New Zealand

Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP

Introduction to Hiking (Tramping) 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 tramp in 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 Olivier - Mueller Hut - Sealy Tarns, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
Sophia watches a paraglider from a vantage point at 1740m of elevation above Sealy Tarns.

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.

Mt Crichton ascent, Queenstown
Lake Isobel looking very green.

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.

Routeburn Track NZ: Routeburn Flats to Harris Saddle and Conical Hill
I love youse all! Or so says Lake Harris. The lake is actually shaped a bit like South America, but from this particular angle, and with the right framing, you can feel the love.

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.

Sugarloaf Pass to pt. 1290m, Mt Aspiring National Park NZ
Mt Earnslaw / Pikirakatahi and a frozen tarn.

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.

Sentinel Peak ascent, Lake Hawea
Sentinel Peak has one of the most attractive summits of any mountain I’ve climbed. Sophia down there crossing tussock to get to the base of the summit rocks. To climb up you can probably take the scree slope on the right and go around the back (though I’m not sure), but I know that the first chute (channel) on the left is a straightforward climb on scree. We took the second chute and it was a bit trickier with a couple of spots requiring some scrambling.

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.

Mt Olivier - Mueller Hut - Sealy Tarns, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
Mt Sefton (3151m) from Sealy Tarns (about 1300m of elevation).

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.

Mt Olivier - Mueller Hut - Sealy Tarns, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
Mueller Hut and Aoraki Mt Cook from Mt Olivier (1931m).

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

Moke Lake Loop Track, Queenstown

Moke Lake is situated in a scenic area surrounded by mountains, and is just a short drive from downtown Queenstown. The walk around the lake on the Moke Lake Loop Track is easygoing and suitable for families. On a winter’s afternoon I found the lighting quite attractive and enjoyed the walk despite usually opting for more challenging terrain. (more…)

Moke Lake Viewpoint & Williamson Spur to 1100m

The informal Moke Lake Viewpoint is an increasingly popular spot to visit for views of this scenic lake and surrounding area. The lookout is on the Williamson Spur, and adventurous trampers can head further up the spur for increasingly good views that exceeded my expectations. There’s quite rugged scenery to the north, and the spur itself is pretty gnarly, plus expanding views of Moke Lake as you climb higher. Certainly the misty weather helped add some character to the views, but I’m sure clear weather would reveal some nice scenes we missed out on.

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Mt Crichton ascent, Queenstown

The climb up Mt Crichton near Queenstown was one of our best walks to date. And even if you don’t visit one of the summit peaks you’ll still feel a sense of achievement and wonder by going as far as the minor peak at 1723m. Be prepared for quite a work out though, as much of it is steep and on a sometimes obscure route. (more…)

Mt Crichton ascent, Queenstown

This is a shorter version of one of my favourite walks, to the summit of Mt Crichton (1870m), near Queenstown. Although less picturesque than the longer route (from the Mt Crichton Loop Track), this way is quite direct and offers some variety if you’ve already done that other route. The views from the summit and also the peak at 1845m are spectacular, and include Lake Isobel and Lake Wakatipu. (more…)

Mt Crichton Loop & Lake Dispute, near Queenstown

The Mt Crichton Loop Track is an undulating track on the foothills of Mt Crichton. It passes through native beech and manuka forest, by waterfalls and bare rocky hills, and visits a historic miner’s hut. You can also take a side trip to nearby Lake Dispute. It’s all very close to Queenstown, so it makes for a good half day option if you have other things on.  (more…)

Around Glenorchy

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Central Otago District

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around Wanaka

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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

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

Mt Barrosa is apparently a new-ish addition to the large Hakatere Conservation Park in Mid Canterbury. It sits in the Clent Hills, and you can continue across these to other destinations such as Lake Emily. If all you’re after are extensive views of the surrounding countryside then climbing to the summit and back on a short but steep poled route makes for a good half day option.  (more…)

Mt Bruce Circuit, Craigieburn Forest Park

I’d heard good things about the views from Mt Bruce (1630m) in Craigieburn Forest Park, and I was not at all disappointed! Spectacular 360 degree views await you at the summit, but there’s plenty of interest for much of the walk. There’s nice forest at the start, already good views on the tracked section, then ever improving views as you climb to the summit.

