| | |

22 Best Day Hikes on the South Island, New Zealand


Looking for the best day hikes on the South Island, New Zealand? You’ve come to the right place! In this guide, we’re sharing our top hikes on the South Island to add to your hiking bucket list, based on over 5+ years of personal “research” (aka hitting the trails every chance we get).

New Zealand’s South Island is a hiking mecca. The South Island boasts glacier-carved fiords, snow-capped mountain peaks, lush rainforest, wild coastline, pristine alpine lakes, and emerald rivers—all forming the most picture-perfect backdrop for some seriously epic hiking trails.

It can be hard to whittle down so many beautiful hikes into a list of “must-do’s,” but that’s where this guide will come in handy. We’ve spent over 5 years (and counting) exploring NZ’s outside adventures on our weekends. The trails on this list are our absolute favorite hikes on New Zealand’s South Island—these are the South Island hikes you simply can’t miss.

From mountain trails to coastal walks, hard hikes to short-and-easy ones, you’ll find so much variety when hiking on the South Island. There’s truly something for everyone. 

One thing these trails have in common, though, is that they’re all absolutely beautiful. Like jaw-dropping, can’t-believe-what-you’re-seeing gorgeous.

So without further ado, read on to discover the best day hikes on New Zealand’s South Island!

What to Expect in this South Island Hiking Guide

  • In this guide, we’re outlining some of the top day hikes on the South Island. We haven’t included any overnight/multiday hikes on this list, although some of these hikes do happen to be shorter options on New Zealand’s multiday “Great Walks.”
  • We’ve included GPS coordinates to each trailhead to help you navigate your trip. These coordinates will take you to the parking area for each hike, so you know exactly where to park your car and start your hike.
  • We’ve included a “difficulty” ranking and “hiking time” for each hike. Please note that these are subjective ratings, based on our own experience. You’ll want to take your own fitness level into account, and the hikes might take you less or more time than they take us. For reference, we consider ourselves to be of “moderate/average” fitness—we’re quite active and love to hike regularly, but aren’t marathon runners, for example!
    • Also, note that the “hiking time” listed under each hike will always be the time it takes to do the whole hike; i.e. we’ve given the return (round trip) time.
  • After each hike on this list, we’ve included our recommendations for 1) places to camp or stay nearby, and 2) a local food/beverage treat to reward yourself with after your hike (where applicable).
    • We happen to love craft beer and pizza, so they feature in many of our “treat” recommendations—is there any better combo after a hike?! We don’t think so 😉

Map of the Best South Island Day Hikes

The Best Day Hikes on the South Island, New Zealand

Best Hikes in the Nelson/Abel Tasman Region, South Island

1.  Anchorage to Marahau Hike

Abel Tasman National Park, Nelson/Tasman Region


Features: Golden beaches; lush jungle; swimmable crystal-clear ocean

  • Distance: 12.4km / 7.7 miles (not including any side trips) 
  • Hiking Time: 3-4 hours (plan for more time if you want to visit beaches)
  • Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
  • Type of Trail: one-way; requires a boat ride at the start (or end)
  • Trailhead coordinates: 40° 59′ 48.584″ S 173° 0′ 9.4223″ E 
  • Trail Guide

This picture-perfect day walk takes you through some of the highlights of the Abel Tasman Great Walk, but in a condensed version. The Abel Tasman track is one of the best-maintained hiking trails in the entire country, and if you’re a beach lover (like us), you simply must do this walk.

You’ll need to plan a bit for this one: this hike requires that you take a water taxi from Marahau to Anchorage, and then walk back to Marahau. Or you can do the reverse, and book a water taxi from Anchorage to take you back to Marahau. 

While most guides recommend going from Marahau to Anchorage, we recommend the opposite. We like to take the water taxi to Anchorage first, and then walk back to Marahau at our leisure.

We’ve written more below about how to book a water taxi in Marahau, but for now, let’s get onto the hike!

The golden sandy beach at Anchorage Bay—this is where your hike begins!

How to Hike From Anchorage to Marahau:

After your water taxi ride, you’ll get dropped at stunning Anchorage Bay, where you’ll probably want to go for a swim (you should!). It’s hard to not linger here for ages, as it’s such a nice beach. To motivate yourself to get walking, remember that there will be other gorgeous beaches along your hike.

From Anchorage Bay, you’ll start an ascent up the well-defined path towards Marahau. The climb from Anchorage is strenuous, but keep in mind that it’s the hardest part of the hike, and you’re getting it done right at the beginning.

While you huff-and-puff your way up, remember to take some breaks to look back and admire the views behind you—they’re some of the best views in the entire Abel Tasman National Park!

Views on the hike up from Anchorage Bay

After the big climb out of Anchorage Bay, the trail is pretty easy-going for the remainder of the hike. Along the way, you’ll get to enjoy gorgeous coastal views, visit swimming beaches, and hike under the cover of lush beech forest decorated with fern trees.

You just might forget you’re in New Zealand and think you’re in the tropics—it’s absolute paradise.

Some Tips for Hiking this Trail:

  • Definitely bring a picnic to enjoy at one of the beaches along the trail (we particularly love Stillwell Bay and Coquille Bay, but everyone has their own favorites).
  • Pack plenty of drinking water
  • Don’t forget your swimsuit!

How to Book a Water Taxi to Hike from Anchorage to Marahau

  • Water taxi companies in Marahau: There are two water taxi operators in Marahau—Marahau Water Taxis and Aquataxi.
    • We booked with Marahau Water Taxis and they were fabulous, but we’ve heard equally great things about Aquataxi. You can’t go wrong with either.
    • On our water taxi ride, we got to take a quick detour to see Split Apple Rock and also spotted fur seal pups lounging on rocks in the sea. It was a wonderful start to our hike.
  • Cost of the water taxi: It’ll cost $43 per adult ($21.50 for kids) to take the water taxi, and it’s well worth the cost. The boat ride itself is part of the fun!
  • Tips for booking the water taxi:
    • When you book your water taxi, make sure to select the one-way ticket option, and book *from* Marahau *to* Anchorage. 
    • Ensure you book your water taxi in advance, as this is a popular hike and the boats do fill up.

Further tips for the hike from Anchorage to Marahau

  • We recommend timing this hike with low tide, as the beaches in the Abel Tasman can pretty much disappear at high tide—and you’ll absolutely want to enjoy the beaches. Check the tide tables on the DOC website before planning your hike. 
  • Please note that this is one of the South Island’s most popular hikes. For that reason, you won’t find heaps of solitude on this trail. If you’re after a more “off-the-beaten-track” hike in Abel Tasman National Park, we recommend hiking in the northern end of the park instead (see our entry on the Totaranui to Separation Point hike below). 
  • Sandflies can be bad at the beaches in AT National Park. Bring sandfly repellant.
  • When you’re exploring the beaches along this hike, make sure to check out the beach caves. Some of the caves house glow worms!
  • Optional side excursion: If you’re up for a longer hike, you could tack on a walk to Cleopatra’s Pool from Anchorage Bay before making your way back to Marahau. Cleopatra’s Pool is a popular rock pool with a natural waterslide. This side trip will add another couple of hours to your hike.
Post-hike treat:

Head to Hooked for their Happy Hour (4-6 pm), where you can sip on a local craft beer, cider, or wine for just $8.50 a pop. 

