Best Hikes in New Zealand South Island
New Zealand is home to spectacular natural landscapes and heart-stopping adventure! It’s famous for attractions like Coronet Peak and Remarkables for the snow bunnies and Fiordland National Park, where Milford Sound’s mystery leaves you in awe.
With so much scenery on offer, it’s only natural that hiking is popular everyone’s South Island Itinerary. The South Island has a variety of walks both short and long for both day hikers and avid adventurers. There is something for everyone and every type of experience or scenery.
From Roys Peak to Abel Tasman Coast Track, the South Island offers unparalleled hiking experiences for every fitness level. Check out our best hikes in New Zealand South Island list!
Best Hikes in New Zealand South Island
Ben Lomond Summit
One of the best hikes in New Zealand South Island (and my personal favourites) has to be the Ben Lomond Summit! The hike is a challenging track through different vegetation with a 1438m elevation to the summit. There are many start points to the hike, we decided to start early and explore the falls, creeks and forest along the one-mile track but you could definitely knock some hours off the hike and begin your adventure from the Skyline Gondola (Tiki track).
Once you reach the bench known as Ben Lomond Saddle, you are around another hour and a half from the summit (DO NOT GIVE UP). Prepare for a steeper rockier incline but take in those outstanding views, put on a song and power through! The summit provides 360° views of Queenstown, The Remarkables, Mount Aspiring and Coronet Peak. Definitely one of my favourite treks and top things to do in New Zealand’s South Island!
Editors Tip: Don’t forget to bring a winter jacket, it can get cold as you summit to the top. The sun was going down on our way back and it got very chilly.
Details of Ben Lomond
How long: 6-8hrs // 40 Km
Where is it: Queenstown
Mt Arthur in Kahurangi National Park has always been an underdog when it comes to New Zealand South Island hikes. In fact, I’ve never seen it anywhere else. I was introduced to this hike by my friends when I was working in Motueka, a town located 45-minute drive away from Mt Arthur.
While it only takes around 3-4 hours to reach the summit, a lot of hikers took two days, with a night spent in Mt Arthur hut. Why? Of course, there’s something lurking in the big piece of the forest there. Well, it’s not hard to guess – it’s Kiwi birds.
While Kiwi birds are super rare, you’ll still manage to get a glimpse of it given that you chose the right spot. Most of them came out during the night, which explains why hikers spend a night there in the hut.
Back to the hike itself. The hike up to the hut, which took around 1 hour, was covered by trees and hot during summer. But once you got past the hut, you’ll be hiking all along the ridges slammed by raging winds which could reach up to 80km/h. You’ll have to embrace the wind and practice extreme caution when ascending. It snows and freezes when you approach the summit so be sure to bring winter jackets with you.
The last part right before the summit is the most challenging of all, as you will have to climb up a huge block of ice to hit the summit. Trekking poles will be useful at this point. Feel free to bring some food for a picnic on the summit. It was all foggy when I summited so… Anyway, I had a great meal.
If you’re planning to have a road trip in New Zealand, check out my Ultimate Guide to Road Trip in New Zealand!
By Yen from swingabroad.com
Details of Mt Arthur
How long: 4 hours // 9.2 km
Where is it: Nelson/Tasman region
Lake Pukaki Track
This walk can be started on the lake side of State Highway 8, near the starting point for the Pukaki Kettlehole Walk. Park off the road and the track can be started at many points here.4 hours, 13km return. This walk is a short section of the Te Araroa (long pathway) and makes a great walk. It meanders around the southern end of Lake Pukaki with lovely views out over the lake and to the Southern Alps, including views of Aoraki/Mount Cook on a clear day.
Facilities & important information
- This walk is on State Highway 8 between the townships of Lake Tekapo and Twizel. Both towns provide all necessary services and have a range of restaurants, shops, cafes, accommodation and other activities.
- There are public toilets a few minutes away heading south, a the car parking area and the southern tip of Lake Pukaki which is also a great vantage point for amazing views up the lake towards Aoraki/Mount Cook.
- Choose to walk as long as you like, then return along the same way.
- There is no opportunity for shady areas along this walk so be prepared with sunscreen, water, and warm clothing in case of a weather change.
