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The best hikes in New Zealand

The best hikes in New Zealand3

The Land of the Long White Cloud, Middle Earth or Nova Zeelandia (the official name given after explorer Abel Tasman discovered it).

Whatever name you know New Zealand by, you’ll be calling it jaw-droppingly amazing after hiking one of these top trails.


South Island Gems

Let’s start in the south where the Southern Alps form the backbone to some spectacular hikes.

Best area to explore: the Matukituki Valley

Flats, glaciers, mountains and saddles – the Matukituki Valley has it all. From the trailhead at Raspberry Creek, take it easy following the river to Aspiring Hut where you’ll enjoy stunning views of Mount Aspiring (often called the ‘Matterhorn of the South’).

If you’re more adventurous, head for:

  • Rob Roy Glacier – trek up to this viewable ice shelf and camp below it.
  • 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).

A comfortable sleeping bag will help you revitalise for the next day’s hike.

Base: Wanaka

Distance to trailhead: 56 km (35 mi) – 1 h

Track length: Depends on route – 1 to 6 days

Best overnighter with a view: Mueller Hut

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 Edmond Hillary.

Finally, relax and take in the blue glacial meltwater below, sunset over iconic Mount Cook and the thunderous sound of distant avalanches.

Base: Tekapo

Distance to trailhead: 107 km (66.5 mi) – 1.25 h

Track length: 10.4 km (6.5 mi) return – 2 days

Mueller Hut
Hiking high above Mount Cook Village

Best short hike with a big reward: Mount Sunday

When you reach this relatively short hike in the centre of the South Island, you may recognise the iconic Mount Sunday as the location of Edoras in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

Half of the adventure is getting to the trailhead. Travelling from Christchurch or the winter ski town of Methven, you’ll have to drive about 25 kilometres on gravel roads.

A rocky, tussock-clad hump in the wild remotes of New Zealand’s Alps, Mount Sunday’s location is immense – surrounded by wide valleys channelling two rivers, and bordered by snowcapped peaks.

Barely a half hour walk to the summit, take a picnic and enjoy the isolation and magnificent views.

Base: Methven

Distance to trailhead: 75 km (46.5 mi) – 1.25 h

Track length: 3 km (2 mi) return – 1 day

Best Great Walk in the south: Milford Track

The Milford Track probably needs little explanation. It’s New Zealand’s premier Great Walk – traversing the heart of Fiordland National Park.

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 is a must.

Base: Te Anau

Distance to trailhead: 29 km (18 mi) – 0.5 h

Track length: 53.5 km (33.5 mi) – 4 days

Milford Sound
The breathtaking conclusion to the Milford Track

North Island jewels

The north offers its own tramping treats with a volcanic and variable landscape.

Best trek to where the ocean meets the sea: Te Paki Coastal Track

Unique landforms lead the way around Cape Reinga (New Zealand’s northernmost point) on the Te Paki Coastal Track.

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 here is where spirits depart for the next life.

Beachside camping with the right tent or shelter gives you easy access to the sea to freshen up after putting in the hard yards.

Base: Kaitaia

Distance to trailhead: 96 km (60 mi) – 1.25 h

Track length: 48 km (30 mi) – 3 days

Best historical hike: Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway

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.

Abandoned mines and old railway tunnels will remind you of times gone by, while swimming holes will make your journey all the more enjoyable.

Base: Tauranga

Distance to trailhead: 71 km (44 mi) – 1 h

Track length: 4.3 km (3 mi) return – 1 day

Best trip to the clouds and back: Mount Taranaki

Resembling mighty Mount Fuji in Japan, Mount Taranaki is the North Island’s highest and most perfectly shaped volcano.

Your hike will involve native bush, rugged alpine terrain, vibrant plant life and maybe even a view over the cloud layer. Views of the peninsula and rolling farmland will give you enough motivation to keep climbing higher.

Also known as Mount Egmont, it’s a tough, challenging day trip – 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 Maori so it’s important to be respectful – students carrying a couch to the peak and nude modelling have both been frowned upon in recent years.

Base: New Plymouth

Distance to trailhead: 29 km (18 mi) – 0.5 h

Track length: 12.6 km (8 mi) return – 1 day

Best great walk in the north: Tongariro Crossing

Emerald lakes, active volcanoes, glacial valleys and steaming vents – welcome to Tongariro.

The Tongariro Crossing is rated 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.

The weather is unpredictable here so come prepared for all conditions (and even for the track to be closed at late notice). Ensure you have the right jacket or rainwear to protect you from the elements.

Base: Taupo

Distance to trailhead: 74 km (46 mi) – 1 h

Track length: 19.4 km (12 mi) – 1 day

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