From its northern tip to its southern stretches, the South Island of New Zealand has a number of unique geologic features like the Moreaki Boulders. While some of these locations require a bit of commitment to see, other features like the Pancake Rocks on the west coast of New Zealand are easily accessible. Further, as a whole, the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island is an area that, while it is isn't hidden, is wild as a whole. As a start, the west coast is one of the rainiest portions in the entirety of the island, with storms commonly coming off the Tasman Sea. It is also an area that in places, resembles a more tropical locale with pristine beaches, and has many sub-tropical rainforests that are in part, are protected in Paparoa National Park.
If one has the time, and the luxury of having a car, or rented a car, driving around the South Island of New Zealand is one of the great adventures in life. Aside from cities and towns, a majority of the island has little traffic, and nothing but sweeping views of far off mountains, expansive coastlines, and almost everything in between. While it is hard to single out one specific drive with the “best” views, any list would surely include the stretch of State Highway 94 from Te Anau to the Milford Sound (otherwise known as the Milford Road). Along this 118 kilometer (73 miles) stretch of road, one has fantastic views of Fiordland National Park, with alpine meadows, snowcapped peaks, waterfalls, old growth forests, and glacial valleys. The only downside to this road is that unlike other stretches of New Zealand highways, it is narrow, and at times, does not have places to pull out and admire the view.
One of the most unique sights in New Zealand lies along the East Coast of the South Island, in the Otago region. The Moeraki Boulders are a series of spherical boulders that appear randomly placed along the tideline. With unique and distinctive lines crisscrossing their surface, they look like something out of a science fiction novel, or, in line with New Zealand’s spate of recent high fantasy movies, dragon’s eggs. The scientific explanation for the boulders is that they are concretions (hard, compact items that are formed by precipitation of mineral cement that are found in sedimentary rocks) that have been eroded for the last sixty-five million years. However, despite the geologic and scientific explanation that exists, the Moeraki Boulders also have a cultural and mythological explanation as well.
The West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island is known for two things: rain, and epic coastal views. While rainfall amounts vary in the Westland, some areas receive as much as 18 meters of rain (54 feet!) a year. As a result of this rain, much of this area is heavily forested with swamps in certain areas. In addition to the fantastic forests that cover the West Coast, the views along the coastline never fail to impress, irrespective of whether there is precipitation or not. One of the easiest, and best hikes in the region, the Truman Track, combines much of the best features of the area, along with a stunning beach, and is a must-do hike for visitors to the region.
From the sand dunes of the Farewell Spit, to the volcanic terrain of Tongariro National Park, to the lush forests of Rakiura National Park and the tropical beaches of Abel Tasman, New Zealand has almost every type of backcountry terrain that a hiker could want. With so many picturesque and jaw dropping locations, it is hard to find first, a bad hike in all of New Zealand, and second, “the best” hike in all of New Zealand. However, if you are a person who likes superlatives and stunning alpine views, the best hike in all of the three islands of New Zealand (North, South, and Stewart) might just be Key Summit.