The 10 Best Day Hikes in New Zealand

by Flip Flop Wanderers
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Last updated on March 6th, 2020

New Zealand has some of the most amazing landscapes that you will find anywhere in the world. It is thé ultimate country for day hikes and you simply can’t come to the country and not discover its incredible beauty on foot. Most of the spots you might have seen on Instagram aren’t even accessible without a fair bit of walking. But who cares when the landscape and nature are so diverse and so epic as in New Zealand?! There are literally thousands of hiking trails that are suitable for every level of fitness, age, and type of traveler.

In this blog, we’ll share with you the coolest hikes in New Zealand that you can do in one day. Some hikes require a full-on day, others are more half-day hikes. But they all have one thing in common: they might require some fitness and you will be tired at the end of the day but they are definitely worth it! If you’re looking for the best day hikes in New Zealand, this is the guide for you.

Find cheap flights to New Zealand here!

New Zealand’s Hiking Network

First, we’d like to tell you something about the hiking network in New Zealand. It’s super impressive! We have never been to a country where we hiked so much and where hiking is so important.

New Zealand literally has a hike for everyone: from easy wheelchair-accessible 5 minute strolls to week-long expert level hikes which they like to call ‘tramps’. The possibilities are seriously endless and then we haven’t even told you about the many tracks in New Zealand that aren’t even on a map.

But the best hiking trails of New Zealand must be the ten Great Walks. It is these hikes that attract so much attention to New Zealand and what New Zealand also uses to promote its country. The Great Walks are like the best of the best hikes in New Zealand that pass through the most diverse and spectacular scenery. Managed by the New Zealand Nature Conservation Union, the DOC (Department of Conservation), the Great Walks are mainly designed as multi-day hikes, but you can also choose to only walk a part of the Great Walk as a day hike. Some of the hikes we mention in this article are also just a small section of the Great Walks. 

Along the way, tracks are well-formed, easy to follow and safe for hikers in large numbers. DOC really does a good job with this. There are plenty of accommodation options, like the well-managed huts dotted everywhere. Some of them are super basic, while others even have toilets and a kitchen. In return, please always be respectful towards nature. Take all your rubbish with you and leave nothing behind!

Most of the marked hiking trails are outlined and can be found on the DOC website, which we definitely recommend. This website has been a great help during our time in New Zealand. We literally researched every hike with it!

Best Day Hikes in New Zealand – North Island

And now off to the best day hikes in New Zealand! We know you’ll probably can’t do them all when you visit New Zealand, but please make sure that you do at least one!

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Distance: 19.4 km one way
Time: 7 – 8 hour
Intermediate: Great Walk / Easier tramping track
Elevation Gain: +/- 1196m
More info here

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is New Zealand’s most famous day hike. We will even say that it is also one of the most impressive day hikes in New Zealand. The landscape on this day hike is just unbelievable, it’s like nothing we have ever seen before in our lives. But it’s also the most demanding hike we have ever done!

The hike is located in Tongariro National Park on the Central Plateau of the North Island and traverses an epic volcanic alpine landscape of dramatic contrasts: from lush rainforest and glacial valleys to crater lakes, volcanic lava fields, emerald lakes, and steaming vents. During the hike, you’ll pas three of the most iconic volcanoes on the north island: Tongariro, Ruapehu, and Ngauruhoe (also called Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings). This tramp really has it all!

In total, you’ll cover almost 20 km with an incline of 800m and a decline of 1100m. Most hikers begin their journey at the Mangatepopo Road end and end at the Ketetahi Road end. In recent years the hike has become so popular that you can no longer park at the two main carparks at the start and finish of the track. So it’s recommended to book a shuttle!

