New Zealand

Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP

Introduction to Hiking in New Zealand (South Island)

Firstly, before 2020 most of my hiking had been around Queenstown, but now I’m living in Christchurch I’m steadily adding many walks in Canterbury to the blog. I’m yet to even visit the North Island, but New Zealand’s South Island is just fantabulous, and is a must-visit destination for any keen hiker. The scenery varies from the steep glaciated peaks of the Southern Alps, with deep forested valleys and turquoise waterways, to the golden domed mountains of the arid interior, and the coastal scenery I’ve only touched upon. Read on for more info, or go straight to a list of the walks.

Mt Cook viewed from a point between Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut.
Mt Cook viewed from a point between Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut

Queenstown and Central Otago

When holidaying in NZ we’ve stayed mostly in Queenstown. For a good long walk I’m willing to drive up to 2.5 hours, and there’s a huge number of well maintained walks within that distance from Queenstown. This makes it a great base for hiking, or tramping as it’s called in New Zealand. Queenstown is a famous outdoor centre and attracts a large amount of visitors in the summer and winter peak seasons. But hiking’s not for everyone, and there are enough hikes on offer that you can sometimes complete a walk without meeting a single person, even in summer.

Queens Drive on the Remarkables, Queenstown
Queens Drive on the Remarkables, Queenstown

Queenstown

Queenstown is on the shores of the picturesque Lake Wakatipu, and is surrounded by peaks of around 2000 metres elevation, including the rather dramatic and aptly named Remarkables. There are plenty of walks nearby, including some that start near the centre of town, so that you could knock those over without even having transportation. (I’m thinking of Queenstown Hill, and the more strenuous ascent of Ben Lomond).

View roughly north from the summit of Ben Lomond (1748m), Queenstown
View roughly north from the summit of Ben Lomond (1748m), Queenstown

Mt Aspiring National Park & Glenorchy

Mt Aspiring National Park can be accessed from the town of Glenorchy, which is situated in a particularly attractive spot at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu. It’s about a 45 minute drive from Queenstown, and I recommend the drive even if you don’t want to hike. The walks around here are almost all scenic and spectacular, often passing through beech forest, along tumbling frothy rivers, and providing views of many a snow capped mountain and a few glaciers to boot.

Near Harris Saddle on the Routeburn Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
Near Harris Saddle on the Routeburn Track, Mt Aspiring National Park

There are a number of famous multi-day walks accessible from Glenorchy, such as the Routeburn, Greenstone and Caples Tracks, but you can also do sections of these as day-walks of various lengths. I highly recommend getting down this way on any trip to Queenstown.

View from near Sugarloaf Pass, Mt Aspiring National Park
View from near Sugarloaf Pass, Mt Aspiring National Park

Wanaka

The attractive town of Wanaka, (on Lake Wanaka), also offers access to Mt Aspiring National Park and other areas of the Southern Alps, and hence to more spectacular walks of this ilk. There are also good walks on the shores of Lakes Wanaka and Hawea. It’s about a one hour fifteen minute drive north-east from Queenstown to Wanaka, and then a bit further to the walks.

Glacier Burn, accessed from the East Matukituki Valley.
Glacier Burn, accessed from the East Matukituki Valley.

Central Otago

Going further inland (east) into the Central Otago District, the environment becomes more arid. The mountains are generally domed and their slopes often covered with tussock grass, or else grazing land for sheep. (Note that some tracks are closed during lambing season, roughly Oct to mid Nov depending on the location: best check those dates). The peaks and plateaus are sometimes barren moonscapes. I tend to prefer pointy mountains, but these areas offer a fairly remote tramping experience that you won’t get on the likes of the Routeburn.

St Bathans Range (2098m) viewed from Lindis Peak (1226m)
St Bathans Range (2098m) viewed from Lindis Peak (1226m)

Canterbury

In early 2020 I moved Christchurch, and set about getting to know walks in this region. I had previously visited Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park and that is really spectacular. Closer to Christchurch there are excellent walks in the foothills of the Southern Alps, in the really excellent Arthur’s Pass National Park, and closer by in the Port Hills and Banks Peninsula.

