Where to go running in New Zealand

Want to take on a run under the shadow of softening snowfields in New Zealand's Southern Alps? Perhaps running in a tropical climate is more your thing. Taking on trail running in New Zealand means taking on some of the world's most impressive mountain ranges, eery volcanic landscapes, epic coastlines and quaint rolling hills. Here is just a taste of some of the best spots for running in New Zealand. 

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Running in New Zealand's North Island

Paekakariki Escarpment Track – Kapiti Coast

Distance: 15km return (9.3 miles) plus an extra 5kms (3.1 miles) if running from train station to station

Trail conditions: compacted dirt, steps and swingbridges

When to run: when the light is changeable

The Kapiti coastline in New ZealandThe Kapiti coastline in New Zealand
The Kapiti coastline offers a variety of trail types and undulations.

Image: Aidan Wojtas

Let’s start with a stunning New Zealand run less than an hour from Wellington. The Paekakariki Escarpment Track is a relatively short trail that climbs over 200 metres above steep coastal cliffs and the nearby Tasman Sea – for unmatched vistas of the rugged Kapiti Coast.

You’ll be running on a variety of track, steps and a couple of swingbridges while being perched high above State Highway One.

Time your run to enjoy the light changes of sunrise or the setting of the sun over the sea. And if you’re only running it one way, take the trail north from Pukerua Bay so you can finish at one of the reputable Paekakariki cafes.

Find out more about the Paekakariki Escarpment Track here. 

Maketawa Hut Circuit – Egmont National Park

Distance6.5 kms return (4 miles)

Trail conditionscompacted dirt, steps and four-wheel drive track

When to runearly so you can glimpse the sunrise

Mount Taranaki, New ZealandMount Taranaki, New Zealand
Mount Taranaki towers over the Maketawaw Hut Circuit

Image: Dave Young

As far as the best running in New Zealand is concerned, ask any trail runner around and they will point you towards the stunningly symmetrical Mount Taranaki (Egmont). The mountain has plenty of trails up and around it so you have various distances to choose between.

One highly recommended trail is the Maketawa Hut Circuit. Located on the northeast side of the mountain, this looped track is an ideal length for deciding how many circuits suit you.

A quintessential New Zealand hiking trail, the Maketawa is only 29 kms (18 miles) south of New Plymouth so it’s easily accessible. You’ll get a lot out of the rise to 1,000 metres (3,280 feet) – both physically and visually.

Spa Park to Huka Falls Walk – Taupo

Distance6 kms (3.8 miles) return for the Spa Park to Huka Falls Walk and 14 kms (8.6 miles) for the Aratiatia Rapids Track

Trail conditionscompacted dirt and gravel

When to runearly or late to avoid the tourist crowds

Huka Falls, TasmaniaHuka Falls, Tasmania
Huka Falls are the ultimate reward at the end of a long trail run

Smack bang in the centre of the North Island lies New Zealand’s largest lake – Lake Taupo – and not far north you’ll find the white water rush of Huka Falls. This track makes up some of the best running in New Zealand for those who don't want to scale a mountain on their run but want to work on their pacing. 

Take some transport to Spa Park and hit the trail towards Huka Falls. An idyllic run that follows the mighty Waikato River. Depending on the time of day, you may encounter plenty of walkers on the trail but you’ll be rewarded with close-up views of Huka Falls.

The trail undulates in places, yet is relatively short so you could run a few loops or even detour down the Aratiatia Rapids Track. Shared with mountain bikers, this trail has magnificent views of the river and is best finished when the dam spill gates are due to open.

Find out more about the Huka Falls here or read up on the Aratiatia Rapids Track a little more before you head out. 

Tongariro Crossing – Tongariro National Park

Distance19.4 kms (12 miles)

Trail conditionsdirt, volcanic rock and boardwalks

When to runit’s likely to be crowded so run when the weather forecast is best in the hotter months

A bright blue lake at Tongariro Alpine CrossingA bright blue lake at Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Perhaps the greatest walk in the world, the Tongariro Crossing should definitely be on your New Zealand trail running bucket list.

‘Pure rugged NZ beauty’ is a phrase that best describes this trail. You’ll see unique geology and breathtaking panoramas while leaving your footprint on active volcanoes. Keep a close eye on the jagged rock as you run over this ankle-testing track.

Find out more about Tongariro Crossing here. 

Heathland on Tongariro National ParkHeathland on Tongariro National Park
Take a trip straight to Scotland by navigating the Tongariro National Park

Keen to lace up for some trail running in New Zealand?

