The mountains, glaciers, lakes and rainforests of New Zealand’s South Island are famous the world over. It’s these landscapes that have become the ‘face’ of New Zealand; earning the country a reputation for stunning wilderness and a clean environment. When visiting the South Island, one of the best ways to properly explore is on foot. Below, we’ve listed a few of what we think are the South Island’s best day walks, ranging from a few hours to a full day.

Glacier Country, Lake Matheson

The easy Lake Matheson Walk has got to be one of the best day walks in the South Island. Huge views, reflections of the Southern Alps and lush native forest make this track a must-do. Have you seen photos of the snowcapped Southern Alps mountains perfectly reflected in a lake? It’s highly likely these images would have been taken on the shores of Lake Matheson. The lake’s mirror-like qualities is due to the dark brown colour of the water – caused by organic matter leeching from the forest floor.

The lake circuit takes around 1 hr 30 mins return and starts in the carpark.

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Kea Point, Aoraki/Mount Cook National park

For incredible views of Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain, the well-formed Kea Point Walk is a great option. Panoramic views of the Mueller Glacier and the Main Divide abound – make sure you don’t forget your camera! Look out for the native Kea bird, the world’s only alpine parrot. The Kea is known for its cheeky, intelligent personality, and only lives in the alpine areas of the South Island.

This short walk takes around 1 hour return and is suitable for all fitness levels.

Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway, Kaikoura

A favourite of MoaTrek tour designer Ena, this walk is known for its ocean views, marine wildlife and easy access from the town centre of Kaikoura.  Explore historic whaling sites, soak up cliff top views of the Pacific Ocean & Kaikoura mountain range, and see how many sea birds and seals you can spot. If you’re lucky, you might even see a whale in the distance! This walk combines history, stunning views and unique wildlife – it’s a real winner.

Choose to walk from 5 minutes to anywhere up to 3 hours – the full walk itself is 11.7km (7.2mi), and suitable for all abilities.

Blue Pools Track, Mount Aspiring National Park

Bright blue pools, a rugged river gorge and a swing bridge – this short South Island day walk is a stunner. Stroll through beech forest to a swing bridge, where the trail crosses the Makarora River. Soon after you’ll arrive at a viewing platform over the suspended over the Blue Pools, where you can admire great views up the large river gorge.

This walk takes around an hour return, and is 1.5km in distance (0.9mi).

Experience some of the South Island’s best day walks with MoaTrek

We’re pretty passionate ourselves about exploring New Zealand on foot, so it’s only natural that we knew how important it was to include as many day walking opportunities as possible in our small group New Zealand tours. On our South Island tours, guests are able to choose if they would like to walk any of the above trails, and more. Our tours leave plenty of time for relaxed, easy going walking, and our experienced kiwi guides can help recommend the best South Island day walks.  

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