walking and Hiking in new zealand
Taking the many hikes and walks in New Zealand is the perfect way to discover the unspoiled and rustic landscape of this country. 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, New Zealand is completely stuffed with hikes and walks all over the country, each one so different than the other. There seemed to be at least one walk in or near every town! With some of the walks located at unexpected places! Most importantly, they’re free too!
Beginners who are just starting out their hiking adventure in New Zealand can most certainly start from south island! In fact, south island is widely-known to have the most epic views of New Zealand! On the contrary, those who are searching for a more quiet place to hike, and prefer to enjoy the views with fewer people around, try hiking in north island.
Without further ado, let’s get into it!
Top 15 hikes and walks in new zealand:
south island Walks In New Zealand
1. Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk, West Coast
Duration: 40 minutes to an hour
Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk was to us, an exciting and refreshing walk.
To start, there isn’t much elevation throughout the entire walk. In other words, it was 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.
Other than the highlight, which is the glacier, we also particularly enjoyed watching the waterfalls cascading down the valley mountains. Also, we had a free shower which was the rain! When tramping in New Zealand, always remember to bring your waterproof jacket and trousers!
Not only that, the walk was educational for us as we learned about the history and formation of the glacier throughout the walk. If you’re someone who has not seen a glacier before yet don’t want to break the bank to go on a heli hike, this glacier walk in New Zealand is definitely for you!
2. Hooker Valley Track, Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park
Duration: About 1.5 to 2 hours
In my opinion, Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook is similar to Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk in many ways. After all, they are on the other ends of each other.
Similarly, black grey stones paved the walk and it was flat walk, though a very tedious one. One thing that sets them apart is that this walk has three picturesque suspension bridges. In fact, many of the Instagram pictures of the Hooker Valley Track are taken on the suspension bridges! To put it briefly, this is the place where you can capture really dope Instagram pictures!
Even though the journey back can be somewhat tedious and boring, some people enjoy the long walk and don’t mind taking the long-winded route back. For those who don’t have the opportunity to head over to the West Coast to take the Franz Josef Glacier walk, the Hooker Valley Track will be another viable option for you to see some icebergs in New Zealand!
3. Isthmus Peak - Wanaka
Duration: 6 hours more or less
This was by far the hardest hike in New Zealand we’ve ever done, also the hardest hike in our entire life!
In Wanaka, it is only natural to hike Roy’s Peak, one of the must-hike mountain in New Zealand! Unfortunately, our schedule got us there during the lambing season, so the track was pretty much closed for the season. To be honest, we were rather disappointed for missing out. But, we later discovered that Isthmus Peak was open! If you’re wondering how we learned about Isthmus Peak, it’s actually because of the many cars parked beside the road on the way to Wanaka! Funny enough, everyone had the same idea.
Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak are not much different from each other. Actually, they are quite similar! First of all, their landscapes look nearly the same. Both require roughly 6 hours to hike, they are also open for grazing animals, and the much familiar and dreaded zig-zag hike up! The only difference is that you might need to queue up for an hour to get “the” shot at Roy’s Peak, but not for Isthmus Peak!
Note: Roy’s peak lambing season usually starts from the 1st of October to 10th of November!
At the start of the walk, we picked up tree branches to serve as our walking sticks. Often times, we found ourselves taking frequent stops to catch our breath before continuing the journey. The reward? 360 degrees panoramic view of Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka and the glorious Southern Alps serving as the backdrop.
If you’re jealous of the people descending while you’re hiking up, don’t be because they’re equally suffering, wishing their knees weren’t theirs. With that being said, bring your walking sticks or pick up a tree branch to relieve pressure on your knees!
4. Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway, Canterbury
Duration: 2 to 3 hours
Level: Very easy
Behold! This coastal walk in New Zealand will expose you to a colony of seals!
To start, you can choose to either start the walk from the cliff top (which can be found at the carpark), and go back using the coastal walkway at the bottom, or start from the coastal walk and return from the top through the cliff top.
Honestly, I’ve never seen seals all my life, let alone a colony of seals. At the start of the coastal walk, we started doubting because we don’t see many seals at all. There were a lot of seagulls, though, hovering over us and perching on our cars to beg for food. However, as we walked further along the coastal walkway, more seals gathered, and there were lots and lots of seals! Also, we started noticing the reduced number of tourists too. Hours into the walk, you will come to a really spacious area where you no longer see anymore seals.
On the right, which is the Peninsula cliff top, we noticed a flight of stairs to the top of the cliff, looking down at the coastal view and the seals from above.
Note: Give the seals some privacy or they will certainly hiss at you!
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 run free. Of blooming flowers, roaring waves, sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, and flowing rivers. Believe it or not, there’s almost nothing you can’t find in this walk.