Check out our trail running gear

Cooks Cove Walkway – Tolaga Bay on the East Coast

Distance5.8 kms (3.6 miles) return

Trail conditionsfarm track and coastal flats

When to run: sunrise

Restrictions: closed for lambing August to October

Man on pier at Tolaga Bay, New ZealandMan on pier at Tolaga Bay, New Zealand
Finish up your run at the end of the pier at Tolaga Bay for a stunning view back to the coastline

Image: itravelNZ

For a short trail run with historical significance and sensational sights, Cooks Cove Walkway is a super wee route while on your east coast holiday. A farm track and coastal flats provide the bulk of your running trail.

Part of its charm is simply how isolated this location is – 55km (34 miles) north of Gisborne – and the fact that Captain James Cook visited this area in 1769.

Mount Maunganui (Mauao) Summit and Base Tracks – Tauranga

Distance3.4km (2.1 miles) for the Base Track loop and 3.8km (2.4 miles) for the Summit Track return

Trail conditions: four-wheel drive track, fine crushed gravel and steps

When to runas the sun comes up or late afternoon with plenty of the locals

Mt Maunganui lookoutMt Maunganui lookout
The view from Mount Maunganui hints at why the 'Mount' is such a popular destination in New Zealand

If you’re lucky enough to spend holidays or live at the ‘Mount’, you’ll already know about this jewel in the crown.

A short, sharp trail that elevates to 232 metres (761 feet) above sea level, the Mount Maunganui Summit Track winds around and up the iconic hill. You’ll be standing on top of the Mount in next to no time that you’ll want to run a few laps – or alternatively, switch onto the Base Track which loops around the hill.

Find out more about the Mount Maunganui Summit Track here or read up on the Base Track to extend your run. 

Te Henga Walkway – Waitakere Ranges near Auckland

Distance10.3 kms (6.4 miles) or 20.6 kms (12.8 miles) return

Trail conditionscompacted dirt

When to run: early morning or in the evening, either side of the hottest part of the day

Waitakere beach from clifftopWaitakere beach from clifftop

For a clifftop run that’ll keep you coming back for more, the Te Henga Walkway offers plenty. An uneven and steep trail, the wild west coast is calling you to run alongside it and take in the superb views of lagoons, dunes and surf.

Beginning or ending above the famous Bethells Beach, this trail run is ideal if you reside or work in Auckland. The big smoke is less than 40 kms (25 miles) away.

You should expect some mud and you may even get distracted by gannets diving into the sea for fish.

Running in New Zealand's South Island

Abel Tasman Coast Track – Abel Tasman National Park

Distance60km (37 miles)

Trail conditionscompacted dirt, sand, bridges and swingbridges

When to runearly mornings before it gets too hot (taking the tide into account)

Water lapping up on eroded rocks at a beachWater lapping up on eroded rocks at a beach

If you’re looking to get into trail running, the Abel Tasman Coast Track is a superb place to start. Sun, sand and native bush foliage will follow your footsteps as you undulate between idyllic beaches and open saddles with stunning views.

Lush beech forest, large kānuka trees, fur seals and native birds dominate much of the landscape while you’ll have options to cross estuaries (if you catch the low tide) or skirt around the edges.

The Abel Tasman is a very popular Great Walk that’s probably best started at Wainui Bay or Tōtaranui in the north – to finish at Marahau in the south where there just happens to be a top place to have a bite and a drink.

Transport can be an issue getting to Wainui Bay and the entire track is a long way, so another option is grabbing a boat from Kaiteriteri north to Bark Bay, Onetahuti Bay or Awaroa – and running back to Marahau.

Old Ghost Road Trail

Distance85km (52.8 miles)

Trail conditionscompacted dirt, gravel, rocks and swingbridges

When to run:  when it’s not raining (it’s often said to always be raining on The Coast!)

A long forgotten gold miners’ road has been brought back to life on the South Island’s west coast – or simply ‘The Coast’ as the locals coined it.

The entire Old Ghost Road trail is fairly long and you’d need to break it up into a few days. But the rewards include passing through native forest, traversing open tussock tops, crossing river flats and exploring long forgotten valleys.

The trail surface is generally firm underfoot, having recently been reformed with a mixture of compacted, crushed rock and other natural materials. Be aware that it’s also a popular route with mountain bikers.

You can either start from the north or south while Westport is your ideal base on the coast. Four ghost towns populate the route so it really a step (or trail run) back in time.

