New Zealand is home to some of the most spectacular scenery in the world; towering mountain ranges, crystal-clear waterways, lush forestry and echoing birdsong, travellers are spoilt for choice in Aotearoa.
How better to see New Zealand’s beauty than to slip on your hiking boots and get out exploring?
Having recently returned home to the land of the long white cloud (and completing some incredible hikes in South America), we’ve been inspired to get out and complete some of New Zealand’s Great Walks alongside our lesser-known tracks.
With the help of our travel blogging friends, we’re pleased to bring you their takes on the very best hiking in the South Island. Our hiking bucket-list is growing by the minute!
The Kepler Track
The Kepler Track in New Zealand is not just one of the best hikes we completed in the South Island, it is one of the greatest hikes we have ever done (and we’ve completed all of the Great Walks in New Zealand)! It’s a four-day, 60km loop track through the world-famous Fiordland National Park. Hiking through beautiful forest, sections will make you feel like you’re an extra in the real-life Lord of The Rings!
The true highlight though is when you reach above the bush line; there 360-degree panoramic views of mountain ranges and both Lake Te Anau and Lake Manapouri are out of this world. You’ll traverse narrow ridgeline after ridgeline in what has to be some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet.
Often the only sound will be the howling wind and the world’s only alpine parrot (the kea) calling back and forth as they swoop through the valleys. If you’re brave enough, you can even swim in the gorgeous (but ice-cold) waterfall at the track’s half-way point.
If you’re incredibly lucky, there’s even the opportunity to spot the national icon – the kiwi – near the Iris Burn hut at night.
The Kepler Track is truly a once in a lifetime experience.
Cat – Walk My World
The Key Summit Hike
Many travellers to Milford Sound drive straight through from Te Anau, or even Queenstown, but they’re missing out! Along the way, there are a number of beautiful viewpoints and worthwhile stops, including several incredible hiking tracks. One of my favourites is the Key Summit Hike.
At approximately 3 hours return, this hike takes in part of the Routeburn Track. The Key Summit Hike is classed as an intermediate trail, mostly because it is almost all uphill until you get to the top! It is manageable though and one that I obviously recommend.
You’ll hike from the carpark at The Divide uphill to Key Summit where you can enjoy 360-degree views of Fiordland and the beautiful surrounding mountains, before making your way back down again. The first part of the track is undercover in the bush, but the latter part up to the summit is in alpine terrain with no cover; because of this, you’ll want to be prepared with sunscreen if it’s a sunny day and a windbreaker if it’s needed.
If you can, try to arrive on the track outside of the peak times (between 11am and 2pm). Instead, I suggest planning for an earlier or later start in a bid to avoid people passing by on their way to the Milford Sound.
The Key Summit Hike is a beautiful hike and an excellent introduction to New Zealand’s world-famous Great Walks!
Come prepared: Carry water and snacks and use the facilities in the carpark (as there are none on the track). Wear appropriate clothing and footwear for the terrain. Although the track is fairly wide and clear, it can be steep in places and slippery underfoot if it’s rained recently.
Sonja – Migrating Miss
The Red Tarns Track
The Red Tarns Track is the perfect short hike to take in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.
Starting out from the village, the track crosses a typical New Zealand stream of crystal clear water before a steep path winds around the mountain.
If you visit in the cooler months (which I’d absolutely recommend!) you’ll likely be treated to a fresh dusting of snow (or even a thick blanket), adding a sprinkling of magic to those already gorgeous views from atop Mount Sebastopol. There, the track treats hikers to panoramic views across the village and of the mighty Aoraki/Mount Cook itself.
Pro Tip: Tackle the hike early in the morning – just after sunrise. This will not only mean you’ll likely have the track largely to yourself, but also the sun rising up over the mountain will bathe the village in sunlight (if you’re lucky!) and present you with unforgettable views of the gorgeous Southern Alps (that are indescribably beautiful in every direction).
Only taking around two hours for this return track, it’s a perfect way to start the day and get the full impact and magnitude of Aoraki//Mount Cook, and all that this incredibly iconic part of the country has to offer.
… and who doesn’t have a couple of hours to spare?
Suzy – Suzy Stories
The Hooker Valley Track
Before my trip to New Zealand I’d heard from everyone that it was the most beautiful country in the world. To be honest though, I didn’t fully believe those enthusiastic statements.
… but once I discovered the Hooker Valley trail, I was sold! It was literally the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen!
For most of the hike, I felt like I was sitting inside Photoshop – that’s how unbelievably breathtaking the area was! The trail is approximately 5kms one way, starting from Mt. Cook Village heading to the Hooker Lake (with incredible views of Mount Cook along the way).
Even through my jetlag (as it was day 3 of my New Zealand itinerary), it was the perfect walk to get acquainted with New Zealand’s incredible nature. Fortunately, the trail was rather easy which meant it was manageable in my sleepy-state (and within the reach of most of the tourists).
Though I visited other amazing spots in New Zealand after the Hooker Valley track, none were quote as stunning as our day out on the trail.
Kamila – Kami and the Rest of the World
The Mueller Hut Hike
New Zealand is one of those places that all mountain lovers dream of reaching. Fair enough too as the Southern Alps are nothing less than majestic (and absolutely worth the journey).
If you want some fantastic views over the highest peaks in New Zealand, including Mount Cook, then I recommend you try the Mueller Hut hike.
It will take you all the way up to 1,800m on a marked trail (that is not difficult if you are reasonably fit). Although the hike starts with no less than 1,806 stairs (off of which will try to discourage you from getting to the top), looking around will provide you with the incentive needed to keep on charging!
Should you wish, you can also choose to spend the night on top of the pass, by booking a place in the hut. Just make sure to plan ahead so you don’t miss out.
Regardless of whether you choose to spend the night atop the Sealy Range or not, once you see the impressive panorama, you will quickly understand why this is one of the most famous treks in New Zealand.
Andra – Our World to Wander
Roy’s Peak, which has unmatched views of Lake Wanaka and its surrounding mountains, has quickly become one of the most popular day hikes in New Zealand. It’ll take you 5-6 hours to complete and the view at the top is best seen at sunrise. It’s definitely worth getting up early for!
The trail follows an old 4WD track for most of the way and it’s a consistent uphill grind to the top. If I’m being honest, it’s not the most interesting of walks (especially in the dark) but the vistas waiting at the top make you forget about the trail pretty quickly!
There are a few different viewpoints to check out on the way back down (or on the way up if you’re walking during daylight) but the view does remain the same for most of the way. It can get very cold at the top (even in summer) so bring warm clothes and plenty of drinking water and snacks.
With the track starting around 5 km from Wanaka, there are heaps of other fantastic things to do nearby, including the Rocky Mountain hike and Glendhu Bay, one of New Zealand’s best lake beaches.
Roy’s Peak is a real hiking highlight in Wanaka (and not one bit overrated!)
Jon – See the South Island
If you’re keen to hit the trail in New Zealand, we suggest you pin this post to come back to it…
Cover photo: Tourism New Zealand