Walking in New Zealand: The 7 most beautiful walks on the South Island

With its breathtaking landscapes and pristine nature, New Zealand is a true paradise for hikers. The locals call it “tramping,” and there is a suitable hike for every type of hiker. From multi-day treks to short hikes that will leave a huge impression on you, your pedometer is sure to be working overtime! Therefore, there is an incredibly wide range of things to hike in New Zealand, both on the North and South Islands. In this article, we help get you started with the seven most beautiful day hikes you can do on the South Island in New Zealand. So all you have to do is put on your hiking boots and be amazed by the spectacular nature.

Packing list for hiking in New Zealand

Before embarking on a hike, it is important to be well prepared. We were able to experience for ourselves that the weather in New Zealand can be extremely changeable. Moreover, you often overcome a lot of altimeters on these hikes. Where it is warm at the start of the hike, it can suddenly become very cold and windy at the summit. To make sure you can enjoy your hiking experience to the fullest, here are a few necessary items you should definitely not forget when tramping in New Zealand:

  • Dress in layers: Make sure you wear clothing that you can easily adjust to changing temperatures. This allows you to feel comfortable while hiking no matter the weather conditions.
  • Sturdy hiking shoes: Invest in a good pair of hiking boots with adequate grip and support. This will help you stay stable and safe, especially on rougher (and possibly snowy) terrain.
  • Rain and windproof gear: Bring a waterproof rain jacket and a windproof top layer to protect you from unexpected rain showers and wind gusts.
  • Adequate water and snacks: Make sure you bring enough water to stay hydrated during your hike. Also, don’t forget to bring energy-rich snacks to keep your energy levels up.
  • Sun Protection: Even though it may not feel so hot at times, the sun can burn hard in New Zealand. Before you know it, you are burned. So be sure not to forget to bring sunscreen and protection for your head such as a cap.
  • A backpack: Choose a comfortable backpack in which you can carry all your necessities. Make sure the backpack is sturdy and fits well so that you do not experience discomfort while carrying it. Provide a rain cover with your backpack if it would not be waterproof.
  • Walking sticks: This depends on your fitness and experience as a hiker, but it may be helpful to have walking sticks with you. Some hikes can be very steep, and that’s when those extra pair of legs come in handy.
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The seven most beautiful hikes on the South Island

1) Hooker Valley Track

Level: Easy Duration: 3 hours Distance: 10.6 km Elevation: 191m

The Hooker Valley Track in Aoraki National Park is one of the most beautiful day hikes you can do in New Zealand, and for good reason! Located on New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mount Cook, this hike takes you to Hooker Lake. For three hours you traverse a beautiful landscape surrounded by mountains, with the Hooker River always nearby. You cross the river three times along suspension bridges that give you beautiful views of Mount Cook and the surrounding area. The walk is 10 km round trip and is suitable for anyone with basic fitness. Due to the popularity of the hike, it can be crowded, so we recommend hiking this hike early in the morning or late afternoon.

2) Tasman Glacier Track

Level: Easy Duration: 30′ to 1 hour Distance: 1 .2 km Elevation: 78m

This day hike is the shortest in our list, but should certainly not be inferior to the other hikes. We are still in the Aoraki National Park on the South Island. This short 1.2 km hike takes you to the shore of Tasman Lake. This lake was created thanks to New Zealand’s largest glacier: the Tasman Glacier. Today this glacier is 23 km long, but once it was much larger, especially considering that before 1983 Tasman Lake did not exist. It is also worth getting up early for this hike, as this is where we saw one of the most beautiful sunrises in New Zealand! You can also continue hiking after the hike to a viewpoint on the Tasman Glacier, but you will have to overcome 300 stairs (which is well worth it).

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3) Sealy Tarns & Mueller Hut

Level: Difficult Duration: 7 to 8 hours Distance: 10 .4 km Elevation: 1038m

The breathtaking hike to Mueller Hut is one that will test your fitness, but is well worth it. This hike also starts near Mount Cook Village, following the signs toward “Sealy Tarns. The first part of the hike is immediately tough, as more than 1,800 stairs (aka the Stairway to Heaven) take you to the first viewpoint: Sealy Tarns. From here you already have a spectacular view of the valley with views of Mount Cook on one side and Lake Pukaki on the other. Then you can continue the hike toward the Mueller Hut. You hike steeply further to the ridge of the mountain to reach the other side. Once you arrive at the red Mueller Hut, you can expect stunning views overlooking several mountains.

