Our five favorite hikes in New Zealand

Last Updated on by Charlotte van de Sande

New Zealand, the land of nature, camping and of course hiking. In this blog, I will tell you what our five favourite hikes in New Zealand are and I give useful tips for every hike!

1. Tongariro Crossing – North Island

The Tongariro Crossing is absolutely my favourite hike from all the hikes in New Zealand. It is part of the Great Walks, a number of popular hikes that are maintained by the DOC (Department of Conservation). You will walk during the Tongariro Crossing, through a varied landscape. The first part is reminiscent of a lunar landscape. Just rocks and black sand. The Tongariro Crossing runs along a number of semi-active volcanoes. The sand and rocks you hike on are solidified lava. After climbing the volcano, a steep climb through mullet and loose sand, you will see beautiful lakes. These volcanic lakes have different colours, blue in the middle and yellow-white on the sides. These are the Emerald Lakes. Around the lakes it smells like rotten eggs: volcanic gas bubbling up.

After you have passed the lakes, the landscape changes. First, you will walk for a while through a kind of dune-like environment, after which the landscape changes into a rainforest. This change makes me find this hike really cool. It is not an easy hike, the loose sand in the beginning and the steepness makes it quite heavy. In addition, weather conditions can quickly change. When we did this hike, it was very cold in the beginning and when we arrived at the top of the volcano it was foggy. At the other side of it, the weather was beautiful and hot again.

Some useful tips when you want to start the Tongariro Crossing:

  • You can’t do this hike every day. When there is too much wind or it’s too foggy, then it is not allowed to go upstairs. So keep this in mind in your timetable.
  • This hike is very popular. If you don’t want to walk it with many people at the same time, leave early (5 AM). We started at 07.00 AM and then it was already busy.
  • Start at the actual starting point, Mangatepopo and not at the end point, Ketetahi. Really don’t do that, because starting from the end, this hike is much harder. Keep in mind that you can park your car for longer than four hours at Ketehahi, not at Mangatepopo.
  • Find out how to get to the starting point. It is not allowed to park your car for longer than four hours at the starting point during high season. And parking your car at the starting point isn’t practical either. The hike is not a circle and so the starting point is different from the endpoint. Some options:
    • Walk only a part of the hike and then turn around again. In my opinion, this really is a shame, because in two hours you won’t see the most beautiful things.
    • Park your car at the end point, which is allowed. Then book a shuttle to the starting point.
    • Book a return shuttle to and from your campsite. We did this and booked with James Tihi from Active Outdoors Adventures, I can highly recommend them.

For more information about the Tongariro Crossing visit the official website. When you download the brochure here, you will immediately have all the information about the route.

2. Mueller Hut Track – South Island

The Mueller Hut Track is definitely the hardest hike we did in New Zealand. You walk through the Mount Cook National Park and have a view of the glaciers and the beautiful Mount Cook. Many people expect that you climb Mount Cook itself, but that is not the case. The hike starts with the hiking 2000 stairs. During the climb, you will have a great view over the Hooker Valley. Ather the stairs, the hike becomes a lot harder, since there isn’t a real path anymore. Via orange markers, you climb up an alpine route. Sometimes you slip back a bit after a step. I found this part quite exciting, especially on the way back.

After an hour of clambering, you come to a much flatter piece. You are now on the ridge and from here you will look out over the Mueller glacier. You will sometimes hear a hollow sound: a piece of ice that breaks down and causes a small avalanche. From here it is only half an hour to hike to the Mueller Hut. Bright red against the white, grey background you can see it from afar.

Some useful tips when you want to start the Mueller Hut Track:

  • Do you do this hike in the summer? Then it can become extremely hot. We left at 05.15 in the morning so we would be well on our way before the sunrise. There is not much shelter during this hike. The people we met around 10.00, when we were already on the way back, had a hard time. At that moment it was almost 30 degrees and very hot!
  • You will leave from the White Horse Hill campsite. We also slept here. From here also a number of other beautiful hikes depart, such as the Hooker Valley Track.
  • It is possible to stay overnight at the Mueller Hut. From mid-November to the 30th April it is mandatory to book in advance. This can be done via the DOC site.

For more information about the Mueller Hut Track, check out this website from the DOC. When you download the brochure here, you will immediately have all the information about the route.

3. Routeburn Track – South Island

The Routeburn Track is one of the most famous Great Walks in New Zealand. This 32-kilometre hike runs from The Divide, near Milford Sounds, to the Routeburn Shelter, about half an hour’s drive from Glenorchy. You will walk here along the Southern Alps of the Fiordland National Park and the Mount Aspiring National Park. A beautiful route through valleys, along clear blue lakes and overlooking the white peaks of the Alps.

We walked a day-hike from the Routeburn Shelter. First through a forest and then along a river, we arrive at the first hut: the Routeburn Flats. After a short break, we walk on to the next hut, the Routeburn Falls, where the road gets a bit steeper. Eventually, we walk a bit further, towards Tarahaka. The view from here is really beautiful. We look out over the valley and in the distance we even see glaciers. After this, we decide to turn around and walk back. In total, we walked about 23 kilometres which took us five hours. Until the Routeburn Falls, the hike is very relaxed and not too heavy.

