The Top 50 South Island Walks© Unsplash
The Top 50 South Island Walks

The Top 50 South Island Walks

© Unsplash

The Best Hikes on the South Island of New Zealand

Get some good exercise along with some damn good scenery on one of these South Island walks. That right, we’ve put together a whopping 50 hikes on the South Island so there’s no excuse not to get out there. From rambles in the rainforest to mountain missions, there’s something for all interests and fitness levels. Start planning your outing with the list of South Island hikes below.

And for our North Island equivalents, see The Top 50 North Island Walks.

1. Kura Tāwhiti Access Track (Castle Hill)

Walk among craggy limestone outcrops on the Kura Tāwhiti Access Track, also known as Castle Hill. After you reach the end of the access track, wander around the giant boulders at your own leisure.

Time: 20mins one way / Distance: 1.4km (0.9 miles) / Location: Castle Hill, Canterbury

The Top 50 South Island Walks© Unsplash

2. St James Walkway

The first of many multi-day hikes on the South Island that’s too good not to share is the St James Walkway. This easy-going hike features beech forest, open pastoral land and sub-alpine landscapes.

Time: 5 days / Distance: 66km (41 miles) / Location: Lewis Pass, Canterbury

The Top 50 South Island Walks© Department of Conservation

3. Pelorus Bridge Tracks

While the vineyards might take all the limelight in Marlborough, the walks of the Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve are a real hidden gem. Enjoy short walks like the Circle Walk (45-min loop) with a mix of river and forest to the 4-hour Daltons Track for a proper hike. See more walks in the 10 Best Walks in Marlborough.

Time: 45mins to 4 hours return / Distance: 1.7km (1 mile) to 14km (8.7 miles) / Location: Havelock, Marlborough

The Top 50 South Island Walks© MarlboroughNZ

4. Roys Peak Track

One of the most popular day walks on the South Island, the Roys Peak Track is all about the views! Tackle a steep climb through pastures until you reach the viewpoint overlooking Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountains. Note that the track is closed during the lambing season (October to mid-November).

Time: 5-6 hours return / Distance: 16km (9.9 miles) / Location: Wanaka, Otago

The Top 50 South Island Walks© Unsplash

5. Ship Creek Walks

Choose from a couple of short walks over sand dunes and ancient West Coast forest on this 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

The Top 50 South Island Walks© NZPocketGuide.com

6. 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 and 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

The Top 50 South Island Walks© NZPocketGuide.com

7. Hump Ridge Track

Another multi-day adventure on the South Island, this time in the southern reaches of the Fiordland National Park, the Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track offers a journey of remote beaches and alpine tops with expansive views.

Time: 3 days / Distance: 61km (37.9 miles) / Location: Tuatapere, Southland

The Top 50 South Island Walks© Tareen Ellis - Tourism New Zealand

8. Lake Matheson

Walk through ancient forest around the perimeter of Lake Matheson to reach various viewpoints with reflections of the Southern Alps in the lake’s tannin-filled waters. 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

The Top 50 South Island Walks© NZPocketGuide.com

9. Rakaia Gorge Track

Walk on the top of glacier-carved terraces with views of the milky blue Rakaia River on this day walk. The Rakaia Gorge Track features a historic coal mine to check out, tracts of bush and pastures.

Time: 3-4 hours return / Distance: 10.4km (6.5 miles) / Location: Methven, Canterbury

The Top 50 South Island Walks© NZPocketGuide.com

10. Mueller Hut Route

The Mueller Hut Route might be one of the most challenging day hikes in Mt Cook but it rewards with panoramic views of glaciers, ice cliffs, dramatic rock faces and the country’s highest mountains. This is an alpine hike, so be prepared.

Time: 4 hours one way / Distance: 5.2km (3.2 miles) / Location: Mt Cook, Canterbury

The Top 50 South Island Walks© Miles Holden - Tourism New Zealand

11. Oparara Arch

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 7 Amazing Oparara Basin Walks and 10 Best Walks in Karamea.

Time: 50mins return / Distance: 2km (1.2 miles) / Location: Karamea, West Coast

The Top 50 South Island Walks© westcoast.co.nz

12. Copland Track to Welcome Flat Hot Pools

This overnight tramp rewards hikers with soothing natural hot pools a short distance from the Welcome Flat Hut. There’s also a mix of mountain, river and forest landscapes to enjoy. See more walks in the area in the 9 Best Walks in Fox Glacier.

Time: 7 hours one way / Distance: 18km (11.2 miles) / Location: Fox Glacier, West Coast

The Top 50 South Island Walks© Andrew John Mitchell on Flickr

13. Lake Rotoiti Circuit

Hike around the Nelson Lakes National Park‘s most iconic lake on either a day hike, half-day hike or overnight tramp. Huts and water taxis are available to make this walk your own.