Also, be very well prepared when you’re doing the crossing. The hike goes through an alpine environment and therefore you need to be prepared for strong wind, thick fog, high rainfall, heavy snowfall and rapid changes in temperature, even in summer. We, for example, had extremely thick fog when we started the hike. We even considered going back and not doing the hike at all because we were afraid we wouldn’t see anything. But we decided to go further and when we finally reached the first top the sky cleared up and we had blue skies for the rest of the day! Sturdy shoes with strong grip are absolutely necessary and always carry a waterproof/windproof jacket with you. In winter, using an experienced mountain guide is recommended. 

Best photo spots on the hike:

  • Devil’s Staircase: a steep section more at the beginning of the hike.
  • Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mt Doom): you just have to capture this famous volcano.
  • When climbing up to the Red Crater and then looking back on Mount Doom: this view is just indescribable. Also called the Oturere Valley.
  • At the Red Crater: this is the highest point of the hike!
  • Emerald Lakes: no words needed for this famous view.
  • The Blue Lake: another beautiful lake on the hike.
  • View after the Blue Lake to the Ketetahi Shelter: spectacular views over Lake Rotoaira and sometimes even Lake Taupo.

Pouakai Tarns in Egmont National Park

Distance: 10 km return
Time: 4 – 5 hr return
Advanced: Tramping track
Elevation Gain: 851m
More info here

If we had to choose our favorite day hike in all of New Zealand, this would be it. The hike itself is pretty tough and not that special but the reward you get at the end is just amazing. The majestic Mount Taranaki with reflecting ponds in front of it is a sight you won’t forget easily.

The Pouakai Tarns are located in Egmont National Park on the north island of New Zealand and there are different ways to reach them. One of them is by doing the multi-day Pouakai Circuit. While this tramp is amazing, you can also reach the tarns on a one-day hike if you start from the Mangorei Road End. That’s the track we did. The Mangorei Track starts in the thick bush of Egmont National Park and climbs steadily up many steps (we thought this was pretty steep and hard!) to the Pouakai Hut. You can stay the night in the hut as well, which is what we did. This way you can even experience sunset and sunrise at the tarns! If you walk 5 minutes past the hut, you’ll have great views over Ahukawakawa Swamp and a further 10 minutes will bring you to the famous Pouakai Tarns.

In total you’ll climb more than 800m, so be very well prepared. It can get pretty cold at the tarns, especially when you’re doing this hike in winter! We did the hike in June and it was really icy at the tarns, so good, sturdy shoes are definitely necessary. Another tip is to wear lots of layers and warm clothes because the weather can change rapidly on the mountain.

Best photo spots on the hike:

  • Reflection of the Pouakai Tarns: the most famous view of Mount Taranaki!
  • View over the Ahukawakawa Swamp: gorgeous view where you can even see Mount Tongariro in the distance!
  • View from the hut: beautiful view over the valley below

The Pinnacles Walk in Coromandel

Distance: 14 km return
Time: 6 – 7hr 30 min return
Intermediate: Great Walk / Easier tramping track
Elevation Gain: 759m
More info here

This is definitely one of the toughest hikes we did! But let us tell you: it’s definitely worth it, even though we had lots of rains and the views weren’t therefore the best. The Pinnacles are the highest point of the Coromandel Peninsula and reaching the summit is an indescribable feeling.

The Pinnacles Walk (also called the Kauaeranga Track) is located in the Kauaeranga Valley in the Coromandel Peninsula on the north island and follows the original steps constructed for packhorses which carried supplies for kauri loggers, gum diggers and gold miners who plundered the area in the early 1900s. The hike starts at the Kauaeranga road end and takes you in about 3 hours through thick forests of nikau palms, across streams and different swingbridges, all the way to the base of the Pinnacles. The path is pretty steep and you have to clamber over rocks and through the mud often, so be careful. From the base of the Pinnacles, it’s another 40 minutes to the top of the summit from where you have incredible views over the Coromandel Peninsula.

At the base of the Pinnacles is the Pinnacles Hut, which is one of the most popular and ‘luxurious’ huts of New Zealand. An option is to stay the night here if you want to break up the hike, which is what we did as well but do note that the hut is often booked out well in advance. You can book the hut here.