Where to camp/stay near the hike from Anchorage to Marahau:

We recommend staying at the Barn, whether you want to camp in a tent or campervan, or stay in a cabin. 

They have options for most budgets, and this is literally the closest place you can stay to the start of the Abel Tasman track (which in this case, is the end of the day walk). When you finish your hike, you’ll end up right at the Barn!

As a bonus, the Barn has outdoor games, communal bonfires, and an onsite shop that sells ice creams, drinks (alcoholic and not), and locally-raised beef—plus plenty of other basic items. In summer, they even have a Lebanese food truck onsite. We highly recommend this spot!

2. Totaranui to Separation Point

Abel Tasman National Park, Nelson/Tasman Region 


Features: Golden-sand swimming beaches; lush jungle; coastal views

If you’d like to experience Abel Tasman National Park but don’t like crowds, then this is the walk for you.

This hike is located on the northern (Golden Bay) side of the national park, which sees a lot less traffic than the southern section of the park. It’s equally beautiful, though, with the gorgeous golden beaches, lush jungle, and calm, clear water that Abel Tasman is known for.

Mutton Cove in Abel Tasman National Park

This out-and-back hike will take you past two stunning golden sand beaches. First up is Anapai Bay (1 hour into the hike), then Mutton Cove (another 30 minutes along the trail). Both are great spots for a swim and/or picnic on a nice day.

For a longer hike, continue on to Separation Point, which is a further 20-30 minutes of walking. You’ll find a lighthouse at Separation Point, and if you’re lucky you’ll spot fur seals lounging on the rocks. Make sure to admire them from afar, as they do not like being approached.

Return back to Totaranui/your car the same way—and don’t miss a cool-off swim at either Mutton Cove or Anapair Bay on your return walk! 

Further tips for the Totaranui to Separation Point Hike:

You might encounter a cheeky weka on the trail!
  • For a shorter hike, you can simply walk to Anapai Bay or Mutton Cove, and turn around from there. 
  • The drive into Totaranui is a bit rough. The road is unpaved/gravel, and it’s narrow and windy. You don’t need a 4wd vehicle or anything like that, but make sure you’re a confident driver before attempting this road.
  • Have insect repellent handy. Sandflies are usually present on Abel Tasman beaches, sorry to say.
Post-hike treat

Go to Toto’s Cafe & Pizzeria for a wood-fired pizza and local beer or wine with incredible views over Wainui Bay. 

Toto’s is completely off-grid and reminds us of our holidays spent in Costa Rica. Sit under the palm-covered bar under the sun, and you’ll feel like you’re on a tropical vacation! 

Where to camp/stay near the Separation Point Hike:
  • For camping nearby, Totaranui Campground is unbeatable. This is right where you’ll start/end the walk, so the location couldn’t be more convenient!
    • Totaranui Campground is a huge DOC campsite right by the gorgeous orange-gold sand Totaranui Beach. It’s great for people in vans or tents. Make sure to book ahead, as this place is popular (and best avoided during the weeks around Christmas/New Years).
  • For other camping nearby in Golden Bay, the Pohara Beach Top 10 is also wonderful. We recommend their cute beachside cabins if you don’t feel like “roughing it.”
Other accommodation
  • Non-campers will want to stay in beautiful Golden Bay.
    • We recommend getting an Airbnb in Golden Bay, as there are heaps of amazing ones. Check specifically in Wainui Bay, Tata Beach, Ligar Bay, or Pohara.
      • We highly recommend this Airbnb in Ligar Bay; it’s perfect for couples or a small family (but it’s often booked out, as it’s seriously wonderful). When we stayed here, we did not want to leave.

3. Mount Robert Circuit

Nelson Lakes National Park, Nelson/Tasman Region


Features: Beautiful lake & mountain views; tussock grasslands; beech forest

This excellent hike in Nelson Lakes National Park climbs up above beautiful Lake Rotoiti, with stunning views pretty much the entire way.

Luckily, the views are helpful for distracting from the strenuous hike up the trail—this one’s a lung-buster, but on a clear day it’s well worth the effort. 

How to hike the Mount Robert Circuit:

You can start this loop hike in either direction, but we recommend heading out clockwise on the Paddy’s Track. The ascent is gentler in this direction, and as you climb up the trail you’ll find plenty of view-riddled stopping points for catching your breath.

Section 1: Paddy’s Track to Bushline Hut

The ascent up Paddy’s Track will take between 60-90 minutes to the Bushline Hut. When you get to the Bushline Hut, congratulations—you’ve just reached the halfway mark, and you’ve completed the hardest part of the hike! 

The landscape above the bush line is stunning, with golden tussock fields offering a lovely contrast to the deep blue Lake Rotoiti below.

You’ll definitely want to enjoy a picnic lunch somewhere up here, so make sure to bring one with you!

Section 2: Bushline Hut to Pinchgut Track junction

From the Bushline Hut, continue for approximately 30 more minutes to reach the trail junction. Go right at the junction sign onto the Pinchgut Track, then start your descent.

Section 3: Pinchgut Track back to Carpark

It’s all downhill from here as the hike descends steeply down the zigzagging track. 

You’ll pass two shelters on the way back down to the carpark (good for a bit of shade on a hot day), and will emerge in and out of beech forest onto exposed slopes until you reach your car. 

Beautiful Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lakes National Park

You might be tempted to cool off with a swim in Lake Rotoiti after your hike. Go for it if you want, but not gonna lie—the massive long-fin eels in the lake usually put us off just a wee bit. Go to the main dock on the lake to see them for yourself. You’ve been warned! 😉

Note: we recommend skipping this hike in inclement weather—it can be dangerous, and the clear-day views are what make this hike worthwhile!

Post-hike treat:

Indulge in a pizza and beer at the Alpine Lodge pub/bistro.

Where to camp/stay near the Mount Robert Circuit:

The fabulous Kerr Bay DOC campsite is situated in a stunning spot right beside Lake Rotoiti. 

This campsite has great facilities, including token-operated hot showers & a camp kitchen/shelter (you’ll need your own pots, pans, etc.)

If you camp here, don’t miss golden hour by the lake. Also…remember insect repellant, as the sandflies are prolific!

Other accommodation:

For non-campers, the woodsy Alpine Lodge in St Arnaud is the best place to stay in the area.

The Alpine Lodge has accommodation options for all budgets (apartments, hotel units, and dorm-style rooms). They also boast a highly-rated bistro.

Best Hike in Kaikoura, South Island

4. Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway 

Kaikoura, Canterbury Region

Features: NZ fur seals; coastal scenery; snow-capped mountain views

Note: For best results, try to time this hike around low tide

This loop walk packs a punch: views of the sea, mountains, and a fur seal colony. This hike is a Kaikoura (and South Island) must-do!

While other guides will tell you to start and end the walk in the Kaikoura township, we don’t recommend this (as it forces you to walk along the road for a good chunk of the hike, which we don’t find very enjoyable).

