The Key Summit track is a beautiful day walk in Fiordland National Park that takes you through ancient mossy rainforest with a stunning view of the Southern mountains and alpine lakes at the end of the hike. Here you can explore this impressive alpine environment and learn more about how the landscape was formed. The well maintained boardwalks will take you along several tarns with stunning views over the snowcapped Humbolt and Darran Mountains. Overall, the Key Summit track is a fun and diverse day hike in Fiordland National Park. Find in this complete guide everything you need to know and prepare for the Key Summit track.
Check here the best tours in Fiordland NP
Key Summit track key facts
Before we dive into the details about Key Summit track, let’s first have a look at the key facts of the trail so you can decide if this is a hike for you!
Hike distance and duration: Depending on how many side walks you take at the tarns, the total distance of Key Summit track is around 8 kilometres. It will take you about 3 hours to complete the whole hike including some time to take in the panoramic views at the lakes.
Difficulty and incline: The Key Summit track has about 450 meters in elevation gain and is generally considered a moderately route. It’s never too steep and the path is very well maintained. Once you’ve passed the treeline the gravel path changes in a wooden boardwalk that follows along the tarns. In the winter there could be some snow and ice near the tarns. So make sure to check the conditions with the DOC before departing.
No matter how careful you are, accidents can happen.
A slip during hiking is made before you realize it, and the consequences can be bigger than you want to think of.
We are very happy with SafetyWing and highly recommend getting an insurance with them!
Best time to do the Key Summit track
Some of the most important things for the Key Summit track is clear weather. If there’s cloud coverage at the mountains then you won’t be seeing any view at all. The forest trail is beautiful in every weather circumstance. But the alpine view is most pretty when you can see the mountain peaks of course! Generally speaking the best time to hike in Fiordland National Park is in the morning. You’ll have more chance of clear skies to see the mountains. But this is not guaranteed of course. The best way to decide whether you should give it a go is to just look outside and watch the weather forecast.
In winter time there could be some snow and ice at the top, so be prepared for that in case you decide to hike up to Key Summit. As you’re walking first through the forest and then on an exposed part, you should protect yourself for harsh sunshine in the summer time. Bring a hat, sunglasses and eventually sunscreen.
How to get to Key Summit track
The Key Summit trailhead can be found along the Milford Road at The Divide shelter where also the Routeburn Track begins, or ends. Here you will find a big, free car park with toilets and information panels. From Te Anau it’s roughly an hour drive over 85 kilometres and from Milford Sound it’s 30 minutes over 30km drive.
How to get around in New Zealand
To experience New Zealand to the fullest and at your own pace, renting a car, campervan or motorhome is the best way to get around. Which one of these options you choose depends on your preference and budget. If you love camping, being outdoors all day and you don’t mind a smaller living space, then renting a camper van is the way to go. It also gives you the freedom to sleep at some of the most beautiful camping spots, but for some of them you’ll have to make a reservation and plan your trip accordingly. The same goes for a motorhome which is bigger than a campervan and fits about 4-6 people. Here’s what you need to know about renting a car, camper van or motorhome in New Zealand.
Car rental New Zealand
Renting a car in New Zealand is the easiest and cheapest rental vehicle available. It will get you to all the best destinations with ease and gives you the freedom to stop for a break wherever you want. However, you should keep in mind that some roads in New Zealand are still gravel or that you have to cross shallow rivers to some destinations in National Parks. Therefore we personally recommend a mini SUV or SUV model to have enough clearance for these kind of roads. We rented for 6 weeks a Mitsubishi ASX model and were super happy with this car!The best place to book your rental car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare different car models, prices, companies and terms and conditions. You can also check Rental Cars to compare at which platform you can get the best deal. Make sure to secure the booking of your rental car as soon as possible to have the lowest price possible. Prices go up the closer you get to the pick up date.
