This post has been a long time coming but I’m so glad I made time to sit down and write about the hiking in South Island. It’s no secret that we both loved our time in New Zealand and looking over old pictures for this post has made me so keen to go back some day! Just like North Island, there are plenty of epic South Island hikes, and it’s so worth squeezing in at least a couple of them on your trip.
We didn’t manage quite as many hikes on this part of our trip, although we did do a few longer ones which were really enjoyable. Mostly we stuck to easy to moderate trails, and hikes of between an hour and several hours timewise. As is typical in New Zealand the weather didn’t always turn up for us but we’re pretty persistent and managed to hike in all sorts of weather! Luckily it was spring / summer so it was never too extreme – always worth checking hiking conditions before starting if you’re attempting any of these in a New Zealand winter.
Our favourite easy South Island hikes were definitely the one we did in Abel Tasman National Park as well as our day out heli hiking at Fox Glacier. They clearly made an impact as they have their very own posts as well as being featured here!
Queen Charlotte Trail
The very first of the South Island hikes we attempted was a day or so after we arrived. We headed to the Queen Charlotte trail which is one of the most famous walks in New Zealand. 70km in length, it requires a couple of days as well as a special pass if you’re going to do the whole trail. Our preference was just a day’s hiking so we made our way to Lookout over the Sound before heading back. The viewpoints over Queen Charlotte Sound are beautiful and it’s a fairly straightforward hike. Sadly it’s not a Loop so you do have to retrace your steps which isn’t my favourite but it’s not the end of the world. There are some steep bits but overall it’s not too challenging.
Next up we wanted to see some Lord of the Rings / Hobbit history and made our way to the Pelorus bridge across the river that features in the films. There are several short trails in the woods around here and a particularly nice riverside one to a small waterfall that takes around 1.5 hours return. It was tipping it down, literally sheets of rain were falling, as we did this one so not the best pictures or commentary!
Abel Tasman National Park
Our favourite South Island hike as previously mentioned, this was pleasantly easy although it’s another one where there are extended routes available. I’ve linked to the full post above but we basically got the speedboat to Anchorage Beach and walked our way back to the start of the trail. It’s so so beautiful and if you want to attempt just one easy South Island hike on your travels I’d fully recommend this one. The side trials and extensions can be added for a challenge but the hike itself doesn’t require massive levels of fitness.
Hokitika Gorge and Lake Walks
We were planning to stay in greymouth but skipped it and headed straight to the area around Hokitika Gorge. It’s here that we saw our favourite South Island Waterfall – Dorothy Falls – which is well worth a visit. We did have terrible weather again though so our walks around Hokitika Gorge weren’t the best. The water in the Gorge is supposed to be a stunning bright blue and, well, it more resembled dishwater when we saw it. Still a worthwhile set of short hiking trails though and a lovely part of the country.
Franz Josef – The Glacier Trail & Douglas Walk
Our first Glacier was Franz Josef, which was very exciting! We didn’t heli hike this one for various reasons but did enjoy a few easy hikes around the local area. The main Franz Josef Glacier Trail is a busy trail that walks you as close as you can get without a challenging hike and offers some great views of waterfalls and generally impressive scenery. We then did the Douglas walk which is a more jungle-y type simple hike and is another one that’s worth including on a day out at Franz Josef Glacier.
Fox Glacier Heli Hike
Another South Island hiking highlight was obviously the amazing opportunity we had to heli hike Fox Glacier. It was quite simply one of the most memorable days we’ve ever had. Hiking on an actual Glacier is incredible – breathtaking landscapes, hiking in crampons for the first time and a trip in a helicopter all combined to make this a fantastic experience. Would fully recommend scrimping and saving if it means you have the chance to do this hike.
Roy’s Peak Wanaka
This is by far the most difficult of the South Island hikes that we attempted. Good Old Roy. It’s forecast at 5-6 hours round trip and I think it took us 5. The trail is consistently steep, and very exposed so even in early summer on a reasonable day we needed lots of layers. Halfway up I really wasn’t sure I’d make it, but it’s one of those hikes where you have to just grit your teeth a bit as the end result is thoroughly worth the effort. The views over Wanaka and the Southern Alps are just breathtaking. We could have sat and looked out from the summit for hours, but it was v cold so we headed back.
Tiki Trail to Bob’s Peak Queenstown
We did a couple of other walks but this is the last real hike we did in New Zealand. One of our main reason for doing this was to save money. It costs a fortune to take the gondola up to the Sky Centre! So we duly hiked up through the beautiful woodland landscapes in Queenstown to reach the summit. Here you can do all sorts of fun things like luging, or mountain biking back down, or even ziplining. We had a drink and enjoyed some awesome views before making our way back down. The trail is in good shape and is reasonable short although it is steep. At under an hour to reach the top it was one of our shortest South Island hikes, but one we liked a lot. Worth doing even if you have the money for the gondola!
Bonus picture of me at the top of Roy’s Peak – I seriously struggled with this one… can you tell?! What hikes do you love in New Zealand?