As Godley Head is so MASSIVE, we actually lost our way despite the well-established paths. Always remember where you start your walk, and find out whether you can take a loop back. Taylor Mistake Carpark is the loop-track recommended on the DOC Website.
Other than that, Godley Head Track is also an educative one because of the war batteries and remnants left over many years ago. Those chasing after sick views in the Canterbury region, the Godley Head Track will be one of the walks in New Zealand that will get you screaming for more!
6. Blue Pools Walk - Otago
Duration: 10 to 15 minutes to the pool; 1 hour return for the full track
Are you itching to jump into clear, turquoise waters from the suspension bridge, but don’t want to walk too long? Take the Blue Pools Track, which is also one of the most popular short walk in New Zealand! The water is so pure that we can see every stones and pebbles within. Not only that, the suspension bridge make for a great photo stop, albeit crowded by tourists equally wanting to get a good picture of the place. Alternatively, you can continue on with the Blue-Young Link walk after you cross the bridge. For those who will proceed with the Blue-Young Link walk, do expect a 3-4 hours walk in total.
I always confuse Blue Pools Walk with Hokitika Gorge Walk. If you’re interested in the gorge at the front page of Hokitika travel brochures, then that will be another option for you.
7. Lake Matheson, West Coast
Duration: 1.5 hours loop
Lake Matheson Walk is set 10 minutes away from Fox Glacier, where the glacier walk has been permanently closed. Similar to Blue Pools Track, Lake Matheson Walk is another short, easy walk in New Zealand that can get you to the lake in 30 minutes or so!
One of the highlights of the walk is the twin peak – Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman‘s reflection in the dark lake. Of course, the main thing is still the dark mirror lake of Lake Matheson and New Zealand’s native eel in those dark waters!
Unfortunately, many tourists only stop by to photograph the lake and went back without taking the round trip. When you take the loop, you will come to View of Views, 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 was 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.
Often times, daredevils fail to realize that it is dangerous to approach the hole. Contrary to what everyone thinks, it is impossible to see the bottom of the said hole. There have been incidents of people falling in and injuring themselves. Believe it or not, it is possible to go caving but you need to be REALLY, REALLY experienced.
There are two highlights you should definitely go to when you take this walk: The vertical shaft and the lookout.
Before arriving at both viewpoints, you will be graced with primordial and moss-covered rock formation that lined the path. In fact, some of them made this walk seem like an obstacle course! On our way to the vertical shaft, it also felt like we were strolling through the scenes of Lord of the Rings.
On our way to the lookout, climbing over huge boulders growing tens of meters above the ground was inevitable. Although it felt like we have taken the wrong route, the views that welcomed us proved us wrong. Even so, it was still 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). Perhaps the nightmarish gravel-road drive there was the reason why we didn’t see anyone there. Despite that, the views that we were blessed with did make up for the terrible drive! Did I also mention that the parking lot is also a DOC campground? There’s a drop toilet there that you can use before and after your walk!
For us, Harwoods Hole is one of the most memorable walks in New Zealand! To get the best view of Harwoods Hole lookout, I strongly recommend that you go during sunset or sunrise! Watch your footing because it can really be fatal if you fall!
Looking For A Guided Caving Adventure? Try These Ones:
Many caves in New Zealand can keep you going for hours! There are so many different caves here to leave you in awe! However, some of them are too dangerous to access on your own without proper equipment. So, all you need is to book with a professional guide! We recommend GetYourGuide as they have tours all around the world with a variety of tours to suit your needs!
9. Rawhiti Cave, Nelson/Tasman
Duration: One hour
Level: Medium to Hard
How many walks in New Zealand do you know will lead to a cave at the end? Rawhiti Cave, pronounced as Ra-fi-ti, is one of those walks.
The most prominent feature of Rawhiti 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. As it was really slippery in the cave, we had to take things really slowly. Even the hike to the cave was also strenuous and steep. Expect a lot of huffing puffing on your way up!
Like Harwoods Hole, this track was very much deserted. When we were at the cave, there was only one other couple who arrived after we did. The majestic and glorious view of the cave qualifies for an epic photoshoot, don’t you think?
10. Sawpit Gully Track, Arrowtown, Otago
Duration: 2-3 hours
Level: Medium to hard
Arrowtown used to be one of the most prosperous gold-mining town in New Zealand, hence it is only natural that the majority of attention is given to Arrowtown Chinese Settlement and the Arrowtown River. But, do you know that you can also get a panoramic view of Arrowtown by taking one of the many walks there? One of them is the Sawpit Gully Track.
To start, you need to park your car at Arrowtown Chinese Settlement. From there, you can choose a few walks other than Sawpit Gully. Actually, some of the walks will meet and converge at certain points.