Instead, drive to the Point Kean carpark, and begin your walk from there. 

The Best Way to Hike the Kaikoura Coastal Walkway:

From the Point Kean carpark, you’ll be hiking a loop along the coastline, and then up along the ridgeline. This is a different version of the hike than what you’ll find in most hiking guides (including the DOC website), but we think it gives you the best parts of the hike, with a minimal amount of effort 😉 

For more detail, here’s how we recommend doing this hike:

Section 1: the Coastal Path

You’ll start this loop walk clockwise, along the coastline, on the rocky seaside path. 

As you walk along the coastal path, you’ll encounter fur seals galore—some splashing about in the water, but most plopped on every rock and beach as far as the eye can see. Watch your step, and don’t get too close to the seals—they do not like to be disturbed! It’s best to keep a 10m distance from them wherever possible.

Continue on along the path, looking out for fur seals the entire way. The crowds of people diminish as you get farther and farther away from Point Kean, but you’ll find no shortage of seals as you keep walking!

Section 2: Whaler’s Bay Lookout to South Bay

Once you’ve completed the coastal path portion of the walk, you’ll make your way up a winding staircase at Whaler’s Bay to the clifftops above and Whaler’s Bay Lookout.

From the top of the staircase, go left to walk to South Bay. 

On the clifftops, you’ll follow a well-defined path. Along the way, you’ll get stunning views of the wide-open ocean and limestone beach coves dotted with the multitudes of fur seals below. Mountain peaks loom in the background and are especially stunning in winter and spring, with their layers of snow and alpine glow.

Mountain (and cow!) views along the Kaikoura Coastal Walkway
Section 3: South Bay back to Carpark

Do the South Bay section of the hike as an out-and-back, making your way back to the Whaler’s Bay lookout.

From the Whaler’s Bay lookout, walk back to Point Kean and your car along the clifftop path, with gorgeous views keeping you company the entire way.

Post-hike treat:

Head over to Emporium Brewing in Kaikoura for a refreshing craft beer and some lunch.

Where to camp/stay near the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway:

We like staying at the Kaikoura Top 10 Holiday Park.

They have camping sites for tents and campervans, plus camping cabins and modern apartment-style motel units. It’s also within close walking distance to town, including Emporium Brewing (mentioned above!).

Best Hikes in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, South Island

5. Hooker Valley Track

 Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, Mackenzie Region


Features: Views of Aoraki/Mount Cook; swing bridges; glacial lakes; scenic boardwalk

The Hooker Valley Track is one of the South Island’s most popular hikes, and for good reason: the work-to-reward ratio is pretty much unbeatable.

While the walk takes just 2-3 hours and is quite easy, you’ll encounter epic sights along the trail: three scenic swingbridges over alpine rivers, glacial lakes, and views of NZ’s tallest mountain, Mount Cook/Aoraki (if you’re lucky enough to visit on a clear day, that is).

First-up on this hike is the glacier-fed Mueller Lake, which is a gorgeous turquoise color on a sunny day. After passing the Mueller Lake lookout, you’ll cross your first swingbridge.

Mueller Lake & the first Hooker Valley swingbridge

From the first swingbridge, you’ll skirt alongside Mueller Lake and eventually reach another (very swingy!) swingbridge.

Next, you’ll encounter a beautiful meadow and the trail turns to a boardwalk for a stretch. If it’s clear out, you’ll get absolutely amazing views of Aoraki/Mount Cook!

You’ll then cross a third (and final) swingbridge before making a gentle ascent up to Hooker Lake.


Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at Hooker Lake. You might spot lots of icebergs floating in the lake, and you’ll also want to gaze at Mount Cook for a while. We recommend bringing a warm, wind-proof layer to wear at the lake, as it can get quite cold here.

On a sunny, clear day, this is a must-do hike on the South Island. In fact, it might be the best easy day walk in all of New Zealand. If you can time this hike on a day with good visibility, it will blow you away!

Some Tips for Hiking the Hooker Valley Track:

  • This popular hike can get crowded. Like, really crowded. Time your visit early in the morning around sunrise, or around golden hour in the evening for fewer crowds (and hopefully awesome lighting, too!). This is totally doable if you’re staying in the park.
  • If it’s really windy out, this trail may be closed at the second swingbridge, which can be dangerous in high winds.
Post-hike treat:

We tend to bring our own food/drinks into Mount Cook National Park, as there isn’t a lot out there. 

If you’re planning to camp or stay in Mount Cook and will be cooking for yourself, pick up some fresh salmon from Mount Cook Alpine Salmon on the drive in, and store it in your chilly bin or campervan fridge. Grab some salmon fillets to cook on your camp stove, or salmon sashimi to add to a simple rice bowl. Soooo yum!

Where to camp/stay near the Hooker Valley Track: 

Tent and campervan campers should book the White Horse Hill Campground, which is right next to the trail. This is such a scenic DOC campsite—it honestly couldn’t be in a better location! It’s the best place for camping around Mount Cook.

Other accommodation:

Mount Cook National Park offers numerous accommodation options: the Aoraki/Mount Cook Alpine Lodge (midge-range) and The Hermitage (higher-end) are both great choices.

For camping and accommodation just outside of the national park, Glentanner is a great choice, too.

6. Sealy Tarns Track

 Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, Mackenzie Region


Features: Incredible views over Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park; reflective alpine tarns

Nicknamed the “Stairway to Heaven,” the Sealy Tarns track involves hiking up 2,000+ steps to reach some of the best views in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.

While the alpine tarns are the destination here, they’re not actually the main attraction on this hike.

The Sealy Tarns with gorgeous mountain reflections

The mirror-like tarns reflect the nearby mountains and they’re certainly beautiful. That being said, the epic views are what really make this hike spectacular!

Where to Start the Sealy Tarns Track:

The Sealy Tarns trail starts at the White Horse Hill Campsite/Carpark (which is also the starting point for the Hooker Valley Track).

There are bathrooms and drinking water at the carpark—make sure to fill up your water bottle(s) before starting the hike!

How to Hike the Sealy Tarns Track:

Follow the signs for the Kea Point Lookout / Sealy Tarns / Mueller Hut, as they all start on the same track.

The track is mellow at first as it meanders along the valley floor. At the Kea Point junction, follow the signs and turn left for the Sealy Tarns / Mueller Hut.

Soon enough, you’ll reach the start of the stairs. Now the stair climbing begins!

As you zigzag up step after step, you’ll surely feel the burn and your lungs will be busting. But the great thing is that there are plenty of places to stop and catch your breath—and each one gets progressively better and better views.

Along the hike, you’ll start seeing the national park unfold beneath you. You’ll spot Mueller Lake, with its glacial turquoise waters. Then you’ll get an overview of the Hooker Valley track far below, with Hooker Lake at its end. If you’re lucky enough to get a clear day, you’ll also get to see Aoraki/Mount Cook itself!

Mount Cook, Hooker Lake & Valley, & Mueller Lake—such good views from the Sealy Tarns track!

