Roughly the size of Great Britain, the South Island of New Zealand is small enough that you can explore much of its glacial valley – marbled with waterfalls, mossy beech forests, and alpine lakes – just by walking. Of the island's eight legendary hiking trails, called the Great Walks, the 33-mile Milford is the most popular; it attracts 14,300 hikers each year. But the 19.2-mile Routeburn crosses the same kind of terrain, minus the waiting list for a reservation or the significant time commitment – you can easily do it in a couple of days and still have time for New Zealand's other highlights. Most hikers stay in bare-bones communal huts kept up by the country's Department of Conservation; you can upgrade by signing on with Queenstown-based Ultimate Hikes, which leads guided three-day treks, with nights spent in homey lodges along the trail. Chefs prepare three-course dinners and set you up with breakfast and lunch. Naturalist guides are on the alert for parakeets and keas, New Zealand's cheeky native parrots, on the mostly singletrack trail, which links Fiordland and Mount Aspiring national parks. The highlight is the view from Conical Hill, a mile-long detour starting six miles in, which stretches all the way to the Tasman Sea.
Credit: Janette Asche / Getty Images
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