Some useful tips when you want to start the Routeburn Track:

  • The Routeburn track does not run in a circle and to get by car from the start to the end, it’s roughly 325 kilometres. A good detour. There are several solutions such as driving your car to the end point while you are walking. However, that’s very expensive. You can also choose to go back to the beginning with public transportation from the endpoint. More information about transport can be found on this website.
  • Do you still want to walk a circle and finish where you started? Consider combining the Routeburn with the Greenstone or Caples track. In this way, you will walk back to your starting point in three days.
  • Are you going to walk the entire Routeburn track? Then book your cabins in advance. This hike is popular and the cabins are often full well in advance. It seems to be more than doable to do this hike in two days. That saves another (expensive) overnight stay.
  • This hike is easily doable in summer. In winter (from May to October), however, it’s strongly discouraged to hike it. Last year (2018) and in 2016 people even died hiking in winter.

For more information about the Routeburn Track, check out this website of the DOC. When you download the brochure here, you will immediately have all the information about the route.

4. Isthmus Peak Track – South Island

The Isthmus Peak Track is a relatively unknown hike in the Lake Wanaka area. I found this hike beautiful but also very heavy. It was about 35 degrees when we walked up here and because there is almost no shelter, we were constantly walking in the blazing sun. Add to that that the elevation of more than 1200 meters, oh yeah and that fact we didn’t bring enough water… After walking 8 kilometres and losing a few litres of sweat, we arrived exhausted on top of the Isthmus Peak. But then, our hard work was rewarded with a beautiful view: from here you can see both Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, surrounded by the Southern Alps. We enjoyed this unique view over an hour, while we were eating our lunch in the sun. The way back was a lot easier!

This relatively short hike (we walked up in two hours and then down in two hours) is absolutely worth it when you’re in the Wanaka area. Really nice are the encounters that you will have with a number of other ‘walkers’: large cows and sheep are grazing here.

Some useful tips when you want to start the Isthmus Peak Track:

  • Are you doing this hike in summer? Take into account the burning sun and the lack of shelter. Take enough water and lots of sunscreens, a cap or sunglasses!
  • We left from the Stewart Creek parking lot at Bottom Bay. Together with just one tiny other parking lot, this is the only possibility to park your car. Since we were afraid we wouldn’t have a place, we started our hike early in the morning. I can absolutely recommend this, when we came back at the beginning of the afternoon, the entire parking lot was full.
  • Please note that this hike is partly on private property. So be respectful and do not leave garbage.

For more information about the Isthmus Peak Track, check out this website from the DOC. When you download the brochure here, you will immediately have all the information about the route.

5. Kepler Track – South Island

The Kepler Track is a popular hike in the south of the South Island, this is also one of the Great Walks of the DOC. This multi-day hike passes Lake Manapouri and Lake Te Anau and is roughly 60 kilometres long. The Kepler track is a circular hike that you walk in about three days. We decided, however, to walk twice a part of the hike: on day one we walked from the Rainbow Reach Car park to the Moturau Hut. This is a relatively flat stretch where we walked through beautiful forests, along deep gorges and over large heathlands. The Moturau Hut is located on Lake Manapouri, where we dipped in to cool off. Then we went back. It took us roughly 4 hours to hike the 6km back and forth.

On the second day, we took the boat from the village of Te Anau that took us across Lake Te Anau to Brod Bay. From Brod Bay, the path starts to rise considerably. Zigzagging we walked for more than an hour through a forest, after which we arrived at the tree line. After this, we walked a flatter part over a vast heathland, from where you have a nice view of Lake Te Anau. After a short two hours of hiking, we arrived at Luxmore Hut. This is the place where many people spend their first or last night when they do a multi-day hike. We ate something here and decide to walk a bit further to Mount Luxmore. The latter part is pretty tough. On top of Mount Luxmore, you seem to have a great view of both the lakes, but unfortunately, it was very foggy when we were at the top. We went back the same way and took the boat three hours later back to shore. Back and forth is about 27 kilometres.

Some useful tips when you want to start the Kepler Track:

  • Are you going to hike the entire Kepler Track as a circle? Then book your cabins on time. This hike is popular and the cabins are often full months in advance. You can do this hike fine in three days, instead of the indicated four.
  • Don’t want to walk the part from the Kepler Track Car Park? Every day at 8.30 and 9.30 AM a water taxi departs for Brod Bay. The water taxi from Brod Bay returns at 4.30 PM. The price is 25NZ $ for a return ticket. We booked this at the i-site visitor centre in Te Anau, but you can also book it online via this website.
  • We didn’t stay in the more touristy (and expensive) Te Anau but had a nice campsite in the tiny village of Manapouri.

For more information about the Kepler Track, check out this website from the DOC. When you download the brochure here, you will immediately have all the information about the route.

Other hikes

Besides these beautiful hikes, there are many more great hikes in New Zealand. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to do them all, but we did hike a part of the Abel Tasman Hike, the Hinewai track on Banks Penninsula and parts of the Golden Bay and Wharariki. Next time we would love to walk a part of the Queen Charlotte track (if only because of the name) and walk the Rakiura Track on Steward Island.

What are your favourite hikes in New Zealand?

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