10 Best Day Hikes on the South Island of New Zealand

A list of the best day hikes on the South Island in New Zealand including information about the trails.
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After you've spent hours, possibly days, inside a stuffy cramped tin can with wings to get to these remote islands, there is no better way to stretch your legs and get some fresh air than going on a hike!!! You can't come to New Zealand and not be willing to discover the sheer vastness that it has to offer so make sure you pack your walking legs. Your boots might give you few blister, you will get hungry, thirsty and tired, but once you finish the hike and take all those awesome pics you will know why it was worth all that effort. 


New Zealand offers something for everyone. From treks that can last anything between 30 minutes, 3 days (like the Tongariro Northern Circuit), to even 3 months! ! I've decided to compile a selection of best day hikes that I've done or were recommended to me by my friends and people that I met on the road. For those of you who plan on visiting the South Island I have designed a road trip itinerary which encompasses a lot of these day walks. 

1. Mount Alfred

This is, without a doubt, one of the best day walks I’ve done in New Zealand and believe me I’ve done A LOT of day walks! Mount Alfred isn’t a very common one either which makes it slightly more special. Probably less than 1% of the millions of tourists coming into New Zealand have even heard of it, let alone climbed it.


The track mainly cuts through the native bush until merging out onto a steep plane from which the summit and ridge are accessible. The northern most point along the ridge looks over Paradise (Yes there’s a place in NZ actually called Paradise) and the Earnslaw Glacier in the near distance. From the South you have a spectacular view over Lake Wakatipu and surrounding mountains. It’s not the easiest as summiting is a continual uphill struggle (no plateuing) but my gosh its specactular when you get to the top. 


The only quarm I have with this walk is that there is no view points on the way to the summit as it’s through thick native bush but, I don’t know, maybe that’s what makes it spectacular, the fact that your visibility goes from about 10m to about 50km as you emerge out of the trees. 


Location: 15km from Glenorchy on the way to the start of the Routeburn trek

Duration: 4-6 h

2. Ben Lomond

This is the ultimate hike from Queenstown, where I lived and worked for 4 months during New Zealand's summer. Emerging from the forest earlier than on Mount Alfred, the very well maintained (Thanks Department of Conservation) track meets up with the Ben Lomond Saddle where one can chose to go right to Bowen Peak or left to the Ben Lomond summit. Now then, I'm not going to say that Bowen Peak isn’t as impressive at Ben Lomond but I’m telling you to fight your natural Zoolander urge to turn right and trust in my experience and go left. The summit offers unique view of the Remarkables Mountain Range in the South East, Walter and Cecil Peak across Lake Wakatipu in the south. Moke Lake in the West and numerous valleys and canyons to the North. There’s no other way to put it apart from this….. Its a 360 degree orgasm inducing view fest extravaganza from up there.


Location: Queenstown

Duration: 5-7 h

3. Roy's Peak

The most popular day tramp (tramp means walk in Kiwi) from Wanaka is Roys Peak located just 5km from the small lake side town. The 6 hour up and down of this relatively simple hike is definitely worth a days excursion. The walk itself, which stays for the majority of the time on the eastern side of the mountain, gives breath taking views continually throughout the day. Be warned though, it is 100% exposed so take sun screen, wind proof clothes and plenty of water and although the views along the way are definitely worth writing home about, the view from the summit is out of this world. Roy's Peak features on our two week road trip guide around New Zealand's South Island for photography and outdoor lovers. 


Location: Wanaka

Duration: 5-7 h

4. Isthmus Peak

Another great walk from near Wanaka is Isthmus Peak which is located in the mountain range that separates Lake Hawea with Lake Wanaka. The “car park” which is nothing more than a small gravel filed verge at the side of the road can contain about 4/5 cars max and doesn’t need to be any bigger as not that many people go there (not nearly as many as Roys Peak). The path which leads mostly through private farmland has a nice balance between exposed and unexposed parts, a lot like my photos which are also all perfectly exposed ;) Ha. Bad joke I know, I couldn’t help myself. Now, back to hills and stuff, does anybody know the name of the hungry Roman cannibal that summited Mount Isthmus in the winter of the year 256AD….He was…….. Glad He Ate Her. After I got to the top I was endowed with my new Roman name “Gladididthis”…….. No more jokes I promise. 


Location: 30km from Wanaka towards West Coast

Duration: 5-7 h



5. Rocky Mountain

Summiting Rocky Mountain is not such a spectular feat, I mean, come on, it only takes just over 2 hours to do, but what's more challenging is trying to get up there just before sunrise. The mirador at the top looks directly east over Lake Wanaka and more importantly, toward the sunrise. Although we were not really supposed to, we camped for a night at the top and got an outstanding sunset and sunrise combo which I highly recommend (just make sure you don’t get caught and more importantly DO NOT MAKE A MESS AND RUIN IT). 