From the summit you overlook grand mountains in the the Southern Alps, numerous peaks around Arthur’s Pass, the wide open Waimakariri River Valley, and colourful patchy mountains of scree, tussock and forest elsewhere in Craigieburn Forest Park. You can also see the long thin forms of Blind Spur and Bealey Spur, the latter offering another good walk in the area that we have on our to-do list (…now done). Making a loop by returning eastward along an attractive ridge will top it all off. (more…)

Mt Catherine to 1877m, Hakatere Conservation Park

My plans to summit Mt Catherine in mid winter turned out to be a bit ambitious, but spectacular views from the minor peak at 1877m made this an excellent walk regardless. The grandeur of the Arrowsmith Range is to the west, many snowy mountains to the north, and Mt Catherine itself to the east. To the south-west are the wide open plains of the Ashburton Lakes area. (more…)

Mt Catherine via south ridge, Hakatere Conservation Park

I had unfinished business on Mt Catherine (2085m) in Hakatere Conservation Park near Lake Heron. I tried climbing it from the west in winter, but didn’t make the summit. This time I climbed it from the south on a long ridge, taking a scenic variation on the way back to complete a very satisfying day out.

There are views for miles from the ridge, of Lake Heron and its distinctive neighbour Sugarloaf, the Arrowsmith Range, and countless barren mountains to the north and east, many over 2000m high.  My return route along a stream down to the Te Araroa was very pleasant, and included the most dangerously beautiful speargrass I’ve ever seen. (more…)

Mt Cheeseman from Texas Flat, Craigieburn Range

Prior to climbing Mt Cheeseman (2031m) we had done only one other big walk in the Craigieburn Range, climbing nearby Mt Cloudsley. So our second peak on the range crest was overdue, but what a great peak it was. I hadn’t expected such fabulous views, which include the impressive Mt Olympus (2094m) – for me the highlight of these vistas. But there are countless peaks in every direction, so a real visual feast. Throw in a couple of tarns and a proper work out, and you have an excellent day out for more experienced walkers.

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Arthur’s Pass National Park

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North Canterbury

Dumblane and Mt Charon, Hanmer Range

We wanted a quieter walk to do on our first trip to the Hanmer Springs area, and this was a great choice. We met nobody else on a Sunday doing this long but very enjoyable walk to the summit of Mt Charon (1560m) via Dumblane (1303m) from Jacks Pass (870m). The very colourful heath vegetation was a real highlight, as were the views towards numerous other mountains, over the Hanmer Plains, and into a few valleys. Going as far as Mt Charon felt satisfyingly remote, but the much shorter trip to only Dumblane and back would also be a good option. (more…)

Mt Clara via Fowlers Pass, St James Conservation Area

Although I’d read about the walk to Mt Clara (1945m) before, I decided to do it when the knowledgeable owner of Hanmer Backpackers (Tristan) recommended it to us. In winter conditions it turned out to be one of the better walks we’ve done. The conditions on the tops in winter were proper alpine, and the views north and east in particular were quite spectacular. And you get those views for much of the walk. It’s a long and remote enough tramp to be a bit adventurous, but short enough to fit comfortably into a long winter’s day. (more…)

Mt Fyffe & Gables End, Kaikoura

Kaikoura is a coastal town in the far north of Canterbury, and is famous as a place where tall mountains meet the sea. Those tall mountains are the Seaward Kaikoura Range, peaking at the summit of Manakau (2608m). Grandstand views of these mountains on one side, and the sea on the other, are available from Mt Fyffe (1602m) and nearby Gables End (1592m). Most people would stop at Mt Fyffe, but the relatively easy walking (with one steep bit) across the tops to Gable and then Gables End was the highlight of the day, and so if you have the energy I can recommend this extension. The views at Gables End are also very good. (more…)