Campervan rental in New Zealand
Traveling around in a campervan is one of the most popular ways for a roadtrip in New Zealand. With a bed, small kitchen and seating area you will have all the (basic) needs on four wheels. Make sure to check if your campervan has a shower or not because this might influence where you want to camp. A campervan allows you to camp at plenty of beautiful places, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee. It will you give you a true feeling of freedom and connects you with nature.We personally recommend to book your campervan with Travellers Autobarn as they have a wide range of Stationwagons, 2-berth campervans & 3-5 berth campervans to hire for all budgets. All Travellers Autobarn campervan hires in New Zealand come with free unlimited kilometers, 10% discount to premium campgrounds, 24/7 road side assistance & long term rental discounts. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream roadtrip!
What to expect during the Key Summit track
The Key Summit trail begins at the Divide Shelter and follows the same route as the Routeburn Track for the first few kilometers. The well maintained gravel path takes you along spectacular native vegetation with mossy, twisted tree branches and beautiful ferns. It almost feels as if you’re walking in a real life fairytale as you’re slowly making your way deeper into the forest.
Key Summit forest track
As you make your way gradually uphill along the winding path surrounded by spectacular mossy forest, you will pass a landslide area 1km into the track. This part is clearly signed as you should not stop here due to rock fall danger. It’s not too dangerous anymore as the path has been fully restored. But especially during and after rainfall and high wind you should be extra aware of the risk of falling rocks.
Shortly after the landslide area you will cross a bridge where a waterfall is cascading down along the rocks and goes underneath the bridge. Quite a cool spot to stop for a moment and take some pictures. Take sip of water here, because from this point on the trail starts to steepen more.
The Key Summit Alpine Nature Walk
After a few steep switchbacks in the forest you will get to a flatter part of the trail around 2.5 kilometres. Here the views of the mountains peak appear. A clear sign that you’re almost at the turnoff which takes you up the Key Summit with its tarns and panoramic views.
Once you reach the turn off, it’s only about 700 meters until you reach the Key Summit track loop walk which will take you along the different tarns. There is also a toilet with an incredible view, so if you have to go you know you don’t have to do it in the bushes!
The path then changes from gravel into picturesque boardwalks which take you on a loop walk along the tarns. The first tarn you come across is the largest of all with an incredible view of the snow-capped Humbolt and Darran mountains. If it’s not too windy you might be lucky to get some stunning reflections in the lakes, great for photography!
As you continue the loop you will walk along some smaller tarns and a turnoff for the view of Lake Marian. It has to be really clear to see the lake all the way down in Hollyford valley, so you have to be lucky!
After this last lookout point it is time to head back along the boardwalk. Once you’re back at the junction with the main Routeburn Track, you can add another 10 minute detour to check out Howden Lake. This is another stunning lake with mountain backdrop which could be a great, quiet place for a (lunch) break before heading back to the car park.
Definitely make sure to put the Key Summit track on your New Zealand hiking list as it’s some of the best day walks on the South Island.
Must do tours in Fiordland National Park
Fiordland National Park is some of the most beautiful National Parks in New Zealand. Known for the glacier-carved fiords of Doubtful and Milford sound and home to beautiful alpine lakes, ancient rainforests and huge waterfalls. With plenty of hikes and a huge variety of other activities to do, it is highly recommended to spend at least three to four days in Fiordland National Park. Three of New Zealand’s Great Walks are in Fiordland, known as Kepler track, Milford track and Routeburn Track. But if you’re not prepared for multi day hikes, then there are also plenty of day walks options and other fun activities to do. Here are some tours we highly recommend to do in Fiordland National Park.
Check here the best Fiordland NP tours
Milford Sound Cruise and Kayak tour
Depart during a morning cruise on a smaller boat that travels outside of peak hours. This will give you prime viewing and more time on the water than other tours. You will listen to the informative commentary from the passionate skippers of Southern Discoveries and enjoy a provided picnic lunch. If you want to, you can include a kayak excursion and paddle Harrison Cove in a small-group. Limited to 8 people you will have a very intimate experience to really take in the immense scale of the bluffs and explore Milford Sound in a unique way.
