Hikes in nz south island

43 Hikes In NZ South Island That You Will Never Forget! 

Have you seen other adventure travelers raving about the amazing hikes in NZ South Island? Feeling a little bit jealous?

It’s time to get excited!

Local Kiwi gal Nicola from Whangarei is going to share where to find the most incredible views in New Zealand so you can make everyone jealous too!

Hikes in nz south island

The South Island (Te Waipounamu) is home to the spectacular Southern Alps mountain range, making for some incredible hikes in NZ South Island. 

The views are so breathtaking you will be dreaming about them for many years to come!

Below are some of the most amazing hiking trails in South Island, New Zealand. 

From short one-hour walks to full multi-day hikes, there is something for everyone. The South Island is truly a hiker’s dream.

Grab a backpack, lace up your walking shoes, and let’s go exploring!

Hikes in nz south island

Summary

  • The Great Walks – Upper South Island
    • 1. Abel Tasman Coastal Track
    • 2. Paparoa Track
    • 3. Heaphy Track
  • The Great Walks – Lower South Island
    • 4. Routeburn Track
    • 5. Milford Track
    • 6. Kepler Track
  • Multi-Day Hikes
    • 7. Queen Charlotte Track
    • 8. Copland Hotpools Track
  • One-Day Hikes On The West Coast
    • 9. Charming Creek Walking Trail
    • 10. Alex Knob Track
  • One-Day Hikes Near Mt Cook
    • 11. Mueller Hut Track
  • One-Day Hikes Near Wanaka
    • 12. Roys Peak Track
    • 13. Isthmus Peak Track
  • One-Day Hikes Near Queenstown
    • 14. Ben Lomond Track
    • 15. McIntosh Hut Loop Track
  • One-Day Hikes In Fiordland
    • 16. Mount Alfred 
    • 17. Catlins Coastal Heritage Trail
  • Half-Day Hikes Near Tasman
    • 18. Snout Track
    • 19. Medlands Beach And Cleopatra Pools
  • Half-Day Hikes On The West Coast
    • 20. Roberts Point Track (Franz Josef)
  • Half-Day Hikes Near Mt Cook
    • 21. Hooker Valley Track
    • 22. Sealy Tarns Track
  • Half-Day Hikes Near Wanaka
    • 23. Rob Roy Glacier Track
    • 24. Dingle Burn Track
    • 25. Diamond Lake Lookout Track
  • Half-Day Hikes Near Queenstown
    • 26. Queenstown Hill Time Walk
  • Half-Day Hikes In Fiordland
    • 27. Lake Marian Track
    • 28. The Key Summit Track
    • 29. Lake Hauroko Track
  • Short Hikes In Tasman
    • 30. Wharaiki Beach Walking Track
    • 31. Rawhiti Cave Track
    • 32. Pupu Hydro Walkway
  • Short Hikes Near Mt Cook
    • 33. Tasman Lake Track
    • 34. Lake Matheson Walk
    • 35. Cowan’s Hill Track
  • Short Hikes On The West Coast
    • 36. Pororari River Track
  • Short Hikes Near Wanaka
    • 37. Blue Pools Track
  • Short Hikes Near Queenstown
    • 38. The Tiki Trail
    • 39. Bob’s Cove Track
    • 40. Secret Moke Lake Viewpoint
    • 41. Lake Alta Track
    • 42. Glenorchy Lagoon Walkway
  • Short Hikes In Fiordland
    • 43. Lake Gunn Nature Walk

Disclosure

Some of the links included below are affiliate links where I may earn a commission if you click on them, but at NO EXTRA cost to you. I hope you find the information below helpful!

Related posts

Useful info : 

  • If you’re keen on a working holiday in New Zealand (because who wouldn’t love more time to explore), check out this article about seasonal fruit picking jobs!
  • Christchurch is a great city to keep as a home base while you hike your way around the South Island. Check out our guide to Housesitting in Christchurch, New Zealand!
  • If you’d like to discover more great spots to visit in New Zealand, check out this Four Week New Zealand Itinerary!
Hikes in nz south island

43 Amazing Hikes In NZ South Island

The most famous hikes in New Zealand are called The Great Walks

These are New Zealand’s most picturesque walks with incredible dramatic scenery and varied landscapes. 

They also feature well-maintained wilderness huts for accommodation on your journey.  There are only a total of ten Great Walks in New Zealand and six of these are in the South Island!

The Great Walks range in difficulty and usually take three to four days each to complete. The wilderness huts usually need to be booked well in advance (up to 9 months in advance for the most popular ones!).

I know a multi-day hike isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time, but thankfully most of The Great Walks have smaller sections that can be done as day hikes. 

So you can still get a taste of how stunning these walks are!

The great news is that there are many more amazing day hikes and short walks all across the South Island. There is a hike perfect for every fitness level so no one needs to miss out on the spectacular views New Zealand has to offer.

A bit of Kiwi lingo for you: In New Zealand, we actually call hikes ‘tramps.’ We mainly use this word when the hike involves one or more overnight stays in a wilderness hut. For example, a Kiwi bloke might say to his mate ‘Hey bro, keen to go tramping down south next weekend?’

The Great Walks – Upper South Island

1. Abel Tasman Coastal Track 

Hikes in nz south island

If you love exploring lush native forests and discovering secluded golden sand beaches with crystal blue waters then this is The Great Walk for you! 

Most of the Abel Tasman National Park is only accessible by foot or boat. So you won’t find beaches this quiet or picturesque anywhere else in New Zealand!

Kayaking is another amazing way to explore this coastal track. 

