South Island Location Guide
So you’re travelling in New Zealand or your from here and you’re wondering where to go.
I have spent months travelling and photographing the South Island, these are some of my favourite and must see spots.
The national parks of New Zealand are all managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC). They operate on a minimal amount of funding and a significant number number of staff members are volunteers. So please remember to pay when staying in DOC managed campsites or huts.
When freedom camping please look after the place. Don't leave any mess behind and only use toilets. There is currently a push in the government to place further restrictions on freedom camping
AORAKI/Mount Cook National Park
As you are most likely starting your trip around the South Island by flying into Christchurch. Probably the first area you will visit is the Mount Cook National Park (4hrs from Christchurch airport). It’s a great hub to plan to spend a few days if you want to spend some time hiking. There is a lot of unique places and huts to experience in this area. Notable locations are Mueller Hut, Hooker Glacier Lake and track, Tasman Glacier Lake and the Ball Pass. Not to mention the drive into the area has to be the one of the most amazing in the country.
To help find information on the trails in the Mount Cook area check into the Mount Cook Visitors centre in the village and they will tell you everything you need to know.
If you only have time for one overnight hike in the area you should make it Mueller Hut. Its has a endless views in all directions and you can watch ice caving off the glaciers on the Sefton Range. Its unrelenting three hour hike with 1000m vertical incline probably the most rewarding three hour hike in NZ.
The hut books out often over a month in advance so book early using this link www.doc.govt.nz there is also a limited number of camp spots on the ridge line near the hut.
A more serious hike than Ball pass leads up around the back side of Mt Cook from along the side the Tasman Glacier. If you have a 4x4 vehicle you can cut out around 7km of the 10km walk to the base of the mountain. It’s a lot quieter than the track to Mueller. Worth it if you have got some spare time on your hands.
You can either go up and down the way you came or do the large loop to the Hooker Track car park.
Hooker Valley Track
This track is very busy during the day time. Possibly the busiest in New Zealand. Try visit early in the morning or for sunset walking with a head torch is fine and its impossible to get lost. It takes around an hour and half each way to get to the lake with three famous swing bridges and wooden boardwalk along the way.
One of my favourite spots in NZ is this cabin hidden away on a ridgeline between two glaciers. It’s a dangerous unmarked hike up that has claimed several lives over the years.
Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook Road
The south end of Lake Pukaki provides some great freedom camping before or after a trip to Mount Cook. You can park up right beside Lake Pukaki over looking Mt Cook at the opposite end of the lake.
The drive into the Mount Cook village isn’t too bad either.
There’s a good little hub of spots around Wanaka, its also a great area to party, ski, hike, or even just drive or relax for a few days. Especially if the busy scene in Queenstown isn’t your thing. Couple of recommended hikes are Ithumus Peak and Roys Peak.
This one can be hiked to directly out of the city in Queenstown. Its a big slog though.
There is so much in this area. Mt Earnslaw or Earnslaw Burn, plenty of four wheel driving and the start of the Routeburn track.
Purakaunui Bay insane camping spot right on the beach by the cliffs. There are plenty of hidden spots down in the Catlins. Just look at maps and explore.
One of those classic spots in NZ its an amazing place to watch the sunrise. Alternatively there is a great spot to see Yellow Eyed Penguins just down the road at Roaring Bay they usually come back to there nests at sunset.
This area is the perfect place to go if you are on a tight time frame and the forecast is terrible. This place lights up in heavy rainfall. Endless amounts of waterfalls form on the sides of the 1000m cliffs all around you.
One thing about Milford Sound is there is no cell phone signal anywhere. You have to have your whole trip planned out and organised before you get past Te Anau.
A longer hike but an insane spot that looks down into the valley bellow.