Lake Rotoiti Circuit – Nelson Lakes National Park

Distance23km (14 miles) with the river crossing or 31 kms (19 miles) via the swingbridge

Trail conditionscompacted dirt and gravel

When to runmid-morning

Man and woman running by lakeMan and woman running by lake

Lake Rotoiti was formed from a bunch of glaciers that occupied this area some 15,000 years ago. It’s an iconic lake in Nelson Lakes Nelson Park, right in the middle of the mountainous South Island.

The series of trails that create the Lake Rotoiti Circuit twist through dense beech forest, green moss and ferns. You might also bypass native tui and kaka birds.

The trail itself is well trodden with only a key decision to be made as you reach the head of the lake and the Travers River – is it low enough to cross? If not, a swingbridge lies roughly four kilometres upstream.

The Circuit is a relatively easy trail run to complete on your own as you can loop the lake back to your vehicle.

Te Ara Pataka (Summit Walkway) – Banks Peninsula

Distance26km (16.2 miles) from Hilltop to Diamond Harbour

Trail conditionscompacted dirt and gravel

When to runwhen there’s little or no wind

Restrictions: closed for lambing August to October

Right on Christchurch’s doorstep is an outdoor playground quite unlike any other in the country. Banks Peninsula is home to the Summit Walkway which leads to the Hilltop on the Akaroa Crater.

The beauty of this track – that’s a joy to trail run – is you can start and finish in a number of places. We’d suggest getting transport to the Hilltop end of the trail and running back to Diamond Harbour – where you can take a ferry across the harbour to Lyttelton and indulge in a few refreshments.

Three people hiking in Banks PeninsulaThree people hiking in Banks Peninsula

You’ll encounter a giant 2,000 year old totara tree, the highest peak on the peninsula and views of Lyttelton and Akaroa harbours as you sweat it out.

Some of the trail’s other main access points are:

  • The Bridle Path – below the Christchurch Gondola with easy access to Lyttelton
  • Sign of the Kiwi – at the top of Dyers Pass Road over the Port Hills
  • Kaituna Valley – only a short distance to the Packhorse Hut and some steep elevations
  • Port Levy Saddle – isolated but a great starting point if you want a shorter run to the top of Mount Herbert and back

Ben Lomond Track – Queenstown

Distance13.9km (8.6 miles)

Trail conditions: compacted dirt and gravel

When to runspring, summer and autumn with good weather

View from Ben Lomond, New ZealandView from Ben Lomond, New Zealand

This popular walking track which rises beyond the gondola from the heart of Queenstown is a winner with locals. It’s a demanding rise in elevation – more than 1,400 metres (4,593 feet) – so expect a tough uphill training run, the views (as you can plainly see above) make for some of the most epic running in New Zealand. 

There are a few starting points:

  • The Tiki Trail – near the bottom of the gondola
  • One Mile Creek Track – beginning near the Fernhill roundabout
  • Skyline Access Road – at the top of the gondola if you prefer a shorter run

From Ben Lomond Saddle the trail gets steeper and rockier while rising to the summit. Depending on your trail running experience, you may decide to turn back at the saddle.

Your reward will be a tussock covered peak with spectacular panoramic views over Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountain ranges. The Ben Lomond Track summit is at 1,748 metres (5,735 feet) so it’s not a place to linger for too long.

Rakiura Track – Stewart Island

Distance32km (20 miles)

Trail conditionscompacted dirt, gravel, sand and swingbridges

When to runearly morning for a better chance to see kiwi

Ferns on the Rakiura Track, New ZealandFerns on the Rakiura Track, New Zealand
Expect a different kind of trail run on Rakiura - Stewart Island

For a true trail running adventure, take the short flight or ferry to Stewart Island.

Although not technically part of the South Island, the environment is similar yet extremely isolated. As such, the Rakiura Track gives you the opportunity to spot rare native birdlife when you’re on the trail.

Classed as a Great Walk, you can expect an undulating track through plenty of bush with beach sections, some uneven surfaces and possibly a little mud.

You’ll likely only meet hikers on the trail, who’ll probably think you’re mad for running it in less than a day. But if you spot indigenous weka or kiwi during your journey, it’ll be all the more worth it.

Looking to take on trail running more regularly? Salomon and Kathmandu have partnered up to offer free trail running groups, which include on-the-trail running coaching, in Melbourne, Adelaide and Christchurch. Meet other runners and challenge yourself on your next run. Learn more here!



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