South Island strolls – sampling NZ’s Great Walks

Thursday, 26th June 2014

Destination Specialist

new zealand nelson abel tasman beach istk

Five of New Zealand’s 9 Great Walks are situated on South Island, but if you don’t have the time or fitness to take on the whole route, there are shorter samples of these famous scenic walks on offer – and our Kiwi Travel Specialist Lauren tried out two of them…

Nelson/Abel Tasman Region

Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand’s smallest National Park, is a place I had dreamed of visiting. Its beauty is absolute; the sea sparkles like diamonds and the secluded beaches and numerous walking trails make it a must visit on the South Island…

For our first night on South Island, we stayed nearby Nelson and made our way to Kaiteriteri beach the following morning to catch the Abel Tasman Sea Shuttle into the Park. The boat trip alone is absolutely mesmerising. Native birds soared next us and fur seals either frolicked in the sea or were laid on the rocks soaking up the sun.

As a practical service, the shuttle is fantastic as it makes many stops along the park’s coastline, giving you the opportunity to choose what walk you would like to do, knowing you have transport to meet you at the end. The famous Abel Tasman Coast Track takes 3-5 days to complete, but if (like us) you prefer a shorter stroll, I can thoroughly recommend the Sky Track walk which takes you to a truly amazing viewpoint over turquoise seas and golden sand…

In Abel Tasman, we stayed at the beautifully situated Peppers Awaroa Resort, which is well known for its Eco Lodge status. There are some great walks you can do from the lodge (including the Sky Track) ranging from 30 minutes to 7 hours, as well as opportunities to go off and explore by kayak.

Queenstown and the Routeburn Track

Queenstown is a gateway to a lot of activities – bungy jumping, skydiving, jet boating, it is also a 40-minute drive away from the Routeburn Track, another of New Zealand’s most famous scenic walks.

The Routeburn Track takes 2-4 days to complete, weaving through beech-forested valleys, glistening alpine lakes and surrounded on all sides by spectacular views of the Southern Alps. To get a taster, I joined Guided Walks NZ for a day trip.

new zealand fiordland hiking to key summit the routeburn track tnz

Peter, our guide, was enthusiastic and passionate about the area and had a fantastic sense of humour too. My husband and I walked the Lake Sylvan Track, which we followed to the lake itself where we stopped for lunch and to take in the beauty of the area. The pace was relaxed and not strenuous at all, but this can be adjusted to suit the needs of clients on the day if you want a more invigorating tramp.

Peter showed us how to survive in the wild, finding plants you can and can’t eat and also what you can use for medicine. He then took us to a Maori Cave where we learnt how to start a fire; it was a great moment sitting in the cave looking down on the people walking along the track who didn’t even know we were there. It really helps you get a sense of why the Maoris’ choose the area to live and hide from their enemies.

Other short walks to try on South Island:

  • Fiordland National Park: You can do short sections of the Kepler Track from Te Anau (the gateway to the National Park. For a short stroll with beautiful sunset views, the half-hour stroll to Frasers Beach from Manapouri is a stunner.
  • Franz Josef glacier: there are many ways to see the incredible Franz Josef glacier – including a 1.5hr return walk along a riverbed to the lookout near the glacier’s foot. Note: this track is rocky and sometimes closed due to ice collapse and other factors. Glaciers should be treated with caution and visitors should follow all signs and barriers.

Read about all New Zealand’s 9 Great Walks.

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