Hiking in New Zealand offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors for both novice day hikers and more experienced multi-day trekkers alike. New Zealand’s diverse landscape offers everything from mountainous volcanic lunar terrain, to Alpine valleys, coastal trails and wilderness island opportunities, with trails to suit a variety of abilities.
Find out when to go Hiking in New Zealand, and about some of the best hikes on offer.
We’ll also explain what to bring, how to prepare, where to stay, and how to stay safe when out and about hiking in New Zealand. Whether you prefer to hike independently or in a group, here is all you need to know.
Best Time For Hiking in New Zealand
image source: hikingnewzealand
Hiking in New Zealand is possible at any time of year, with each season offering something special for walkers.
Spring in New Zealand is typically classified as running from September to November. Spring time hiking in New Zealand means beautiful Alpine flowers and trails that are not too busy with people. The weather in spring is unpredictable however, and you may experience some rain. In November, you’ll get the better weather and you should miss most of the people too.
Summer runs from December to February. During this season, you have your best shot at great weather, but of course this also brings the crowds. It’s all relative however, as New Zealand is not densely populated and the hills are not packed by European standards. The long days mean no rushing is needed.
The autumn season covers the months of March to May. Many of the crowds dissipate during this period, so you’ll be hiking with fewer people around. One of the distinct benefits is the delightful autumn leaves, golden, orange and yellow in the trees. Autumn is not too chilly and the weather tends to be more reliable than spring.
The winter season runs from June to August. While many do not hike during this season there are still opportunities to do so, as the mountains are accessible. However, the weather can be significantly colder, and the days are shorter, requiring careful route planning to be back before dark.
Which Way Suits You: Independent or Group
It is possible to hike independently in New Zealand or to join a group, depending on your preference. If you hike in a group you can join an organised trip with like-minded nature lovers. If hiking independently you can walk alone or with a small group of self-organised friends. There are benefits and drawbacks of each option.
One of the benefits of hiking with a group is that if something does go wrong, your group leader should be equipped to handle it. If you are on your own you will not have that benefit and will have to manage your own incidents. Conversely, if you are with a group, you might not feel much of a sense of solitude that you may get hiking independently and that might be enough to put you off the group experience.
In a group, you might make new friends, but another of the drawbacks of groups is that you could be stuck with people who are either way faster or way slower than you – and either can be a frustrating experience. However, you might want to trade that off against the fact that your group leader will take care of all of the hut bookings and logistics for you, making for a much easier trip.
How To Prepare For Your Hiking
It is best to be prepared for hiking in New Zealand. Knowing what equipment to bring, where to stay and how to stay safe while hiking New Zealand’s fabulous trails can make the difference between a once in a lifetime experience, and a memory that you would just rather forget.
Taking the right equipment for your walk will depend how long you are going for, whether you are camping or staying in huts, whether you are hiking independently or in a group, and to some degree on the season. Here is what you should include on your kit list:
- sleeping bag
- trekking pole
- knee brace support
- earbuds/flashlight/toilet paper ( for sleeping in huts)
- hiking boots
Being safe in the mountains is important to prevent danger and accidents. Follow these guidelines to avoid problems arising:
- Route Planning: make sure you clearly understand the challenges of your route before you set out, and that you have a confident map navigator with you.
- Weather: The weather in the hills can be susceptible to change. Check the conditions before you depart, and be sure to take what you need with you. Weather of different extremes can lead to problems if you are not well prepared. In unexpectedly cold weather, hypothermia is a risk, while in hot weather, heatstroke is possible. Being prepared for all possibilities is essential from a safety perspective.
- Keep Hydrated: Make sure you have sufficient water with you at all times, to avoid the dangers of dehydration.
- Gear: Bring the right equipment with you. Don’t forget a torch, and also consider taking an emergency shelter to keep you warm, in case of emergencies. Do take extra food – yes, it is more to carry, but you’ll be glad of it if you get stuck somewhere for longer than expected.
- Leave Details: Be sure to leave details of your route and when you are expected back with someone responsible. Advise them when you get back, so that they know you are safe.
- Physical Readiness: It is dangerous to take on activity in the outdoors if you are not physically prepared for it. This could lead to you having an accident which puts not just you, but the entire group in danger. Make sure you understand the challenges of the route and that you feel confident that it is within your capabilities before setting out.
In New Zealand, hikers can enjoy a range of accommodation options, including huts, camping or in some cases, private rooms. Huts and private rooms offer the benefit of not having to carry quite as much equipment, yet camping can lead to a more delightful and unique hiking experience.
There are more than 950 huts along New Zealand’s trails, and each one is slightly different. Perhaps one of the best hut experiences is liverpool hut. This requires a steep five or six-hour slog to get to, but the views are stunning every way you look. Meanwhile, the historic barker hut with more than 50 years of visitor entries in its log requires an epic multi-river crossing, off-the-beaten-track hike to reach and great scenery to boot.
The beds in huts are basic, and are bunk house style, with many resembling sleeping platforms. While elsewhere in the world hut users might enjoy the chance to purchase a meal, this is not the case in New Zealand’s huts. In fact, you need to bring all your own cooking utensils, pots and food with you. You also need to bring a cooker and fuel. Please note that some Great Walks huts must be booked at any time of the year.
Camping is also an option on many of New Zealand’s trails. This offers the advantage of having the privacy of one’s own tent, but this may be offset by the weight of carrying all the extra gear, and the risk of camping in inclement weather. There are many campsites to choose from in a variety of settings. Some campsites must be booked in advance.
On some trails, there may be the option of getting a private room, but on many of the wilderness trails you can expect only the choice of camping or huts.
