Following our previous blog post that covered the best hotels on North Island, here we’re going to look at our favourite accommodations located at the “top” of the South Island. With so much fabulous accommodation to choose from on South Island, we’re going to focus in on our favourite places to stay north of the line drawn loosely by the Christchurch to Greymouth train route through the Southern Alps.

As in our “Best of the North” post, our selection of hotels is not based on algorithms or the amount a hotel may pay to third party sites to be at the top of their lists, they’ve been tried and tested by us!

So, we’ve selected hotels we’ve worked with over the past thirty years that have consistently scored highly with our travellers as they make their journey through the country’s key sites and destinations.

The Best Hotels in Picton

Starting in Picton, your likely arrival or departure point on the ferry to and from Wellington and gateway to the Marlborough Sounds. If you’re going to be staying just the night, then probably the Picton Yacht Club or The Beachcomber Inn are your best bet. 

They are both conveniently located on the waterfront and both have lovely restaurants. 

However, if you’re likely to be around the area for a while, a better choice would be to consider a waterfront apartment. In recent years, there has been more emphasis in building self-catering properties than hotel accommodation. 

Views from The Beachcomber Inn in Picton

The Best Hotels in Blenheim

The main road south will take you to Blenheim, with accommodation for those travellers who’d like to enjoy tours of the vineyards and a spot of “tasting” at the different boutique cellars.  

Among our top choices are The Chateau Marlborough, it’s a bit of a grand name but it does proclaim to be the only 5-star accommodation in the northern region of the South Island. As you’d expect, it has all the luxury facilities including a spa, pool and gym and fabulously plush beds. It’s also handily located close to all the shops and restaurants.

If you’re looking to stay within touching distance of the vines, then you can do no better than a stay at Vintners Retreat, self-contained accommodation with views across the vineyards – check out their stunning website video.

Or if it’s a smaller place with a lovely garden and a quiet location that suits you, then The Jolly Poacher Retreat is a lovely old farm villa on a sprawling five acre property.

Chateau Marlborough by night. Image credit: Jim Tannock

The Best Hotels in Nelson

It’s a pleasant two hour drive from Blenheim to Nelson and the Abel Tasman region, lovingly known as the “sunshine capital” of New Zealand, you’ll find a wide range of attractive properties both within the centre of the town and on the road out towards Abel Tasman National Park.

The Trailways Inn is centrally located within a few minutes’ walk of Nelson’s central shopping precinct, theatres and restaurants and cafés, and it’s also close to the scenic waterfront. A dip in the heated swimming pool is a lovely way to start the day, and an evening in the onsite restaurant and bar with its wonderful food and views over the Maitai River, is a great way to end it!

Another great choice is the Shelbourne Villa, which is an 1820’s Arts & Crafts-style property with four comfortable and quiet suites – there is also a well-furnished guest lounge and dining room.

If you fancy something a little more modern, Sails offers an excellent range of contemporary studio apartments with fully equipped kitchenettes and spacious lounge areas, with floor to ceiling windows that open onto a private balcony or courtyard.

Although the apartments are self-catering, there is also an extensive (and delicious!) breakfast menu available to order which can be delivered directly to your room. So if you don’t fancy cooking, you can still enjoy a delicious home cooked or continental breakfast on your balcony.

Closer to the National Park in the small settlement of Kaiteriteri, here you’ll find Kimi Ora Eco Resort – don’t be put off by the name though, it’s hardly a “resort” in the traditional sense, but it does have a swimming pool and there are sun loungers if you fancy taking in the rays. The accommodation on offer comprises a range of attractive self-contained units all set back in the native bush and the beach is just a five minute drive away. The views from the breakfast room out towards the ocean are fantastic.  

You might also want to consider Ocean View Chalets situated in Marahau, at the southern entrance to the Abel Tasman National Park, these natural timber chalets are nestled on the bush line, with stunning ocean views.

Graded as four-star, you can choose between studio, one bedroom or two-bedroom chalets, each with a balcony and views out to the sea.

Inside the Park itself, you’ll find the unassuming but wonderful Awaroa Lodge, which is actually located on the Abel Tasman coastal path and makes a fabulous base for walking on the path or kayaking along the coast.

The Shelbourne Villa in Nelson

The Best Hotels on the West Coast

Travelling down the west coast from Nelson, you should head towards Punakaiki and Pancake Rocks, which are much like the blowholes of the Devil’s Staircase in Northern Ireland. After you’ve walked to the Rocks (and no doubt been soaked by the sea-spray), we recommend returning to the entrance and continuing down the coast to the stunning Punakaiki Resort.

Another property that should remove the “resort“ tag from its name, since these are simply well-appointed chalets that stretch from the bush line to the beach, with a fabulous central hub that contains the reception area and restaurant. 

The Best Hotels on the East Coast

On the east coast of the South Island, you’ll come to Kaikoura, popular as the main place in New Zealand for whale watching tours and dolphin encounters.

Two stand-out properties for us can be found on the main promenade and are highly recommended.

The White Morph is a self-catering accommodation which offers a 5-star luxury spa room with stunning full views of the ocean and mountains, a 4-star deluxe studio room with a partial view of the ocean and balcony to enjoy the ocean vista. You can also choose an en-suite Garden Studio, which has a patio so you can really make the most of the beautiful gardens which surround it.

Just up the road from the White Morph is the newly-built Sudima Hotel, which has had many rave reviews since its opening.

The view from The White Morph

The Best Hotels in Hanmer Springs

Inland from Kaikoura is the spa town of Hanmer Springs and our favourite hotels here are the Hanmer Springs Hotel and the Braemar Lodge & Spa. Both of which offer exceptional levels of customer service in fabulous settings, with tranquillity and relaxation at their heart.

The exterior of the Hanmer Springs Hotel

The Best Hotels in Christchurch

And so, to the capital of South Island, the garden city of Christchurch. Of course, much of the city’s hotel stock was destroyed in the earthquake which shook the city in February 2011. Some properties have been re-built, some were mercifully untouched and a number of new one’s have been built.

Our pick of those in the city are The Chateau on the Park, which is now owned by the Hilton group and as the name suggests, is across the road from Hagley Park and the stunning Botanic Gardens. 

The Distinction Hotel and Rydges Latimer Square are both new hotels and have good access to the main attractions.

The George is widely recognised as one of Christchurch’s most luxurious boutique accommodations. Situated on the edge of the picturesque Hagley Park, the 5-star hotel offers contemporary décor with a nod to traditional sophistication.

The fine-dining restaurant is popular with locals and visitors alike in the evenings, with the alternative option to indulge in a spot of high tea before strolling to nearby restaurant-laden Papanui Road for an evening meal.

The lobby of The George Hotel in Christchurch

Our next blog post heads further south to look at places to stay in the stunning Lakes region of Queenstown and Wanaka, as well as featuring some unique properties on the southern west coast and in Fiordland National Park, so do keep a lookout for that!


You’ll also find more suggestions for places to stay in the northern regions of South Island as well as the rest of New Zealand in the accommodation section of our website. If you’re planning a New Zealand holiday in 2023 or 2024 and you’d like a bit of extra help figuring out where to stay, then don’t hesitate to get in touch with our friendly, knowledgeable team who’d be more than happy to discuss your requirements.