Mount Cook Village will appear below, perched atop meadows of green and gold. The glaciers on Mount Sefton glow with a blue tint in the nearby distance. Sometimes you’ll hear (or see) avalanches crack and boom off the glacier. Keas might soar and screech overhead.

In other words, this is a grand hike. And it only takes 3 hours! 

If you’re a reasonably fit hiker, make sure to add the Sealy Tarns track to your South Island hiking bucket list. Its majestic views are worth every step.

Tip: Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at the tarn lookout while you take in the views.

Where to camp/stay near the Sealy Tarns Track:

See entry #5 above for our camping & accommodation recommendations in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park!

Best Hikes on the West Coast, South Island

7. Scott’s Beach

Kahurangi National Park, Karamea Area, West Coast


Features: Nikau palms; a beautiful & wild beach; coastal views

For a taste of the Heaphy Track, one of NZ’s Great Walks, the short hike to Scott’s Beach is spectacular. 

You’ll start this walk near the coast, with the sound of the wild West Coast waves pounding the shore. The track first meanders along a tannin-rich river (the color of coca-cola!) and you’ll cross a swing bridge into a dense forest filled with nikau palms.

These are the world’s southernmost palm trees, and this part of the trail feels like it belongs in the Amazon jungle. 

From the nikau grove, you’ll make your way to Scott’s Beach via a gentle uphill trail. Make sure to stop at the lookout for awesome views over the beach. 


When you get to the beach, it’s fun to explore around—but don’t expect to go for a swim: this beach is wild and has strong currents, and it’s not a swimming-friendly spot. We recommend bringing a picnic, though, to enjoy while watching the waves.

Once you’ve had your fill of the beach, head back to your car via the same track—but don’t miss the quick detour through the Nikau Walk, which takes you straight through the lush nikau forest. It’s magical and makes for the perfect end to the hike.

Tip: Make sure to bring insect repellent for this walk. The sandflies are fierce in these parts!

Further Adventures Nearby:

The Oparara Arches are another fantastic adventure nearby

If you want to spend a whole day exploring, make sure to check out the Oparara Arches, which are about a 45-minute drive south from the Scott’s Beach trailhead. 

Please ensure to take care on the drive to the arches, though, as it’s a very narrow, windy, and unsealed road (i.e. not suitable for large motorhomes or timid drivers). Also give yourself plenty of time, as this is a full day of exploring when combined with the Scott’s Beach hike.

Where to camp/stay near the Scott’s Beach hike:

There is a beautiful DOC-run campground right near the start of the Heaphy Track/Scott’s Beach trail: the Kōhaihai Campsite. You can tent camp or stay in a van here, but seriously, be warned: the sandflies here are pretty gnarly.

Other camping/accommodation:

What we like to do is stay at Gentle Annie Campground in Mokihinui, which is about an hour and twenty minutes south of the trailhead. 

Gentle Annie is one of our favorite campgrounds in NZ, and they have options for everyone, including campsites and beautiful accommodation for non-campers. If you’ve come all the way out to this part of the West Coast, we highly (highly!) recommend that you stay here.

Tip: If you’re staying at Gentle Annie, have pizza-making supplies handy so you can make your dinner in their communal wood-fired pizza oven. They sell basic pizza supplies in their on-site shop, but we like to stop for supplies in Westport on the drive up.

8. Porarari River Track

Punakaiki, West Coast

Features: jungly rainforest; a beautiful river

This fantastic walk in Paparoa National Park is a real gem, giving hikers a taste of the Paparoa Great Walk along a short and easy section of the trail.

The track follows the limestone-sculpted Porarari River. The river’s emerald pools and the surrounding subtropical forest make this walk truly magical. Nikau palms and fern trees offer jungly vibes (and shade!) as you walk along the track. 

While a more popular route involves completing a loop along the Porarari River, then looping back along the Punakaiki River, we prefer to just do an out-and-back hike along the Porarari River, as we find it more pleasant.

After walking along the Porarari River for about an hour, you’ll reach the Inland Pack Track junction. This’ll be your turnaround point; so from here, retrace your steps back to the start.

More Adventures Nearby:

Don’t miss the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks or the Truman Track when you’re in this area!

The Pancake Rocks are best visited at high tide, while the Truman Track is better at low tide—so check the tides beforehand and plan your day accordingly.

Tip: Make sure you have sandfly repellent handy in this part of NZ.

Where to camp/stay near the Porarari River Track:

Punakaiki Beach Camp couldn’t be in a better location—it’s situated right by the beach, and right by start of this track!

There are options for campers and non-campers alike: choose from campsites, cabins, or holiday houses at this wonderful spot.

9. Blue Pools

Haast Pass, Mount Aspiring National Park, between the West Coast and Wanaka


Features: Stunning blue pools of glacier water; beech forest

Not all hikes on the South Island are long and difficult. Case in point: this beautiful walk to the Blue Pools takes under an hour, and is easy walking the whole way. This is a “must-do” stop for travelers driving Haast Pass!

From the Blue Pools carpark, you’ll meander on a mellow track through beech forest, then make your way over a swing bridge over the Makarora River. 

After crossing a second swingbridge over a creek, you’ll spot the Blue Pools below. These spectacular pools are fed by glacier water, giving them an ultra-blue hue that is simply incredible on a sunny day.

You can take a side path down to the rocky beaches by the pools. You’ll probably want to hang out for a while to enjoy the scenery, but make sure you have insect repellant as the sandflies are fierce here! 

Keep your eyes peeled for trout swimming in the clear water and mohua (Yellowhead birds) in the forest around you. 

Where to camp/stay near the Blue Pools hike:

There are two DOC campsites close to Blue Pools.

Other accommodation:

Wonderland Makarora Lodge offers basic A-frame cabins and chalets at prices for all budgets.

For a treat, book one of their chalets with outdoor baths!

Best Hikes around Wanaka, South Island

10. Rob Roy Glacier Track

Mount Aspiring National Park, Wanaka Area, Otago


Features: An epic glacier! With waterfalls! Plus a lovely beech forest and swing bridges.

It’s hard to pick favorites, but if we had to choose our #1 hike in New Zealand, it’s the Rob Roy Glacier Track.

Full disclosure: the trail is kind of a pain to get to (you’ll need to drive for about an hour on an unpaved road with fords), but it’s well worth the hassle.

The track takes you over a photogenic swingbridge and up into dense forest, with beech trees and ferns aplenty. You’ll follow the trail along a beautiful milky-blue river until you eventually reach the glacier—at which point your jaw will most certainly drop.

One of the many waterfalls at the Rob Roy Glacier

Bring a picnic to enjoy on one of the large rocks in the glacier basin, and eat your lunch in one of the most scenic settings on earth. You’ll see waterfalls pouring down from the glacier, and be serenaded by the sounds of the ice cracking. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

Trail tip: Make sure to check the trail and road conditions before embarking on this hike. The road has a couple of fords to cross, and they become unpassable after rainstorms.

Post-hike treat:

If you’re staying in Wanaka, refuel with a hearty burrito at Burrito Craft.

For celebratory post-hike beers, go to Rhyme X Reason, Ground Up or b.effect (sorry, but we couldn’t choose just one as they’re all such good breweries!). 

