5 Amazing Day Hikes On New Zealand’s South Island

Me attempting to look cool and pensive. And failing miserably.

New Zealand is a nature-lovers dream. Mountains, lakes, forests, beaches, and all in a place that experiences incredibly enjoyable climates – whether summer or winter. Here are my 5 best hikes in New Zealand’s South Island.

1 – BEN LOMOND

It looks even better than this in real life, I’m not kidding.

Rather than taking the easy option and paying for the gondola from Queenstown, start the hike to Ben Lomond (974m) from the town itself, walking up through the forest with the beautiful Wakatipu lake glimmering through the trees as you gain altitude. Take a break at the top of the gondola and then embark on a steady climb up to the summit. Stunning 360 degree views and a photo opp that in my opinion betters Roys Peak – and best of all, no queue! Have lunch at the top and then it’s case of last one to the bottom is a rotten egg. A wonderful day hike and one of the best hikes in New Zealand.

Distance: 15km | Distance: 5-7hrs | Difficulty: 4/5 | Start/end point: Queenstown Gondola (follow the trail just underneath the lower terminal and the rest of the way is signposted)

2 – ROYS PEAK

My Mum who, 25 years my senior, comfortably beat me to the top of Roys Peak.

Roys Peak is where everyone gets that New Zealand Instagram photo.  Starting from a few kilometres outside of Wanaka, this strenuous uphill climb is totally worthwhile, with constant views of Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountains that improve with every step.  The photo opp is about 30 mins from the top, so you can either do it on the way up or down.  Whatever you do, make it up to the summit – the views are even more spectacular.

Distance: 16km | Time: 5-7hrs | Difficulty: 4/5 | Start/end point: 5km towards Mount Aspiring from Wanaka township

3 – MOUNT FOX

My Mum again, also beating me to the top. FFS.

This one is not for the faint hearted.  Renowned as one of the toughest day hikes in New Zealand, the climb to the summit of Mount Fox is a mere 3.6km horizontally – but don’t be fooled.  It’s 3.6km of seriously hard work, clambering through thick forest, up 1150m to the summit.  Make sure you get up early as clouds roll in around lunchtime (as I learned myself!).  If you are lucky, you’ll be rewarded with amazing views of Fox Glacier and the ocean. And then it’s time to head back, and trust me, if you thought the hike up was hard, wait until you try to scramble down the near-vertical path heading back down!

Difficulty: 5/5 | Time: 7-8hrs | Distance: 7.2km | Start/end point: Exactly 2km outside of Fox Glacier township towards Haast on the right hand side – it’s a very small car park and easy to miss!

4 – MOUNT ROBERT

Huong looks out at the the beautiful Lake Rotoiti

It might not be on the tourist trail, but the Nelson Lakes region is truly beautiful, with mountains and forests (as well as sparkling blue lakes) creating views that rival any on the South Island.  Mount Roberts is a fairly easy circular route that should only take you a few hours.  It’s well worth it, with great views of Lake Rotoiti and the surrounding hills.

Distance: 9km | Time: 3hrs | Difficulty: 2/5 | Start/end point: Follow the road 3.5 kilometres west of St Arnaud all the way to the end (Mount Robert Car Park)

5 – KEY SUMMIT

Glacial lakes, snow-capped mountains, ancient forests. What more could you ask for?

One of the easier hikes in this list takes you through a Silver beech forest and sub-alpine shrubland, up to a plateau of alpine tarns (small glacial pools) and more hanging moss than you can shake a (likely mossy) stick at. The reward is amazing views of the glacial Lake Marian, nestled in the mountains. And then the route back, if you’re so inclined, is the perfect downhill trail run – just be careful to dodge the people on their way up.

Distance: 7km | Time: 2-3hrs | Difficulty: 2/5 | Start/end point: “The Divide” – 85 km along the Milford Road from Te Anau (1.5 hours drive)

These are just five of hundreds of incredible hikes in New Zealand’s ludicrously beautiful South Island. If you have any hikes you can recommend to other travelers, please comment below! Also, please note that I experienced the hikes above in January-March which is New Zealand’s summer. In winter-time, these hikes are very different and will require dedicated research and special planning.

One comment

  1. […] After hiking Roy’s Peak we were going to drive to Queenstown but then I noticed a motorcamp just a few kilometres up the road. It turned out to be our favourite private site in New Zealand! A huge site on a lake, surrounded by mountains, and populated more by local families than tourists, making for a much more friendly and real Kiwi vibe than most sites (especially those around Wanaka and Queenstown). It’s a short drive from Wanaka, it has full facilities, and I can’t recommend this place enough. […]

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