Following the signs for Sawpit Gully, we were blessed with an easy start. But, as soon as we started ascending, there was no stopping. At the last leg of the hike to the viewpoint, you will see a “viewpoint bench”. From there, you need to conquer two more killer hills before you arrive at the viewpoint as portrayed above.
When the sky is clear, you can see unobstructed view of Arrowtown underneath your feet. Snow-capped mountains became our backdrop for an alpine-themed shot. Didn’t it feel like we were filming in the Sound of Music? But in New Zealand?
Note: Bring a sun hat and lather sunscreen on because the walk is pretty much exposed all the way at the top.
north island Walks In New Zealand
11. The Pinnacles Walk, Coromandel
Duration: 6-8 hours
Hazard: Free fall
Rated as one of the most popular overnight walks in New Zealand, the Pinnacles Walk is both magnificent and historically-significant. Historically, the track was used as a path for packhorses to carry supplies for kauri loggers, gold miners, and gum diggers back in the days. Interestingly, remnants of the kauri logs are still evident and seen throughout the walk, especially toward the top! Today, this walk is renowned for its sunset and sunrise at the top of the pinnacles! To do that, you need to first book a hut with the DOC!
An unsurpassed view of the undulating hills and echoing valley was one part that made up the highlight of this walk for us! When we were climbing up to the viewpoint, we had to hold onto iron handlebars nailed and embedded into the boulders and rocks to heave us up there.
To put it plainly, the peak is as dangerous as it looks. Of course, no one heed the signs placed up there and went past the signs, which mentioned that they were supposed to stay at the viewing platform or risk placing their lives in danger. Oh, bummer!
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. An 8-hour walk brought us to 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 well-known LOTR film locations and walks in New Zealand! Shockingly, I actually went without realizing this! Lucky for us, there weren’t any tourist there, so we had the place all to ourselves! In the cove and on the beach, only families were seen looking to spend some time with each other. Do you know that you can also explore Cathedral Cove by kayaking?
Nearby Cathedral Cove is Hot Water Beach. During low tide, people will start turning up with shovels and buckets. No, they’re not there to murder anyone. In fact, they’re there to dig their own personal hot tub and have a spa in the sand!
14. Waipu Cave, Northland
Duration: As long as you want
Level: Easy to Medium
If you ask me which one is my absolute favorite cave walk in New Zealand, Waipu Cave will most certainly make it to the list.
Before entering the cave, we spent the night at the parking lot-cum-freedom camp spot. Next morning, we saw lots of children getting geared up with their guides outside the cave. Since we’ve not explored any caves properly before, we decided to follow these kids into the cave. Even with our headlights on, the pitch-black cave didn’t seem illuminated at all. Plus, there was ankle-deep water, so that was kinda intimidating for us as well.
As we went deeper, we raised our heads and saw millions of “stars” in the sky. The glowworms sure have their way around getting themselves noticed, haven’t they? Of course, taking your time to gaze upon the glowworms is one of the things that you must not skip when you’re in the cave! Obviously, I don’t have to remind you to switch off your light! Watch out for their “trap” as well, but observe how intricate they look!
Cave tip: Scream at the top of your lungs in the cave to observe the changes of the glowworms and the lights they emitted, although I doubt there will be much changes with only one or two of you. When we were there, tens of kids were screaming at the top of their lungs at once! Now that’s another thing to remember about Waipu Cave!
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 famous for its flawless reflection at the Pouakai Tarns pond. Before you get a picture of that reflection, you need to first work for it—by hiking 2-3 hours depending on your fitness level.
In the afternoon, we arrived at the pond and the clouds were already starting to roll in. Munching on our sandwiches, we waited for the clouds to disperse—they never did. Disappointingly, we left without taking the iconic Mount Taranaki shot because the pond was never once still. Therefore, remember to start your hike very early in the morning because that’s when the wind is at its absolute minimum!
Unfortunately, I did not manage to wait until the clouds disperse as Mt. Taranaki was swallowed whole by the clouds in the end. Luckily, I took a picture immediately when we arrived at the pond. When we left, we drove to the other side of the mountain, and guess what? Cloudless!
Note: Drive around the towns surrounding Mt. Taranaki because you might just get a perfect picture of Mt. Taranaki from another angle!
Hiking and walking in New Zealand’s untouched nature is definitely one of the things you must do when you come to New Zealand! If you can’t stand the long duration hikes or walks, you can also opt for shorter and quicker ones like Lake Matheson and Blue Pools Walk!
In addition to that, always make sure that you are fully-equipped and geared-up for the ever-changing weather in New Zealand! Essentially, you need to prepare waterproof gears as well as sturdy hiking shoes that have been well broken in!