This blog may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy for more info.
New Zealand’s South Island has to be my favorite island. Don’t get me wrong, I love the North Island but when it came to choosing which one to live on, it was South all the way. One of the big reasons why is because of the Southern Alps and all the amazing hiking trails both in and around them. The South Island is filled with New Zealand’s best hikes, and as an avid hiker, that’s my kind of place!
There are a ton of hikes to choose from, quite literally! In fact, choosing the 40 best hikes on the South Island was not hard, and this list could have been much longer. However, I wanted to showcase the absolute best from a range of landscapes, distances, and difficulties. Some are well known, others you’ve likely never even heard of.
So, get your New Zealand bucket list ready, here are the 40 best hikes on the South Island of New Zealand!
Important: This list is broken down into smaller regions in New Zealand so you can easily plan your trip. Also, below is a map of all the hikes on the South Island to make planning even easier!
South Island Hikes Map
Hikes in Otago Region (Queenstown/Wanaka/Glenorchy)
1. Queenstown Hill
I’m kicking this mammoth list off with a favorite hike of mine in my hometown of Queenstown, New Zealand (easily one of the best places to visit on NZ’s South Island.) Queenstown Hill Track is a beautiful hike that leads to Queenstown Hill summit with breathtaking views over Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, and The Remarkables Mountain Range. It’s one hike I absolutely love and easily one of the best hikes on the South Island of New Zealand.
The trail itself is easy/moderate and from the trailhead, it’s only a 5-kilometer (3.1 miles) return hike. With that said, there is a hefty elevation gain of over 400 meters, (1,312 feet). On a good day, it takes me just over 3 hours to finish the hike but that includes a nice long break at the summit!
It’s short, relatively easy, and considered one of the best hikes in Queenstown! Plus, it’s one of the few things you can do even in the winter months in Queenstown!
2. Bob’s Cove Track
Bob’s Cove is a gorgeous bay on Lake Wakatipu only 15 minutes from Queenstown on the road to Glenorchy. Although beautiful from the beach, you simply must hike Bob’s Cove Track up to Picnic Point to get an even better view of the area.
Bob’s Cove Track is a short hiking trail that takes only 30 minutes to finish. With that said, the rewarding view on this hike makes it one of the best things to do in Queenstown. I mean just check out the picture above!?
Anyone can hike this trail which I love, yet it still remains off-the-beaten-path in Queenstown. So, head up for sunrise or sunset and enjoy the epic viewpoint!
Related Read: Bob’s Cove Track is one of the easiest hiking trails in Queenstown – find out what the others are!
3. Secret Moke Lake Viewpoint
The Secret Moke Lake Viewpoint isn’t really that much of a secret anymore, but it’s still a rather unknown hiking trail only 20 minutes from Queenstown. The trail, which begins from Moke Lake, leads up a steep, unofficial trial to a small viewpoint over Moke Lake. It can be hard to find the “trail” but this guide to the Moke Lake Viewpoint does show you exactly how.
Although it only takes 40 minutes to reach the top, the trail is very steep in some sections. Those afraid of heights or traveling with children should avoid it! But for those who do reach the top, the views over Moke Lake are stunning! It’s easily one of the best things to do at Moke Lake and a hidden gem in Queenstown.
Another great activity to do while you’re at Moke Lake is kayaking, learn more about it here!
4. Tiki Trail
The Tiki Trail is a hugely popular hiking trail that starts right in Queenstown on Brecon Street at the exact same spot as the Queenstown gondola. In fact, the Tiki Trail is just the budget traveler’s way of getting up to Bob’s Peak where the famous Skyline Building and Luge are located.
With that said, the trail itself is actually gorgeous, and on it, you’ll walk among huge pine trees and catch glimpses of Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown below. Of course, the main attraction is the view from the top, and once you see it for yourself you’ll be blown away!
It’s a hard hike to the top but it only takes around 1.5 hours. The best part is that you’ll save $46 NZD on the gondola and hike one of the South Island’s most breathtaking trails!
