The best hikes in New Zealand, a continuously changing list full of inspiration
Originally dating back from 2015, I wrote this post with the best hikes in New Zealand after my second visit to this hikers’ paradise. However having spent another few months in New Zealand early 2018, it’s about time for an update of my list of best hikes in New Zealand. I will keep on adding more and more hikes over the next few months so if you are planning a trip to New Zealand, make sure to bookmark this blog for all the information you need about hiking in New Zealand.
The good thing about hiking in New Zealand is that it can be done from anywhere as there are numerous of trails all over the country, whether it’s close to the city or far away from civilization. In addition to my old post, I will also add more information about the best multi-day hikes in New Zealand as well as shorter hikes that can be done by anyone. Enjoy this list with the best hikes in New Zealand!
Lake Daniell hike
The Lake Daniell hike was suggested to me by Kiwi Paul, who lives in The Netherlands just like me. To reach the hike, take the Lewis Pass Highway on New Zealand’s Southern Island, the start of the trail is located 5 kms east of Springs Junction. It’s a relatively easy 8.4 km one way hike through dense woods to the picturesque Lake Daniell, surrounded by green mountains. Although I heard it can get pretty crowded in the high season, I almost didn’t see anyone on the trail. As I came driving from Nelson Lakes National Park that morning, I didn’t have time to do the return the same day so I camped at the Manson Nicholls Memorial Hut. It turned out I was the only one there which made the experience even more unfortgettable. The mountains, the sandflies and the silence of nature. The Lake Daniell hike definitely qualifies as one of the better short overnight hikes or an amazing day hike that can also be done with children.
Bushline Hut hike, Nelson Lakes National Park
If you would ask me about one underrated place in New Zealand that you should absolutely visit, my answer is always the same, it’s Nelson Lakes National Park. Only few fellow trampers I met on the Great Walks went here and yet I have to say that it was at least as stunning as many other places in New Zealand. Nelson Lakes National Park is located near the town of St. Arnaud which is about 1.5 hours south of the town of Nelson. I visited Nelson Lakes National Park for the third time on my last trip and the park is definitely best is best explored by foot. In 2015 I hiked to Bushline Hut where I stayed overnight. From the Mount Roberts Trailhead carpark, you can either choose the 4.6 km Paddys Track or the 4.8 km Pinchgut Track up to Bushline Hut. They are the same in length as well as difficulty, however my suggestion is to take the Pinchgut Track up as it doesn’t go along the lake. This will make sure you have the most stunning panoramas when going down on the Paddys Track. However, if you are in doubt whether you can handle the steep way up, your best way to go is to take Paddy’s Track up and down on the Pinchgut Track. In 2018 I did both hikes once again as well as the overnight hike to Angelus Hut, which you can read about more in this blog about hiking in Nelson Lakes National Park. For more information about hiking to Bushline Hut, read my Bushline Hut hike blog.
Hooker Valley Track, Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
If you only get to do one hike in Mount Cook / Aoraki National Park, make sure it’s the Hooker Valley Walk! Hooker Valley is simply stunning and you feel like walking inside a postcard all the time. I’ve done this hike three times and it has gotten a little crowded as it has been praised as one of the best hikes in New Zealand by many, yet if you get out early in the morning or late in the afternoon, you may be able to beat the crowds. The Hooker Valley Track departs from the White Horse Hill campground and will take you about 2.5 – 3 hours return, depending on the time you spend making photos. The track is quite easy and leads you through the gorgeous Hooker Valley to the same name lake and glacier. At the lakefront you will find a large picknick table and stunning views of Mount Cook and Hooker Glacier. With a bit of luck there will be icebergs in the water that calved off the mouth of the glacier. Along the way you can make a small detour to the Alpine Tarns, a one minute stroll from the main track. Other great walks in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park include the Kea Point Track, the Tasman Valley Walk and the Mueller Hut hike, where the cover photo of this blog was taken. More blogs on these hikes will be written soon!
Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Tongariro National Park
Mentioned as one of the top one-day hikes in the world, the Tongariro Crossing hike is definitely in my top three of best hikes in New Zealand. I hiked this trail as a part of the Tongariro Northern Circuit in 2011 and again in 2018, but then just as a regular day hike. When planning to do this trek, make sure to plan a couple of days around your stay: weather can close the area down for days and I have seen many disappointed people. The trek isn’t easy and should only be made with proper footwear and enough food and drinks for along the way. Also make sure to bring enough clothing because it can be quite chilly and there may be snow well into the season. The full trek is almost 20 kms and will take you all day. Highlights of the day are the views on Mt. Ngauruhoe, the view into Red Crater and ofcourse the Emerald Lakes. The trail is especially crowded on a sunny day, yet the one hike you cannot miss while hiking in New Zealand!