NB: There are several view points along the way including great views of the Diamond Lake which has incredible dramatic reflections on a still day. 


Location: 20km from Wanaka towards Mount Aspiring NP 

Duration: 2 - 3 h



6. Mount Robert

Mount Robert in the Nelson Lakes National Park is a moderately easy half day loop circuit which gives outstanding panoramas over Lake Rotoiti and of the nearby mountains which separate the Tasman/Marlborough regions. This is fantastic if you’re not an avid hiker but want something a little harder than just walking around pier. Mount Robert also has loads of native wildlife including cute wekas, dark brown kaka’s and fuzzy little piwakawaka’s. Sounds like I’m just making up names doesn’t it, but just google them and you’ll be surprised. 


Location: Nelson Lakes NP

Duration: 3-5 h

7. Bealey Spur Track

Now when I talk about Spurs I’m not talking about shoes that are designed to stab horses. I’m obviously talking about a projection from a mountain or mountain range.  The Bealey Spur track is exactly that, a quaint little hill near Arthurs pass village that offers sublime views around the rest of the valley. The slowly ascending path, that lies mainly within the tree line, is a great day walk and offers unique views of the Waimakariri river and of all the surrounding mountains, namely Avalanche Peak.   


Location: Arthur's Pass NP

Duration: 2,5-4 h

8. Lake Marian

After the first heavy load of snow in 2015 marooned me in Te Anau for a few days I was full of energy when the NZGov opened the road to Milford Sound. Though I've done this trek once before I missed the exit to its start and pulled over to speak to a bus driver who was herding a few hundred happy snapping tourists away from the main road. I asked if we’d missed the car park to Lake Marian and he told me it was a few k’s back from where we’d came from. I thanked him politely and as I was turning away he called after me and said “Why do you want to know? You can’t walk there now because of all the snow”. I told him there was no harm in trying and he then proceeded to lecture me about how i was going to die in an avalanche!!!!! Well unless I’m writing this from the grave I certainly proved him wrong!! There were a few stream crossings and a few trees that had blocked the path but nothing we couldn’t manoeuvre around and certainly nothing life threatening………….. and then I heard it………..… A huge rumble bouncing off all the mountains that surrounded us…….…….My mind quickly shot back and I heard the words of the bus driver resonate within my brain……....... The sound was deafening like the roar from a disgruntled ogre. I turned around to look in the direction from which I thought the noise was coming from and saw my boyfriend in agony holding his stomach. “I can’t go on” he stuttered “I need….. I need a sandwich”. It was at this point I realised that the booming noise was a 25 year old English mans stomach trying to climb a mountain with no breakfast. After feeding him we made it to the beautifully serene lake which was perfectly calm and with not a person in sight. 


Location: Fiordland NP

Duration: 3 h


9. Mueller Hut

Cloud Inversion in Mount Cook NP
Photo Credit: Luke Welch

There are rumours circulating around New Zealand that Robert Plant, lead singer of Led Zeppelin, wrote the song “Stairway to Heaven” after going up to the Mueller hut. The path that includes 1806 steps and loads of steep traverses is not the easiest of day walks and though definitely doable in a day I would recommend staying in the hut overnight and enjoying a sunset / sunrise / stars combo. Hopefully you’ll be lucky enough to have a cloud inversion day just like my friend Luke did.


Location: Mount Cook NP

Duration: 6-8h

10. Hooker Valley Walk

Hooker Valley
Photo credit: Jack Bolshaw

Now this walk has by far the highest amazing views to effort ratio. The two and a half hour return journey to the Hooker Lake was mind bogglingly beautiful. The hike takes you northbound along the Hooker River but it honestly didn’t matter if you were looking up stream or down stream, left, right, east or west everything is just unforgettably magnificent and at all times of the year. You'd be crazy to miss Mount Cook if you're planning a road trip itinerary on New Zealand's South Island.


Location: Mount Cook NP

Duration: 2-3 h

After 12 months in New Zealand I have done loads of walking. Each time I go hiking I feel exactly the same way as I described in the beginning, but I am somehow addicted to the rush of conquering yet another mountain and seeing the world from above. I can only imagine what those people who climb Mount Everest feel like after reaching the top. 

Have you done any hiking recently? What's your favourite day hike?

Special thanks to Jack Bolshaw and Luke Welch for letting me use their photos alongside mine for this post. You should definitely follow them on instagram for more New Zealand goodness. 

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I am Marta Kulesza - the photographer and creator of www.inafarawayland.comI come from Poland, but I've been living, travelling and working around the globe since I turned 18. A few years ago, during one of my trips to Scotland, I bought my first DSLR and my adventure with photography began. When I am not stuck to my computer editing photos, you can find me somewhere in the mountains. 

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