Caution: before any hike, always check relevant park management websites for updated information on track conditions, closures or dangers.
The Land of the Long White Cloud, Aotearoa, New Zealand. No one who visits this magic place ever comes back disappointed. Forming the backbone of the South Island is the Kā Tiritiri o te Moana mountain range, a playground for adventurers who don't mind being dwarfed by nature. The North Island is itself split in two by epic mountain ranges but is also home to rich volcanic soils, secluded beaches and rolling farmland. There is little wonder that it is nearly impossible to decide where the best hikes in New Zealand lie: the north or the south?
Both islands offer opportunities to experience multiple landscapes in a single day, with secluded beach coves to your right and towering snow-capped mountains to your left. For aspiring or experienced hikers, just be reassured by the fact that there are no wrong answers.
One of the best examples of how hiking in New Zealand can take you from the sea to the summit within a day, the Travers Sabine Circuit is a challenging 80km loop that starts at Kerr Bay, within the Nelson Lakes National Park at the northern tip of New Zealand's South Island.
Following Lake Rotoiti on your first day, you have the choice of staying at either Lakehead Hut or Coldwater Hut at the southern end of the lake. You have the option of wading across the shallow end of the river near its mouth (make sure to prepare for sandflies in the hot months around this spot) or walking up the valley to a swing bridge that will allow you to cross between the two huts.
You don't really start climbing until Day 3/4, when you ascend to Travers Saddle. Note that the Sabine side of the saddle is prone to avalanches, which is why this track is best done for the first time during summer months, though don't expect the weather to hold at any time of year.
A true epic, this is one to set your sights on if you have already clocked up the experience on other trails and are looking for a nice week-long notch to your belt.
Te Ara Pataka – Summit Walkway
Features: Mount Herbert, the graveyard of totara trees, one of the country’s best huts, a giant 2,000-year-old totara and a bird’s eye view of the peninsula.
Rating: intermediate great walk (comfortable, well-formed multiday trails).
Length/Time: 35 km (22 m) – 2 or 3 days.
When to go: any time outside of lambing season (which runs August to October).
Child-friendly: Yes. There are plenty of starting points on the trail to take youngsters along for shorter hikes.
The Banks Peninsula is a jewel in the crown of Christchurch City and is home to some of the best hikes in New Zealand. The best way to see much of it is by hiking the Summit Walkway.
With so many highlights, it’s hard to narrow them all down. There is an abundance of native birdlife through the ancient totara stump forest, views across the peninsula along the way and a 360-degree view from the highest point on the peninsula, the 919m (3,015 feet) tall Mount Herbert.
Although the Department of Conservation (DOC) details this trail as starting from the Kaituna Valley, you can get underway at numerous points, even walking from the city to a trailhead.
Queen Charlotte Track
Features: bridged rivers, stunning lakes, native forests of nikau palms, manuka and kanuka as well as copious ferns.
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Length/Time: 62 km, 4 nights/5 days
When to go: as a coastal track, summer months are best to avoid strong offshore winds.
Child-friendly: this has an easy grading but is a long walk. It can be a great introduction to multi-day hikes in New Zealand for older kids.
A great alternative to Milford Sound (and a warmer one, too) is the Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds of New Zealand's South Island.
It forms a part of the 3,000kmTe Araroa trail but is a relatively unchallenging trail. The track undulates from sea level up to 400 metres, often passing through native forests peppered with lookouts that, like giant natural portholes in a ship, give you incredible framed views of secluded bays and coves. Keep an eye out for dolphins and other marine life at these times, while keep your head up and ears open for the sounds of the bellbird, native woodpigeon, waxeyes and tui.
The stunning secluded bays and coves, ribbons of colour that come from darting birdlife, and the relative ease of the track itself make this a great multi-day hike.
Features: stunning wide valley, close views of glaciers, steep ascents through beech forests, lookouts with amazing panoramas, plus waterfalls and alpine scenery including superb vistas of iconic Mt Aspiring.
Difficulty: easy walking track (comfortable, formed trails) to expert route (unformed way, needs backcountry skills).
Length/Time: depends on route – 1 to 6 days.
When to go: some trails have avalanche dangers from June to November, so summer and autumn are best.
Child-friendly: Yes. The valley itself is relatively flat and wide with camping and hut options. Parts of side trails like the Rob Roy Track are also suitable and close to the car park.
