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We’re very fortunate here in New Zealand with the sheer array of outdoors we have, right on our doorstep! Wherever you are in the country, there is always an epic trail, waterfall or even mountain-top nearby, all easily accessible for anyone and everyone! With thousands of trails varying in difficulty, it's essential to know what you are getting yourself in for!
New Zealand has a fantastic range of
day hikes, whether it be crossing geothermal landscapes, climbing mountain summits or through ancient beech forest, we really have it all! We're so spoilt for choice that it actually makes it very difficult to suggest what really are the best ones to do. Still, having done a fair share of them, I have come up with a top 5 that I really think you should set foot on during your upcoming New Zealand adventure vacation! There are also a few close 'runner ups' near the end.
Length: 19.4km one-way
A chance to experience a Dual World Heritage site and New Zealand’s very first National Park, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing takes you across dramatic volcanic terrain on a 19.4km journey.
This hike is considered one of the essential Kiwi experiences to do during your time in New Zealand. The unique landscape along the trail includes Mount Ngauruhoe (AKA Mount Doom), the Emerald Lakes, native forest, ancient lava flows, waterfalls and so much more! Rest assured, while being a popular hike, it does not take away the surprises or challenge of this geothermal adventure. You can go self-guided, however, if you have little or no hiking experience, then I'd highly recommend a guided walk with one of the friendly local companies!
Time: 5-6 hr return
Length: 16 km return via the same track
The only way to truly appreciate the great lakes of the Otago region are to see them from up above, something that can be achieved by climbing one of the various peaks in the area. Isthmus peak is a less-popular climb than the world-known Roys peak, but one I find even more rewarding. Granting you views of the magnificent Lake Hawea, the weaving climb will eventually take you up onto the skyline ridge and ultimately the summit. From the top, you have fantastic views of Lake Wanaka on one side and Lake Hawea on the other. Having the view of both lakes is why I personally prefer this hike over Roys peak. Also with far fewer people, you'll often find you'll walk this trail without anyone else in sight!
Time: 2-4 hours depending on whether you carry onto Mueller Hut
Length: - 5.8km return via the same track to Sealy Tarns
Otherwise known as 'The stairway to heaven' this walk can easily be underestimated due to its short distance in length. Consisting of 2,200 stairs, the ascent is relentless, but the rewards abundant, for those who take on this adventure. Although there are plenty of rocky outcrops along the way to take a rest at and enjoy a view, the best view is definitely to be seen at the top. The Sealy tarns are small alpine lakes that provide incredible reflections of the surrounding peaks, including New Zealand's highest mountain, Aoraki/ Mount Cook. Below, you will see a lake which was originally carved out by the receding Mueller Glacier. Up further, you will spot the Hooker valley and its vast Glacier Lake. Sometimes, depending on the time of year, you will be able to spot icebergs that have broken off each of the glaciers and are now floating in the glacier lakes. There is an option to carry on up the mountain-side to one of Aoraki/ Mount Cooks alpine huts; however, mountain experience is required. Depending on the time of year, the track even up to Sealy tarns can be frozen over, so crampons are required in the colder months. If you ever need advice, be sure to get in touch with our experienced local guides and we can point you in the right direction!
Time: 6-8 hour return via the same track
Length: 11km return
I’ve witnessed many a great view of the beautiful alpine town of Queenstown, but not many top the scene that can be witnessed from the summit of Ben Lomond. A tough climb which can be started from the top of the Queenstown Gondola, a consistent gentle ascent on a well-formed track. A picturesque view presents itself from the perfectly-placed bench at 1300m, a recommended break spot before taking on the summit. From here, the ascent isn’t as gentle, as the trail weaves its way through the peak’s rocky formations. Peeling around the rear of the peak, the trail then takes you to the summit and a view, that on a clear day, really is quite magnificent. The grand Lake Wakatipu is one of the dominant features but cast your eye to the Remarkables mountain range, and then onto the hustle and bustle of Queenstown. If you haven’t yet experienced New Zealand’s alpine parrot, the Kea, this is usually a place they like to hang out. Be wary though, they have a sweet tooth for hikers packs and lunches!
Time: 20 minutes one-way
Length: 1 km
Golden Bay is ladled with scenic sandy beaches and serene settings, but if you’re willing to drive a while, I’ll tell you about Wharariki beach; a real gem. Arriving into the small settlement of Puponga, the road turns from tarmac to gravel, which you will follow for several km’s, going past the turn-off for Cape Farewell. You will see a car park near the Archway Café, where you will go through the gate and begin a 20-minute journey through grassy knolls and bush before reaching the rolling sand dunes of Wharariki. You'll soon get your first look at this fantastic scene and wonder why you haven't decided to come here sooner. The archway islands dominate the view, but once you take your bare feet closer to the shoreline, the beach has many more surprises. Time the tide as close as you can to low tide and you’ll be in for a show, watching seal pups play in one of the various rock pools. Walk further down the beach, and you can immerse yourself in one of the many sea-carved archways and caves. Be careful though, this is where the seals take themselves to rest!
You can literally spend hours here exploring, but if that isn’t enough, take the turn off for Cape Farewell on the way back and watch the gigantic waves of the wild west coast crashing against the cliffs.
While it's incredibly tough to choose these top five walks, let’s face it, everyone has their opinion, so it wouldn’t be in our kiwi nature if we didn't include some close contenders.
· Mount Taranaki – Climb to the summit of an active volcano, this challenging summit track is a climb only for the experienced. On a clear day, you may even see the South Island
· Pouakai Crossing – A one-way alpine crossing, taking in views of one of New Zealand’s distinct, cone-shaped stratovolcanoes; Mount Taranaki.
· Mount Robert – A chance to experience some of Nelson Lakes NP fascinating alpine environments with breath-taking views of jagged ridge-lines and alpine lakes.
· Hooker Valley – A popular walk in the heart of Aoraki/ Mount Cook, crossing glacial river flows and passing by breath-taking views of towering peaks until reaching the picture-perfect Hooker Valley and its vast glacial lake.
· Cape Brett – A tough hike on the East Northland coast taking you to the Cape Brett lighthouse and its incredible coastal views.
· The Pinnacles – An exposed rocky outcrop giving you unparalleled views of the Coromandel Peninsula.
· Mangawhai Coastal Walk – A well-formed, cliff-top walkway offers unmatchable views of some of Northland’s most prominent features, including Bream Head, the Mokohinaus and Great and Little Barrier Islands.
· Key Summit – Take a gradual climb up to Key Summit, where you can witness the surrounding Fiordland magic.
If you ever need any more info or would like to join us for one of these fantastic hikes, be sure to get in touch!