9 Great Walks
Whatever your preference, one of New Zealand’s fabulous, diverse Great Walks is sure to appeal to your inner hike. Trails range from three to six days and include a variety of Lord of the Rings mountainous volcanic terrain, alpine mountains and pristine valleys, coastal paths and wilderness islands. Each hike has its own unique special highlights which include stunning vistas, enchanting forests, sandy beaches and native wildlife, among others.
image source: wikimedia
1. Milford Track
The Milford track is a four-day walk starting in Te Anau, heading to Milford Sound and covering a distance of 53km. You can stay at Clinton Hut, Mintaro Hut and Dumpling Hut, which must be pre-booked ahead of your trip.
- That this is the “finest walk in the world”, perhaps due to its mind-blowing scenery.
- Visit Sutherland Falls, which is one of the highest waterfalls in New Zealand at 580m high – this is a side trip of 1.5 hours, off the main track, but well worth the effort.
- Enjoy spectacular mountain views as you cross over MacKinnon’s Pass, as well as rainforests and glistening lakes.
2. Routeburn Track
Routeburn Track is a two or three-day trail of 32km which can be walked in either direction, ending either at Routeburn Shelter or at The Divide.
- This route crosses the Southern Alps and is packed with alpine beauty, allowing the walker to enjoy craggy peaks, impressive waterfalls, glacial lakes and pretty valleys.
- After a steady climb up to Harris Saddle, be sure to spend a little time taking in the panoramic vistas and delightful tarns.
- Stay at Routeburn Falls Hut and Lake McKenzie Hut along the way, being sure to book in advance.
3. Kepler Track
Kepler Track is a stunning walk of 60km which takes three to four days to complete, depending on ability and preference, starting in Te Anau and ending at Rainbow Reach.
- Enjoy the spectacular ridge line views and mountain panoramas, as well as taking in Lake Te Anau, the largest body of fresh water in New Zealand.
- Be sure to visit Luxmore Cave – a 20-minute return trip slightly off the path, but well worth it for the incredible caves.
- Stay in Luxmore Hut, Iris Burn Hut and Moturau Hut, and be sure to book your spot in each in advance.
4. Tongariro Northern Circuit
Tongariro Northern Circuit is a three to four day, 43 km circular hike that can be walked in either direction and starts at Whakapapa Village.
- A colourful hike in Lord of the Rings country; a summit of Mount Doom (Mount Ngaurhoe) can be a highlight of this trip, for those up to the challenge.
- Volcanic activity is a feature of this hike with active volcanic craters, thermal steaming and lava flows, a lunar scenery sharply contrasted with sparkling Emerald Lakes.
- Unbeatable views of the central North Island from the altitudes reached on this walk, as well as opportunities to enjoy “Middle Earth”.
5. Abel Tasman Coast Track
This four-day coastal walk (or 3-5 depending on your preference) can be walked in either direction, either starting or finishing in Marahau or Nelson.
- Lovely variety in the track including native bush and forest, sweeping bays, wetlands and inlets, and not forgetting the sandy beaches.
- Don’t miss the side tour to Cleopatra’s Pools. This is a naturally formed pool with a fun smooth rock water slide.
- Beautiful sandy beaches are a key feature of this lovely coastal walk, and a special highlight is the sunning orange sand beach at Totaranui Bay.
6. Whanganui River Journey
Whanganui River Journey is a “Great Walk” with a difference, and not least because you take it by water! The trip is taken by canoes and has a duration of three to five days depending on your preferred speed, covering 145km, starting in the mountains and ending at the Tasman Sea.
- The route traverses high gorges, and it is dotted with waterfalls along the way, with an opportunity for exhilarating rapids too.
- Other fabulous highlights include the giant northern rata, and the fantastic variety of native birds such as Weka, kea and kaka.
- Don’t miss the Bridge to Nowhere. This is a remain of a farm settlement in the region that was abandoned between the First and Second World Wars.
7. Heaphy Track
Heaphy Track will take you four to six days, covering 78.4km in the process, starting from Brown Hut in Golden Bay and ending in Kohaihai, or vice versa.
- Diversity is one of the main attractions of this hike with a wealth of different landscapes, features and formations.
- You’ll enjoy everything from towering mountains, to mystical rainforest, sub-alpine tussock grasslands, forest and surf beaches along the way.
- On a five-day trip, you could stay at Perry Saddle, Saxon Hut, James Mackay Hut and Heaphy Hut.
8. Waikaremoana Track
The Lake Waikaremoana trail follows the shoreline of the lake, covering 46km and taking three to four days to cover, depending on your speed and preference. The hike starts and ends at Wairoa – note, there are not many hotels here.
- The route includes giant podocarp trees, giant waterfalls and peaceful, quiet beaches.
- Hike highlights include the Korokoro Falls, just a short detour of 30 minutes off the main track, but a great spot to kick back and enjoy a refreshing swim.
- Stay at Panekire Hut, Waiopaoa Hut and Marauiti Hut, but be sure to book in advance.
9. Rakiura Track
Rakiura Track is a unique 39km, three-day island hike, located on Stewart Island and accessed by ferry, with a distinct wilderness feel about it.
- Majestic coastal panoramas and rich podocarp forests are a key feature of this delightful, rugged island walk, which mainly follows board walks along the route.
- There are outstanding opportunities to view bird life here, and in particular this is an excellent spot to view the native kiwi bird.
- Enjoy the chance to observe early Maori settlement sites, particularly around Maori Beach and Port William. There are also former logging settlements here for history lovers.
images source of great walks: newzealand.com
Hiking in New Zealand offers a multitude of opportunities to get out and about in nature in this country’s vast and varied stunning wilderness. Don’t forget to pack everything you need to help you stay safe, and to make hut bookings in advance to avoid disappointment, and you’ll be all set for the trip of a lifetime.
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