7 phenomenal hikes to do in New Zealand
You might know New Zealand from its wonderful food, its tendency to invent extreme sports, its globe-conquering film industry or its wicked sense of humour, Australia’s neighbour is also home to some of the most stunning scenery on earth.
All of these trails will require hiking boots, reasonable fitness and careful planning, starting with a visit to the New Zealand Department of Conservation’s website. While hikers are not expected to complete the full length of the tracks they could start and finish at certain points as they please. Some of the trails are so popular that the number of hikers is limited so book early. Hikers can expect tropical beaches, rugged mountains, glaciers and rain-lashed cliffs, New Zealand is a country where you can take a deep breath and relax, or dive in.
1. Milford Track
Ranked among the world’s great walks, the Milford Track is justifiably New Zealand’s most famous walk. Located on the south west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, hiking the Milford Track takes you through some of most stunning alpine scenery, gushing waterfalls and stunning fjords. The 53-kilometre, four-day trail begins on the shore of Lake Te Anau and ends at Sandfly Point where ferries can take transport walkers back to Milford Sound. Independent walkers are advised to book well in advance as huts and campgrounds along the route fill quickly. Alternatively, tour providers have private lodges for hiking groups.
2. Abel Tasman Coast Track
At the northernmost coast of the South Island runs the Abel Tasman Coast Track, a three-to-five day, 51-kilometre trail that winds between glistening waters, pristine beaches, and wildlife-rich forests. Break up your walks with a swim in the waters of Tasman Bay, home to dolphins, seals and penguins. Boats, kayaks and water ferries ply the waters offshore, providing options for those who want to hike part of the route or break up their days. Few tracks in the world offer the diversity of the Abel Tasman Coast Track, and a visit is a definite highlight for New Zealand hikers.
3. Routeburn Track
Verdent valleys, towering peaks and periwinkle lakes make up just some of the highlights of the Routeburn Track. One of New Zealand’s shorter trails, the Routeburn Track manages to pack a lot into its 32 kilometres. The Routeburn runs from Fjordland National Park to Mount Aspiring National Park through moss-clad forests and boardwalks across alpine saddles and plateaus. As one of the most accessible and justifiably popular tracks, the Routeburn connects to the Greenstown or Caples track if you want to make it a circular route. Like other tracks on the list, New Zealand’s Department of Conservation have basic but comfortable huts with bunks and shared facilities as well as campgrounds.
4. Hooker Valley Track – Mount Cook National Park
Just when you think you’ve got your head around New Zealand, it surprises you. In the case of the Hooker Valley track, the surprise is icebergs. Not only do you get immaculate views of Mount Cook (Aoraki), New Zealand’s tallest mountain, but this mostly level, easy half-day five kilometre circuit hike wends its way through lupin-strewn valleys and across swing bridges that offer constantly varying views of snow-clad mountain ranges. Located just north of Wanaka on the North Island, the Hooker Valley Track is a great way to see just how wild nature here can get.
5. Kepler Track
This 60-kilometre, three to four-day track differs from other South Island walks in that it wasn’t developed from Maori trails or the routes of white explorers. The Kepler Track was designed to showcase the best features of the Fjordland area: bird life, mountain ranges, cascading waterfalls, glacial valleys, rich limestone areas and beautiful beech forests. The track was constructed to make walking as easy as possible, which means boardwalks cross marshy areas, steep sections have steps, and rivers and creeks have bridges. It’s an ideal option for the casual hiker.
6. Rakiura Track
The rich virgin forests of New Zealand’s Stewart Island, located 30 kilometres off the south coast of the South Island, is unlike any other track in New Zealand. No other place can offer the pristine solitude of the heavily forested, remarkably peaceful and often rainy Stewart Island. Inundated with bird life and with a population of less than 400, the island is the perfect place for a hiker to lose themselves. Rakiura is the Maori name for Stewart Island and translates as “glowing skies”, a reference to the Aurora Australis that is sometimes visible. Ferry services run from Invercargill and Bluff to Oban, the only settlement on the island, located on the beautiful Halfmoon Bay.
7. Heaphy Track
No other New Zealand track will give its hiker such a breadth of environments. While this might be a more challenging hike and its location on the north-west coast of the South Island a little more remote, this ancient Maori Trail is growing in popularity. Four days is the typical walking time but many people venturing into the wild coast of Kahurangi National Park may want to stretch it out for another day to better appreciate the stunning scenery. As with many of these walks, luxury options are available with transport, catering and sometimes accommodation taken care of.
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