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The best hikes in New Zealand

A list of New Zealand’s best hikes could quite literally be never ending. There are so many great tracks and walking trails to explore in this beautiful country. In this article I will be sharing with you some of my favourite walks and hikes in New Zealand, all of which I have had the pleasure of experiencing over the last three years. 

If you love hiking or backpacking, then New Zealand is the perfect destination for you. Located in the South Pacific Ocean, this secluded country is home to some outstanding nature and is jam-packed full of hiking trails. Each hiking trail gives you an insight into the spectacular and diverse landscapes this beautiful country has to offer.

New Zealand is made up of two main islands, the North and South Islands as well as many other smaller islands. Hiking is one of the best things to do in New Zealand, especially with its varying landscapes on each island. On the North Island some of the most interesting hikes travel through active volcanic areas, whereas the best hikes in the South Island will have you exploring the breath-taking mountain ranges. New Zealand is also home to 13 National Parks, all of which are full of walking trails and hiking paths for you to try. 

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Where's Mollie? At the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

One last fact before we start – I’ve not mentioned this in my list of best hikes in New Zealand, but it’s a good one. Did you know there’s actually a 3000km hiking trail that starts at the top of the North Island and finishes at the bottom of the South Island? It’s called Te Araroa which means “The Long Path” in Te Reo Māori. Keen hikers from all over the world travel to New Zealand to walk it over a 4-month period.

The hikes in New Zealand that I’ve included here aren’t 4 months long, but I’ve included a selection of day hikes, like these hikes in Queenstown, as New Zealand has so many of the best day hikes in the world, and multiple day hikes in New Zealand, like the infamous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, as this is a great way to see more of the amazing nature on offer. That way, you can check out this list of the best hikes in New Zealand and choose what suits your hiking ability and your itinerary. 

The best hikes in New Zealand...

1. Tongariro Alpine Crossing and Northern Circuit

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is widely regarded as one of the best day hikes in the world, never mind one of the best hikes in New Zealand. During the 19.4km hike you will trek through an unbelievable volcanic landscape, which at times feels like you are on another planet. 

At the beginning you will be surrounded by the towering volcanoes of Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe. Although these volcanoes are spectacular, the views get better and better as you climb to the highest point on the track which is at Red Crater at 1886m.

Other highlights on this amazing hike are the Emerald Lakes and Blue Lake, which as you may be able to guess are brightly coloured lakes. The Emerald Lakes are bright green, caused by volcanic mineral in the water and Blue Lake as the name suggests, is a bright sky blue coloured lake.

It’s a good idea to start the hike as early as possible as it takes approximately 6-8 hours to complete depending on your fitness level. Another reason to start early is because it is a wildly popular track. If you’re not on the track by 7am, you’ll likely be sharing your hike with many others.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a day hike but if you were interested in seeing more of the area, the Tongariro Northern Circuit is an amazing multi-day hike in New Zealand. It takes 3-4 days to complete but allows keen hikers to get a more in depth look into the incredible surrounding scenery.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a must-do on any New Zealand bucket list, so make sure you check out my planning guide for the Tongariro Crossing so that you are fully prepared! If you want to see more photos from one of the best hikes in New Zealand, check out my Tongariro Alpine Crossing photos here. 

The best hikes in New Zealand

2. Hooker Valley Track

Located in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park on the South Island, the Hooker Valley Track is an exceptional day hike and one of my favourite hikes in New Zealand. This track will take you on an experience through the Hooker Valley you will never forget.

Throughout the hike there are many areas of outstanding natural beauty to see including glaciers, rivers, mountains and glacial lakes. The track starts alongside the Hooker River, which is a beautiful and unique chalky white colour, caused by glacial sediment in the water.

The track meanders through the valley, which gives the opportunity to cross three swing bridges over the large river. As the track continues New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook, comes into sight. The views of this perfectly formed mountain are what make this hike so special.

When you reach the end of the track you are met with Hooker Lake. This is a glacial lake which has many icebergs poking through the surface of the water. The views towards Aoraki/Mount Cook from here are truly unbelievable.

The track takes 3 hours to complete and is a 10km return journey. The trail is very flat throughout and has been very well paved so this is a very family friendly hike.

Another bonus tip is to stay at the campsite which is located right next to the start of the track for at least one night. The track is located within a dark sky reserve which means there is very little light pollution. If you’re lucky enough to catch a clear night, the stars are astonishing.

The best hikes in New Zealand

3. Roy's Peak

Roy’s Peak is another one of New Zealand’s best day hikes. This particular hike is located in beautiful Wanaka on the South Island. Roy’s Peak is home to probably one of the most photographed locations in New Zealand, other than the Wanaka tree of course!

I’m sure if you’ve spent any time scrolling through photos of New Zealand on Instagram, you’re likely to have seen an image of Roy’s Peak. A photo on the edge of the peak with Lake Wanaka in the background is so sought after that people are willing to line up for the opportunity.

This hike is a little more challenging than some of the others. The total distance covered is 16km and it will take roughly 5-6 hours to complete. The terrain is really easy to walk on, however for the entire 8km to the top, you will be walking up steep inclines. Speaking of inclines, the total elevation gain is 1300m but with a few breaks you’ll be fine.

After all your hard work, you will be rewarded with outstanding views at the summit that look across Lake Wanaka. This is one of the most popular hikes in New Zealand, so to avoid the crowds my advice is to start earlier rather than later.

The best hikes in New Zealand

4. Kepler Track

The Kepler Track is the first multi-day hike on this list and is one of New Zealand’s finest.  The track is located in the Fiordland National Park, which is home to some of New Zealand’s best multi day hikes.

