The 5 Best Hikes On The South Island Of New Zealand That You Didn’t Know About

Mueller Track

Location: Mt Cook.

Distance/Time: 5.2km / 4 hours

Epic sunsets. The most stars you’ve ever seen in your life. And booming avalanches.

Epic sunsets at Mueller Hut
Epic sunsets at Mueller Hut

The view from the Mueller Hut at the end of the Mueller Track, has it all.

The hut is located close to Mt Cook Village and right next to the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve at Tekapo. Together with its remote location, on a clear night you’ll get to see some of the most star studded skies anywhere in the world.

The hut also looks directly onto Mt Cook itself (the highest peak in NZ), so you can sit back, relax and watch an unbelievable sunset over this iconic mountain after your day of hiking.

The best time of year to go is probably early summer, when there’s hopefully still a bit of snow kicking around at the top.

We actually went in February, which should have been the peak of the summer. But thanks to a cold weather snap and a colder than usual summer season, we got to enjoy a fresh dump of snow at the hut.

Mueller Hut propped up ontop of the snow
Mueller Hut propped up ontop of the snow

It’s a strange feeling hiking through knee deep snow drifts in your shorts and t-shirt.

And it sure makes for an epic night when you’re sitting back on the deck, watching the sun go down to the soundtrack of avalanches on the mountains opposite. And all you’ll really want to do is take another sip of wine, and wait patiently for the stars to arrive. Perfect.

Mueller Track – Official DOC Page

 

Brewster Track

Location: Makarora

Distance/Time: 5km / 3-4 hours

If relaxing isn’t really your thing, and you rather get stuck into it, then the Brewster Hut offers you the perfect base to hike directly onto a glacier!

First views of the Brewster Glacier
First views of the Brewster Glacier

The hut itself is situated towards the top of Mt Armstrong.

Many people try to hike their way to the peak of this 2,174m high mountain and are rewarded with stunning views out over Mt Brewster itself and the Brewster Glacier. When we were there last, snow melt on the glacier had created perfectly blue pools of pure, fresh melt water in parts of the glacier. Nestled in among the bright white snow, waiting to be explored.

Those of you heading on upwards and making an attempt at the summit should be warned…the weather around here changes rapidly. And since there’s no actual track to the summit (you’ll be relying solely on the various potential roots marked by stone cerns which have been left by previous summiters) it’s easy to loose your way once the cloud roles in. And at this altitude, that happens a lot.

Lunch at Brewster Hut
Lunch at Brewster Hut

The last time I was up at Brewster Hut, my attempt to summit Mt Armstrong were cut short when thick cloud made pushing on too dangerous. We made the disappointing but essential call to abandon it for now and hike back down to the hut before conditions worsened.

Frustrating, yes. But I’d always rather live to come back and have another go, than be the moron who pushed on and regretted it.

For those who want to get onto the glacier itself, a short but technical hike up and across the ridge will get you there. And it is supposedly well worth the effort!

I mean, how many other places do you know where you can walk right onto a live glacier?!

Again though, it goes without saying that extreme caution is needed here, and you should only attempt this if you know what you’re doing. Or are with someone who does. Glaciers are dangerous and unstable things. Take the right gear, and the right skills, or don’t go at all.

Looking out onto Mt Brewster
Looking out onto Mt Brewster

Brewster Track – Official DOC Page

 

Liverpool Track

Location: Wanaka, Otago

Distance/Time: 15km / 5-6 hours

Easily the most difficult hike on this list.

And I use the word ‘hike’ quite loosely.

There are huge sections of this rough track that are probably more accurately described as rock climbing. OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, I know. But I would certainly describe it as a scramble at best.

The first part of this hike rambles on nicely up the valley past Aspiring Hut. It’s a flat, easy going hike through the valley floor with incredible views.

Through the valley to Liverpool Hut - the calm before the storm!
Through the valley to Liverpool Hut – the calm before the storm!

You’ll spend about the first 3 or 4 hours gradually making your way to the head of the valley, watching the forest filled walls of the encroaching ridge lines get closer and closer.

Then you’ll eventually come to the realisation that the only way to go on, is to go up.

Just before you get to the head of the valley, the track veers sharply to the left. Straight up the valley wall.

Climbing the valley walls to Liverpool Hut
Climbing the valley walls to Liverpool Hut

From here, your next few hours are going to be spent scrambling up something akin to the steepest stairs you’ve ever imagined. Only someone forgot to put in the stairs.

What there is instead, are bits of tree roots, the odd boulder and an occasional bit of shrubbery that you can grab onto to pull yourself upwards.