5. Ben Lomond Track
When it comes to hikes on the South Island few are as famous as Ben Lomond Track. This epic hike is considered one of the best (and should be a part of every South Island itinerary. The trail starts from Queenstown at the Queenstown gondola and first you must either hike the Tiki Trail or take the gondola up to Bob’s Peak to begin.
Once at the top, you’ll begin a steady walk to the saddle before making the grueling climb to the summit. All up, it’s a 14-kilometer (8.7 miles) hike with an elevation gain of over 1,400 meters (4,593 feet)! I’d allow at least 7 hours depending on how fit you are.
With that said, the views at the summit and along the trail are worth every breath! This is easily the best hike in Queenstown!
6. Lake Alta Track
Lake Alta sits at 1,800 meters (5,905 feet) above sea level. I know what you’re thinking, a lake that high must be hard to get to! Well, actually it’s not. In fact, the Lake Alta Track is only a 1.75-kilometer (1 mile) hike each way, and the reason for that is that it starts from The Remarkables Ski Field just outside of Queenstown. To hike the trail, you’ll need to enjoy the scenic drive up to the ski field, but once you do, you’re almost there.
The trail is still quite the climb from the ski field, but all up it only takes 2 hours to finish. If you do want to hike further then you can hike up to the saddle above for an epic bird’s eye view of Lake Alta.
Lake Alta Track is not a busy trail on the South Island which has always surprised me, especially since it’s also a Lord of the Rings film location!
If you’re not a confident hiker or you just prefer guided experiences, you can book this Lake Alta hiking tour from Queenstown. It includes transport up to the trailhead as well as a gourmet lunch at the lake!
Side note: You can actually go snowshoeing nearby at The Remarkables Ski Field!
7. Earnslaw Burn Track
Starting just outside of Glenorchy, Earnslaw Burn Track is one of the best free things to do in Glenorchy. The trail isn’t overly popular, but it really should be. Earnslaw Burn Track starts with a steady climb through the New Zealand beach forest before climbing higher until you can stare up at the Earnslaw Glacier and Mt Earnslaw.
Unfortunately, if you want to hike the trail in one day you’ll need to be prepared for a 10-hour backcountry hike. Instead, many people (including myself) opt to spend the night camping near the glacier. It’s honestly a beautiful place to camp (just check out the photo above) and spreads the hike over two days.
This is a hiking trail on the South Island for the more adventurous. So if you consider yourself an experienced hiker, be sure to add this one to your must-do list!
8. Greenstone Track
The Greenstone Track is a multi-day hike in Glenorchy. The point-to-point trail is 40 kilometers (25 miles) long and starts from the Greenstone parking lot near Kinloch, and finishes at The Divide on the road between Te Anau and Milford Sound. The trail’s landscapes are very similar to Routeburn Track and part of the trail actually links up to it.
The hike through the mountains takes around 2 to 3 days, and along the way you can stay at DOC serviced huts for $20 NZD per person per night. The best part is that bookings don’t need to be made in advance and all campsites and huts operate on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Despite not being considered a Great Walk, the views are epic! Plus, it’s a tranquil trail really feels like a backcountry hike. Along the way, you’ll rub shoulders with other adventure enthusiasts while enjoying views of deep valleys, waterfalls, and alpine lakes!
9. Glenorchy Walkway
Glenorchy Walkway is one of my favorite things to do in Glenorchy and easily one of the best hikes in Glenorchy. The trail starts from the waterfront at the Glenorchy jetty which is a must-visit on its own. The trail then follows the shoreline of Lake Wakatipu before heading inland to the Glenorchy Lagoon.
At the Glenorchy Lagoon, you walk along a boardwalk and on a calm day enjoy breathtaking reflections of the Humboldt Mountains (picture above.) All up, the entire loop is 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) long and takes just over an hour to complete at a steady pace. However, Glenorchy Lagoon is also a great place to spot birds. So take your time, enjoy the views, and be sure to bring bug spray for the mosquitos (why do you think birds love it!)