Sealy Tarns, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
Sealy Tarns, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park

There are both short and long day walks starting at or near Aoraki/Mt Cook Village that are well worth it, despite the crowds. Navigating these walks was straightforward so you’ll only need the brief notes you can get from the NZ DOC website. We stayed in the larger town of Twizel, which is a 50 minute drive away.

Hooker Valley, Hooker Lake & Mueller Glacier Lake from the Sealy Tarns Track, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
Hooker Valley, Hooker Lake & Mueller Glacier Lake from the Sealy Tarns Track, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park

Many of the Canterbury Foothills are hardly hills, some of them rising above 2000m of elevation. There’s many a scree slope, lots of tussock grass, and some patches of attractive forest too. There’s also braided rivers, gorgeous gorges, and many of the walks border the flat as a pancake Canterbury Plains. Most walks are about 1-2 hours drive from Christchurch.

Red Hill via Porter River, Korowait/Torlesse Tussocklands Park
The view from Red Hill in Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park, Canterbury NZ.

Arthur’s Pass National Park, in the Southern Alps, has spectacular scenery similar to that around Glenorchy. It lacks a big lake, but the high peaks, deep valleys and beautiful forest are highly recommended, and I hope to do lots more walking there.

Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Crow Valley and Jellicoe Ridge, viewed from Avalanche Peak in Arthur’s Pass National Park. Fabulous scenery.

The Port Hills and Banks Peninsula are to the south-east of Christchurch, the Port Hills being on the city boundary. The scenery is pretty but tamer than the mountains to the west. It’s a mostly altered landscape, but the volcanic topography and coastal scenery are very nice, plus some of the walks are less than 30 minutes drive from Christchurch.

Ohinetahi Reserve Circuit, Governors Bay
Lyttelton Harbour

Fiordland

The spectacular scenery of Fiordland is immediately apparent on the drive to Milford Sound. If the drive and maybe a cruise on a fiord is not enough, you can sample more of this wonderous place on some very accessible day-walks from the Milford Road, some easy enough for non-hikers to do. The only downside to the accessible regions of Fiordland is their understandable popularity, and then there’s the extremely wet weather, and the often aggressive sandflies. But the region is magical, and I highly recommend a visit. It is also home to various multi-day walks, including the world famous Milford Track, and one end of the also famous Routeburn Track.

Gertrude Saddle & Barrier Knob, Fiordland
Looking towards Milford Sound (just visible) from Gertrude Saddle.

Westland/West Coast

Many locals in New Zealand recommended I visit the lush West Coast of the South Island, and it didn’t disappoint. Having said that, the typically wet weather restricted our options on our first trip there in 2020, but I saw enough on short walks to know I want to return in a better weather window. The unique forests are fabulous, and down south there is easy access to view two of NZ’s biggest glaciers. There are lots of walking options so this will be a region we’ll return to in the future.

Pororari River Track to Lookout, Paparoa National Park
A picturesque bend in the Pororari River.

Track Notes

When in Queenstown we’ve mostly used track notes from Day Walks of New Zealand: Central Otago and Queenstown by Peter Dymock. It looks like in early 2018 it’s becoming a little hard to get online, but you might still get it in Queenstown and surrounds. I also found James Milne’s website helpful.

More generally, the Department of Conservation offices have lots of their own paper and online resources for hiking.  In 2020 I subscribed to Wilderness Magazine, and this has lots of great tramping ideas. If you are a multi-day hiker / mountaineer, or are just hankering for a bit of NZ mountain porn, then you can’t go past Danilo Hegg’s blog Southern Alps Photography. I salivate on my computer every time I look at his blog.

Plateau near the summit of Mt Pisa (1963m), Central Otago
Plateau near the summit of Mt Pisa (1963m), Central Otago

Weather

The weather in Queenstown and particularly Central Otago can be quite dry, but Mt Aspiring National Park is wetter. And anywhere on the West Coast / Fiordland is wet. Very wet. It gets bloody windy in the Canterbury Foothills, and Arthur’s Pass is particularly known for its wild weather.

The South Island has mild summers, and we’ve walked a lot in mid-summer, though it can be a bit too hot for comfort some days when exposed to the sun for long periods. Summer snow will fall on high ground from time to time. The bonus of walking during the summer months is having about 15-16 hours of daylight to play with.

