While on holiday in New Zealand, why not get out into the great open air with one of the best hikes you will find. Just imagine the beautiful scenery, fauna and flora, wild life and animals you could spot as you take one of the best hikes in New Zealand. Hiking can have its benefits, including the peace and tranquillity you could find as you take on a day or multi day hike.
So, let’s get those hiking shoes on with one of these incredible hikes in New Zealand.
Table of Contents
Best Hikes in New Zealand
We have split these best hikes between the north and south island, to help you with planning your holiday to New Zealand.
Here are some of the best hikes on the South Island:
The 31-kilometre Banks Track crosses the stunningly beautiful Banks Peninsula on New Zealand’s South Island.
Beginning and ending in picturesque Akaroa, the trail twice crosses the rim of an extinct volcano above Akaroa Harbour. In between, hikers are treated to a variety of forested and coastal landscapes. Established in 1989, the country’s first hut-to-hut private trail attracts over 2,500 hikers during the October 1 to April 30 season. It’s managed by several property owners, many of whom are committed to wildlife research and conservation. Three families maintain overnight accommodation and associated facilities. From the purpose-built lodge at Ōnuku to the old farm cottage at Flea Bay and colonial cottages at Stony Bay, each offers rustic comfort, history, warmth, and character.
The self-guided, self-paced, and self-catered walk can be completed in two or three days. The two-day option would appeal to experienced hikers, whereas the three-day hike would interest beginners and intermediate hikers who enjoy a more leisurely pace. To reach the crater rim, it’s a steep climb in places, and the descent to sea level has a few challenging sections. An advantage of the three-day hike is that pack cartage is included, so it’s possible to carry a small day pack. Hiking poles are a must, as well as clothing layers and waterproof outerwear.
A highlight is learning about penguin conservation at the overnight stay at Flea Bay. The best time for this activity is between October and February, during the breeding and moulting seasons of the white-flippered penguins.
For a detailed review of the three-day hike, see Hike New Zealand’s Banks Track at Packing Light Travel.
Contributed by Anne from Packing Light Travel
Roy’s Peak is a 16km return hike, located 6km from Wanaka on the South Island. It has an elevation of 1,228m and is pretty steep and challenging if you are not used to hiking. The car park is free, and there is an overflow car park next to the main one. Many people camp or stay in Wanaka before or after the hike because it is convenient and close.
The recommended time to complete the walk is between 5 to 7 hours, and you need to factor in some time to take some pictures at the top because the views are unreal. It has become a popular spot to hike to for the sunrise or sunset because the terrain is easy to walk up. It is good to know the track is closed from the 1st of October to the 10th of November every year. It is because the hike is on private land, and the farmer closes it for lambing season.
The hike is not for beginners, but it is easy to walk up, and the terrain is easy to walk on the continuous ascent can be a challenge. There is also the issue of coming down, with many people running because it is easier on the legs.
There are toilets after 6.5km, which is where the famous picture is from, but it is not the end of the hike. From here, there is another 1.5km (30 minutes) uphill battle to reach the top. If you have a clear day, you will be blown away by these views, and even if it is cloudy, then at least you can say you have hiked to the top of Roy’s Peak. It is one of the best hikes in New Zealand, and completing it should be one of the many reasons you should visit New Zealand in the first place.
Contributed by Rachel from Average Lives
The Routeburn Track is one of New Zealand’s most famous hikes and one of the 10 Great Walks. It’s a 32-kilometer point-to-point hiking trail located in both Mt Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park. The beginning of one end of the trail is only about an hour from Queenstown.
From start to finish you’ll get to experience the Southern Alps in all their glory crossing rivers, mountain passes, valleys, and lakes.
It typically takes two nights and three days staying in campsites or mountain huts along the way. The track is suitable for intermediate hikers. If you want to stay in huts in the main season, you need to book them well in advance at the DOC website.
In case you don’t have time to walk the whole track, you can walk at least a part of it. From the side of Te Anau, you can do 2-3 hour walk to the Key Summit and enjoy panoramic views over mountains and alpine lakes. It really is a stunning place.
From the other side, you can walk to Routeburn Falls or even to beautiful Lake Harris, and back to the beginning of the trail at Routeburn Shelter, which is a whole day trip (it’s a good idea to start very early in the morning).
