New Zealand is famous for its incredible scenery and mountainous terrain. The South Island in particular has some of the most amazing hiking in the entire world. As you are planning for your trip to New Zealand, it is important to map out the hikes that you want to take on. To miss out on the hiking in the South Island is truly missing out on an incredible adventure. To save you some trouble in your planning, we have compiled a list of the most amazing New Zealand South Island hikes so that you can decide for yourself what adventures you will take.
1. Roy’s Peak
Roy’s Peak is one of the most famous of the New Zealand South Island hikes. Not only is it doable in a day, but it features some of the most amazing scenery in New Zealand. Located in Wanaka, New Zealand, this hike is no joke. This 10.1-mile round trip hike includes an over 4000ft elevation gain. The views are majestic, but the hike itself is not for the faint of heart.
The hike itself consists of switchbacks that take you up the side of the mountain, the views from the switchbacks include the lake that is surrounded by mountains and the town of Wanaka. This hike is Instagram famous as the end boasts a peak that overlooks this massive and picturesque lake. If you are looking for a beautiful hike that will give your legs and lungs a run for their money, this is the perfect hike for you.
Getting to Roy’s Peak is very simple. It is located right outside the town of Wanaka and has its own car-park. Be sure to arrive early as this hike can take hours and becomes very busy, very quickly. Make sure that you plan for time just to sit and enjoy the summit. I also highly recommend bringing snacks to eat as you rest and enjoy yourself at the summit.
2. Hooker Valley Track
Hooker Valley Track is one of the absolute best day hikes in New Zealand. This easy day hike is located near Mount Cook in the Mount Cook Village. This hike is an out and back trail that has almost no elevation gain which makes it a much easier hike than many of your other hikes in New Zealand. If you decided to take the path, which is part boardwalk, all the way to Hooker Lake, then the entire trail will be about 6.6 miles in total.
This hike has a path that is well maintained which makes it a great hike for those who may struggle on rough ground. It is also a good hike for children as you are not required to hike the entire distant. You can simply hike out as far as you would like and then turn around.
The safest season to hike this track is from October to April as the weather can be rough at the other times of the year and the river can flood. Make sure that you bring a camera on this hike as the views of the surrounding mountains against the crystal blue waters make for some absolutely beautiful photos.
3. Routeburn Track
The Routeburn Track is one of the best New Zealand South Island hikes and is located in the Fiordland National Park & Mount Aspiring National Park.
It is 32km in length and takes around 2-3 days to complete and is easily reached from the nearby city of Queenstown which is roughly a 1-hour drive away from the start of the hike at the Routeburn Shelter trailhead.
This hike is one of the most diverse in the country as, if starting from the Routeburn Shelter trailhead, it takes you along a river and up through a lush, mossy forest on the first day and then high up into mountains and above the treeline on the second day. You get the best out of both worlds.
At the end of the second-day hike, you camp by a small lake after descending from the mountains through the forest. On the third day, you ascend to a trail along the side of a mountain with views across the valley and a cascade of waterfalls that follow you along as you hike out of the national park.
As with most hiking trails in New Zealand, you will need to book your place in the campsite or hut before starting the hike, and wild camping is not allowed.
Contributed by Jonny Duncan of Backpackingman
4. Tiki Trail
One of the most popular walking tracks in Queenstown, especially with those living in Queenstown – some locals do this steep climb weekly! The Tiki Trail is a must-do when in Queenstown. The spectacular views from the summit are worth the leg-burning climb up – the track is 2.1 km each way and should take an hour to complete. FYI – once you have completed the Tiki Trail you can continue further on the Ben Lomond trail for truly epic scenery if you wish!
The Tiki Trail starts from the bottom of the Skyline Gondola and winds its way up through the dense native forest, worth noting is there aren’t many viewpoints along the way but, that’s okay because the view from the top more than makes up for it! From the summit you will see Lake Wakatipu, Cecil Peak, and the snow-covered Remarkables, so be sure to have your camera ready to snap some photos.
The trail is well-maintained and easy-to-follow but because of its elevation gain, it is advisable to be of a reasonable level of fitness to undertake it. The trail gets pretty busy especially at weekends or in the Summer, and worth noting too is that the trail is shared with mountain bikers so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for them!
If you don’t fancy walking back down the trail you can opt (and buy a ticket) for the Skyline Gondola to take you back down to your starting point.
Completing the Tiki Trail in Queenstown is a rite of passage for every visitor to the town!
Contributed by Aimee of Snap Happy Travel
5. Ben Lomond Track
Looking for a challenging, yet rewarding hike? Queenstown’s Ben Lomond Track is one of the favorite New Zealand South Island hikes. There are various starting points for the Track, but the most common one is at the bottom of the Tiki Trail.
The return hike from here measures in around 15km, with ~1500 metres of elevation gain. DOC suggests 6-8 hours for the hike, but if you’re quick you can get it finished in 5 hours. The awesome part about this hike is the views as you’re above the tree line most of the time.
The summit, 1748 metres above sea level, has the best views. You can see Lake Wakatipu, Moke Lake, The Remarkables, some of the other awesome Queenstown hikes, and more. If you’re lucky you might see a cheeky kea.