Details of Lake Pukaki Track
How long: 4 hrs // 4km
Where is it: Canterbury
A coastal hike along the Otago Peninsula just outside of Dunedin, New Zealand, is a must for any South Island itinerary. Starting at the end of Seal Point Road, just a 20 minute drive from Dunedin, the rolling green hills littered with friendly sheep will have you immersed in natural New Zealand in no time.
As you head towards the ocean, a sharp decline to Sandfly Beach is well signposted and offers fantastic views over the bay. This part of the hike is definitely the windiest and some hikers may prefer a face cover, Sandfly Beach is aptly named.
Walking across the beach or the grassy area just behind, keep your eyes peeled for seals, penguins, whales, dolphins and even the rare albatross. I was lucky enough to see them all when I visited, there is something incredible about seeing a penguin scaling a sand dune! If you are insistent on seeing all the wildlife, there is a free to use Department of Conservation look out hide on the East end of the beach, which again is suitably signposted.
Setting off once again directly behind the hide, keep heading East by North East (there is a track called “Sandymount” to follow once you are over the ridge) and you will come to Lovers Leap, a marvellous natural chasm in the cliffs. Please note: lambing season affects opening times so please contact the Department of Conservation before travelling.
by Alan from morepassportstamps.com
Hooker Valley Track is probably the easiest yet the most beautiful hike you can do in New Zealand’s South Island and a must visit place to include in your New Zealand itinerary. It’s only some 5kms one way from the Mount Cook village to Hooker Lake and the change of the altitude is barely 100meters making it very accessible to just about everyone. You don’t need to be extra fit to do this hike – I’m not and I did it easily.
You need to cross three swing bridges to get to the final point of the hike and that’s already a thrilling experience. On the way to the lake, you can admire stunning views of Mt. Cook – the highest peak of New Zealand. For all the time when walking this track I felt like I’m inside the Photoshop, the landscape around was so beautiful it felt a bit surreal!
It took me some 3 hours to complete the hike and return to Mount Cook Village but then I was stopping every few minutes to take yet another picture. Unfortunately, you need to go back the same way you went to the lake but at least you can admire Hooker Valley from another perspective.
by Kami from mywanderlustr.pl
Details of Hooker Valley
How long: 3hrs // 10 km
Where is it: Mount Cook (Village)
Perhaps the best hike in New Zealand South island for its incredible views! If you’re craving challenging hills and picturesque views, then Roys Peak is the perfect day hike for you. Located in Wanaka, this out and back 16.6km (9.9 miles) trail has breathtaking viewpoints of Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountains. It’s unbelievable how beautiful the landscape is from any point along the trail. Don’t forget to stop by the iconic photo spot that overlooks the lake right before you head to the summit.
The last few kilometres to reach the summit is steep, so ensure that you have proper hiking shoes. The trail is accessible throughout the year (except from October to the beginning of November). During wintertime, the trail has snow so crampons and an ice axe is required for the hike. Bring lots of water due to the lack of shade and a jacket as the peak is very windy and the weather can change at any moment. Check out this hike during your road trip through New Zealand’s South Island.
by Jackie from lifeofdoing.com
Details of Roy’s Peak
How long: 5-6 hrs // 16 km
Where is it: Wanaka
The Mt Crichton Loop Track
The Mt Crichton Loop Track is located about 11km outside of Queenstown on the Glenorchy Road. This track would be considered easy in terms of gradient and pathways. The entire loop takes the average hiker about 3 hours. We had very young children with us, so it took us a little longer and we finished the walk in just over 4 hours with plenty of stops along the way.
Unlike most hikes where you’re rewarded with a grand view or destination at the end, this is a loop track where the start and end meet at the same point. The goal of the hike is to get to the Sam Summer’s Hut which is an 85-year-old backcountry hut built from stone and a sluiced canyon, remnants of gold mining back in the 1860s. Enroute to this relic, you’re walking through the cool forests of mature manuka and beech trees. As we visited Queenstown in the summer, the foliage provided a cooling respite from the scorching sun in the more open areas of the track.
We brought along a simple lunch of which we managed to find a gorgeous little spot amidst the winding gorges and running rivers. Sitting on the natural log of the forest, the kids really loved the crisp, cool water and exploring throughout the rocks. Make sure you’re well lathered with insect repellant as those sand flies certainly wreaked havoc!