Sugarloaf Pass to pt. 1290m, Mt Aspiring National Park NZ
Beech forest, NZ

The winters are coldish, but snow seldom settles at lower elevations in winter. The alpine areas can be very cold and windy at any time of year, and the weather moves fast so be prepared. We’ve walked in winter and found the conditions can be quite mild, but it depends a lot on the wind.

Hawkdun Range, Maniototo, Central Otago
Hawkdun Range, Maniototo, Central Otago

And lastly, the sunsets are really nice. This is the view over Lake Wakatipu from the place were we stay.

Lake Wakatipu golden sunset, viewed from Kelvin Heights
Lake Wakatipu golden sunset, viewed from Kelvin Heights
Sunset over Lake Wakatipu, viewed from Kelvin Heights
Sunset over Lake Wakatipu, viewed from Kelvin Heights

The New Zealand Walks

You can browse through a list of the walks I’ve posted on so far:

Queenstown Day Trip

Firstly, those walks manageable in a day trip from Queenstown (up to 2.5 hours drive one way):

Around Queenstown

Ben Lomond Track, Queenstown

Climbing Ben Lomond (1748m) is a must do for any reasonably fit hiker visiting Queenstown. The route we take to the top starts on the edge of town, and at first passes through beech forest, then pine forest, and once above the treeline it’s tussock grass until the summit, where there are 360 degree views of the Southern Alps, the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu.

Queens Drive - Wye Creek Loop, The Remarkables

My pick of the best full day-hikes around Queenstown, New Zealand’s adventure capital, with a few shorter options thrown in.

Brow Peak via Big Hill Saddle (winter), Arrowtown

The wrinkly mountains and valleys at the back of Arrowtown are a highlight of this walk up Brow Peak (1456m).

Brow Peak via Big Hill Saddle, Arrowtown

Brow Peak (1456m) near Arrowtown is an accessible mountain with fabulous views north over wrinkly golden brown mountains, and south over the Wakatipu Basin.

Coronet Peak to Brow Peak, Queenstown NZ

Views over golden hills and into the Wakatiu Basin on this walk from Coronet Peak ski field to the summit (1650m) & then to Brow Peak (1456m).

Around Glenorchy

Caples Track to Mid Caples Hut return

Roughly 5 hours of level walking through the beautiful Caples Valley takes you to Mid Caples Hut and back on this first (or last) section of the multi-day Greenstone and Caples Track circuit.

Earnslaw Burn Track, near Glenorchy

A truly spectacular walk to a tussock basin below the Earnslaw Glacier. Highly recommended for fit walkers or those willing to spend a night there.

Sugarloaf Pass to pt. 1290m, Mt Aspiring National Park NZ

Experience some of New Zealand’s best scenery on these five classic day-hikes near Glenorchy, just 45 minutes drive from Queenstown.

Glacier Burn Track, near Glenorchy

A pleasant walk through attractive beech forest to good views of a glacial valley and up to the Humboldt Mountains near Mt Bonpland.

Glenorchy Walkway

An easy circuit walk through a wetland near the town of Glenorchy, at the very picturesque northern end of Lake Wakatipu.

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Central Otago District

Cairnmuir Hill Track

This walk starts in New Zealand’s driest area, and climbs onto Cairnmuir Hill at 1114m of elevation. There are extensive views of the moody Dunstan Mountains, and over the flatlands further south.

Cloudy Peak ascent, Otago NZ

A great sample of Central Otago’s unique scenery on this long and relatively unknown walk to the summit of Cloudy Peak (1526m), north-east of Cromwell.

Duffers Saddle to the Old Woman Range, Central Otago

Easy access to an arid alpine plateau on the Old Woman Range in Central Otago, with many tors & views of nearby mountains.

Hawkdun Range pt 1857m from Shepherds Hut Ck

An excellent walk through tussock grass to the barren summit plateau of the Hawkdun Range (point 1857m), in the remote Maniototo region of Central Otago.

