This guest post is written by Daniel, a professional photographer and full-time travel addict. When he’s not hiking, you’ll usually find him eating.
Daniel, along with his partner Bailey, are the creators of the travel blog Destinationless Travel. Here they document their experiences and help others plan there once in a lifetime trips!
Hiking New Zealand South Island
When hiking New Zealand South Island, you will constantly be in awe of the beautiful scenery surrounding you during these hikes.
In this post you will find the 10 most beautiful South Island walks:
- Roys Peak, Wanaka
- Ben Lomond Summit, Queenstown
- Lake Marian Track, Fiordland National Park
- Routeburn Track, Fiordland National Park and Mt Aspiring National Park
- Mueller Hut, Mount Cook National Park
- Kepler Track, Te Anau, Fiordland National Park
- Hooker Valley Track, Mount Cook National Park
- Franz Joseph Glacier Viewpoint, West Coast
- Secret Moke Lake Viewpoint, Queenstown
- Tasman Lake Viewpoint Trail
New Zealand Walks South Island
New Zealand’s South Island is an outdoor lover’s paradise. It’s home to the stunning Southern Alps which provide the ultimate playground for the keen hiker to get lost in nature and enjoy breathtaking views.
The hikes around the New Zealand mountains of the South Island are endless. Though in all honesty, there are a few that really take the cake and make the South Island one of the best places to hike in the world.
But which one are the best South Island hikes?
After one year of tramping NZ and my way around the South Island, I’ve come up with the ultimate bucket list of all the best hikes on the South Island!
So without further ado, here are the 10 best, most beautiful hikes on the South Island of New Zealand!
1. Roys Peak, Wanaka
It can be hard to choose an all-round favorite hike in New Zealand, but Roys Peak in my opinion is right up there! This stunning viewpoint sits high above Lake Wanaka and is surrounded by the beauty of the Southern Alps!
Of course a viewpoint this beautiful isn’t easily reached and the grueling climb to the top will see you climbing over 1,250m in elevation over 8km one way. Although not the easiest hike, trust me when I say the views are so worth it!
The trail starts just outside the busy tourist town of Wanaka and is easily reached by car . Because this trail is so beautiful, it’s also very popular. During the day hundreds of people begin hiking to the top making the trail very crowded.
With that said, you can share the top with very few people if instead you hike up in the dark for sunrise! I personally did this and shared the peak with only 3 other people for a good hour as we watched the sun rise from behind the mountains!
If the picture above doesn’t convince you Roys Peak is worth of the attention, then I don’t know what will!
2. Ben Lomond Summit, Queenstown
You always remember you’re first! And in New Zealand, for me it was Ben Lomond. This stunning hike is easily one of the most popular things to do in Queenstown for a few reasons. One, the views are really something special, and two, the trail starts right in the town center!
It’s convenient, beautiful and accessible to anyone keen on the 7 hour round trip to the summit and back. I’ll be honest: it’s not the easiest trail. But the best part is you don’t have to summit Ben Lomond to enjoy the amazing views, instead you can hike as far as you’re comfortable with and still see breathtaking views along the way!
In summer the trail is hiked by hundreds of people every day, and it’s safe to do so. In winter however, icy conditions and snow can cause some concern. It’s best to only hike this trail in winter if you’ve got the experience and equipment required!
Regardless, it’s easily one of the best hikes in New Zealand!
3. Lake Marian Track, Fiordland National Park
The Fiordland National Park is one of the most beautiful in New Zealand, and after reading this list you’ll see just why! But to start, let me introduce you to the Lake Marian Track, our first Fordland NP hike.
This stunning hike leads you through the native forests in Fiordland, across suspension bridges, along a river, and finally ends at the flawless Lake Marian! It’s one of my favorite alpine lakes in New Zealand as it literally shines green!
But the best part? Well it’s actually not that hard to get to and the entire trail only takes around 3 hours for a return trip. That being said, you’ll still work up a sweet, especially in summer. So, once you reach the lake you may want to take a refreshing swim, that is if you can brave the icy cold water!
The Lake Marian Track starts on the road to Milford Sound, between Te Anau and Milford. It’s makes for the perfect stop on a road trip before jumping on a Milford Sound cruise and is an essential part of exploring Fiordland National Park!
4. Routeburn Track, Fiordland NP and Mt Aspiring NP
New Zealand is home to 10 Great Walks. These are considered to be the most diverse New Zealand trails and between them they cover a huge range of environments, ecosystems, and landscapes.
I can say from personal experience: the Routeburn Track is one of the best and most beautiful!
The trail can be started from either side of the mountain pass that separates Mt Aspiring National Park (side closest to Glenorchy) and Fiordland National Park (side on the Milford Road).
Although only 32km long, this trail is most commonly hiked over 2 nights and 3 days. Along the trail you can camp or stay in DOC (Department of Conservation) huts. You can also do day hikes on the trail or, if you’re crazy, hike the entire trail in one day.
Once you reach the alpine sections of the trail, the views are amazing! You’ll also pass many beautiful lakes along the way. It’s a Great Walk worthy of its status.
Because the Routeburn is a Great Walk, it’s essential to book the trail in advance. The official Great Walks NZ season starts at the end of October and runs until May.
