New Zealand Walks Guide

Tongariro National Park trail and rainbow, New Zealand Walks

New Zealand Walks: Tongariro National Park. Photo by Chris Schoenbohm.

New Zealand walks general information

The Remarkables mountains in the South Island of New Zealand

Lake Wanaka and The Remarkables mountain range near Queenstown, South Island. Photo by Chris Schoenbaum.

The New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) can be found across the country, providing excellent information on all aspects of ‘tramping’, whether it’s a one day hike or a week long great walk.
Guided walks are an option for many of the big tracks – including cooking and accommodation – if you want the company of an expert or prefer a bit of comfort along the way.
Advance booking:
Independent walkers need to book well in advance for Milford or Routeburn tracks from late Oct – late April as numbers are restricted to keep human impact to the minimum. Other walks might need it too, so book online ahead of time.

When to take a hike

Best weather: October – March, but busy December -January

Avoid: May-Sept (cold and wet, esp. South Island, impassable tracks)

n. b. The weather is unpredictable at any time so take rain gear whatever month you go.

New Zealand Walks: Places to stay

Tramping on Aoraki, Mt Cook National Park, South Island, New Zealand Walks

Hiking, aka Tramping, in Aoraki, Mt Cook National Park, South Island. Photo by Corey Parsons.

You can either rough it in tents, or sleep in more than 1, 000 communal huts throughout New Zealand. These are usually about 4 hours walk apart and contain bunks, a water supply and sometimes cooking facilities. Some are free, others cost a small amount. To be sure, these need to be booked as well as the walk.

Most tracks can be walked year round, especially if you don’t mind a chilly drizzle, but some high altitude tracks in the South Island get snowed under in winter (June-Sept).

Fitness

lake harris, routeburn track, New Zealand Walks

Lake Harris, Routeburn Track, New Zealand. Photo Andre Chalmers

On a track of Moderate difficulty you will need to be able to walk for six to nine hours, carrying your own gear over rough ground, climbing and descending for up to 18 km (11 miles) a day – tho’ not usually this much.
Don’t even ask about the ‘Challenging’ tracks, just get fit and practice serious walking!
Unpredictable weather, including snow, is possible throughout the year.

If you don’t have the time or inclination to do a multi-day trek there are thousands of shorter, much easier walks in New Zealand’s various national parks and conservation areas.

Equipment

For great walks in New Zealand’s South Island, no matter how warm it is when you set off, DoC says that regular jeans, T shirts and sweatshirts are unsuitable.  Clothing in quick drying propylene is best.
You will need at least one set of clothes to walk in and another dry set to change into at night. Drying clothes in huts is not possible. Suggested items to carry, which you can usually hire or buy in your base town, are:

Boots: broken in and comfortable
Socks: wool/propylene, 2 pairs
Underpants: cotton/nylon
Shirt: wool/propylene
Undershirt/T shirt: wool/propylene
Trousers/long johns: wool/propylene
Jersey/Jacket: wool/fleece
Mittens/Glove: wool/propylene
Woolen hat/sunhat
Raincoat, windproof with hood
Extra socks, underwear, shirt

Pack clothes in a waterproof bag/bin liner.
Also take a good quality sleeping bag, a lighter, first aid kit, drinking bottle, a torch with spare batteries, all the other usual camping gear and light shoes for use in the huts.

A few of New Zealand’s short and easy walks

Franz Josefand Fox Glaciers, Westland National Park, South Island

Franz Josef Glacier, glacier walk on South Island, New Zealand Walks

The Franz Josef Glacier, an easy river-bed and glacier walk on the South Island. Photo by Edwin 11. The first (river bed) is DIY, but the glacier walk is best guided by professionals. Things can go wrong on big ice! (big, slippery holes, for example)

3. 5 hours (1. 5 hours on the glacier), Easy.
Not at all tough, takes from half an hour to four hours. Full day and overnight heli-hikes are also available on Fox Glacier.
Season: November – March. Alpine guides available but book ahead.
This is what New Zealand is about – huge, fast moving glaciers crunching down into temperate forest within metres of the Tasman Sea.
You can take a half or full day guided walk, and there are also many great tracks around the glaciers. Beware the parrot vandals in glacier car parks!

Hooker Valley Track, Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, South Island

Hooker Valley, Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand Walks

Hooker Valley, Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. Photo by Christian Mehlfuhrer.

Aoraki/Mt Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain and its National Park offers a variety of easy, well designed trails – for walking and cycling – with views of some of the park’s 19 peaks that reach over 3, 000 metres.

Also known as Te Wahipounamu. 3 hours return walk to Glacier Lake, Easy.
Superb panoramic views of Mt Cook, lake and icebergs.
Best Season: September – March but can be brilliant in winter (June – August) too. Check local weather here.
A very well sorted trail with boardwalks and new suspension bridges. It can get windy and very chilly near the lake depending on season.
Check on conditions with excellent DOC (Department of Conservation, not Corrections! ) information centre at Mt Cook Village before setting off.

Other short walking tracks from Aoraki/Mount Cook village

Glencoe Walk, 30 mins return, views over village to Hooker Glacier and Mt Cook. Recommended for sunrise and sunset.

Governors Bush Walk, 1 hour return, views and birdlife. Often combined with 10 minute Bowen Bush Walk.

Red Tarns Track, 2 hours return, mountain views plus red weed ponds.

Kea Point Track, 2 hours return, views of Mount Sefton, The Footstool, Hooker valley, Mueller Glacier lake and Mount Cook.

Coromandel, North Island

The Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway, Coromandel, New Zealand Walks

The Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway on the Coromandel Peninsula, North Island. Photo by Podzemnik.

Many walks of less than half a day with different levels of physicality available.
Season: Best December-January, but OK and quieter Oct – March.
Coromandel gets busy at weekends with Auckland stress-refugees, especially in the summer. It’s not as dramatic or rugged as areas of the South Island, but the area is a treasure trove of coastal and forest walks.
The west coast has some interesting towns, while the east coast is more scenic. A good kick-off is Whitianga in beautiful Mercury Bay.
After a day of bushwacking you can go to Hot Water Beach, south of Hahei, dig a hole in the sand (two hours before or after high tide) and bathe in the resulting hot pool. Spades for hire!

Ninety Mile Beach, Cape Reinga Walkway

Ninety Mile beach, North Island, New Zealand

Ninety Mile beach, North Island.

3 days, long but easy walking. In the far north of New Zealand this year round beach-side track has huge sand dunes, surf-fishing and secluded swimming.

Banks Peninsula Track, 4 days, or faster if you hoof it. It winds along the coast south-east of Christchurch (South Island), through native forest and past farmland.

BTW, there are regular signs pointing out that tides on 90 mile beach come a go very fast, because it’s so flat. Consequently tourists and over-relaxed (i. e. smashed out of their heads) locals frequently get trapped by the tide and quite often lose their vehicles – for ever – to the rising sea.

Art Deco Napier city walk, North Island

Napier Art Deco buildings, North Island, New Zealand Walks

Napier Art Deco buildings. Photo by Phillip Capper

1-2 hours, Easy.
Season: Napier has a beautiful Mediterranean climate October -March, but is windy, wet and miserable in winter.
You might think that a city centre has no place in pages on the best walks in New Zealand, but Napier is an exception. In 1931 Napier was reduced to rubble by a massive earthquake. The reconstruction coincided with the peak of the Art Deco movement, and the result was a city uniquely designed in this one coherent style. And the region is awash with fine wineries – such as Hawke’s Bay – if you fancy lubrication.
The Napier Art Deco Trust offers an excellent 1. 5 hour guided walk in the summer.