10. Roy’s Peak
If I had to pick the most popular day hike on the South Island, I’d have to choose Roy’s Peak Track. Don’t get me wrong, there are others that come close, but Roy’s Peak is at the top of everyone’s South Island bucket list.
Don’t be fooled by its popularity though, Roy’s Peak is a hard day hike. The trail starts just outside of Wanaka and involves an 8-kilometer (5 miles) climb with a 1,300-meter (4,265 feet) elevation gain. It’s tough and relentless the entire way to the summit, which takes around 3 to 4 hours.
Once there though, the views are actually out of this world. You can peer down at Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountains. It’s common to be above the clouds which is really cool! Of course, you can also get that famous Roy’s Peak photo. Don’t get confused though, the famous peak isn’t actually the end of the trail. It’s 30 minutes from the top (our guide about Roy’s Peak Track above tells you everything you need to know!)
11. Isthmus Peak
Isthmus Peak is known as the “other Roy’s Peak”. The trail also starts just outside of Wanaka, and although it’s less popular than Roy’s Peak, is still considered one of the best hikes in Wanaka. The trail is slightly easier (only just) than Roy’s Peak with a 1,113-meter (3,652 feet) elevation gain over 8 kilometers (5 miles) one way. But it’s still really hard!
The views from Isthmus Peak rival those at Roy’s Peak only you get to enjoy them without the crowds, which I love. Isthmus Peak is perfect for the hiker who really wants to avoid the large crowds that Roy’s Peak attracts. It’s beautiful, and one of the best free things to do in Wanaka!
12. Diamond Lake Lookout Track
If you’re visiting Wanaka and think that Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak sound a little too hard for you, then Diamond Lake Lookout Track is a great option. The trailhead is located 20 minutes from Wanaka near Mount Aspiring National Park. Although the trail isn’t easy, when compared to Roy’s Peak, it’s a breeze and easily one of the best things to do in Wanaka!
Diamond Lake Lookout Track involves a gradual climb to a viewpoint above Diamond Lake that takes around 3 hours. The length of the trail is 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) long in total. On a beautiful day, you get amazing views of Lake Wanaka and also Diamond Lake from above.
As you can see from the photo above, I didn’t get the best weather, but if you do, the views will be much better!
13. Rob Roy Glacier Track
If you want to explore beautiful valleys and spot hanging glaciers, then Rob Roy Glacier Track is a top choice located just outside of Wanaka. The trail is a 10-kilometer (6.2 miles) return hike with a steady elevation gain of 450 meters (1,476 feet). In total, it only takes 3 hours to hike the trail so it’s a perfect half-day hike on the South Island.
The views along the way are typical of New Zealand, just imagine blue rivers, tussock grass, New Zealand sheep, and of course that epic view of Rob Roy Glacier (and the waterfalls the glacier creates below!) The trail is popular, so if you plan on visiting in the summer, be sure to set off early!
Hikes in Fiordland National Park
14. Routeburn Track
The Routeburn Track is the first of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks on this list (don’t worry, more are coming.) This 32-kilometer (19.9 miles) point-to-point trail is hiked in one direction usually over 2 to 3 days. One end of the trail starts at Routeburn Shelter near Glenorchy, and the other, at The Divide on the road between Te Anau and Milford Sound.
Although the trail is in the Fiordland National Park category, it also passes through Mt Aspiring National Park. On the trail, you get to experience a huge variety of landscapes including rivers, valleys, alpine lakes, mountain peaks, and waterfalls.
To hike the entire Routeburn Track, bookings for the campsites and huts need to be made well in advance. The best part is though, that you can also do lots of great day hikes on the Routeburn Track. You can go on your own or if you prefer a guided experience there are also a few great tours here for you too! I’ve both hiked the full trail and done day hikes, and I never get sick of the views!
15. Lake Marian
My favorite of all the hikes in and near Milford Sound is Lake Marian. I absolutely love the view from the edge of Lake Marian of the surrounding mountains. It’s also the place I went for my first polar dip in New Zealand – it was so cold!
