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TOP 10 SOUTH ISLAND WALKS IN NEW ZEALAND

Posted by Kiwi Experience Crew on 17 February 2020

​Put misty mountains, volcanic craters, glacial rainforests and a healthy dose of Lord of the Rings in a blender, and you’d finish up with New Zealand’s South Island.

A mecca for hikers and intrepid travellers internationally, it’s hard to find a part of the South Island’s 150,000sq/km that does not contain a scenic trail or jaw-dropping vista. It’s even budget-friendly. Sound too good to be true? Read on to discover our pick for the top 10 hikes in the South Island.

 

1. Abel Tasman National Park

  • Duration: 3-5 days for the full hike, short day hikes approx 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy, Intermediate and Advanced walks

Abel Tasman National Park is like a choose-your-own-adventure with only good endings. Located at the top of the South Island, the park offers hikers two main options – the coastal track and the inland track. Most take the coastal track, which takes travellers from beech forests to actual beaches. Gape at the unlikely rock formations or go for a snorkel in the temperate turquoise waters. The park is open all year round but be sure to check the conditions and book ahead for the huts and campsites if you’re planning to sleep over.

While the most popular tracks in the park take between 3-5 days to complete, there are a couple of beautiful, easy day hikes if you’re short on time. Wander through lush native bush to a cascading waterfall on the Wainui Falls Track or check out the deepest vertical shaft in New Zealand by following the Harwoods Hole Track.

TOP 10 SOUTH ISLAND WALKS IN NEW ZEALAND

Getting There

A number of Kiwi Experience hop-on/hop-off bus trips contain an overnight stop at Kaiteriteri, the gateway town to Abel Tasman National Park. These include the Southern Round UpSouth and Sound and Bottoms Up.

 

2. Mt Fyffe and the Kaikoura Ranges

  • Duration: 45 min - 3 days

  • Difficulty: Easy walking track, advanced tramping track

On the island’s east coast sits the domineering landmark of Mount Fyffe and the Kaikoura Range. This 8hr track offers views of impressive Alps, followed by very impressive Alps, and then more Alps. Book a hut, stay the night and watch a stunning sunrise from a height of 1,100 metres. Even in summer months the weather in the Seaward Kaikouras and Mt Fyffe can be unpredictable, so making sure you’ve packed warm, weatherproof clothing even for a short walk is a must.

TOP 10 SOUTH ISLAND WALKS IN NEW ZEALAND

Getting there

Your jump off point to Mount Fyffe and the Kaikoura Range in the picturesque town of Kaikoura. Known for its spectacular whale watching and fantastic seafood, take the Kiwi Experience Southern Round UpSouth and Sound and Bottoms Up passes and hop off to begin the trek.

 

3. Alex Knob Track

  • Duration: 8hrs
  • Difficulty: Advanced tramping track for experienced hikers

If you are a veteran hiker, you will enjoy the 17.2km track leading up to Alex Knob, where you will be amply rewarded with an amazing view of the Franz Josef Glacier. An ecological pastiche typical of the South Island, this 8-hour hike features dramatic environmental changes – from the Rimu, Rata and Kamahi Forests of the lowland, up to the snow tussocks, alpine meadows and herb fields near the summit. Snow is a likely occurrence, so ensure you are well equipped to deal with the alpine conditions and let someone know before you go.

Getting There

To get to this spectacular track, walk south from the Franz Josef Waiau township across the Waiho River Bridge and turn left onto the Glacier Access Road. The Alex Knob track is signposted and begins about 2 km up this road. Top tip, start your walk early to reach the summit before the afternoon clouds obscure the fantastic view. Kiwi Experience bus pass routes to Franz Josef include the Passing Arthur and the Bottoms Up.

TOP 10 SOUTH ISLAND WALKS IN NEW ZEALAND

 

4. Milford Track

  • Duration: 4 days
  • Difficulty: Easy/Intermediate. Track is well marked and maintained

The Milford Track is the most famous trek in New Zealand, and has been described as one of the world’s best walks.

The walk takes you through a breathtaking region of New Zealand known as the Fiordland Region, and showcases some of the most amazing scenery carved out by millions of years of glacial movement. Hike through native rainforests and marvel at magnificent waterfalls before snuggling into a bunk at one of the three huts along the track. This popular hike finishes with a short boat ride from sandfly point back through the breathtaking sounds. Hiking season is open from October to late April, and the NZ Department of Conservation only allows for a limited number of people on the track at any one time, so you’ll need to book ahead to secure your place.

Getting there

Hop-off the Kiwi Experience Milford Explorer or Deep South tour at Te Anau and take the regular transport services that run to and from the track. The Deep South busses also stop between Invercargill and Te Anau is you wanted to check out the beautiful Humpridge Track.

