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8 South Island short walks with big views

We review eight South Island short walks showcasing New Zealand’s extraordinary scenery in just a short stroll. 

If you don’t have the time or legs for the Great Walks of New Zealand, then these South Island short walks are the next best thing. With grand views on par with some long-distance hiking trails, these quick walks showcase the best of New Zealand’s diverse and sometimes bizarre scenery without the aching feet, sweaty backs and muddy boots. 

South Island short walks

All of these South Island short walks are well maintained and well signposted with easy access and car parks nearby. They are ideal for those touring the South Island by car or campervan.

Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway

Distance: 11.7km 
Duration:
3 hours
More info: 
doc.govt.nz

South Island short walks new zealand KaikouraAtlas & Boots

New Zealand’s Southern Alps meet the Pacific Ocean

At Kaikoura, New Zealand’s Southern Alps meet the Pacific Ocean in dramatic fashion. Jutting out from the rugged east coast of the South Island, the peninsula has some excellent cliff-top viewing platforms. Backed by the snow-capped Seaward Kaikoura Range, this is a wonderful place to spot a range of wildlife including whales, dolphins, fur seals, penguins and albatross.

The full hike can take up to three hours and you can make it longer or shorter if you wish. The best place to start the walk is at Point Kean, but the full hike can begin in the township at either South Bay or West End.

Lake Matheson / Te Ara Kairaumati Walk

Distance: 2.6km
Duration:
1 hour
More info: 
doc.govt.nz

South Island short walks new zealand Lake MathesonAtlas & Boots

One of the most serene views in NZ

My favourite of our South Island short walks showcases New Zealand’s highest and second highest mountains. Aoraki / Mount Cook at 3,724m (12,218ft) and Mount Tasman at 3,497m (11,473ft) rise above the calm, reflective waters of Lake Matheson, creating one the most postcard-perfect views in all of New Zealand. Both peaks can be seen mirrored, from all angles, in the serene lake nestled amid lush and ancient forest.

Ōkārito Trig Walk

Distance: 4.2km return
Duration:
1 hour
More info: 
doc.govt.nz

South Island short walks new zealand OkaritoAtlas & Boots

The Trig Walk is one of several trails around Ōkārito Lagoon

Just a few kilometers to the north of Franz Josef Glacier sits the coastal settlement of Ōkārito and the Ōkārito Lagoon. There are several walks in the area, but we chose the Trig Walk which takes in part of the Wetland Walk across the lagoon.

The Trig Walk is a short but vigorous hike up to a lookout where an awesome panoramic vista across the surrounding ocean, estuary, sea cliffs, lush forest and, of course, the Southern Alps awaits.

Franz Josef Glacier / Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere Walk

Distance: 5.4km
Duration:
1-2 hours
More info: 
doc.govt.nz

south island short walks – Franz Josef Glacier emerged from the cloudsAtlas & Boots

Franz Josef Glacier at the end of the Valley Walk

Located in Westland Tai Poutini National Park on the west coast of South Island, Franz Josef Glacier once stretched from the mountains right to the sea. Following millennia of retreat, the glacier is now 19km inland and accessible only by helicopter. The heli-hikes are often cancelled due to bad weather so the next best thing is the Valley Walk to a viewing point close to the terminal face.

Read our full report on the hike here: Battling weather at Franz Josef Glacier.

Moeraki Boulders Walk

Distance: 1km
Duration:
30 mins
More info: 
doc.govt.nz

South Island short walks new zealand moeraki-bouldersAtlas & Boots

The spherical boulders at Koekohe Beach

The Moeraki Boulders are a collection of near-perfect spherical rocks scattered along Koekohe Beach on the Otago coast. These concretions, some two metres wide and weighing several tonnes, have fallen down to the sea after the erosion of the coastal cliffs above. Boulders continue to be exposed as waves wash away the mudstone that embeds them in the cliffs.

The boulders are just a short walk down to the beach and along the shoreline from the car park, where a cafe boasting excellent views of the coast is positioned.

Blue Pools Track

Distance: 1.5km
Duration:
1 hour
More info: 
doc.govt.nz

The freshwater Blue Pools near Makarora

Secluded in the depths of a quiet beech and podocarp forest is a collection of crystal clear pools of deep, icy water. The tranquil pools flow into the Makarora River where two swing bridges provide excellent views. It’s possible to cross the bridges and continue along the trail for views along the gorge.

The recently restored track is located on the Haast Highway about 20 minutes west of Makarora.

Pancake Rocks and Blowholes Walk

Distance: 1.1km
Duration:
30 mins
More info: 
doc.govt.nz

south island short walks Pancake RocksAtlas & Boots

The Punakaiki Pancake Rocks at the end of the trail

The Pancake Rocks and Blow Holes at Punakaiki mark the end of the soon-to-be 10th Great Walk of New Zealand. The Paparoa and Pike29 Memorial Track is opening in 2019. Positioned beside the wild Tasman Sea, the curious limestone rock formations are at their most spectacular at high tide. The route is boardwalked throughout with several lookouts and interpretive signs.

The Chasm Walk

Distance: 1km
Duration: 
30 mins
More info: 
doc.govt.nz

South Island short walks new zealand chasm 1Atlas & Boots

Glacial waters course through The Chasm

After a morning exploring the nearby Milford Sound, we stopped off at The Chasm. The short walk crosses two footbridges over the Cleddau River with spectacular views of a series of waterfalls. The fast flowing and swirling waters have sculpted rounded shapes and basins in the rock over thousands of years making for a dramatic scene in the lush forest.


Looking for something a little bit longer? With stories of 50 incredible hiking routes in 30 countries, Lonely Planet’s Epic Hikes of the World will inspire a lifetime of adventure on foot.

Lead image: Atlas &Boots

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