Walkers, hikers and trekkers are spoiled for choice on New Zealand’s South Island, with some of the best walks in the world. Here you’ll find a generous selection of tracks, trails, walkways, guided walks and tours to suit all abilities.
What’s the difference between hiking, trekking and tramping?
Understanding the difference between these outdoor activities will help you determine the nature of the experience, and help you choose the right walk for you.
- Hiking is an outdoor walking activity that involves following a predetermined along a pre-charted track or trail. You can hike for an hour or a fall day, any longer and you’re talking about trekking. Hiking is one of the top attractions on New Zealand’s South Island.
- Trekking is a long walk over several days, covering an uncharted route, traversing rough terrain and challenging environments.
- Tramping is an overnight hiking journey, sleeping in huts or tents along the way. Probably the most engaging outdoor walking activity, trampers will carry backpacks and gear with them as they travel great distances from one camp or hut to another.
South Island Walking Tracks
- Hollyford Track
Created in the 1930’s by local legend Davey Gunn, this dramatic 3 day walking trip through the Hollyford Valley and Fiordland National Park is suitable for most ages and abilities.
Your journey will begin in the picturesque lakeside town of Te Anau, and take you to the wild and remote Tasman Sea coastline. The Hollyford Track is the ideal way to experience the New Zealand’s rugged wilderness, native wildlife and stunning natural beauty.
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- Lakeshore, Forest & Bird
Experience incredible mountain and lake scenery, rare flora and fauna, and the magnificent native birdlife on this easy, on this half day hiking tour in New Zealand’s South Island.
This is one for the whole family, suitable for all ages and abilities. At a leisurely pace, you’ll take in breathtaking views, as you pass through beech forests and along beautiful lakeside tracks.
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- Miner's Trail
Retrace the footsteps of gold miners and prospectors along this short, half day walk. Dating back to the 18th century, this well formed, 6 kilometer track was once used by the men and women who flooded into Queenstown in search of gold. Today it’s mostly used by travelers and tourists looking for beautiful lake and mountain views.
The Miner’s Trail is for visitors of all abilities with an interest in local history as well as native wildlife. This half day walk is offered in the afternoons only.
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- Rob Roy Glacier, Matukituki Valley
New Zealand’s best full-day walking track will take you through the beech forest and rugged wilderness to enjoy uninterrupted views of the Rob Roy Glacier in all its majesty. Carving it’s way through the mountainside, the imposing glacier dominates the landscape. Peppered throughout the track you’ll find glacier-fed waterfalls, and watch in awe as huge chunks of ice break away and fall thunderously to the valley floor.
The 9 hour long Rob Roy Track is no walk in the park, you will need to be reasonably fit for this one and a guided hike is highly recommended.
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- Routeburn Track
One of New Zealand’s oldest and most famous walking trails, the Rothburn Track will lead you deep inside the Mount Aspiring National Park. You’ll discover ancient Maori footpaths and old greenstone trails as epic scenery unravels before your eyes.
Over 9 hours, you’ll walk along narrow lakeside tracks, through meadows and ice-carved valleys, up gradual ascents to jaw dropping vistas, through a 130 million year old beech forest, over the lush Routeburn Flats surrounded by snow capped mountain peaks.
This is a fantastic alpine track for hikers of all ages and abilities, so throw on a decent pair of shoes and start exploring.
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Choosing the right walk in New Zealand’s South Island
There are walks to suit all interests, ages and abilities on New Zealand’s South Island. Here are a few handy hints to help you choose the one that’s right for you:
- Full day or half day - Guided walk providers offer full day hikes and half day hikes in and around South Island. Choose the one that’s right for your schedule, fitness level and budget, but remember the more time you allow, the more ground you’ll cover, the more of New Zealand’s incredible scenery you’ll see.
- Know your own ability - Taking the whole family, little ones and all, on a 5 day epic adventure, might seem like a great idea, but unless you have done this sort of thing before, you might be asking for trouble.
- Choose your walking companions wisely - Little kids and grandparents might not appreciate a walk that’s too long or physically demanding, and experienced hikers, might prefer something more involving than a stroll around the block. There are walks to suit all ages, abilities and interests, so when it comes to choosing your track, you’ll need to understand what your fellow walkers would enjoy.
- Do you need a guide? If you’re new to an area or to hiking, or if you just want to get the most out of your walk, a local guide can make the whole experience much more enjoyable.
- Stay on track - Unless you’re an experienced hiker, wandering off track can be a waste of your time, a disappointing detour, or even dangerous. If you are unfamiliar with your surroundings stay on track.
What to bring to your hiking trip
South Island weather is famously unpredictable, so wherever you go, whatever time of year, it’s best to be prepared. Here are a few essentials we suggest you take on your next walk.
- Sensible footwear - Walking boots are your best bet, but failing that closed, supportive shoes, with reasonable grip should do the trick.
- Sunglasses - Even in winter months, it’s a good idea to to wear sunglasses, to improve vision and to protect your eyes from glare and snow blindness.
- Wrap up warm - Hats, gloves and scarves are a good idea if you’re heading to the mountains anytime of year.
- Clothing - Prepare for ever changing weather conditions by bringing waterproof, windproof, warm clothing.
- Fitness - A reasonable level of fitness will ensure an enjoyable walk.
- Camera - With beautiful scenery around every corner, some sort of camera is essential.
More Things To Do On New Zealand’s South Island
For your next visit to New Zealand’s South Island, here are a few articles you might enjoy:
- Queenstown Adventure Activities
- Things To See And Do On South Island
- Queenstown Attractions
- Queenstown Family Activities
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