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June 23, 2021

New Zealand Hiking Guide: All You Need to Know

As the best way to experience Aotearoa's gorgeous landscapes, a hike should definitely make it onto your itinerary.
I think every person dreams of finding an enchanted place with beautiful mountains and breathtaking coastlines, clear lakes, and amazing wildlife, but most people give up on it because they've never been to New Zealand.
– FORMER US PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON, QUEENSTOWN, 1999.

New Zealand is home to many incredible natural wonders: from high snowy mountains and active volcanoes to beautiful native forests and clear blue lakes, Aotearoa’s natural landscapes are incomparable. One of the best ways to explore these wonders is by hiking – also known as ‘tramping’, as Kiwis call it.

New Zealand has a remarkably diverse array of hikes that run the gamut from short walks and day hikes to multi-day hikes and Great Walks, which all correspond with varying levels of fitness and experience. So, no matter what level you’re at, there’s a walk for you!

To make things easier, we’ve curated a list of five amazing hiking tracks that will lead you to experience the picturesque beauty of New Zealand like never before.

1. Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Tongariro National Park, North Island

Distance: 19.4 Kilometres

Duration: 5–8 hours

Difficulty: Hard

Often called New Zealand’s ‘best one-day hike’, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing offers an exciting journey across the volcanic terrain of the multi-cratered active volcano Mount Tongariro. This hike takes its walkers through the Tongariro National Park, a UNESCO Dual World Heritage Park, offering spectacular scenery with glacial valleys, ancient lava flows, and vivid crater lakes.

The track takes 5-8 hours walking time, depending on your pace, weather conditions, and how often you stop for breaks and sightseeing. Although you can walk the track in either direction, the most popular option begins at Mangatepopo valley. There are several side trips that you can do in this hike as well, if you want to see more of the region!

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is hiked all year round. Although it is hard to say what the best time is to do the hike, the most popular time among the Kiwis is the summer season (November through April). In the winter period (July through September), the track is usually covered with snow, presenting a different and much harder experience, so it’s advised to travel with an experienced mountain guide. The Department of Conservation New Zealand recommends that visitors access the track visa a shuttle from Whakapapa, National Park Village, Turangi, Taupo, or Ohakune.

2. Milford Track, Fiordland National Park, South Island

Distance: 53 kilometres

Duration: 4 days

Difficulty: Easy – Intermediate

Milford Track is arguably the most famous of the Great Walks, with nearly 14,000 people completing the track each year. Once described as ‘the finest walk in the world’ by the poet Blanche Baughan, this 53-kilometre track usually takes four days to complete.

The track begins with a boat ride to the head of Lake Te Anau and ends with a boat pick up at the Sandfly Point in Milford Sound. This journey will let you experience some great wonders of New Zealand, such as valleys carved by glaciers, sky-high mountains, and graceful waterfalls. One of the greatest highlights of this hike is the chance to see Sutherland Falls, the tallest waterfall in New Zealand, which is otherwise not easily accessible.

Along the Milford Track, there are three public lodges run by the Department of Conservation and three private lodges run by Ultimate Hikes where walkers can rest during this multi-day hike. The official Great Walks Season for the Milford Track is October until May, and it is advised that only experienced alpine hikers should attempt the track outside these months.

3. Pouakai Circuit, North Island 

Distance: 25 Kilometres

Duration: 2–3 days

Difficulty: Hard

The recently completed Pouakai Circuit offers spectacular views of the Egmont National Park. This adventurous hike lets you experience the picturesque beauty of Mt Taranaki and the surrounding countryside, with the 25-kilometre track taking you across the park’s rainforest and alpine tussock fields in view of various volcanic features.

This track can be walked in either direction and is accessible from several locations, including the North Egmont Visitor Centre, Kaiauai Carpark, Mangorei Road, and Dover Track. The Department of Conservation operates two huts (Holly Hut and Pouakai Hut) along the track for hikers to have a rest before continuing their journey to the other end.

4. Abel Tasman Coast Track, South Island

Distance: 51 Kilometres

Duration: 5 days

Difficulty: Easy – Intermediate

One of the Great Walks of New Zealand, the Abel Tasman Coast Track offers hikers a great adventure with golden sandy beaches, granite cliffs, and coastal native bushes. The track is located in Abel Tasman National Park on the South Island’s northern shores, showcasing the best that the park has to offer.

The track can be walked in either direction and is accessible by road from Mārahau, Wainui, and Tōtaranui. The track can be walked all year round, but many recommend the summer season, from October till the end of April, as the best time as it offers fine weather. Hikers can choose from Department of Conservation huts, campsites, and private lodge accommodations to spend their nights in this multi-day hike, and visitors can also incorporate sea kayaking into their trip.

5. Tautapere Hump Ridge Track, South Island

Distance: 61 Kilometres (loop)

Duration: 3 days

Difficulty: Intermediate

Located in the Fiordland National Park on the South Island, Tautapere Hump Ridge Track is described as an amazing blend of nature and heritage. The track is based in the ancient Waitutu Forest (part of Fiordland National Park) and also runs across Maori land. This 3-day walk offers panoramic views of Fiordland and the sea to the South, including Stewart Island/Rakiura. The Hump Ridge Track is on its way to becoming the eleventh New Zealand Great Walk in 2022.

The track begins and ends at the Rarakua Carpark and is usually walked in an anti-clockwise direction. There are two private backcountry lodges that offer hikers nice hot showers and warm meals, enabling a good rest before they continue the rest of the hike. The Tautapere Hump Ridge Track is open to self-guided walkers throughout the year, but most people recommend walking this track during warmer months.

 

Of course, these aren’t the only hikes in New Zealand – such a beautiful country lends itself to incredible nature walks, and if none of these take your fancy (somehow!), there are plenty more to explore. Just check out Tourism New Zealand’s website for more!

If you liked this article, you might enjoy our feature on why you should visit the Victorian town of Beechworth.

 


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