Important things to know:
– If you go in Great Walk season, you need to book huts well in advance.
– Before you head off for the trail, check-in at the DOC office.
– Most of the Routeburn Track has no cell phone reception.
– Parking at each trailhead is free.
You can find more practical tips in this Routeburn Track hiking guide.
Contributed by Adriana from Czech the World
Sealy Tarns Track Mt Cook
The Sealy Tarns Track is one of the best hikes in New Zealand. Located in Mount Cook National Park, this 3-4 hour return walk will take you to some of the most beautiful mountain views.
This track is famous for having over 2000 stairs. While it is a leg burner, it makes for a fast uphill climb compared to having ongoing switchbacks. The track is well built and you could easily get away with doing this track in running shoes as it is very well maintained. It would be classed as an intermediate track as there is a good amount of altitude gain. But you will be well rewarded with views of Mt Cook on a clear day as well as the small alpine lake at the lookout point.
The closest place to the track is Mt Cook Village. There are a few accommodation options here, ranging from the YHA Mt Cook to the luxury Hermitage Hotel, however many people stay in the neighbouring towns of Twizel or Tekapo around an hour away. Note, there is no supermarket in Mt Cook Village so be sure to stock up on hiking snacks and any meals before you hike to the Sealy Tarns
Contributed by Jennifer from Backyard Travel Family: Active Family Travel Specialists in New Zealand
Ben Lomond is one of the lesser-known tramps in New Zealand but is in no way less spectacular than other, more touristic ones. It’s a peak overlooking Queenstown, lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains and offers spectacular views from the summit.
The track is 11 km out and back with 1438 m elevation gain. It starts off among Douglas fir on Skyline Access Road or the Tiki Trail with 800 m steep ascent through a forest. Once out of the forest, the trail rewards with amazing views over Queenstown and the terrain flattens out a bit. Once at the saddle, the track towards the summit gets steep again and there is a bit of rock scrambling, but the rewarding 360-degree views at the top make all that effort worth it. An addition to the magnificent scenery is that whoever makes it to the top will likely be greeted by friendly keas.
Overall, it takes about 6 to 8 hours out and back to the summit, or 3 to 4 hours to the saddle. A lot of people take the gondola up, and that saves the first steep forest bit which is great for inexperienced hikers. Most of the track is pretty exposed and it can be very hot in summertime. It gets challenging towards the end, so it is not recommended for beginners.
One great thing about the Ben Lomond hike is that it starts at the edge of Queenstown where one can find plenty of different types of accommodation, restaurants, shops, clubs, and all sorts of entertainment.
A couple of tips for first time visitors. While the Ben Lomond hike is not among the most famous ones, it can still get a bit crowded on a summer day with good weather, so aiming at visiting outside of peak season is best. When taking the gondola, it is best to buy tickets in advance to avoid any queues. Last, but not least, Queenstown is an amazing place – there is a lot to do, much to see, and spending a few days in the area is a must.
Contributed by Nora from Go Frame the World
Mt John Summit Track
If you’re looking for the best hikes in New Zealand, you have to add Mt John Summit Track to your bucket list. Located on the shores of the famous Lake Tekapo, it’s considered one of the most panoramic hikes in New Zealand, and it’s easy to see why.
The trail starts just before Tekapo Springs Complex, where you will find a sign with information on the hike. There are actually two options to reach the peak of Mt John.
The circuit track is shorter but steeper, ascending to the peak through a pine forest. The lakeshore route is longer but more gradual, and more panoramic. Personally, I recommend going up via the circuit track, and then back down via the lakeshore route, so that you can enjoy the beautiful views for longer.
This will be an 8.9km loop of moderate difficulty, which usually takes around 3 hours. The terrain is easy to walk along, with a well-marked and well-defined path.
There are facilities both at the start and half way through the hike. At the summit you will find Mt John Observatory, with a café and toilets if you need them.
The views on this hike are simply spectacular. You will start by hiking through a beautiful forest, and once you get above the tree line you will be greeted with stunning mountain views.
From the top of Mt John you will be able to see the distinctive turquoise colour of Lake Tekapo, the Mackenzie Basin, Lake McGregor and the surrounding mountains. It’s an incredible view, and one that makes it easy to see why it’s considered one of the best hikes in New Zealand.