From the parking lot, it takes around 2 hours to reach the lake and 1 hour to return back down. There is a constant slope until the lake and in total, you’ll climb 400 meters (1,312 feet) in elevation. The trail is not well maintained and you will need to use your hands in some parts as well as be careful of slippery rocks.
With that said, it’s worth it! If you get great weather the views are mind-blowing and as you sit in that huge valley you feel so small!
16. Key Summit
Another hugely popular trail on the South Island is the Key Summit. This trail is actually the rival to Lake Marian in the sense that most people only have time to do one, and they’re located down the road from each other.
The Key Summit is a viewpoint trail that has you hiking part of the Routeburn Track before branching off onto the Key Summit Track. The entire Key Summit is steep, but at only 3.4 kilometers (2.1 miles) each way, it takes less than 3 hours in total.
The Key Summit is most famous for its breathtaking views over Fiordland National Park, and on a clear day, you can actually peer down at Lake Marian. There is also a small tarn at the Key Summit where you get stunning reflections of the mountains.
Tour option: If you like more of a guided experience is a tour of the Key Summit Track that departs nearby from the town of Te Anau.
Related Read: Hiking the Key Summit is considered one of the best things to do in Fiordland National Park – read my blog to find out what the others are!
17. Kepler Track
My favorite Great Walk in New Zealand is the Kepler Track! Now, I haven’t done them all, however, out of the 5 I have done, the Kepler was hands down the most spectacular.
The 60-kilometer (37.3 miles) loop track is usually hiked over 3 to 4 days, staying in huts and camping along the way. Most people hike the Kepler in an anti-clockwise direction, and if you do, the trail begins with a steep climb up to Luxmore Hut.
Luxmore Hut is stunning and spending the night there is one of the best things to do in New Zealand! Afterward, you must walk the entire ridgeline of Luxmore Mountain and enjoy epic views down deep fiords and into the horizon at huge mountain peaks. Next, the trail takes you down the valley where humid forests, lakes, and waterfalls await – it’s breathtaking!
The trail covers so many different landscapes and you’ll almost certainly have an encounter with a cheeky Kea on the Kepler Track!
The Kepler Track starts just outside of the town of Te Anau. In fact, it is one of the best things to do in Te Anau!
If that sounds a bit too intense for you, you can hike a portion of the track on this Kepler Track Boat and Hike Tour where you’ll also get to see several Lord of the Rings filming locations on Lake Manapouri as you head to the starting point for your portion of the hike!
Related Read: The drive from Queenstown to Te Anau is highly underrated, and contrary to what you might’ve heard, there are actually lots of great places to check out on that drive!
18. Milford Track
The Milford Track is the most famous of the 10 Great Walks on the South Island. It’s so popular that getting bookings for the huts along the trail could be compared to getting concert tickets – it’s crazy! However, for those lucky few who do manage to snag a booking or go on a guided tour, you’ll get to experience one of the most diverse and rewarding hiking trails in New Zealand.
The 54-kilometer (33.5 miles) trail takes between 3 to 4 days to complete and begins with a boat ride across Lake Te Anau to start. Then, it’s 4 days of walking through stunning fiords and ancient rainforests until you come out the other side at Sandfly Point in Milford Sound. It’s an epic journey and a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
19. Gertrude Saddle Route
If you’ve ever wanted to stare down into a deep fiord without paying for a scenic flight, then the perfect trail for you is Gertrude Saddle Route. This epic hike is only a 7.4-kilometer (4.6 miles) return hike but you must make a steep climb up to the saddle, which in some places, is actually dangerous.
The views though are out of this world and you’ll be so humbled by the sheer size of the glaciers that carved these fiords. Oh, and did I mention you can see Milford Sound too!
As I mentioned above, the trail is not suited to young children and you should exercise extreme caution when hiking Gertrude Saddle Route. Never hike the trail in bad weather or in winter, and be sure to research the trail beforehand so you can be prepared!