Important: outside of this season the Routeburn track is far too dangerous to hike without Alpine experience.
5. Mueller Hut, Mount Cook National Park
Remember when I said Roys Peak was a close first for my favorite hike in New Zealand? Well, the Mueller Hut trail is a real competitor for the top spot! Not only is this trail located in my favorite national park in New Zealand, Mount Cook, but it’s also the first alpine trail I ever hiked in winter!
The Mueller Hut isn’t just a hike, it’s an experience! Although the trail to the top is gorgeous, to me the experience is also about spending a night in Mueller Hut.
From the hut you’ll get the most amazing views of the entire national park. It’s easily one of the best things to do in Mount Cook National Park and may even be the best ‘hotel’ you’ll stay at in New Zealand.
In winter the trail to the top should only be attempted by those with alpine experience, or on a guided tour. However, in summer its generally safe for all to hike. Just be sure to book the hut in advance if you want to spend the night.
In summer, the hut books up months in advance! The hut costs $36 per person per night and although not fancy, it’s all about location, location, location!
6. Kepler Track, Te Anau (Fiordland NP)
The Kepler Track is the second Great Walk on this list and in my opinion, it’s the absolute best of the 10 New Zealand Great Walks! The Kepler is much longer than the Routeburn at 60km, but the trail is easily hiked over 3 nights and 4 days.
Along the way you can enjoy a huge range of landscapes including lower shrub lands, thick forests, and my personal favorite, a epic alpine section with views worth every grueling step.
Of course, you don’t have to hike the entire trail to enjoy the views. Instead, consider a day trip to the Luxmore Hut. From Te Anau you can reach the Luxmore Hut and come back in a day, and in all honesty, the views from the hut are some of the best on the trail.
If you do want to hike the entire trail then be sure to book the huts and campsites in advance. During the Great Walk season, they book up fast!
If you’re going to do only one of the Great Walks, make it the Kepler Track. You surely won’t be disappointed!
7. Hooker Valley Track, Mount Cook National Park
If you’re after a short walk with utterly breathtaking views, then the Hooker Valley Track is one of the best of New Zealand hiking trails.
What I love so much about this track is that it’s accessible to almost anyone. In fact, the first section of the trail (not all the way to the lake) is wheelchair accessible.
It’s a hike the entire family will enjoy and people of all ages regularly make the flat 10km round trip in under 3 hours. Along the way you’ll cross three different suspension bridges, pass the Mueller Lake and glacier before finally arriving at the Hooker Lake, and of course, see Mount Cook.
This trail is open all year round and, other than a little snow, the track is very safe and doesn’t cross any avalanche risk areas. In winter you can often find the lake half frozen and in summer it is the perfect place cool off if you can brave the icy water!
8. Franz Joseph Glacier Viewpoint, West Coast
The Franz joseph Glacier is iconic in New Zealand. Just about every road trip along the west coast involves a stop here with many travelers opting for a glacier trekking tour with helicopter flight. However, these tours can set you back over $500. So, if you’re traveling New Zealand on a budget the Franz Joseph Valley Walk is a great option.
This short 1 hour return hike leads you to the Franz Joseph Glacier Viewpoint. From here you stare up at this magical glacier and the surrounding mountains. The hike is entirely free and starts from just outside the town of Franz Josef making it easy to access and great for most fitness levels!
The hike can be done year-round and is a must on any road trip around New Zealand’s South Island.
9. Secret Moke Lake Viewpoint, Queenstown
This is an interesting hike, as it’s actually not an official trail and actually just a scramble to a viewpoint over Moke Lake. I first saw this viewpoint on Instagram and it took a little bit of research and exploring to find! However, with a quick Google search I found a map to Moke Lake to climb this spectacular viewpoint at sunset.
Wow, what a view you get from there! This short hike isn’t the easiest as it’s a really steep scramble for around 45 minutes to the top. But once there the views are so rewarding, you really won’t want to leave!
This hike is in no way well-known and is as far off the beaten path you as can get. Moke Lake (where the trail starts) is located around a 15-minute drive from Queenstown and regardless of whether you try to find this viewpoint, it’s a place worth a visit!
10. Tasman Lake Viewpoint Trail
Last but certainly not least is a viewpoint trail I’ve spent many early mornings at. The Tasman Lake Viewpoint is one of the best places in Mount Cook National Park to watch the sunrise. The sun rises behind the mountains and when the first light hits the lake and the floating icebergs, the moment is truly magical.
Of course, not everyone’s going to want a 4am wake-up call. If you’re not a morning person don’t worry, it’s beautiful at every time of the day! The hike to the viewpoint is the shortest on this list at only 15 minutes! Yep, that’s correct, it’s only a 15-minute walk!
The trail is very flat but at the end you do need to scramble over some rocks to get the best views. This is a short hike with very rewarding views!
Hiking New Zealand: in conclusion
Regardless of whether you tackle them all or only one, I can guarantee you’ll love tramping New Zealand and these South Island hikes just as much as I did!
Also read these posts about traveling New Zealand:
- Self Drive New Zealand: Essential Driving Tips For New Zealand
- The Ultimate Guide To Renting A Budget Campervan In New Zealand