Contributed by Greta from Greta’s Travels
Abel Tasman Coastal Track
While most of New Zealand’s best hikes involve mountainous terrain, hiking the Abel Tasman Coastal Track offers visitors a different kind of scenery. Located on the northwestern edge of New Zealand’s South Island, Abel Tasman National Park is a lush, green paradise boasting golden beaches and mild weather. Though the park has many hiking trails, the most famous is the Abel Tasman Coastal Track.
The Abel Tasman Coastal Track runs 80 kilometers along the Tasman Sea, starting from the small town of Mārahau on the south and ending at Wainui on the north. Basic facilities of non-flush toilets and untreated tap water are available throughout the track, but visitors will need to bring all food and drinking water themselves. Though the path is easy to follow and well formed, the multi-day nature of this hike makes it more appropriate for intermediate level hikers.
Completing the entire length of the track requires between three to five days. Hikers must decide in advance the distance they will travel each day and pre-book online from the several campsites or few huts scattered along the track. Neither accommodation option provides gas cooking facilities and lighting, so hikers must remember to pack portable stove, fuel, and candles. Hikers must also pre-book shuttle service for once they have completed the track.
Those not interested or experienced enough for multi-day hiking can still enjoy Abel Tasman National Park by visiting as a day trip. Companies offer water taxi and kayak rental services between Mārahau and key stops along the track, so daytrippers can pick and choose a mixture of hiking, kayaking, and watertaxing around Abel Tasman. This is a really good option for those who still want to enjoy a lot of the scenery and wildlife, but without the burden of carrying camping gear on their backs for three to five days!
Contributed by Em from That Travelista
Pororari River Track
We found this lovely, and fairly easy track in the Paparoa National Park near Punakaiki during our long drive along the South Island’s stunning west coast.
This is a hike for beginners and the terrain is largely flat with a few steep patches but could be slippery. A good pair of walking shoes is recommended. The return walk would take around 2.5 hours but there is a shorter (1.5 hours) version of this walk.
The track starts at the bridge that crosses the Pororari River, about a kilometre north of the National park’s visitor centre, where adequate car parking is available.
This track follows the river into the Paparoa National Park. It is breathtaking while passing through the valley with tall limestone cliffs and bluffs towering above over the river and the gorge.
You can get to see various birds on your walk, including NZ Bush Robins, Tuis, native Pigeons and Bellbirds. In addition, you might spot the native Weka – a unique flightless bird that is large and brown in color.
This track mostly passes through a fairly dense sub-tropical forest. There are a number of tall palms and ferns en route. There is a popular swimming hole and an ideal spot for picnic located within a short walk from the bridge.
At the very end, the track opens out into the Pororari River flats and is simply gorgeous.
This is the perfect walk for beginners and for those who are looking for easy walks with options for a picnic and photo ops through the track.
Contributed by Jan from Leisurely Drives
Key Summit Trail
A moderate hike near Milford Sound
It is a perfect alternative for travelers who are not used to a lot of hiking or not having the time for a multiple day hike but still want to see the beauty of New Zealand’s alpine landscape. The Key Summit Trail is on the road to Milford Sound and part of the
Routeburn trail. A moderate fitness level is required to do this hike, the duration is around 3 hours including the return. At starting point of the trail is a car park, which has enough spaces, at least if you start at the morning.
The first highlight of the hiking path is a small waterfall. The path continues in the forest and leads steadily uphill. At some parts the trees are not that dense, and you can enjoy the view of the mountains and valleys. Suddenly, shortly before the summit the vegetation changes and you will find yourself walking on a wooden walkway at an alpine plateau. The surrounding wetland landscape includes some ponds, colorful moos and bushes.
But the most incredible part of this summit is the view of the mountains. 360 degrees and all you can see is snow covered mountain peaks. The combination of standing there at this colorful alpine plateau and seeing higher mountains all around is a truly unique experience.
The Cascade Creek campsite is an affordable campsite nearby. Here you can have relaxing time close nature, with the creek and wooden tables and toilets it is well equipped for camping. Unfortunately, we reached this campsite short before it got dark, so we could not enjoy it fully.