Hikes in Mount Cook National Park and Area
20. Sealy Tarns Track
Mount Cook National Park is filled with stunning hikes and every one of them on this list is a must-do! The Sealy Tarn is a beautiful alpine tarn located high above the valley in Mount Cook National Park with breathtaking views of Mueller Glacier, the Hooker Valley, and of course, Mount Cook (New Zealand’s tallest mountain.)
The Sealy Tarns Track is not a long hike, however, the trail pretty much only consists of stairs – 2,200 of them to be exact. Although it sounds impossible, it only takes around 2 to 3 hours to reach the top, and once you do, you only have another 2,200 stairs to walk back down.
I actually hiked the Sealy Tarns Track during winter in New Zealand, so I never saw the tarn. Instead, I played in the snow and enjoyed the beautiful winter wonderland that is Mount Cook National Park!
21. Hooker Valley Track
The Hooker Valley Track is at the top of everyone’s New Zealand bucket list, and rightly so. It’s the trail every visitor to Mount Cook should do.
The Hooker Valley Track is a relatively flat trail 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) each way that leads through the Hooker Valley (duh!) The trail crosses three suspension bridges over the Hooker River before you arrive at Hooker Lake. The views are beautiful and from the edge of the lake, you can see Mount Cook’s beautiful reflection on the water and also the Hooker Glacier in the distance.
All up, it only takes around 2 to 3 hours to hike the trail and it’s well maintained and suited to families!
If you are short on time or want to take the stress out of exploring Mt Cook and hiking the Hooker Valley track there is a full-day tour from Queenstown that includes several stops on the way to Mt Cook, the hike itself, and some time spent in Mount Cook village.
22. Tasman River Viewpoint Trail
The shortest hike in Mount Cook is the trail to the Tasman River. The track leads to a famous viewpoint among photographers who come to the edge of the lake to capture amazing sunrises over the glacier, mountains, and the many icebergs in the lake. I’ve personally spent two sunrises here and loved them!
This almost isn’t a hike because it’s so short, but I had to include it. The trail only takes around 20 minutes to walk each way. If you want to watch that glorious sunrise you need to follow the signs to the Tasman River. It’s at the river mouth at the lake where you get the best view and also where you’ll find the icebergs!
23. Mueller Hut
Ok, so I’ve mentioned what most would consider the most popular trails on the South Island, but now it’s time for my all-time favorite… the Mueller Hut! The Mueller Hut is actually the longer version of the Sealy Tarns (yes, you have to hike the 2,200 steps.) At the Sealy Tarn, you need to continue hiking up further to the Mueller Hut – a stunning alpine hut with the most epic views I have ever seen.
To be honest though, it’s not just the views but the experience of the Mueller Hut that makes it so great. I actually hiked the Mueller Hut in winter and with crampons and an ice ax I climbed through the snow to the hut before spending a memorable night under the stars (but still in the comfort of a New Zealand hut.) It was exhausting both physically a mentally, but I loved it.
The trail is 5.6 kilometers (3.5 miles) in each direction with an elevation gain of over 1,000 meters (3,281 feet). In summer, the trail can be hiked up and back in a day (around 6 hours), but in winter, the trail is not only more challenging but also dangerous without the proper gear.
24. Omarama Clay Cliffs
This next hike isn’t located in Mount Cook National Park but nearby just outside the small town of Omarama (famous for the Omarama Hot Tubs.) It’s actually one of the best stops on any road trip from Queenstown to Mount Cook, Queenstown to Christchurch, as well as from Wanaka to Mount Cook.
The trail takes you far away from the mountainous terrain to some ancient clay cliffs that were carved by melting glaciers. It’s a unique attraction that many people miss, but it’s well worth the short walk around to check them out.
The trail at the cliffs leads around the front of them, however, you can explore them more by walking into the cliffs. It only takes around 30 minutes to wander around the Omarama Clay Cliffs and get some photos. This is a really unique hike on the South Island.
There is an entry fee of $5 NZD through an honesty box at a gate before the cliffs.
