The best way to see the country is with your feet.
You’ll find some of the best hikes in the world within the national parks of New Zealand, and you’ll soon learn there is a difference between visiting a park and hiking it. Less active visitors can simply drive through and absorb the landscape’s beauty and be perfectly satisfied. But the hiker will want to explore the heart of the park, absorb the scenery, and even touch it and feel it. Here are the best hikes to do so. In addition to this list, check out New Zealand’s 9 Great Walks.
Located in Kahurangi National Park at the top of the South Island, Heaphy Track is 78.3 km (48.7 miles) long and can be completed in four to five days. It starts at Kohaihai, and spans to the upper valley of the Aorere River in the Golden Bay. The landscape of Heaphy Track changes every 20 km (12 miles) and varies from forests and woodland areas to beaches. You can enjoy this track on foot or via mountain-biking when tramping traffic is low.
In the Queenstown area, Routeburn Track starts at the north end of Lake Wakatipu and ends in Te Anau. Spanning 32 km (20 miles) the track goes through both Fiordland National Park and Mount Aspiring National Park, bringing you through the most breathtaking scenery you’ll ever see. The track has four maintained huts throughout and is perfect for overnight camping. It’s one of the shorter tracks, but still provides a variety of stunning landscapes for nature lovers.
Near Te Anau on the South Island, the Kepler Track is 60 km (37 miles) and runs through parts of Fiordland National Park. It’s considered a moderate walking track and can take three to four days to complete, but there are a few huts and campsites along the way if you wish to take your time. The track passes over mountains, forests, gorges, rivers, and lake shores, and there are bridges, steps, and boardwalks that provide relatively safe passage over the land. The Kepler Track is home to the Kepler Challenge, where runners take on the entire track in one day, a feat that usually takes about five hours to complete.
Spanning only 32 km (20 miles), Rakiura Track is within Rakiura National Park on Stewart Island. It’s a circular track that can take up to three days to complete. It weaves in and out of the island, touching along most of the coastline and delving into the dense forests. The island tends to have a damp climate thanks to consistent rainfall, so the track has many gravel roads that prevent mud from taking over the paths. The track provides two huts, but you must bring your own cookware and toilet paper. This is a great place to catch a glimpse of a kiwi bird and other rare species of birds.
One of the most popular and beautiful tracks in the country, the Milford Track is located within Fiordland National Park and runs 53.4 km (33.2 miles). It begins at Glade Wharf (at Te Anau) and ends at Sandfly Point (in Milford Sound) and take you through rain forests, wetlands, and a snowy mountain pass. There are three huts (Clinton Hut, Mintaro Hut, and Dumpling Hut) as well as three private lodges and four day-shelters if you want to stop along the way. The track is more regulated in the summer months, requiring trampers to complete the track in four days (regardless of weather) specifically following the northern circuit. There are guided walks as well, which are good for large groups or for the inexperienced hiker.
Queen Charlotte Track
In the Marlborough region, the Queen Charlotte Track is 70 km (43.5 miles) with multiple hills, making it more challenging than hikes of a similar length. You need a strong level of stamina for this track to survive its longevity. While it can be hiked in three to five days, it can also be biked in two or three days. It spans the entirety of Queen Charlotte Sound, and has a moderate climate year-round making it enjoyable to attempt in any season. The track mostly follows the coast, making the views stunning, and you can weave in and out of the native bush to explore more of New Zealand’s wildlife.
North West Circuit
Another trek on Stewart Island, the North West Circuit spans 125 km (78 miles) and takes you on a circular track outlining a vast majority of the island. It is one of the longest hikes in New Zealand, and can take up to 10 days to complete. It’s appealing for the traveler who will enjoy not interacting with civilization for an extended period of time. The landscape is varied, with plenty of beaches, forests, and rivers to explore. Note that this track is not for the inexperienced hiker; you will be traveling for hours from one hut to the next, so be prepared for long days and much perseverance.
Tongariro Northern Circuit Crossing
On the North Island, Tongariro Northern Circuit is in Tongariro National Park and spans 43 km (27 miles), bringing you to volcanic landscapes, glacial valleys, and dense forests. The trek can be family-friendly if you go the day-trip route or can last three to four days for the true adventurer. You’ll spot volcanoes Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Ngauruhoe along the way, and the rest of the Circuit brings you views of other parts of the North Island including Lake Taupo, Mt. Taranaki, and the Kaimanawa ranges. As you’re soaking in the landscape, notice the contrast of snow and fire. Glaciers, volcanic pools, rare wildlife, and desert plains are all just mere descriptions of the intense dynamics of this track.
In the northern Auckland area, the Waitakere Ranges have multiple tracks within them covering over 241 km (150 miles) of land. They are great for day trips, taking you 40 minutes away from the bustling city into a vast world of natural beauty. Each of the tracks brings you to forest and native wildlife as well as black sand beaches. A popular spot is Karekare Falls, which you can reach via the Kitekite Track which is a 45-minute walk that takes you through waterfalls, streams, and pools. For a challenge, take the Hillary Trail, a self-guided four-day track through the native forest.
Abel Tasman Coast Track
Abel Tasman Coast Track is one of the country’s most beautiful golden beach tracks, giving you maximum sunshine and native bush as well as the chance to see some exciting aquatic wildlife. It spans 60 km (37 miles) and can take three to five days to compete. The huts along the way are open for booking, but it can get pretty packed in the summer months so make sure you reserve ahead. The walk itself is fairly easy; it’s mostly walking along a path rather than tramping up and down tricky hills and dells. Take care to mind the ebb and flow of the tides: because this is a beach track, the tides can temporarily disrupt your walk.