If you are doing the hike in one day, then be very well prepared! It’s a steep climb so it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Also, it will take you almost 8 hours if you do it in one day so leave very early and leave enough time for setbacks.

Best photo spots on the hike:

  • The swing bridges on the hike itself: especially the first one is beautiful!
  • The forest and steep sections on the hike: gorgeous lush greens with mossy rocks make it a mystical setting.
  • Views along the hike itself: there are some amazing views on the way.
  • On the summit of the Pinnacles: the most epic views over the Coromandel Peninsula!

Also read: Travel Story | Hiking the Pinnacles

Coromandel Coastal Walkway in Coromandel

Distance: 10 km one way
Time: 3 hr 30 min one way
Easy: Walking Track
Elevation Gain: 337m
More info here

This is a fairly unknown day hike, but that doesn’t make it less worth it! The walk is super impressive and we think the only reason that it’s not really discovered yet is because the start of the hike is not that easily accessible and it’s in an area that doesn’t see many visitors.

The Coromandel Coastal Walkway is located in the remote northern part of the Coromandel Peninsula between Stony and Fletcher Bay and takes you through farmland, coastal forests and gives amazing views over the cliffy coastline and the Pinnacles in the background. You can start the hike from either Stony Bay or Fletcher Bay and walk just one way (10 km) or return (20 km). The track is pretty easy and good maintained, except for a steep section in and out of Poley Bay.

The best part of this hike being still undiscovered is that it’s super quiet on the hike! We did it in summer but only saw a few other people on the track. You’ll most likely have this hike all to yourself.

Parking is available at both bays and you can also camp there, should you like to stay the night before or after the hike. We definitely recommend this as it’s a stunning area!

Best photo spots on the hike:

  • Stony Bay: a pebble beach with good swimming.
  • Lookout between Stony Bay and Poley Bay: amazing view over the cliffs, not to be missed!
  • The bench: a small bench with a beautiful view.
  • Poley Bay: small beach with gorgeous cliffs surrounding it.
  • Old Shepherds Hut: an old farming hut with beautiful farmland around it. You will probably also see a lot of sheep!
  • View close to the hut: a bit further from the hut is a gorgeous view over farmland.
  • Fletcher Bay: sandy beach with good swimming.

Best Day Hikes in New Zealand – South Island

Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook

Distance: 10 km return
Time: 3 hr return
Easy: Walking Track
Elevation Gain: 124m
More info here

Another famous hike in New Zealand, with good reason. Being also one of our favorites, this hike is simply New Zealand’s nature at its best with stunning vistas, snowy mountains, and glaciers. And the best thing is that this hike is pretty easy and flat!

The Hooker Valley Track is located in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park on the south island and in just a few hours, you’ll cross three suspension bridges, walk in between some of the highest snow-capped mountains of New Zealand and eventually end up at the glacial Hooker Lake, at the bottom of Mount Cook, where icebergs break off from above and float in the water in large chunks.

While the track is 10 km return, there is no elevation, which means almost everyone can do this hike. We therefore definitely recommend this one!

Best photo spots on the hike:

  • Mueller Lake Viewpoint: amazing views over a glacier lake and Mount Sefton.
  • The swing bridges along the way: especially the second one is impressive with Mount Sefton in the background.
  • The river along the way: after the second bridge you’ll start to see Mount Cook with the river in the foreground. This is perfect for long exposure shots.
  • The boardwalk: closer to Hooker Lake you’ll find a boardwalk that is perfect with Mount Cook in the background.
  • Little tarn: close to the end of the walk is a little tarn that can offer some great reflections.
  • Hooker Lake: the end of the walk. This lake is just amazing with Mount Cook in the background and iceberg floating in it. You can take great photos from the little viewpoint or on the shore.

