The Top Short Walks on the South Island of New Zealand
Want to see some stunning South Island scenery on tracks suitable for all fitness levels? Try some of the amazing short walks on the South Island. We’ve listed the highlights of South Island short walks with each walk ranging from 10 minutes to 2 hours. Find walks to magnificent caves, along dramatic coastlines and in spellbinding forests in this list of the New Zealand South Island’s best short walks.
For the North Island equivalent, head to the 20 Best Short Walks in the North Island.
1. Kura Tawhiti Access Track (Castle Hill)
Walk among craggy limestone outcrops on the Kura Tawhiti Access Track, also known as Castle Hill. After you reach the end of the access track, follow the light trails in the grass between the boulders to explore the landscape at your own leisure.
Time: 20mins one way / Distance: 1.4km (0.9 miles) / Location: Castle Hill, Canterbury
2. Pelorus Bridge Tracks
While the vineyards often steal the show in Marlborough, the walks of the Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve are bound to entice you now. Enjoy short walks like the Circle Walk (45-min loop) with a mix of river and forest. For a longer walk, try the Elvy Waterfalls Track (2 hours return) taking you along a stream to a waterfall. See more walks in the 10 Best Walks in Marlborough.
Time: 45mins and 2 hours return / Distance: Both around 1.7km (1 mile) / Location: Havelock, Marlborough
3. Ship Creek Walks
Choose from a couple of short walks over sand dunes and ancient forest at Ship Creek. Most of the walks have boardwalks making for easy access with a stroller or wheelchair for at least part of the track. Regardless, the area makes for a fun pitstop on your way between Haast and Franz Josef. Check out more nearby walks in the 6 Best Walks in Haast.
Time: 20mins or 30mins return/ Distance: 800m (875 yards) or 1km (0.6 miles) / Location: Haast, West Coast
4. Hokitika Gorge Walk
See vibrant blue water in a tree-topped river gorge on the Hokitika Gorge Walk. The walk features a couple of swingbridges, viewpoints of the river and a side track with access to the river. See more walks in the area in the 23 Best Walks in Hokitika.
Time: 1 hour loop / Distance: 2km (1.2 miles) / Location: Hokitika, West Coast
5. Lake Matheson
While the lush forest around the perimeter of Lake Matheson is pretty enough to walk through in itself, what most people come here for are the reflections. Stop at various viewpoints to see the Southern Alps in the inky black water. See more walks nearby in the 9 Best Walks in Fox Glacier.
Time: 1h30mins loop / Distance: 2.6km (1.6 miles) / Location: Fox Glacier, West Coast
6. Oparara Arch
Hidden in the northern reaches of the West Coast past Karamea, the Oparara Arch is well worth the journey to get to. Follow the lush forest of cascading streams along the Oparara River until you reach the largest limestone arch in Australasia. Check out more walks nearby in the 10 Best Walks in Karamea.
Time: 50mins return / Distance: 2km (1.2 miles) / Location: Karamea, West Coast
7. Children’s Bay Walkway
Walk through small tracts of trees to open grasslands on the Children’s Bay Walkway where you’ll come across several metal animal sculptures along the way. A good short walk is heading to the hilltop with the rhino before returning the same way. You can continue on the trail, however, to make a 3-hour loop. Learn more about the walk in the Children’s Bay Walkway video.
Time: 1 hour return / Distance: 2.4km (1.5 miles) / Location: Akaroa, Canterbury
8. Cape Foulwind Walkway
Follow the Cape Foulwind Walkway along the coast to see a seal colony, a lighthouse, rugged coastline and the beach of Tauranga Bay. It’s also not uncommon to see weka (a flightless bird often mistaken for a kiwi) crossing your path. See more walks like this in the 10 Best Walks in Westport.
Time: 1h15mins one way / Distance: 3.4km (2.1 miles) / Location: Westport, West Coast
9. Milford Foreshore Walk
Either in addition or instead of the Milford Sound cruise, take the Milford Foreshore Walk for another perspective of the fiord from the shores. More about the history and environment of the area can be appreciated by reading the interpretation panels. See more walks nearby in the 11 Best Walks in Milford Sound.
Time: 30mins loop / Distance: 400m (437 yards) / Location: Milford Sound, Southland
10. Centre of New Zealand
A surveyors dream, the Centre of New Zealand marks the geographical point in the centre of New Zealand’s mainland. Another reason to walk here is to enjoy the views of Nelson city, the Tasman Sea and surrounding hills. The walk is accessible from the Botanical Reserve in Nelson city. Note that despite the short distance the path is a steady climb.
