Six of New Zealand's 'Great Walks' are in the South Island; a seventh is further south on Stewart Island.
The Milford Track in Fiordland - New Zealand’s largest national park - is the most famous. Visitors spend four days / three nights following historic Maori routes through a dramatic landscape of forest-covered valleys, mountains and steep fiords from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound. For this much demanded route, bookings are necessary well in advance, for both independent and guided walks.
The Routeburn Track, another famous South Island track, has some of the most diverse scenery: forests, alpine flora, lakes, several waterfalls and panoramic views. The three-day trek covers 39km (24 miles).
The Kepler Track follows a loop that begins and ends at the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre in Te Anau. It takes four days and traverses lakeside forest and open tussock grasslands, with one day spent walking along the mountain tops above the bush line.
Wilderness explorers wanting to experience the ‘end of the earth’ head for Stewart Island, New Zealand’s southernmost and least populated island. The Rakiura Track has the most birdlife, least predictable weather and conditions but planked walkways keep feet dry and ensure the three-day walk is possible year-round. It has gentle gradients - never more than 300m above sea level - and two huts provide accommodation.
The Heaphy Track, in the northwestern corner of the South Island, has undemanding gradients over 80km (around 50 miles).The walk takes about five days. The track is accessible year round, but winter snows can make the higher sections chilly. Attractions on the Heaphy Track include the nikau palm-lined beach at its western end, red tussock downs, lush beech forests and fields of alpine herbs.
The Abel Tasman Coastal Track, at the top of the South Island, only requires light walking shoes for the 50km (31 miles) route lined with miles of golden beaches. Along the way, five huts and 21 campsites offer accommodation, but transport has to be arranged from one end or the other.
Opening for walkers and mountain bikers from 1 December 2019, the Paparoa Track is New Zealand’s 10th Great Walk. The trail, in the Paparoa National Park on the rugged north-western South Island coast, traverses the Paparoa Range, revealing spectacular limestone landscapes, verdant rainforest and astonishing views.
The track travels from Blackball to Punakaiki and includes parts of the existing Croesus and Pororai River tracks. The 55km trail is of significant meaning to the locals and will act as a tribute to the 29 Pike River miners who lost their lives in the 2010 disaster. The national park has been extended by 3971 hectares to include the Pike River area.