Time: 7-10 hours / Distance: 23km (14.3 miles) via river crossing or 31km (19.3 miles) via swingbridge / Location: St Arnaud, Nelson Tasman

The Top 50 South Island Walks© www.nelsontasman.nz

14. Children’s Bay Walkway

Walk through small tracts of bush to open grasslands hiding all sorts of metal animal sculptures. Either return the same way once you reach the hilltop with the rhino or continue on the trail and back along the roads to make a 3-hour loop. Learn more about the walk in the Children’s Bay Walkway video.

Time: 1 hour return or 3 hours loop / Distance: 2.4km (1.5 miles) / Location: Akaroa, Canterbury

The Top 50 South Island Walks© NZPocketGuide.com

15. Mt Robert Circuit

Another excellent day hike in the Nelson Lakes National Park, the Mt Robert Circuit scales the slopes of Mt Robert with unfolding views of Lake Rotoiti.

Time: 5 hours return / Distance: 9km (5.6 miles) / Location: St Arnaud, Nelson Tasman

The Top 50 South Island Walks© Tamzin Henderson - www.nelsontasman.nz

16. Queen Charlotte Track

Walk or cycle this multi-day trail that spans from the historic Ship Cove to the inner arm of Queen Charlotte Sound. The walk incorporates forest, history and views of the sound’s glistening waters. Find out more in The Ultimate Guide to the Queen Charlotte Track.

Time: 3-5 days / Distance: 71km (44.1 miles) / Location: Picton, Marlborough

The Top 50 South Island Walks© MarlboroughNZ - Tourism New Zealand

17. Hooker Valley Track

Now for Mt Cook’s most popular hiking trail, the Hooker Valley Track presents a good mix of swingbridge crossings and mountain views on the way to a glacier lake. See more like this in the 10 Best Hikes Around Mt Cook.

Time: 3 hours return / Distance: 10km (6 miles) / Location: Mt Cook, Canterbury

The Top 50 South Island Walks© Unsplash

18. Avalanche Peak Route

Get ready for a 1,100m (3,609ft) climb from Arthur’s Pass Village to Avalanche Peak on this challenging day hike. Fine days reward you with endless views of mountain peaks. Be prepared for hiking in an exposed alpine environment by following the advice on the DOC website.

Time: 6-8 hours / Distance: 6.4km (4 miles) / Location: Arthur’s Pass, Canterbury

The Top 50 South Island Walks© Unsplash

19. Blue Pools Track

A must-visit on the Haast Pass, the Blue Pools Track takes you to crystal clear river waters with an appealing blue tinge. It’s an easy short walk suitable for all ages.

Time: 1 hour return / Distance: 3km (1.9 miles) / Location: Wanaka, Otago

The Top 50 South Island Walks© Unsplash

20. Cape Foulwind Walkway

Follow this well-maintained track along the coast to see a seal colony, lighthouse, rugged coastline and the beach of Tauranga Bay. 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

The Top 50 South Island Walks© NZPocketGuide.com

21. Milford Foreshore Walk

You don’t have to go on a cruise to enjoy the views of Milford Sound. The Milford Foreshore Walk offers views of the fiord and Mitre Peak, while more can be appreciated about the environment by reading the interpretation panels. See more walks in the area in the 11 Best Walks in Milford Sound.

Time: 30mins loop / Distance: 400m (437 yards) / Location: Milford Sound, Southland

The Top 50 South Island Walks© Unsplash

22. Hollyford Track

Another breathtaking hike in the Fiordland National Park, the Hollyford Track is a journey from mountains to sea. It’s one of the rare multi-day hikes in Fiordland that you can do all year round.

Time: 4-5 days / Distance: 56km (34.8 miles) / Location: Fiordland National Park, Southland

The Top 50 South Island Walks© M Groshinski - Destination Fiordland

23. Centre of New Zealand

If geographical points of interest are your thing or you just want to see some good views, check out the Centre of New Zealand walk accessible from the Botanical Reserve in Nelson city. Note that the path is a steady climb.

Time: 20-40mins one-way / Distance: 800m (875 yards) / Location: Nelson, Nelson Tasman

The Top 50 South Island Walks© NZPocketGuide.com

24. Ben Lomond Track

A popular day hike in Queenstown, the Ben Lomond Track is a steep climb across the Ben Lomond Saddle (3-4 hours one way) to the summit (6-8 hours one way). The walk is best done in summer. See more walks nearby in the 10 Best Walks in Queenstown.

Time: 3-4 hours one way or 6-8 hours one way / Distance: 11km (6.8 miles) / Location: Queenstown, Otago

The Top 50 South Island Walks© Destination Queenstown

25. Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway

Watch seal colonies and seabirds, walk alongside historic pa sites (fortified Maori village sites) and enjoy views of the Kaikoura Range in the distance on the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway. The walk can be started at different points to make short and long walks. See more walks like this in the 5 Best Walks in Kaikoura.

