From rugged mountains to lush greenery to sandy beaches to active volcanoes, there’s nothing New Zealand doesn’t offer. It’s no wonder why every year tourists from all over the world swarm into New Zealand – the land of the long white cloud.
Unsurprisingly, the best way to explore nature in New Zealand is by doing the many walks it has, each one so different than the other. Most importantly, they’re found EVERYWHERE!
1. Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk, West Coast
Duration: 40 minutes to an hour
Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk was to me, an exciting and refreshing walk.
Flat walk most of the way, stones constantly under our feet, gigantic stone mountains towering over us as we walked along the valley toward to glacier.
I particularly enjoyed watching the waterfalls cascading down the valley mountains. The drizzling rain was especially refreshing too!
Not only that, the walk was educational for me as I learned about the history and formation of the glacier throughout the walk.
2. Hooker Valley Track, Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park
Duration: About 1.5 to 2 hours
Hooker Valley Track is, in my opinion, very similar to Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk. They are after all, on the other ends of each other.
Similarly, black grey stones paved the walk. Only difference is that this walk has three suspension bridges. Most of the Instagram pictures of the Hooker Valley Track are taken on the suspension bridges!
You return where you came from, so the journey back can be somewhat tedious and boring. Nevertheless, some people enjoy the long journey and don’t mind taking the long-winded route back.
3. Isthmus Peak - Wanaka
Duration: 6 hours more or less
THIS WAS BY FAR THE HARDEST HIKE I’VE EVER DONE IN MY ENTIRE LIFE.
In Wanaka, it is only natural to hike Roy’s peak. However, we went during the lambing season, so the track was pretty much closed for the season. Isthmus Peak, though, was open.
It is a zigzag track all the way up, hiking along tussocky path. Epic views gradually unfold as Lake Hawea accompanied us all the way up. Pssst, nature is your toilet.
We had nothing but tree branches as our walking sticks and our heavy, raspy breathing to cheer each other on. The reward? 360 degrees panoramic view of Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka and the glorious mountain of the Southern Alps.
If you’re jealous of the people descending while you’re hiking up – Don’t. They’re equally suffering because at that moment, they wished their knees weren’t theirs.
4. Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway, Canterbury
Duration: 2 to 3 hours
Level: Very easy
Our first encounter with a colony of seals.
I never knew how a colony of seals looked like. When we were standing at the starting point of the walkway, we didn’t see a lot of seals. We did, however, see a lot of seagulls.
Walking further along the coastal walkway, more seals gathered. We also noticed that the tourists had reduced. Hours into the walk, a flight of stairs led us to the top where we can see the coastal view and the seals from above.
You can choose to either start from the top and go back using the coastal walkway at the bottom, or vice versa.
Remember not to get too close to the seals!
5. Godley Head, Canterbury
Duration: 3 hours circuit or lesser if you double back where you came from
Level: Easy to medium
The Godley Head track is situated near Christchurch in Canterbury.
A family picnic spot, a place where kids can run free. Of blooming flowers, roaring waves, sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, and flowing rivers. There’s nothing you can’t find in this walk.
There were a few starting points and ending points to the walk. We actually got lost. To summarize, Godley Head is MASSIVE.
The Godley Head Track is also an educative one because of the war batteries and remnants left over many years ago. If you’re looking for sick views, this is definitely the place you’re looking for!
6. Blue Pools Walk - Otago
Duration: 10 to 15 minutes to the pool; 1 hour return for the full track
Want to jump into the clear, turquoise waters from the suspension bridge? Try Blue Pools Walk.
The water is so pure that we can see every stones and pebbles within. The suspension bridge make for a great photo stop, albeit crowded by tourists equally wanting to get a good picture of the place.
Alternatively, it connects to Blue-Young Link walk after you cross the bridge.
I always confuse Blue Pools Walk with Hokitika Gorge Walk. That’s another option for you.
7. Lake Matheson, West Coast
Duration: 1.5 hours loop
Set in Fox Glacier, where the glacier walk has been permanently closed, we could only take the Lake Matheson Walk.
The walk is famous for the twin peak – Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman’s reflection in the dark lake.
I realized that many tourists only stop by to photograph the lake and went back without taking the loop. When you take the loop, you will come to View of Views. That’s where you get the perfect view of the twin peak.
Although the views we got were not exactly the clearest or the most stunning, it still showed us another magical side of Lake Matheson. Here’s how it’s supposed to look like:
8. Harwoods Hole, Tasman
Duration: 1.5 to 2 hours
Level: Medium to hard
Hazard: Free fall
Harwoods Hole is the deepest vertical shaft in New Zealand. It is dangerous to approach the hole. Note that it is impossible to see the bottom of it from where visitors stand. There have been incidents of people falling in and injuring themselves.
