If you asked me for only one single place to visit on the South Island, I would recommend Aoraki/Mount Cook without hesitation. It has everything — flat plains/valleys, soaring mountains, impossibly blue lakes, rivers, glaciers, and forests. If you want a luxury hotel stay and do not want to do any hard hikes, there’s something for you. If you want something more middle-of-the-road and want to do some easy/short walks, there’s something for you. If you’re hardcore and want tough multi-day treks, complete with backcountry skiing or kayaking, there’s something for you too.
Topping out at 3,724 m (12,218 ft), Aoraki/Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand. It served as Sir Edmund Hillary’s training gound for Everest, and is one of the highlights of any trip to the South Island. During the term holiday, we spent four fantastic days there, exploring the trails through the valleys.