Top 12 Hills in the South Island, New Zealand

You don’t need to climb to the tops of mountains to see amazing views in New Zealand — a hill will often do! Our top 12 hills in the South Island include big hills you can drive over, small ones with incredible views and one very special suburban hill in Dunedin. Also check out our Top 12 Mountains in the South Island list.

Botanical Hill

For great views over Nelson head to the top of Botanical Hill, a short walk from the city centre. It’s known as the centre of New Zealand, although apparently that isn’t accurate.

Flat Top Hill

Flat Top Hill has some of the best views in Central Otago, overlooking the Clutha River as it cuts through the Roxburgh Gorge. The walk also takes in views of the reservoir as well as Butchers Dam.

Mou Waho Island

The boat trip across Lake Wānaka to Mou Waho Island is spectacular enough but climb the island’s small hill and you’ll be treated to some of the best lake vistas you could hope to see, including another small lake (with its own tiny island).

Sandymount

The hilly Otago Peninsula could provide a few entries to this list, but in the end it came down to Sandymount or the Harbour Cone. Sandymount won out for its sweeping views of Hoopers Inlet and Allans Beach as well as the southern end of the Otago Peninsula.

Florence Hill

This hill in the Catlins is famous for its car park / viewpoint overlooking Tautuku Bay. Florence Hill Lookout is one of the best coastal viewpoints in the South Island and couldn’t be easier to visit.

Florence Hill Lookout, The Catlins, New Zealand

Bluff Hill

Drive to the top of Bluff Hill for some top Southland views (lowered slightly by the big aluminium smelter), including Stewart Island on a nice day as well as a big chunk of the southern coastline. You can also walk up to the Bluff Hill viewpoint from Stirling Point. 

Port Hills

The Port Hills is the major natural landmark in Christchurch, separating the city and Lyttleton Harbour / Banks Peninsula. You can drive along the ridgeline of the Port Hills, with lots of roadside viewpoints to stop at as well as walks of varying lengths and difficulties.

Baldwin Street

There are few more famous suburban streets than Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world. You can drive up it, although I’d leave the car at the bottom and walk up if I were you!

The Baldwin Street sign, Dunedin, New Zealand

Sentinel Rock

With the track down the valley closed for the foreseeable future, Sentinel Rock is now the best “easy” view of Franz Josef Glacier (the best being the Alex Knob day walk — definitely not easy). It’s a short walk from the car park and the view of the glacier carved valley is one of the best in the West Coast, especially when the southern rata are in bloom.

Mount Sunday

Surrounded by giant snow-capped mountains and located down a long gravel road, Mount Sunday is a hill worth travelling for. It featured heavily in the Lord of the Rings series (as Edoras, capital of Rohan) and has that typical mountain scenery the South Island does so well. It’s an easy climb too — don’t let the “mount” in the title put you off!

Castle Hill

This rocky hill in inland Canterbury is a popular day trip destination from Christchurch (90 minutes away). You can stroll between the giant rocks of Castle Hill or climb them if you’ve got the gear — it’s one of the South Island’s most well-known rock-climbing areas.

Tākaka Hill

It’s a long and winding drive from Motueka to Golden Bay over Tākaka Hill, with caves, viewpoints and hiking trails to explore along the way. You can also see the Riuwaka Resurgence, a river which starts on one side of Tākaka Hill and emerges on the other near Motueka.

Once over the hill there’s heaps to explore, including Te Waikoropupū Springs, Rawhiti Cave, Cape Farewell, Wharariki Beach and lots more.

What are your favourite Hills in the South Island? Let us know in the comments below!

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Jon Algie

I'm a South Island local -- born in Timaru and raised in Dunedin. I left the island in 2006 and returned 10 years later. Having seen a good chunk of the world I realised how special this place is -- the most beautiful island in the world! Seven years (and almost 400 posts) later I'm still helping locals and tourists alike plan their trips around the South Island.