Although the native forest is home to many of New Zealand’s most beautiful sounding native birds like Tuis and Bellbirds. It would be a shame to miss these!

If you’re not up for walking the full track it’s possible to do smaller sections of the track on a day hike.

Haka Tours do a great full-day walking and sailing tour which ends at the famous Kaiteriteri Beach and even includes a visit to a seal colony. 

Local Tip: Make sure you pack your swimsuit. The waters in Abel Tasman are absolutely beautiful for a dip in the summer and you’ll regret missing out!

Location: Abel Tasman National Park

Duration: 3 – 5 Days

Distance: 60km/38 miles

Elevation Gain: Minimal

Difficulty: Beginner/Intermediate

Where to book: DOC Website

2. Paparoa Track

Hikes in nz south island

This is the newest of the NZ Great Walks in the South Island. The track officially opened in March 2020 so very few international travelers have had the chance to discover it yet!

The Paparoa Track is the first new walk to be added to the Great Walks collection in 25 years and Matador Network has described it as spectacular!

The West Coast of the South Island is known for its lush native forests, abundant waterfalls, and wild coastlines. You can expect all of these in abundance on the Paparoa Track

Helpful Tip: The West Coast is notoriously wet (but so beautiful and green!), so make sure you have waterproof gear. A waterproof backpack cover is an essential item! 

Location/Region: Paparoa National Park, West Coast

Duration: 3 Days

Distance: 55km/35 miles

Elevation Gain: 1940m/6365ft

Difficulty: Intermediate

Where To Book: DOC Website

3. Heaphy Track

Hikes in nz south island

You get the best of both the beautiful Tasman and West Coast regions on this Great Walk. 

The Heaphy Track is known for having the most diverse landscapes of all the Great Walks.

Limestone caves,  natural rock archways, lush rainforests, rugged mountains, and surf beaches fringed with native nikau palms. You get to experience all of these on the magical Heaphy Track.

The track is also a unique part of New Zealand’s history. It was first used by local Maori hunters searching for precious jade stone (pounamu). 

Location/Region: Kahurangi National Park, Tasman/West Coast

Duration: 4 Days

Distance: 78km/49 miles

Elevation Gain: 2016m/6615ft

Difficulty: Intermediate

Where To Book: DOC Website

The Great Walks – Lower South Island

4. Routeburn Track 

Hikes in nz south island

Hikes in NZ South Island are known for their dramatic mountain ranges and magnificent alpine lakes in vibrant shades of blue. If this is what you came for then the Routeburn Track will not disappoint! 

The track for this Great Walk passes through two National Parks. So you’ll get to enjoy diverse views from both Fiordland National Park and Mount Aspiring National Park.

You’ll start and end the hike in a beautiful beech forest with plentiful native birdlife. 

In between, you’ll get to enjoy towering cliffs and waterfalls, magnificent fiords, and stunning alpine lakes. 

The swing bridges are pretty fun too!

Region: Fiordland

Duration: 3 Days

Distance: 32km/20 miles

Elevation Gain: 1623m/5325ft

Difficulty: Intermediate

Where To Book: DOC Website

5. Milford Track

Hikes in nz south island

The Milford Track is the most popular of all the Great Walks in the South Island. When bookings go live on the DOC website each year the track huts typically sell out in 5 mins or less!

While it is a more challenging hike (mainly just on Day 3), it is arguably one of the best hikes in New Zealand South Island. 

If you are lucky enough to score a spot no doubt you will enjoy every single slightly damp minute of your hike!

Milford Sound is arguably the most beautiful and unique landscape in New Zealand. Many tourists (and even locals) spend hundreds of dollars on boat cruises and scenic flights to see its many wonders. 

But as a hiker, you will be rewarded with up-close magical views that no one else gets to witness.

If you sadly miss out on hiking the Milford Track don’t worry! You still have a few options to explore the Sounds. 

You can still get a little taste of the scenery with an affordable 1.5hr boat cruise from Flying Kiwi Tours.

Haka Tours also has an amazing 6-day tour which includes a boat cruise through Milford Sound. It includes a kayaking adventure through the lesser-known, but equally beautiful Doubtful Sound. 

You can often grab a discounted Milford cruise or scenic flight on Book Me too! If you miss out on a track booking but are still determined to hike, there are several companies that can arrange private walking tracks in the South Island.

Region: Fiordland

Duration: 4 Days

Distance: 54km/34 miles

Elevation Gain: 1755m/5758ft

Difficulty: Intermediate

Where To Book: DOC Website

6. Kepler Track

Hikes in nz south island

If you’re just here for the mountains then The Kepler Track will be your favorite of the Great Walks in NZ South Island. With amazing views of the Snowdon, Earl, and Takitimu mountains this is one of the best hikes in NZ South Island for mountain lovers!

The Kepler Track was custom built to showcase the most stunning landscapes in the Fiordland region. 

For this reason, it is many hiker’s favorite Great Walk!

As well as epic mountain views you’ll also get to enjoy cascading waterfalls, mossy native forests, and deep valleys carved by glaciers.

If this is your first multi-day hike, you might be feeling a bit nervous.

Several companies offer New Zealand South Island hiking tours that can make your experience smoother. 

Knowing you get a comfortable bed and a hot meal at the end of the day can make a hike that much more enjoyable!

Region: Fiordland

Duration: 4 Days

Distance: 60km/38 miles

Elevation Gain: 1350m/4430ft

Difficulty: Intermediate

Where To Book: DOC Website

Multi-Day Hikes 

7. Queen Charlotte Track 

Hikes in nz south island

The Queen Charlotte Track is in my opinion one of the most under-rated tramps in the South Island. Due to the epic views of the Marlborough Sounds it really should be included as one of the Great Walks!

