5 Best Hikes in New Zealand: The Iconic Great Walks
The ultimate list of our 5 favorite hikes in New Zealand we've trekked. Here are the best New Zealand's Great Walks on the North and South Island to add to your travel itinerary.
You probably won't find an outdoor enthusiast who doesn't have New Zealand on a bucket list.
With thousands of kilometers of hiking trails when one is more beautiful than the other, it wasn't an easy task to compile a selection of best hikes we've trekked across the North and South Island.
Why should be hiking in New Zealand on your bucket list
When we lived in New Zealand and hiked an uncountable number of one day and multi-day treks, after some time, when we were almost every day discovering other new beautiful trails, a persistent thought occurred in our minds.
How is it possible? How it happened, that this country utterly has it all?
Are you looking for mountains, fjords, glaciers, volcanoes, waterfalls, ancient fern-ridden forests, rainforests, beaches, pastures or caves?
Yes, you will find it all in Aotearoa.
If you're Kiwi, you're probably grinning right now and swelling with the pride how lucky you are when living in such a beautiful country. And we have to admit, that the rest of us can envy you when it comes to natural beauty.
Well, we could say that it is very often windy, it rains a lot, the sea is cold, and sandflies bite almost nonstop, but why spoil the idea of paradise?
Trekking in New Zealand
We know, that when short on time, it can be daunting to choose from such a large number of hikes (especially when all of them look so beautiful).
That's why we've compiled a list of 5 the most stunning hikes we've done, and can recommend to everyone with a good conscience. It can't be a coincidence, that all trips we've chosen belong among New Zealand Great Walks, featuring one of the country's most spectacular scenery.
So grab your backpack (don't forget a sturdy rain jacket) and put on your walking boots.
Our Tip: Getting around New Zealand is best with a rental car, it saves time and allows you to explore more of the country independently. Just remember, don't leave any valuables in the car while hiking in the mountains.
# 1 Abel Tasman Coast Track
Abel Tasman National Park is situated at the very top of the South Island near the Nelson, and Abel Tasman Coast Track was the first of the New Zealand's Great Walks we did and also the least strenuous.
The mostly flat trail with a little gain in elevation is 60 km long (one way, usually 3 - 5 days), with optional side trips and leads from Marahau to Wainui, from where you have to organize a water taxi unless you don't want to walk out the same way back.
The track took us four days, but only because the weather was so sunny and atmosphere so relaxed that we didn't hurry at all and enjoyed the picturesque coastal scenery, bay lookouts, waterfalls and swimming along the way. If short on time, do not despair. You don't have to hike the full distance. Instead, arrange a water taxi service which can drop you off at various access points so you can easily plan your day as you like.
Another option is kayaking along the coast when hiking is not your thing. Several tidal inlets require planning because you can cross them only at low tide (you'll find information about high tide and low tide times in every accommodation in Marahau).
Do not forget to reserve your accommodation (huts or campgrounds) along the trail well ahead as well.
#2 Kepler Track
A 60 km Great Walk Loop near Te Anau, South Island was one of our favorites and allowed us to explore Fiordland National Park even deeper.
The very popular hike is well-maintained, but what is the most important, once you'll get above tree line, which is near the first Luxmore Hut (when hiking counterclockwise), you'll be rewarded with stunning views across the south fiord of Lake Te Anau to the Murchison Mountains. It must be said, that you'll spend basically the whole second day above the tree line walking the ridge so no need to emphasize that this day will be unforgettable!
The trail winds through alpine sections and is only moderately challenging. The path, especially on the second day, is exposed, so check weather forecast carefully.
The last part leads through the podocarp forest and past landslip and ends on the shore of Lake Manapouri.
To finish the whole Kepler Track, it took us four days, but it is doable only in three days for sure.
# 3 Milford Track
We had high expectations before hiking Milford Track in South Island. It's hard not to have it when promoted such as world's finest walk and the best of New Zealand Great Walks.
The Fiordland area and especially the Milford Track receives a lot of rain throughout the year, but it's known that it isn't a disadvantage as the trek is even better when water pours down from the slopes all around you and creates new waterfalls.
Milford Track is 54 km long one-way (allow yourself three days) trail and must be booked well in advance. From the end of October to the end of April, you must book huts and boat to get to the beginning and from the end of the trail. In the off-season, huts work on the first-come, first-served basis, but you still need to reserve a boat, which doesn't come cheap.
A journey along valleys, waterfalls (Sutherland Falls, one of the NZ's highest waterfalls is here), through ancient rainforests to Mackinnon Pass won't disappoint you by no means.
# 4 Routeburn Track
This world-renowned and easily accessible trek is only 32 km long but doesn't start and finish in the same place.
You can arrange shuttle bus from the parking lot back to your car, but we decided to walk the trail forth and back to save few bucks and also, we could've enjoyed the scenery twice. The alpine path leads through meadows, wetlands and steadily climbs to the ridge trail overlooking Hollyford Valley and Darren Mountains.
The highest point of the trek is Harris Saddle at 1255 meters, and if taking a side trip to Conical Hill, you'll reach 1515 meters and will be rewarded with views of Tasman Sea on the other side. If you're fit, you can try to do this track in one day we saw quite a lot of runners on the trail as well.
# 5 Tongariro Northern Circuit / Tongariro Alpine Crossing
A North Island's gem, Mordor from Lord of the Rings and one of the most beautiful hikes in New Zealand. A 43 km loop (3-4 days) is more than spectacular when the path winds around jagged and active volcanoes, barren landscapes, alpine meadows and beautifully colored emerald lakes.
If you are fit, try to climb the summit of Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom). Not for faint-hearted but definitely for those who want to get as much as possible from this exceptional National Park.
If you don't have time, opt for Tongariro Alpine Crossing. You can see the most stunning scenery of the whole Circuit in a single day. It is the most popular option, more than two-thirds of the Park visitors walk the one day trek, and because of the incredible landscape, it is probably New Zealand's best-known one day hike.
BASIC PACKING LIST FOR HIKING IN NEW ZEALAND
Hiking in New Zealand has some specifics when it comes to packing - because of the ever-changing weather, especially in the mountains, you always must be ready, and carry almost all your equipment.
Still, there are some essential things you should always pack no matter which trek did you choose.
Hiking Boots for Him & for Her | Trails in New Zealand are well-maintained, but muddy, and we would not recommend you to hike in anything else, but quality, waterproof, and broken hiking shoes with sturdy soles are essential to enjoy the trek.
Gaiters | When hiking in New Zealand, you can expect walking through muddy sections, crossing rivers and grasslands undermined by water. We found wearing gaiters very useful here.
Camera | The land of Lord of the Rings is so photogenic that carrying a good camera will really pay off.
Bug Repellent | Sandflies are the most annoying bugs, and altogether with mosquitos can make your day painful. Bring bug repellent with deet.
Hiking Poles | Not sure if you have used hiking poles before, but we found them essential, especially when doing challenging treks almost every other day in New Zealand. If you have knee problems, hiking poles should be no brainer, when fit, hiking poles help you to keep pace.
We've also created an in-depth Ultimate New Zealand Packing List where you can find more information and useful tips.
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