Roy’s Peak in Wanaka

Distance: 16 km return
Time: 5 – 6 hr return
Intermediate: Great Walk / Easier tramping track
Elevation Gain: 1,228m
More info here

Thanks to Instagram, Roy’s Peak has become one of the most popular day hikes of New Zealand, and with good reason! Unfortunately we haven’t done this hike ourselves because it was closed due to lambing season, but we have seen the impressive Insta shots as well! The landscape is incredible, but apparently it’s also a really tough hike.

Roy’s Peak Track is located in Wanaka on the south island and has a lot of very steep, never-ending zig-zags leading up to the mountain summit. The views on the way are just incredible and they only keep getting better and better, the higher up you go! You’ll climb through alpine meadows and tussock grasslands until, on the summit, you are rewarded with breathtaking views over Lake Wanaka, Mount Aspiring and the other surrounding mountains.

About half an hour before the summit you reach the famous viewpoint from Instagram: a narrow path exposed along the ridge. It’s beautiful but do know that on most days it gets very busy here. Sometimes you even have to wait in line to get your shot!

If you’re gonna do this hike then be prepared for a challenging, continuous and steep climb. You’ll gain more than 1200 vertical meters from the start to the summit! Make sure you bring lots of water and food and allow adequate time for the climb and return. Also, as the track crosses private land, please respect the landowner’s livestock and property.

Between October 1st and November 10th the track is closed due to lambing season.

Best photo spots on the hike:

  • Views along the way: you’ll literally have amazing views along the way everywhere you look!
  • The famous viewpoint: no more words needed for this view.
  • The summit: while most people take their shots at the famous viewpoint, the summit is also really beautiful!
© Bogdan Valentin Neacsa
© Tomas Lesa

Lake Marian Track in Milford Sound

Distance: 3.1 km return
Time: 3 hr return
Advanced: Tramping track
Elevation Gain: 421m
More info here

This was definitely an unexpected beautiful hike! Just a short distance from famous Milford Sound but not touristy at all. Lots of people skip hikes like these along the roadside because they just want to see Milford Sound. But we can tell you: this hike is more than worth it!

Lake Marian Track is located in Fiordland National Park on the south island, just off the Milford Road (the main road towards Milford Sound) and takes you first past a spectacular series of waterfalls, before becoming steep and pretty muddy sometimes. The climb is quite tough, through the bush, but the real reward is found at the top: Lake Marian, a gorgeous alpine lake in a hanging valley formed by glacial action. The views over there are just incredible! The lake is surrounded by mountains and if you are lucky enough that the weather is calm you’ll have amazing reflections.

The track is often so quiet, that you’ll have it all to yourself. We only saw about two other people on the track and at the lake so you can really enjoy this alpine lake!

Please wear sturdy shoes during this hike, as the path can get quite slippery and there are lots of tree roots in the middle of the bush. Also, signage is not always really clear on the track as we got a little bit lost sometimes, so you need to have some navigation skills.

Best photo spots on the hike:

  • The waterfalls at the bottom of the track: some pretty spectacular and powerful waterfalls.
  • In the bush on the hike itself: beautiful lush greens with lots of NZ native plants.
  • Lake Marian: the gorgeous alpine lake itself, can’t miss! Just make photos from every angle!

Ben Lomond Summit in Queenstown

Distance: 15 km return
Time: 6 – 8 hr return
Intermediate: Great Walk / Easier tramping track
Elevation Gain: 1,438m
More info here

This is the ultimate hike in Queenstown, the adventure capital. It’s definitely one of the most rewarding hikes of the south island, as it’s a tough hike but so worth it for the incredible views! Unfortunately we didn’t do the hike all the way to the summit, but we went till about halfway. Still amazing views and we would definitely recommend continuing to the top!

Ben Lomond Track is located in Queenstown on the south island and is a demanding climb towards the summit. The summit offers spectacular 360-degree views over Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountain ranges including the Remarkables and the Cecil and Walter Peaks.