On this hike you will have the opportunity to experience some amazing sights. These include Lake Te Anau, Lake Manapouri, Iris Burn Falls, and if you’re lucky, the illustrious Kiwi. The highlight of the walk is during the second day when you’ll be hiking along the exposed ridgelines of the tussock-covered mountains.

The track is 60km in length and takes 3-4 days to complete. There are three large backcountry huts that you can book to stay in throughout the hike which have all the facilities you will need. Book huts for New Zealand’s Great Walks here. 

To find out more about the Kepler Track, check out this guide on The Photographer’s Passport. 

The best hikes in New Zealand

5. Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut Track

Another great hike in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is the Sealy Tarns hike. This is a day hike also known as the stairway to heaven because of the 2200 steps you’ll climb. This hike is a little challenging because of the amount of steps but is well worth it. 

At the top of the Sealy Tarns you will be met by a lovely freshwater lake. This is a great place to have some lunch as you take in the views of the Hooker Valley. The best part of this hike is the view of Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain.

If you fancy turning this day hike into an overnighter, you can continue onto Mueller Hut which is a further 2 hours. From here the track turns into an alpine route which is quite rocky so be careful. The views from Mueller Hut are also pretty incredible.

The best hikes in New Zealand

6. Robert's Point Track

Robert’s Point Track, located near Franz Josef glacier on the West Coast of the South Island, is an interesting hike. This hike is for the more adventurous out there as the track is a little more advanced than some of the other hikes in New Zealand on this list.

For the majority of the hike you will be under the cover of the surrounding trees. There are however a couple of suspension bridges to cross which is quite fun.

The highlight of the hike is when you reach the viewing platform at the end. From here you will have an amazing view of the Franz Josef glacier, as well as the surrounding mountain peaks and waterfalls. The track takes 5 hours to complete because the terrain is a little tricky in places.

The best hikes in New Zealand

7. Ben Lomond

Not to be confused with Ben Lomond in the Scottish Highlands (within Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park), Ben Lomond is a mountain in Queenstown. Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand, full of all kinds of activities such as skydiving, bungee jumping and white water rafting. As well as a plethora of adrenaline fuelled adventures, there are loads of great hikes in Queenstown, the best being the Ben Lomond track.

The views from the top of the Ben Lomond summit are amazing but you’ll have to put in some work to get there. The total distance you will cover is 11km and this will take 6-8 hours to complete. The trail to the top is well formed but you will be climbing up for most of the day.

Once you reach the top, all your hard work will be rewarded as you take in the panoramic views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountain ranges. The best thing about the hike is how close it is to the centre of Queenstown. Just catch the Skyline Gondola to the start of the track and you’ll be ready to go.

The best hikes in New Zealand

8. Lake Waikaremoana

One of the lesser-known multi day hikes in New Zealand is the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk. This is an interesting hike, as it’s not only a beautiful place but the local area has a lot of cultural and spiritual significance and history.

The hike is located in the Te Urewera area on the North Island, which is home to the Tūhoe people. The land here is sacred to the local people, so much so that in 2014 it was granted legal personhood. This means that Te Urewera has the same rights as any citizen.

One of the highlights of the hike is reaching Panekire Bluff, the views of the lake from this point are exceptional. Another highlight is a side trip which takes you to Korokoro Falls during the third day of the hike.

Something that stands out on this hike when comparing it to some of the other hikes in New Zealand, is how quiet the trails can be. The hike is not as well known as some of the others, which actually adds a lot to the experience. At times during the hike you may not see other hikers for an hour or two, which is unheard of on the other Great Walk tracks.  If you fancy a more in depth look at this amazing hike check out this great article on The Photographer’s Passport. 

The best hikes in New Zealand

9. Heaphy Track

One of the best hikes in New Zealand and my absolute favourite so far has to be the Heaphy Track. It’s another member of New Zealand’s famous Great Walks, a series of the country’s most outstanding multi-day hikes.

The hike is located in Kahurangi National Park which is in the North of the South Island. What makes this hike so special is the variety of terrain you will cover. The track starts in a forested area, which shelters you from the sun. As the hike continues, large patches of tussock clearings open up the landscapes, which will have you crossing a few rivers.

As the hike goes on, the forested area changes into a tropical rainforest full of lots of interesting tree varieties such as the Nīkau palm. The final day of the walk is one of the best as you travel along the coastline of the West Coast which is full of golden sandy beaches. 

The hike is 78.4km and takes anywhere between 4 and 6 days to complete. Despite the distance of the track it is a relatively easy walk. When we hiked the track there was an 80-year-old man walking it with his family!

See more about hiking the Heaphy Track on The Photographer’s Passport. 

The best hikes in New Zealand

10. Escarpment Track

Something that amazes me about New Zealand is the amount of great hikes close to its major cities. You don’t need to travel off the beaten track to find your next hike in New Zealand. 

Wellington is a great example as it has so many interesting hikes, some of which start right in the city centre. One of the best hikes in Wellington is the Escarpment Track, located just outside the city in Kāpiti. 

This hike connects Paekākāriki and Pukerua Bay and will have you travelling alongside the beautiful Kāpiti coastline. As well as fantastic views of Kāpiti Island, the highlight of this hike are the two suspended swing bridges you will cross.

The Escarpment Track is actually a part of the Te Araroa Trail, the 3000km trail that starts at the top of the country and finishes at the bottom.  It is because of this that the Escarpment has become such a popular hiking trail in New Zealand with both locals and tourists.

For more details on this hike, check out the Escarpment Track hiking guide on The Photographer’s Passport. 

The best hikes in New Zealand

What are your favourite hikes in New Zealand?

Where are your favourite places to visit in New Zealand? Anything you’d add?

Love as always and happy adventuring,

Mollie.

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