New Zealand is renowned for its untouched landscapes and epic, natural beauty. While the North Island is rich in culture and well worth visiting, it’s the South Island’s wilderness that has truly earned New Zealand its reputation.

There are many ways to explore this world-class outdoor adventure destination, but hiking New Zealand’s backcountry is the pinnacle of the New Zealand experience. You’ll find hundreds of great hikes – or tramps, as the kiwis call them – on the South Island of New Zealand. The hardest part will be finding time to tramp them all.

These are the best ones we’ve found in terms of finding the best views and vistas relative to the effort required to complete them, ranging from two hours to 5 days.

1. Abel Tasman Coast Track

Abel Tasman Coast Track

One of the best things to do in Nelson, the Abel Tasman Coast Track is officially considered a ‘Great Walk’ and is amongst the country’s most popular multi-day hikes. The Abel Tasman Coast Track winds along the northern coastline of New Zealand’s South Island.

The track itself is maintained well and the elevation is relatively flat with gentle undulations most of the way. There are no epic mountain views along this hike. Instead, you’ll find endless golden sand beaches as you weave your way through countless beautiful bays.

Along the way, hikers have the benefit of well-serviced DOC huts which should be booked in advance and are perfect for spending the nights. Alternatively, campsites are dotted along the route.

Need to know

Length: 37 miles / 60 km​
Time: 3 – 5 days
Difficulty: Moderate
Ascent: 7473 ft / 2278 m
Style: One-Way
Access: The hike starts in Marahau but you will need to arrange transport back from the end of the hike (usually a water taxi).  You can also take a water taxi to and from Kaiteriteri or book a tour from Nelson. Free DOC parking is available in Marahau.

2.Queen Charlotte Track

Queen Charlotte Track

Similar to the Abel Tasman Coast Track above, the Queen Charlotte Track offers similar views and beaches. Unlike the Abel Tasman Coast Track, however, the locals have been unsuccessful in their bids to make the Queen Charlotte Track an official Great Walk.

The Queen Charlotte Track extends out from new Picton and weaves its way along the coast of the Queen Charlotte Sound, within the Marlborough Sounds region. 

We felt the views here were more impressive than the Abel Tasman hike but the beaches weren’t quite as serene.

Need to know

Length: 46 miles / 74 km​
Time: 3 – 5 days
Difficulty: Moderate
Ascent: 9255 ft / 2821 m
Style: One-Way
Access: Via water taxi from Picton. The water taxi is easily accessible in town and drops you off anywhere along the hike and will pick you up again anywhere once you’re finished. Parking is challenging in Picton, your best option is the paid car park near the wharf.

3. Moke Lake Track

Moke Lake Track
Moke Lake is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Queenstown and offers the option to explore the area on two different hikes.  Moke lake itself is a stunning, horseshoe-shaped lake that has a mirror reflection during calm conditions.

The main hike is a 2-3 hour loop track around the lake, however, a 10-minute walk (one way) along the track will allow you to reach the best view point if you’re short on time.

There is also a hike up to a ‘secret’ viewpoint where you get commanding, birds-eye views over the lake.  This is our favourite view, however, the hike up is barely marked and extremely steep so not for the faint of heart.

Need to know

Length: 4.3 miles / 6.9 km
Time: 2 – 3 hours
Difficulty: Easy
Ascent: 597 ft / 182 m
Style: Circuit
Access: You’ll need to drive here from Queenstown, it’s about 20 – 30 minutes with the last portion along a gravel road. There is plenty of parking near the DOC campsite at the start and end of the track.


4. Lake Marian

Lake Marian

If you’re interested in chasing views and epic photo opportunities, then this alpine lake located deep within Fiordland National Park must be on your bucket list! 

You’ll need to earn this reward, however, as this short walk is a challenging uphill trail that requires you to ascend constantly with rocks, boulders and tree roots crossing the path most of the way up.

Need to know

Length: 1.9 miles / 3.1 km (one way)​
Time: 2.5 – 3 hours
Difficulty: Moderate
Ascent: 1351 ft / 412 m
Style: Return
Access: You’ll need to drive here from the main route out to Milford Sound. Parking is free at the start and end of the track.

5. Ben Lomond Track

Ben Lomond Track

One of the most famous hikes in the South Island of New Zealand, Ben Lomond is an epic hike that starts from the heart of Queenstown.

The views at the summit and all along the Ben Lomond trail are amongst the best in New Zealand and it is definitely the best (and most challenging) day hike in Queenstown.

Need to know

Length: 8.7 miles / 14 km​
Time: 6 – 8 hours
Difficulty: Difficult
Ascent: 4,593 ft / 1,400 m
Style: Return
Access: The base of the hike begins right in the heart of Queenstown. You can save a couple hours and a few hundred metres of elevation by taking the Skyline Gondola up part of the way. Street parking is located at the base of the trail. Some free parking is available but it can be challenging to find – you’ll likely want to pick a paid carpark in town.

6. Kepler Track

Kepler Track
The Kepler Track is often considered the most spectacular of New Zealand’s Great Walks. The views from Luxmore Hut and the ridgeline are breathtaking whilst the hike through the valley is gorgeous.

The trail contains so many different views and landscapes and it’s this variety that makes it such a great walk.

Need to know

Length: 37.3 miles / 60 km​
Time: 3 – 4 days
Difficulty: Moderate (Difficult from May to October)
Ascent: 7168 ft / 2185 m
Style: Circuit
Access: Accessing the Kepler Track is easy with the nearest town being Te Anau.  Take a turn off the main highway then you can find parking at the start of the trail. There is a car park at the start of the track.