Contributed by Lisi from Escaping Worlds
Hooker Valley Track
The Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook National Park is one of the most popular day walks in New Zealand’s south island, due to its easy access along the Hooker River and incredible scenery. The distance covered on this walk is approximately 10 kilometres return which takes around 3-4 hours to complete. The trail gains only 100 metres in elevation which makes it a fairly easy walk and suitable for all levels of fitness.
The Hooker Valley Track starts from the White Horse Hill Campsite which is a 5-minute drive from the hotels and hostels in Mount Cook Village. There are also toilets located here and a small car park which gets quite full so be sure to arrive early.
The walk has several viewpoints along the way and if the weather is clear, you will see Mount Cook in the distance. The trail takes you over three suspension swing bridges, but don’t worry, these aren’t the scary type! The view at the end of the walk is of the beautiful Hooker Valley glacier lake, which has several floating icebergs, having broken away from the nearby glacier.
The weather can change quickly in this region so make sure you pack layers of clothing so you can change / derobe accordingly. The trail can also be quite busy during the hot summer months so you might want to start early to avoid the crowds (also make sure to bring plenty of drinking water!).
If you wish to stay in accommodation nearby, then Mount Cook Village is the best place and has a handful of highly rated hotels and hostels to suit all budgets. The YHA is highly rated and excellent value, and the 5 star Hermitage hotel is a popular resort.
Contributed by Caroline from CK Travels
One of my favourite hikes in New Zealand is Avalanche Peak, located in the Arthur’s Pass National Park within the Southern Alps. As you ascend up the mountain track you will get panoramic views across the valley of the surrounding mountains and the Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall. At the summit you have a high chance of spotting the resident keas.
The Avalanche Peak trail is a moderate one-day hike that takes 6-8 hours to complete. Although the distance covered is only 5 km, the elevation gain is 1,100 metres.
There are actually two tracks that both bring you to the summit of Avalanche Peak and they have similar hiking conditions. There is the Avalanche Peak trail which is steeper and more challenging overall. Alternatively, you can hike up Scott’s Track which is also extremely steep but it’s a slightly easier choice. A popular option is to ascend via one and then return via the other. When I visited the national park the Avalanche Peak trail was closed due to inclement weather so I went up and down via Scott’s Track.
Both trails are well marked with yellow poles for the Avalanche Peak route and orange ones for Scott’s Track. There is phone service the whole way.
Both the Avalanche Peak and Scott’s Track hikes are suitable for intermediate hikers who have a good level of fitness. If you have bad knees it’s best to take Scott’s Track both ways. The terrain is rocky at the beginning and you will have to climb over large boulders and a track strewn with roots and debris. After the initial ascent, the Scott’s Trail track is pretty straight forward with a gradual ascent although at times there are some steep drop-offs so it helps to have a good head for heights. The final section of the trail is a narrow razor-blade ridge and it’s very gravelly – I resorted to scrambling for this part!
Both of the trails start from the village of Arthur’s Pass. The Avalanche Peak trailhead starts from behind the visitor centre whilst Scott’s Track starts near the car park for the Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall. When you finish your hike, I recommend taking the (flat!) 1-hour return walk to see the waterfall – you can even take a dip in the water if it isn’t too cold.
Arthur’s Pass village has a good selection of motels, guest houses and hotels. There is also a DOC campground which is where I stayed in my camper van – tents are also welcome. It has a shelter where you can cook but you’ll need to provide your own stove and utensils. There are toilets but no showers. Definitely book your accommodation in advance during peak season as the town is small so beds are limited.
In terms of hiking supplies and snacks I recommend getting these from the city you start from. There aren’t many shops in the town and they close early (I learned that the hard way).
Contributed by Hannah from All About The Après
If you’re scrolling through Instagram pictures of New Zealand’s South Island, chances are you’ve seen plenty of pictures of the summit of Roy’s Peak, which overlooks Wanaka. What that photo doesn’t capture is the long line of people behind the person taking the photo waiting for their chance to take that same exact photo.
If you want a less crowded but equally beautiful day hike near Wanaka, which is a must-stop on every New Zealand South Island road trip, look to Isthmus Peak instead.