Where to camp/stay near the Rob Roy Glacier Track:
Self-contained camping:

Travelers in self-contained campervans are lucky here: you can camp overnight at the carpark, right at the start of the hike! Remember though: this is for self-contained campers only.

Other camping & accommodation:

For everyone else, you’ll want to stay in Wanaka. The Wanaka Top 10 Holiday Park offers tent and campervan sites, and cabins. Also… they have a hot tub and sauna—just perfect for relaxing after your walk.

11. Roy’s Peak

Wanaka, Otago Region


Features: Stunning views over Lake Wanaka, Mount Aspiring, and the surrounding mountain peaks.

Chances are, you’ve heard of Roy’s Peak—or you’ve seen a photo of it. This is one of the most popular hikes on the South Island (and in NZ overall). This trail’s fame comes from the Instagram-famous photo spot near the top of the hike, which sports incredible views of Lake Wanaka and its surrounds.

We’re going to be honest with you here: this is a hard hike. The trail slogs uphill for 3 hours with no shade, and it’s often super crowded.

So, is it worth it? Well, we’ve yet to meet a person who wasn’t elated after tackling this hike, even if their legs are sore for days afterward.

Some Tips for Hiking the Roy’s Peak Track:

  • To make this hike as pleasant as possible, our top tip is to start the hike before sunrise, with a headlamp—you’ll overcome some of the uphill slog before the sun gets too hot, you’ll catch the sunrise, and you’ll beat some of the crowds. A win-win in our book!
  • Make sure to bring plenty of water and sun protection (a hat and sunblock) on this hike. There is no shade on the trail (nor is there a place to fill up water on the track).
  • Wear layers so you can shed off clothing as you heat up on the uphill. You might start out freezing cold in the morning, and then experience high temps as you make your way up to the summit.
Where to camp/stay near the Roy’s Peak hike:

We recommend staying in Wanaka. See entry #10 above for our accommodation (& treat) recommendations! 

Best Hikes Around Glenorchy, South Island

12. Routeburn Day Walk #1  – Routeburn Flats/Falls 

Glenorchy Area, Otago Region


Features: Part of an NZ Great Walk; beech forest; alpine meadows; turquoise river; waterfalls (this hike has a lot going for it!)

  • Distance: 18.2km / 11.3 miles to Routeburn Falls, with a shorter option to hike to just Routeburn Flats
  • Hiking Time: 4-6 hours (depending on how far you want to go)
  • Difficulty: Moderate if hiking to Routeburn Flats; hard if hiking to Routeburn Falls
  • Type of Trail: out-and-back
  • Trailhead coordinates: 44° 43′ 9.187″ S 168° 16′ 36.6413″ E
  • Trail Guide

Note: see entry #17 for another Routeburn Day Walk!

The 32-km Routeburn Track is one of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks—these are multi-day hikes (tramps in Kiwi lingo) that traverse through some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes. 

Doing a Great Walk in full requires planning and preparation: you need to book the overnight huts along the trail (if you can manage to secure a spot!), arrange for transport to/from the track, and pack everything you need for several days out in the wild. 

Luckily for day hikers, a lot of the Great Walks also have awesome day hiking options, where you can hike a section of the trail rather than do the whole thing. The Routeburn track is no exception; there are some excellent day walks along this Great Walk!

How to Day Hike Part of the Routeburn Track:

For a fabulous day hike along the Routeburn track, start at the track’s entrance on the Glenorchy side of the trail.

From here, you can hike to Routeburn Flats (4 hours return) for a fairly mellow hike, or continue on to Routeburn Falls (6 hours return) for a more challenging hike.

The trail meanders upward through a red beech forest wonderland teeming with birdsong. You’ll follow the river—the Routeburn—along the way (“burn” is a Scottish word for “river”), and you’ll get stunning glimpses of its turquoise waters as you hike. 

The turquoise waters of the Routeburn
Shorter Hike Option: Routeburn Flats

After about 2 hours of gentle uphill hiking, you’ll reach the Routeburn Flats hut, which is set amidst a gorgeous alpine meadow under majestic mountain peaks.

You can either turn around here (after lingering awhile, of course!) or continue on to Routeburn Falls (which we recommend doing if you’re up for it). Either way, definitely bring a picnic to enjoy at Routeburn Flats, and if you’re up for it you can brave a dip in the cool, clear river by the camping site.

Longer Hike Option: Routeburn Falls

If you decide to continue on to Routeburn Falls, the hike from the Flats to the Falls will take about one hour (one-way) of strenuous uphill hiking. The views are so worth it if you can manage it!

To get back to your car from either destination, return the same way along the trail. Make sure to stop for a swim in the Routeburn to cool off on the way down.

Where to camp/stay near this Routeburn Day Hike:
  • The closest campsite to the trailhead is the Sylvan DOC campsite.
    • This campground is just a 10-minute drive from the Routeburn trailhead; it’s located right by the river and you can walk to Lake Sylvan from camp. This is a great option for tent campers or campervanners.
  • Another good camping option is Mrs. Wooley’s Campground in Glenorchy.

>>Related read: the best camping grounds in Glenorchy, New Zealand!

Other accommodation:

The Kinloch Wilderness Retreat is a wonderful place to stay in this area. They have a wide range of accommodation options, including heritage rooms, eco-cabins, and backpacker dorm-style rooms. 

They’ve also got a great onsite restaurant. Base yourself out of here and explore the area—hike #13 below is another fantastic one nearby!

13. Lake Rere Loop

Glenorchy Area, Otago Region


Features: Beech forest, an emerald river, waterfalls, mountains, a pristine backcountry lake

The loop hike to Lake Rere has got to be one of the most underrated day hikes on the South Island. This hike has got a lot going for it, and it’s not very busy. 

If you like off-the-beaten-track hikes, you should consider exploring this hidden gem of a trail!

We recommend doing this loop hike counter-clockwise. To help break things down a bit, we’ve divided the hike into 4 “sections.” Here’s how to do it:

Section 1 of the Lake Rere Loop: The Greenstone Track

Start along the Greenstone Track (part of the Greenstone-Caples multi-day tramp). The Greenstone track is stunning, with a canopy of beech trees and emerald river pools just calling out for a swim. Look for trout in the clear water, too—this river is a popular fly fishing area.

After about 30 minutes of hiking in the beech forest, you’ll cross a swingbridge at the junction for the Greenstone-Caples track. Cross over the swingbridge to continue along the Greenstone Track. On the other side of the bridge is a stunning meadow, surrounded by epic mountains. 

You’ll hike on a trail through the meadow, which soon gives way to more beech forest There are a couple of beautiful waterfalls on this section of the track. Eventually, you’ll turn left at a signed junction to head towards Lake Rere.

Section 2 of the Lake Rere Loop: Greenstone River to Lake Rere

You’ll cross a bridge over the Greenstone River to reach the other side. Note the ghost forest in the riverbed as you walk over the bridge!

A riverbed ghost forest along the Lake Rere track

From this bridge, it’ll take about 45 minutes to get to Lake Rere. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy while you gaze at the lake!