Time: 20-40mins one-way / Distance: 800m (875 yards) / Location: Nelson, Nelson Tasman
11. Cathedral Caves
One of many short walks in The Catlins, this trail meanders down through the forest to some sandy shores. The main event is Cathedral Caves, a 30m (98ft)-high tunnel carved into the cliffs with two entrances. Note that this walk can only be done at low tide and requires a small fee.
Time: 30mins one way / Distance: 1km (0.6 miles) / Location: Catlins, Otago/Southland
12. Conical Hill Walk
Follow a zigzagging trail up a hill in Hanmer Springs with exotic pine trees for company. You’ll eventually reach the summit lookout with a shelter, picnic benches and a commemorative plaque. Enjoy views of the Hanmer Basin from the top of the Conical Hill Walk.
Time: 1 hour return / Distance: km ( miles) / Location: Hanmer Springs, Canterbury
13. Wainui Falls
Of course, short walks to waterfalls is the South Island’s speciality with one such walk being the Wainui Falls Track. The trail takes you through a less-visited side of the Abel Tasman National Park over a stream with giant boulders and logs that have been washed down with flooding.
Time: 1h20mins return / Distance: 3.4km (2.1 miles) / Location: Takaka, Nelson Tasman
14. Wharariki Beach
While Wharariki Beach might be seen as one of the South Island’s most picturesque beaches, it’s a little off the beaten track in Golden Bay so requires a short walk to get there. Take the Wharariki Beach Track from the end of Wharariki Road to reach this photo spot with views out to the Archway Islands. There are plenty more short walks here to enjoy, so check out the 7 Best Walks at Farewell Spit for more options.
Time: 20mins one way / Distance: 1km (0.6 miles) / Location: Collingwood, Nelson Tasman
15. Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View Walks
One of the shorter yet worthwhile walks among the dramatic valleys and mountains of Mt Cook is the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View walk. The 40-minute return walk gives you great views of New Zealand’s longest glacier. If you have more time and energy, also take the Tasman Glacier Lake walk (1-hour return) giving you a better view of the Tasman Glacier Lake with icebergs. See more walks nearby in the 10 Best Hikes Around Mt Cook.
Time: 40mins and 1 hour return / Distance: 2.6km (1.6 miles) / Location: Mt Cook, Canterbury
16. Franz Josef Walk
See the iconic Franz Josef Glacier on the short and family-friendly Franz Josef Glacier/Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere Walk. Follow the glacier valley over a rocky riverbed to the view of the glacier terminal face. See more walks nearby in the 10 Best Walks in Franz Josef.
Time: 1h30mins / Distance: 5.4km (3.4 miles) / Location: Franz Josef, West Coast
17. Rotoroa Nature Walk
Experience one of the Nelson Lakes National Park‘s less-visited lakes on this gentle ramble. The Rotoroa Nature Walk takes you along the lakeside and through the forest on an easy-going short walk. Look out for the historic canoe on display and birds in the trees.
Time: 25mins return / Distance: 1.5km (0.9 miles) / Location: Murchison, Nelson Tasman
18. Devil’s Punchbowl Walking Track
A worthy walk if you’re road tripping or taking the train to Arthur’s Pass, the Devil’s Punchbowl is a magnificent 131m (430ft)-high waterfall. Enjoy a short walk through the forest and over river bridges to get to a viewing platform. Return the same way.
Time: 1 hour return / Distance: 2km (1.2 miles) / Location: Arthur’s Pass, Canterbury
19. Lake Gunn Nature Walk
A striking short walk on the way to Milford Sound, the Lake Gunn Nature Walk offers a stroller and wheelchair-friendly walk among lush forest. You’ll also be able to hop off the trail to relax alongside Lake Gunn and soak in the scenery of the surrounding mountains.
Time: 45mins loop / Distance: 1.4km (0.9 miles) / Location: Fiordland National Park, Southland
20. Tunnel Beach Track
Finally, the Tunnel Beach Track leads down to Dunedin’s dramatic coastline with arches and white cliffs. There’s also a tunnel carved through the cliffs leading to a beautiful beach with caves, which is best explored at low tide.
Time: 1 hour return / Distance: 2km (1.2 miles) / Location: Dunedin, Otago