Ten Scenic Hikes of New ZealandNew Zealand may be justifiably famous for its Great Walks and other multi-day hiking trails, but don’t break out the cooking stove and sleeping bag just yet. Much of the same wilderness can be explored on day hikes, which means less gear, less effort, and quite possibly more fun.
Blaze a trail past the snow-sprinkled mountains and yawning valleys of Fiordland National Park on New Zealand’s Routeburn Track. Image by Grahame McConnell / Photolibrary / Getty Images
1. Twilight–Te Werahi Loop
This five-hour loop provides a front-row view of the Far North’s natural drama, starring powerful seas, shifting sands, shapely headlands and ever-changing light. The track (doc.govt.nz) is mostly flat and easy-going, as it meanders between vast beaches and coastal forest. Combine the hike with a pilgrimage to windswept Cape Reinga (Te Rerenga Wairua), where the swirling waters of the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet, and Maori spirits are said to depart for the afterlife.
Want to picnic overlooking this view? Lace up your hiking boots for cliffside trails at Cape Reinga in New Zealand. Image by Dan / CC BY 2.0
2. Rangitoto Island Loop
Auckland’s youngest but largest volcanic cone was created just 600 years ago in a series of fiery eruptions. It is an elegant island and beloved city icon, reachable via a short ferry ride from downtown Auckland. Hike up the modest summit (250m) for great views of the city, before wandering along the coast where hardy plants pursue their quest to populate the lava fields. Surprisingly, Rangitoto is home to the country’s largest pohutukawa forest.
3. Coromandel Walkway
The remote and rugged tip of the Coromandel Peninsula is well worth the time and effort required to reach it, particularly if you soak up its superlative scenery on the coastal Coromandel Walkway (doc.govt.nz). Linking Stony Bay and Fletcher Bay, the 10km track takes three or four hours, with memorable views over the aptly named Sugar Loaf, Pinnacles and Great Barrier Island. A whole day is required to complete the return hike, or you can arrange shuttle transport with Coromandel Discovery (coromandeldiscovery.com).
The Emerald Lakes, seen here from the Red Crater, are among the most dazzling sights along New Zealand’s Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Image by mhx / CC BY-SA 2.0
4. Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Set amongst volcanic scenery made famous by the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, this crossing (doc.govt.nz) in Tongariro National Park is often lauded as New Zealand’s finest one-day walk and one of the best in the world. It’s no wonder, with its peculiar moonscape graced with steaming vents and springs, vivid lakes and vast ridges. The highly weather-dependent 20km walk takes between six and eight hours, although sure-footed types can add on a side-trip up the near-perfect cone of Mt Ngauruhoe (aka Mt Doom).
5. Medlands Beach to Anchorage
This 11km section of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track serves up several stretches of beach paradise, swathed in golden sand and awash with sparkling sea. The easy trail linking them wends through Abel Tasman National Park’s lush, ferny coastal forest with lots of lovely lookout points. Getting there involves a super-scenic boat cruise, and you can also combine your walk with a kayak trip. Another appealing option is to linger at idyllic Anchorage and make the side-trip to magical Cleopatra’s Pool.
6. Mt Robert Circuit
If bagging a summit is on your wish-list, this trail in Nelson Lakes National Park is a great place to start. It zigzags up the aptly named Pinchgut Track on to Mt Robert, with beautiful Lake Rotoiti in view for much of the way. If time allows and the weather is kind, the side-trip along Robert Ridge towards Lake Angelus is irresistible, and rewards with expansive mountain vistas into the heart of the park. Amble back down via the gentler Paddy’s Track to complete the four- to five-hour circuit (doc.govt.nz).
Good head for heights? Test your nerves on the winding Pinchgut Track in New Zealand’s Nelson Lakes National Park. Image by Kylie & Rob (and Helen) / CC BY 2.0
7. Sealy Tarns
Home to more than three-quarters of New Zealand’s highest mountains, Aoraki (Mt Cook) National Park’s vertiginous terrain is generally more suited to climbers than hikers. However, a number of trails offer the chance to survey this majestic landscape, all starting from the excellent National Park Visitor Centre. Our pick is Sealy Tarns Track, and although it involves a grunty, two-hour climb, the ever-present views of the Hooker Valley and surrounding peaks should provide ample distractions.
8. Avalanche Peak
This challenging circuit track clambers to the summit of Avalanche Peak (1833m), which looms dramatically over Arthur’s Pass village (doc.govt.nz). Views of the surrounding mountains, valleys and hanging glaciers in Arthur’s Pass National Park may well bring a tear to your eye, although that might just be the near-1100m ascent to the crumbly summit. This summer-only trip takes between six and eight hours, and it isn’t for the faint-hearted. The steeper Avalanche Peak Track is the quickest way up, while the descent via Scotts Track is easier on the knees.
Avalanche Peak is as hair-raising as it sounds. Only experienced hikers should pace to this 1833m summit in New Zealand’s Arthur’s Pass National Park. Image by Rick Cox / CC BY-SA 2.0
9. Charming Creek Walkway
One of the best day-walks on the West Coast, the Charming Creek Walkway (doc.govt.nz) is an all-weather trail following an old coal railway line through the Ngakawau River gorge. Along its length (about six hours return) are rusty relics, tunnels, a suspension bridge, fascinating geological formations, and the mighty Mangatini Falls. The walkway is also an excellent mountain bike ride. Ask locals about transport to avoid retracing your steps.
10. Key Summit
This three-hour return hike (doc.govt.nz) offers a taste of the Routeburn Track, arguably the most scenic of New Zealand’s Great Walks (greatwalks.co.nz). Starting from the Milford Sound Road, it climbs steadily beyond the bushline, into an alpine wonderland of tarns, sphagnum bogs, stunted beech trees and spiky dracophyllum plants. The summit walkway affords panoramic views of Fiordland National Park’s mountains, valleys and waterfalls, and completes the picture with interpretive displays explaining how this spectacular landscape was formed.
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