Section 3 of the Lake Rere Loop: Lake Rere to Elfin Bay

Heading out from Lake Rere, you’ll hike down a stock trail, which is nice and wide but does get quite muddy. Head left at the sign for Elfin Bay.

When you get to Elfin Bay, you’re gonna want to go for a swim—it’s a gorgeous swimming spot in Lake Wakatipu! This was a popular spot with locals in the 1800s; they’d take a steamer ship to this side of the lake for picnicking and walking,

Elfin Bay along the Lake Rere track—what a good spot for a mid-hike swim!

Section 4 of the Lake Rere Loop: Elfin Bay to Carpark

After a swim in Eflin Bay, walk back to your car along the farmland trail. From Elfin Bay, it takes about an hour to reach the carpark. 

Where to camp/stay near the Lake Rere Hike:
  • Self-contained campervans can stay overnight in the carpark at the trailhead. 
  • For other campers (tents or vehicles that aren’t self-contained), the DOC Kinloch Campsite is the closest campground to this hike.
Other accommodation:

Stay at the Kinloch Wilderness Retreat—see more info in entry #12 above!

Best Hikes in Queenstown, South Island

14. Queenstown Hill Walkway

Queenstown, Otago Region


Features: One of the best views of Queenstown and surrounds

Loved by both locals and visitors alike, Queenstown Hill is one of the best short hikes in Queenstown. 

The panoramic views from the top of the trail are just fantastic. You’ll feel on top of the world as you gaze over the Queenstown township, Lake Wakatipu, and the Remarkables mountain range beyond.

How to get to the Queenstown Hill Walkway:

The Queenstown Hill trailhead is a 5-minute drive or 20-minute walk from the town center, making this walk super easy to access (even if you’re visiting Queenstown without a car!). The trailhead is located on Belfast Terrace. There’s a small parking area and additional street parking nearby.

If you don’t want to drive, you can also walk to the trailhead from town. Just note that this will add more elevation gain (and time) to the hike.

How to Hike the Queenstown Hill Walkway:

From the trailhead, you’ll hike up and up through dense pine forest.

There are informative panels along the way that describe some of Queenstown’s history. They’re good stops for a breather!

After about 45 minutes, the pine forest gives way to tussock fields as you approach the popular “Basket of Dreams” sculpture.

The Basket of Dreams sculpture along the Queenstown Hill Walkway

Don’t stop here, though—continue hiking for another 15 minutes to the summit, where you’ll get even better views over the surrounding area. Bring a snack to enjoy up top while you take in the views before heading back to your car.

Where to camp/stay near the Queenstown Hill Walkway:

The Queenstown Top 10 is a wonderful holiday park in Arthur’s Point, just a 6-minute drive from the Queenstown town center. They have campsites for campervans and tents, plus cozy cabins.

There’s a free shuttle into town from the campsite, too. 

Other accommodation:

Queenstown has a mind-boggling array of accommodation options. 

  • If you like boutique hotels, we recommend staying at the Sherwood. This eco-friendly hotel has a modern wood-cabin vibe and a fantastic onsite restaurant featuring local produce. 
  • You’ll also find lots of great Queenstown properties for rent on Airbnb—if you can swing it, get a place with a lake view! 

15. Bob’s Cove Tracks

Queenstown Area, Otago Region

The gorgeous view from Picnic Point on the Bob’s Cove Track

Features: Lake views; swimming spots; native bush

Bob’s Cove is one of the best places to hike around Queenstown. It also has some of the easiest hiking trails on this South Island hikes list. If you’re visiting Queenstown, don’t miss Bob’s Cove!

Just why is Bob’s Cove so special, you might be wondering? Well, it has swimmable beaches, turquoise water, lots of lush greenery, and plenty of hiking options for all ages and abilities. If you like spending time in beautiful outdoor scenery, you’ll absolutely love it here! 

Hiking options at Bob’s Cove range from 40 minutes to 2 hours—we’ll outline the two best options below.

Bob’s Cove Track Option 1: Picnic Point

For the shortest hiking option (40 minutes round-trip), park at the Bob’s Cove carpark, and hike up to the Picnic Point lookout for stunning views over Lake Wakatipu. On a sunny day, the water is a turquoise color that looks straight out of the tropics. 

Bob’s Cove Track Option 2: 12 Mile Delta to/from Bob’s Cove

If you’re after a longer hike, you can walk from Bob’s Cove to Twelve Mile Delta (or vice versa). 

Twelve Mile Delta was a filming location for the Ithilien Camp in the Lord of the Rings movies. There’s also a DOC campsite at Twelve Mile Delta. The hike from Bob’s Cove to Twelve Mile Delta takes about two hours round-trip.

One of the many gorgeous swimming/picnicking spots at Bob’s Cove

Whichever hiking option you choose here, make sure to pack a swimsuit and a picnic. You’re gonna want to stay for a while—Bob’s Cove is just too good!

Post-hike treat:

Head to Atlas Beer Cafe in Queenstown for a great selection of NZ craft beers and waterfront outdoor seating. This spot is loved by locals and visitors alike.

Where to camp/stay near Bob’s Cove: 

The 12-Mile Delta DOC campsite is the closest campsite to Bob’s Cove. Situated on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, it’s one of the most scenic campsites in Queenstown and is suitable for tents or campervans. You can hike to Bob’s Cove right from the campground!

For another lovely DOC campground that’s close by, head to the Moke Lake Campsite.

Other accommodation:

See entry #14 above for our recommendations on accommodation in Queenstown.

16. Lake Alta Track

Queenstown Area, Otago Region


Features: A stunning alpine lake; snow-capped mountains

The Lake Alta Track is a popular hike with Queenstown locals, but it’s not often mentioned in travel guides to the area. 

Well, we’re here to tell you that you shouldn’t miss the Lake Alta Track if you’re planning some hikes on the South Island. It’s our favorite day hike in Queenstown!

You might think that accessing a pristine alpine lake would require a long hike through the backcountry. Luckily, though, Lake Alta is different. The hike to get there is short and sweet, although admittedly somewhat steep.

How to Get to the Lake Alta Track:

You’ll start the Lake Alta Track at the carpark for the Remarkables ski field. The best way to get there is to drive. To gain access to the Remarkables Road that snakes up (and up…) to the ski field, you’ll need to pay $10.00 (per car) at the entrance gates. 

The $10.00 fee is well worth it—especially when you see how much maintenance this road requires. The road is a bit gnarly (i.e. maybe skip this one if you’re terrified of heights!).

How to Hike the Lake Alta Track:

After parking your car at the ski field carpark, you’ll begin your hike by ascending a well-trodden trail past the ski lifts. The trail eventually turns into an alpine wonderland that feels miles away from civilization. 

Hiking up the Lake Alta trail

You’ll cross clear and shallow streams, alpine wetlands, and feel enveloped by the Remarkables ranges all around you. After 45 minutes of hiking up the trail, you’ll emerge above beautiful blue-green Lake Alta. 

Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, Lake Alta is a thing of beauty.

Bring a snack to enjoy while admiring the lake views. Hike back down the same way you came in.

