13 Best Multi-Day Hikes in the South Island, New Zealand

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By Kim Mackay-Wallace

10 minute read

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Tramping (hiking) in New Zealand

Here in New Zealand we have all sorts of interesting ‘Kiwi slang’ which can frequently throw the unsuspecting tourist off. While ‘tramping’ may sound like it might be a risqué night-time activity to foreigners, it is actually the term we use for overnight or multi-day hiking! If you’re wandering down the streets of Queenstown and overhear “I’m headed to Fiordland to go tramping this weekend” or “we’re off to Wanaka for a tramp”, that means they are going on a multi-day hike. You can also go for a ‘day tramp’, although it is more common for us to say hike when referring to a day trip.

So now that we’re all on the same page, below you will find a list of our favourite overnight and multi-day hikes in South Island New Zealand, or the South Island’s best 15 tramps!

1. Routeburn Track, Mt Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks

The Routeburn Track is one of the most popular tracks in New Zealand, and it’s not difficult to see why. Traversing from Mt Aspiring National Park to Fiordland National Park, with drastic alpine vistas, stunning native beech forests, and very manageable daily distances on an exceptionally maintained track make the perfect recipe for a fantastic multi-day hiking experience. With huts dispersed evenly along the track enabling it to be broken up into 3 relatively short days, the Routeburn is a great track for those just getting into tramping, as well as experienced hikers wanting to immerse themselves in some of the best scenery in the country.

 Due to the Routeburn’s accessibility from Queenstown and Milford Sound, it is also a very popular track for day walks as well. Our World Heritage Walking Tour walks to the Routeburn Falls Hut (the Queenstown end of the track), and our Masterpiece, Kiwi Classic and Pure South tours walk to Key Summit (the other end of the track, closest to Milford Sound).

Key Information:

Days: 2-3

Distance: 33km

Average day length: 4hrs

Terrain type: Beech forest, alpine

Accommodation: Camping, DOC Huts, or private lodges

Routeburn Track Lookout

2. Milford Track, Fiordland National Park

The Milford Track is New Zealand’s most famous walking track. With daily numbers very strictly regulated by the Department of Conservation (DOC) in order to preserve the flora and fauna and ensure a an enjoyable experience for track users, you need to be well-organised if you wish to complete this tramp. The Milford track travels through some of New Zealand’s most dramatic landscapes, with the climax of the trip summiting Mackenzie Pass which offers incredible views over the mountains of Fiordland. The track takes 4 days to walk, finishing in the stunning Milford Sound.

The track can be walked independently or as part of a guided trip. Check out our New Zealand Great Walk Adventure, which includes a day walk on the Milford Track, as well as day walks on the Routeburn, Kepler, and Rakiura Tracks.

Key Information:

Days: 4

Distance: 54km

Average day length: 6hrs

Terrain type: Beech forest, alpine

Accommodation: DOC Huts or Private Lodges

 3. Mueller Hut, Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

Mueller Hut is undoubtedly the best overnight hike in Mt Cook National Park, if not the best in New Zealand. The walk is not for the faint-hearted, however, climbing a an impressive 1000m of elevation over just 5km. Fondly known as the ‘stair-master’, the track first climbs approximately 2000 stairs to Sealy Tarns, before becoming a more technical, rocky track up to Mueller Ridge. This walk requires a high level of fitness, and for hikers to be comfortable walking on rocky and uneven terrain that is more of a marked ‘route’ than a track. The views from the hut are mind-boggling and well worth every ounce of effort. New Zealand’s highest peaks soar above the glacial valleys, and enormous glaciers tumbling from mountainsides can be seen in every direction. If you’re a confident tramper and happy to puff your way up a descent climb, this overnight hike cannot be missed.

At about 4 hours each way, this walk can also be done as a day hike. Our Kiwi Classic Tour is our most active tour, and includes a day hike to Mueller Hut.

Key Information:

Days: 2

Distance: 10km

Average day length: 4hrs

Terrain type: Alpine

Accommodation: DOC Hut

Mueller Hut Overnight Hike

4. Gillespie Circuit, Mt Aspiring National Park

 The Gillespie Circuit is a lesser-known multi-day hike in Mt Aspiring National Park, but the views are on par with its more famous counterparts such as the Routeburn. The track is a 4-day loop starting and finishing in Makarora, which is a 45-minute drive west of Wanaka. The highlight of the trip comes at Gillespie Pass, where you will be rewarded with views across the length of the entire Siberia Valley, and the Southern Alps. The hike can be shortened by taking a jet boat on the final day, which avoids a long valley walk and gets you across the Makarora River. If you walk rather than jet boat, you will still need a jet boat transfer across the river to Makarora township unless you have extensive river crossing experience and the river conditions are very favourable.