Related Read: There are some other noteworthy hikes near Mount Cook in the town of Lake Tekapo. Read about all of the fun things to do and see in Lake Tekapo!
Hikes on the West Coast
25. The Blue Pools Track
The West Coast is a wild place on the South Island. Its forests are green, rivers blue, and the New Zealand black fly will have you wishing you’d brought bug spray! The most popular place to visit is of course the Blue Pools. These stunning pools showcase those amazing watercolors caused by rock flour from glaciers, the greenery of New Zealand, and yes, black flies are everywhere!
The Blue Pools are accessed along State Highway 6, 76 kilometers (47 miles) from Wanaka. It is a popular place to visit on any road trip from Queenstown to Franz Josef. From the highway, there is a 1.5-kilometer (0.9 miles) trail to the pools. It only takes 20 minutes to walk each way and once there, you must cross two suspension bridges all while enjoying the crazy colors of the water!
You can swim at the Blue Pools but I must warn you from experience, it is freezing!
26. Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk
The West Coast is a glacier country. So it’s no wonder many of the best hikes on the South Island’s West Coast include hikes to glaciers. Franz Josef Glacier is arguably the most well-known glacier in NZ and you can actually hike to the viewpoint of the glacier completely free.
The Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk is a short 2.5-kilometer (1.6 miles) trail each way, that takes around 1.5 hours. The trail is flat, well maintained, and rated as easy. Along the way, you’ll pass a few waterfalls before eventually arriving at the viewpoint.
Although close, the viewpoint has become much further from the glacier as it has shrunk over the years. Unfortunately, it’s still happening so let’s hope they move the viewpoint closer! With that said, this hike is one of the best things to do in Franz Josef and well worth your time.
For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, skip the valley walk and instead do a heli hike on the glacier! You’ll ride in a helicopter and land on the glacier before hiking on the glacier for 2.5 hours with your guide. Although a little pricey, this is an epic hike you’ll remember forever!
UPDATE: The Franz Josef Valley walk has been closed after the viewpoint above due to trail damage. The DOC are unsure when the trail will reopen.
27. Fox Glacier Valley Walk
Only a short drive from Franz Josef Glacier is the valley walk to Fox Glacier. Both hikes are much the same, both in the distance and the views you get. With that said, Fox Glacier Track is a little steeper.
It’s hard to say which hike is the best. I’ve done both but preferred Franz Josef Glacier. But since you’re in glacier country, you may as well do both!
UPDATE: Fox Glacier Road has been closed due to the road itself being unsafe. Visitors will now have to walk the Fox Glacier South Side Walkway/Cycleway instead.
28. Alex Knob Track
Both the viewpoint trails above are a great way to see glaciers in New Zealand, especially for the less experienced hiker. But if you’re experienced, then there’s one hike on the South Island that you need to do – Alex Knob Track!
This grueling 17.2-kilometer (10.7 miles) return hike will crush your legs on a journey that takes around 7 hours in total. From the top though, the views of Franz Josef Glacier are pure magic. Seriously, you’ll have your breath taken away (if the hike didn’t do that already!)
29. Lake Matheson Walk
Nothing beats an amazing reflection, especially of the mountains. Now add Mount Cook (New Zealand’s tallest) to the equation and you have yourself one epic view. Lake Matheson is home to the famous photo above that you may have already come across. At sunrise, photographers come to a place called Reflection Island to get that picture-perfect shot.
The hike to Lake Matheson is only around 20 minutes, however, to get to Reflection Island you’ll need to follow the signs and walk another 20 minutes. It’s only one of the many epic views on the hike, so be sure to walk the entire lake trail and visit The View of Views for another!
30. Brewster Hut
My favorite overnight hike on the West Coast of the South Island is the hike to the Brewster Hut. This short hike takes around 3 hours each way and climbs 1000 meters (3,281 feet) in elevation over only a few kilometers. It’s steep, and after rain, really slippery!