This will be the toughest hike many have taken so if you’re not on a budget you can take the gondola up to the Skyline to shave off the steep Tiki Trail section.
Alternatively, if you’re struggling when you reach the Ben Lomond Saddle, use this as your turnaround point. The views from here are spectacular too. For those who aren’t a fan of out and back hikes, consider walking back via Jans Peak. This will take you along a beautiful ridgeline, but the track isn’t so well graded.
And if you love sunrises, start early as they can be spectacular from the summit.
Contributed by Jub of Chur New Zealand
6. Lake Marian
Lake Marian is easily one of the most amazing New Zealand South Island hikes. An alpine lake within a National Park is a sight to behold. The hike itself is located in the gorgeous Milford Sound, one of my favourite places to visit in New Zealand.
At around 3-hours, Lake Marian is a relatively short hike, however, the 412m elevation gain makes it significantly more challenging. The start of the track boasts a series of cascading waterfalls only about 10 minutes from the car-park.
Although the track leading up to the waterfalls is well maintained, the rest of the path is a bit treacherous. You’ll have to climb over roots and rocks, so be sure to watch your step. Keep an eye out for the orange markers too to lead the way – we came across a couple of fellow hikers who’d taken a wrong turn and ended up hiking for hours.
You’ll be blessed with the views of Lake Marian at the midpoint of the hike. The snow-capped mountains of Fiordland National Park create the perfect backdrop to the emerald lake. The crystal clear waters make for a perfect spot to take a dip after your well-deserved hike!
Contributed by Delilah of Our Travel Mix
7. Able Tasman Coastal Track
Able Tasman Coastal Track is at the top of the South Island and is one of New Zealand’s ‘Great Walks’. The hike is a total of 60 km long and takes between 3 and 5 days depending on your start point and speed when walking. It’s considered one of the easiest of the Great Walks to do. What makes it awesome? The stunning coastal views & beach walks! In general, people do this as a one-way hike, we took a water taxi to start at Totaranui and walked back to where we had left our car in Marahau.
One key thing that you need to take into account for this hike is the tides as they can come in quickly and affect your ability to complete the hike.
There are a couple of crossings that can only be done at low tide, with no other route, so be careful with your timing. Crossing the estuary full of shells under the mud meant that my feet found it a challenge – so if you can pack water shoes, I’d recommend them! We did the route in 3 days and stayed in huts so we didn’t need to pack a tent. It’s key to pre-book the huts as far in advance as you can. This is a hike where you need to bring everything in with you and pack all rubbish out.
Whilst there are a couple of lodges en route and you can book a water taxi to ferry your luggage between them, you should plan on bringing all the food you need and camping gear to cook it with if you aren’t staying at the lodges.
Contributed by What’s Katie Doing?
8. Mount Fyffe Summit Track
Most know Kaikoura for its yummy seafood, whale-themed activities & the local seal colony. However, hiding in its Mountain Range backdrop lies a beautiful day hike that gives Roy’s Peak a run for its money: The Mount Fyffe Summit Track.
This rarely talked about hiking track is a great option if you’re looking for something unique to do while visiting Kaikoura that doesn’t involve groups of tourists and is one of the best hikes on New Zealand’s South Island.
Don’t let the 8km of almost consistent steep uphill put you off. After the halfway mark things get easier and the views along the way are incredible before even reaching the hut, located 1000m above the town. So if you don’t want to complete the entire walk, going only partway up will still give you some beautiful photo opportunities of Kaikoura.
One of the main things to think about before doing the Mount Fyffe Summit Track is the season that you’ll be there. While Kaikoura is beautiful all year round, even in spring we encountered a light snowstorm at the Mount Fyffe hut which prevented us from reaching the summit. Always pack additional layers when walking on unpredictable mountain ranges.
Compared to other mountain hikes mentioned here, the Mount Fyffe summit track is thankfully well covered because it winds its way up through the native bush. Regularly opening up to glorious views of the surrounding ranges and Kaikoura disappears below.
Contributed by Leah of Officer Travels
9. Milford Track
The sceneries of New Zealand’s South Island are otherworldly. The Milford Track is one of the most popular and famous trails among them all. The trek begins from Lake Te Anau and ends in Milford Sound, and it was the path that the early explorers walked until they discover the natural wonders of the country.
Milford Track is about 53 kilometers long covering a diverse range of landscapes through mountains, valleys, lakes, and other breathtaking views. To complete the track typically take three to four days, but the walk is relatively easy that is suitable for many types of travelers who are generally fit.
For a one-day scenic walk from Te Anau, check out the Giant Gate Falls, a 30-meter-high spectacle that is also a wonderful spot for a picnic and for a dip in the pool. Going on further, hikers are required to take part in a guided tour, or trek independently, staying in huts overnight. The track takes hikers through the highest point of Mackinnon Pass, Sutherland Falls, the tallest waterfall in New Zealand, and all the way to Milford Sound, the most visited Sound in New Zealand. There are many things to see and do in Milford Sound, from the scenic cruises, Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory, kayaking, sailing, and more.
Contributed by Kenny of Knycx Journeying
Which is your favorite of these amazing hikes on New Zealand’s South Island?
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