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Top 12 Villages in the South Island, New Zealand

Top 12 Villages in the South Island, New Zealand

If you’re a fan of this blog you might have already seen our Top 12 Cities / Top 12 Towns in the South Island posts. Those contain towns and cities that have multiple places to eat, drink and sleep — places you’re likely to spend a night or two. This post is a little different. Our top 12 villages in the south island are tiny settlements with barely a shop in sight — the main reason to visit them is that they’re close to some of the South Island’s best scenery.

Note: These villages all have populations under 300 (most are far smaller). Some of them appeared on our Top 12 Small Towns list until we decided to do this post. We’ve now covered 36 cities, towns and villages in the South Island! Top 12 Small Towns | Top 12 Cities (and Big Towns)

Mt Cook Village

Mount Cook Village only features a visitor centre and a few hotels / motels. Most people skip through on their way to the Hooker Valley Track or Tasman Glacier, but it’d be a good place to stay if you wanted to explore Aoraki Mount Cook National Park without having to drive back and forth between Twizel. You can (just) see the village in the photo below, which was taken from the Red Tarns Track after heavy snow.

READ MORE: The Scenic Drive to Mount Cook

The scenic drive to Mount Cook, New Zealand


The drive from Wanaka to the West Coast is a journey through the wilderness of Mount Aspiring National Park, with Makarora the only real settlement between Lake Hāwea and Haast.

It’s a tiny village with a restaurant / café as well as some accommodation. A cool place to stay if you’re not in a rush to get to Haast. Sights nearby include the Blue Pools, Haast Pass lookout track and several waterfalls.

French Pass

Located down a long, winding gravel road, French Pass is both a village and a body of water between the mainland and D’Urville Island, Marlborough Sounds.

There’s not much going on in the village (I’m pretty sure there isn’t even a shop there these days) but it’s worth doing a day trip as the drive is stunning. There’s accommodation there too, a great place to spend a few nights if you’re keen for somewhere peaceful.


The Catlins is far more famous for its scenery (cliffs, beaches, waterfalls) and wildlife than its towns and villages, but there are some interesting settlements to visit. Papatowai is our favourite. There’s a beach right in town, a camping ground (with a shop that sells ice creams) and it’s close to some of the Catlins top sights including McLean Falls and Tautuku Bay.

READ MORE: 23 of the Best Things to Do in the Catlins

Papatowai is also home to the Lost Gypsy Gallery / Cafe, a surreal collection of machines, automata and other creative works, many of which you can interact with. (Note: It shuts during winter).

St Arnaud

St Arnaud is a small village in Nelson Lakes National Park, right by Lake Rotoiti. The most photographed spot in town is definitely the main pier, although there are couple of other piers to keep an eye out for (including the one on the way to Whisky Falls). There are walks of all lengths starting in or near St Arnaud — we loved the Whiskey Falls, St Arnaud Range and Mount Robert Circuit tracks.


Hiking trails and the chance to see Ōkārito kiwi (a subspecies only found in this area of the West Coast) are the main reasons to visit Okarito, a small village close to Franz Josef on the West Coast.

Head up to the Okarito Trig for an awesome view over the coastline (and Southern Alps if the clouds allow it), kayak in the lagoon or explore the beaches and coastline on the coastal track — there’s heaps to keep you busy for a day or more.

Jackson Bay

Jackson Bay is one of the most remote villages in New Zealand, located all the way down at the bottom of the West Coast (at least as far as the road goes). It’s a scenic drive from Haast along the coast, and once there you can explore the bay and eat some world-class seafood (The Craypot, Note: The restaurant is closed in winter).

Logantown / Welshtown (Bendigo Historic Reserve)

If you prefer your villages old, crumbling and long since abandoned, Logantown and Welshtown are your best bets. These historic goldrush towns in Central Otago (a short drive from Cromwell) are home to some of the most atmospheric ruins in New Zealand, with the barren Central Otago hills and distant snow-capped mountains helping to set the scene.

Arthur’s Pass Village

The main road linking Christchurch and the West Coast passes through Arthur’s Pass Village, a tiny settlement with a train station and a few cafés and hotels. It’s the logical place to break up the journey, and there’s heaps to do in and around the village including waterfalls, short walks and day hikes.


Punakaiki is home to the Pancake Rocks as well as one of the nicest stretches of river in New Zealand (Pororari River). It’s a tiny village but there’s heaps to do, including a cave, beaches and several walks. It’s one of the starting points for the Paparoa Track — a recent inclusion to the Great Walks network.


You’ve probably heard of the Moeraki Boulders — one of the more interesting sights on the road between Dunedin and Oamaru — but the village of Moeraki is also worth a look. It’s a few kilometres from the main road and feels a world away. You’ll find great fishing, beaches to stroll along and Katiki Point Lighthouse where you might see penguins and seals.

Sunrise at Moeraki Boulders, Coastal Otago, New Zealand

St Bathans

Once a thriving gold mining town, St Bathans, in Central Otago, is now almost deserted.  There’s a pub / restaurant/ hotel though,  with the added bonus of a possible ghost sighting. St Bathans is famous in New Zealand for being haunted — although not believing in ghosts won’t curb your enjoyment.

READ MORE: 20 of the Best Things to Do in Central Otago

You can do the walk around Blue Lake, or just head to one of the viewpoints close to the main street. You’ll find some lots of history too, including a town centre that’s straight out of the late 1800s and the ruins of a school.

Did you enjoy our top 12 villages in the South Island list? Did any of your favourites miss out? Let us know in the comments!

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Jon Algie

I'm a South Island local -- born in Timaru and raised in Dunedin. I left the island in 2006 and returned 10 years later. Having seen a good chunk of the world I realised how special this place is -- the most beautiful island in the world! Seven years (and almost 400 posts) later I'm still helping locals and tourists alike plan their trips around the South Island.


Thursday 20th of July 2023

Bannockburn should have been on the list.

Jon Algie

Thursday 20th of July 2023

It was close to making it, cool little place!


Sunday 16th of July 2023

You missed Naseby. Thank goodness - we like having it for ourselves 😀

Jon Algie

Thursday 20th of July 2023

I've spent some time in Naseby, very quiet except over the summer holidays -- nice little town!


Sunday 9th of July 2023

Missing Ophir, a lovely quiet village with beautiful old buildings, a great restaurant with accommodation (Pitches) and a magnificent old bridge.


Saturday 8th of July 2023

Couldn't agree more. Great little places to fossick around.

Jon Algie

Wednesday 12th of July 2023

Thanks for the comment, lots of others I could have added to this list too!


Tuesday 4th of July 2023

Can't beaut the beautiful Tennyson Inlet. Safe roads on this side and beautiful natural scenery

Jon Algie

Wednesday 5th of July 2023

Yeah, beautiful part of the island!

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