Scenic flight over Milford Sound
Depart from Milford Airport and track west along Milford Sound. Fly alongside Bowen Falls and Mitre Peak for some great views of the fiords and its towering peaks before returning to our Milford base during this 20 minute flight.
Cruise to the hidden Doubtful Sound
The lesser known and quieter version of Milford Sound is Doubtful Sound. During this full-day tour you will journey across the clear waters of Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound. Make sure to keep an eye out for wildlife while taking in the scenery. If you’re lucky you might see fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, and crested and little blue penguins. You naturalist guide will tell you everything and point out interesting sights.
Jet boat journey through Fiordland National Park
Step into a powerful Fiordland Jet boat and cruise down the mighty Waiau River on this roughly two-hour adventure into the heart of Fiordland National Park. You will pass some famous landmarks and Lord of the Rings filming locations along the way. Departure is from Lake Te Anau with morning, afternoon and evening trips.
→ Book here your jet boat journey through Fiordland National Park
Milford Sound Hiking Tour with Cruise from Te Anau
Book this full day Milford Sound hiking tour including cruise to explore the best of Fiordland National Park. Travel along the Milford Road from Te Anau and enjoy panoramic views over the beautiful countryside. Then you will enjoy a relaxing boat cruise through the fjord and out to the Tasman Sea. Gaze over soaring clifftops and plummeting waterfalls while learning more about the environment. Afterwards you will go on a short guided walks and explore Fiordland’s spectacular natural scenery with a local nature guide.
→ Book here your Milford Sound Hiking Tour with Cruise from Te Anau
Scenic cruise on Lake Te Anau
Marvel at the majestic views of Fiordland wilderness on this luxury sunset cruise. Including champagne and canapés, this tour on the impeccably-preserved 1930s sailing yacht is a unique experience. You can watch the sun set over the Southern Alps and customize your cruise on this small-group cruise.
Where to stay near Key Summit track
The best way to explore the most of Fiordland National Park is to stay in either Milford Sound or Te Anau. Milford Sound only has one accommodation and restaurant option as the Milford Sound Lodge. If you have a self contained campervan then you have the option to stay at some camping sites.
Milford Sound Lodge
Milford Sound Lodge is some of the most unique accommodations in New Zealand. The mountain and river view chalets look out over the mountain peaks with waterfalls pouring down along the cliffs. Truly some of the most mesmerising views you can have from an accommodation. We personally stayed here two nights and highly recommend booking a stay at Milford Sound Lodge. You are not only close to the action of Milford Sound cruise and the hikes you can do. But you can also fully recharged in your cosy cabin and order delicious food at Pio Pio restaurant.
Radfords on the Lake Te Anau
Radfords on the Lake is located across the road from Lake Te Anau with stunning lake and mountain views. The fully self-contained suites offer everything you need during your stay. From cooking utensils to a desk and comfortable bed, Radfords on the Lake in Te Anau is your home away from home. With lovely staff, daily cleaning and it’s central location, we couldn’t recommend Radfords on the Lake enough. We have stayed here ourselves and fully enjoyed it!
More New Zealand travel guides
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about the Key Summit track. Make sure to put this beautiful hike on your New Zealand South Island itinerary!
There are many amazing other things to do and places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand. So if you’re looking for more inspiration and ideas, head over to our other New Zealand travel guides.
Fiordland National Park
20 best things to do in Milford Sound – The Ultimate Guide
Milford Sound Cruise – All you Need to Know
Lake Marian track – The Complete Guide
Mirror Lakes New Zealand – The Complete Guide
Queenstown Hill walk – The Complete Guide
Ben Lomond track – The Complete Guide
Moke Lake loop track & viewpoint – The Complete Guide
Bobs Cove nature walk – The Complete Guide
Glenorchy walkway & lagoon track – The Complete Guide
Earnslaw Burn glacier valley and waterfalls – The Complete Guide
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