The hike, which starts just north of the charming town of Wanaka at the Neck between Lake Wānaka and Lake Hāwea, climbs steadily to a point where you’ll have spectacular views of both lakes and the rocky peaks of the Southern Alps off in the distance.
This is a difficult hike, clocking in at 16 km round trip (10 miles) with just over 900 m (3,000 ft.) of elevation gain.
The hike starts by climbing through sheep pastures, where you may encounter some of the surprisingly adventurous sheep that call this area home. Abruptly, the trail turns into a steep and rocky climb, with sweeping switchbacks that seemingly go on forever. Along the way, the views over the lakes get better and better, and the terrain looks like it is straight out of a Lord of the Rings movie.
Eventually, after a couple of false summits where you think you’re finished only to be cruelly met with another steep climb, you’ll reach the ridge, which you follow to the summit of Isthmus Peak. From there, it’s a steep descent back the way you came.
The trailhead is a half an hour north of the town of Wanaka, which makes a good home base for exploring the surrounding area.
Contributed by Matt from Wheatless Wanderlust
Here are some of the best hikes on the North Island:
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
When on a road trip in New Zealand, you should most definitely do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike. Located in Tongariro National Park in central North Island, it is known to be one of the best day hikes in the world. The area has natural and cultural significance (for the Maori people) and is therefore given dual UNESCO world heritage status. This trail has become even more popular because Mt. Ngauruhoe located here was a stand-in for Mt.Doom from ‘The Lord of the Rings movies.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a 19.4-kilometre trail that takes hikers through an awe-inspiring unearthly volcanic landscape with perfectly conical active volcano peaks, solidified lava flats, red craters, steam vents, vivid lakes and a forest.
It is a moderate difficulty hike that can be done by beginners too with a basic fitness level. Though beginners will find it immensely gruelling! It takes about 6-8 hours to complete but beginners may take even more. Ensure you do this hike with hiking shoes and preferably hiking poles too. Some areas of the trek are exposed and slippery, so proper gear is a must. Also, carry ample water and food for the day.
Because it is a one-way hike, you’ll have to park your car at the endpoint of the trail (Ketetahi Car Park) and board on a shuttle to the start (Mangatepopo car park). Be sure to book this early if you’re travelling in the summer months as they fill up fast!
The hike can be done all year round. However, in the winter months, the area is covered in snow so you either need to hire a guide or go by yourself if you have snow/ice hiking experience.
If you have more time, do the 43.1 km 3-4 days trek through the Tongariro Northern Circuit – one of New Zealand’s ten Great Walks. Huts and campsites along the way need to be booked in advance and sell out even a year in advance sometimes.
Contributed by Trisha from Try Wandering More
Red Rocks Walk
The Red Rocks Walk is one of New Zealand’s best short day hikes. It’s a great costal walk that’s located just a 10 minute drive out of Wellington, and it promises a fresh sea breeze, beautiful costal views, and the opportunity to spot fur seals.
The Red Rocks Walk takes no longer than 3 hours to complete, and it’s an easy flat track that everyone can do. The trailhead begins at Te Kopahou Visitor Centre in Owhiro Bay, which also happens to be a Freedom Camping spot for those with a self-contained campervan.
The first hour of the trail is the hike to Pariwhero Reserve. Here you’ll see some big red rocks in the ocean. The trail is actually named after these 200 million years old big red rocks, which also happens to be important to the history of New Zealand. So make sure to spend some time exploring the red rocks reserve.
When you’re ready to move on, you need to walk the remaining 30 minutes of the trail to Sinclair Head. This is where the seal colony of Wellington is living, so you’ll highly likely be able to spot fur seals here. Watching the seals play at this beautiful coastal track is one of the best things you can do in New Zealand. It’s a true wildlife experience to remember.
You have to return back the same way you came from, which makes this trail just a short 3-hour hike by the beautiful coast in New Zealand’s North island.
Contributed by Cecilie from Worldwide Walkers
Tawharanui Regional Park
There are many reasons why everyone should visit Tawharanui but it’s amazing and well-kept beaches are definitely the top reason to do it. You will find this private park at the very end of a winding gravel road that takes you through the local farmlands of the Tawharanui Peninsula.
