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Discover Hidden Treasures: South Island Hiking Trails of New Zealand

New Zealand is renowned for its incredible world-class walks.

International travellers are drawn like moths to a flame and flock to our National Parks to experience the raw beauty and otherworldliness. From majestic fiords and snow-covered mountains to epic sandy beaches and awe-inspiring volcanic wilderness, we almost have it all on these little islands in the Pacific.

With eighty percent of our country uninhabited, New Zealand is a treasure trove of hidden gems for hikers to enjoy. The off-the-beaten-track trails, known mostly to locals, offer a unique and authentic experience. Venturing into the lesser-explored corners of Aotearoa allows you the freedom to explore without the crowds. Here are our favourite lesser-known South Island trails to inspire your next trip.


Heaphy Track

Located in Kahurangi National Park, the Heaphy Track is a tramper's paradise, offering a kaleidoscope of landscapes in just 78 kilometres. It takes you on a journey through lush rainforests, open tussock grasslands, and dramatic mountain ranges, and finally, you arrive on a pristine West Coast beach with pounding surf with epic vistas. This incredible diversity, along with the chance to spot native wildlife like kiwi and explore hidden caves, makes the Heaphy Track a truly fantastic walk.

The magic of the Heaphy Track goes beyond its scenery. The route itself whispers of history.  Evidence suggests Maori tribes traversed similar paths for centuries, using the track to access pounamu (greenstone) on the West Coast.  European influence came later, with gold prospectors in the 1860s adapting the Maori route into a rough track.  The Heaphy Track we experience today is a testament to both its natural beauty and the enduring spirit of exploration.

The Heaphy Track is one of the longer Great Walks at 78.4 kilometres and is one-way starting at Browns Hut where you gradually climb through the mountain range with the chance to spot Mount Taranaki on the North Island on a clear day. Your final destination sees you arriving on the rugged West Coast at the Kōhaihai River mouth. The area boasts the highest endemic bird score of all the Great Walks. From a symphony of forest bird songs to our nocturnal kiwis, you will be serenaded, and there is always a chance of meeting our cheeky keas along the way.

Highlights on this journey include:

- Nikau Palm Forest: The Heaphy Track is home to one of the largest areas of nikau palm forest in New Zealand. This ancient forest with its towering nikau palms is a truly magical place to walk through.

- Perry Saddle: Offering stunning views of both the Heaphy River and coastline, Perry Saddle is a must-do for any tramper.

- Gouland Downs: A vast expanse of open tussock grasslands, Gouland Downs is a great place to spot native wildlife such as the takahe. Staying at the historic hut along the way close to limestone caves which are a must-see. 

- Lewis Powstel and Beach: Located at the western end of the Heaphy Track, Lewis Powstel is a great place to relax and enjoy the stunning views of the Heaphy Beach.


Hollyford Track - Fiordland National Park.

Nestled within Fiordland National Park, the Hollyford Track offers a secret escape for trampers seeking tranquillity. Unlike its well-trodden cousin, the Milford Track, Hollyford rewards adventurers with a chance to immerse themselves in untouched wilderness. 

The track winds its way through valleys sculpted by glaciers, alongside the Hollyford River. Walkers can expect to encounter cascading waterfalls, ancient rainforests teeming with birdlife, and finally, the grand reveal – Martins Bay, a picture-perfect fiord. 

With less crowds but equally stunning scenery, the Hollyford Track is a hidden gem for those who want to experience the true magic of Fiordland.

  • Hollyford Valley: Carved by glaciers over millions of years, this valley is a wonder of nature. The towering peaks, lush rainforest, and cascading waterfalls will leave you breathless.
  • Lake Alabaster and Lake McKerrow: Reflect on your journey by pausing by the shores of these beautiful lakes. Lake Alabaster is steeped in Maori history and is easily accessible along the track however if you are up for a challenge and the potential glimpse of some unexpected visitors at Lake McKerrow you may be lucky to spot dolphins!  These adventurous creatures have been known to travel from the nearby ocean into the freshwater lake.
  • Martins Bay: The crown jewel of the Hollyford Track, Martins Bay is a remote and beautiful fiord that will take your breath away. 
  • Hidden Falls: A beautiful waterfall nestled amidst lush rainforest. The perfect place to cool off on a hot day.


Lake Marian

Close to the Hollyford trail the Lake Marian track offers another choice for hikers seeking a taste of New Zealand's untamed beauty. 

The track itself provides a challenging yet rewarding climb, with sections that weave through a unique alpine forest before emerging into a breathtaking mountainous landscape. The star of the show is undoubtedly Lake Marian itself, situated above the treeline in a hanging valley. This glacial lake shimmers with a turquoise hue, framed by the majestic Darren Mountains. On a clear day, snow-capped peaks pierce the crystal-clear sky and are reflected in the water's surface for a truly awe-inspiring view.

For the truly adventurous, a dip in the chilly waters completes the experience, making this off the beaten track route a must-do for hikers seeking a challenge and a connection with nature's grandeur.

This short three to four hour walk may be challenging however the reward is out of this world.


Gertrude Saddle

Another fantastic journey through Fiordland National Park is Gertrude Saddle. It offers a secret haven for adventurous hikers seeking a path less travelled. While not completely off the grid, it attracts far fewer crowds compared to Milford Sound. 

With breathtaking panoramic views the journey itself is a highlight reel, with cascading waterfalls, towering granite mountains, and a thrilling scramble up scree slopes. Finally, reaching the saddle unveils a jaw-dropping vista overlooking Milford Sound and the Tasman Sea, a sight guaranteed to leave you speechless.

Many in the know it is the best day hike within Fiordland, however, you need a good level of fitness and the route should only be attempted in good weather.   


Motatapu Track

This is a remarkable 42km private trail, for advanced hikers. This journey winds through the mountainous Southern High Country of New Zealand. You'll traverse scenic rivers, conquer rewarding climbs, and navigate exciting descents.  

It follows in the footsteps of history, traversing a route once used by Maori for hunting, gathering, and transporting pounamu (greenstone). This secluded valley remained undiscovered by Europeans until the gold rush of 1862. 

The reward on this trail are the breathtaking high country vistas and unparalleled panoramic views. Reaching elevations of up to 950 metres this unforgettable adventure is only available to our guests, promising an exceptional experience.


Ready to embark on your own personalised luxury hiking tour of New Zealand's South Island? Contact us now to start planning your unforgettable adventure amidst stunning landscapes and hidden treasures.

Posted by Jean-Michel Jefferson on March 27, 2024