Fun fact: Lake Alta was a filming site in the Lord of the Rings movies—it featured in a scene for Dimrill Dale, when the Fellowship leaves the Mines of Moria.

Post-hike treat:

Grab a craft beer at Altitude Brewery in the Queenstown Marina. They sometimes have a pizza truck, too, with excellent wood-fired pizzas.

Where to camp/stay near the Lake Alta Hike: 

See entries #14 & #15 above for our Queenstown campsite and accommodation recommendations. 

Best Hikes in Te Anau & Fiordland, South Island

17. Routeburn Day Walk #2 – Key Summit Track

Fiordland National Park


Features: Incredible views over Fiordland National Park; alpine tarns; mossy forest

The stunning drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is filled with roadside splendors: mirror lakes, waterfalls, hikes, and so much more.

One of the best pitstops along the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is the Key Summit Track, which takes day hikers along a section of the Routeburn Great Walk.

How to Hike the Key Summit Track:

Starting at the Divide Shelter, the trail climbs up through moss-laden forest for about an hour before reaching the well-marked turnoff for the Key Summit. 

From the turnoff, it’ll take about 20-30 minutes of zig-zagging up the trail until the track emerges above the bush line to the nature loop track. Follow the loop track to the lookout viewpoint, admiring the alpine tarns, low-growing beech trees, and sub-alpine shrublands along the way.

On a clear day, you’ll want to hang around the lookout for a while: it affords you incredible 360-degree panoramic views over Fiordland National Park. We recommend bringing a snack to enjoy up at the top while you take in the epic views.

You can see Lake Marian from the top of the Key Summit track (see the next entry for more details on Lake Marian!)

To return to your car, head back down the track the same way you came up.

Some Tips for This Hike:

  • Make sure to pick up any food/supplies in Te Anau before heading out to the Milford Sound area. The Fresh Choice supermarket is a good option. You won’t find anywhere to buy groceries after Te Anau.
  • Don’t forget your insect repellent before heading out to Fiordland. The sandflies are ferocious in these parts.
  • See Entry #12 for another day hike on the Routeburn track!
Where to camp/stay near the Key Summit Track:

There are heaps of camping options along the road into Milford Sound.

  • Our favorite DOC campsite in the area is the Cascade Creek Campsite. It’s suitable for all campers, including tents & campervans. In full disclosure, though: when we’ve tent camped here, we can only handle a night at a time because of the prolific sandflies. Seriously, do not forget your insect repellent!
  • For a campervan-only option, consider staying at the Milford Sound Lodge’s Rainforest Campervan Park. You’ll be in a prime location right at Milford Sound! This is the only camping option at Milford Sound itself, and it’s only for campervans. Make sure to book ahead though, as this place gets filled up well in advance.
Other accommodation:

If you’re not up for camping but don’t want to shell out tons of money to stay at the Milford Sound Lodge (which is really the only place to stay in Milford Sound), well we’ve got a hidden gem for you: the Eglington Valley Camp.

The Eglington Valley Camp has great little basic self-contained cabins (and they also do have campsites!). This spot makes a wonderful base for enjoying the hikes and scenery in Fiordland.

Another option is to stay in Te Anau; see entry #19 for our Te Anau accommodation recommendations.

18. Lake Marian Track

Fiordland National Park


Features: Beautiful river; gorgeous hanging lake surrounded by snowy mountains

Lake Marian is one of the most stunning alpine lakes in New Zealand—and the hike to get there is a real adventure!

Hiking to Lake Marian is by far one of the best things to do along the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound (or vice versa). We’d also rank it in our top 5 favorite hikes on the South Island. This 3-hour hike includes a waterfall, bird-filled native forest, and a whole lot of jaw-droppingly-gorgeous scenery. 

Situated in a “hanging valley,” Lake Marian was carved out by retreating glaciers. This crystal clear, blue-as-can-be backcountry lake is surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks dripping with waterfalls.

In short: Lake Marian is really something special!

So…how hard is the Lake Marian hike?

The hike to get to Lake Marian is difficult but well worth the effort.

The Lake Marian track itself is more rugged than a lot of the other hikes on this list. Expect a steep incline with roots underfoot, rocks to scramble over, and overall rough ground the whole way. 

This is a hike for people who are comfortable with hiking on trails that aren’t perfectly manicured (like you’ll find in Abel Tasman, for instance).

If you’re a fit and sure-footed hiker, though, then don’t miss this hike if you’re visiting the Milford Sound area!

Where to camp/stay near the lake marian hike:

See entry #17 above for our camping and accommodation recommendations in the area.

19. Kepler Day Walk – Rainbow Reach to Shallow Bay

Te Anau Area, Fiordland National Park


Features: Beech forest; Kepler Track day walk; a beautiful river; sandy swimming beach on Lake Manapouri; LOTR filming site

For a taste of the Kepler Track Great Walk, the day hike from Rainbow Reach to Shallow Bay is unbeatable. In our opinion, this is the best day walk in Te Anau.

This entire hike is a pleasure—easy walking in an uber-scenic location. If you’re planning a visit to Te Anau, don’t miss this hike!

Now onto the hike details.

Section 1: Rainbow Reach to the Wetlands

Just after you head out on the trail from the Rainbow Reach carpark, you’ll cross a scenic swing bridge over the Waiau River. 

A scenic swingbridge at the start of the track

This area was used for filming some scenes in the LOTR movies (most notably the River Anduin in the opening aerial shot of the Fellowship of the Ring).

After crossing the swing bridge, the trail ascends briefly before leveling out to a wide, gently-undulating path. You’ll hike under a canopy of red beech trees with a carpet of moss and ferns on the forest floor. This is a magical forest wonderland and it’s gorgeous on a sunny day or a drizzly one.

Beech trees and ferns along the Kepler track

About an hour into the hike, the trail opens up to a wetland area, where you can take a short side track to a viewing platform. On a calm, clear day, you might see mountain reflections in a wetland tarn.


Section 2: Wetlands to Shallow Bay

From the wetlands area, continue on to the junction for the Shallow Bay turnoff. At the junction, you’ll leave the main Kepler track to head towards the Shallow Bay Hut, which is located right beside Lake Manapouri.

The beach at Shallow Bay is a fantastic spot for a swim on a sunny day. You can also continue another 5-10 minutes along the shoreline to find even more secluded beaches.

Section 3: Retrace Your Steps Back to the Carpark

After swimming/relaxing for as long as you’d like, simply head back to your car via the same route.

Tip: Make sure to pack insect repellent, as the sandflies can be horrendous in Fiordland National Park.

Post-hike treat:

It’s a toss-up between a savory pie from Miles Better Pies, or a stuffed bao and fries from the Bao Now food cart. Both places are so good.

Where to camp/stay in te anau:
  • Holiday Park option: The Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park is a popular place to stay in Te Anau, with powered and unpowered campsites, basic cabins, and motel units.
  • DOC campground: The closest DOC campground to Te Anau is the Henry Creek campsite. It’s a 20-minute drive from Te Anau to Henry Creek, which is located on the road to Milford Sound. While both tents and campervans are technically allowed, the sites here are better suited to campervans.
Other accommodation

If we’re being honest here, accommodation in Te Anau can be a bit lackluster.

