New Zealand is a magical place in which Offering opportunities to experience multiple landscapes in a single day, South Island boasts of the majestic Kā Tiritiri o te Moana mountain range, which absolutely dwarfs you in the beauty of nature. Whether you’re an aspiring hiker, or an experienced one, South Island is where to go if you don't want to be disappointed.
Image from: Spin The Windrose
Today, we’re looking at some of the best hikes in New Zealand from the south, traversing along the Southern Alps to the various plains and fjords that surround them.
A word of caution: Before any hike, always check relevant park management websites for updated information on track conditions, closures or dangers.
Before we start, remember to check out our store for the best camping and hiking gear and accessories for your next trip!
1. Travers Sabine Circuit
Image from: DOC
Length: 80km loop
Average time: 5-7 days
In summary: An advanced trail with weather that can shift dramatically and quickly that is more suitable for experienced hikers only.
If you’re looking for a hike that takes you from sea to summit, the Travers Sabine Circuit is definitely a must for you. This is a challenging 80km loop that starts at Kerr Bay, within the Nelson Lakes National Park at the northern tip of New Zealand's South Island.
Notable points of the hike include Lake Rotoiti, where you can walk along a swing bridge that crosses between Lakehead Hut and Coldwater Hut, as well as the ascension of Travers Saddle, though it should be noted that the track is best done during summer months due to an avalanche-prone trail during winter.
If you’re looking for a truly epic hike, this is definitely one to set your goals on. Just remember that beginners or casual hikers may want to go on a few other trails to clock up the experience before undertaking this week-long trail.
2. Te Ara Pataka – Summit Walkway
Image from: DOC
Length: 35 km
Time: 2 or 3 days
In summary: A great intermediate walk that is comfortable with well-formed trails for the whole family.
When to go: any time outside of lambing season (which runs August to October).
Located near Christchurch, the Banks Peninsula is home to some of the best hikes in New Zealand. Among these, the Summit Walkway takes a notable mention, as you will be able to see most of the beauty of the area simply by following the walkway. A bonus is that you can get started on the trail from various points, including a trailhead that is accessible from Christchurch city.
Take in the beauty of the native birdlife through the ancient graveyard of totara trees, including a giant 2,000-year-old totara. You’ll also be taking in breathtaking bird-eye views across the peninsula along the way and as well as a 360-degree view from Mount Herbert.
One thing to note is to avoid lambing season typically running through August to October.
3. Queen Charlotte Track
Image from: Marlborough NZ
Length: 62 km
Time: 4 nights/5 days
In summary: A delightful and relatively unchallenging trail that weaves through beautiful lookout points.
If you’ve already been to Milford Sound, the Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds is a warmer alternative you can consider. Part of the 3,000km Te Araroa trail, this is a relatively unchallenging trail that takes you through native forests with lookout points like giant natural portholes in a ship that give you incredible framed views of secluded bays and coves.
Aside from its stunning secluded bays and coves, you can also look out for diverse forms of wildlife and marine life. Dolphins and other marine animals pepper the area, while you can also spot the sounds of the bellbird, native woodpigeon, waxeyes and tui. The native forests of nikau palms, manuka and kanuka are also sights to behold.
As this is a coastal track, you should try to avoid the summer months which bring about strong offshore winds.
4. Lake Ohau
Image from: Antipodes Travel
Length:varies from 4-16km
Time: Around 4-5 hours
In summary: An easy to moderate trail that is surrounded by alpine surrounds, with a pristine lakeside track.
Not everyone has a week or two to take in order to go for an epic hiking trip. Lake Ohau fixes that, as there are various single day hikes around the area that range from between 2-6km. The longest one; Tarnbrae Track is a scenic tramp through native tussock and wetlands and is great for a moderate break through the alpine air.
There are a range of tracks of between two and six kilometres, but one of the longest is the 16km. The trail is a favorite for mountain bikers, as it has a gentle gradient that occasionally passes through beech forests. There is also a wide expanse of mountains to the north, while the east features beautiful rolling fields.
5. Avalanche Peak Route
Image from: Outdoor Project
Time: 6-8 hours
In summary: With a quick vertical rise and stunning views of surrounding mountains, this is an expert route that is best for those looking for a challenge.
Located at the very centre of New Zealand’s South Island is Arthur’s Pass. Among the many trails available, the toughest yet most rewarding is the Avalanche Peak Route. The route is a straight track up the bushline, and will really be a stern test for your route-finding skills. The weather can also take a turn for the worst, so this is really a trail for those who can brave it.
Arthur’s Pass remains a convenient stopping point for most, and you should also consider some of the other easier hikes should Avalanche Peak be too difficult. Summer or autumn time is the best time for you to experience this route.
The South Island is generally known as an ideal tourist site and is constantly populated with many locals too. It’s no surprise then that South Island is considered to be one of the best spots topping bucket lists in the world. With some of our recommended South Island hiking trails, you’ll definitely find something to suit your requirements.
Image from: Royal Bank
So lace up your boots, strap on your pack and take to the trails and explore South Island’s trails for yourself.
What did you think about our article? We’d love to hear from you. Share your thoughts in the comment section below! Itching to go on a camping trip? Check out our beginner tips for ultralight backpacking, or check out our top tips to make a successful camping trip. Also, don’t forget to check out our store for more camping gear!