That effort doesn’t come unrewarded though! Once you reach the Brewster Hut you’ll get stunning views of the Southern Alps and New Zealand’s gorgeous West Coast. If you get a clear night, the stars are breathtaking and you can see the Milky Way with the naked eye!
You do need to book the Brewster Hut in advance and there is also a river crossing where the trail starts at Fantail Falls, so be prepared!
31. Truman Track
I did a huge NZ road trip with my mum once and on that trip, we could only do easy hikes as she is definitely not a hiker. One trail I found that we both loved was the Truman Track near Punakaiki. The trail is super short at only 700 meters (2,297 feet) each way but leads to a stunning beach and some caves to explore. At the beach, you can enjoy the coastline, spot blue penguins, and even find starfish.
You can hike the Truman Track any time of the day, however, to access the beach you need to go at low tide. It’s not recommended to swim as the currents are really strong. So, just take a short walk and enjoy those spectacular West Coast views!
Related Read: To get to Punakaiki, consider driving the epic route from Franz Josef to Punakaiki – there are plenty of awesome attractions along the way.
Abel Tasman National Park and Area
32. Abel Tasman Coast Track
The north of the South Island is home to lots of great hikes with very different landscapes. Instead of mountain peaks, you’ll enjoy beautiful coastal bays, stunning beaches, and even warmer weather. No hiking trail around Abel Tasman National Park is as famous as Abel Tasman Coast Track. This 60-kilometer (37.3 miles) one-way trail is actually one of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks.
Visitors usually hike the trail over 3 to 5 days depending on how fast they want to go. With that said, you can also do lots of self-guided day hikes and guided day hikes on the trail and kayaking trips. There are also tons of Abel Tasman tours that include a hiking option.
Because it is a Great Walk, you do have to book the huts and campsites well in advance. Unlike other Great Walks, you usually don’t have to book as far in advance.
33. Queen Charlotte Track
To the east of Abel Tasman National Park near the town of Picton (where the ferry between the North and South Islands operates) is another famous multi-day hike called Queen Charlotte Track. Queen Charlotte Track navigates part of the Marlborough Sounds (a must-visit place in NZ) along a 72-kilometer (44.7 miles) track that takes around 4 days to walk.
It’s most common to begin Queen Charlotte Track in Ship Cove (the furthest point from Picton) and walk towards Anakiwa. Along the way, you’ll visit similar landscapes as Abel Tasman National Park which includes beaches, bays, and greenery like you’ve never seen before!
Bookings also have to be made in advance for this trail to spend the night, especially for the summer hiking season. However, it’s nowhere near as busy as other hiking trails in the area such as Abel Tasman Coast Track.
You can also just explore the Queen Charlotte Sound on this kayaking tour where you’ll learn about the history and see sheltered coves and remote beaches. Keep your eye out for eagle rays, cormorants, little blue penguins, New Zealand fur seals, and dolphins in the waters!
Hikes in the Catlins/Southland
34. Koropuku Falls
If you weren’t planning on visiting the Catlins, you likely will after reading this. The region is filled with stunning waterfalls and my personal favorite is Koropuku Falls. Although getting to the falls is more of a South Island walk rather than a hike, I just had to include it – I love it that much!
You’ll find the trailhead along Chaslands Highway 26 kilometers (16.2 miles) from the small town of Tokanui. It’s hard to find, so punch it in on Google Maps so you don’t miss it! Once parked on the side of the road (be careful), it’s a short 15-minute walk along a creek to the falls. The trail is never busy and often you’ll have this place to yourself.
At the falls, just admire the view – it’s stunning! This is a super short hike, but this is one of those hidden hikes on the South Island that you surely won’t want to miss!
35. Slope Point Walk
Slope Point is the southernmost point on New Zealand’s South Island. It’s also a beautiful coastal region where rough seas crash upon steep cliffs with little protection from the wind. It’s a wild place to visit, and while you’re there, you can take a photo with the sign so you can prove that you’ve been to the southernmost point of New Zealand’s South Island!
The walk to Slope Point is only 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) each way and although short, the views at the end make it one of the best hikes on the South Island.
