New Zealand is a hiking paradise. Literally every single part of the country is littered with incredible hiking opportunities. That’s genuinely no exaggeration.
It’s ideally suited to anyone who enjoys spending their time walking in the great outdoors. Even better, it doesn’t cost a thing! Only if you want to spend the night in a hut will you have to pay for anything.
NZ South Island Hikes
South island is particularly saturated with trails and tracks. Everywhere you turn there’s another opportunity to climb a mountain, wander through a forest, or skirt a lake. However, there are so many hikes here that it can be hard to know which to tackle.
Are you looking for your next south island walk to enjoy? I wanted to help! Keep reading to learn about 5 of the best (and my personal favourite) New Zealand walks south island has to offer.
Copland Track, Fox Glacier
Duration: 36km (22 miles) – 2 day return
Overnight hikes in the south island don’t get much better than the Copland Track. I’d go as far as saying it’s one of my favourite hikes in the entire country!
The start of the track’s located 26km (16 miles) south of Fox Glacier, on the west of the island. It’s well signposted off Highway 6. You can’t miss it. I love this walk for so many reasons it’s hard to know where to begin.
Obviously, it’s beautiful (you’re in New Zealand, after all). But it’s beauty on a whole new level. You’re walking through a river valley for a lot of it, alongside stunning turquoise waters. You’re surrounded by mountains, pass through lush forested areas and over grassy plains.
The cherry on top is at the end though. The hut (Welcome Flat hut) is literally next door to some natural hot springs! You get to rest your aching limbs in some stunningly hot waters. At night, surrounded by a mountainous amphitheatre, with the famous New Zealand night sky above…it doesn’t get much better.
There’s a nice level of adventure to Copland too. Now, it’s a one way in, one way out hike. In other words, you walk back the way you came. But that doesn’t detract from it at all.
You’ve got river crossings (there’s one at the absolute beginning, just after the car park- it’s the first thing you have to do!), serious swing bridges, and some really cool natural paths to follow (i.e. they aren’t beaten, they’re literally rocks you have to climb over!).
Other walks in NZ are heavily manicured to cater for all levels. There are boardwalks, seating areas, fences, and so on. The Copland is a bit rougher around the edges. It’s well maintained, for sure. But otherwise, you’re left to it. There’s no hand-holding along the way!
Generally speaking, the hike isn’t hard at all though. Aside from a couple of reasonable climbs and one punishing ascent towards the end, much of the walk is flat. Anyone with a reasonable level of fitness will be able to do it. Just be sure to take a quality hiking backpack and sufficient supplies for the trip. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
A couple of things to note: Firstly, book the hut in advance! In peak season the walk gets quite busy. Avoid disappointment by booking a bunk ahead of time.
Secondly, the track is weather-dependent. Remember that first river crossing I mentioned? Well, after a downpour that can flood and run so fast you can’t pass. Wait for good weather and double check with the department of conservation (DOC) website that it’s open.
Thirdly, like most outdoor spaces in NZ, you’ll need to be prepared for sand flies. There were thousands of them in the car park at the start of the hike! Thankfully they eased off as I started the walk, but be sure to pack your repellent nonetheless.
READ NEXT: THINGS TO DO IN NEW ZEALAND’S SOUTH ISLAND
Roy’s Peak, Wanaka
Duration: 16km (10 miles) – 5 to 6 hour return
Roy’s Peak is rated an easy walk on the website. I was actually quite surprised. Tell the bruised and battered people at the end of the walk that it was easy and they’ll have a thing or two to say! Honestly, Roy’s Peak is a tough cookie.
Sure, it’s a long and well-beaten path that stretches just 8km (5 miles) one way. But wait until you see it! Roy’s Peak stands high and proud on the left-hand side of Lake Wanaka, with the town behind you. It’s the absolutely enormous one with a few masts on the top!
It’s about a 10-minute drive from Wanaka. Pull up at the car park and get ready for battle. No transport? Hitching there is always an option. Otherwise, book a cab.
What lies ahead is a few hours of leg and lung-busting climbing. There’s literally no respite. It’s uphill all the way to the top. And I don’t mean a minor incline. It’s really bloody steep in places!
Don’t be put off. Anyone can do this! Take your time, put one foot in front of the other, and a few hours later you’ll be there. Getting to the summit is definitely an achievement though. It’s also your reward. The views from there are genuinely breathtaking.
There are two main times that people do Roy’s Peak: sunrise and sunset. If you’re crazy, get up at 3 in the morning and get up there in time to watch the sun come up. On a good day, this is a true sight to behold. Prefer the evenings? Leave in the mid-afternoon to watch the sun go down at the summit instead (just remember to take a torch for the return journey).
Want a top tip? Take a waterproof tent (and lots of warm clothes) up with you. Many people head up there for sunset, pitch a tent and sleep there overnight. They’ll then wake up for sunrise the next morning. It’s a very cool thing to do! It’s the best of both, with a nice rest in the middle.
Now, strictly speaking, this isn’t allowed. If you do it, please be sure to clean up after yourself and respect the land you’re on. The reason free camping is generally forbidden in NZ now is that people failed in this process for years. Don’t drop litter. Leave the space as you found it.