TOP 10 SOUTH ISLAND WALKS IN NEW ZEALAND

 

5. Mueller Hut Route, Mt Cook

  • Duration: 4 hr one way, overnight stay recommended
  • Difficulty: Advanced: Tramping track

Mt Cook, known locally by the more apt Maori name of Aoraki (Cloud Piercer), isn’t hard to spot. A hulking 3,724 metres high, it is New Zealand’s tallest peak and visible from miles around. The Mueller Hut Route will take you under the shadow of the mountain, with incredible views both above and below. The walk is 5.2km long, but be warned, the incline is rather…challenging. Visit from November to March but be sure to check snow conditions and the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory as avalanches can occur any time of the year.

Getting there

The Southern Round UpSouth and Sound and Bottoms Up bus passes take you to Lake Pukaki where you can view Mt Cook from a distance. Jump off at Twizel and catch a shuttle service up to Mt Cook to spend the night there.

Mueller Hut

 

6. Mount Sunday

  • Duration: 30 mins

  • Difficulty: Easy

If you like the Lord of the Rings, you’ll like New Zealand – and you’ll love Mount Sunday. An easy 2km hike, the mountain was made famous by the dramatic establishing shot of Eowyn (elf-lady) staring soulfully over the city and surrounding planes. Enjoy the view of the glacially carved valley and surrounding mountain peaks – and laugh at the countless people trying to recreate the movie.

Getting there

Kiwi Experience does not have a bus pass that goes to Mt Sunday. Mt Sunday is located between Christchurch and Lake Tekapo, we’d recommend hopping off at either of these stops and making your way there, or booking a shuttle with your driver for a sweet discount upon arrival into Christchurch through Hassle Free Tours.

Mount Sunday

 

7. Kepler Track

  • Duration: 3-4 days
  • Difficulty: Intermediate. 
    Track is well marked and maintained.

Another trek through the Fiordlands, the Kepler Track is a 3 to 4 day commitment, winding 60km through forest, tussock, and mountain. Highlights include cascading waterfalls and abstract limestone foundations. The Huts on this track are large and well maintained during Great Walk seasons, you will need to book to ensure you have a bed though! This one is for serious hikers, but not to be missed – leave plenty of time, and most importantly, be well prepared.

Getting there

The Deep South bus pass will take you to the beautiful South Island town of Te Anau. Use this town as the perfect base for disembarking for the Kepler Track.

Kepler Track

 

8. The Heaphy Track 

  • Duration: 4-6 days for the full hike, 1-2 days options available
  • Difficulty: Intermediate 
    Track is well marked and maintained

The Heaphy Track is not for the faint of heart. Taking 4 to 6 days to complete, this 78km track somehow combines stony beaches, dense tropical mountainsides, and a primaeval palm-fringed coastline. Located in Kahurangi National Park, the track also winds through Gouland Downs, offering a rare chance to enter the habitat of the Great Spotted Kiwi. If you’re up for the challenge, you can walk the Heaphy Track all year round, or jump on a mountain bike and cycle the track between May and November.

Getting there

While there are no Kiwi Experience buses that stop directly at this track, your best bet is to hop off at Kaiteriteri and make your way to the town of Collingwood on Golden Bay (about 80km north). From there it’s a 33km hike to the starting point at Brown Hut.

 

9. Mt John Walkway, Tekapo

  • Duration: 1 day hike. 1 hr 30 min, or shorter circuit track available
  • Difficulty: Advanced - Steep walking track

If the Heaphy Track sounds a little too intimidating, stop off at Tekapo for an 8km loop which takes a couple hours of your afternoon. A faithful dirt trail guides you up to the mountain’s summit, which has an impressive elevation of 1,031 metres. A panoramic inspection yields views of Lake Tekapo, the Southern Alps, and the Mackenzie Basin flats. If an uphill climb doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, drive up to the top of Mt John, park near the cafe and walk the Summit Circuit Track (30 - 45 min). Take a snap for the gram and treat yourself to a cool beverage or hot coffee at the top while you take in the view at the famous Astro Cafe. The walk later takes you along the shores of the beautiful lake, which believe it or not is actually the colour pictured below.

Getting there

Lake Tekapo is one of Kiwi Experience’s most popular stops for many of the South Island routes. These routes include the Southern Round UpSouth and Sound and Bottoms Up as well as the cross-island routes such as Whole Kit & Caboodle and Sheepdog.

TOP 10 SOUTH ISLAND WALKS IN NEW ZEALAND

 

10. Rakiura

  • Duration: 3 days

  • Difficulty: Easy/Intermediate. Track is well marked and maintained

New Zealand's most southern Great Walk, the Rakiura Track is on the third biggest island, Stewart Island, waaaay at the bottom of New Zealand. The track covers 80% of the island in 3 days, making it the perfect way to explore this untouched beauty. Most of the track is on boardwalks and follows the coastline.

Getting here

To get to Stewart Island, you’ll need to catch a connecting ferry from Bluff across the Foveaux Strait. The Deep South and Bottoms Up busses will drop you off and pick you up after your epic adventure before heading on to Invercargill.

 

No matter where you choose to walk or hike around New Zealand, you’ll be sure to be rewarded with a once in a lifetime experience. Pack your hiking boots and book your Kiwi Experience Bus pass, adventure is calling!

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