Favourite, Easy, Nature Walks in New Zealand’s South Island

Is there anywhere more beautiful than New Zealand?!  Even the least experienced walkers can enjoy a good ramble in this stunning country. All you need is a plan, water and some decent walking boot or trainers. What I love most about New Zealand is how diverse its two little Islands are. You can be on one side with miles of stunning, sandy beaches then travel a bit further down the island and be traipsing past glaciers and climbing mountains or walking around huge lakes. It really is a beautiful country and the best way to experience it is to do what the hobbits did – go on foot!

After spending almost two weeks (not enough time) travelling in a car/tent in just NZ’s south island, I’ve come up with a list of my own favourite short, day walks we did. They range from a leisurely 30 minute stroll to a bit harder, but still fairly easy, 3 hours! Enjoy Hobbits!

All the walks’ locations can be seen on this amazing map by the very talented, illustrator Sarah Cochrane , who was by my side on our NZ adventure!

Illustrated Map by Sar Cochrane.

1. Kaikoura Walkway, Kaikoura 

Kaikoura’s stunning seaside town is the place to go in New Zealand if you want to see sea life such as whales and seals! The Kaikoura Walkway is an accessible trail that leads you  from the car park out to Kaikoura’s coastline, past a seal colony, cliff top look out points, whaling sites and back to the town centre.  The whole walkway takes around 3 hours, but you can do as much or as little of the walkway as you like.

The weather was grey and miserable when we were here and we had no chance of spotting a whale! So instead we paid a visit to the seals at Kean’s Point, located on the walkway. They seemed unphased by the human gawkers surrounding them and continued sleeping most of the time, but be careful where you put your toes –  the seals blend into the rocks!

The name ‘Kaikoura’ in  Maori actually means  ‘man who eats crayfish’. Right along from the Kean’s point is a little wooden shack where they serve up some fresh crayfish! May as well, whilst you are there:

Kaikoura seals crayfish

For a full breakdown of where the Kairkoura Walkway takes you, visit here: http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/marlborough/places/kaikoura-area/things-to-do/tracks/kaikoura-peninsula-walkway/

Time: Up to 3 hours, but shorter walks available

2.Roy’s Bay, Lake Wanaka 

Picturesque Wanaka is a little (but they think it’s big) New Zealand town that is definitely worth a day or two exploring. We liked it so much we ended up staying an extra night. There’s quite a few walks you can do in this area but our favourite, and noticeably the easiest, was the walk around part of Lake Wanaka,  right near the town center. Here you get incredible views of this little town, it’s impressive mountainous backdrop and the surrounding nature.

Wanaka NZ

Start the walk from anywhere round the lake in Roy’s Bay, there’s ample parking and even some picnic/bbq areas dotted around. The easiest place to start is near Ardmore Street located close to the town centre. You can’t get lost, if you can’t see the lake you’ve gone the wrong way. Take your time, skim stones, go as far round the lake as you like but make sure you pay a visit to Lone Tree of Lake Wanaka.

Wanaka Autumn

The whole way round the lake is a very flat, mostly stoney shoreline walk. If you go in Autumn (March/April) you’re in for a real treat – such great colours!

Time: As long as you like!

Start: Car Park, adjacent to Ardmour Rd. 

3. Hooker Valley Walk, Mount Cook

This is the longest walk in this blog post. The Mount Cook Hooker Valley Walk takes you on a 3 hour loop trail, through the valley situated below the impressive, towering Mount Cook and the other mountains that make up the Southern Alps. The good news is the walk is pretty flat! Near the start you’ll pass by the pyramid shaped Alpine Memorial which commemorates climbers who have lost their lives in the national park, with their name and how they died. I recommend checking this out on the way back.


What also makes this an impressive walk is the two bridges you cross and various look out points that show off the mountainous landscape. You’re mere meters from the snow! The walk turns around at the Hooker Glacier Lake, which is just amazing. You’ll get to see icebergs and small blocks of ice in this Lake. It’s a stunning place to sit, relax and have lunch halfway through the trek. Noticeably the size of these icebergs has dramatically decreased over the last ten years due to warmer climates. So best be quick sticks and see it while you can!

One of the other great things about this walk is that if you have a tent or a campervan you can camp here too. The walk actually starts at The White Horse Hill Campground . This was probably the most beautiful place I have ever slept! And that’s saying something considering I was top and tailing in a three person (but really 2 person) tent on top of a car, late in New Zealand’s Autumn!

Oh, the name of this place has just clicked! Hooker, ha.


Time: 3 Hours to complete the whole loop/ 30 minutes to the first bridge and look out point

Start: White Horse Campsite 

4. Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers

How many people can say they have seen a glacier? In fact I wasn’t entirely sure what a glacier was until we did these two walks and saw them. Unfortunately both glaciers aren’t as impressive as they were. Again, because of a warmer climate these glaciers (basically huge walls/rivers of ice) have shrunken back massively. The walks for both these glaciers are definitely worth doing, but it definitely won’t be the most beautiful or remarkable landscape you will see in New Zealand. But that’s mainly down to the fact you are really spoilt in New Zealand. Both walks are free up to the glacier, both have a small, gradual incline, and for both you’ll be walking on a gravelly, stoney walkway a lot of the way. Be warned, if it’s grey, rainy skies, the walk and it’s landscape can be a bit dreary until you get to the glacier.  If a better view is what you are after, then the ice climbs with a tour company would be an amazing thing to do. Unfortunately these are quite costly!

Fox Franz Josef glaciers

Time:  –1.5 hours return to the terminal face of Franz Josef.

– 1 hour return to the terminal face of Fox Glacier. 

Start: Car Parks at both Glacier sights.

5. Lake Matheson, Fox Glacier

Lake Matheson is nestled in an ancient forest and the walk takes you to some stunning view points. If you’re really lucky you will be able to see the famous mirror views of Aoraki/Mount Cook and Mount Tasman in Lake Matheson.

Lake Matheson

The whole lake circuit takes 1.5 hours. Dawn and dusk are generally the best viewing times as the lake is generally calm. So we packed a thermos full of tea and arrived at Lake Matheson at 6.30am ready to see this famous majestic sunrise and reflection. Unfortunately all we saw were clouds and rain! New Zealand’s weather can be so cruel! Luckily we popped in and completed 30 minutes of the circuit round to the reflection look out point at Jetty View Point the day before and got some good snaps.   We weren’t lucky enough to see Mount Cook as it was too cloudy, but as you can see, the reflection view is still pretty wonderful:

Time: 1.5 Hours to complete the whole Lake circuit. 

Start: Lake Matheson, Car Park

More info: http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/west-coast/places/westland-tai-poutini-national-park/things-to-do/tracks/lake-matheson-walk/

p.s If any other travellers have any walks in New Zealand to recommend let me know! I’d love to hear them.

p.p.s This blog post has been awarded the Kaikoura Seal of Approval… Ta da.


Published by emmytravels

Writer, journalist and digital marketer. I said 'So Long!' to London this year, went travelling to S.E Asia, New Zealand and ended up staying in Melbourne, Australia.

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