Time: 5mins one way to 3 hours loop / Distance: 200m (218 yards) to 11.7km (7.3 miles) / Location: Kaikoura, Canterbury

The Top 50 South Island Walks© ChristchurchNZ

26. Cathedral Caves

Wind your way down the forest to the sandy shores of the Catlins Coast on this walk. The main event is Cathedral Caves carved into the cliffs. Note that this walk can only be done at low tide and has a small fee.

Time: 30mins one way / Distance: 1km (0.6 miles) / Location: Catlins, Otago/Southland

The Top 50 South Island Walks© NZPocketGuide.com

27. Conical Hill Walk

Follow a zigzig track through the exotic pine forest to a summit lookout with a shelter, picnic benches and commemorative plaque. Enjoy views of the Hanmer Basin from the top of Conical Hill.

Time: 1 hour return / Distance: 2.7km (1.7 miles) / Location: Hanmer Springs, Canterbury

The Top 50 South Island Walks© NZPocketGuide.com

28. Wainui Falls

You might be wondering why it has taken so long to get to a waterfall walk on the South Island; there are heaps! The Wainui Falls Track is a worthy option taking you through a less-visited side of the Abel Tasman National Park.

Time: 1h20mins return / Distance: 3.4km (2.1 miles) / Location: Takaka, Nelson Tasman

The Top 50 South Island Walks© www.nelsontasman.nz

29. Roberts Point Track

While this might be a more challenging climb to see the Franz Josef Glacier than the Franz Josef Glacier Walk (see below), the views are unrivalled. The hike takes you over ice-carved rock and over swingbridges.

Time: 5 hours return / Distance: 11km (6.8 miles) / Location: Franz Josef, West Coast

The Top 50 South Island Walks© NZPocketGuide.com

30. Wharariki Beach

Visit the rugged shores of Wharariki Beach on a short farm walk. The beach makes for a stunning photo spot with views out to the Archway Islands. There are plenty more 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

The Top 50 South Island Walks© Unsplash

31. Mt Isobel Track

To get some sublime alpine views from the top of Mt Isobel on the full-day Mt Isobel Track. The track, which is mainly over open alpine grassland, features panoramic views of the Hanmer Basin.

Time: 5h30mins to 6h30mins return / Distance: 9km (5.6 miles) / Location: Hanmer Springs, Canterbury

The Top 50 South Island Walks© Unsplash

32. Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View Walks

A little less intense than the other Mt Cook walks we’ve mentioned on this list, the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View walk (40mins return) gives you great views of New Zealand’s longest glacier. The Tasman Glacier Lake (1-hour return) branches off the other, giving you a better view of the Tasman Glacier Lake with icebergs.

Time: 40mins and 1 hour return / Distance: 2.6km (1.6 miles) / Location: Mt Cook, Canterbury

The Top 50 South Island Walks© Unsplash

33. Franz Josef Walk

A free and easy way to see the Franz Josef Glacier is on the Franz Josef Glacier/Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere Walk. Follow the glacier valley 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

The Top 50 South Island Walks© Unsplash

34. Lake Marian Track

Hike up to the stunning hanging valley holding Lake Marian on this half-day walk. The initial part of the Lake Marian Track takes you to a series of waterfalls before ascending up to the lake. See more walks nearby in the 11 Best Walks in Milford Sound.

Time: 3 hours return / Distance: 3.1km (1.9 miles) / Location: Fiordland National Park, Southland

The Top 50 South Island Walks© Unsplash

35. Rob Roy Track

Cross a swingbridge into a valley with snowfields, sheer rock faces and waterfalls on the way to the Rob Roy Glacier. Take care, as some parts of the track have steep drop-offs.

Time:  3-4 hours return / Distance: 10km (6.2 miles) / Location: Wanaka, Otago

The Top 50 South Island Walks© Unsplash

36. Mt Sunday

Mt Sunday in the midst of the Rangitata River Valley not only offers sensational views of the surrounding mountains but was used to depict Edoras in The Lord of the Rings.

Time: 30mins one way / Distance: 1.5km (0.9 miles) / Location: Hakatere, Canterbury

The Top 50 South Island Walks© NZPocketGuide.com

37. Rotoroa Nature Walk

This gentle ramble on the lakeside and forest is an easy way to enjoy Lake Rotoroa in the Nelson Lakes National Park. 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

The Top 50 South Island Walks© NZPocketGuide.com

38. Lake Hauroko Track

While off the beaten track, hikers who travel to Lake Hauroko will likely be treated to secluded walking trails. An easy option is the Lake Hauroko Track but there are longer hikes available.

