Choosing a hiking route in New Zealand is like choosing a meal from that cafe your mate keeps telling you about. You could choose their favourite, they’ve tried it heaps of times and it always goes down well. You could call up your mum who went there 10 years ago and is still raving about the best Chicken Parmi she’s ever had. Or you could just turn up, blindly point at the menu and hope you strike it lucky.
Luckily New Zealand has so many great options that you can’t go wrong whatever you choose. It’s just that some walks suit different people better than others. If you want to make sure you choose the adventure that’s right for you, check out our top 10 hikes in New Zealand, there’s something for everyone!
New Zealand Short Walks (Under 10km)
Seeing as pretty much the whole country is full of epic vistas and stunning landscapes, you don’t have to walk far to really get amongst it. Here’s a couple of walks that’ll get you out there, then back in time for a jaffle.
Fox Glacier Valley Walk (2km)
Westland Tai Poutini National Park, South Island
Thanks to our Explorer crew in New Zealand for letting us know that this trail is currently closed off. 150m of the road accessing the Fox Glacier valley was washed away so there’s currently no access to the walk, and it’s highly likely there won’t be any for quite some time. You can still see the glacier from across the valley at a viewpoint on a clear day, and the Franz Josef Glacier valley walk is open but Fox valley isn’t.
While New Zealand is famous for day hikes, the Fox and Franz-Josef glaciers are famous for the high prices of their on-glacier experiences! Luckily there’s a way to experience the Fox Glacier (or Te Moeka o Tuawe) for free.
Starting from a carpark at the end of Glacier View Road in Westland Tai Poutini National Park, this short walk will have you traversing a wooden suspension bridge across the Fox River, plunging through temperate rainforest and entering the glacial valley. You’ll also pass by a bright blue lake of freezing water – you might wish you’d brought swimmers!
And if the views along the walk hadn’t been enough, you’ll finally be rewarded with views of the glacial face and snow-capped mountains.
Tapeka Point Track (1km)
Bay of Islands, North Island
This family-friendly short walk is a cracking option if you’re visiting the Bay of Islands. Short and gentle, the Tapeka Point Track takes you from a quiet suburban street to a beautiful vantage point atop the cliffs.
Combine your walk with sunrise and the 360-degree views of the beaches, cliffs, and bays of the area will have you clocking up the kms as you keep coming back over and over again.
Just be mindful that the track is exposed to cliff edges and can be quite muddy and slippery after heavy rain.
Rob Roy Glacier Track (10km)
Wanaka, South Island
Winding through Mt Aspiring National Park, this 10km route is alpine hiking at its easiest. What it lacks in physical challenge (there’s just 100m elevation gain), it more than delivers in mountainous eye-candy. The trail initially meanders alongside the Rob Roy Stream, before entering the beech forest. You’ll feel like Frodo and Sam during the first stages of the hike (like at the start of the movie, before Frodo gets super intense and there are more orcs than you can shake a stick at).
Around 3.5km in, you’ll catch your first glimpse of Mt Rob Roy’s hanging glaciers, slightly obscured in a bank of cloud. Make sure you don’t end your walk here. Continue to the upper lookout and turn back only if there is real avalanche risk. This would usually occur in winter and early spring after heavy snowfall. By the end of the trail, you’ll emerge above the tree-line, in a clearing flanked by 300m high cliffs, with ribbons of water spilling over the sides and ancient ice clinging precariously to the edge.
Read: A Mini Glacier Adventure
New Zealand Day Hikes (15-20km)
Got a bit more time on your hands but don’t fancy carrying overnight gear? We’ve got you covered. Pack light and head out for a big day on the trails.
Roys Peak (16km)
Wanaka, South Island
Just 10km from Wanaka, Roys Peak delivers everything you want from your NZ hike, and then some. The walk itself is a steady climb which takes between 5-7 hours – including photo stops and a picnic at the top. The path zig-zags across the mountain but be sure to stick to it! Large sections of the track are on private land, so it’s important to show respect and ensure the hike remains open to everyone.
The view gets better and better as you climb. Just when you think the view can’t blow your mind anymore, continue to the summit where only the brave are rewarded with (literally!) breathtaking panoramic views of the mountain ranges, (snow-capped even in summer) and a bird’s-eye view of the stunning Lake Wanaka.
Read: Hike To Roys Peak
Hooker Valley Track (16km)
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, South Island
Icebergs, glacial lakes and mountain views all within a 3-hour walk from the car park. The Hooker Valley Track is a great hike that delivers BIG!
The scenery and views are something else! You walk along the valley between two huge mountains (Mount Sefton and Mount Wakefield) and the valley leads towards the base of Mount Cook/Aoraki. The walk will see you cross the Hooker River three times, via Swing Bridges. With each crossing the drop down to the river below seems to get even bigger.
Walking the Hooker Valley Track takes roughly 1.5 hours each way. However, this will vary depending on how many photos you stop to take – count on that being a lot!
Tongariro Alpine Crossing (20km)
Taupo, North Island
Grab a pre-booked shuttle to the start of this hike and you’ll spend the next 6 or 7 hours picking your jaw off the floor. While the hike starts with an easy walk through Mangatepopo Valley, the elevation soon rises. Don’t worry, there’s just reward for your efforts as the summit greets you with views of Mount Ngauruhoe and surrounds.
Break over, continue towards the fuming Red Crater and the Emerald Lakes. These views alone make this one of the most colourful hikes you’ll ever do. Emerald lakes gained their brilliance partly from dissolved minerals that have been washed down from a thermal area nearby – so there might be a bit of an odour in the air. Finish off with a traverse around Blue Lake and glimpses of the Te Maari Crater that last erupted in 2012.
Not for the faint-hearted but an absolute North Island banger.
New Zealand Multi-Day Hikes (15-60km)
Whether you’re after an overnighter fit for a beginner, or want to tackle one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, you’ll never regret loading up and spending a night on the trails. Get ready to make some memories.
Tarawera Trail (15km)
Rotorua, North Island
If you’re looking to enter the world of multi-day hiking, this one is a great first choice. At 15km (one way) and with an elevation gain of around 600m, there’s not much to worry about, besides carrying that heavy pack for the first time.
The trail is clearly defined, with some steep and challenging sections. Views of lush green valleys, contrast the bright blue of Lake Tarawera, giving some beautiful photo opportunities.
At the end, you arrive at Hot Water Beach Campsite, located on the shores of the lake. This is a geothermal area which means there are natural hot springs under the sand which provide a relaxing, hot swim. Perfect to ease the muscles of tired hikers.
Read: Tarawera Trail
Routeburn Track (32km)
Queenstown, South Island
A quintessential New Zealand Great Walk, this intermediate track takes you across valleys, through meadows, along rivers and over mountains. Not bad, hey! During peak hiking season, you’ll need to book ahead to secure a spot in one of the mountain huts and campgrounds. Ask our explorer Rachel, and she’ll highly recommend booking a hut. Her November walk was nearly 100% rain and snow.
There are multiple bus options servicing either end of the Routeburn Track. One option is to hike from the Routeburn Shelter (Glen Orchy) to The Divide (Milford Highway). You can book with Info & Track who also store any excess luggage you have.
Kepler Track (60km)
Te Anau, South Island
The Kepler Track is a fun but challenging 4-day hike that gets pretty gnarly in the winter. With hut or camping options, incredible wild swimming side trips and a definite ‘Frodo and Sam in the woods’ vibe, this is a sweet NZ Great Walk you don’t want to miss.
Track highlights include the pristine beech forest, alpine wilderness and glacial lake foreshores that you traverse. During peak hiking season you’ll need to book camping or National Park cabins – probably a good idea as the weather can turn anytime.
Read: It’s A Really Great Walk
New Zealand Epic (3000km)
30km a walk in the park? 60km just another weekend? If you’re after a really spicy challenge and have a few months up your sleeve, how about taking on this epic New Zealand walk?
Te Araroa Trail (3000km)
New Zealand, North & South Island
So you want to take a tour of New Zealand? Great. How about walking the entire length of the country? The Te Araroa Trail does just that, making it a truly epic experience.
The Te Araroa Trail is one of the world’s newest long-distance hiking trails. 3000km across New Zealand’s famously rugged terrain, through dense forest, over exposed alpine passes, across scores of unbridged rivers and following a route that often doesn’t have an actual ground trail to follow.
Nothing can fully prepare you for the main event, but an understanding of what lies ahead will go a long way.
Thanks to all our Explorers for being such legends and doing the leg-work (literally) behind these great hikes and great articles.