The South Island of New Zealand is renowned for its mountains, lakes and glaciers.
The Southern Alps, home to 3724m-high Mt. Cook, runs the entire length of the island – and it’s not hard to see why the South Island is extremely sought after for its hiking trails.
We’ve chosen our top ten hikes and made it easy for you to begin planning your next adventure, and after you get an idea of the views, you’ll see on the hikes below you’ll be booking your trip as fast as we did!
It’s not hard to see why the Hooker Valley Track is one of the most popular tracks in New Zealand – before you know it you’ll be travelling and on your way!
At only 5 kilometres in length and gaining roughly 100m in height, the well-formed Hooker Valley Track can be walked by almost anyone, suitable for a range of fitness levels.
Glacier Lake, Hooker River and swing bridges all feature, and with a National Park covered in a rugged terrain of ice and rock, you’ll experience some of the most ancient landscapes on offer in New Zealand.
To get tracking, we recommend starting early to avoid peak times between 9am to 5pm – not to mention, the early morning light does offer a pretty spectacular view.
What are you waiting for? We’ll see you there!
DISTANCE: 5km One-way
BEST TIME: All Year
Milford Track is arguably New Zealand’s most famous walk.
The 53 km journey begins at the head of Lake Te Anau and takes you across suspension bridges, boardwalks and a mountain pass, backed by postcard-perfect views of winding lakes, sky-scraping mountain peaks and enormous valleys.
To kick things off, there are a number of tour providers that can assist, especially if you’re not sure where to begin planning your journey. It’s worth noting, this is one of the more extensive tracks on South Island, and will need at least 5 days of your time to complete.
Without a doubt, it’s one of the finest hikes in the world, and you’ll soon discover why – get started!
DISTANCE: 53km One-way
BEST TIME: Late October to Late April
Lake Marian, an alpine lake formed by glacial action and set in a stunning valley over Fiordland.
It’s set above the bush line, and is surrounded by mountains and calm waters – making for quite a special sight.
To begin, we’ll make our way from the carpark to a series of waterfalls, which by our account normally takes around 20 minutes. Conserve your energy here if you get the chance, as the next section can become a little steep and muddy once we ascend up towards the lake itself.
You’ll navigate through the backcountry and may need to rely on your trusty coordination and fitness, but it’ll all be worth it once you reach the top.
Gazing over the lake is truly something special to behold, and you won’t want to miss it if you’re around the Fiordland National Park.
Pack your things, and we’ll see you there!
DISTANCE: 3.1km Loop
BEST TIME: October to April
The Rocky Mountain Summit track is a scenic hiking trail located in the Diamond Lake of Otago, starting with a gentle climb along the edge of Diamond Lake.
In fact, the higher you climb, the more rewarding the views get across the Southern Alps, Mount Aspiring and Lake Wanaka – so don’t worry, you’ll get plenty of photo opportunities. Once you reach the top, you’ll want to take a minute (or maybe 45) to appreciate New Zealand’s purity.
Now one of the best things about the Rocky Mountain track is the amount of options on offer. If you’re not feeling up to the challenge of a longer hike, try a shorter trail like the Lake Wanaka lookout, which still gives you an epic view.
Give this hike a go today!
DISTANCE: 7km Loop
BEST TIME: November to April
Along the Rob Roy Track, you’ll come face to face with active glaciers and alpine vistas, strung together by mountains, river valleys and lakes like no other.
The incline on your way to the viewing point is gradual, and once you arrive at the top, you’ll want to keep an eye out for the Kea – a mountain parrot known to try and steal your food!
Although this is a pretty light track, take note that the weather can be a little unpredictable – so pack the right clothing, and make sure you check the conditions ahead of your trip.
DISTANCE: 10km One-way
BEST TIME: November to Late April
So the Moonlight Track isn’t exactly a walk in the park, and it will require a little skill and experience to get to the top – however – we bet it’ll lift your spirits as high as the Southern Alps.
You’re actually going to feel quite spoilt once you see what’s on offer: views of the Shotover River, Southern Alps and Queenstown’s gold mining history.
