New Zealand is known for it’s sprawling alpine landscape, with a number of active and inactive volcanos lining the centre of both the North and South islands. With an emphasis on adventure travel, New Zealand is well equiped for hiking, canyoning, rafting, multi-day trekking and more, so explorers can maximise their exposure to the country’s stunning landscape.
Growing up in New Zealand, we would gather our tramping packs, slip on some Tevas, load up on snacks and hit the road for a hiking adventure.
After running my own adventure travel blog Olivia Round Town for several years, I have learnt the importance of sharing travel tips with others, and the easiest place to talk about is always home.
Here is my pick for the best hikes in New Zealand:
They say the early bird gets the worm, and when it comes to hiking, you really want to be the early bird. Hitting the Roys Peak track at 3am means you start your ascent in the cooler temperatures, the path will be less crowded and once you reach the top you can sit down and enjoy the sunrise creeping up from behind the mountains.
Located about 15 mins from Wanaka township, Roy’s Peak is a challenging hike up a practically vertical incline, but you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views across Mount Aspiring National Park and of Wanaka’s twinkling dawn lights.
The Kepler Track is a 60km circular route that will take you through native forest, up to tussock fields and mountain-top views. If you’re not keen on a multi-day hike or the huts are booked out, you can take a small back-pack of snacks and head 1,400m up the Luxmore Saddle.
There’s a flash DOC hut with large window panes and panoramic views where you can enjoy morning tea/lunch before continuing up to the rugged peaks. Keep and eye out for cheeky Kea as you climb higher into the clouds to the most epic vantage point.
Travel Tip: In high winds the top mountain lookouts can become treacherous. Proceed on the route with caution and tell the rangers where you’re going.
Located just out of Nelson, Abel Tasman is a relaxing track which follows the golden coastline through native bush. Listen to the sound of the Tui as you walk along a well constructed beach path, stopping at some of Golden Bay’s most beautiful beaches along the way.
The first few hours of the trip are a walk in the park – so to speak – but the difficulty does increase as the hike begins to incline for better viewpoints. There are two huts which you can stay at, but make sure to book via DOC before you set off on your adventure.
Tongariro National Park is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks which is centered around three active volcanoes: Tongariro (1967 m), Ngauruhoe (2287 m) and Ruapehu (2797 m). The track takes approximately 6 to 8 hours to complete and is trekked by all ages year round.
In Maori, Tongariro means “fire carried away or seized by the cold south wind”, and the mountain itself is a stunning composite cone, made up of alternating layers of ash and lava flow. The walk is a geologist’s dream, with fascinating planes of volcanic rock set against geothermal blue pools. You may also recognise Mount Ngauruhoe as Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings.
Hands down one of the trickiest, yet most rewarding treks of the country. Hike through fallen trees, rocky terrain and wade through rivers to get to the Mount Earnslaw glacier.
It’s a 6 hour hike in, and once you arrive, you can set up camp anywhere you like in a large field surrounded by waterfalls and glaciers. Go to sleep with the sound of crackling avalanches, and fill up fresh water from the glacial streams. It’s like staying in an elvish kingdom, and if you venture out off-peak you can have the entire place to yourself.
There are many short hikes in the Waitakere Ranges to choose from, with most leading to a refreshing swimming hole or cascading waterfall.
My favourite is Fairy Falls, which is only a short walk from Scenic Drive. Follow the dulcet sounds of trickling streams and birdcall, until you reach a brilliant blue waterfall.
Aoraki/Mount Cook is the largest mountain in New Zealand, spanning an impressive 3724m. You can drive to the base of the mountain, and set up camp at the comfortable and vast DOC campsite.
There are a collection of day hikes which will take you up alternate faces of the mountain to spectacular viewpoints. Make sure to check out the arctic blue lakes and glaciers while you’re there.
The Tawharanui Ecology Trail is only 4kms long, but will lead you through dense forest of thriving wildlife.
Keep an eye out for native Kaka, Takahē, the rare Brown Teal and New Zealand Dotterel, as you amble through the braided track. Cool off after the walk with a refreshing swim at one of New Zealand’s greatest beaches, Tawharanui.
So pack your walking shoes, and check out all the beautiful adventure that the best hikes in New Zealand have to offer!
Photography credit: David Evans, Olivia Round and Maggie GouldLast updated on Oct 11, 2019