10 Best Hikes in New Zealand


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10 Best Hikes in New Zealand

New Zealand is one of those jewels that should be on every trekker’s bucket list.

Famed the world over for its beauty in different forms, almost every trek and trail we detail here will give you something new.

The trekking and hiking tourism industry in the country is big business and the government works hard to promote it as a reason to visit.

Thanks to the way the islands are laid out you have everything from warm, tropical seas to high mountains and even volcanoes.

With its unique wildlife, everything you see hear and feel on a trip to New Zealand should turn out a pleasure.

Let’s get on with it shall we?

The National Trail

Being a fairly small country there is only one obscene-length trail that would take you several months to complete – the Te Araroa Trail.

Te Araroa Trail

  • Distance: 1,864 miles
  • Time: 6 months
  • Start: Cape Reinga
  • End: Bluff
  • Best for: New Zealand’s two main islands in all their glory

The Te Araroa Trail is one of the most popular extreme-long distance treks on the planet, with an estimated 1,200 people doing it every year.

That’s a lot of people doing a trek that can take up to six months!

Stretching from the southernmost point of South Island to the northernmost point of North Island this is a trail that bisects the two main islands of the country in one long blast.

You will see pretty much everything the wild and beautiful country has to offer from rugged coastline to well managed countryside and high alpine peaks as you go.

Given the awesome beauty of the country, it’s no wonder that so many people take it on!

You will have time camping out under the stars, and for a fee payable ahead can use the camping huts along the way.

The authorities running the Te Araroa Trail suggest you begin the trek in October or November to minimise the risks of hitting snow and ice along the way.

That said, with some high alpine passes along the way, snow is unavoidable throughout the year – it’s a question of how much you want coming out of the sky on you as you go!

You can do this in a large part without permits with the exception of the Queen Charlotte Sound leg (covered later) that will require booking ahead.

As ultra-long treks go, this is one of the best bar none on the planet, and if you have a spare year in your diary (pre or post university perhaps) this is one of those adventures that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

Multi-day treks do-able during a work holiday

As the title suggests, these treks are some that you can do on a two week long-haul holiday from the UK.

Up to five days in length, they will provide rich experiences that will stay with you for time to come.

Heaphy Track

  • Distance: 51 miles
  • Time: 5 days
  • Start: Collingwood
  • End: Karamea
  • Best for: Experiencing all Kahurangi National Park has to offer

This route takes in some of New Zealand’s best coastline, from limestone cliffs to sub-tropical rainforest, from alpine tussock country to wide rivers crossed on footbridges.

This is a world where the animal residents won’t hide too much – the brightly coloured parrots will make their presence known with their squawking and bright colours, though the extremely rare national bird the kiwi may be a little more elusive.

This is one of those walks where you will fix on the delights of New Zealand from dawn to dusk, in a world far removed from the humdrum life of the UK.

Trekking between campsites and huts, you can be assured of company every evening – not something everyone wants but since everyone is there to enjoy this place together, you may even enjoy sharing this experience with new friends!

At roughly ten miles a day (sometimes more or less) you will have time on the Heaphy Trail but also plenty of time to chill out and take it all in.

It isn’t hugely challenging as far as ascents and descents go but is still immensely rewarding from end to end.

Unlike many tracks and trails in New Zealand this is one you can do at any time of year.

The locals actually recommend doing this in the NZ winter months (our summer) as they say the sand flies are ‘on holiday’!

Queen Charlotte Track

  • Distance: 45 miles
  • Time: 5 days
  • Start: Ship Cove
  • End: Anakiwa
  • Best for: One of New Zealand’s most stunning coastlines

The coastline and ecosystems of Marlborough Sounds is one of those jewels of coastline that will fill your memories and camera memory card with delight from end to end.

Part of the Te Araroa National Trail this is one of the extreme-distance trek’s major highlights as you take in Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds and all they have to offer.

The Queen Charlotte Track is one of those routes that is open to mountain bikers and as such you aren’t going to hit any huge or high climbs.

You will however have to put in the miles – on Day 4 you will be walking for a good eight hours, a hard push unless you’re quite fit.

Unlike the rest of the Te Araroa Trail this section requires a permit to do much of the route.

The QCTLC Pass doesn’t restrict numbers (unlike the Inca Trail in Peru for example) but the fee is used for upkeep and maintenance of the track as a whole.

Paying for you and people who walk after you to enjoy a well maintained route isn’t a bad thing and at NZD $25 (GBP £12.30) it’s not a huge outlay for the benefit of everyone who walks it.