TRAVEL TIP! If you go in spring (which is from October to early December in New Zealand), chances are there will still be snow on this hike. Be prepared for this by stopping by the Visitor Center in Mount Cook Village. They can help you further with the necessary equipment (e.g. crampons) and advise you whether or not to do the hike.

4) Roys Peak Track

Level: Medium Duration: 6 to 7 hours Distance: 16 .3 km Elevation: 1305m

This hike is located on Lake Wanaka an hour’s drive from Queenstown. The trail itself is a well-constructed, level path that winds through sheep pastures. Still, this hike is not to be underestimated, as for 8 kilometers you will hike steadily up and overcome 1305 altimeters. During these 8 km, you always have the same view around you, which makes it mentally challenging as well. Still, the Roys Peak track is among one of our favorites for hiking in New Zealand, because the best is saved until last! The last part of the hike takes you to the top of the mountain, with phenomenal 360° views of Lake Wannaka winding among the green mountain landscape. A challenging hike that you will never forget!

5) Gertrude Saddle Track

Level: Difficult Duration: 4 to 6 hours Distance: 8.2 km Elevation: 648m

The Gertrude Saddle Track is in Fiordland National Park located on the road between Te Anau and Milford Sound . This hike is “only” 4 kilometers out, but still one of the toughest we’ve done in New Zealand. The first part you hike through a valley, then begin a steep climb. You clamber over rocks, so to speak, until you reach the Getrude Saddle (ledge). Afterwards, you hike a little further until you arrive at your final destination: the Black Lake. Given the difficulty of the hike, it is recommended only in good weather, otherwise it can be very slippery and dangerous. You climb to 1400 meters altitude, so in spring (October to December) there may be snow. But again, the spectacular views of the mountains in the Fiordland make up for everything!

6) Ben Lomond Track

Level: Difficult Duration: 7 to 8 hours Distance: 13 .4 km Elevation: 1347m

This 13.4-kilometer walk is located in downtown Queenstown. You will start at the base station of the Skyline Gondola where you will follow the Tiki Trail up toward the terminus of this cable car. This is already a tough climb right away. Those who wish can skip this part by taking the gondola (a round trip on the gondola costs NZD 46). At the terminus of the Skyline Gondola, continue your tour via the Ben Lomond track.

The first 5 kilometers you hike steadily up toward the Ben Lomond Saddle, a section through the forest after which you leave Queenstown further and further behind. Once on the ridge, it’s another 1.5 kilometers or so to the summit. Keep in mind that this is the most challenging part of the hike. Once at the top, you have an amazing 360° view of Queenstown, adjacent Lake Wakatipu and the mountain range the Remarkables.

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7) Abel Tasman Coastal Track

Level: Easy Duration and Distance: self-determined

We leave the mountains behind and head toward the gold coasts of New Zealand. The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is one of the Great Walks New Zealand has to offer. However, this hike can also be done perfectly in a day, where you can decide how many miles you cover. The hike starts from the village of Marahau where you can park your car or RV. There you can book a water cab (prices start from NZD 48 per person) that will drop you off at a point along the walk.

We took the water cab up to Bark Bay, one of the highlights of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. Afterwards, walk back toward your car at your own pace, passing Tasman Bay and its many beautiful beaches. This walk is considered the easiest Great Walk in New Zealand, and is very good in elevation gain. We did a 24-kilometer hike in one day and took about 6 hours. The entire Abel Tasman Coastal Track is 60 kilometers and you can camp on the beaches along the way.

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Further hiking in New Zealand

Aren’t you tired after all that walking? Or are you looking for a bigger challenge? Then the Great Walks might be for you. In fact, in addition to day hikes, you can also do multi-day treks in New Zealand. Along the way, you will sleep in cabins or in a tent you bring yourself. In all, there are ten of these Great Walks, spread across the North and South Islands. Through the Department of Conservation (DOC) website, you can find all the hikes and book overnight stays in the cabins. Be on time, as these walks always sell out months in advance!

If you are also traveling to the North Island, there is one hike you should definitely not miss: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Find out everything you need to know about this hike here!

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Still have questions about hiking in New Zealand? Let us know in a comment below! Looking for more information about your next trip? Please do not hesitate to contact us or send an email to snoezelsontheroad@gmail.com

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