The first day of hiking will feel like walking around your own personal tropical island. Be sure to stop for a swim and keep an eye out for dolphins! 

The rest of the track weaves in and out of beautiful lush forests. You’ll discover many secluded coves and enjoy spectacular views of the sounds. 

Do the track in January or February if possible. 

This is the height of the New Zealand summer and the water will be warm enough to enjoy plenty of swims along the walk. Trust me, it will feel like a heavenly paradise!

If carrying a tent on your back for three days isn’t your thing, don’t worry there are still options for you to experience the Queen Charlotte Track.

Parts of the track can be done as Day Hikes and many tour companies offer a guided trip with more comfortable accommodation and amenities. 

Intrepid do a 4-day guided trip on the Queen Charlotte Track which includes lodge accommodation, transport, and most of your meals. You’ll also learn a lot about local history along the way from your knowledgeable guide.

Important Info: There are no huts on The Queen Charlotte Track. There are plenty of campsites along the track and bookings aren’t required. But you will need a permit called a QCTLC Pass as the track passes through private land.

Region: Marlborough

Duration: 3 – 4 Days

Distance: 71km/45 miles

Elevation Gain: 2355m/7726 miles

Difficulty: Beginner/Intermediate

8. Copland Hot Pools Track 

Hikes in nz south island

This is one of the lesser-known tramping tracks in the South Island, but it has a very cool secret. 

At the end of the track, there are natural hot springs out in the wilderness!

The Copland Track has all the features of a great West Coast walking track. Mossy native forests, wild rivers, mountain views, and cool swing bridges.

Ending the day relaxing in natural hot pools is what makes this one of the coolest hikes in NZ South Island.

Many hikers agree that the hot pools with amazing mountain views make the hike more than worth it. 

If you’ve never attempted an overnight hike before then the Copland Hot Pools Track would be a great one to try!

Helpful Tip: The sandflies love this track almost as much as you will! Make sure you take a really good insect repellant with you and use it often. It will make your soak in the hot pools far more enjoyable!  

Region: Southern West Coast

Duration: 2 days

Distance: 36km/23 miles

Elevation Gain: 711m/2333ft

Difficulty: Intermediate

Where To Book: Welcome Flat Hut

One-Day Hikes On The West Coast

9. Charming Creek Walking Trail

Hikes in nz south island

This fun and easy day hike follows an old railway through lush native forest to an abandoned coal mine. 

The high rainfall on the West Coast makes this walk one of the greenest and most beautiful day hikes in NZ South Island.

Along the track, you’ll go through tunnels, across swing bridges, and pass by rustic railway carriages. There are plenty of waterfalls along the track too! The most magnificent one is the popular Mangatini Falls.

Region: West Coast

Duration: 6hrs return

Distance: 19.5km/12.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 437m/1434ft

Difficulty: Easy

10. Alex Knob Track

Hikes in nz south island

The Alex Knob Track is one of the most challenging day hikes in NZ South Island.

It is also known to have the best views of the Franz Josef Glacier!

The elevation gain is tough but manageable because even though it’s steep it is quite gradual.

In the winter months (May to September) you’re likely to encounter ice and snow so you’ll need special footwear to climb safely. 

The lower half of the track is mostly walking through beautiful native bush. 

Then you’ll enjoy views of mountain ranges and the glacier as you go higher up the track. 

On your way back down make sure you take the short side trail to Wombat Lake. It’s a lovely little calm spot to take a break and enjoy the reflections on the lake while listening to native bird songs.

Region: West Coast

Duration: 8hrs Return

Distance: 17km/11 miles

Elevation Gain: 1081m/3547ft

Difficulty: Challenging

One-Day Hikes Near Mt Cook

11. Mueller Hut Track 

Hikes in nz south island

This track begins by climbing 2200 stairs to reach the Sealy Tarns Alpine Lake. The rest of the track is considered an alpine route and involves quite a lot of rock climbing. 

The Meuller Hut track can be done as an overnight hike if you are lucky enough to score a booking in the DOC hut

Otherwise, you’ll have to hike back down on the same day making this another one of the most challenging day hikes in NZ South Island.

The views of Mount Cook and the surrounding mountain range are incredible from the top and make it worth the climb.

In summer, anyone with moderate hiking experience is likely able to complete the route. However, it is recommended to only attempt the track in winter if you have mountaineering experience and appropriate equipment. 

Location/Region: Aoraki Mt Cook National Park/Canterbury

Duration: 8hrs return

Distance: 10.5km/6.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 1038m/3406ft

Difficulty: Challenging

Where To Book: Mueller Hut

One-Day Hikes Near Wanaka

12. Roys Peak Track

Hikes in nz south island

The view from Roys Peak has become quite Instagram famous in recent years. I’m sure you can see why it’s one of the most popular day hikes in NZ South Island!

The track itself is honestly not very interesting and quite challenging, but the stunning view over Lake Wanaka is well worth the aching tired legs. 

Since this hike has become so popular, many hikers recommend doing it at sunrise. 

If you’re willing to get up before dawn you’ll be rewarded with a nice quiet track and perhaps the most amazing sunrise of your life!

Even in summer, there can still often be snow towards the top of the trail. So if you’re not confident in alpine conditions make sure to climb Roys Peak in New Zealand’s warmer months. 

Location/Region: Wanaka, Otago

Duration: 6hr return

Distance: 16km/10 miles

Elevation Gain: 1300m/4265ft

Difficulty: Intermediate/Challenging

13. Isthmus Peak

Hikes in nz south island

This hike is similar to Roy’s Peak in terms of distance, difficulty, and elevation gain. It also has equally stunning views looking out over Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea.

