The best hikes in New Zealand

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.

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South Island Hikes

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Let’s start in the south where both the Southern Alps and the various plains and fjords that surround them are home to some of the best hikes in New Zealand.

Travers Sabine Circuit

Features: open tussock fields, Travers Saddle alpine pass, native forest, Lake Rotoiti, river flats, beaches.

Rating: advanced, experienced hikers only. This one can be a doozy.

Length/Time: 80km loop (5-7 days)

When to go: warmer months are ideal as some of the alpine sections of the trail are subject to avalanche risk.

Child-friendly: not advised as this is an advanced hike with weather that can shift dramatically and quickly.

More information: See this overview of the Travers Sabine Circuit.

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Nelson Lakes National Park mountainsNelson Lakes National Park mountains

Image: Alex Siale

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.

More information: See this overview of the Summit Walkway.

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Three people hiking in Banks PeninsulaThree people hiking in Banks Peninsula

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. 

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Marlborough SoundsMarlborough Sounds

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 3,000km Te 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.

Matukituki Valley

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.

More information: See DOC’s overview of the Matukituki Valley Area.

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Flats, glaciers, mountains and saddles – the Matukituki Valley is home to a number of great trails, ranging from easy meanders through grasslands to inspiring mountain climbs.

Mount Aspiring lakeMount Aspiring lake

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).

Lake Ohau

Features: mountain beech, mistletoe, pristine lakeside track, alpine surrounds

Rating: easy to moderate

Length/Time: varies from 4-16km

When to go: warmer seasons but can do all year round

Child-friendly: Yes 

More information: visit the DoC site for more information. 

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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. 

Hikers near Lake OahuHikers near Lake Oahu

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.

More information: See DOC’s overview of the Avalanche Peak Route.

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Map of New ZealandMap of New Zealand

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).
Three people hiking in Arthur's PassThree people hiking in Arthur's Pass

Rob Roy Track

Features: white-capped mountains, small waterfalls, beech forest, river, swing bridge, marked track

Difficulty: moderate

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. 

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Rob Roy GlacierRob Roy Glacier

Image: Will Turner

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. 

Peel Forest

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. 

Child-friendly: Yes. 

More information: visit the DoC website. 

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Hikers in Peel Forest ParkHikers in Peel Forest Park

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. 

Mueller Hut

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.

More information: see DOC’s overview of the Mueller Hut Route.

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Two hikers on Mount CookTwo hikers on Mount Cook

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.

Kaikoura Coastal Track

Features: whale watching, seals, albatross, coastline, coastal bush, farmland. 

Difficulty: easy-moderate

Length/Time: 27 km (2 days)

When to go: warmer weather for dips in the sea

Child-friendly: yes, a great introduction to multi-day hiking in NZ. 

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Two people walking in a field in KaikuraTwo people walking in a field in Kaikura

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. 

Mount Sunday

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.

More information: See DOC’s overview of the Mount Sunday Track.

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Stumbling upon 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 cinematic views.

Kepler Track

Features: Luxmore caves, tussock, beech forest, limestone bluffs, Lake Te Anau, waterfalls, small streams, river crossings, huts and campsites, fjords. 

Difficulty: intermediate

Length/Time: 60km - 3-4 days. 

When to go: November to April. Outside of these months requires significant planning and is for experienced hikers only, as the area is highly avalanche-prone. 

Child-friendly: yes. This is one of the Great Walks of New Zealand, and is relatively easy and well-marked. A great introduction to NZ multi-day hiking for kids.

More information: visit the DoC website for more information. 

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Woman by lake in Fiordlands National parkWoman by lake in Fiordlands National park

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. 

Rakiura Track

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.

More information: see DoC’s overview of the Rakiura Track.

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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. 

Three hikers on Stewart IslandThree hikers on Stewart Island

Milford Track

Features: surely one of the 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.

More information: See DOC’s overview of the Milford Track.

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Woman crossing a wire river bridgeWoman crossing a wire river bridge

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. 

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