By Rea & Nejc
New Zealand is a one-of-a-kind country with amazing coffee and friendly people but most notably, it has the most diverse and stunning nature we have seen on our travels so far. In this small island country you can find absolutely everything: from beautiful beaches, wild ocean, jungle and forests to photogenic mountains, glaciers, active thermal areas, lakes, fiords and much more. We have spent one whole year working in New Zealand and discovering this amazing country and travelled to almost every corner of it.
Exploring New Zealand By Foot
As big nature lovers, we decided to explore as much of New Zealand’s nature as possible on foot. We were absolutely impressed by the thousands of possibilities that this country has to offer: from simple one day hikes to advanced multiple day hikes which are all very well marked and preserved. The truth is that New Zealand is undoubtedly one of the friendliest hiking destinations.
No matter where you are, the simple one to three hour walks will always be available to stretch your legs and breathe in the beauty of the surrounding nature. The best way to see what short hikes are available in the area is to simply pop in to the local i-site and have a nice chat with whomever may help you. Also, if you are on a road trip, you will see countless brown boards along New Zealand’s highways indicating points of interest. Just pick the ones you might be interested in visiting and you’ll discover many off-the-beaten paths you didn’t even know existed!
However, if you’re a hiker by heart and you would like to spend more days exploring New Zealand’s nature, there are also many multiple day hikes available all over the country. Nine of them are named as the New Zealand Great Walks and get pretty busy during the season (October – April), but there are also many others that are less crowded and also well, cheaper!
If you go for a multiple day hike, you have two options of spending the night: you can either decide to carry all your camping gear with you and spend the night in provided campsites, or you can stay in a hut, sharing a bunk bed with other people. Either way, you will have to book the hut or the campsite in advance as they get really busy in the summer. However, this only goes for the nine great walks – all the other walks should be done without previous bookings. You know how it goes: first come, first served!
5 Of The Best Hikes In New Zealand
In one year in New Zealand, we’ve done a lot of hiking, and we are now ready to share our favourite ones with you, the ones we think are the best hikes in New Zealand!
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing
When planning your hikes in New Zealand, this hike will probably be the first one you will come across. It is referred to as the best day hike in the world by Lonely Planet, and we’ll be honest, once you’ve done it, you will understand. With its indescribably beautiful volcanic landscape, it is certainly the best hike we’ve done so far.
The day before the hike, we booked a shuttle bus that picked us up early in the morning and took us to the Mangatepopo car park where we started the hike. Although you can do the hike from either direction, it is recommended to start from here for two simple reasons: first because you’ll get much better views from this side, and second because it makes the hike much, much easier to start from this point.
The morning was cold, but the sky was clear, and even before the sunrise we knew we were going to have a perfect day. It happens very rarely that you have a sunny day without wind when crossing the Tongariro, and we were one of the few lucky ones.
The first part of the hike already blew our minds: with its spectacular views over Mt Ngauruhoe (also known as Mt Doom from The Lord of the Rings), it was simply the perfect way to start the morning. After we warmed up our bodies, we slowly started ascending and reached the South Crater where we stopped for a short break. We then continued to the Red Crater (the highest point of the track if you decide not to climb to the top of Mt Ngauruhoe), and then slowly descended to one of Tongariro’s biggest highlights: the Emerald lakes. Allow an hour to stop here for lunch and take pictures, as I am pretty sure you will want to take many of them. With its crazy green colours, these lakes are one-of-a-kind! Recharged with energy, we continued our way to the Blue lake, and then all the way down to the Ketetahi car park, trying to capture the best views over lake Taupo on the other side.
The Kepler Track
Being part of the nine New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Kepler track is well worth the effort. This 60 km loop track can also be done from either direction but spending your first night in Luxmore hut, and thus doing the track from this direction, would be a much better option.
The Kepler track is part of the Fiordland National Park, the third wettest area in the world, and having good weather during this 4 day hike is like winning the lottery! The bad thing about the New Zealand Great Walks is that you have to book the huts or campsites in advance and therefore you can’t postpone the track if the weather is bad. Well, I guess we were one of the few lucky ones again as the weather was on our side.
We left the car park early in the morning, still with some clouds surrounding the valley of Te Anau. The first hour of the track was an easy walk, but it got much harder once we started making our way up through the beech forest. We reached the Luxmore hut in early afternoon, with enough time for a cup of tea while enjoying the beautiful views on the golden tussocks all around us. We thought the second day would be easier than the first one, but we couldn’t have been more wrong! The first steep ascend was still bearable and well worth the views over Fiordland, Lake Te Anau and the surrounding mountains.=, but once we started to descend deep down into the valley, we started to feel our legs, our knees, and even our arms; we were tired and hungry, but happy as ever.