Click here to buy online direct from the Queen Charlotte Land Cooperative.

The route is a walker’s Mecca and the rewards of doing it are memories that will stick with you for times to come!

Hillary Trail

  • Distance: 43 miles
  • Time: 3-4 days
  • Start: Arataki Visitor Centre
  • End: Muriwai
  • Best for: Exploring the homeland of Edmund Hillary and the Maoris before him

Sir Edmund Hillary is famed as the first person to conquer Mount Everest.

One of New Zealand’s favourite citizens, he often came down to the Waitakere Ranges near Auckland to prepare physically and mentally for his mountaineering challenges.

After the great man died, in 2008 the Hillary Trail was opened in his honour.

The Waitakere Ranges are neither Himalayan in height or strenuousness from you the trekker’s perspective: there are beefier walks to be done in the country!

This is a chance to explore the lands known by the great man, as well as the local Maori tribes that inhabited the lands for around 800 years before the Brits arrived to clear-fell the forests and exploit the land.

Partly for the beauty of the land and also as political attitudes changed toward those whose lands had been stolen from them, the park has been developed as a local beauty spot and nature resource over the last 120 years by Auckland Council and gifts from those who stole the land from the indigenous people.

At the time of writing the Hillary Trail is closed for conservation work in the Waitakere Ranges to prevent the tree disease kauri dieback from spreading, and no immediate plans have been announced to reopen it.

Do keep an eye on the Auckland Council website for when it will reopen. There are sections open to the public but there biosecurity measures in place for those tramping there.

Abel Tasman Coastal Trail

  • Distance: 37 miles
  • Time: 3-5 days
  • Start: Marahau
  • End: Wainui
  • Best for: Abel Tasman National Park

As coastal walks go, the Abel Tasman Track is up there among the best to be done.

You will spend time on beaches and estuaries and wind inland into virgin forest.

A trek to be savoured and enjoyed rather than one to blow your lungs and legs out, this is one where over the 37 odd miles you will explore a coastal, beach and forest paradise and lose yourself in the process.

There are times when you need to time your walk to avoid the tide – on every occasion bar one you have the option of an all-tide route avoiding the sea.

Inland you will take rope bridges (actually cable but they bounce about like rope) across forested gorges, and encounter the animal and bird life as you go.

There’s a lot of endemic trees and bushes you will run into too.

Manuka is one of New Zealand’s most famous thanks to its honey, but equally appealing are the huge kānuka forests that abound in the area.

Though you don’t need a permit to do this trek you do need to book all your campsite and hut spaces ahead of time.

These can be very busy in the peak season, and considering the rules that should you not have a booking you could be forcibly removed from the park, you shouldn’t do this on impulse as you might have experiences you may not want to write home about!

Paparoa Trail

  • Distance: 34 miles
  • Time: 3 days
  • Start: Smoke-Ho car park
  • End: Pororari car park
  • Best for: Exploring a tract of South Island’s east coast

This is one of New Zealand’s remotest coastlines, and the Paparoa Trail is one of the country’s newest multi-day hiking trail, so you could well be in for a treat in terms of getting somewhere off the beaten path for many.

The trek starts as a bit of a brute, sapping your energy on some mountainous terrain.

That said it isn’t going to be three days of jungle hell as this is also a mountain biking route.

As with all mixed-use treks in New Zealand that means it isn’t going to kill you as a walker.

As well as being in nature you also get to explore some recent and rather sad local history.

In 2010 there was a methane explosion in the Pike River Mine and 29 miners were killed underground.

The Paparoa Trail takes in the route down to the mine where you can learn about the country’s worst ever mining disaster and pay tribute to those who died doing their work.

One of the difficulties of the mining disaster was the remoteness of the area.

For you that could well be an advantage and something to cherish in what is one of the most popular trekking countries in the world!

As ever, book your huts ahead as there is competition for bunk space throughout the year.

Milford Track

  • Distance: 33 miles
  • Time: 4 days
  • Start: Te Anau Downs
  • End: Sandfly Point
  • Best for: Lakes, mountains, waterfalls and Milford Sound

The Milford Track is one of the New Zealand Government’s Great Tracks and being central government funded and supported, the path is well way-marked and in good condition throughout.

The route starts with a boat ride across Lake Te Anau to the jumping off point for the walk.

You then climb to the source of the Clinton River at Lake Mintaro over two days of hiking and staying in huts.