The bonus with Isthmus Peak Track is that it’s not as Instagram famous as Roys Peak. 

This means you get to enjoy a much quieter hike up to the peak and no queue for photo opportunities!

Location/Region: Wanaka/Otago

Duration: 6hrs return

Distance: 16km/10 miles

Elevation Gain: 1121m/3678ft

Difficulty: Intermediate/Challenging

One-Day Hikes Near Queenstown

14. Ben Lomond Track 

Hikes in nz south island

While not for the faint-hearted, The Ben Lomond Track is easily one of the best day hikes in Queenstown. It’s also a pretty famous one on many hiker’s bucket lists!

The large elevation gain makes it quite a challenging hike but the epic views of Mount Earnslaw and Lake Aspiring are well worth it. 

In fact, you’ll enjoy stunning lake and alpine views during the entire uphill hike.

Sneaky Trick: There is a gondola you can take from Queenstown that takes you part way up the track. This little trick reduces the track by a couple of kilometers and also reduces the elevation gain by a few hundred meters!

Location/Region: Queenstown/Otago

Duration: 8hrs return

Distance: 14km/9 miles

Elevation Gain: 1483m/4865ft

Difficulty: Intermediate

15. McIntosh Hut Loop Track

Hikes in nz south island

The McIntosh Hut Loop Track can be done as a long day hike or as one of the best overnight hikes near Queenstown. The views of Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains are legendary!

It’s free to stay in McIntosh Hut overnight and the views you wake up to in the morning are amazing! So I recommend doing this track as an overnight hike if you have the time.

This track can be a lot more challenging in winter. Especially as there are several river crossings that can get pretty cold! 

My advice is to do this hike during the warmer summer months. Also, take some river shoes in a waterproof bag for the river crossings so you can keep your boots nice and dry!

Location/Region: Glenorchy/Otago

Duration: 10hr return/overnight

Distance: 18.8km/12 miles

Elevation Gain: 1411m/4629ft

Difficulty: Challenging

One Day Hikes Near Fiordland

16. Mount Alfred

Hikes in nz south island

The steep elevation gain makes the Mount Alfred Track a challenging hike.

However, the diverse scenery makes it a very enjoyable walk. Just allow plenty of time to complete it so you can take regular breaks and enjoy your surroundings.

On the Mount Alfred Track, you get to enjoy two things that hikes in NZ South Island are most famous for. Lush native forests and stunning mountain views over alpine lakes.

Like many of New Zealand’s mountain hikes, you’ll encounter a lot of snow and ice during the winter months. 

So it’s recommended to hike Mount Alfred during the summer months unless you’re confident in alpine conditions.

Location/Region: Glenorchy/Otago

Duration: 6hrs

Distance: 9.2km/5.8 miles

Elevation Gain: 1082m/3550ft

Difficulty: Challenging

17. Catlins Coastal Heritage Trail

Hikes in nz south island

This unique trail actually consists of a series of smaller walks with short drives in between each walk.

The Catlins Coastal Heritage Trail is a fun day of exploring to do with family or a group of friends.

Some cool features of the trail include Waipapa Lighthouse where you’re likely to see some Sea Lions. Porpoise Point is a great spot for spotting some rare Hector’s Dolphins.

You’ll spend a lot of the trail walking through beautiful native forest or along the wild southern coastline. 

You’ll even find yourself at the most southern part of the south island when you reach Slope Point.

Region: Southland

Duration: 5hrs one way

Distance: 70km

Elevation Gain: Minimal

Difficulty: Easy

Half-Day Hikes Near Tasman

18. Snout Track 

Hikes in nz south island

If you’re after a short easy hike with stunning views of the Queen Charlotte Sounds then Snout Track is your jam!

The walk alternates between native forest tracks and serene coastal views with a sweet picnic spot near the mid-way point.

Local Tip: If you don’t have time to hike the whole Queen Charlotte Track, this walk is a great way to get a taste of the region. 

Region: Marlborough

Duration: 3hrs return

Distance: 8km/5 miles

Elevation Gain: 291m/955ft

Difficulty: Easy

19. Medlands Beach And Cleopatra Pools

Hikes in nz south island

If you miss out on bookings for the Abel Tasman Coast Track this short hike will give you a nice taste of the Abel Tasman National Park. 

With golden sand beaches, lush native forests, hidden coves, and a cool swing bridge you’ll see some of Abel Tasman’s very best in just a few hours!

The Cleopatra Pools are a short side trail off the main track and honestly the highlight of this walk. 

This amazing rock pool in the middle of native bush even has its own natural rock waterslide! You’ll definitely want to allow extra time for a dip in this magical hidden pool!

Region: Tasman

Duration: 5hrs

Distance: 10km/6.5 miles

Elevation Gain: Minimal

Difficulty: Easy

Half-Day Hikes On The West Coast

20. Roberts Point Track (Franz Josef)

Hikes in nz south island

Hikers have dubbed The Roberts Point Track one of the most interesting hikes in NZ South Island. 

Aside from the spectacular views of Franz Josef Glacier, there are also heaps of beautiful waterfalls and fun swing bridges. 

The bridges take you over crystal clear rushing rivers and back into native forest. One of the bridges is huge: over 100m long!

The glacier views from Roberts Point are comparable to those you’d see on the Alex Knob Track. Thankfully this walk is shorter and a bit easier, but still requires a decent level of fitness. 

