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

Crown Peak ascent, Otago NZ

Excellent winter scenery on the ascent up Crown Peak (1735m) from in Arrowtown, near Queenstown. 360 degree views from the summit are a highlight.

Gibbston River Trail, Gibbston Valley, Otago

The Gibbston River Trail is a constructed and mostly flat track that runs through the picturesque Gibbston Valley wine region next to the Kawarau River. It can be walked or mountain-biked.

Jacks Point Track, Queenstown area

The Jacks Point Track runs along the foreshore of Lake Wakatipu between Kelvin Heights and Jacks Point, providing views of the areas most impressive mountain peaks including the aptly named Remarkables, and Cecil Peak on the opposite side of the lake.

Kelvin Peninsula Walk, near Queenstown

This easy walk around Kelvin Peninsula is a short drive from Queenstown, and provides views of the area’s most iconic landmarks.

Lake Hayes Walkway, Arrowtown area

The Lake Hayes Walkway is an easy 8km walk around Lake Hayes, near Arrowtown, passing through a variety of vegetation on a well formed track.

Around Glenorchy

Invincible Mine Track, near Glenorchy NZ

The Invincible Mine Track passes through nice forest scenery and provides excellent views up the Rees Valley on its way to an old gold mining site.

Mt Alaska ascent (winter), near Glenorchy NZ

An ascent of Mt Alaska (1965m) in winter. This walk was an instant favourite when I first did it in summer 2018/2019, and winter added a whole new dimension.

Mt Alaska ascent, Whakaari Conservation Area

Really spectacular views from the summit of Mt Alaska (1965m), but there’s plenty of great scenery on the way up if you want a shorter walk. Highly recommended.

Mt Alfred ascent, near Glenorchy NZ

Mt Alfred sits alone on the edge of Mt Aspiring National Park, and the summit provides some of my favourite views in New Zealand.

Mt McIntosh Loop Track, Whakaari Conservation Area

Great views at the north end of Lake Wakatipu on the Mt McIntosh Loop Track to the summit of Mt McIntosh (1701m).

Central Otago District

Leaning Rock via Lilico Spur

This long walk climbs through farmland to the Waikerikeri Conservation Area, and then through rugged tussock grass country to the barren summit of Leaning Rock (1647m), where there are many large tors.

Lindis Peak Track, Central Otago

Climbing Lindis Peak (1226m) in Central Otago is a lesser known up and down walk with 360 degree views of the area, including the distinctive St Bathans Range, and distant snowy peaks of the Main Divide.

Mt Pisa via Tinwald Burn Ridge Track, Central Otago

A long hard walk up 1600m of elevation to reach the barren plateau on top of the Pisa Range, finishing at the summit of Mt Pisa (1963m).

Rock Peak from Crown Saddle, Otago

A straightforward walk to Rock Peak (1490m) through tussock grass at the southern end of the Pisa Conservation Area.

around Wanaka

Mt Shrimpton Track to Tarns, McKerrow Range

Really spectacular alpine views of peaks, tarns and down into braided river valleys, accessed on the Mt Shrimpton Track and then off-track to tops.

Red Rock via Shotover Saddle, Wanaka area

A lesser known day trip to Red Rock (1858m) in the West Matukituki Valley, with excellent views into Mt Aspiring National Park.

Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park

Access to close up views of the spectacular Rob Roy Glacier for only moderate effort on this popular walk in Mt Aspiring National Park near Wanaka.

Rocky Mountain-Diamond Lake Circuit, near Wanaka

An easy to moderate walk passing by the picturesque Diamond Lake, and climbing up to the summit of Rocky Mountain (775m) for views of Lake Wanaka.

Roys Peak Track, Wanaka

Fabulous views over Lake Wanaka are a highlight of this walk up Roys Peak. Just expect to be joined by a few hundred others in peak season!

And now walks in Canterbury…

Canterbury

Christchurch Day Trip

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

Canterbury Foothills

Godley Peak & Moorhouse Peak via Homestead Hill, Palmer Range

A big walk to the two highest peaks in the Palmer Range, Godley Peak (2087m) & Moorhouse Peak (2025m). Scree and tussock in all directions.

Little Mt Peel Circuit, Peel Forest Scenic Reserve

A 1000m climb through a variety of native vegetation takes you to the summit of Little Mt Peel (1311m) with great views of the Canterbury Plains & surrounding mountains.

Mt Alford Track, Canterbury NZ

The Mt Alford Track takes you to the summit of Mt Alford (1171m) for good views over taller mountains on the inland side, and the Canterbury Plains to the east.

Mt Barrosa Summit Track (or Barossa), Hakatere Conservation Park

A short but steep climb to the summit of Mt Barrosa (1364m; sometimes ‘Barossa’) provides all round views of Hakatere Conservation Park and surrounding peaks.

Mt Bruce Circuit, Craigieburn Forest Park

Top class 360 degree views of numerous mountain ranges and the Waimakariri Valley from the summit of Mt Bruce (1630m) in Craigieburn Forest Park.

Arthur’s Pass National Park

Mt Bealey ascent, Arthur's Pass National Park

A classic walk in Arthur’s Pass National Park to the summit of Mt Bealey (1836m), with grand mountain and valley views most of the way.

Mt Binser ascent, Arthur's Pass National Park

Top class views of numerous peaks & two river valleys on this somewhat adventurous walk up Mt Binser (1860m) in Arthur’s Pass National Park.

North Canterbury

Nina Valley to Nina Hut, Lake Sumner Forest Park

A pleasant walk up the Nina Valley as far as Nina Hut, passing through attractive beech forest & over a picturesque gorge on the Nina River.

Sluice Box Bridge Short Walk, Lewis Pass Reserve

The Sluice Box Bridge Short Walk follows the Lake Daniell Track for about 5 minutes to a small picturesque gorge formed by the Maruia River.

Banks Peninsula/ Port Hills

Urumau-Crater Rim Circuit, Lyttelton

Great views over the port town of Lyttelton and its harbour on this circuit in the Port Hills, just south of Christchurch.

Further Afield in Canterbury

Aoraki Mt Cook & Mackenzie

Tasman Glacier Lake Walk, Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

A great short walk to the Tasman Glacier Lake foreshore, in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.

Tekapo Mt John Walkway, Lake Tekapo

The Tekapo Mt John Walkway is an easy circuit walk offering extensive views over lakes, plains & distant high mountains from the summit of Mt John (1031m).

And finally, elsewhere on the South Island…

Fiordland

No posts found.

West Coast

Klondyke Spur and Valley Tracks, Victoria Forest Park

A varied walk up the Klondyke Spur Track to above the bushline, with great views before you return via tarns & the Klondyke Valley Track.

Mt Haast Route, Victoria Forest Park

Fabulous 360 degree views from the top of Mt Haast (1587m) in Victoria Forest Park, accessed on the steep but straightforward Mt Haast Route.

Okarito Trig Walk, Okarito, Westland

A shortish walk across wetlands and up through attractive forest to a viewpoint on Okarito Trig looking over Okarito Lagoon & further afield.

Pakihi Walk, Westland Tai Pouhini National Park

The Pakihi Walk is a very short and easy climb through attractive forest and kiwi habitat, to a viewpoint on a hill.

/ Easy, New Zealand, nice forest, views, West Coast
Pancake Rocks, Paparoa National Park, Punakaiki

Pancake Rocks & blow holes are an interesting tourist attraction near the small village of Punakaiki that are accessed on a very short walk.

/ big rocks, coastal, Easy, New Zealand, views, West Coast

Other South Island

No posts found.

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