You can choose either an epic single-day hike of approximately 40km to either French Ridge Hut or Liverpool Hut or be more sensible and make it a two-day hike.
The hike to Aspiring Hut is a much shorter 9km and sees you glide across grassy flats as you follow the Matukituki River. From the trailhead at Raspberry Creek, take it easy following the river to the hut where you’ll enjoy stunning views of Mount Aspiring (often called the ‘Matterhorn of the South’).
A much more challenging option is to take on the Cascade Saddle – a tough, dangerous climb to a magnificent highpoint above the entire valley (with the option to continue on to the Dart or Rees valleys, and Glenorchy).
Hiking New Zealand's South Island doesn't have to mean an epic two-week tramp. There are various single-day hikes surrounding Lake Ohau, some of which are even dog-friendly.
There are a range of tracks of between two and six kilometres, but one of the longest is the 16km Tarnbrae Track, a scenic tramp through native tussock and wetlands. A favourite of mountain bikers, the track has a gentle gradient and occasionally passes through beech forests before returning you to the wide expanse of mountains to the north and rolling fields to the east.
Avalanche Peak Route
Features: quick vertical rise, views of surrounding mountains and kea spotting.
Difficulty: expert route (challenging, unformed trail with poles or markers, needs navigation and survival skills)
Length/Time: 6-8 hours
When to go: summer or autumn.
Child-friendly: No. This route is too exposed, steep and challenging for young kids.
In the very centre of New Zealand’s South Island, in the very centre of the Southern Alps, is Arthur’s Pass. A convenient stopping point for most, it’s also a perfectly located hub for a number of challenging and easier hikes.
One of the toughest, yet most rewarding of these trails is the Avalanche Peak Route. A track up to the bushline and a pole finding route beyond that, it’ll test your route finding skills and can be treacherous in poor weather.
Start behind the Arthur’s Pass Visitor Centre and follow the trail upwards…just keep a close eye on the cheeky kea that reside up there.
If you’re more adventurous, head for:
Liverpool Hut – a steep climb above the bushline with close views of Mount Aspiring.
Cascade Saddle – a tough, dangerous climb to a magnificent highpoint above the entire valley (with the option to continue on to the Dart or Rees valleys, and Glenorchy).
Rob Roy Track
Features: white-capped mountains, small waterfalls, beech forest, river, swing bridge, marked track
Length/Time: 10km return (4-5 hours)
When to go: it can get very wet at any time of year, opt for the warmer months. From May-November the area is prone to avalanches, so part of the track can be restricted.
Child-friendly: Yes. The hike is a workout, but achievable for the kids.
More information: visit the DoC website for more on the Rob Roy Glacier Trail.
A two-hour drive from Queenstown, the Rob Roy Track is a rewarding 10km return hike that gives you a scenic view of the Rob Roy Glacier at the end. If visiting in the warmer months, make sure you take the extra 30 mins to hike up to the upper lookout (which can be closed during avalanche season) for a superior view.
Passing through beech forest and alpine vegetation, the hike is achievable for those with good fitness. The track is well-marked and is a favourite single-day hike for locals and visitors.
Note: if driving from Wanaka, expect a number of river crossings on an unsealed road for the last 10km of your drive.
Features: native forest (black and white pine), ferns, open tussock, heath, swimming holes, camping, multiple tracks.
Difficulty: Easy to intermediate
Length/Time: Three routes of 1-3 hours and one 6-7 hour return hike.
When to go: spring offers incredible flowering native flora along the track.
One of the best places to visit when seeking hikes near Christchurch, Peel Forest in Canterbury offers a number of tracks that are ideal for families.
Camping is available and hiking is best done in the warmer months, as snow and rain are common at any time of year.
Be charmed by the small fantails that will often follow you on your journey through the forest, which is home to some of the oldest and largest trees in New Zealand. Sections of trails can be quite muddy and steep, especially near Acland Falls.
The more advanced tracks of Little Mt Peel/Huatekerekere take you out of the forest to cinematic views of Mt Somers and Mt Hutt.
Features: 1,800m (5,905 feet) 360-degree panorama showcasing glaciers, lakes, ice cliffs, and NZ’s highest peaks. It’s also the first mountain Sir Edmond Hillary climbed before going on to conquer Everest.
Difficulty: an advanced hiking track (challenging, needs navigation and survival skills).
Length/Time: 10.4 km (6.5 m) return – 2 days.
When to go: all year, but the entire route is on alpine terrain so take the right gear if you decide to tackle it in winter.