36. Mclean Falls Track
Another short hike in the Catlins region is the walk to Mclean Falls. It’s only a 1-kilometer (0.6 miles) walk to the falls from the parking lot, so although not much of a hike, it’s one of the most incredible waterfalls in New Zealand. The only reason I love Koropuku more is because Mclean can get very busy during the day.
The trail follows a river where you’ll find lots of other small waterfalls along the way. But that’s just the start, the true attraction is the huge Mclean Falls. I love getting long exposure shots of the falls, it’s just so magical!
Related Read: For more info on places to stop on a Catlins road trip, check out my blog about the scenic drive from Queenstown to Dunedin via the Catlins.
37. Rakiura Track
The last Great Walk on this list of the best hikes on the South Island is called Rakiura Track. The trail is actually located on Stewart Island which involves taking a short ferry ride from the South Island. This stunning island is actually the best place in New Zealand to spot a wild kiwi and it’s highly likely you’ll see one on Rakiura Track.
Because of the trail’s remote location, it is free of predators which means it’s also one of the best places in NZ for bird watching. On the track, you can spot species such as shags, dotterel, kaka, and even blue penguins.
Rakiura Track is a 32-kilometer (19.9 miles) loop and you can hike it in 2 to 3 days camping or staying in huts along the way. Bookings do need to be made in advance, but the trail is much less popular than other Great Walks.
Christchurch and Arthur’s Pass
38. Godley Head Loop Track
Located just on the outskirts of Christchurch there is a really beautiful coastal track called the Godley Head Loop Track.
Following the coastline, the Godley Head Loop is a 9.3-kilometer (5.8 miles) track that takes around 3 hours to walk. Along the way, enjoy views of Lyttelton Harbour, and be sure to keep an eye out for seals, dolphins, and even whales!
This is my favorite hike near Christchurch and just goes to show that even in a New Zealand city, you’re not far from nature!
39. Devil’s Punchball Walking Track
Want to visit the most ferocious waterfall in New Zealand? Then be sure to drive Arthur’s Pass and hike the Devil’s Punchball Walking Track. The name alone should get you excited but if that doesn’t, then the fact it’s a 131-meter tall (430 feet) waterfall should!
The trail to the falls is short and sweet with a small elevation gain that takes around 20 minutes each way. Once there you’ll be amazed at the falls and might even get a little wet. Regardless, this waterfall is epic and a popular stop for anybody driving from Christchurch to Hokitika.
40. Avalanche Peak
Avalanche Peak is the best hiking trail on Arthurs Pass. By no means is this 6-kilometer (3.7 miles) trail easy, in fact, most people take 5 to 6 hours to walk the 6 kilometers! The reason? The steep terrain and huge elevation gain of over 1,110 meters (3,642 feet). For those who do, get to witness arguably the best panoramic view of the Southern Alps, seriously!
Avalanche Peak sits at 1,833 meters (6,014 feet) above sea level and the trek up can actually be dangerous if you’re not experienced or prepared. Please do not attempt this hike in high winds, winter, or rain!
Related Read: Check out my blog about the best hikes on the North Island for more!
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It is what most budget backpackers get for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic. We also have a 5% discount code (DTRAVEL5) with Mad Campers, which you can use at checkout.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! We are also partnered with Kiwi Motorhomes, which is well known as the top motorhome rental company in New Zealand. You can get 5% off using the code Queen5. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually purchase it as soon as we land in the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
Thanks for reading!
The South Island of New Zealand is one of the best places in the world to go hiking! Looking back, I can’t believe just how many trails I’ve done, and can’t wait to explore many more soon!
For you though, this list is a great start to choosing what trails you want to do on the South Island. There’s no right or wrong answer for which ones to choose and one thing I promise is that you’ll love them all!
Thanks so much for reading my guide to the best hikes on New Zealand’s South Island. If you loved this blog then browse around, My Queenstown Diary is filled with awesome guides about Queenstown and the surrounding area! Here are some of my most popular guides: