South Island | New Zealand | Beautiful Scenic Lookouts
New Zealand is world renowned for its breath-taking scenery. Around almost every corner there’s a ‘wow’ waiting to be discovered. Here’s some our favourite lookout points offering expansive, mind blowing views.
Located on the edge of Takaka Hill, Hawkes Lookout Walk leads you on a gentle gradient to a cantilevered viewing platform overlooking Tasman Bay. Boardwalks are bordered with native trees and amusing miniature mountainscapes jut up from the earth. Interpretation boards relay the history of the area, its geology and significance to local Māori. The walk takes about 15 minutes and is well worth your time. Native birds will serenade you to the viewing platform atop a steep cliff face looking down into the Riwaka Valley. You can also see the entrance to the Riwaka Resurgence from here.
In Nelson City, the Centre of New Zealand walk is a fantastic vantage point to capture the city, boulder bank and bumpy ranges of Kahurangi National Park. It’s an uphill slog your legs won’t forget, but the height and boundless views make it all worthwhile.
Queen Charlotte Drive is such an incredible scenic route; we couldn’t pick just one spot! This scenic thoroughfare twists its way along the water’s edge from Picton to Havelock offering several roadside laybys where you can get out, wander and peruse the splendour of the Marlborough Sounds. Perched above Governors Bay you’ll find a lone picnic seat with sublime views over Queen Charlotte Sound and beyond. There’s also a walking track down to the secluded beach.
Cullen Point near Havelock is a favourite with travellers who enjoy long seascape vistas from the walking track to Pelorus Sound. There’s plenty of parking space for campervans there too.
At Collinet Point you can view the violent waters of French Pass collide with relentless force from one vantage point while a calm cove and French Pass settlement can be seen from another. The heart-warming story of Pelorus Jack (a local dolphin) is relayed on interpretation boards along with local history. Across the pass D’urville Island is visible and you may choose to take the ferry over to the island to explore.
By far the best views over Canterbury to the jagged backbone of our magnificent south are from the Port Hills in Christchurch. Winter is incredibly beautiful, with the snow-capped Southern Alps reaching for powder blue skies, all skirted by the seascape of Pegasus Bay. If you’re up for a dose of pure adrenaline, you can take in the striking views from the zipline at Christchurch Adventure Park.
Further south at Lake Pukaki, Peters Lookout is perched perfectly on the edge of the lake facing our highest peak, Aoraki Mt Cook. The magnificent, azure glacial waters set against a towering mountainous backdrop are sure to wow all who visit. Early morning or late afternoon is the best time to photograph Aoraki from here.
Tasman Glacier Lookout is an easy walk with a gentle incline leading to a spectacular alpine viewpoint where you can marvel at large glacial icebergs floating in the floury blue waters. You may like to take a side trip to the Blue Lakes if you’re visiting in the summer months. It’s an exquisite location to swim and cool off.
The Summit Road on Banks Peninsula (very narrow and winding) gives plenty of perspective into this extinct volcanic landscape and the surrounding bays including the quaint French settlement of Akaroa. Be sure to check out the Māori & Colonial Museum at Okains Bay. It’s a trip back in time covering loads of history and boasts New Zealand’s largest collection of wāka. (Hand carved canoes).
Fox Glacier Viewpoint is located off Highway 6 at Fox Glacier on the road signposted to Lake Matheson. If you’re venturing off to see the glacier, you simply must set time aside to do the Lake Matheson Walk. On a still day the Southern Alps are beautifully reflected in the water. Climb the stairway to the ‘View of Views’ and fill your boots with natures eye candy! Lake Moeraki also offers sublime reflections on a still day and is especially magnificent during winter with snow capped peaks as a picturesque backdrop. Knights Point is a favourite stop for motorists and tour groups offering endless views over the Tasman sea and rocky island outcrops. There’s plenty of parking and public toilets on site. Storyboards give insights to local history.
If you’re entering Otago via the West Coast, the lookout at Lake Hawea is a definite ‘must do’. You’ll find a small roadside layby on the south side of ‘The Neck’ on the edge of the lake. A thin track leads up beside the roadside where you can see out over Lake Hawea. On a still day the mountain ranges are reflected in the lake making awesome photo ops.
Bennetts Bluff is located on the Queenstown - Glenorchy Road. Situated on a blind bend in the road, you’ll need to take care entering and exiting the layby. Here you will discover one of New Zealand’s most ethereal views encompassing Lake Wakatipu, the Richardson & Humboldt Ranges, Mt Earnslaw and beyond. It can be a little gusty with winds sweeping up the lake, albeit, a worthy and memorable sight to behold. Postcard perfect at any time of year, you’ll understand why this area is colloquially referred to as ‘The Real Middle Earth’.
The peak of Mount Cargill in Dunedin (by far New Zealand’s most beautiful city in our humble opinion) can be reached by unsealed road or on foot via several scenic trails. Views extend to the Otago Peninsula and over the harbour to the colossal waters of the Pacific Ocean. There are several side trails that lead to quirky geological features. If you have the time, head for the Organ Pipes.
The trail to Roys Peak is well trodden to say the least! A steep climb through tussock lands and alpine meadows, you’ll need to prepare well for this trail. The traverse is 16 kilometres long, taking 6-7 hours. This trail to heavenly views is coveted by many. Clear days expose brilliant views to Mt Aspiring and beyond, duller days bring a thick, cotton wool like inversion layer with an eery beauty all of its own.
Bluff is the end (or the beginning) of New Zealand’s main state highway. World famous for it’s bright yellow sign telling you how far from the real world you are, there are also fabulous trails leading to the top of Bluff Hill/Motupohue. If the climb on foot is not for you, you can drive to the top. What you get for your effort is unimpeded 360-degree views to Rakiura/Stewart Island, Fiordland National Park, pretty much the whole of Southland and if you have a really good zoom lens, maybe Antarctica! (Joking).
Florence Hill Lookout near Papatowai overlooks Tautuku Bay, a sweeping coastal haven for wildlife such as penguins, seals and sea lions. The beach has a unique glow due to the quartz content in the sand and it’s framed by sideways growing, windswept trees. There are also several walks around the bay and good parking near the entrance to the walkways.
The road to Milford Sound is saturated (sometimes literally) with impressive vantage points. Easily accessible favourites are Pops View Lookout, (aka Hollyford Valley Lookout), Homer Tunnel parking area and the Cleddau Valley viewpoint, all of which are signposted along the route. When you arrive at Milford Sound carpark, you can take the short track to Milford Sound Lookout. The walk is flat though there are some stairs to climb at the viewing platform. Here you can fill your boots with soul food, take in the might of Mother Nature and marvel at what Rudyard Kipling described as the eighth wonder of the world.
Most scenic vantage points on our main highways are marked with a brown advisory sign depicting a camera or binoculars. Keep your eyes peeled for them when you're road tripping to find more fantastic scenic spots.
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