Child-friendly: No. It’s a steep, demanding track that isn’t suitable for kids.
There’s only one place where you can get the most dynamic view of New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mount Cook.
The Mueller Hut is precariously located on a high alpine plateau at 1,800 metres on the side of a scree slope. This hike offers you a 360-degree panoramic view of ice cliffs, vertical rock faces, glaciers and New Zealand’s highest peaks.
A steep track will guide you to the hut. But don’t stop there, drop off your pack and summit Mount Ollivier – the first mountain climbed by Sir Edmund Hillary.
Finally, relax and take in the blue glacial meltwater below, the golden sunset over iconic Mount Cook and the thunderous rolling and crashing of distant avalanches.
A private track that requires booking, this is an easy track for hikers but one that offers a great way to explore the region. This is a great NZ hike for those who are new to tramping and want somewhere a little bit more comfy to sleep each night.
This is a very popular track but is managed privately so you will have much of it to yourself. The highlight is undoubtedly the view you will get along the way of the Kaikoura Mountain Range – gigantic mountains covered in snow that seem to have risen out of the ocean like a monster.
Features: sensational 360-degree views, large expanses of space, the heart of NZ high country.
Rating: easy walking track (comfortable, formed trails).
Length/Time: 3 km (2 m) return – 1 day.
When to go: Best outside of winter, particularly if you’re taking the family. It’s most likely snowed-over during the colder months.
Child-friendly: Yes. It’s a short, relatively easy climb that suits kids.
A fantastic multi-day trail, the Kepler Track is listed as one of New Zealand's Great Walks and for obvious reasons.
Cheeky kia will accompany you after four hours of continuous uphill tramping to Luxmore Hut on the first night (booking required), while robins and whio are a common sight on the second day as you descend to Iris Burn Hut.
Keeping all things in perspective are the giant mountains that surround you along the way, with clouds swimming over and around them with the threat of rain or snow always on the horizon. This is why it is best to do this Great Walk in the warmer months. During winter and the offseason, avalanches are a common occurrence and can block sections of the track, while deep snow may be pretty but can hide track markers and slow you down considerably.
If you want to get a real glimpse of what this island has to offer, then the Kepler Track is one of the best NZ multi-day hikes to take on. Apart from slippery conditions and the first day's continued climb, this hike isn't too physically taxing.
Features: early Māori settlements, indigenous birdlife including kiwi, open coastlines and native forests.
Rating: an intermediate great walk (comfortable, well-formed multiday trails).
Length/Time: 32 km (20 m) loop – 3 days
When to go: any time of year.
Child-friendly: Yes, but consider the likely weather before booking – it can get very wet and muddy.
Why not explore New Zealand’s other island – Rakiura. South of the South Island, it’s home to Stewart Island’s Great Walk and a phenomenal amount of native birdlife.
A three day circuit, it follows the coast and crosses through the interior bush. You’ll have the privilege of being immersed in early Māori history and listening for local kiwi calling out in the evening.
When your day’s hiking is done, you’ll be able to unwind each night in Rakiura’s peaceful surroundings. Both campsites have a covered area, which makes cooking that much easier on rainy nights. The track can be quite muddy at certain times of the year or after a downpour, but still remains passable at these times.
This is an undulating hike, with views of the bays and hills in the distance your constant companions. A great New Zealand trail for kids, the tracks is well-maintained and formed for most of the way (apart from those muddy sections) and you will see families dotted across the trail, especially during holiday periods.
Features:surely one ofthe best multiday hikes in New Zealand - retraces early explorer steps through valleys carved by glaciers, with views of cascading waterfalls and ancient rainforests. Exposed ledges, waterfalls, boulders, native forests, pristine lakes.
Difficulty: intermediate Great Walk (comfortable, well-formed multiday trails)
Length/Time: 53.5 km (33.5 m) – 4 days
When to go: it depends. Not during winter as avalanches are a real risk. The heart of summer will get busy but has the best weather. The fringe of the Great Walk season is probably best (early autumn or mid-spring) as you may find fewer people on the track.
Child-friendly: not for young children, but older kids will get a buzz out of this amazing hike.
The Milford Track probably needs little introduction. It’s one of the most famous multi-day hikes in New Zealand, traversing the heart of Fiordland National Park through some of the most pristine native forests, mountains and waters that the Land of the Long White Cloud has to offer.
