Hiking in New Zealand’s South Island is just as beautiful as the explorations in the North. The South Island is rich with an astonishing variety in landscapes: you have centuries-old glaciers, rainforests, gorgeous turquoise lakes, mountains, valleys and fjords. This gives you a choice of natural features to choose from, depending on what you want to see or experience on your hikes. I also like the relative remoteness of trails here compared to those in the north. Even when other hikers were within sight or earshot, I felt closer to nature in the South Island.
These are some day trails you can tackle when you’re in the South Island:
Franz Josef Glacier Valley Hike
The Franz Josef glacier is one of New Zealand’s 22 glaciers. The 5.4km (return) hike, which traces the path sculpted by the glacier thousands of years ago, begins from the carpark at the park entrance, and cuts through a rainforest and runs alongside the Waiho River. This is an easy hike with amazing views of an ancient glacier, and the valley which it carved out before it receded to its present position. For safety reasons, hikers are prohibited from going up to the glacier’s terminal face. Barriers, which must not be crossed, mark the end of the viewing area. It isn’t obvious to the naked eye but glaciers are always moving, and ice and rockfalls can occur without warning. The hike can be done independently, but signing up with Franz Josef Glacier Guides gives you an experienced guide who can tell you about the Maori legend of the glacier, as well as the vegetation and geology.
Getting there: Franz Josef village is a three-hour drive from Greymouth, the western terminus of the Tranz Alpine Railway. The views are stunning throughout the journey to Franz Josef. The glacier is about 5km from the village, but those on guided hikes will be driven to the starting point.
The track: Although the hike is easy, this is not a track but a craggy route over rocks and stones.
What to bring: Drinking water, sunblock, good walking shoes, warm layers and a waterproof shell as the weather here changes rapidly.