Feel free to start at either side of the track, and arrange some sort of transport on either side so that the way back isn’t as harsh. Now lucky for you, the track also offers a series of different legs, with an option to venture off-track and attempt the summits of a circa 1750m climb (here’s a little hint – it’ll give you one of the best views over the Southern Alps).
Along the rest of the track, you’ll notice little markers or poles indicating the way to Sefferstown – an old mining village that holds the remains of the old Moke Creek stone school – and as you near the end of your journey, you’ll cast an eye across Shotover River.
No doubt this is one of the tougher tracks on South Island, but man is it worth it!
DISTANCE: 14km One-way
BEST TIME: October to May
Mount Robert is a loop circuit located in Nelson Lakes National Park, well formed to combine Pinchgut Track and Paddy’s Track.
The Pinchgut Track starts to zig-zag up the steep bareface of Mount Robert, before beginning to enter Beech Forest. It’s by no means an easy track, and it’s probably where you’ll find yourself climbing more than a couple of times.
That being said, Paddy’s Track naturally connects you to the Mount Robert circuit, which cuts across the mountain’s open face and several gullies, before bringing you to a rewarding view of Lake Rotoiti.
Planning to head up soon? The weather could be a little crisp, so make sure you’re prepared for an Alpine-like environment – or in the warmer months – choose to bring some insect repellent for sand flies often located near the lake.
Ready for a challenge? We’ll meet you up the top!
DISTANCE: 9km One-way
BEST TIME: November to Late April
Located in the heart of Queenstown, the Queenstown Hill Time walk is one of the most popular and accessible tracks in the region: a demanding 1.5km walk that stretches up Te Tapunui to show the past, present and future.
Test your legs on the hill track up to the ‘basket of dreams’, a favourite lookout spot to check out historically-rich information plates and illustrations.
You’ll wind through pine forest, ascending higher before breaking out above the treeline to be met with sweeping views of the Remarkables, Cecil Peak and parts of Lake Wakatipu. We recommend bringing along a packed lunch where you can stop for a snack before you begin your descent, on the shore of the small mountain lake.
DISTANCE: 1.5km One-way
BEST TIME: All Year
Roy’s Peak Track, a famous trail known to bring travellers from all corners of the world.
You’ll start by zig-zagging along a steep 4WD track from the carepark, up to the conservation area, before being met by wild grasslands that guide you up to Roy’s Peak summit.
It’s there, and along the way, that you’ll catch a panoramic view of the ridgeline, taking in most of Lake Wanaka and the surrounding peaks of Mount Aspiring.
Since the hiking trail is quite popular, parking can be a little limited during peak hours (9am – 5pm), so remember to take this into consideration when planning your trip. In fact, have you thought about an early start? If you time it right, Lake Wanaka and the accompanying sunrise will simply speak for itself.
So, we’ll see you there right?
DISTANCE: 16km One-way
BEST TIME: Mid November to September
Part of Te Araroa, the Lake Ohau Track takes you around the shores with breaktaking views of surrounding mountains.
Like some of our other featured walks, it’s not for the faint-hearted, and will require a bit of extra effort to take you past a zig-zagging mountain side – but you’ve got this!
As you approach the final stretch, make your way through scree and tussock slope, and suck up a view of the entire Mackenzie Basin below, with uninterrupted views in every direction.
Especially in the colder months, come well prepared as parts of the track can become very slippery under snowy terrain.
Ready to start hiking? Let’s go!
DISTANCE: 8km One-way
BEST TIME: November to Late April
Hiking is one of the best ways to truly absorb the splendour of New Zealand’s South Island, with a wide range of experiences to choose from.
With some of the best hikes on offer across the South Island, we’ve made it even easier to plan a jam-packed adventure with this hand-picked list!
Most tracks will allow you to catch glimpses of the Remarkables Mountain Range that cover a high volume of the South Island, but if you’re up for more, conquer the best hikes in New Zealand.
There’s no time like the present to begin planning your next adventure!