It’s a fairly brutal scramble. And the sort that I’m convinced only the Kiwis would let people just wonder on into. But man is it fun!

After a couple of hours spent pretty much completely on all fours, you’ll emerge about the tree line and spot your little red home sitting proudly among the scrub. A beautiful and relieving sight:

First glimps of Liverpool Hut as you emerge from the treeline
First glimps of Liverpool Hut as you emerge from the treeline

The appeal of the Liverpool Track hike is 50% about the accomplishment of actually getting there alive. The other 50% is getting to watch the sunrise cast its colours straight over Mt Aspiring (the highest mountain in New Zealand outside of the Mt Cook region) which sits opposite the hut on the other side of the valley you hiked through the day before.

Lucky early morning risers can also be reasonably confident of encountering another uniquely Kiwi treasure. This time of a slightly fluffier and only marginally less dangerous kind; the Kea.

Often dubbed the ‘mountain parrot’, these mischievous and inquisitive birds are highly intelligent and will often stop by to say hello. And to see which of your personal possessions they can relieve you of in the process.

Take my advice and don’t leave your stuff unattended when these guys are in town. Don’t leave your shoes or clothes outside over night and expect to find them there in the morning.

Liverpool Track – Official DOC Page

 

Bobs Cove

Location: Glenorchy

Distance / Time: 2km / 20 mins

This one’s a little different to the rest of the hikes on this list.

Mainly because it doesn’t take multiple days to get there.

It doesn’t even take multiple hours.

In fact, I was struggling to decide whether it should even make the cut onto this list given how short it is.

But with views like this on offer, I couldn’t pass it up:

Bobs cove lookout point
Bobs Cove- photo courtesy of tramper.nz

Within about 20 mins of setting off, you’ll be sitting at the top of the lookout point taking in the breathtaking views of the large expanse of lake Wakatipu.

If the sun is shining, be sure to take your swimming gear! Many locals use the perfectly blue waters of the cove as a swimming hole in the summer months. And when you see the place for yourself, you’ll see why.

It’s peaceful, tranquil and ridiculously picturesque.

Take a running jump off the end of the jetty, or ease in gradually where the intensely green trees meet the perfectly blue water.

And if the view doesn’t take your breath away quite enough, you can even connect onto the twelve mile delta track on your way back to explore more of the undeveloped and unspoilt waterfront.

Bobs Cove – Official DOC Page

 

Copland Track

Location: West coast

Distance / Time: 18km / 7 hours

What’s your ‘best case scenario’ after a long day hiking?

A nice rewarding glass of wine?

Maybe even a long soak in the bath to ease those well worked muscles?

The Copland Track, is the hike that goes one better.

Snuggled in among the mountains, overlooking the Copland River – the same river you’ll hike alongside on root here – is Welcome Flat Hut.

What’s so cool about Welcome Flat Hut? Well, nothing in particular. The hut is fairly well equipped compared to others on this list, and the facilities are decent enough.

But what makes this hike one of my favourites on this list, and the reason I urge you all to go check it out, is what sits on its doorstep.

A natural hot spring.

Relaxing in the natural hot springs at the Copland Track
Relaxing in the natural hot springs at the Copland Track

Yep.

That’s right.

A big, natural, hot tub shaped thankyou from Mother Nature for spending so much quality time with her.

And may I be the first to say…’You’re welcome, mamma N!’.

Read my full guide on Hiking The Copland Track here!

Pro tip for anyone thinking about trying this hike out – bring a bottle of something. I promise you that all memories of the extra weight you carried in will be long forgotten about when you’re sitting in your own natural hot spring with your camera in one hand and a plastic mug of red wine in the other.

And if you still need a little bit more inspiration to get out and hike the Copland Track, this is the river you’ll be hiking alongside:

Trecking along the blue waters of the Copland River
Trecking along the blue waters of the Copland River

Copland Track – Official DOC Page

 

Wrapping Up

As you’ve probably picked up by now, New Zealand’s South Island has some truly incredible hikes.

The scenery is varied and diverse, the terrain is easy and challenging, and the tracks and roots maintained by DOC are some of the best in the world.

The 5 hikes featured here are just some of the many, many amazing hikes that crisscross the islands beautiful, untouched backcountry.

Now I want to hear from you guys!

What do you guys think are the best hikes on the south island? If you think of any that deserve a place on the list, you can let me know in the comments below.

Have you been on any of these hikes? What did you think of them? Leave a comment, and let me know.

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