Former Milford Track guide and outdoor enthusiast Lucas Smith says these South Island walks should be at the top of your 2017 to-do list.
Sometimes we can forget about the adventures to be had right out on our doorstep. It was only while I was guiding tourists through the Milford Track, and heard feedback from walkers as they marvelled at the views, that I began to appreciate exactly what they came to New Zealand for – to see our truly beautiful country. Before setting out on your next journey, I recommend you pack right, pack light and look after your feet. Here are some of my favourite South Island walks.
Hooker Valley Track
Location: Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park (Canterbury)
Duration: Under four hours (13km total trip)
Condition: Track is of a high standard
Known for: An unreal glacier experience
On this walk, you’ll cross three beautiful swing bridges while winding your way through the Hooker Valley to the glacier lake, which offers breath-taking views of Aoraki/Mt Cook, Hooker Glacier, Du Faur Peak and the Southern Alps.
During summer, walkers can see icebergs floating in Hooker Lake. After storms the icebergs are often washed onto the shoreline, giving you a chance to explore the giant ice formations.
Location: Fiordland National Park and Mount Aspiring National Park (Otago)
Duration: Two to three days (32km one way)
Condition: Track is of high standard
Known for: Great alpine adventure
Take your time walking from the Harris Saddle Shelter to Falls Hutt and look left to see Mt Xenicus, the stunning Lake Harris and Valley of the Trolls. This is a highlight of the tramp and excellent place to see our native rock wren (pīwauwau).
Location: Fiordland National Park, Lake Manapouri area and Lake Te Anau area
Duration: Three to four days (60km loop)
Condition: Track is extremely well maintained
Known for: Variety – tussock ridgelines, alpine views, lakes, falls, caves and beech forest
Be sure to make a side trip to the Mt Luxmore summit (1472m). The panoramic views make for the best picnic spot in the world. Look out for two cheeky keas affectionately known as Simon and Bruce. These inquisitive birds are a polite reminder to take rubbish with you.
Location: Fiordland National Park
Duration: Four days (53.5km one way)
Condition: Busy year round so be sure to plan/book ahead
Known for: Prestige – the world-renowned Milford Track has waterfalls, ancient rainforests and valleys made by glaciers
You must go to the ‘12-second drop’ at the top of Mackinnon Pass. The view will knock you off your feet as you can see all of Arthur Valley – a just reward for hard work. During November and December, keep your eye out for endangered blue duck (whio) ducklings around the eight-mile marker. The track’s finish line is at Sandfly Point in the Milford Sound – I might be biased, but it doesn’t get much better than that.
Greenstone Caples Track
Location: Fiordland National Park
Duration: Four days (61km loop)
Difficulty: Easy, but a reasonable level of fitness is required
Condition: Reasonably well maintained
Known for: Diversity – alpine views, lakes, forests, rivers and tussock lands
There’s an impressive stronghold of rifleman birds (tītipounamu) near the Steele Creek swing bridge. Don’t miss them! Also look out for the Whisky Trail – it includes a steep climb, but the view of Greenstone Valley is remarkable. Note this track can link up to the Routeburn Track if you want to extend your adventure.Check the Department of Conservation’s website for more information.