The Top 10 Hikes in South Island New Zealand

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The Top 10 Hikes in South Island New Zealand

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New Zealand’s South Island is famous for spectacular natural landscapes and adventure. It’s the home of stunning attractions like the Southern Alps and Fiordland National Park, where Milford Sound’s sheer cliffs rise out of the water.

With so much scenery on offer, it’s only natural that hiking is a popular South Island activity. And you don’t have to be ultra-fit or wander for days to experience its beauty. The South Island has a variety of walks both short and long for both day hikers and rugged adventurers. Read on for ten top South Island hiking tracks. 

1. Milford Track

Milford Track

Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

New Zealand’s most famous walk, the Milford Track is 53km worth of mountains, valleys, lakes and other incredible views. Starting at Lake Te Anau, it takes you through the highest point of Mackinnon Pass and all the way to Sutherland Falls, NZ’s tallest waterfall, as you follow in the footsteps of early explorers. You can do this four-day walk guided or independently, staying in huts along the way.

2. Kepler Track

Kepler Track

Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

Another Fiordland National Park epic walk, Kepler Track was specially built to show off some of Fiordland’s finest features: beech forest, tussocked plains, waterfalls and streams. The track can be walked in either direction (although anti-clockwise is recommended) and those who don’t want to commit to a multi-day mission can take a day walk.

3. Ben Lomond

Ben Lomond

Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

This rugged mountain rises 5735 feet behind Queenstown and although it’s a sometimes steep and challenging climb, the views from the summit are magical. On a clear day, you’re treated to 360-degree scenery of lakes and mountains. If you don’t feel like walking the whole way, you can take a shortcut by gondola. Convenient! For those who are willing to go the distance, a trek through the pine forest awaits you.

4. Routeburn Track

Routeburn Track

Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

Linking Fiordland National Park to Mount Aspiring National Park, this track delivers superb scenery in the way of mighty cliffs, mountain ranges and cascading Routeburn Falls. It’s also a flexible option. You can walk the entire 32km from either direction or walk to one of the huts and then turn around and return the way you came.

5. Heaphy Track

Heaphy Track

Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

Starting (or finishing, if you prefer) in the tiny town of Karamea, this 82km four-day mega-walk takes you through a variety of different landscapes from forested mountains to limestone cliffs and open alpine country. Shorter day walks are an option for those who don’t want the full adventure.

6. Roy’s Peak

Roy’s Peak

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After a trek through grassland and alpine meadows, this Wanaka day-long return walk will offer you superb views of Lake Wanaka and Mount Aspiring.

7. Diamond Lake Track

Diamond Lake Track

Also in Wanaka, this seven km walk is shorter than several others on this list but will still take you past Diamond Lake and to the summit of Rocky Mountain with views of Lake Wanaka. If you fancy an even shorter walk, you can just take a 20-minute wander around Diamond Lake.

8. Abel Tasman Coastal Track

Abel Tasman Coastal Track

Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

Swap the mountains for the beach as you explore the coastline of Abel Tasman National Park. With clean white sand, shimmering water and granite cliffs, this coast has the most whether you’re taking a day hike or walking for the whole three to four days.

9. Centre of New Zealand Walk

New Zealand Walk

Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

Also known as Botanical Hill, this place was a survey point in the 1800s. Now it’s an iconic walk with views of Nelson and The Grampians. Start at the Reserve where NZ’s first ever rugby game was played and be at the top in less than an hour.

10. Queenstown Hill Time Walk

Queenstown Hill Time Walk

Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

Starting at Belfast Street in Queenstown, this walk to the summit of Queenstown Hill can be steep and demanding. But the views of Lake Wakatipu and mountains like the Remarkables make it worthwhile. In a relatively short timeframe (it’s 1.5km long) you can feel like you’re already out in the wilderness.  

Closing Thoughts on South Island Hiking Tracks

New Zealand is one of the world’s most beautiful countries, and with thousands of kilometres of hiking tracks, it’s no wonder so many people take the time to get around it using only their own two feet. If you’re properly prepared, hiking is a safe and exhilarating way to see the South Island at their own pace.

In New Zealand, hiking is also called “tramping”. Now that you know about ten of the best walking tracks in New Zealand, it’s time to tramp away!