Hiking is the best way to experience New Zealand !
Europe may have amazing architecture and cultures – centuries old… But New Zealand has user-friendly wilderness. Free to use just for you to discover
To appreciate “Real New Zealand” you need to get out of the main centers and escape the tedious tourist traps.
How to do this ?
Put on sensible shoes and spend a bit of quality time in our National Parks – even if you aren’t a seasoned hiker you still owe it to yourself to at least try a couple of easy day walks to get the feel for New Zealand.
We have hundreds of well maintained tracks throughout the 2 main Islands, as well as a few very nice tracks on the smaller less visited Islands like rugged Stewart Island 39 km below the South Island and Great Barrier Island in the North – 90 km north-east of Auckland – In my opinion both are worth the time and effort needed to visit each island.
As well as being a reasonably benign country to hike in New Zealand also offers incredible diversity in walking tracks – Low Land Bush, Open Tussock, Mountain Ranges, Alpine Passes, Ancient Glaciers, – it’s all here.
The popular tracks are easy to follow and developed (some would say overdeveloped) to the point they resemble a city footpath – walking in New Zealand does not need to be a high-risk activity, even for novice hikers and first time visitors – there is no need to hire a guide or join a tramping tour, just wing it you will be fine.
Plan Your Hiking Trip
It is possible to plan your wilderness experience online the comfort of your own home, simply visit the Dept of Conservation website to learn more about each track and the available huts, once in New Zealand, just before you leave for your hiking trip you should check the long range weather forecast as well, for safety reasons you should inform a reliable person of where you are going and when you expect to return.
If you are going somewhere remote or hiking alone you should hire an emergency locator beacon !
Benefits & Cautions
Tramping or “Going Bush” is a great way for visitors to experience authentic New Zealand life – drink billy tea and eat spuds cooked in the fire embers, all rights of passage for many Kiwi kids – try it you can’t beat black tea brewed on an open fire.
If you are conditioned to 5-star, accommodation you may find the DOC huts, a little basic ? but they are cheaper than hotels, clean and dry with some form of heating provided in winter months – carry insect repellent for mosquitoes at night and sand-flies during the day.
Tip: The bunk beds in most New Zealand huts are stacked above each other making it easy to attach a mosquito net… so when hiking it is a good idea to carry a small mosquito net especially in summer – or expect to get no sleep at all !
New Zealand hiking requires very little camping experience just common sense is all you need to survive a few days in our bush.
Please Note : The greatest threat to your safety when hiking in New Zealand is drowning, attempting river crossings when the flow is to fast or from Hypothermia if caught away from adequate shelter !
Take both of these threats seriously as they can be deadly.
But on the positive side, the more popular tracks in New Zealand will have solid bridges over rivers or streams that are considered a risk, so crossing rivers in most cases shouldn’t be a problem but…
A stream that normally flows around ankle height that may not need a bridge in normal conditions can quickly become a raging torrent after a few hours of heavy rain.
- check the long range forecast before leaving – cancel the trip if heavy rain is forecast !
- do not attempt to cross even small side streams when they are in flood – once the stream is flowing up around waist height and you can’t see the stream bed – you should view it as too risky to cross, plus bear in mind even if you get across stream no.1 the next stream you come to maybe even more difficult.
- If you are already in the bush when the storm hits it is best to wait it out in the Hut rather than try to walk out you will find most experienced Kiwi Trampers carry extra food just in case they get caught out by a sudden deluge and have to wait for river levels to drop – play safe !
As a precaution you should obtain up to date track information from DOC before you start your walk and tell someone your planned route and return date, also fill in the hut books as you pass through even if you don’t stay overnight in the hut as this gives searchers a good idea where to start looking – if you do get lost or injured.
Video – “Great Walks” DOC
The Dept Of Conservation Website has all the information you need to find the best tracks that match your fitness and experience, a little time spent on initial planning will ensure an enjoyable safe trip into New Zealand’s wilderness…
North Island Hiking
When you travel the North Island, there are several interesting New Zealand walks along the way, these are located in more remote areas between Auckland and Wellington.
One of the best hiking areas in New Zealand encompasses the volcanoes of Tongariro National Park which featured in the “Lord Of The Rings”. Tongariro is home to several multi-day walks (Northern Circuit is my recommendation… an excellent 43.1 km walk that takes 3-4 days) complete with hut accommodation, or if you don’t have the equipment or fitness for a 3-4 day hike then try New Zealand’s most famous day walk – The Tongariro Crossing… Please Note : this is a 19.5 km (7-9 hours) alpine walk so you will need lunch, water, and the weather can be quite changeable so be sure to carry warm waterproof clothing even in summer – plus you need a reasonable level of fitness… On a sunny day, it is stunning !