Kanuka Loop Track, Bendigo, Central Otago

This loop walk passes through the Bendigo area, an old mining district in Central Otago near Cromwell. The track undulates through native Kanuka forest and amongst rocky outcrops, and there are wide open views of the Pisa Range and Clutha Valley.

around Wanaka

Breast Hill ascent, Lake Hawea

One of the better walks near Wanaka, rugged Breast Hill (1578m) provides views of Lake Hawea and mountains in all directions.

Brewster Hut Track, then ridge north of Mt Armstrong

After a long climb through attractive beech forest you’ll be rewarded with classic South Island views of high mountains, including Mt Brewster & its glacier. Continue upwards from Brewster Hut towards Mt Armstrong for even more views.

Cameron Flat to Glacier Burn, East Matukituki Valley

The walk from Cameron’s Flat to the Glacier Burn crosses pasture and then enters beech forest, eventually stopping at the burn (stream) with views of Avalanche Glacier.

Grandview Mountain Track, Lake Hawea

One thousand metres of ascent and descent along a vehicle track to the summit of Grandview Mountain provides good views of nearby rugged country, and then extensive views over Lake Hawea and distant high peaks.

Mt Iron Circuit, Wanaka

A shortish circuit walk up the glacial landform of Mt Iron (548m), with views in all directions including Lake Wanaka and the Southern Alps.

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And now walks in Canterbury…

Canterbury

Christchurch Day Trip

These next walks are manageable as a day-trip from Christchurch…

Canterbury Foothills

Ben More Tops Circuit, Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park

Rugged scenery as you ascend to Ben More (1655m) along broad ridges on this circuit walk in Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park.

Big Ben via Dry Acheron Stream, Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park

Good variety on this walk along the Dry Acheron Stream, then up steeply to the summit of Big Ben (1416m), with views of various hills & tall peaks, both near & far.

Castle Hill Peak via Foggy Peak (in spring)

Our second time to do this classic Canterbury tramp, this time in a bit of snow: Castle Hill Peak (1998m) via Foggy Peak (1741m).

Castle Hill Peak and Foggy Peak, Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park

Stark and ruggedly beautiful scenery on this classic Canterbury tramp up Castle Hill Peak (1998m) via Foggy Peak, in Korowai Torlesse Tussocklands Park.

Dry Acheron Track, Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park

A pleasant walk up the Dry Acheron Stream through what I’ve seen described as ‘handsome scrublands’, passing through a few small gullies along the way, and with views of surrounding mountains.

Arthur’s Pass National Park

Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park

Fabulous scenery on this classic and somewhat adventurous walk in Arthur’s Pass National Park.

Bealey Spur Track to point 1545m, Arthur's Pass National Park

The Bealey Spur Track is a classic walk to viewpoints over the braided Waimakariri River Valley. For 360 degree views continue to a minor peak at 1545m.

Devils Punchbowl Walking Track

A steep but short and well formed track takes you to a viewpoint below the impressive Devils Punchbowl Falls. Accessible grandeur in Arthur’s Pass.

Goat Hill via Barrack Creek Route, Arthur's Pass

Magnificent views on an adventurous route up through lush West Coast forest & along a rocky alpine ridge to Goat Hill (1656m) in Arthur’s Pass National Park near Otira.

Mt Aicken ascent, Arthur's Pass National Park

Superb alpine scenery in all directions on this lesser known walk up Mt Aicken (1863m) in Arthur’s Pass National Park.

North Canterbury

Faust & Mephistopheles, Lewis Pass

Fabulous views & some of the most beautiful tarns we’ve ever seen on this walk up Faust (1710m) & Mephistopheles (1736m) in the Lewis Pass region.

Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ

A classic walk to the Lewis Tops, climbing at first through attractive beech forest, then up onto the tarn strewn tops for wonderful views in all directions.

Dumblane and Mt Charon, Hanmer Range

A long but excellent walk to the summit of Mt Charon (1560m) from Jacks Pass, also taking in the peak named Dumblane (1303m). Great views and very attractive heath vegetation. 

Mt Fyffe & Gables End, Kaikoura

Fabulous views of the coast & inland over high peaks make this walk up Mt Fyffe (1602m) and on to Gables End (1592m) a must do if you are visiting Kaikoura.

Mt Isobel from Jacks Pass, Hanmer Forest Park

A short but attractive climb from Jacks Pass to the summit Mt Isobel (1319m), near the town of Hanmer Springs.