If a one-night trip is more your style, you can fly directly into Siberia Hut, landing on the small grass airstrip opposite the hut. Pair this with a jet boat ride down the Wilkin and Makarora Rivers for the ultimate Siberia Experience. This can also be done as a day trip and is included in our Pure South Tour. For more information on the Siberia Experience and the Gillespie Circuit, check out our blog here

Key Information:

Days: 3-4

Distance: 58km

Average day length: 7hrs

Terrain type: Beech forest, alpine

Accommodation: Camping or DOC Huts

5. Mt Robert Circuit, Nelson Lakes National Park

In terms of bang-for-buck, this one packs a punch. The entire loop can be walked in about 5 hours so this track is possible as a day trip, but we recommend staying overnight at Bushline Hut so that you give yourself plenty of time to take in the awesome views of Lake Rotoiti, the St Arnaud Range and Nelson Lakes National Park. For only a 2-3 hour walk to the hut, the views are superb. And Nelson Lakes National Park is much less trafficked than many of our other National Parks, meaning you’ll likely see only a small handful of other people while you’re up there, you might even have the place to yourself! It is worthwhile heading for a side trip up Robert Ridge for even more panoramic views.

Join our friendly, experienced locals guides on the Kiwi Classic Tour to enjoy a quintessential Kiwi tramping experience on the Mt Robert Circuit. Your guides will take you to the best lookout points along the ridge, and you can sit back and relax at the hut while they cook up a delicious feast!

Key Information:

Days: 2

Distance: 9km

Average day length: 2-3hrs

Terrain type: Beech forest, alpine

Accommodation: Camping or DOC Hut

Roberts Ridge Nelson Lakes

6. The Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

Just because the Hollyford Track doesn’t have ‘Great Walk’ status like some of its other Fiordland counterparts doesn’t mean it is any less beautiful – it just means that you see less people along the way! The track starts at the end of the Hollyford Rd, just off the road into Milford Sound, and finishes at Martin’s Bay at the coast. You then need to take a flight to Milford Sound, or walk the 4 days back out again. The track takes you through lush native beech forest, along picturesque lakes that are frequently dead flat on calm mornings, reflecting the mountain vistas in their glassy waters, and along rocky, wildlife-filled coastline.

A shorter and more luxurious option for the Hollyford Track is to do it in just 2 days, and sample the best sections of the track. Start by flying by helicopter to Martin’s Bay from Milford Sound, taking in the birdseye views of Milford Sound and the Fiordland coastline. Spend the afternoon walking out to the Reef Point seal colony, where you might also be lucky enough to spot some Fiordland Crested Penguins, before spending the night at the magnificent Martin’s Bay Lodge. The following day you will jet boat across Lake McKerrow, saving what would usually be 2 days of walking, and walk from the Pyke River confluence to the track end. This is a great way to experience the Hollyford Track in comfort and style, while still getting to experience the beauty of the Fiordland bush and coast. This overnight trip on the Hollyford Track is included in our World Heritage Walking Tour.

Key Information:

Days: 4

Distance: 56km

Average day length: 5hrs

Terrain type: Beech and podocarp forests, coastal

Accommodation: Camping, DOC Huts or private lodges

7. Abel Tasman Track, Abel Tasman National Park

Golden sandy beaches, crystal clear water, sunshine – this is what the Abel Tasman is known for and what makes the Abel Tasman Track special. If you’re after something a little different, walking and paddling the Abel Tasman is a great option. The track can be walked, or can also be paddled by kayak, offering an alternative to the tradition multi-day ‘hike’. The waters tend to be nice and calm, and kayak rental operators offer support if needed via water taxi, meaning it is the ideal place to embark on a kayaking adventure. The ultimate way to experience the Abel Tasman Track is a combination between the two – we recommend paddling to Onetahuti (2 days, 22km), and walking from there to Totaranui (1 day, 12km).

Key Information:

Days: 3-5

Distance: 60km

Average day length: 4-5hrs

Terrain type: Coastal

Accommodation: Camping, DOC Huts and private lodges

abel tasman sea kayak

8. Nydia Track, Marlborough Sounds

Shhh, this one is one of our best kept secrets! Situated in the Marlborough Sounds, an area that boasts some of the highest sunshine hours per year in the country, the Nydia Track is a one-way overnight hike that follows the coastline through lush native rainforest to secluded bays and inlets. Nydia Lodge is the halfway point, found in a bay that is only accessible by boat or on foot. The ‘lodge’ is a DOC hut, although it has showers and electricity so a little more luxurious than the average New Zealand backcountry hut. There is also a private lodge nearby for an even higher level of luxury. This track is a great spot to get off the beaten track and away from the crowds of the nearby Abel Tasman. 

Key Information:

Days: 2

Distance: 27km

Average day length: 4-5hrs

Terrain type: Coastal forest, coastal

Accommodation: Camping, DOC Hut or private lodge

9. Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park

Impressive alpine ridgelines, sandy lakefront beaches, dense native forest, the Kepler Track has it all! In terms of variety, the Kepler track is the best multi-day hike around – in our humble opinion. It is also easily accessible (just a 15-minute drive from Te Anau) and the track is a loop so is logistically ideal. It sounds perfect, so what’s the catch? There isn’t one – except for maybe some sandflies! In the last couple of years the Kepler Track has become a real local favourite, and it has actually overtaken the Milford Track in popularity. The 4-day loop starts and finishes at the Control Gates on the shore of Lake Te Anau, climbs Mt Luxmore and traverses along ridgelines high above the fiords of Lake Te Anau before dropping down through the forest to the beaches of Lake Manapouri and alongside the Wairau River back to Te Anau.

