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!
The best hikes on the North Island of New Zealand
The North Island of New Zealand is very different from the South Island. Most travelers arrive in Auckland and start their New Zealand tour here. The first time I was in New Zealand, I spent the night in a hostel in the center of Auckland and here I read in the guestbook “please go south as quick as you can, it’s much more prettier than the north.” This has always stayed with me because although opinions differ, you will definitely find the most beautiful nature on the South Island in New Zealand. Yet the North Island has more than enough to offer, both in nature and walks. The North Island is mainly characterized by vast beaches, volcanism and endless forests. Here are my favorite hikes on the North Island of New Zealand.
Rangitoto Island Walk, Auckland
The first 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.
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!
Read my complete blog about the Tongariro Crossing here!
The Arataki Nature Trail in the Waitakere Ranges
Another nice place to visit from Auckland are the Waitakere Ranges. This nature reserve is less than an hour’s drive west of downtown Auckland and is formed by a number of beautiful beaches and mountains covered with ancient forests. The Arataki Nature Trail is only 1.6 kilometers long, but it takes an hour without effort. It leads you through a forest with the giant kauri trees, which sometimes take 800 years to mature. You can find the walk at the Arataki Visitors Center, from where you also have beautiful views of the surrounding area and even Auckland in the distance. You can read more about this trail and my visit to the Waitakere Ranges in this blog.
Bream Head / Te Whara at Whangarei Heads
This walk is not easy and … I got lost and never found the right route. Is that possible in New Zealand? Yes, that’s possible! You can read all about it in this blog. Nonetheless, I think this walk is worth mentioning, because the only the start is very worthwhile the effort. You reach the trailhead from Whangarei and walk steeply uphill, until you reach an old WWII station, about an hour after you start hiking. You can choose to continue your walk, but you only have a view again after an hour because you largely walk through the forest. However, the views from the WWI station are more than beautiful.
Huka Falls Walkway, Taupo
The Huka Falls Walkway is a simple walk that you can take from the city of Taupo. The Huka Falls is New Zealand’s most visited natural attraction and instead of going here by car, the hike over there from town is a great alternative. From the center of Taupo it is approximately 5 kilometers one way, from the Spa Park about 3 kilometers. The falls are located in the Waikato River, one of the largest rivers in New Zealand. This is normally about 100 meters wide, but at Huka Falls it has to struggle through a gap of only 20 meters wide, resulting in Huka Falls. At the Huka Falls you can also do the Lookout Walk. You can find more tips for things to do in Taupo in this blog.
The most beautiful hikes on the South Island of New Zealand
Although the North Island is beautiful, most travelers will find the things they came for on the South Island of New Zealand. Here you will find the fjords, glaciers, Southern Alps and more. There are numerous national parks on the South Island, each with its own character. Some walks are easy, others challenging and more difficult to reach. Below you will find an extensive overview of my favorite walks on the South Island of New Zealand.
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 Daniell hike, Lewis Pass
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.
Paddy’s Track and Pinchgut Track, Nelson Lakes National Park
One of the most special short hikes that you can make in New Zealand is the Paddy’s Track in combination with the Pinchgut Track. This combination walk takes you to the top of Mount Roberts in Nelson Lakes National Park. This national park is visited relatively little and it may just be that you have the trail to yourself here. I advise you to go over Paddy’s Track and back via the Pinchgut Track, which is a lot steeper. Unless of course you would like to climb extra steeply. It is extra nice to add an overnight stay in the Bushline Hut or even to walk to Angelus Hut for an overnight stay.
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. Make sure to also check my detailed blog about the Hooker Valley Track here. 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.
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.
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.
Angelus Hut Hike, Nelson Lakes National Park
One of the best multi-day hikes in New Zealand that is not in fact a Great Walk, is definitely the hike to Angelus Hut in Nelson Lakes National Park. Located on the shores of Lake Angelus, this hut is one of the most beautifully located mountain huts in New Zealand. The hike to the hut isn’t for unexperienced hikers and requires quite a bit of stamina, but once at the hut you will be rewarded with amazing views and an incredible silence. Angelus Hut is quite popular and must be booked well in advance. You can find all you need to know about the Angelus Hut Trail here.
Greenstone & Caples Track
If you’re looking for an unknown multi-day hike that’s a great alternative to The Routeburn Track, then make sure to check out the Greenstone Caples Track. This four day hike will lead you through the Greenstone Valley and Caples Valley and is as stunning as the Routeburn, yet receives way less visitors. You can read my complete blog about this trail here.
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.
Before you go make sure to also check out my travel guide to New Zealand and order your copy of Lonely Planet and Lonely Planet New Zealand here!
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