best walks in new zealand

New Zealand boasts some of the world’s most breathtaking natural landscapes, the opportunity to encounter unique wildlife, and the indigenous Maori culture which offers opportunities to learn about the rich history and traditions of the country’s first inhabitants.

The country’s diverse geography brings you into contact with a wide range of walking trails, from alpine tracks to coastal paths, rainforest hikes, and volcanic landscapes, snow-capped mountains, pristine lakes, lush rainforests, and pristine coastlines.

There are also multi-day hiking trails that pass through some of the most iconic and beautiful landscapes in the country. And the commitment to environmental conservation and sustainability ensures these walks are well-maintained to provide a unique hiking experience.

Listed below are 10 of the best walks New Zealand has to offer. The list is based on a combination of the best walking trails in New Zealand together with opinions from locals and experts alike together with user reviews. 

Tongariro Alpine Crossing (North Island)

Renowned for its dramatic and ever-changing scenery, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of New Zealand’s most famous and iconic day hikes. It is classed as a difficult to moderate climb depending in your fitness level. It typically takes between 6 to 8 hours to complete, covering a distance of approximately 19.4 kilometres (12 miles.)

Located on the North Island within Tongariro National Park, the trail is part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, one of the most geothermally active areas in the world. Expect to encounter steam vents and hot springs along the way together with panoramic views from various points including the summit of Red Crater.

Some of the trail’s other key features include the South Crater, Blue Lake, and Emerald Lakes. If you’re unfamiliar with the area or prefer a guided experience, there are numerous guided tours available.

While the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a one-day hike, it’s a challenging experience due to its steep ascents and descents, rocky terrain, and potential for rapidly changing weather conditions. Hikers should be prepared for varying temperatures and strong winds.

The best time to hike the Tongariro Crossing is during the summer months (December to March). Some experienced hikers attempt the Tongariro Crossing in the winter, but this is considerably more challenging and should only be done by those with alpine experience and appropriate equipment. Snow and ice can make the trail treacherous.

Milford Track (South Island)

The Milford Track is one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks,” a collection of premier hiking trails that offer well-maintained tracks, designated huts, and a unique wilderness experience. It’s the most famous of these walks.

Hikers on the Milford Track are treated to a diverse range of stunning scenery, including lush rainforests, pristine rivers, cascading waterfalls, alpine meadows, and jaw-dropping fjords. Highlights include Sutherland Falls, Mackinnon Pass, and Milford Sound.

The Milford Track is approximately 53.5 kilometres (33.2 miles) in length and typically takes around four days to complete, including overnight stays at huts or campsites along the way.

While guided tours are an option, many hikers choose to complete the Milford Track independently. However, all hikers must carry their own food, clothing, and sleeping gear.

For those who prefer a guided experience, knowledgeable guides provide insights into the natural and cultural history of the area. Also, bear in mind that the Fiordland often experiences high rainfall, and the weather can change rapidly any time of year. Given the potential for flooding in some sections of the track, experienced guides provide an element of security and safety. 

Routeburn Track (South Island)

Like the Milford Track, the Routeburn Track is designated as one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks.” It’s known for its well-maintained trails, designated huts, and breathtaking scenery.

Stretching approximately 32 kilometres (20 miles), the completion time is typically 2 to 4 days, depending on your pace and itinerary. The track offers a choice of accommodations, including huts and campsites. Huts provide bunk beds, communal cooking facilities, and toilets. 

Similar to the Milford Track, access to the Routeburn Track is limited to protect the environment and ensure a quality hiking experience. It’s advisable to book accommodations and transportation in advance, especially during peak season (late October to late April).

Along the way, you will come across a diverse and awe-inspiring scenery, including ancient beech forests, alpine meadows, waterfalls, crystal-clear rivers, and panoramic mountain vistas.

Abel Tasman Coast Track (South Island)

The Abel Tasman Coast Track is approximately 60 kilometres (37 miles) long and can be completed in 3 to 5 days. Accommodation equipped with bunk beds, communal cooking facilities are available along the trail. 

The track meanders along the coastline, offering breathtaking views of the Tasman Sea, secluded coves, lush forests, and tidal inlets. The golden sand beaches are a highlight, and you’ll have plenty of opportunities for swimming and relaxation.

Generally considered to be of moderate difficulty, there are some hills and climbs to navigate, but the terrain itself not overly challenging. One of the unique aspects of this track is the availability of water taxis, which can transport you to various points along the track or return you to the trailhead. This flexibility allows you to customise your hike.

The weather in the Abel Tasman region is generally mild, with warmer temperatures than many other parts of New Zealand. If you don’t have the time for a multi-day hike, there are several options for day hikes and shorter walks within the Abel Tasman National Park.

Heaphy Track (South Island)

TheHeaphy Track is another one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, offering a remarkable hiking experience through diverse landscapes on the South Island’s West Coast.

Covering a distance of approximately 78.4 kilometres (48.7 miles), the trail typically takes around 4 to 6 days to complete, depending on your pace and itinerary. Shorter day hikes are also possible.

The track offers a diverse range of landscapes, including lush native forests, tussock-covered highlands, river valleys, and coastal beaches. Each day brings new scenery of natural beauty, river crossings and native birds like the Weka and Kaka, as well as other species such as the blue duck (whio) and New Zealand falcon (kārearea).