7. Routeburn Track

Routeburn Track

One of the most popular Great Walks in New Zealand, the Routeburn track is a fairly challenging multi-day hike located near Queenstown and Glenorchy.

This interesting trail passes from Mt Aspiring National Park to Fiordland National Park, passing a huge variety of incredible landscapes along the way.

There are huts along the way that should be booked well in advance, as well as a handful of day hikes along the main trail if you’re keen to extend your trip.

Need to know

Length: 20.5 miles / 33 km
Time: 2 – 4 days
Difficulty: Moderate – Difficult
Ascent: 5324 ft / 1623 m
Style: One way
Region: Central Otago
Access: Access is near Glenorchy a short drive from Queenstown with the end of the trail in Fiordland National Park near Te Anau and Milford Sound. It is a 325km drive from one end of the track to the other as no roads cross the mountain range.  Arrange pick up at the end or alternatively, there is a carpark at the start of the track at Routeburn Shelter.  I recommend starting here as collecting your car on the other side would be significantly more challenging.

8. Milford Track

Milford Track

Unquestionably the most popular of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Milford Track is a stunning 3 – 4 day hike through native forests in Fiordland National Park.

The hike walks past huge fiords and literally thousands of waterfalls. Due to its popularity, however, it can be a good idea to book as much as a year in advance if you want to get a spot.

Also bear in mind that the Milford Track extends through a valley and rains a LOT. There are also a lot of sand flies and mosquitoes, so it is a good idea to bring very strong insect repellent.

Need to know

Length: 33.5 miles / 54 km
Time: 3 – 4 days
Difficulty: Moderate
Ascent: 9409 ft / 2868 m
Style: One Way
Access: The Milford Track is accessed via boat from Te Anau. It’s preferable to leave your car at your accommodation in Te Anau (it’s normal).  Alternatively, you can park at the free DOC carpark in Te Anau.

9. Roy’s Peak

Roy’s Peak

Roy’s Peak is a popular day hike in Wanaka and is a must-do in order to capture the quintessential Wanaka photo at the summit. 

The hike ascends 1,300m over just 8km making it an extremely tough hike to the top. That said, a lot of people do achieve this with just a few aches and pains the next day so it’s doable for most relatively fit individuals.

The views from the top are unreal.  They extend out over Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountains. If you can make it for sunrise, even better.

Need to know

Length: 10.1 miles / 16.3 km
Time: 3 – 4 hours
Difficulty: Moderate – Difficult
Ascent: 4265 ft / 1300 m
Style: Return
Access: The hike is easy to access as it is just a short drive from either Wanaka or Queenstown. Free parking is available at the trailhead.

10. Queenstown Hill

Queenstown Hill

Queenstown Hill is one of our favourite day hikes located within Queenstown city itself. This is one of our favourite ways to get a view out over Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown, and we recommend it to everyone who visits Queenstown.

Overall, it’s a fairly easy trail taking just a few hours in total, however, the 400m of elevation gain can be a bit of a tough climb if you’re not in the best shape.

As the hike itself isn’t too advanced or too high up it’s conveniently a suitable hike year round, whilst a lot of the hikes on this list move to advanced difficulty during winter.

Need to know

Length: 3 miles / 4.8 km
Time: 2 – 3 hours
Difficulty: Easy
Ascent: 1312 ft / 400 m
Style: Return
Access: Access Queenstown Hill from the heart of Queenstown. There is free street parking at the start of the track.

11. Mueller Hut

Mueller Hut

The hike up to Mueller Hut is fairly gruelling with a challenging climb up 2,200 steps and over 1000m of elevation gain. No one will ever consider this an easy walk, but the difficulty is well worth it for the reward at the end.

The hut is located deep within Aoraki Mount Cook National Park and offers impressive views out over the park. Spending the night in the hut is highly recommended, despite the hike being doable in a day, as waking up for sunrise in this spot is truly magical.

Need to know

Length: 6.5 miles / 10.4 km
Time: 6 – 8 hours
Difficulty: Moderate
Ascent: 3405 ft / 1038 m
Style: Return
Access: The Mueller Hut track is accessed from Mount Cook National Park village. Parking is available either in the village by Aoraki Mount Cook National Park Visitor Centre or at White Horse Hill car park at the end of Hooker Valley Road.

12. Hooker Valley Walk

Hooker Valley Walk

Hooker Valley Walk arguably offers a better ratio of views to effort than any other walk in New Zealand. Basically, anyone heading to New Zealand should make the time to fit this walk into their itinerary. It truly is one of the best places to visit in New Zealand and a bucket list spot.

Over just 2 – 3 hours you’ll cover 10km walking mostly along well-maintained boardwalks to a picturesque alpine lake at the termination of the hike. You’ll get to see amazing views of Mueller Glacier, Hooker Lake and Aoraki Mount Cook along the way.

Need to know

Length: 6.2 miles / 10 km
Time: 2 – 3 hours
Difficulty: Easy
Ascent: 626 ft / 191 m
Style: Return
Access: The Hooker Valley Walk is accessed from Mount Cook National Park village. Parking is available either in the village by Aoraki Mount Cook National Park Visitor Centre or at White Horse Hill car park at the end of Hooker Valley Road.

Have you been hiking in New Zealand’s South Island? Got it on your bucket list? Got any questions, comments, updates or corrections? Let us know by commenting below.