Time: 40mins return / Distance: 1.1km (0.9 miles) / Location: Tuatapere, Southland

The Top 50 South Island Walks© Unsplash

39. Charming Creek North Walkway

The Charming Creek Walkway is split into two tracks due to a slip in the middle. The most worthwhile route is the North Walkway following disused railway lines, passing old mining relics and to Mangatini Falls. See more walks nearby in the 10 Best Walks in Westport.

Time: 2 hours one way / Distance: 5.5km (3.4 miles) / Location: Westport, West Coast

The Top 50 South Island Walks© NZPocketGuide.com

40. Lake Alta Track

While this is only a short hike, it’s a challenging and steep climb in alpine terrain where there could be snow so be prepared. The Lake Alta Track steadily climbs to a stunning glacial lake.

Time: 1h30mins one way / Distance: 3.5km (2.2 miles) / Location: Queenstown, Otago

The Top 50 South Island Walks© Unsplash

41. Rakiura Track

One of the “New Zealand Great Walks“, the Rakiura Track showcases the serenity of Stewart Island along with its beaches, bush and kiwi birds.

Time: 3 days / Distance: 32km (19.9 miles) / Location: Stewart Island, Southland

The Top 50 South Island Walks© NZPocketGuide.com

42. Routeburn Track – Key Summit

Although part of a multi-day Great Walk, if you don’t have time to do it all, then the Key Summit of the Routeburn Track is well worth it. Zigzag up the forested hills to alpine shrublands with mountain views.

Time: 3 hours return / Distance: 3.4km (2.1 miles) / Location: Fiordland National Park, Southland

The Top 50 South Island Walks© NZPocketGuide.com

43. Karetai Track

Follow an old road over farmland and cliffs with dramatic coastal scenery unfolding as you go. The track begins/ends on the sweeping sands of Smails Beach.

Time: 2 hours return / Distance: 4km (2.5 miles) / Location: Dunedin, Otago

The Top 50 South Island Walks© DunedinNZ

44. Devil’s Punchbowl Walking Track

Ramble through the forest and across a river in the Arthur’s Pass National Park until you reach the viewing platform for the 131m (430ft) waterfall, the Devil’s Punchbowl.

Time: 1 hour return / Distance: 2km (1.2 miles) / Location: Arthur’s Pass, Canterbury

The Top 50 South Island Walks© ChristchurchNZ

45. 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 and to Lake Gunn.

Time: 45 minutes loop / Distance: 1.4km (0.9 miles) / Location: Fiordland National Park, Southland

The Top 50 South Island Walks© NZPocketGuide.com

46. Pororari River Track

There are three possible distances to walk on the Pororari River Track, either the 1h30min return journey to the suspension bridge, the 3-hour Punakaiki-Pororari Loop or the 5-6-hour Pororari River to Bullock Creek Loop. The gorgeous West Coast rainforest and river will surely entice you to go further. See more walks in the 8 Best Walks in Punakaiki.

Time: 1h30mins return or 3 hours or 5-6 hours loop / Distance: 7km (4.3 miles), 11km (6.8 miles) or 15km (9.3 miles) / Location: Punakaiki, West Coast

The Top 50 South Island Walks© westcoast.co.nz

47. McLean Falls

The Catlins is blessed with many picture-perfect waterfalls. One of the most fun to get to is McLean Falls on the McLean Falls Walk taking you through a variety of forest with cascades on the way to the main event.

Time: 40mins return / Distance: 2.1km (1.3 miles) / Location: Catlins, Otago/Southland

The Top 50 South Island Walks© NZPocketGuide.com

48. Abel Tasman Coast Track

Scale the shores of golden sands and verdant forest on the Abel Tasman Coast Track. This Great Walk offers a multi-day trek with water taxis at various beaches to bring you back to the start.

Time: 3-5 days / Distance: 60km (37.3 miles) / Location: Marahau, Nelson Tasman

The Top 50 South Island Walks© Tamzin Henderson - www.nelsontasman.nz

49. Kepler Track

Another Great Walk, the Kepler Track is a multi-day mission exploring the forest, lakeshores and mountaintops of the Fiordland National Park.

Time: 3-4 days / Distance: 60km (37.3 miles) / Location: Te Anau, Southland

The Top 50 South Island Walks© Unsplash

50. Tunnel Beach Track

Last but certainly not least, the Tunnel Beach Track leads down to dramatic coastline with arches and a tunnel carved through the cliffs to a beautiful beach with caves. Time your walk with low tide to access the beach.

Time: 1 hour return / Distance: 2km (1.2 miles) / Location: Dunedin, Otago

The Top 50 South Island Walks© DunedinNZ

Author

Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor in chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in New Zealand over 10 years ago and with a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to travel New Zealand. She knows Aotearoa inside-out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience New Zealand’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also editor of several other South Pacific travel guides and is the co-host of NZ Pocket Guide’s live New Zealand travel Q&As on YouTube.

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