The best hikes in New Zealand


As we’ve mentioned many times before (just tell us if we should stop!) New Zealand is a true hikers paradise. Basically, New Zealand awakened our passion for hiking, after a one month backpacking trip we made in 2002. Unfortunately, due to a physical issue (Martijn injured his ankle one week before that trip) we could only do some minor hiking and immediately after we took off from AKL airport on our way to Australia, we knew we’d be back one day. Even though it’s already 3 years ago, our 6 weeks in New Zealand was our best trip ever so far. We had awesome weather, met great people and did so many great hikes, both multi-day and (half) day hikes. Today we’re sharing the best hikes in New Zealand with you that can easily be done in a day or less.


Lake Daniell

This particular hike was suggested to us by Kiwi Paul, who lives in The Netherlands. 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 we heard it can get pretty crowded in the high season, we almost didn’t see anyone on the trail. As we came driving from Nelson Lakes National Park that morning, we didn’t have time to do the return the same day so we camped at the Manson Nicholls Memorial Hut. It turned out we were the only ones there which made the experience even more unfortgettable. The mountains, the sandflies and the silence of nature … We wrote a blog about this hike and also the presence of the little buggers called sandflies. Click here to read it.


Paddy’s Track & Pinchgut Track

If you would ask us about one underrated place in New Zealand that you should absolutely visit, it’s Nelson Lakes National Park. Only few fellow trampers we 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. It was our second visit to this place, which is best explored on foot. We decided to make it an overnight stay at Bushline Hut, but with the distances mentioned you can easily make it a dayhike. From the Mount Roberts Trailhead, you can either choose the 4.6 km Paddys Track or the 4.8 km Pinchgut Track up. They are the same in lenght as well as difficulty, however we’d suggest 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. The Bushline Hut makes a great stop for lunch or in our case, an overnight stay. Once again, we were the only ones and experienced another night in total silence… For the full story about this adventure, you can click on to this blog.


Hooker Valley

If you only get to do one hike in Mount Cook / Aoraki National Park, make sure it’s this one! Hooker Valley is simply stunning and you feel like walking inside a postcard all the time. There’s an Alpine Memorial we passed and two exciting swing bridges. Eventually, after about 2,5 hours we arrived the glacial lake, Hooker Glacier and the base of Mount Cook. We would’ve liked to stay there forever, this is New Zealand at its best for sure!


Tongariro Crossing

Mentioned as one of the top one day hikes in the world, I didn’t want to exclude this one on our list, even though we didn’t walk it the traditional way. Instead, we walked it as a part of the Tongariro Northern Circuit and because of weather circumstances, we had to reverse it. When planning on doing this trek, make sure to plan a couple of days around your stay: weather can close the area down for days and we have seen many disappointed people. The trek isn’t easy and should only be made with proper foodwear (we’ve seen people going up in flip flops, which is not proper foodwear) and enough water/food. 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. If we are ever lucky enough to make it back to New Zealand, we won’t hesitate to hike this track again, that’s how stunning it is!


Key Summit

If you don’t fancy doing the whole Routeburn Track but would like to get a taste of the beauty of this Great Walk, you can aim for the Key Summit instead. It’s a 1.5 hour walk from The Divide, a car park on the way to Milford Sound. From the summit, you have splendid views on the Humboldt and Darran Mountains, at least if the weather is good. The trail is relatively easy and will mostly take you through a beech forrest until you reach the treeline.


Queenstown Hill

We did this short hike in between the Kepler and Routeburn Track and had a really good time. The track starts from Belfast Street in Queenstown and will bring you to the top of Queenstown Hill, overlooking the town as well as Lake Wakatipu, the famous Remarkables and the Kawarau River. The hike up is pretty steep in places but once you are the top, the pain in your calves is soon forgotten…


Te Waikoropupu Springs

The shortest one in our list (less than an hour) but too good not to mention! We only heard about Te Waikoropupu (Pupu) Springs from a local while visiting Takaka and she told us we couldn’t leave without admiring the clear water of these springs, which is said the be the clearest water in the world. Even though we were short on time as we planned on doing the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, we were happy that we dedicated some time to this unique piece of nature!


Lake Matheson

The most memorable short walk we did was to Lake Matheson near Fox Glacier. Back in 2002 we were promised awesome reflection views of Mt. Cook in this lake, but unfortunately the weather was poor and we didn’t see a thing. When we were back in 2011 the weather wasn’t much better but on our last morning, Martijn woke me up at 6.00 am mentioning it was crystal clear. Within 10 minutes we were in our car, heading towards the trailhead. One hour later, we were staring at the most gorgeous reflection ever. Another 10 mintues later, clouds set in and the magic moment was gone. Until today, I’m still thankful for the short moment we got to experience here…


Conclusion of the best hikes in New Zealand

If we could go back, we would. I mean, sure, we can hop on a plane and be back next week, but right now we prefer to discover other places in the world. On a later moment, we will be back. It’s just a shame however that New Zealand has to be on the exact other part of the world from where we are (well, more or less) and that it takes about 24 hours to get there. Plus the planetickets aren’t exactly cheap. One day we’ll be back…

If you plan on tramping in New Zealand, make sure to visit the Department of Conservation website. Here you can basically find all information you need about most treks in New Zealand and order you copy of Tramping & Hiking in New Zealand by Lonely Planet which was our bible when hiking out!

We have written a lot about New Zealand over the past couple of years. Click New Zealand in the destinations above to go to all of our posts.

Want to read more about New Zealand? Then you may also like these posts:
Tips and tricks for hiking in New Zealand
10 Tips for New Zealand first time travellers!
The ultimate guide to New Zealand for outdoor fans
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