Region: West Coast

Duration: 5.5hrs

Distance: 12km/7.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 537m/1762ft

Difficulty: Challenging

Half-Day Hikes Near Mt Cook

21. Hooker Valley Track

Hikes in nz south island

The Hooker Valley Track is hands down one of the best half-day hikes in NZ South Island. Even better it’s such an easy track that people of all fitness levels can enjoy it!

You’ll enjoy epic mountain views during the whole walk. The swing bridges over the rushing Hooker River are also fun! 

But nothing compares to the lake reflection of majestic Mt Cook once you reach Hooker Lake.

One of the things I love about New Zealand is how accessible it is for everyone to enjoy epic views of the most iconic scenery. 

No one has to miss out! The Hooker Valley Track is a great example of this.

Location/Region: Aoraki Mount Cook National Park/Canterbury

Duration: 3hrs

Distance: 10km/6.5 miles

Elevation Gain: Minimal

Difficulty: Easy

22. Sealy Tarns Track

Hikes in nz south island

The Sealy Tarns Track is actually the first part of a longer day hike I mentioned earlier that goes to Mueller Hut

This part of the track mostly consists of 2200 steps, also affectionately dubbed ‘The Stairway To Heaven.’

If you’re not familiar with the word ‘tarn’, it means an alpine lake. That’s what you’ll find at the end of those 2200 steps: a beautiful freshwater alpine lake. 

One of the coolest things about alpine lakes is how still and clear they are. This makes for absolutely stunning reflections of the surrounding mountains.

As well as the beautiful Sealy Tarn, you’ll also get to enjoy views of Mt Cook and the Hooker Valley from the top of this hike. 

Even though the steps can be challenging, The Sealy Tarns Track is one of the most popular half-day hikes in NZ South Island. When you get to the top you’ll understand why!

Location/Region: Aoraki Mount Cook National Park/Canterbury

Duration: 3hrs

Distance: 5km/3.1 miles

Elevation Gain: 542m/1778ft

Difficulty: Intermediate

Half-Day Hikes Near Wanaka

23. Rob Roy Glacier Track

Hikes in nz south island

The Rob Roy Glacier Track is great if you’d love some up-close glacier views, but aren’t quite fit enough for the more challenging glacier walks. 

The walk itself is beautiful too! 

You’ll enjoy walking through mossy beech forests filled with swing bridges and surprise waterfalls. It’s likely you’ll spot quite a few New Zealand sheep on the walk too.

Fun Fact: Did you know there are more sheep in New Zealand than there are people? Way more in fact, the ratio is around six sheep to one person.

Location/Region: Mt Aspiring National Park/Otago

Duration: 4hr return

Distance: 10km/6.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 452m/1483ft

Difficulty: Easy/Intermediate

24. Dingle Burn Peninsula Track

Hikes in nz south island

The only thing that makes this track slightly challenging is the elevation gain. Honestly though, that’s a small price to pay for the breathtaking views of Lake Hawea. The views of Hunter Valley and Mt Aspiring are pretty nice too!

Helpful Tip: If you want to switch things up a bit, this is also a great Intermediate mountain biking track. It’s easier to hire an e-bike or mountain bike in Wanaka.

Location/Region: Wanaka/Otago

Duration: 4hrs

Distance: 11km/7 miles

Elevation Gain: 531m/1742ft

Difficulty: Intermediate

25. Diamond Lake And Rocky Mountain Track

Hikes in nz south island

Once again another easy half-day hike that rewards you with epic views of the Otago region. From different points of the track, you’ll get amazing views of both Diamond Lake and Lake Wanaka. 

The Diamond Lake and Rocky Mountain Track is mostly a gradual climb so it’s not too challenging for most fitness levels. 

However, there are shorter sections of the track you can do as walks if you’re not up for the 3hr hike.

The Rocky Mountain section of the track has an eastern and western track. The eastern part is open and exposed but has the best views.

The western track is quite beautiful in itself with lots of natural rock steps and mossy native trees.

Helpful Tip: If it’s been raining recently (a very common occurrence in the South Island) I suggest climbing up the western track and admiring the views on the way down the eastern track. The western track can be quite slippery if there’s been recent rain, making it safer to climb up this track than to go down this way.

Location/Region: Wanaka/Otago

Duration: 3hrs

Distance: 7km/4.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 490m/1608ft

Difficulty: Easy

Half-Day Hikes Near Queenstown

26. Queenstown Hill Time Walk

Hikes in nz south island

Super popular with both tourists and locals, The Queenstown Hill Time Walk is easily one of the best hikes in Queenstown. 

From the summit, you can clearly see Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, and The Remarkables mountain range. 

The walk is not long, but the elevation is pretty steady so you’ll need a moderate level of fitness.

Otherwise, you can just stop often and enjoy the spectacular scenery while you catch your breath!

Even if you don’t have your own transport while traveling around New Zealand it will still be easy for you to do this walk. 

The trail actually starts very close to the middle of Queenstown city center. 

Location: Queenstown

Duration: 3hrs

Distance: 4.2km/2.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 400m/1312ft

Difficulty: Intermediate

Half-Day Hikes In Fiordland

27. Lake Marian Track

Hikes in nz south island

The Lake Marian Track is one of those surprise hikes that absolutely takes your breath away. It’s by no means an easy hike. 

The track is not particularly well maintained and it’s quite a steep climb in places. 

But don’t let that put you off because it may just become your favorite of all the hikes in NZ South Island.

Given its close proximity to the Milford Sounds this area is notoriously green and mossy in the best kind of way!

You’ll spend most of the track climbing past rushing rivers and waterfalls, surrounded by huge ferns and other native greenery.

After two hours of hard climbing, you’ll discover the most stunning blue-green alpine lake with crystal clear reflections of the surrounding mountains. 