The third day was not as exciting as the second one, but still very nice as we walked out the forest, overlooking the mountains, but this time from the bottom to the top. The weather forecast for that day wasn’t very promising, and we started checking the alternative options to finish the track earlier. Although we already booked the night in the last hut, we ended the track a day earlier at the Rainbow Reach car park. We were quite happy we made this decision as the rain started to fall late in the afternoon, and continued throughout the whole next day.
The Routeburn Track
Another New Zealand’s Great Walk, The Routeburn track is the second most popular right after the Milford track, and is therefore extremely busy. We tried to book the huts more than two months in advance, bud sadly figured out that there were no beds left to be booked. Tracking the Routeburn was high on our bucket list, and after doing some research, we figured out we could actually do it without spending the night.
This 32 km long track can be done in 2 to 4 days from either direction. This information was the key for our decision to do half the track and head back from one direction, and then do another half from the other one. The big disadvantage about this track is that it starts on one side of the mountain range, and finishes on the other one, meaning that there is no direct road connection through the mountains between the two points. To get from one side to another, you have to drive over 300 km around the mountains, which makes this track very inconvenient. The good news is that it is totally manageable the way we were planning to do it: splitting it in half.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do the first half of the track that starts on the way to Milford Sound as it was pouring rain for days, and we got a little tired of waiting for the sun to show up. Fortunately, the opposite was true when we attempted the other half that starts in Glenorchy, near Queenstown.
The first part of the track didn’t seem very promising as the valleys and the mountains were completely wrapped up in clouds when we started walking early in the morning, but once we reached the Harris Saddle, the highest point of the track, the sky suddenly cleared up completely and the most amazing views were revealed in front of our eyes: the beautiful hills, topped with yellow tussocks on one side, and the majestic mountains, covered with glaciers of Mount Aspiring National Park on the other one. It was a perfect day.
Once we started making our way down back to where we started, we could perfectly enjoy the beautiful views we missed on our way up, and we reached our starting point in late afternoon.
Attempting this track in two halves is certainly not for everyone as you’ll walk over 30 km in one day for about 10h. However, if you’re a fit hiker and decide to do half the Routeburn up to the Harris Saddle and back, you will probably have the walk of your lifetime.
I don’t actually believe I am saying this, but Roys peak nearly beats Tongariro crossing in terms of the amazing views. This demanding one day hike above Lake Wanaka is simply a must do experience. It could be quite hot during summer as there is almost no shade to hide yourself from the sun, but we did it at the end of March and it seemed like perfect timing.
The hike itself is not as diverse as other New Zealand’s tracks, but once you get to the top of the mountain, your mind will be literally blown away. Getting to the top is quite a challenge as the hike is a steep and constant 3 hour climb, but don’t give up: the view over Lake Wanaka, its town and the mountains of Mount Aspiring National Park in the background is simply breathtaking.
The Abel Tasman National Park Walk
Again one of the nine New Zealand’s great walks, Abel Tasman track is very unlike the others. It is actually a coastal walk that can be combined with kayaking, and doing both activities is a must! We decided to kayak through the upper part of the national park, the marine reserve, and walk the other half back to the starting point.
There is no other way to kayak through the marine reserve but by booking a guided tour, and we were a bit skeptical about the whole thing as we usually don’t do “tourist activities”. Turns out it was one of the best trips, and we would absolutely recommend it to anyone. By kayaking you’ll get a different perspective on the beaches, as well as be able to see the typical New Zealand’s coastal wildlife: different kinds of birds and sea lions will be your constant companions.
Walking on the coast line and ascending up and down through the hills surrounding it is just as amazing as kayaking. Between hopping from one beach to another, to climbing up on the hills to get the beautiful views over the sea and the whole national park, it makes it a perfect hike if combined with kayaking.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rea & Njec, of Curious Wanderers, are a travelling couple from Slovenia who found a mutual passion for discovering new countries and cultures. Together, they sold their belongings and left their country to travel the world! With a love of nature they also explore the outdoors of the countries they visit, especially by navigating many a hiking trail! You can also follow their travels on Facebook & Instagram!
Keep this article for later or share with others on Pinterest – just hover over the image below and click “Pin it”!