All of our South Island tours include a day walk on the Kepler track. The New Zealand Great Walk Adventure lets you skip straight to the best bit, by taking a helicopter flight to Luxmore Hut, exploring the Mt Luxmore ridgeline, and descending through the beech forest to Lake Te Anau. Find out more information about this trip here.

Key Information:

Days: 4

Distance: 60km

Average day length: 5hrs

Terrain type: Beech forest, lakes, alpine

Accommodation: Camping or DOC Huts

kepler track helihike

10. Rakiura Track, Stewart Island, Rakiura National Park

This one isn’t actually on the South Island, but we’ve included it here anyway! The Rakiura Track is a secluded gem, tucked away on Stewart Island off the southern coast of the South Island. A bird-watcher and nature enthusiast’s paradise, this is the place to go if you want to see a kiwi bird in the wild. The track weaves its way through native and regenerating forest, along golden sandy beaches, and through the remains of historic settlements. The track is usually walked in 3 days, and at a total distance of 32km is one of the shortest of the Great Walks tracks.

If you’re headed to Stewart Island to walk the Rakiura Track, make sure to spend an extra day on the island to explore. Check out our Stewart Island blog for ideas of things to see and do!

Key Information:

Days: 3

Distance: 32km

Average day length: 4-5hrs

Terrain type: Podocarp forest, coastal

Accommodation: Camping or DOC Huts

11. Paparoa Track, Paparoa National Park

The Paparoa Track is New Zealand’s newest Great Walk, and was purpose built to be used by both hikers and mountain bikers. The track takes you through the unique forest and landscapes of the South Island’s West Coast. This is one of the few areas in the world where glaciers descend through temperate subtropical rainforests. The forests here are different to those you find throughout the rest of the South Island so exploring this region is a must-do, and what better way to immerse yourself in the rainforest than on a multi-day tramp. The track starts and finishes in the forest, while the middle section travels along the ridgelines of the Paparoa Range, affording walkers spectacular panoramic views of the coastline and the Southern Alps. On a clear day you can even see Aoraki/Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak! All of our 2-week South Island Tours visit the Paparoa Track.

Key Information:

Days: 3

Distance: 55km

Average day length: 5-6hrs

Terrain type: Podocarp and subtropical rainforests, alpine

Accommodation: DOC Huts

paparoa track

12. Queen Charlotte Track, Marlborough Sounds

Want to go on a multi-day hike but don’t want to have to carry a big heavy pack? Do you enjoy hiking but like to stay in comfortable accommodation with all the amenities and creature comforts? The Queen Charlotte Track might be the perfect option for you! There are lots of accommodations to choose from along the track, ranging from basic campsites to luxurious lodges. Many of these are road or boat accessible, and you can have your luggage transported from one to the next, meaning you can walk each day with just a day pack. The track weaves its way between the many bays of Queen Charlotte Sound, with beautiful ocean views and lovely beaches to relax and swim at galore. The track is very well-maintained and very achievable for all walkers with a reasonable level of fitness. This is a great option for hikers wanting to go on their first multi-day trip and those who like a higher level of comfort.

The Queen Charlotte Track is also mountain-bike friendly, and many of the accommodations can be accessed by kayak so it is a real crowd pleaser! Our Masterpiece Tour includes an overnight stay at Lochmara Lodge, where you can explore some short sections of the Queen Charlotte Track. We then kayak across Queen Charlotte Sound to Picton, an awesome multisport adventure!

Key Information:

Days: 3-5

Distance: 71km

Average day length: 5hrs

Terrain type: Coastal forest, coastal

Accommodation: Camping and private lodges

13. Humpridge Track, Southland

Soon to be New Zealand’s next Great Walk, the Humpridge Track in Southland offers unique alpine and coastal views, beautiful forest and interesting rock formations. It also has options for accommodation style, from basic DOC Hut style bunkrooms to private lodge rooms, as well as the option to have your bag transported from hut to hut. The track travels through a diverse range of environments and has exceptional views across Fiordland National Park, the South Coast, and across Fouveaux Straight to Stewart Island.

Key Information:

Days: 3

Distance: 61km

Average day length: 7hrs

Terrain type: Beech forest, alpine, coastal

Accommodation: Private huts and lodges

Humpridge track views 

Want to tick several of these walks off your bucket list but don’t have time to walk the entire tracks? Check out our New Zealand Great Walk Adventure, which includes day walks on the Milford, Routeburn, Kepler and Rakiura tracks. Day walks on many of the tracks described above are included in all of our South Island small group tours. Request a FREE COPY OF OUR BROCHURE here for more information.

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