Hiking in New Zealand’s South Island is unlike anywhere else in the world. Complete freedom and reconnection with nature await just a stone’s throw from Queenstown, and even in the centre of town you can feel the presence of the wild.
This is a special place, one that stops you in your tracks at every turn, and it’s no surprise that hikers of all ages and stages come to find, lose and immerse themselves in the surroundings. To squeeze every drop of magic out of your time here, the best thing you can do is plan like a pro.
First things first. When are you planning your hiking trip?
Plan around the seasons to make the most of Queenstown’s great walks
The walking season runs from October to April. Summer (December to February) will give you long, hot days, but more people. Remember to book huts and campsites early. The shoulder seasons (October, November, March and April) will have fewer crowds and cooler temperatures.
Which hiking trip is best for you?
The wonderful thing about hiking around the Wakatipu basin is that the options are endless, so you can choose to immerse yourself in the breath-taking landscapes in the style that best suits you.
Single or multi-day?
There are an abundance of full-day hikes in the area, but if you truly want to leave the grind behind, there is nothing better than a multi-day mission. The wilderness that envelopes Queenstown is full of Department of Conservation (DOC) campsites and huts, and trust us, coffee and breakfast have never tasted as good as they do out there.
If you’re going multi-day, you’ll need to check on the DOC website whether you’ve got to book (essential for most huts in summer). It will also tell you if cooking equipment and drinking water is provided. Always bring a sleeping bag.
Try a Great Walk or trek the lesser known trails
If you do think an overnight mission is your thing, there are options aplenty. Queenstown is a gateway for three of New Zealand’s magnificent Great Walks - the Milford, the Routeburn and the Kepler tracks. They offer well-maintained tracks, huts and campsites in the most spectacular mountain landscapes.
Queenstown’s Great Walks are popular, and you’ll need to book in advance. For fewer crowds, go in spring or autumn.
Book a guide or go it alone
Many people hiking in New Zealand’s South Island go unguided, but for a more tailored experience, Ultimate Hikes offer multi-day guided walks and private huts for the Milford & Routeburn Tracks. They’re a great option if you’d prefer to enjoy the solitude of the wild with a little bit of luxury, and learn from the experts about the unique flora, fauna and history of the area.
Do you need transport to the trail?
If you’re doing a loop track, this is fairly straightforward - either drive your rental car to the carpark or find a bus or shuttle (like Glenorchy Journeys) that can drop you. If you finish in a different spot to where you started, like the Routeburn or Milford tracks, there are plenty of friendly local operators offering shuttles and car relocation services.
Assess your fitness level
Hiking in New Zealand’s South Island means you have a whole smorgasbord of options, from steep mountain treks to flat valley strolls. Always check out the ‘difficulty’ rating on the DOC website and make sure you are choosing something that’s within your capabilities.
Get your body ready for Queenstown’s great walks
Train for your hiking trip and get used to carrying gear
Walking up hills is one thing. Walking up them with a food-laden backpack is quite another, so make sure you get some practice carrying extra weight.
If you haven’t been exercising regularly, start a few months out from your trip, and try going for some 10-20km walks with 10-15kg on your back. That way, when you’re out there in the wilderness, you’ll be able to soak in your incredible surroundings rather than struggling for breath.
Get your gear sorted
How to decide what to pack for your hiking trip
When planning a hiking trip around Queenstown, bringing the right gear is one of the most important things to consider - and the most overlooked! You can’t buy food on any of the trails, and DOC huts don't have showers, hot water, cooking or eating utensils or bed linen.
Queenstown is the perfect place to find out exactly what you’ll need for your hike, with well-informed locals at information centres, tour companies, outdoor shops and shuttle services always ready with info. For now, though, here are some of the essentials:
- Make sure to pack plenty of layers, including thermals - even in summer. Remember, with New Zealand weather, nothing is off the cards. Always bring a waterproof layer.
- Wear appropriate boots. If you’re going to be crossing rivers or streams, make sure you have waterproof boots and extra socks. If you’re buying new boots, leave yourself a few days to break them in and make sure you have plasters for blisters!
- The right backpack is crucial for your hiking trip. If you’re doing a multi-day, you’ll need enough space for your sleeping bag, food, cooking equipment and a change of clothes.
- Bring a waterproof pack liner.
- Sunblock, insect repellent and a head torch are high on the not-to-be-forgotten list.
Luckily, Queenstown has plenty of choices for gear hire
Don’t have everything you need? Buy or hire everything from sleeping bags and gas canisters to boots and poles from some of these spots in town:
Last but not least, stay safe out there
The New Zealand outdoors are wonderfully untamed, but that means you’ve got to keep your own safety front of mind. Here are a few ways to keep yourself safe:
- Bring a personal first aid kit and emergency gear
- Always tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to be back
- Check the weather forecast