Key Summit hike, Fiordland National Park
If you don’t fancy doing the whole Routeburn Track which is actually ranked as one of the top multi-day hikes in the world, the Key Summit hike is a great alternative. Located in Fiordland National Park, the Key Summit hike is a 1.5 hour one way walk from The Divide, a car park along the Milford Road. From the summit you have splendid views on the Humboldt and Darran Mountains, as well as to the alpine Lake Marian across the valley. The trail is relatively easy and will mostly take you through a beech forrest until you reach the treeline. Once on Key Summit you can do an interpretive loop, mostly along boardwalks and alpine ground. If your aim is to take good photos, make sure to do this hike in the morning as this will get you the best photos and the sunshine in your back rather than ahead of you, which happened to me on my last visit.
Lake Alta, Queenstown
A lesser known hike in New Zealand is Lake Alta, located about a 30 minute drive from Queenstown. High up in the mountains in The Remarkables Conservation area. Although described by DOC as an advanced tramping track, I found it rather easy. The way up to the trailhead is a fair drive and the last bit is on a gravel road so make sure you car is insured to drive on unpaved roads. Lake Alta (High Lake) is about a 45 minute walk up from the carpark. At the upper section of the trail you will find some interpretive signs about the area. Once at the lake the trail ends but you can easily climb up to the surrounding ridges for the best views over the picturesque Lake Alta.
Te Waikoropupu Springs
The shortest one in my list (less than an hour) but too good not to mention! I only heard about Te Waikoropupu (Pupu) Springs from a local while visiting Takaka and she told me I couldn’t leave without admiring the clear water of these springs, which is said the be the clearest water in the world. Even though I was short on time as I planned on doing the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, I was happy that I dedicated some time to this unique piece of nature! The Pupu Springs are located about 6 kms west of Takaka near Abel Tasman National Park.
Lake Matheson, Fox Glacier
The most memorable short walk I did back in 2011 was to the one to Lake Matheson near Fox Glacier. Back in 2002 I was promised awesome reflection views of Mount Cook in this lake, but unfortunately the weather was poor and I didn’t see a thing. When I was back in 2011 the weather wasn’t much better but on my last morning at Fox Glacier, the sun was shining at 06.00 am and I knew it was time to head to the lake. As the clouds were already setting in by the time I got to the trailhead, I almost ran to Reflection Pond, the spot where you can see the reflection if the weather allows it. I had a few minutes only to enjoy it before the wind picked up and the clouds covered the view. On my most recent trip in 2018 I did not get to visit Lake Matheson because of continuous rain. I’ll definitely try again some other time as this is definitely a must-do on my list of best hikes in New Zealand.
Rob Roy Glacier hike, Mount Aspiring National Park
One of the places I only really got to explore by foot most recently was Wanaka. Somehow I never spent much time there on earlier trips which is a real shame as the area is stunning. I planned lots of hiking in the area, yet I injured my toe and had to limit my hiking time. There are many great walks near Wanaka, yet my favorite one definitely was the Rob Roy Glacier hike in Mount Aspiring National Park. The drive out there is stunning but not for the faint hearted as you will have to do some river crossings and your car may not be able to do that. Instead, you can also take a shuttle from Wanaka. The Rob Roy Glacier hike will first lead you through a wide and scenic valley, before entering a narrow valley. From here the trail is just up and up and up, but once at the end of the trail, you will be right below the Rob Roy Glacier, a truly scenic spot.
Rangitoto Island Walk, Auckland
The last hike on my list of best hikes in New Zealand is one that cannot be missed as you will most likely travel in or out via Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city and the main gateway into the country. On Rangitoto Island there are plenty of short walks you can do however the Summit Loop was my definite favorite. It covers most of the island and shows you impressive views of Hauraki Bay as well as the Auckland skyline in the distance. For all you need to know about hiking on Rangitoto Island and the best hikes, visit my hiking on Rangitoto Island blog which also includes a short video.
This is my preliminary list with the best hikes in New Zealand. As I mentioned earlier, I will keep on adding more and more hikes, including the best overnight hikes as well as lesser known hikes that I got to explore over the past couple of months. For now, I hope you enjoyed this list and let me know if you have any suggestions or add-ons for me.
If you want to read more about travel in New Zealand and the best hikes in New Zealand, you may also enjoy the following blogs:
– Hiking the Routeburn Track in New Zealand
– Hiking in New Zealand: all you need to know about the best hikes
– Travel in New Zealand: 10 tips for first timers
– 19 Awesome Short Hikes in New Zealand – a blog by my friend Lotte from Phenomenal Globe
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Thanks for sharing!