is a cheap rental option with depots in Christchurch offering several car and camper types. Some of the other options to rent cars include the following companies:
The distances and infrastructure make bus travel a great way to see a lot of the island inexpensively. The Kiwi Experience, Magic and Stray backpacker buses are a popular "hop-on, hop-off" method to travel around, visiting most of the major sights with commentary and advice provided by the driver. There are many different long-distance bus providers, which are all listed on the Bus and Coach Association New Zealand website.
The South Island's regional specialities reflect New Zealand's island nature, and the agricultural character of the regions. They include:
Like the rest of New Zealand, there are numerous options, from simple camping to luxurious hotels in major cities and main tourist areas. And everything in between. Some of the best deals are smaller hotels, motels or B&B's, which offer comfortable options for relatively little money.
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I have lived here for 8 years.
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Two Week Drive through the country, snowboard and adventure stay in Queenstown.
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The highlight of my trip was my stay in Franz Josef Glacier. I ended up staying in this town longer than I expected. There was soo much to do here. After I went on a Glacier Walk I went on the most amazing skydive with Skydive Franz. This was soo much fun because I saw a whole new part of the glacier that you can't see from where they take you on the walk. It was soo amazing!! the scenery blew me away. i had already done a skydive in Cairns and did one in Queenstown also and Franz Josef was the best by far. I was thinking of doing a heli scenic flight but the skydive worked out cheaper and the scenic was just as good. They told me that soon they will be jumping from 18,000ft too but my one from 12,000ft was still really amazing. Very highly reccomended
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