We highly recommend that you add this track onto your itinerary of hikes in the South Island of New Zealand. Particularly if you’re not looking for something too strenuous and wish to enjoy nature at its best!
by Amy from familyglobetrotters.com
Details of Mt Crichton Loop Track
How long: 2 – 4 hrs
Where is it: Glenorchy-Queenstown Road
One of the best South Island hikes for all levels of fitness is the super easy Queenstown Hill! The Queenstown Hill track is one of the most popular and accessible hikes from the beautiful city of Queenstown, New Zealand. The trailhead starts on Belfast Street at the edge of town. There are several trail options, which are well marked. Most require moderate effort and can be completed in 2 – 3 hours. The climb to the summit is about 500 meters. A walking stick is nice for support while going back down – but not required.
The panoramic views at the top are the best in Queenstown. You can see the city, lake, and several mountain ranges. Definitely a great reward for the climb! There are also plaques along the way to acquaint you with the flora, fauna, and indigenous history of the area. We would highly recommend prioritizing this hike on your to-do list if you’re passing through Queenstown!
by Michelle from roamredmondoregon.com
Details of Queenstown Hill
How long: 3 hrs // 1.5km
Where is it: Queenstown
Lake Marian Track
The day trip to Milford Sound is popular with tourists to New Zealand, but spend a little longer in the area and you’ll see some special scenic spots. Hiking Lake Marian is one of the best things to do in the area. It takes three to four hours and is mostly uphill on the way to the lake. There’s a waterfall to see on the way as well as some nice valley views. The highlight is obviously Lake Marian though, and what a sight it is. Located in a hanging valley surrounded by snow-covered hills (in winter / early spring at least), Lake Marian is a great end-point to the hike. The clear water looks inviting, but it seems like it’d be freezing in there.
It’s all downhill on the way back to the car park, but the journey up to Lake Marian does get tough. We did in early winter and there was a lot of frosts around (the rocks surrounding the lake were slippery) and the track, in general, is pretty rough, so walk carefully!
by Jon from jonistravelling.com
Details of Lake Marian Track
How long: 3 hrs // 2.4 km
Where is it: Fiordland National Park
The Routeburn Track is one of the best hikes in New Zealand South Island and is classified as one of the nine (soon to be ten) “Great Walks”. The track is 32 km long and can be walked in either direction, but most commonly starting in Glenorchy and finishing at the Divide – an hour away from Te Anau.
The track is simply stunning and takes you alongside the beautiful electric blue Routeburn River and into the mountains where you’ll be surrounded by towering peaks, snow-capped glaciers and deep valleys along with the occasional waterfall. You’ll traverse through lush moss-covered forests that wouldn’t look out of place in the Lord of The Rings and along narrow ridges with panoramic mountain views.
There’s a good chance you will spot or at least hear the cry of the world’s only alpine parrot, the Kea, as well as many other native birds. You can camp in designated spots or stay in one of the four huts along the route. The most spectacular of which is right beside the emerald green Lake Mackenzie, you can take a dip if you dare – even in summer it’s ice cold!
The Routeburn is usually walked in two longish days or three shorter days depending on how far you want to hike each day.
The trail really feels like a “best of the South Island” hike, you’ll finish wishing it was longer!
by Cat from walkmyworld.com.au
Details of Routeburn Track
How long: 3 days // 33 km
Where is it: Fiordland
Abel Tasman Coastal Track
The Abel Tasman national park is 60kms of unbeatable Kiwi coastline. Situated at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, the park skirts the Tasman Sea and is the playground for migrating whales, seal colonies and international hikers alike.The park’s closest town is Nelson and it’s the perfect spot for picking up last-minute supplies and stocking up on all your camping groceries. Make sure you drop by the local oyster bar for a Nelson Sav Blanc and a plate of freshly shucked delights the night before you hike. You know, just to get off on the right foot.
If you’re keen to walk the entire coastline, the three- to four-day journey generally starts in Marahau and finishes up in Totaranui, taking you through breathtaking forest and alongside aquamarine waters. Wake eith the sunrise, play “spot the whale”, and cool your sweaty self with an ocean dip along the way.
For those who are shorter on time, the water taxi provides a spot-on few hours of sightseeing and allows you to get into the guts of the park for a day (or a half day) of picture-perfect walking.