Location: Fiordland National Park

Duration: 3hrs return

Distance: 6km/3.7 miles

Elevation Gain: 412m/1352ft

Difficulty: Challenging

28. The Key Summit Track

Hikes in nz south island

This is a day hike to do if you missed out on bookings for the Routeburn Track. Or if you weren’t willing to commit to 3 days carrying a backpack and eating freeze-dried food in the wilderness. 

The track actually begins on a section of the Routeburn Track and then branches off to the Key Summit Track.

The track is part mossy green forest and part open exposed mountainside with epic views. 

At the summit, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the Fiordland National Park and the gorgeous Lake Marian.

There’s also a small alpine lake at the summit with the usual beautiful reflections of surrounding mountains. 

The steady uphill climb is not easy, but like most of the hikes in NZ South Island, totally worth it for the views.

Location: Fiordland National Park

Duration: 3hr return

Distance: 7.7km/4.8 miles

Elevation Gain: 419m/1375ft

Difficulty: Intermediate 

29. Lake Hauroko Lookout Track

Hikes in nz south island

The Lake Hauroko Lookout Track is quite a steep climb through native bush. You’ll need to go fairly slowly and carefully.

It can get quite slippery due to the high rainfall in this region. Of course you’ll be rewarded for your efforts though!

There is a small clearing about 5 minutes before the actual lookout point which actually has the best views. 

The still, calm, deep blue lake against the lush green landscape is truly a breathtaking sight. You’ll want to rest here awhile to take it all in. 

Location: Fiordland National Park

Duration: 4hr return

Distance: 5km/3.1 miles

Elevation Gain: 383m/1257ft

Difficulty: Challenging

Short Hikes In Tasman

30. Wharaiki Beach Walking Track

Hikes in nz south island

This short easy track takes you over farmlands and through a small patch of forest ending at a beautiful beach. 

The rock formations here are amazing, like something you would see in a Narnia movie. 

There’s also a high chance you’ll get to see some playful seals!

Helpful Tip: Doing the walk at low tide gives you the most complete view of the cool rock formations.

Location/Region: Takaka/Tasman

Duration: 40min return

Distance: 2km/1.3 miles

Elevation Gain: Minimal

Difficulty: Easy

31. Rawhiti Cave Track

Hikes in nz south island

The Rawhiti Cave Track is fairly rough and steep while you climb through lush native forest. When you reach the cave a viewing platform lets you walk into the mouth of the cave until you’re surrounded by stalagmites and stalactites. 

The cave itself is pretty awesome and well worth the hike. 

There’s also a high possibility of running into some local wildlife on the walk there. Many people have reported seeing native Wekas on the track and some people have even seen goats!

Location/Region: Takaka/Tasman

Duration: 1.5hr return

Distance: 3.2km/2 miles

Elevation Gain: 296m/971ft

Difficulty: Intermediate

32. Pupu Hydro Walkway

Hikes in nz south island

The Pupu Hydro Walkway follows an old mining water race through refreshing beech and rimu forest. 

You’ll enjoy this easy, well-maintained track with an abundance of native birdlife: tui, bellbird, and weka to name a few.

It doesn’t matter how much time I spend in New Zealand native bush, I still find the ferns and mossy pungas absolutely beautiful. Not to mention the air just feels so clean and fresh and satisfying to breathe! 

To me, this is what makes The Pupu Hydro Walkway such an enjoyable walk.

Location/Region: Kahurangi National Park/Tasman

Duration: 2hrs

Distance: 5.5km/3.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 217m/712ft

Difficulty: Easy

Short Hikes Near Mt Cook

33. Tasman Lake Track

Hikes in nz south island

The Tasman Lake Track is easily one of the best short hikes in NZ South Island. The elevation is very gradual which makes the track so easy it can barely even be called a hike!

The views of the lake and surrounding mountains are every bit as breathtaking as many of the more challenging hikes. I swear it doesn’t matter which way you look in Mt Cook National Park the view is just always stunning.

Location/Region: Mt Cook National Park/Canterbury

Duration: 1hr return

Distance: 2.7km/1.7 miles

Elevation Gain: 100m/328ft

Difficulty: Easy

34. Lake Matheson Walk

Hikes in nz south island

The stunning Lake Matheson is also known as the mirror lake for its perfect reflections of Mt Cook and the surrounding Landscape. 

The track through the forest to witness this incredible view is almost too easy. It kind of feels like you’re cheating!

There are so many incredible short hikes in NZ South Island, that it’s hard to choose one over another. But considering the stunning views you get for the minimal effort I’d say Lake Matheson Walk is possibly the best one!

Region: West Coast

Duration: 1.5hrs

Distance: 4.4km/2.7 miles

Elevation Gain: 133m/436ft

Difficulty: Easy

35. Cowans Hill Track

Hikes in nz south island

Cowan’s Hill Track is a nice easy track beside the Tekapo River.

You’ll also see beautiful views of the ice blue Lake Tekapo and its bordering mountain range. It doesn’t matter how many times you see mountains and alpine lakes in New Zealand, the view just never gets old!

Local Tip: If you’re able to do this walk in Spring (November – early December) you’ll also get to see the colorful lupins in bloom.

Location/Region: Lake Tekapo/Canterbury

Duration: 1hr one way

Distance: 3.2km/2 miles

Elevation Gain: 128m/420ft

Difficulty: Easy

Short Hikes On The West Coast

36. Pororari River Track

Hikes in nz south island

The river and lush native vegetation on this track are beautiful, but it’s the dramatic limestone cliffs that really win first prize. 

If you missed out on bookings for the Paparoa Great Walk (they sell out ridiculously fast!), then The Pororari River Track will give you a little taste of that famous West Coast scenery.

