The natural drama of the Southwest New Zealand World Heritage area is breathtaking. Home to ancient glaciers, perfect river valleys & some of the best hikes in the world, it’s a destination to make the most of on your New Zealand holiday.
Glacier hiking in New Zealand is a very special experience that’s on many people’s bucket list. What’s more, those passionate about nature and grand outdoor scenery will love the Routeburn Track – one of New Zealand’s most famous walking adventures. These two great experiences are separated by an enjoyable scenic drive through beautiful Mount Aspring National Parks and Wanaka Lakes, to make the most of each destination it is necessary to carefully consider your itinerary. Done right, your time in one of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand promises to be a highlight of your entire trip.
For more than a decade, I have been showcasing to visitors the very best of the country’s great outdoors and would love to share my thoughts on how to best incorporate glacier hiking and the Routeburn Track into your holiday. On the way, we’ll also show you how you can explore the crystal-clear waters of Lake Wanaka as well as the landscapes that surround Queenstown – all in three unforgettable days.
Day One: Hiking on Fox Glacier
New Zealand’s Fox Glacier is unique because it is so accessible – this impressive ice flow lies only 6km (4 miles) from Fox Glacier Township. Like neighbouring Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier descends from high in the Southern Alps down to lush, emerald rainforest; the bottom of it lying only 300m above sea level. As a result, you don’t need to fly high into the mountains to experience this bucket-list activity. A glacier hike in New Zealand is easily arranged, and, when you reach Fox Glacier town ship, it’s right on your doorstep.
A morning hiking on this ancient river of ice reveals stunning caves, crevasses and towering pillars. The glacier tumbles down from the mountain for 13 km (8 miles), losing around 2,600m (8,500 ft) of altitude during its journey. Guided hikes take place mostly on the lower part of the glacier, but, if conditions are right, hikers can view the upper glacier from a lookout point. Mountain boots, crampons and walking sticks (all provided) mean that this is an experience anybody can enjoy; you just need to be an active person who is confident on their feet. One thing is certain – glacier hiking in New Zealand is an experience you’ll never forget.
Day Two: Explore the beauty of Lake Wanaka and Queenstown
Head into the mountains to travel through Mount Aspiring National Park and Haast Pass before the stunning Wanaka Lakes district. Spend the night in Wanaka, and wake up on day two ready to explore this outdoor paradise. For magnificent views of the surrounding landscapes and the opportunity to encounter some of New Zealand’s rare native birds, a visit to Mou Waho Island – in the middle of Lake Wanaka and a 35 minute boat ride away – is highly recommended.
This island sanctuary is pest free and home to flourishing populations of wood pigeons, bellbirds, fantails, tomtits, wax eyes and more. On the walk along the gentle track that leads to the high point of the island, the magical call of birdsong echoes through the trees. Towards the top of the track lies Arethusa Pool, a pristine lake with a rocky island in the middle. Don’t forget your camera – looking out over the pool to the sweeping views of Lake Wanaka and its surrounding mountains and valleys is breath taking.
During the afternoon, enjoy a lake side lunch at one of Wanaka’s many boutique cafes before leaving for Queenstown. Drive through the Cardrona Valley, over the Crown Range and into the stunning Wakatipu Basin – the outlook over Queenstown and beyond is postcard-perfect.
Day Three: A Day hike on the Routeburn Track
Jewel-hued lakes, soaring mountain peaks and verdant valleys make the Routeburn Track one of the most beautiful hiking adventures in New Zealand. One of the country’s ‘Great Walks’, the Routeburn Track follows an early Maori trail from Lake Wakatipu to Fiordland and its inspiring waterfalls and panoramic alpine views make it a real must-do for lovers of walking and nature. For those who are limited for time, a day hike on the Routeburn is a great way to experience this natural wonderland.
The place names tell the story here, as you pass near Paradise before your day hike at the Glenorchy end of the track. This 8-kilometre (5 mile) section of the track to Routeburn Flats is magnificent. Walk through beech forests that look like they belong in the Lord of the Rings and alongside crystal-clear rivers. Choose to climb up to Routeburn Falls for an extra challenge - you’ll be rewarded with stunning valley and alpine views. Along the way, listen for the sing-song call of the bellbird echoing through the trees, and look out for the cheeky Kea – the world’s only alpine parrot.
Explore the best of the South Island with New Zealand Trails
The suggestions above make up days four, five and six of our New Zealand Trails 13-day small-group hiking tour of the South Island. From bucket-list activities like glacier hiking, a scenic flight and wilderness jet boating to day walks on the Milford, Routeburn and Hollyford tracks, this active and easy-going tour has it all. What’s more, you’ll stay in quality, four-star accommodation and enjoy delicious food and wine experiences in a small group led by friendly, expert guides. Find out more on our website
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