There are also the rainforests of the Te Urewera National Park or Whirinaki Forest Park, a visit to these two forests is to step back in time… they are both personal favorites of mine, I would rate them as a must see, equal to Tongariro National park – when hiking in New Zealand, if you have time to combine the mountains of Tongariro with the rainforests of Whirinaki or Te Urewera… then you can be certain you have experienced the best hiking in the North Island.
If you have an interest in nature of any form then I’m sure once you visit them you will agree, they are simply stunning.
Then a quick hop across to West Coast to Mt Taranaki a beautiful mountain setting close to the Tasman Sea and the City of New Plymouth – sit outside the hut and listen to Kiwi call as you take in the city lights of New Plymouth – it is a small but unique National Park… being so close to the rugged West Coast ensures the weather on Mt Taranaki is changeable, to say the least, so care and alpine experience is needed if you decide to climb Mount Taranaki.
There are good hiking tracks and huts available to you if you decide to circumnavigate the base of the Mountain, as well there are one day or overnight walks on offer in Taranaki/Egmont National Park…
On your way over to Taranaki or on the way back you should take the time to visit Whanganui National Park, specifically the Whanganui River a rugged area best seen by jet boat or if you have a few days to spare and feel the need for adventure – join a guided multi-day kayak trip down the Whanganui River,
You can also walk or mountain bike in the Whanganui area if you choose to do your own thing.
My Favorite Tracks
North Island Hiking – The tracks listed below are my personal recommendations, some are multi-day hikes others are day walks, for more information check out the DOC website where you will find the tracks exact location along with invaluable information on what each track offers DOC Website
- Tongariro Crossing
- Lake Waikareiti
- Lake Waikaremoana
- Northern Circuit
- River Track – Whirinaki Forest Park
- Lake Okataina Eastern Walkway
- Tarawera Falls
As well, all these tracks are in area’s that also offer kayaking, white water rafting, climbing, mountain biking, trout fishing. Most of these hiking tracks are quite close to Rotorua an interesting city to base yourself when hiking in New Zealand.
Rotorua Accommodation Guide… Rotorua is an interesting tourist destination situated in the center of the North Island. Rotorua’s location makes it a great base for accessing many of the hiking tracks throughout the central North Island. The bonus for hikers is the natural hot pools in Rotorua – they offer well-deserved relief for sore muscles after a 3-day hike in the wilderness 🙂
Hiking in New Zealand is not just an opportunity to experience the amazing scenic
sights of New Zealand mountains or coastlines, hiking provides the perfect opportunity to glimpse endangered wildlife in their natural habitat.
Blue ducks ( Blue Ducks are often seen in Whirinaki Forest Park) and bush parrots ( Nelson Lakes National Park for bush parrots) Stewart Island for Kiwi normally these endangered birds are rarely sighted so the opportunity to view these wonderful creatures in their natural habitat is another great reason to enjoy the adventure of hiking to remote areas in New Zealand.
While you are making your way through our wilderness areas you will be able to enjoy fly fishing for wild trout if that is your passion, if you carry a 3 piece fly rod you could be fishing streams and rivers seldom seen by other anglers, as the remote area’s with limited access ensures some excellent trout fishing is only accessible by hiking in…
South Island Hiking
- Milford Track this is New Zealand’s most famous walking track, but unfortunately, you need to book it. The Milford is one of the few tracks in New Zealand that requires a fee to walk it… if paying a fee offends you ? then don’t stress, there are many other excellent tracks in the South Island that are free… just the hut accommodation will cost you money – you will find the hut fees listed on the DOC website, if you are in New Zealand for a few months it may be worth buying an Annual Hut Pass from the DOC website… plus carry a tent – when using your own tent you can camp for free in all our National Parks – as long as you camp 500 meters from any track or hut… not many people know this fact, for some odd reason they don’t promote it ? so keep it to yourself :), or DOC may try to change this rule.
- Route Burn Track
- Nelson Lakes National Park
- Heaphy Track
- Stewart Island New Zealand’s newest National Park – and one of the few National Parks that you have a good chance of seeing a Kiwi Bird in the wild, but as they are largely nocturnal, sighting Kiwi is more likely at night – there are specific night time Kiwi spotting tours operating from Stewart Island and surrounding Islands
Hiking in New Zealand is well worth the time and effort, you will not be disappointed with the diversity of scenery, quality of tracks or hut accommodation – so put on your comfy shoes and Go For It…