Banks Peninsula/ Port Hills

Godley Head Circuit, Christchurch NZ

A circuit walk close to Christchurch that takes in attractive coastal scenery and WWII heritage sites. Easy walking through mostly paddocks.

Harry Ells Track & Sugarloaf Circuit, Port Hills

An easygoing walk in the Port Hills, taking you from the edge of town up to the Crater Rim on the Harry Ells Track, then around the Sugarloaf Circuit with good views over Govenors Bay and the Canterbury Plains.

Hinewai Reserve & Stony Bay Peak, Banks Peninsula

A long circuit walk through mostly native bush in the Banks Peninsula’s largest nature reserve, Hinewai Reserve.

Mt Bradley from Gebbies Pass, Banks Peninsula

A varied climb to the summit of Mt Bradley (855m) on the Banks Peninsula through all manner of vegetation, including pine plantations, paddocks, fields of tussock, and patches of native bush.

Ohinetahi Reserve Circuit, Governors Bay

A varied circuit walk through a nature reserve in the Port Hills near Christchurch. There are good views of Lyttelton Harbour including Governors Bay.

Further Afield in Canterbury

Aoraki Mt Cook & Mackenzie

Dromedary Hill Track, Lindis Conservation Area

The Dromedary Hill Track takes you initially over farmland, then up through the Lindis Conservation Area to the summit at 1664m, where there are views of countless other peaks.

Greta Track and Ben Ohau, Ruataniwha Conservation Park

Great views of Lake Ohau and surrounding mountains on the Greta Track, with a short side trip to the summit of Ben Ohau (1522m).

Hooker Valley Walk, Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

Spectacular scenery for moderate effort on this classic walk in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. Take your camera!

Sealy Tarns & beyond to ~1740m, Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

Really spectacular views the whole way on this steep alpine walk to Sealy Tarns and beyond, in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.

Sebastopol via Red Tarns, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park

Climbing Sebastopol (1468m) via the Red Tarns provides grandstand views of many famous features in Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. And a scramble near the top adds a little to the adventure.

And finally, elsewhere on the South Island…

Fiordland

Gertrude Saddle & Barrier Knob, Fiordland

Some of the best views we’ve ever seen from Gertrude Saddle in Fiordland National Park, then even better ones from Barrier Knob (1879m).

Key Summit Track & Lake Howden, Fiordland National Park NZ

A very high views to effort ratio on the relatively easy Key Summit Track in Fiordland, a side trip off the famous Routeburn Track.

Lake Marian Track, Fiordland National Park

A really spectacular alpine lake is your reward at the end of the short but sometimes rough Lake Marian Track in Fiordland National Park.

West Coast

Alex Knob and Lake Wombat, Westland Tai Poutini National Park

The Alex Knob Track passes through very attractive forest to a peak (1303m) with excellent views of Franz Josef Glacier.

Cape Foulwind Walkway, Westport

A pleasant and easy walk through a re-vegetated strip of coast near Westport.

/ coastal, Easy, New Zealand, views, West Coast, wildlife
Forest Walk & Sentinel Rock, Franz Josef Glacier, Westland Tai Pouhini National Park

Very short walks to good views of the Franz Joseph Glacier. Can sometimes be extended on the Franz Valley Walk.

/ Easy, mountains, New Zealand, views, West Coast
Goat Hill via Barrack Creek Route, Arthur's Pass

Magnificent views on an adventurous route up through lush West Coast forest & along a rocky alpine ridge to Goat Hill (1656m) in Arthur’s Pass National Park near Otira.

Hokitika Gorge Walk, Hokitika Gorge Scenic Reserve, Westland

Spectacular blue water framed by white (ish) rocks and green vegetation on this short walk through Hokitika Gorge, and these colours despite overcast skies.

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Other South Island

Black Gully Loop, Blue Mountains, West Otago

This lesser known walk in New Zealand’s own Blue Mountains ascends through beech forest to a high point of 1019m at Tapanui Hill. The views of surrounding farmland are extensive, but the forest is probably the highlight.

/ Moderate, New Zealand, West Otago

And here’s an interactive map of the lot (featured walks in gold)…