Mt Isobel from Jacks Pass, Hanmer Forest Park

Mt Isobel (1319m) is said to be Canterbury’s most climbed mountain. One reason would be good accessibility, sitting as it does just on the edge of the popular resort town of Hanmer Springs. But it is a very nice mountain, with wide open views over mountains, valleys and the Hanmer Plains, forested lower slopes with colourful heath vegetation higher up, and some rugged rocky sections to boot. Walking from Jacks Pass is fairly short, and there are great views the whole way. (more…)

Mt Norma Route, Lewis Pass

I came across the Mt Norma Access Track on my way up Nina Valley, and as always got a bit excited at the prospect of another easily accessible mountain summit in the Lewis Pass area. I waited a long time for a good weather window to get up there, but it finally came in the middle of a very snowy winter, so the views of mountain peaks and valleys galore were extra beautiful. With so much snow this turned out to be a bit adventurous also, and probably the closest we’ve come to mountaineering.

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Banks Peninsula/ Port Hills

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Further Afield in Canterbury

Aoraki Mt Cook & Mackenzie

Tasman Glacier Lake Walk, Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

If you visit Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park there are a number of excellent short walks that you could do in the same day, or squeeze into the day you get there, or the day you leave. Visiting the Tasman Glacier Lake is one of these, and offers excellent views of the Tasman River Valley and of course the lake, all for under an hour’s walking. (more…)

Tekapo Mt John Walkway, Lake Tekapo

The Tekapo Mt John Walkway is an easy route that takes you to the observatory complex on the top of Ōtehīwai Mt John (1031m). You can continue as we did to make a loop walk, returning by the shore of Lake Tekapo. The views are very spacious: this roche moutonnee is surrounded by lakes and wide plains, and beyond these are numerous high peaks. (more…)

And finally, elsewhere on the South Island…

Fiordland

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West Coast

Pipeline & Tram Tracks plus Powerhouse Walk, Reefton

After doing a couple of excellent walks in Victoria Forest Park (the Klondyke Routes and Mt Haast Route) we took a day off to look around the historic mining town of Reefton. To do so we walked about 2-2.5km into town from our accommodation in the small village of Blacks Point along the Pipeline and Tram Tracks. These made for pleasant walking through mostly native forest with a bit of scrub, with just a short ascent and descent at the start and end. We later did the short Powerhouse Walk, learning about the hydro scheme that powered the southern hemisphere’s first electric street lighting. There’s almost nothing left of this but they are going to build a replica I believe. (more…)

Pororari River Track to Lookout, Paparoa National Park

The Pororari River Track is another of the side of the road short walks that we did by chance on NZ’s West Coast. Like the nearby Truman Track this turned out to be a great little walk, taking in some fabulous river, gorge and rainforest scenery for very little effort. Highly recommended.

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Sluice Box Bridge Short Walk, Lewis Pass Reserve

The Sluice Box Bridge Short Walk is a very short walk, but is a nice way to stretch the legs if you are driving to or from the West Coast (or Nelson) via the Lewis Pass. It’ll only take 5 minutes to get to the bridge on the Lake Daniell Track, however you might like to spend some time down on the rocky Maruia River bed. The river narrows to a short gorge here, the Sluice Box, and is a lovely green colour. The surrounding area is quite picturesque. Track notes at the end. (more…)

Pororari River Track to Lookout, Paparoa National Park

On our first trip to New Zealand’s picturesque South Island West Coast we met with the area’s infamously wet weather. But during gaps in the weather we fit in quite a few short walks, something we wouldn’t usually do. These turned out to be an excellent way to sample a wide variety of the area’s famed scenery. All of my selection could be done over 3 days on a road trip between Canterbury and Otago (eg, between Christchurch and Wanaka/ Queenstown) travelling via the Lewis Pass / Route 7 and Haast Pass / Route 6. 

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The Apprentice from Lewis Pass

My second time up onto the Lewis Tops, but this time in late winter, and with an extension to climb The Apprentice (1678m). Great views of Mt Technical, the Maruia River, One Mile Creek, and various glacier carved mountain ranges all around. Snow enhanced the scenery except for the frozen tarns, which arguably look nicer in liquid form. (more…)

Other South Island

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And here’s an interactive map of the lot. Click on the icons to view the walk details and access trip reports.