Hikers are really spoiled for choice on New Zealand’s South Island, with a dizzying array of options ranging from a short stroll on a flat trail near a town centre to challenging multi-day treks in rugged terrain and everything in between. For outdoor enthusiasts on a first visit to New Zealand, I strongly recommend exploring a few key regions rather than trying to rush everywhere. There’s plenty to do and see to warrant spending at least a couple of nights in each. (If you’re just starting your research, first read About New Zealand.)
Must-see destinations for hiking on the South Island:
Queenstown: The Adventure Capital & Luxurious Base
In Queenstown, you’ll be within striking distance of the most dramatic and varied landscapes you’ll find just about anywhere on the planet, as well as your choice of several world-class luxury lodges if you prefer to base yourself in one spot rather than touring around the country. Nearby towns in this region include Wanaka, Glenorchy, and Arrowtown.
West Coast: Rugged Coastline and Glaciers
This was our pioneer frontier, and it’s still a wild place, a kind of time capsule that’s teeming with wildlife and the stuff of legends. Five of our 13 national parks, including Fiordland (see below), are here and the entire southern West Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you’ll find Milford Sound, accessible glaciers advancing through the rainforest and 600km of rugged coastline.
Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park is one of, if not the, most well-known New Zealand attractions. It draws millions of visitors each year to marvel at the dramatic landscape and abundant native wildlife.
Mt Cook National Park: Big Skies and Towering Peaks
For a true alpine experience, New Zealand’s highest mountains and largest glaciers are protected in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. It’s also officially one of the Top 4 best (while being the most easily accessible) stargazing sites in the world.
More Options: Custom Hiking Tours
I’ve explored just about every inch of the South Island and can help narrow down the best options for you based on how much time you have, the time of year you’re arriving, how far you want to travel, what type of scenery you enjoy and how hard you want to work for that view. Keep in mind that every hike will be customised to make it just challenging enough for you. So feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss some options.
And if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind adventure that’s completely off the radar, I’ve got many, many more ideas for unique adventures you haven’t even dreamed of yet! Whether it’s flying into the remote West Coast to swap stories with a real ‘coaster’ who raised a family in one of the most isolated spots in the country, trekking into and spending the night in one of the most remote backcountry huts or riding into a historic 19th century gold mining settlement on horseback — I thought you’d never ask!