I’ve done this hike a few times now and disliked every single occasion! Seriously. The walk-up isn’t that enjoyable. But it’s absolutely worth it for the views and sense of achievement. It’s an obligatory thing to do in Wanaka!
Ben Lomond Summit Track, Queenstown
Duration: 6 to 8-hour return
I won’t spend too long on this one. But it’s another that every person in this neck of the woods should do. Situated at the back of Queenstown itself, Ben Lomond is the perfect way to get out of the hubbub of town, away from the partying, and witness some incredible views from on high.
I see Ben Lomond as the Roy’s Peak of Queenstown. It’s almost obligatory, provides a decent leg work out, and boasts some epic views from the summit! However, in my opinion, it’s also quite a lot easier- longer, but easier. Oh, and more enjoyable too.
To climb Lomond is to realize how stunning the area surrounding Queenstown is. Mountains and valleys extend in all directions. Lakes litter the landscape. I stayed up there for ages, taking it all in and snapping photos to remember it (having a great backpacking camera came in handy!). Go to Queenstown and do this walk! Both are a lot of fun.
Avalanche Peak, Arthur’s Pass
Duration: 6 to 8 hour return
Avalanche Peak is my favourite short(ish) day hike in the country. It’s also one of the most taxing.
Firstly, Arthur’s Pass is incredible. Everything about it is worth seeing. For me, it’s classic New Zealand: enormous mountains, striking valleys, fast-flowing rivers, vast waterfalls…and hiking trails throughout it all. It is utterly stunning. Everyone should go there. If you’re fit, you should tackle Avalanche Peak while you’re in town.
Like any hike, if you take your time, almost anyone can do it. Personally, I reckon the ‘expert’ rating it’s been awarded is for winter ascents only. After all, it’s called avalanche peak for a reason! I’m fairly sure you need actual mountain walking equipment (like crampons and ice axes) in the winter months. However, I can’t speak directly to that. I’ve only ever done it in summer. And I saw people of all ages and physical abilities get to the top.
That said, it’s undeniably tough. The start of the hike is positioned just behind the visitor center. You get to the fun almost straight away! It starts with what’s literally one long scramble up the mountainside. The route is more of a climb. There’s no real path, and more of a set of rocks and tree roots to haul yourself up. This is a walk where you need your hands as well as your feet!
The uphill doesn’t really stop. You’ll welcome a brief reprieve after the initial climb. In reality, though, it’s a fairly unrelenting slog up to the summit. Once there, you’ll be greeted by native Kea birds, and views you won’t forget in a hurry.
Angelus Hut (via Pinchgut Track), Nelson Lakes
Duration: 12.2km (7.5 miles) – 6 hours one way
Difficulty: Intermediate to hard
The Nelson Lakes is another awesome region in New Zealand for hiking. You’ll enjoy more epic views: mountains, lakes (hence the name), forests and open space abound.
One of my favourites walks here is up to the incredible Angelus Hut. There are different ways to get there. However, my preference takes you up the aptly named ‘Pinchgut Track’ and along Robert Ridge. Be aware that the duration and difficulty I’ve listed above is just one way. Those 12km will only get you to the hut via the Pinchgut Track. From there, you have all sorts of options:
Firstly, you can come back the way you came (definitely spend a night in Angelus Hut though!). Secondly, take a route over the backside and down via Speargrass Hut. However, this adds a whole other day’s walking in itself. Be sure to plan your trip accordingly (in terms of food and water).
I can recommend walking up to Angelus and spending the night there. Then, on day 2, head down to Speargrass Hut, where you’ll spend a second night. Finally, on day 3, walk from there along Speargrass Track, back to where you started.
Finally, you can leave via any other of the many walks in this region. Honestly, you could walk for weeks along the different trails there!
Anyway, back to the walk at hand: the Pinchgut Track. This is one steep trail to start with. You begin from Mount Robert carpark. It starts easily enough. But a few minutes later the ascent really starts. From there it’s a reasonable slog to the top! The views are insane.
Having completed the Pinchgut, follow the signs to start along the Robert Ridge Route. This is one long trail! On a bad day, you’ll see literally nothing, and be buffeted by wild winds the entire way to the shelter of Angelus Hut.
I recommend waiting for a good day! When the sun’s out and the skies are clear, you can see for absolute miles. The ridge ascends gently, undulates throughout, and has a few sharper inclines, but is overall fairly flat. It’s long, straight, high up, and rocky underfoot, with incredible views and some hair raising moments along with it.
You follow the ridge all the way to Angelus. This was one of my favourite huts in the entire country. It’s perfectly located, in a natural basin, with two lakes on your doorstep. You can also camp here, but it gets exceptionally cold. Plan accordingly if you’re going to camp.
There you have it: 5 of the best New Zealand walks south island has to offer. Time to tackle these epic New Zealand walks on the south island.
Everywhere you turn in the south island there’s another walk available. It’s literally a paradise for anyone who loves the outdoors. The real trouble can be decided which hike you should attempt next. Hopefully, this post has highlighted a selection of the top ones available. I hope it helps!
Now it’d be great to hear from you. Which of the hikes in this post sounds best to you? Drop a comment to let us know!
Author’s Bio: Danny Newman is currently writing and travelling his way around the world in a bid to figure out exactly what he’s doing with his life. He’d love you to follow along with his journey over at What’s Danny Doing.