The Best Hikes in New Zealand

Hiking (or “tramping”) is a New Zealand national pastime, a way of getting close to nature and appreciating the beauty of an unspoiled pristine environment. You can choose from world famous day-hikes to multi-day “Great Walks” through New Zealand’s national parks, scenic reserves, rivers, mountains and forests. No matter the hike you choose, the views will be breathaking and jaw dropping. Yes, both.

3763A Cape Palliser Road
Driving around the southern roads in the North Island often lulls you into believing that this pocket of New Zealand is mostly rural farmland with more sheep than you could ever imagine. Once leaving the comfort of the Wairarapa wine region, it doesn’t take long for the rolling green hills, budding vineyards and gentle mountains to fade into something a bit more wild. Reminiscent of the volatile South Island, the winding ocean road that leads to the famous Cape Palliser Lighthouse is anything but calm. Frequently washed out from behemoth waves, you’ll witness a few groups of houses on a narrow road that barely pass for towns before heading on towards the lighthouse. Normally there is a large seal colony that inhabits these rough waters that will give you a show if you get too close. But don’t worry, you will smell them long before seeing them. Perched high on the rocks overlooking the turquoise rough waters, the lighthouse monitors the cape offering unparalleled views that remind you that this southernmost point of the North Island truly feels like the end of the world.
Maungapohatu 3079, New Zealand
There’s no doubt that outdoor enthusiasts visiting New Zealand will want to spend most of their time on the South Island. The mountains are bigger, the landscape is more dramatic, and there don’t seem to be any people around to bother you. But don’t count out the North Island! I spent nearly a week at Te Urewera National Park during the winter. I can certainly see the advantages of visiting during the summer—warm weather, swimming, boating—but for someone who just wants to get out and enjoy the outdoors, winter is the time to visit! During the winter you will feel like you have the park to yourself and the others you run into will be similarly interested in having a great outdoor weekend without the tourist nonsense. Miles of hiking trails will take you to waterfalls, viewpoints, lakes, swimming holes, and the unique flora of New Zealand. There are plenty of day hikes and also a loop around Lake Waikaremoana that you can spend days on (spend nights in the cabins built along the way). You’ll need to bring your own supplies, but you’ll have a roof and a bed platform at least. I recommend finding a place that overlooks the entire lake and sitting there on a windy day. You simply can’t explain how amazing it is to watch the wind whip up the water into ghostly swirls and walls of water that seem to just spring out of the lake.
Routeburn Track, New Zealand
Although the Routeburn Track is a three-day trek, one can walk part of it as a 7-kilometer day hike. The Divide trailhead at one end of the track begins with a steady climb through a beech forest and sub-alpine shrubs and continues with a steep zigzag above treeline to Key Summit. A loop from the summit goes through a variety of environments, including small alpine ponds and bogs. Viewpoints from the summit and along the loop offer stunning vistas of the snow-capped Darran Mountains, Lake Marian, and the lengths of the Hollyford, Eglinton and Greenstone Valleys.
Urupukapuka Island, Northland, New Zealand
There are 144 islands in the Bay of Islands on the North Island of New Zealand, and Urupukapuka (the largest of them all) aims to please. Check out the island’s website to help plan your day, which will be a fabulous and full day that includes a boat ride and a serious day-hike to and from either Paihia or Russell. All of the hikes finish with time on the hidden beach pictured here, before you head up your final hill to get back to the docks and catch your ferry back to the mainland.
Roys Peak, Otago 9381, New Zealand
The guidebooks say this is a difficult trek but well worth it. After a huffing and puffing trek to the top of Roy’s Peak, I would most certainly like to concur. 11k in approximately 4-5 hours, a decent level of fitness is most needed for this mission of a hike. Extra bonus if you have the ability to jump over and around sheep poo. Providing unyielding views of Lake Wanaka and the countless mountain peaks surrounding it, this hike takes you up along the mountainside through private land (hence all the sheep) and to the top of Roy’s Peak, a spot with 360 degree views of Wanaka and beyond. Be sure to check weather conditions and bring extra layers of clothing as it can get quite chilly at the top. The car park is just off of Mt. Aspiring road. There’s no restroom here, so be sure to take care of business beforehand.
Milford Track, Fiordland National Park 9679, New Zealand
One of the greatest walks in New Zealand, the Milford track is just over 50 kilometers and leads into the famous Milford Sound. Considered one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand, the Milford Track is categorized as one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks,” prompting many people from near and far to come hike the 5 day circuit. Giant waterfalls crash down from vertical cliffs, and mist usually hangs about the tops of the peaks creating a mysterious, almost legendary feel to the place. Whether you are hiking the track or cruising in a boat around the fiords, or even kayaking the Milford Sound, definitely don’t skip this remote part of New Zealand on a visit.
More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
National Parks