Like everywhere else on the West Coast it’s either currently raining or recently rained, so everything always looks amazingly lush and green. The Pororari River Track is truly a mossy green native wonderland.

Location/Region: Paparoa National Park/West Coast

Duration: 1.5hrs

Distance: 7km/4.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 212m/696ft

Difficulty: Easy

Short Hikes Near Wanaka

37. Blue Pools Track

Hikes in nz south island

This super easy walk follows a wooden boardwalk through native beech forest and over a swing bridge to the absolutely stunning Blue Pools

The vibrant color of the pools is created by rock flour from the nearby glaciers.

The Blue Pools Track is easily one of the most satisfying short hikes in NZ South Island. The walk is so easy, yet the reward is amazing! If you only have time for one short hike in Otago then make sure it’s this one. You won’t be disappointed!

Location/Region: Mt Aspiring National Park/ Otago

Duration: 1hr return

Distance: 3km/1.9 miles

Elevation Gain: None

Difficulty: Easy

Short Hikes Near Queenstown

38. The Tiki Trail

Hikes in nz south island

The Tiki Trail is another hike that begins very close to the center of Queenstown. It’s actually the first part of the longer Ben Lomond Track I mentioned earlier, but also an enjoyable walk in its own right. 

The hike is short but challenging due to the steady elevation gain. 

However, the walk through pine forests is quite magical and the view from the top is breathtaking.

Once you make it to the end of the trail you could turn around and come back down again. Or even better you could ride The Luge down the hill! The Skyline Luge is pretty famous around the world, but it was originally invented in New Zealand.

Location/Region: Queenstown/Otago

Duration: 1hr one way

Distance: 2.1km/ 1.3 miles 

Elevation Gain: 419m/1374

Difficulty: Intermediate

39. Bob’s Cove Track

Hikes in nz south island

This short track passes through beech forest and manuka groves to a picturesque little cove on Lake Wakatipu. Like everywhere else near Queenstown the views across the lake are truly stunning.

I feel like a broken record but honestly, the South Island is just so beautiful everywhere you look. 

Insider Tip: If you do this walk during summertime make sure you take a swimsuit and go for a dip in the lake. The water is cool but very refreshing!

Location/Region: Queenstown/Otago

Duration: 1.5hrs return

Distance: 3km/1.9 miles

Elevation Gain: Minimal

Difficulty: Easy

40. Secret Moke Lake Viewpoint

Hikes in nz south island

The Secret Moke Lake Viewpoint track is not officially a track and therefore a little tricky to find. 

But if you’re willing to look hard for it and endure a short steep climb you will be greatly rewarded for your efforts. The lake and mountain views from this spot are unreal!

Once you’re familiar with the trail it’s a great spot to return to for watching a sunrise or sunset. 

Just make sure you take a flashlight or head torch with you especially since the trail isn’t signposted. 

Location/Region: Queenstown/Otago

Duration: 1hr

Distance: 3km/1.9 miles

Elevation Gain: 243m/797ft

Difficulty: Intermediate

41. Lake Alta Track

Hikes in nz south island

This other-worldly lake was one of The Lord of the Rings filming locations. While it is quite a steep track the alpine lake at the end of it is pretty magical!

The start of The Lake Alta Track is just behind the Remarkables Ski Field. So you’ll need a decent set of wheels to get you up the road to the Ski Field where you can begin the hike.

Helpful Tip: Many hikers recommend taking walking poles as the descent is quite steep and can be a little dicey.

Region: Otago

Duration: 2hrs

Distance: 3.4km/2.1 miles

Elevation Gain: 204m/669ft

Difficulty: Intermediate

42. Glenorchy Lagoon Walkway

Hikes in nz south island

The Glenorchy Lagoon Walkway is such a pleasant easy walk enjoying iconic New Zealand scenery. 

On a calm day, you’ll get to see beautiful reflections of the Humboldt Mountains on the lagoon. 

There are plenty of spots to sit along the way. So pack a few snacks and take the time to really enjoy the breathtaking views. The beautiful native birdsongs make it all the more sweet.

Location/Region: Glenorchy/Otago

Duration: 1hr

Distance: 3.2km/2 miles

Elevation Gain: Minimal

Difficulty: Easy

Short Hikes In Fiordland

43. Lake Gunn Nature Walk

Hikes in nz south island

The Department of Conservation calls The Lake Gunn Nature Walk one of the best short hikes in NZ South Island. I’m inclined to agree with them! 

This gorgeous short walk passes through mossy beech forest so magical it feels like you’re in a fairy tale.

It also takes you past yet another stunning New Zealand lake with crystal clear reflections of epic mountain vistas.

I’m sure you’re tired of hearing me talk endlessly about magical forests, glassy alpine lakes, and breathtaking mountain views by now. Time to come experience them all for yourself!

Location/Region: Milford Sound/Fiordland National Park

Duration: 45min

Distance: 1.4km/1 miles

Elevation Gain: Minimal

Difficulty: Easy

The Best Time To Go Hiking In New Zealand

Hikes in nz south island

The best time to go hiking in New Zealand is from October to April in New Zealand’s warmer months.

This is the official Great Walks Season and the safest time for most hikers.

It is not recommended to do the southern Great Walks outside this time unless you are very experienced with back-country hiking.  

Even hiking during New Zealand’s summer you will still likely get to see beautiful snow-capped mountain peaks. Mt Cook, New Zealand’s tallest peak has a snow cap all year-round. 

Many of the beautiful mountain hikes in the South Island will be much more challenging when there is snow around from May to September.