Featuring towering waterfalls, translucent lakes and high mountain passes, the Milford Track showcases everything that’s magic about hiking in New Zealand’s alpine environment.
The weather will turn south on the Milford at some point so suitable rainwear and warm clothing is a must. Clambering up and down Mackinnon Pass also takes considerable fitness as both sides are quite steep. If you are an experienced hiker or are confident in your fitness, you could couple the first and second days together if you are short on time, but the scenery will call you to slow down, buckle up and tune out.
Hiking New Zealand's North Island will have you pass through completely different landscapes to that of the South Island. Hikes near Auckland show off the region's rich volcanic landscapes, while further up hikers can experience the sub-tropical weather with stunning beaches and secluded coves along countless coastal tracks.
One of the best places to see geology doing its thing is by exploring the lava fields of the volcanic island of Rangitoto Island.
A fantastic short hike near Auckland, the 7km return trip will take you through ancient pōhutukawa forest, rich with life, and through to cross over coal-black lava fields. The island itself is only 600 years old, forming after violent volcanic explosions, so is one of the best places to see natural forces at work.
The island is also teeming with wildlife due to a pest eradication project that has seen the area rid itself of unwanted predators. A short ferry ride from Auckland, this is a great short hike for families.
Whananaki Coastal Track
Features: the longest footbridge in the Southern Hemisphere, native pohutukawa trees and magnificent ocean views of the Poor Knights Islands.
Rating: an easy walking track (comfortable, formed trails).
Part of the Te Araroa Trail, the Whananaki Coastal Track connects the picturesque settlement of Whananaki with the charming beach of Sandy Bay.
Dominated by New Zealand’s native pohutukawa (the Kiwi Christmas tree) and featuring the longest footbridge in the Southern Hemisphere, the relatively easy gradient and stunning scenery will leave you in no doubt that this is one of the best North Island hikes.
With a range of superb lookouts, it’s well worth returning via the same route and making a day of it.
Kauaeranga Kauri Trail (Pinnacles Walk)
Features: historical packhorse route, nikau palm trees, swing bridges and sensational views from the summit.
Difficulty: intermediate great walk (comfortable, well-formed multiday trails).
Length/Time: 12 km (7.5 m) return – 6 hours or overnight
When to go: any time of year.
Child-friendly:yes, though there are steep and slippery sections.
An impressive historic packhorse route that was once used by kauri bushmen in the early 1900s, you can reach the summit of the Pinnacles on the Coromandel Peninsula via the popular Pinnacles Hut.
You’ll pass through groves of nikau palms and native rata as well as face swing bridges and streams. The Pinnacles lookout is at a respectable 759 metres with spectacular views.
The Pinnacles Walk is a solid contender as an introductory hike for those seeking to expand their hiking horizons or just those who only have a weekend to spare. Spend a long day here or overnight it at the hut.
The Coromandel Coastal Walkway is a great day hike, with beaches, native forests, views of Mount Moehau and the Pacific Ocean and a sunset along the edge of the Hauraki Gulf.
There is a reason the North Island of New Zealand is famous for its day-hikes and that is because of the warmer weather and pristine bays and ocean beaches. This is definitely on the easy scale for hikes, but the birdlife, native forests and crystal-clear waters make it a great way to wind down a holiday or introduce the kids to hiking.
Te Paki Coastal Track
Features: New Zealand's longest beach, navigating around its northern tip, rugged coastlines and beachside camping, lagoons, sandy trails along the beach, pohutukawa trees and scrub-land.
Rating: easy walking track (comfortable, formed trails).
Length/Time: 48 km (30 m) – 3 days.
When to go: any time of year.
Child-friendly: Yes. A coastal hike that’s usually warm means swimming, camping and plenty of fun. This can also be a great way to introduce the kids to multi-day hikes in New Zealand.
Tramping in New Zealand does not just mean epic mountain crossings. On the Te Paki Coastal Track on the North Island, unique landforms lead the way around Cape Reinga (New Zealand’s northernmost point), offering a truly unique experience for those seeking to venture into multi-day hikes.
Starting near the northern end of Ninety Mile Beach (actually less than 55 miles long), this coastline walk passes the point where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea in a frothy collision. Maori legend says that it is here where spirits depart for the next life.
The beginning may include some slow easy walking along the beach, but you will break a sweat on the occasional steep climb around rocky headlands, always with epic views on all sides, but beachside camping with the right tent or shelter gives you easy access to the sea to freshen up after putting in the hard yards.
Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway
Features: old railway trail with mines and tunnels, natural gorge setting, swimming holes, impressive cliffs and native foliage.
Difficulty: easy walking track (comfortable, formed trails).
Length/Time:4.3km return – 4 hours.
When to go: Any time of year.
Child-friendly: Yes. It’s a short, easy walk with historical relics that will get kids excited if you tell them there are ghosts in the area. This is one of the best day hikes in New Zealand because of its suitability for kids and its accessibility.
More information: visit the DoC website for more information.
At the base of the Coromandel is a stunning natural setting with a trail that follows an old railway line. The Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway winds through spectacular escarpments and native bush with the Ohinemuri River to keep you company along the way.
Abandoned mines and old railway tunnels hint at the area's rich history while swimming holes make this an ideal summer spot.
One of the best hikes for kids, all you need to do is make up a killer ghost story about a gold miner and make sure you bring a towel and swimming gear for the kids to make this the perfect day hike.
Features: spiritual ancestor for Māori, rugged alpine terrain, native bush and dramatic 360-degree views from the summit – a dormant volcano.
Difficulty:easy walking track (comfortable, formed trails).
Length/Time:12.6 km (8 m) return – 1 day of 8-10 hours
When to go: February to mid-April (outside these months you’ll need mountaineering experience and equipment).
Child-friendly: Yes. In the summer months, you can take kids as high up the track as comfortable.
Resembling mighty Mount Fuji in Japan, Mount Taranaki is the North Island’s highest (2,518 metres) and most perfectly shaped volcano. While the track itself is well-formed, the easily shifting weather at such a height makes this a challenging New Zealand hike.
The Mount Taranaki Summit Track is a pure example of one of the best North Island hikes due to its height and available views of the rolling Tasman Sea, the rich pastures of North and South Taranaki and then, in the far-distance, the volcanoes of the Central North Island, themselves wearing their own jackets of snow.
Your day will involve native bush, rugged alpine terrain, vibrant plant life and maybe even a view over the cloud layer. Endless views over the peninsula and rolling farmland can help give that extra motivation to keep climbing higher.
Also known as Mount Egmont, it’s a tough, challenging day hike. You’ll need to be fit and able to cope with the conditions. Snow and ice are common at the top so be prepared and able to traverse it or wait until the late summer weather solves this issue for you.
The summit is sacred to Māori so it’s important to be respectful by not climbing on top of its highest point and following the principles of leaving no trace.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Features: crystal-clear aqua crater lakes, steep sections, streams, exposed ridges, open tussock, epic views, active volcanoes, glacial valleys and steaming vents
Difficulty: moderate to difficult
Length/Time:19.4km, 7-8 hours
When to go: aim for a day with clear skies, as the views south over Whakapapa Village make this one of the best day hikes in New Zealand.
Child-friendly: Changing weather conditions and slippery track sections can pose a challenge. Ideal for older children rather than young kids.
One of the most famous day hikes in New Zealand, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing attracts a significant number of visitors each year, and this is only rising as hiking continues to balloon in popularity.
125,000 people hiked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in 2017, which was up 15 per cent from the previous year.
The Tongariro Crossing is seen as one of the best day walks in the world, but you also have the option of hiking the circuit and staying one to three nights in huts or exploring the many other day walks in Tongariro National Park. The moment you step away from the main track on to the circuit, you will find you have more of the track to yourself rather than battling the crowds.
The weather is unpredictable here so come prepared for all conditions (and even for the track to be closed at late notice). The track can officially handle approximately 600 hikers per day, but during holiday periods when the weather is perfect, these numbers can be up in the thousands.
These growing numbers and the mountain's cultural heritage to the iwi Māori pose a difficult but important question for those who love to hike, especially to those who are new to hiking. A 2018 report by the Mountain Safety Council found that search-and-rescue missions in the Central Plateau, which includes the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, shot up 163 per cent over the previous few years.
As part of our Helpful or Harmful campaign, we are inviting those who live for travel and adventure to reconsider the influence of their travel patterns on local economic, natural and cultural ecosystems. Some of the best day hikes in New Zealand can still be found in Tongariro National Park, including Mangawhero Forest, the Waitonga Falls Track, Whakapapa Nature Walk and the Silica Rapids trail (just to pick several). Choosing to hike these alternatives can often give you a better hiking experience while spreading out the impact of tourism on such a much-loved location.