The regional park was once a private farm and boasts a long shite sanded beach with sections to enjoy a relaxing swim and some other that have been called the best surfing venues in the Auckland region by people who know about those things. And, for those moments where you want to rest from the local salty water you can head over to the grassed areas that get shade from trees, so just sit back and enjoy the gorgeous views.
One thing that you must remember about this New Zealand jewel is that visits are limited, and you need to make a reservation in advance, around 6 months is the recommendation. The same thing goes for camping.
An ecology trail starts at the far end of the beach, beyond a protected breeding area of very rare New Zealand dotterel birds. The trail passes along a rounded-stone beach before climbing up across farmland to a valley of beautiful native forest. Points of interest are marked along the way and copies of the trail guide are available from the hut at Anchor Bay. There are several longer walking trails in the area, including one to panoramic views from high on the end of the peninsula.
Things to Do in Tawharanui Other Than the Beach
There are tons of other fun reasons to stay the night at the park other than just enjoying the beach. Here are the ones we learned about and tried:
Go hiking on the many trails – There are tons of trails that take you anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours to complete. They begin at Anchor Bay and the Lagoon and depending on the ones you choose; you get to go anywhere in the park. The Ecology Trail was my favorite and that one took around two hours to complete.
Get adventurous with water sports – Aside from swimming and surfing, snorkeling is also available. The tour takes you to a protected area a few kilometers north. Because of that, keep in mind that fishing is not allowed, so if you are a fishing enthusiast, you will not be able to get your fun here.
Enjoy the archaeological remains and learn about local history – Do I really need to say anything else? These kids of experiences are always an awesome thing to be a part of. Yes, shipwrecks are included here. But be careful, if you damage anything you will be in serious trouble with the law.
Check out their farm – I especially liked the face that even though there is a farm, it is also a pest free habitat and there are conservational efforts being made.
How to get there
To get to the park you need to take the SH1 north to Warkworth, then follow the signs to Matakana. Go past Matakana 1km past it, turn right at the Ōmaha turnoff and drive 11km along Takatū Road to the park. It will take you around 80 mins to get there from central Auckland.
Keep in mind that the entrance has an automatic gate that will only allow you in if you made you reservation and have the code that they provided.
More about the park
Summer – 6am to 9pm (Daylight saving)
Winter – 6am to 7pm (Non-daylight saving).
Pedestrian access – Open 24 hours
The ranger office – Located on the left, 50 meters on from the pest proof automatic vehicle gate.
Contributed by Christian from Avid Voyagers
At just 3km, and an easy ramble along the Waikato riverbank, the Huka Falls to Otumuheke Hot Springs walk is an activity not to miss while visiting Taupo.
The Huka Falls are the beginning or end of the walk. At 11m tall, they blast nearly 250k litres of water over the ledge and tumble into the river below. Later along the Waikato River – the longest river in New Zealand – this water is used to power some of New Zealand’s energy. The sound of the falls is loud and thunderous, despite its moderate height.
Along the river, you’ll have great views of the bright blue water and native green fauna surrounding it. Give yourself 2-3 hours to complete this walk – the extra time is needed to enjoy the attractions at either end.
The Outumuheke Hot Springs are some of the best free natural hot springs in the North Island! Facilities include a small cafe hut, changing rooms and toilets, plus steps down into the pools (bonus points for improving the accessibility of the pools)! The highest pools are the warmest, with lukewarm temperatures in the springs below. Swim in the river to feel the sharp contrast in temperature as the water changes from hot to cold! This is a magical experience and a fantastic way to feel at one with nature.
Contributed by Cassie from Cassie the Hag
Now that you have made plans for your next hike in New Zealand, but what should you wear on a hike? What season will you be taking on that hike? All of these factors will contribute to what you should wear and pack. Fear not, we have you covered, with this comprehensive guide on what to wear hiking in any season.
Oh wow, you may have heard New Zealand has some incredible outdoor activities and with the landscapes like this, you can see why hiking in New Zealand is so important. After reading these best hikes in New Zealand we are ready to jump on that plane and head to New Zealand to take on one of these hikes in New Zealand.
What do you think? Have you done any of these hikes? Have you got another hiking destination that you would recommend that’s not on this list? Let us know, by leaving a comment below.
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