The rock walls of the valley give way to alpine scenery and you ascend to the top of Mackinnon Pass, the highest point of the walk, before descending via a detour to Sutherland Falls and then Mackay Falls before ending the route with another boat ride back to civilisation across the stunning Milford Sound.

As with all Great Tracks in New Zealand you will have to book bunks in huts ahead of taking the trek on – they are the only places to stay and their capacity limits the amount of people who can take the trek on at any one time.

Water is the making and breaking of this trek.

From your standpoint the rivers and lakes will beguile and entrance you as you do this journey. However severe flooding in February 2020 has meant that at the time of writing much of the trek is closed to trekkers.

You can be assured it will reopen as soon as can be managed, though that requires a fair bit of civil engineering!

Routeburn Track

  • Distance: 20 miles
  • Time: 3 days
  • Start: Routeburn Shelter
  • End: The Divide
  • Best for: Exploring Fiordland National Park

New Zealand is famed for its often dramatic scenery and the Routeburn Track, while relatively short, offers a taste of the country’s best in this regard.

Want high mountains plummeting into the sea?

Has that.

Waterfalls of stupendous height?

Check.

Forests clinging to the mountainside?

Got that too!

This is another New Zealand track where you will be hut hopping, and need to book in advance to have somewhere to sleep every night.

That said, you will sleep well given the often hard climbs and descents you will do every day.

The Routeburn Track is one of those tracks where you should have space on your phone or memory card for photos as at the tops of climbs you will be blown away with the views, that seem to change at nearly every turn you take.

Not only will you be awed by the scenery, but the plant and animal life there is often just as enticing.

You won’t be able to miss the kea alpine parrots, that are intelligent enough to cause trouble at times!

Different species of native trees and the animals small and large should hold your interest even while not wondering at your surroundings.

You can take the track on from either end, but you should work on using it in season that falls between late October to late April to minimise the risks of an avalanche ruining your holiday.

Rakiura Trek

  • Distance: 20 miles
  • Time: 3 days
  • Start: Lee Bay Road
  • End: Fern Gully Road End
  • Best for: Rakiura National Park on Stewart Island

Stewart Island is New Zealand’s third island in terms of size.

It is also a Dark Skies Sanctuary where the nights will be at least as scenic as the days thanks to the lack of light pollution and the ability to see deep into outer space on a clear night.

Not only that but the Aurora Australis ‘Southern Lights’ can sometimes entertain you should a solar storm hit while you’re out in the wilds.

It isn’t just about being out at night though!

This is a circular trek that takes you around Stewart Island, allowing you to explore natural and human history as you go.

As with much of New Zealand it was colonised during the Industrial Revolution and has relics from that time too.

The walking itself can be hard-going at times, with some steep and muddy patches that will give your legs a pummelling.

You will walk through forests of kāmahi and rimu trees and run into mills from the logging days that ravaged the island of its oldest flora.

Maori as ever were displaced by the colonists, and you will find relics such as a mahinga kai food gathering site from those who lived there before the white man stole their lands.

The walk ends close to Oban, one of the few towns on Stewart Island, and a place to rest your bones after what will have been a thoroughly rewarding hike.

A day walk on another planet?

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

  • Distance: 12 miles
  • Time: 1-2 days
  • Start: Mangatepopo car park
  • End: Katetahi car park
  • Best for: Volcanoes and astounding wilderness

The three volcanic peaks of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu dominate the landscape of this area.

Given the recent disaster in White Island where 19 died late in 2019, that might put you on edge but these haven’t been active since 1897 when they last blew, at the end of a 40 year active period.

Your day hike begins with a scramble up the pass between the summits of Tongariro and Ngauruhoe where you will be blown away with the views of this volcanic wasteland.

Descending, you will see the emerald lakes of Nga Rotopounamu that are part of the reason that the local Maori viewed this a place of religious importance.

You start the trek at a height of 1120 metres and ascend to a height of over 1,800 metres.

As such you will be in an alpine climate throughout the already testing walk. That means you need to be prepared for cool weather even at the height of summer, and the weather that mountains make from the prevailing winds.

That said you will have a feeling of being on a different planet for much of this trek, something that is genuinely worth travelling halfway around the world to see!

The 10 best hikes in New Zealand

New Zealand seems to have it all.

High mountains that are among the most beautiful in the world, volcanic areas that excite all the senses, coastline that is comparable with the very best on the planet, and its very own wildlife that will beguile and amuse you.

As to the people?

Generally voting for the sanest governments in the world and all round good eggs to boot, indigenous and European folk alike will remind you that there is good in this world – you just need to know where to look!

Happy trekking!

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