South Island’s Great Walks

New Zealand’s got some fabulous treks. The best of them make the cut in the Department of Conservation’s Great Walks; five of them are located on South Island. Here are the South Island New Zealand Great Walks and reasons why you should make at least one of them part of your next Kiwi vacation.

South Island New Zealand Great Walks: Sheerdown Peak
Sheerdown Peak: Photo James Shook / CC BY 2.5

South Island New Zealand Great Walks

Milford Track

The most famous of the South Island New Zealand great walks, on the Milford Track trampers can expect to spend around four days hiking trails once laid out by the Maori. Consumed within spectacular Fiordland National Park, the 53km track guides walkers from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound. In summer when demand peaks, permits are strictly restricted in number and walkers must complete the route northwards and within the allotted time. Plan ahead so you don’t miss the unrivalled scenery along the way: lush rainforest, craggy Alpine panoramas and dramatic fiords.

South Island New Zealand Great Walks: Mackenzie Lake
Mackenzie Lake by Steffen SledzCC BY-SA 3.0

Routeburn Track

The Routeburn Track is shorter than the Milford Track but no less breathtaking. The varied scenery along its 39km length encompasses two National Parks – think verdant forests, tumbling waterfalls, Alpine meadows and crystal clear lakes. You’ll need to allow three days for this one and unless you’re a very experienced hiker, don’t attempt it in winter.

South Island New Zealand Great Walks: Kepler Track
Kepler Track Alpine ridge line: Photo Nomad TalesCC BY 2.1 AU

Kepler Track

Less well known but gorgeous nonetheless, the Kepler Track loops in a four-day circle from Te Anau’s National Park visitor centre. It’s a moderately difficult but well constructed trail that winds its way through grassland, wetland, forest and mountain environments. As you gasp your way to the finish after a 60km slog, you might be in awe of the winners of the Kepler Challenge who run the route in an impressive five hours. But hey, who’d want to rush such amazing scenery?

South Island New Zealand Great Walks: Heaphy Track
Heaphy Track

Heaphy Track

The Heaphy Track‘s the longest of the five at 80km, but relatively undemanding in terms of gradient making this an easy track to complete in about five days. You can hike it year-round, though it gets nippy in winter. Highlights along this very varied trail include red tussock downs, Alpine herb meadows, moss-clad beech trees and striking nikau palms.

South Island New Zealand Great Walks: Rock stacks in Anapai Bay
Rock stacks in Anapai Bay: Photo Pseudopanax / CC BY 3.0

Abel Tasman Coastal Track

The easiest of the South Island New Zealand Great Walks, novice hikers can stroll this 50km trail lined with broad sandy beaches. The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is easily accessible and in that respect it’s the cheat’s Great Walk, meaning many dip in and out accessing the route by boat, rather than completing the whole hike in one go. Unsurprisingly therefore, it makes this the most popular of the five in terms of visitor numbers. If you are determined to see it through, allow between three and five days depending on how much time you want to chill out on the way.

About JuliaHammond


Julia Hammond is a Geography teacher turned travel writer with a passion for places. Winning Mail Travel's Deep South competition was the catalyst to write for a diverse range of publications including Bradt's Bus Pass Britain Rides Again. She’s written Kindle guides to Cape Town, Peru and London for Unanchor and advice on Savannah for Wanderlust. When not travelling, she can be found at home in Essex planning her next trip, her two golden retrievers curled up at her feet.

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