I’ll start this out by saying these are MY top five hikes that I’ve completed (so far). Kels and I spent 4 weeks camping around the South Island in November/ December, we still have SO MANY hikes left on our “to do” list; so these are the Top 5 day hikes that we completed on our 2017 backpacking trip.
- Mueller Hut : Mount Cook/ Aoraki
I reckon that this will forever remain one of my all-time favourite day hikes. It has a bit of everything: elevation gain, lakes, scrambling up rocks and mountains every way you look.
The trailhead from the hike can be found directly from White Horse Hill Camping Ground, which is where we had spent the night before/after. The trailhead is shared with the Kea Point Track as well as the Sealy Tarns Track.
I would recommend checking in at the DOC visitor center the day before you head up. You are climbing into alpine terrain and it’s always better to know the conditions ahead of time!
For a full post on Mueller Hut, click HERE.
Date Completed: December 7, 2017
Total Trail Time: 7.5 hours
Total Elevation Gain: 1045 m
Hut Elevation: 1805m
Total Distance: 10.2 km
Total Stairs Climbed: More than 2200 (We lost count after 300 )
Total Photos Taken: 254
Handfuls of Trail Mix: Lost Count
- Avalanche Peak : Arthur’s Pass
This hike was so much fun! We took the Avalanche Peak route up, and Scott’s Track on the way down, and would recommend others to do the same. The way up is a fun climb, we had to use all four limbs at some points – grabbing onto tree roots to pull ourselves up the rocks. The way down via Scott’s Track is less steep, with longer switch backs.
The trailhead for the avalanche peak track can be found just behind the Arthur’s Pass visitors centre. This is also considered an alpine hike, so you should stop in the visitor center the day before to check conditions.
You start in the bush, gaining elevation, and eventually break out of the tree line to see mountains all around. Then it’s up, up and up, you follow the guide poles along the ridge and then eventually up to the summit! The way down seemed to take forever, it didn’t help that Kels rolled his ankle on the way down. There’s still great views though, you can see Devil’s Punchbowl Falls in the distance.
Date Completed: December 11, 2017
Total Trail Time: 7.5 Hours
Total Elevation Gain: 1100m
Summit Elevation: 1833m
Total Distance: 6.2km
Total Photos Taken: 431
- Key Summit : Fiordlands
This hike made the list because it’s one of the only hikes I’ve done where I’ve cried when I reached the top. Don’t worry, they were good tears.
It was a cloudy, very low hanging cloudy morning when we set out on the trailhead at the Divide Carpark; this is also the start of the Routeburn track from the Milford side. Kels and I began hiking through the bush, it was so lush and green and magical.
As we broke past the trees we could only see just in front of us, the clouds surrounded us – we had no idea what views were hidden behind them. Just as we reached the top, I looked up, and to my amazement, we were surrounded by mountains towering around us. It was then that the tears came. It was as if Mother Nature had lifted up a curtain so show us all her beauty – it was absolutely incredible. I cried at the absolute beauty of it all, I was hit with an overwhelming blast of happiness; I reckon if a hike can make me cry, it’s got to make the Top 5 list.
Date Completed: November 26, 2017
Total Trail Time: 4 hours (with over 1.5 taking photos up top)
Total Elevation Gain: 386 meters
Summit Elevation: 918m
Total Distance: 6.8km
Total Photos Taken: 365
- Ben Lomond Summit: Queenstown
This hike is something special to me. The first time I attempted it was in 2014 with my sister Margaret. We had taken the gondola up, the weather was beautiful, I got to spend time with my sister – but I didn’t make it to the summit. I had injured my knee trekking Tongariro Crossing the month before, and when the steep climb came, I couldn’t take more than 2 steps without having to sit down from the pain.
So when Kels and I attempted it this trip, I was a bundle of nerves. 1. Because I had unfinished business with this mountain, and 2. Because I was SO CERTAIN that Kels was going to propose to me at the top. I had texted my sister that morning telling her I was going to come down off of that mountain engaged.
We took the gondola up again; however, you can save money and begin the hike from the bottom of the gondola, starting up Hammy’s Track and then joining the Ben Lomond Track. From the top of the gondola, we climbed through the forest, and then up to the saddle for a quick break. My knee was holding up perfectly. When we got to the top, there was at least 15 other people up there. The clouds were hanging low; but, we sat down and ate lunch in hopes that they would clear.
Kels was ready to head back down; but, I kept stalling – I was trying to give him the time to pop the Q. He never did ask, and I was quiet, grumpy and very confused the whole hike down.
The good news is that we did get engaged, it was a little over a month later’; and, Ben Lomond is a beautiful hike! The Southern Alps are breathtaking, and it’s a super satisfying hike!
Date Completed: November 28, 2017
Total Trail Time: 6 Hours
Total Elevation Gain: 1,428m from town, 1028 from the top of the Gondola
Summit Elevation: 1748m
Total Distance: 11km
Total Photos Taken: 303
- Routeburn Falls Hut : Glenorchy
Kels and I set out to do the Glenorchy portion of the Routeburn, but with no end goal. We spent the night before at Sylvan Lake DOC campsite, and started the hike from the Routeburn shelter parking.We figured we’d walk until we’d had enough and then turn around. Both of us were quite fatigued from previous day’s hikes, so we figured we’d maybe just make it to the first hut, then head back.
The hike began by crossing over a swing bridge, and then following alongside the Dart River (which was so blue and clear it was unreal. It then opened up to a gorgeous field where we stopped for a snack. Not long afterwards we hit the first hut, and then decided we’d just keep going.
Once you decide to keep going, it’s uphill switch backs upon switch backs. We kept telling ourselves just one more then we’ll turn around; but, we kept on going – and I’m so happy we did! This hike was so worth it!
We passed over multiple little swing bridges, and then it opens up from where a rockslide occurred years ago. There was absolutely beautiful views of the valley below – it’s gorgeous.
Continuing on, we reached Routeburn Falls Hut. We sat and had some trail mix overlooking the forest and then decided to climb up and explore the falls themselves. This was another case of just a little further then we’ll turn around. We wanted to see what was around the next corner, up the next hill – so we explored all the way up, stopping before we would have had to ascend up to the saddle. We definitely recommend continuing on past the hut for a bit – it was our favourite part of the hike.
Date Completed: November 30, 2017
Total Trail Time: 8.5 Hours
Total Elevation Gain: 495m
Falls Hut Elevation: 972m
Total Distance: ~20km
Total Photos Taken: 232
As with anywhere; be a tidy kiwi. Take only photos and leave only footprints. Pack your rubbish back out with you and stay on the paths. Be sure you are properly prepared for all hikes; water, warm gear, extra food and proper knowledge of what you are getting yourself into.
If you have any questions about the above hikes or questions about some other hikes that Kels and I did, leave a comment below!