That being said, the Lakefront Lodge Te Anau is a good motel option. They have a variety of rooms for different budgets, all of which have kitchenettes.

We also recommend checking out places in Te Anau on Airbnb as there are some good options.

Best Hikes in the Catlins, South Island

20. Catlins Short Walks 

Catlins Area, Southland and Otago Regions

Nugget Point Catlins

Features: Waterfalls; wildlife; a scenic lighthouse; coastal views

The Catlins region is filled with amazing outdoor scenery and wildlife, but there aren’t a lot of big hikes in the area. Instead, there are heaps of short, easy walks to enjoy.

So why not make a day (or two!) of it, and go explore the numerous mini-adventures on offer along the scenic drive from Dunedin to Invercargill via the Catlins?

Here are our picks for the best short hikes in the Catlins:

McLean Falls

McLean Falls - One of the Best Waterfalls in the Catlins

Walk under a canopy of native forest to the tallest waterfall in the Catlins. At 22 meters, McLean Falls is a showstopper of a waterfall!

Purakaunui Falls 


Take a short walk through lush rainforest to a three-tiered cascading waterfall. Don’t forget your camera, as Purakaunui Falls is seriously picture-perfect.

Nugget Point / Tokata Lighthouse


If you’re traveling around the Catlins, you can’t miss a visit to Nugget Point. It’s a real edge-of-the-world place that showcases one of New Zealand’s most scenic lighthouses in a stunning setting. 

The little rocky islands that jut out from Nugget Point have been the subject of many photographs. This place is photogenic, to say the least.

Teeming with wildlife, Nugget Point is also home to a fur seal colony, plus tons of seabirds. 

In short: take the time to do the short walk to the Tokata Lighthouse at Nugget Point; you won’t regret it!

Tip: Stop by Roaring Bay on the drive to/from Nugget Point. You can look for yellow-eyed penguins from the Roaring Bay penguin “hide” – they’re best spotted in the afternoon/evening hours.

Other adventures nearby

You can’t go to the Catlins without stopping by Curio Bay.

Curio Bay is home to a petrified forest and yellow-eyed penguins. Right next to Curio Bay is Porpoise Bay, where you can spot rare Hector dolphins swimming in the sea. 

Post-hike treat:

When in the Catlins, you must stop by Niagara Falls Cafe for a coffee or tea and homemade baked good. Their carrot cake is legendary.

Where to camp/stay in the Catlins:

You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to camping in the Catlins. These camping spots are all excellent:

Other accommodation
  • For the budget-conscious traveler, Surat Bay Holiday Park has great little basic cabins. 
  • If you’re wanting to splash out a bit more, try the Curio Bay Salthouse—it boasts an incredible beachfront location at Porpoise Bay, and you can often see Hector dolphins swimming in the sea right in front of your room.
  • We also highly recommend this Airbnb in Curio Bay. It’s stunning.

Best Hikes in Dunedin, South Island

21. Tunnel Beach

Dunedin, Otago Region


Features: A scenic hike-in beach; rock formations; coastal views; seals

The short hike to Tunnel Beach is one of Dunedin’s finest walks. 

This fenced track hugs grass-covered clifftops perched over the sea. As you descend towards Tunnel Beach, you’ll get stunning views over the area’s sandstone rock formations, including an awesome sea arch. 

After 20 minutes on the trail, you’ll reach a man-made tunnel, with steps leading down to the boulder-laden beach. Sometimes, seals like to take naps in the rocks here, and they can be quite camouflaged—so take care not to accidentally approach one! 

As you explore Tunnel Beach, look for fossils in the sandstone cliffs. If you look closely, you might find all sorts of ancient sea creatures embedded in the cliff layers.

Once you’re done exploring the beach, hike back up to your car—have some water with you as it’s a bit of a slog back up!

Tip: Make sure to time this hike at low tide; at high tide, the beach will go missing under the ocean. You can check Dunedin’s tides here

Post-hike treats:

Where to camp/stay in dunedin:

The Portobello Village Tourist Park is the best place to camp near the Otago Peninsula. They have both powered and unpowered campsites.

Other accommodation: 
  • The Majestic Mansions in St Clair offer great apartment-style accommodation in a restored heritage building right by the beach. We love staying here!
  • For a luxurious and modern hotel in Dunedin Central, check out the gorgeous rooms at the Ebb Hotel.

22. Sandymount and/or Sandfly Bay

Dunedin, Otago Region

Views of Allan’s Beach from the Sandymount Track

Features: Two coastal Dunedin hikes right next to each other—both have stunning views; Sandfly Bay has wildlife (penguins, seals, and sea lions!)

Sandymount Hike:

Sandfly Bay Hike:

Dunedin’s Otago Peninsula has some fantastic hiking trails. It’s not often that you find untouched, wild coastal scenery just 20 minutes from a city center, but the Otago Peninsula is one of these places.

To get a great sampler of the area, try doing either the Sandymount Track or the Sandfly Bay Track—or both! These two hikes are right next to each other, so you can easily combine them for a great afternoon of hiking. Or, if you’re pressed for time, simply choose one.

You can actually link up both trails on foot, but to make things a bit easier, we recommend that you hike the Sandymount Loop Track first, then get back into your car and drive to the start of the Sandfly Bay Track. 

Hike 1: Sandymount Loop Track

The Sandymount Track offers epic coastal views over the Otago Peninsula coastline, and the entire loop hike takes about 1 hour. 

As you hike over working farmland, you’ll enjoy views of Hooper’s Inlet, Allan’s Beach, and Cape Saunders. The loop trail then climbs up to a viewpoint, and then back to the parking area.

Hike 2: Sandfly Bay Track

The Sandfly Bay Track takes 1-1.5 hours round-trip and leads to a wild, beautiful beach that’s home to yellow-eyed penguins, New Zealand fur seals, and sea lions. Wildlife enthusiasts have got to put this hike on their bucket list!

It’s worth noting that this beach is called “Sandfly Bay” for a reason: the wind gets so strong here that sand literally flies and swirls up on some days. 

For the best chance of seeing penguins, head to Sandfly Bay in the late afternoon or early evening. 

If you do encounter any penguins, seals, or sea lions, ensure you keep your distance and view them from afar.

Make sure to bring binoculars for penguin viewing, and a headtorch (headlamp) in case you stay down there until dark.

Where to camp/stay near the Sandymount and/or Sandfly Bay hikes:

See entry #21 for our recommendations in the Dunedin area.

And there you have it—22 amazing hikes to add to your South Island bucket list. 

While these are our favorite South Island hikes, there are so many more amazing tracks to enjoy. If we’ve missed one of your favorite trails, please let us know in the comments!

Want More South Island Adventures?

If you’re planning to camp while exploring the South Island, read our guide to the best South Island campsites.

Check out our ultimate road trip guide for the drive from Christchurch to Queenstown! It’s packed with suggestions for great hikes (amongst other fun things to do).

For one of the South Island’s most scenic roads, don’t miss the drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy.

Like this Post? Pin for Later!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *