Last Updated on August 31, 2018
New Zealand is a place of jaw-dropping beauty and astounding natural landscapes. Although famous for its ‘Nine Great Walks’, this land is filled with many epic hiking trails that will satisfy all types of walkers, whether you’re an intrepid multi-day explorer or prefer day hikes. Head for the hills (or mountains, lakes and valleys in the case of NZ) with our pick of the top seven unmissable trails in this incredible country.
1. Routeburn Track
If you’re after a slice of that famous New Zealand scenery in one hike, look no further; the Routeburn Track will give you everything you’re after and more, with the added benefit of being extremely accessible. Just over an hour from New Zealand’s adventure capital of Queenstown, this popular 32-kilometre (one way) hike is one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks: these tracks are well formed and easy to follow, and meander through some of the country’s most inspiring and spectacular countryside. The Routeburn Track can take anywhere between two and four days, and is the link between the famed Mount Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park on New Zealand’s South Island. Expect soaring mountain ranges, glassy lakes, alpine meadows, thundering waterfalls, peaceful tarns and dense forests; this is the New Zealand of dreams.
Need to know: The track is 32 kilometres one way, and can be walked in either direction, starting and ending at either the Routeburn Shelter (near Glenorchy) and The Divide (near Te Anau). Public huts and campsites are dotted along the track, but must be booked in advance. See the Department of Conservation website for more details. The walking season is late October through to early May.
2. Mount Victoria
You don’t have to be in remote New Zealand hours from any city to get those Lord of the Rings vistas the country is famous for. On the outskirts of the nation’s capital city of Wellington is the 643-foot Mount Victoria, which provides sweeping 360-degree views back over the city and harbour. There are many different trails in the area depending on what distance you’re feeling up to. Keep an eye out for Hobbits; scenes from Peter Jackson’s trilogy were filmed here.
Nearest airport: Wellington International Airport is less than 10 kilometres from the city centre, and both private airport transfers and shared shuttles are available to book on Jayride.com for as little as NZD$24 (shared shuttle).
3. Kepler Track
If you want a walk to remember for the rest of your life, stop what you’re doing right now and book a trip to hike the Kepler Track. This unbelievable route will have you pinching yourself to check you really are seeing the incredible ice-carved valleys, soaring mountain ranges, winding pathways over the spines of tussocked ridges, dense forest, thundering waterfalls and spectacular cloud-fringed vistas over the Fiordland region of the South Island. The Kepler Track opened in 1988 and was carefully thought-out for the ultimate pleasure of trampers and in order to highlight the incredible beauty of the region. And lucky for walkers, as this is a custom-built track, there are boardwalks over boggy areas and steps up very steep sections, plus bridges to cross streams… all making for very enjoyable walking.
Need to know: Another of New Zealand’s ‘Great Walks’, this 60-kilometre loop track takes between three and four days, although sections can be walked if you’re looking for a day hike only. The huts and campsites dotted along the way must be booked in advance during the Great Walks season (generally from the end of October to the end of May, find out more on the Department of Conservation website). The track starts and finishes at the Kepler Track carpark, near the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre in Te Anau.
4. Hillary Trail
The 77-kilometre Hillary Trail is an iconic tramping trail through the Waitākere Ranges Regional Park near Auckland on New Zealand’s North Island. It’s easy to do shorter sections if you just want a taste of what’s on offer, or you can do the whole thing to satisfy your inner-explorer on a multi-day adventure. You’ll get a taste of ancient rainforest, black sand beaches and coastal forest on this trail, which was inspired by New Zealand’s famous mountaineer, Sir Edmund Hillary, who prepared for his epic expeditions here. The walk starts from the Arataki Visitor Centre and goes to Muriwai, and can take up to three or four days if done in one go.
Need to know: The Waitākere Ranges Regional Park is sometimes closed in order to protect the environment and encourage regeneration. Although this can mean that some of the Hillary Trail tracks are closed, there are usually still parts of the trail that can be enjoyed. Find out more details about closures and the Hillary Trail on the Auckland Council website.
Nearest airport: Auckland Airport is less than 30 kilometres from the Arataki Visitor Centre, and both private airport transfers and shared shuttles can be booked on Jayride.com. A private transfer from Auckland Airport to Arataki Visitor Centre starts from as little as NZD$61.
5. Tongariro Northern Circuit
Justifiably one of the most popular Great Walks, the Tongariro Northern Circuit takes trampers through some of New Zealand’s most dramatic landscapes. Circling Mount Ngauruhoe, an active volcano in Tongariro National Park in the Central North Island region of New Zealand, walkers will be treated to unbelievably blue lakes, dramatic lava landscapes, eerie plateaus, meadow flowers, active volcano craters and glacial valleys on this 41 kilometre hike, which takes around four days. If you want something shorter but with the same impact, fear not; the first day of the circuit follows the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, thought by many to be New Zealand’s finest day hike (19.4 kilometres). On a clear day look out for Lake Taupo, the Kaimanawa ranges and Mount Taranaki from the spectacular vistas of this walk.
Need to know: The best time to hike is late October to late April, during which time the huts and campsites must be booked in advance. Whakapapa Village is the start and finish point for the Circuit. See the Department of Conservation website for more details.
6. Abel Tasman Coast Track
Switch epic mountains for sapphire blue coastline fringed with golden sands and native bush on New Zealand’s most popular walk, the Abel Tasman Coast Track. Plus, you’ll hopefully be able to leave some of your layers at home, as the temperate climate of this area at the top of the South Island often provides pleasant walking weather. Don’t miss Cleopatra’s Pool along the way; this natural rock pool is simply stunning, and is the perfect stop to cool off your tired feet.
Need to know: Another of New Zealand’s Great Walks, this route covers 60 kilometres one way and can take between three and five days. Huts and campsites must be booked in advance. See the Department of Conservation’s website for more details.
Nearest airport: Abel Tasman National Park is around 60 kilometres from Nelson Airport.
7. Milford Track
We’ll end our list on a super high with what is deemed by many as the finest walk in the world. It’s estimated that 14,000 people compete the Milford Track on New Zealand’s South Island each year, meaning you’ll be in good company if you take on this famed 53.5-kilometre, four-day hike. Be prepared for dramatic glacier-carved valleys rising up from deep fiords, streams and waterfalls (including New Zealand’s tallest waterfall, Sutherland Falls) tumbling into sparkling waters, dense beech forest and a world of moss and ferns in ancient rainforests. This is the stuff dreams are made of, especially when it rains and the torrents of water produce eerie misty clouds and shroud the surroundings in sparkling droplets.
Need to know: The Milford Track is one of the Great Walks and is in the Fiordland National Park on New Zealand’s South Island. The track starts at the head of Lake Te Anau, and during the Great Walks season can only be walked in one direction; Glade Wharf to Milford Sound. See the Department of Conservation website for detailed information on the track and getting there.
Has this got you reaching for your walking boots? Don’t forget to pre-book your airport transfer so you can head straight for those trails.