There are two parts in this walk: The vertical shaft and the lookout.
The rock formation was primordial and moss-covered. On our way to the vertical shaft, it felt like we were walking through the scenes of Lord of the Rings.
To the lookout, we were basically climbing over huge boulders growing tens of meters above the ground. It was intimidating as one wrong step could cost us our lives.
One great thing about Harwoods Hole is that you might be the only one there (it’s not a good thing if you get into trouble though).
The place was deserted because of the gravel-road drive there. Nightmare is the word to describe it. However, the views that we were blessed with did make up for the terrible drive.
It is possible to go caving but you need to be REALLY, REALLY experienced.
9. Rawhiti Cave, Nelson/Tasman
Duration: One hour
Level: Medium to Hard
The most prominent feature of this cave is most certainly the stalactites. For those of you who have not heard of the term, stalactites are the things hanging from the ceiling of the cave.
It did get really slippery in the cave and we had to walk really slowly. The hike to the cave was also strenuous and steep. It had us huffing and puffing on our way up.
Like Harwoods Hole, this track was very much deserted. It was only us and another couple when we were there.
The remarkable views qualified for an epic shoot, don’t you think?
10. Sawpit Gully Track, Arrowtown, Otago
Duration: 2-3 hours
Level: Medium to hard
We started Sawpit Gully Track from Arrowtown Chinese Settlement and hiked a few steep climb on our way up to the viewpoint.
In the beginning, trees shaded us from the elements. However, as we slowly ascended, the trees started thinning down and we were out in the open.
When the sky is clear, you can see unobstructed view of Arrowtown underneath your feet. The snow-capped mountain became our backdrop for an alpine-themed shot. It really did feel like we were filming in the Sound of Music.
Remember to bring a hat and lather sunscreen on because the sun… burns.
11. The Pinnacles Walk, Coromandel
Duration: 6-8 hours
Hazard: Free fall
The Pinnacles Walk is actually rated as one of the most popular overnighters. We didn’t book the huts, but they seemed pretty full when we were up there.
The track is significant in a way. It used to be the path for packhorses to carry supplies for kauri loggers, gold miners, and gum diggers back in the days.
Remnants of the kauri logs are still evident even today!
At the top was a viewing deck where visitors should stand. Then there’s the sign beside the viewing deck that warns visitors not to go over the barrier.
12. Tongariro Alpine Crossing - Tongariro National Park / Central North Island
Duration: 8 hours
Hazard: Active volcano
In my most honest opinion, Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the best day walk in New Zealand. In 8 hours, we saw Soda Springs, the South Crater, Red Crater, Emerald Lakes, Blue Lake, Snow, steam coming from the sulphur lakes… you might as well just click on the button below and read the entire experience!
13. Cathedral Cove, Coromandel
Duration: 1.5 to 2 hours
Level: Easy to medium
The Cathedral Cove is one of the famous LOTR film locations in New Zealand! Can you believe that I actually went without realizing this?
Lucky for us, there weren’t any tourist there so we had the place all to ourselves! There were only families looking to spend some time together. There were options for kayaking as well.
Hot water beach is just nearby. You can dig your own personal hot tub in the sand!
14. Waipu Cave, Northland
Duration: As long as you want
Level: Easy to Medium
Waipu Cave really is my favourite cave in New Zealand.
Before entering the cave, we spent the night at the parking lot-cum-freedom camp spot. The next morning, we saw lots of children getting geared up with their guides outside the cave. We went in with them and it was the best decision ever.
We were hesitant to go into the pitch-black cave even when we had our headlights. Plus, there was ankle-deep water.
Tip: Scream at the top of your lungs in the cave to observe the changes of the glowworms and the lights they emitted. We actually observed a school tour doing this, or else I wouldn’t have the guts to even talk a bit louder.
15. Pouakai Tarns (Mt. Taranaki) Egmont National Park
Duration: 4 to 5 hours
Level: Medium to Expert
Dubbed the “picture-perfect peak” in New Zealand, and constantly compared to Mt. Fuji in Japan. Mount Taranaki is best photographed from the reflective Pouakai Tarns pond.
We arrived at the pond in the afternoon and the clouds were already starting to roll in. We munched on our sandwiches while we waited for the clouds to disperse – they never did.
We left without taking the iconic reflective photo (best taken very early in the morning) because the pond was never once still.
The wind was howling. As we continued waiting, more clouds rolled in, until finally, the whole Mt. Taranaki was swallowed by the clouds.
I was already quite grateful for the first picture, taken immediately when we arrived at the pond. When we left, we drove to the other side of the mountain, and guess what? Cloudless!