It’s not recommended to attempt these during winter unless you are a very experienced hiker. 

If you’re new to hiking (especially the diverse terrain in New Zealand) you might feel more comfortable going with a guide. 

Many companies offer walking tours in New Zealand South Island. Many of them can even arrange private walks in the South Island if that’s your preference.

Where To Stay In The South Island

Hikes in nz south island

If you want to to know where to stay in the South Island, I recommend basing yourself in Wanaka.

The town has a nice local vibe, beautiful lake views, and great proximity to some amazing hikes. It’s also only a one hour drive to Queenstown!

Queenstown is a popular place to base yourself if you’re planning to hike some of the most beautiful locations in the South Island. The town center itself has a very upbeat, buzzy vibe. However, it is also very expensive and can be a bit touristy.

That’s why my personal preference is to stay nearby in Wanaka. Wanaka is a bit cheaper to stay in and you get to experience a more geniune Kiwi vibe.

New Zealand is quite an expensive country, so for solo travelers or small groups of 2 or 3 friends, hostels are your best option.

There are heaps of clean, good-quality hostels throughout New Zealand. 

Hostel World has some great hostels to stay in when you visit Queenstown!

If you’re traveling with a family or larger group of friends then Book A Bach is a great option. A Bach is what we Kiwis call our holiday homes. There is a large network of them across New Zealand that locals rent out when they’re not in use.

How To Get Around The South Island

Hikes in nz south island

Having your own set of wheels is best when traveling around New Zealand. Public transport only services main centers and is honestly average at best. 

The scenery in New Zealand is so diverse and changes frequently making it very enjoyable to drive around.

Also, you will likely want to stop often for photo opportunities and exploring en route to your destination.

Snap Rentals is a great (and affordable) local rental car company.

A compact fuel-efficient rental car would be ideal if you were planning to stay in hostels during your trip. Or if you’re happy to pop up a tent and spend the night in one of many DOC Campsites around the country. 

If you love the idea of freedom camping then Spaceship Rentals are a great option for solo travelers or couples.

All their vehicles sleep two people in the back and have seats for two in the front.

This is definitely your most affordable campervan-style option for road tripping around New Zealand.

To hire a vehicle and drive in New Zealand you’ll need a valid drivers license from your country or an International Driver’s Permit. If your license isn’t in English you will also need to carry an English Translation with you. 

Make sure you get to know our road rules before you start driving. Most importantly: remember we drive on the left side of the road in New Zealand! …

Where To Buy Hiking Gear In New Zealand

Hikes in nz south island

For high-quality hiking gear that’s designed for New Zealand weather conditions, Macpac and Kathmandu are your best options.

Both companies offer Click and Collect, so you order online and pick up in-store when passing through one of the main town centers.

Catch Of The Day is also a great website for bargain-priced hiking gear. They don’t have physical stores for collection, but it’s easy to order ahead of time and have your purchases sent to your accommodation. 

Awesome Things To Do In The South Island

Hikes in nz south island

Queenstown is officially The Adventure Capital Of The World, so there are plenty of awesome activities for adrenaline junkies. Bungee Jumping, Jet Boating, and riding The Luge just to name a few. 

Book Me is a great website that sells last-minute heavily discounted passes for activities all over New Zealand.

It’s a great place to find cheap scenic flights, cruises through Milford Sounds, and many other unforgettable adventures.

Hikes in nz south island

FAQ’s 

What Are New Zealand’s Most Famous Multi-Day Walks Called?

One of the most famous multi-day walks in New Zealand is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It is one of ten multi-day hikes known as The Great Walks that are spread throughout New Zealand’s three Islands. The Great Walks are multi-day hikes well known for awe-inspiring scenery and dramatic, varied landscapes.

What Is The Easiest Great Walk?

The Abel Tasman Track is by far the easiest of all the Great Walks. It has the smallest elevation gain and is a relatively flat track. There is even the option to have your pack transferred between huts via boat. This beautiful coastal track is a great choice if you’re new to multi-day hikes.

Hikes in nz south island

How Many Great Walks Are In The South Island?

There are a total of ten Great Walks in New Zealand and six of these are on the South Island. Another three are on the North Island and the last one is on Stewart Island. The Great Walks are multi-day hikes that feature some of New Zealand’s most iconic scenery.

What Is The Easiest Great Walk In New Zealand?

The easiest Great Walk in New Zealand is definitely the Abel Tasman Track. The track is quite flat, with minimal elevation gain compared to the other Great Walks.

The most luscious coastal scenery and the option to have your pack transferred between huts make Abel Tasman Track the perfect Great Walk for beginners!

Hikes in NZ South Island are a truly unforgettable experience.

After witnessing the awe-inspiring natural wonders you will never be the same again. I’ve lived in New Zealand most of my life and I still find it magical! 

These are just a few of the most noteworthy hikes in NZ South Island, however, the entire country is full of thousands of hidden trails.

That’s one of the magical things about New Zealand: wherever you are there will always be natural wonders to explore!

I’ve never met a single soul who’s traveled to New Zealand and wasn’t totally in love with this incredible country.

I hope that you’ll also be able to visit soon and make many amazing memories to carry with you throughout your lifetime.

Related Posts

More To Explore

Women Wandering Beyond

Hello and Welcome!

Hi there. My name is Aisha Preece. Founder and owner of Women Wandering Beyond.

Learning how to adventure and explore through the world transformed my life and helped me become a happier person.

I want to help you do the same.
My female adventure travel site is dedicated to helping women travel more, step outside their comfort zone and experience wonders of the world beyond their wildest dreams!

Ladies, we are going on an adventure!

Search for something specific

follow our adventures