The weather on the West Coast of the South Island can be wet and changeable, so it’s essential to be prepared for varying conditions. Rain gear and warm clothing are advisable.

Kepler Track (South Island)

The Kepler Track offers a rewarding hiking experience with a variety of landscapes to explore. Whether you’re an experienced hiker seeking an alpine adventure or a nature lover looking to immerse yourself in the beauty of Fiordland National Park, this track offers a memorable journey on the South Island of New Zealand.

Also designated as one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks”, The Kepler Track boasts 60 kilometre (37 miles) of well-maintained trails, designated huts, and stunning alpine scenery. It typically takes around 3 to 4 days to complete.

The track takes you through diverse landscapes, including lush beech forests, alpine meadows, tussock-covered ridges, and pristine lakes. The panoramic views from Luxmore Hut and Mount Luxmore are highlights.

The Kepler Track offers opportunities to spot native birdlife, including the mischievous Kea parrot, Tui, and Bellbirds. Deer are also occasionally seen. It’s also worth noting that Fiordland is known for its high rainfall, and the weather can change rapidly. Hikers should be prepared for rain at any time of year and be aware of potential flooding in some sections of the track.

Hooker Valley Track (South Island)

The Hooker Valley Track is one of the most popular and accessible hikes in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park on New Zealand’s South Island. Starting from near the White Horse Hill Campground and Visitor Centre, this iconic trail offers breathtaking views of the country’s highest peak, Mount Cook (Aoraki).

The track is approximately a 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) round trip and typically takes around three hours to complete at a leisurely pace. It’s a well-marked and relatively easy walk suitable for hikers of all skill levels.

Walkers can expect to find stunning views of the Southern Alps, including the imposing figure of Mount Cook and its intoxicating glaciers. You’ll pass by the Hooker River and cross swing bridges, offering picturesque views of the turquoise glacial waters.

Although the track is well-maintained, it features a boardwalk and gravel paths in many sections, making the terrain more diverse and interesting. You will also encounter various native bird species and, if you’re lucky, you might spot the elusive kea parrot or the New Zealand falcon (kārearea).

The highlight of the Hooker Lake trail are the views of icebergs floating in the lake nestled between the surrounding moraines. The lake is fed by the Hooker Glacier, which is gradually retreating due to climate change.

Roy’s Peak Track (South Island)

Roy’s Peak Track is a popular hiking trail located near Wanaka on New Zealand’s South Island. It is renowned for its panoramic views of Lake Wanaka, the Southern Alps, and the surrounding landscapes.

The trail is 16 kilometres (10 miles) round trip, and typically takes around 5 to 6 hours to complete. The trail is considered moderately challenging due to its steep ascent.

One of the main attractions of this track is the stunning scenery it offers. As you ascend, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of Lake Wanaka, the turquoise waters of Lake Hawea in the distance, and the surrounding snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps.

The hike begins with a relatively gentle slope but becomes steeper as you ascend to Roy’s Peak. The trail is well-maintained, but it can be demanding, particularly during the steep sections.

Many hikers choose to start early in the morning to avoid the midday heat and to catch the sunrise at the summit. Sunrise and sunset times can offer incredible lighting and photo opportunities.

Rakiura Track (Stewart Island)

The Rakiura Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks and is located on Stewart Island, a remote and pristine island south of the South Island. This track offers a unique and secluded hiking experience in a rugged coastal and forested environment.

Stewart Island is known for its remote and wild landscapes. The Rakiura Track offers stunning coastal views and takes you through native forests, along rocky shores, and provides opportunities for bird-watching and solitude.

Covering a distance of approximately 32 kilometres (20 miles), hikers should schedule 2 to 3 days to complete it. Accommodations along the Rakiura Track include huts and campsites.

The track is often completed as a loop, starting and ending at Oban, the main settlement on Stewart Island. Transportation to and from the track can be arranged via water taxi services.

While guided tours are an option, many hikers choose to complete the Rakiura Track independently. However, all hikers must carry their own food, clothing, and sleeping gear.

Te Whara Track (North Island)

Te Whara Track is a scenic coastal hiking trail located on the Whangarei Heads Peninsula in the North Island of New Zealand. The  5.5 kilometres (3.4 miles) route is a one way trail offering stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, Bream Head, and the surrounding coastline. 

The track meanders along the coastline of the Whangarei Heads Peninsula, providing breathtaking vistas of the Pacific Ocean, rocky cliffs, sandy coves, and the surrounding islands.

The varied terrain is considered to be of moderate difficulty, with some steep and rocky sections. It’s suitable for hikers with a reasonable level of fitness, and it’s also suitable for families with older children.

Hikers start the trail from Ocean Beach to Urquharts Bay. There is also a loop option that includes the Peach Cove Track which takes you through additional coastal scenery and native bush. 

Look out for the abundance of birdlife around Whangarei Heads area. You may have the chance to spot native species such as tui, fantail, and more. Keep an eye out for seabirds soaring over the ocean.

Along the track, you’ll find information panels that share insights into the history and cultural significance of the area to the local Maori iwi (tribes).

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