Details of Abel Tasman Coastal Track
How long: 3-5 days // 60km
Where is it: Nelson
Rob Roy Glacier Track
We enjoyed one of the most scenic day hikes of our lives on a convenient day trip from Wanaka to the Rob Roy Glacier Track. Plan on 3 to 4 hours for this out and back trip that begins deep in the valley within Mount Aspiring National Park. You’ll cross swinging bridges over turquoise streams and then climb up into the mountains—this is the Southern Alps after all—until you finally arrive at a million dollar view of the snow-covered glacier.
While the hike is labelled as “easy”, we found it rather challenging…but completely worth it for the jaw-dropping views. It’s no wonder this served as a Lord of the Rings filming location. In fact, you may recognize it from the scene where Gandalf rides up to Isengard in Nan Curnir. If you’re staying in Wanaka, this hike is just a one hour drive north.
by Chris from explorenowornever.com/
Details of Rob Roy Track
How long: 3-4 hrs // 10km
Where is it: Wanaka
Blue Pools Track, Wanaka
The walk down to Blue Pools is one of the most beautiful destinations in New Zealand’s South Island, and my favourite stop along the Haast Pass from Franz Josef to Wanaka. The short hike only takes about 15 to 20 minutes one way. The path is easy to follow and doesn’t have any steep sections, making it a great destination for almost all travellers.
The path winds its way through the forest down into the valley. Look around carefully and you will find small birds among the trees. Near the bottom of the valley, the walk crosses one of those rope swing bridges so iconic to the South Island. The bridge offers a stunning view over the Makaroa River below.
What really draws visitors to Blue Pools is that bright blue glacial stream right at the bottom of the valley. The water is some of the clearest yet bluest I have ever seen. The water is freezing cold, but well worth a quick dip to freshen up from the walk, so don’t forget to bring a towel!
There are other trails for those who want to continue further from Blue Pools. I didn’t personally extend the walk but can’t wait to return and see what lies ahead deeper in the forest.
by Josh from thelostpassport.com
Details of Blue Pools Track
How long: 40mins // 1.5 km
Where is it: Wanaka
Kaikoura Peninsular Walkway
The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway is a track around the, yeap you guessed it, Kaikoura Peninsula. The most popular route starts at the Point Kean Viewpoint, 4.5km from the Kaikoura Library. Point Kean is one of the best areas to view seals in Kaikoura, and you may even find a couple hanging around on the path by the entrance.
The track begins with a steep ascent to the top of the cliffs (~50 metres of incline) which you’ll then walk along for the first 2km along the coastline. The path doesn’t get close to the edge, so the walk is okay for children if you keep an eye on them. Once you’re at the top, the walkway is more or less flat with a few minor undulations with benches at various points along the way, each with an awesome view. There are signposts at several points giving background information about what you’re looking at. After 2km you start to head inland a little bit before descending back towards the southern end of the peninsula to the South Bay Reserve carpark.
If you’re starting from the Point Kean Viewpoint, the South Bay Reserve Carpark is 3.5km away and makes for a beautiful 7km loop, the most popular route. Alternatively, you can walk from the town to Point Kean, to South Bay Reserve, and back to the city in a loop. If you were to begin this loop from the Kaikoura Library it is ~11km. in terms of difficulty, the incline to the top of the cliffs can be tough on a hot day but should be manageable for 90%+ of people. The views are worth it!
There’s also a track from Point Kean Viewpoint that follows the coast along the bottom of the cliffs for ~2km leading to a staircase that’ll get you back up the staircase. As you follow the cliff tops, you’ll have views along the coastline with the cliff steep cliff drop adding to the drama of it all. There’s a section where there’s a colony of gannets, if you pass through at the right time of year, they make a heck of a noise! If you’re visiting during winter (or near), you’ll be able to see the snow on the Kaikoura ranges.
by Jub from tikitouringkiwi.com
Details of Kaikōura Peninsula Walkway
How long: 3hrs // 11.7 km
Where is it: Kaikoura
Franz Josef Glacier Track
You shouldn’t, by any means, wander off the track without a guide, as it’s dangerous. If you wish to walk on the glacier or a lot closer, you’ll need to hire a guide or take the helicopter to the glacier itself – again, with a guide.
by Thais from worldtripdiaries.com
Details of Franz Josef Glacier Track
How long: 1.5hrs // 5.4 km
Where is it: West Coast
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