6 Epic New Zealand South Island Hikes

6 Epic New Zealand South Island Hikes

New Zealand is every hiker’s dream. Nowhere else in the world can you see so many different landscapes so close together. And though both New Zealand islands offer many amazing hikes, the South Island hikes are the most well-known and draw most tourists.

But with so many to choose from, how do you decide which tracks to walk? Lucky you, we’re here to help you and share the six epic South Island hikes that we walked.

All of these hikes are relatively easy, and doable for anyone who is reasonably fit. There’s no need to be an experienced hiker to enjoy these hikes!

Abel Tasman Coast Track

The Abel Tasman Coast Track is one of New Zealand’s “great walks”. This five day South Island hike takes you along the coast of the Abel Tasman National Park.

Because hiking five days in a row was a bit to much for us, but we did want to see the Abel Tasman NP, we decided to walk only part of this hike. We took a water taxi to Torrent Bay (which is an experience on its own) and walked back to the start of the track in Marahua from there.

Abel Tasman Coast Track, New Zealand South Island Hike

You can cross Torrent Bay two hours either side of low tide. We were not so lucky however, so we had to take the one hour detour around the bay. With some extra side-trips to viewpoints and secluded beaches, it took us 5 hours to complete the hike.

New Zealand South Island Hikes: Abel Tasman Coast Track

The hike is long, but very doable. The path is well maintained and not very steep, apart from som of the side trails. As you walk through the native bush, past waterfalls and hidden beaches, you get beautiful views of the ocean.

View from Abel Tasman Coast Track, New Zealand South Island
Beach at Abel Tasman Coast Track, South Island, New Zealand

The only downside to this South Island hike, is that the surroundings can get a bit monotonous. As you are walking for quite a few hours, we would have liked it if there was a bit more change in scenery.

Our overall rating for this South Island Hike: ★★★★☆

Franz Josef Glacier Walk

The Franz Josef glacier is one of those magical places, that you just cannot miss when you visit New Zealand. You can pay a ridiculous amount of money for a helicopter flight to the top of the glacier, but you can also go for the free 1.5 hour return walk to the bottom of the glacier. Guess which one we chose?

View at Franz Josef Glacier

The hike takes you through the valley that was carved by the glacier. Unfortunately the effects of climate change are very visible, as the glacier is shrinking rapidly. There are a few interesting signs along the path indicating where the glacier used to end at different points in time over the past century.

Franz Josef Glacier Hike - South Island New Zealand

The walk itself is quite easy, as you walk along dry sections of the river bed for most of it. The views of the glacier at the end of the walk are impressive. A must-do South Island hike!

Our overall rating for this South Island Hike: ★★★★☆

Lake Matheson Walk

Lake Matheson is famous for the crystal clear reflection of Mount Cook that you can see in it on a good day. Therefore, it’s also known as “mirror lake”.

The 1.5 hour loop walk takes you around the lake. The path is well maintained and mostly flat, with stairs to a viewpoint.

We found the walk itself unimpressive, but the views of the lake more than make up for it. The lake itself is lovely and the mountains in the background are majestic.

Lake Matheson Short Hike South Island New Zealand

You do need a little bit of luck to be able to see the famous mirror effect. The sky needs to be clear, so the mountains are visible and there should be very little to no wind, so there won’t be any ripples in the lake. Get there early in the morning for the best chance of a good view.

Our overall rating for this South Island Hike: ★★★☆☆

Mount Cook: Kea Point Track

Because of a recent storm, causing flood damage to the first swing bridge, the popular Hooker Valley track to Mount Cook was closed. Feeling a bit disappointed, we decided to hike some other tracks in this area, starting with the Kea Point Track. Turns out, we absolutely loved this track and it was one of our favorite South Island hikes!

South Island Hike - Kea Point, Mount Cook

The Kea Point Track starts at the visitor center and takes you to the viewpoint and back in about two hours. If you’re looking for a shorter walk, you can also enter the track from White Horse Hill campground, cutting your walking time in half.

Most of the hike you’ll be walking on a boardwalk through the valley. There is a small climb to the viewpoint at the end. And what a view it is!

Kea Point Walk - New Zealand Hike

Not only can you see Mount Cook (if it’s not cloudy), but there’s also a glacier, glacier lake and the rugged cliffs of the surrounding mountains.

Our overall rating for this South Island Hike: ★★★★☆

Mount Cook: Tasman Glacier Walks

After finishing the Kea Point track, we decided to check out the nearby Lake Tasman viewpoints. Not knowing what to expect from this hike, we were very pleasantly surprised!

This hike is actually two different walks combined, both of which give you views of the glacier lake. We spent about 1.5 hours here.

We walked the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View track first. This walk is basically a 15 minute stair climb to a viewpoint of the Tasman glacier and it’s lake.

Tasman Glacier Hike in New Zealand

The glacier is quite far away, but because it’s so huge and there is nothing obstructing your view of it, it’s still very impressive. Don’t bother with the side track to the Blue Lakes though.

Next, we did the Tasman Glacier Lake track, which leads you down to the shore of the lake.

Here you can get up close to the enormous ice shards floating in the lake. These are only there in summer, as that’s when the glacier melts and the shards brake off. It’s truly a unique experience to see and touch these natural sculptures of compressed ice.

New Zealand South Island Hike to Tasman Glacier
Ice from Tasman Glacier, New Zealand South Island

Many people either don’t know about this place or choose to skip it in favor of the more well-known Mount Cook hikes, because it wasn’t busy at all when we were there. However, we highly recommend that you do take the effort to go here as it is (in our opinion) one of the most amazing South Island hikes!

Our overall rating for this South Island Hike: ★★★★★

Lake Tekapo: Mt John via lakeshore

Lake Tekapo is one of the unbelievably blue lakes in New Zealand’s glacier region. Most people visit it to take pictures of the famous Church of the Good Shepherd, which stands at its shores. For a view from up high, you can climb nearby Mount John.

View of Lake Tekapo, South Island New Zealand

The track to the top of Mount John is steep, but well maintained and goes through a pine forest. Unfortunately, you have to share the path with horseback riders, which means there’s quite a bit of horse poo around.

Once you reach the top, the surroundings change to beautiful high yellow grass. You can see lake Tekapo and the glacier valleys in the distance. There’s an observatory where you can go stargazing at night.

Mount John Summit, South Islandm New Zealand

You can choose to circle the top and head back the way you came, completing your walk in about 2 hours.

Lake Tekapo walk, South Island, New Zealand

We decided to follow the longer route down the other side of the hill and past Lake Tekapo’s shore. This was actually our favorite part of the hike, as you get lovely views of the lake in stead of walking in the forest. It took us about 3.5 hours to complete the entire loop.

Our overall rating for this South Island Hike: ★★★☆☆

More New Zealand Hikes?

Not done hiking yet? Head over to the North Island for more beautiful hikes. Check out our North Island hikes blog post for inspiration!

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