How to hike New Zealand’s best walks

How to hike New Zealand’s best walks

Want some hiking action? New Zealand’s best walking trails offer an exhilarating experience.

Words by Ute Junker

Photos supplied

What does your favourite hiking holiday involve? Do you want to meander through prehistoric forests, where mossy ground muffles your footsteps and the sunlight is filtered through layers of leaves? Or would you rather feel the ice-tinged air on your face as you hike past snow-capped peaks and pristine mountain lakes? Perhaps you want to stride across the high-altitude slopes of an active volcano, or explore a landscape steeped in Maori Heritage?

Whichever option appeals New Zealand has you covered. Its best walking trails – some simple day trips, other multi-day adventures – offer a full-immersion experience in otherwise-inaccessible landscapes. Here, you can let go of everyday worries and simply breathe deep.

Here’s what you need to know before you head off.

  • Go guided. This applies especially if you are tackling one of the country’s famous multi-day hikes. Trust us: unless you’re a hardcore outdoors type, you want to sign up with an operator. Otherwise you will be lugging everything with you – food, cooking gear, sleeping gear… that’s a lot of weight. One other thing: the accommodation operated by the tour companies come with hot showers. Other accommodation doesn’t.
  • Be ready to get wet. We’re not going to lie: it rains in New Zealand. A lot. But good gear will keep you dry, so read the recommended-packing list supplied by your operator carefully. (Some operators even rent out some equipment; ask when you book.)
  • You won’t be walking all day. While each multi-day trail is different, expect to walk 15 around 20km a day. That leaves plenty of time each day simply to relax and enjoy the scenery.

So which trail should you tackle? Here are two great day hikes and two multi-day journeys, all of which are at their best between the months of October and April.

1. The Routeburn Track

South Island, 33km

If you want to cram a lot into a short period of time, the three-day Routeburn Track is a great option. From verdant forest valleys to magnificent Alpine views, it has it all. The track runs between Glenorchy and Te Arau and can be walked in either direction, making it easy to pair this with a visit to the wonderful Milford Sound. An added bonus: when it rains, dozens of dramatic waterfalls spring to life. Be aware that there are some steep climbs and descents along the way, so you need to be steady on your feet.

2. Tongariro Alpine Crossing

North Island, 20km

Even in the height of summer you’ll want to layer up for New Zealand’s best day hike. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing, in the heart of the North Island, peaks at almost 1900 metres above sea level and can be chilly at any time of year. The temperature doesn’t detract from the area’s  otherworldly beauty, however. If the steam vents, craters and emerald-green mineral lakes of this volcanic landscape look familiar, it’s because they doubled as Mount Doom in Peter Jackson’s Lord of The Rings trilogy.




3. Heaphy Track

South Island


One thing is for sure: you will never get bored on the Heaphy Track. Following an ancient Maori trail to the West Coast, this is New Zealand’s most diverse walk. Over four to six days, you’ll pass through rainforest and grasslands, over mountains and past limestones caves, all the way down to palm-fringed surf beaches. You can walk it in either direction, from Takaka to Westport or vice versa.

4. Roy’s Peak Track

South Island

16km return

There is no contest when it comes to finding the best views of tranquil Lake Wanaka: they can be savoured as you walk along Roy’s Peak Track. Ever-more remarkable views of the lake, its islands and bays – not to mention the towering peaks of the snow-capped Southern Alps – provide a breathtaking backdrop to this half-day hike, which winds its way up through high-country farmland (remember to leave the gates as you find them.)

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