You could spend months hiking around just the south island of NZ. Since I only had about two weeks, I picked a few day hikes that fit within my itinerary (you can read all about that here: The Ultimate NZ Road Trip: 12 Days in the South Island). I built my road trip around an itinerary that would let me see as much of the South Island as possible in less than two weeks; I did not select my route based on traveling to hiking spots, so there are probably blogs out there better suited if hiking is your main purpose. But I found all of the day hikes I did to be pretty epic, and if you are also looking to just fit in some hiking while making your way around the South Island, you won’t be disappointed if you fit in the hikes below. Or, quite frankly, just pull the car over anytime you see a trailhead and need to break up your drive, because, I imagine all the hikes in NZ are quite epic! Also, I did lots of other shorter hikes while in NZ, but only included here hikes that took at least 1 hour (return). Bonus: NZ has no(!!!) snakes and no dangerous spiders, so the biggest concerns you have when trekking are nature. Bring sunscreen and water, and you’ll be good!
1. Between Akaroa & Port Levy: Te Ara Pataka Summit Walkway to Mt. Herbert
This hike takes you to the highest point on the Banks Peninsula, offering extraordinary views of the entire Peninsula! From my starting point, the trail was 9km return, because I stopped at Little Summit (add another 2km to go all the way to the peak of Mt. Herbert). It only took me 2 hours return for the hike, which was moderately difficult; a few steep inclines to deal with. The views along this hike were spectacular! And this was a wonderful way to break up an otherwise stressful drive to Port Levy.
2. Fiordland National Park: Lake Marian Hike
This was one of my two favorite hikes… not just in NZ, but that I’ve done in my life. It was an interesting and challenging trail, and at the end you were rewarded with the most remarkable view I’ve ever had at the end of a hike. If you do no other hike in the South Island, do this hike! (Yes, there were lots of families with children also hiking!)
Read more about this hike and see all the photos here: Fiordland National Park & Milford Sound.
3. Roy’s Peak, Wanaka
This hike is a BEAST, but so, so worth it. Roy’s Peak is one of the most popular (and certainly, most photographed) day hikes in the south island, for good reason! It was also the most difficult hike I did while in NZ. It is a brutally steep ascent, which meant the descent was equally tough (I found it easier to run most of the way down, rather than try and walk down such steep inclines). This is a 16km (return) hike, with a very very steep ascent of 1500m (4921ft), and an estimated time of 5-6 hours; most people I spoke with needed that full time for this hike. I was feeling really good and decided to treat it as a tough workout, so I pushed myself and ended up completing it in less than 3.5 hours. But I also spent 30 minutes at the viewpoint area, and another 30 minutes at the peak, enjoying the views! This was my second favorite day hike in all of NZ! If you go during peak season (as I did), you will have to deal with crowds and a queue to take a photo at the viewpoint. That was actually an upside for me, as I don’t have a selfie stick, so I offered to take photos of the couple in front of me, and in return, that got shots of me. So I didn’t have to rely on just selfies from the viewpoint. Roy’s Peak Travel Tip: do not attempt unless you have a decent level of fitness, sunscreen, and enough water (minimum of 1-1.5L per person).
Views on the Ascent
The Viewpoint. Most people seem to stop their hike here, but it’s so worth the extra 1-2km of steep hiking to reach the actual summit. This viewpoint is also the most famously photographed view from this hike.
Summit of Roy’s Peak
View of Roy’s Peak from below on the trail.
4. Hooker Valley Track, Mt. Cook
I was positively exhausted after my climb/hike up Roy’s Peak, so decided to opt for an easy walk the following day while in Mt. Cook. Lucky for me, one of the most famous and popular hikes in Aoraki/Mt. Cook area is a relatively easy and flat trek through the Hooker Valley! This track takes you across three bridges, and offers great views of the Mueller Glacier, Hooker Lake, and Aoraki/Mount Cook. It’s only 10km total, and there were loads of families with children (who were probably only 3-5yo) walking it on their own.
NZ offers so, so many amazing hikes, so even if nature isn’t the primary reason you’re heading to NZ, take your hiking shoes. There are treks appropriate for every age and all fitness levels, and you miss out on so much if you don’t walk around and explore at least a bit. This is easily my favorite country in the world I’ve ever been hiking in. Can’t wait to go back and explore more of it!