After hiking in over a dozen countries around the world, New Zealand is still my favorite place to grab my boots and hit the trails. Maybe it’s the backcountry huts, which are cozy and charming and often rich with history, or maybe it’s the sheer diversity of landscapes packed so close together. The views are always spectacular, and if I want to escape the crowds, it’s never hard to find an untouched trail. Just a note – in NZ they call hiking Tramping!
Choosing the five “best” hiking trails in New Zealand was hard, because there are thousands of kilometers of stunning trails crisscrossing the country, from day hikes to the 3000-kilometer Te Araroa Trail running the length of New Zealand. I’ve hiked a huge number of these, but I still feel I’ve barely scratched the surface.
Nonetheless, these are what I consider some of New Zealand’s best hiking trails.
1. The Routeburn Track
The Routeburn Track was the first Great Walk I sampled (there are nine designated Great Walks throughout the country, with flashy facilities, excellent scenery, and steep hut prices), and I fell madly in love with it from the start. I’ve since hiked it twice more, and the novelty never fades.
The scenery is among the best I’ve seen anywhere in the region, and the views change constantly. The Routeburn Track was where I saw my first rare Kaka parrot, woke before sunrise to marvel at the early morning light touching the alpine wonderland in pale gold as I climbed toward Harris Saddle, swam in the frigid and pure waters of Lake Mackenzie, and gazed in awe at towering mountain peaks in every direction.
2. The Tongariro Crossing
Every list of New Zealand’s best hikes include the Tongariro Crossing, and for good reason. Unfortunately, some of the magic is now spoiled by the crowds that descend on the trail every day, but this volcanic wonderland is still my favorite North Island hike. The crater and glittering jewel-colored lakes, ringed by crumbling red volcanic rock, is breathtaking.
3. The Travers-Sabine Circuit
Somehow I never made it to Nelson Lakes National Park until I hiked through on the Te Araroa Trail; now I can’t wait to return. The Travers-Sabine Circuit combines all of my favorite elements of hiking in New Zealand’s mountains: peaceful valley walking with dramatic vistas in every direction, some beautifully situated huts (Upper Travers Hut has one of the most scenic locations in the country), and a high saddle with stunning views.
4. Te Whara (Bream Head) Track
The North Island has countless stretches of breathtaking coastal scenery, but the Te Whara Track is my favorite simply because of its drama. This trail climbs from a lovely beach up to an oceanside ridge, with stunning views up and down the coastline. The near-vertical climb was a challenge, but there are stairs to make it more doable. Once we reached the top, it was a peaceful meander up and down several humps as we followed the ridge to its end. Dense native forest swathed the ridge, and at night we heard Morepork owls calling from above. (Most hikers complete this as an easy day hike, but we chose to descend to Peach Cove to camp a night in the forest.)
5. The Kepler Track
It was nearly impossible to choose the fifth “best” hike in New Zealand, because so many amazing trails deserve to make the list! From lovely oceanside trails (the Abel Tasman Coast Track and Queen Charlotte Track) to my beloved local wilderness playground, the West Matukituki Valley (which has gems such as the Rob Roy Glacier Track, the Aspiring Hut Track, and the challenging but oh-so-rewarding Cascade Saddle Route), I could have added dozens more winners to this list.
However, the Kepler Track deserves a place on my list of favorite hikes because of the ridge-walking. New Zealand trails rarely maintain elevation—usually you spend most of the hike following a valley floor before climbing up a pass and descending into the next valley. The Kepler Track is different. After climbing to the first hut, you’re rewarded with a full day of gentle ridge-walking before descending to the next hut. The view from the top is outstanding, a rewarding sweeping panorama of near-vertical Fiordland peaks framing the deep waters of Lake Te Anau.
These are just a few of my favourites, but if you’re still interested in learning more about New Zealand’s amazing hiking trails, then check out The Comprehensive List of New Zealand’s Greatest Hikes. There’s plenty more to explore.