This hike is quite a challenge but can be shortened by taking the Queenstown Gondola up the first section. This will make a difference of about 500m elevation gain.

Be prepared when doing this hike, as it’s very steep and takes a full day. Weather can change rapidly so always take a jacket with you and wear sturdy footwear.

Best photo spots on the hike:

  • At the Skyline Gondola: already amazing views from up there.
  • At the paragliding take-off point: at some point, you’ll get at an open part where paragliders take off. The view here is amazing.
  • The summit of Ben Lomond: the best views are of course from the summit, just incredible!

Mueller Hut Route in Mount Cook

Distance: 10.4 km return
Time: 8 hr return
Advanced: Tramping track
Elevation Gain: 1,038m
More info here

One of the best day hikes in New Zealand, but still a hidden gem! While everybody at Mount Cook walks the Hooker Valley Track, not many people know about Mueller Hut. The hut is iconic and the views from up there are amazing.

Mueller Hut Route is located in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park on the south island and includes 1806 steps and loads of steep switchbacks before taking you to the red Mueller Hut. On your way, you first pass Sealy Tarns, where you already have spectacular views over the Hooker Valley. From there on the track gets even harder, but at the 1800 meters high hut you’ll be rewarded with a 360-degree spectacular panorama encompassing glaciers, ice cliffs, vertical rock faces, and New Zealand’s highest peaks.

It’s definitely not the easiest of day walks and though it’s certainly doable to do the hike in one day, it’s also an option to stay in the hut overnight. This way you can enjoy the sunset, the sunrise and even the stars from there! It’s one of the best backcountry huts in New Zealand, but you need to book it in advance during summer.

It’s about 5km one way to the hut and in total, you’ll gain more than 1000m, so this is definitely not an easy hike. Be prepared by wearing good shoes and taking enough food and drinks. There is considerable avalanche danger during winter and spring to please be extra careful around that time. I wouldn’t do the track in winter as there will be snow and this requires good level of mountaineering experience.

Best photo spots on the hike:

  • Sealy Tarns: incredible views from here!
  • At the Mueller Hut: the most iconic hut of New Zealand. It screams for photos!
  • Views from the Mueller Hut: the views speak for themselves.
© Naruedom Yaempongsa

Rob Roy’s Glacier Track in Wanaka

Distance: 10 km return
Time: 3 – 4 hr return
Easy: Walking Track
Elevation Gain: 459m
More info here

PLEASE READ: According to the DOC website the Rob Roy Glacier Track is currently CLOSED! This is because the ground underneath a section of the track has eroded and this section is at risk of collapse. The track requires re-routing and at this stage they are unable to provide an opening date but anticipate this will not be before the start of the new year 2020. 

One of New Zealand’s finest half-day hikes with high mountains, glaciers, rivers and the most scenic views. A walk through typical New Zealand landscape! And compared to some other hikes on this list, this hike isn’t that hard at all.

Rob Roy’s Glacier Track is located in Mount Aspiring National Park in Wanaka on the south island and takes you into the alpine zone beneath Mount Rob Roy, which consists of alpine lakes, river valleys and the most incredible views. The Rob Roy Glacier is active and from the viewpoint you can watch and listen for avalanches and other signs of movement. The walk is uphill, but it’s not that steep.

Weather can be unpredictable in this alpine environment so be prepared for that. For the rest, this is a fairly easy hike that lots of people can do. We therefore definitely recommend this one!

Best photo spots on the hike:

  • The road towards the hike: this isn’t exactly a photo spot ON the hike, but the road towards the hike is already super beautiful! You definitely have to take your time for this!
  • The river valleys on your way: you’ll pass gorgeous valleys surrounded by high mountains on your way.
  • Rob Roy Glacier: of course you can’t miss the glacier itself!
© R. Vickers

Where to Stay

Find all hotels in New Zealand here!

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And that’s it for our favorite day hikes in New Zealand! Stay safe on the trails guys and let us know if you have done any of these hikes! Or do you have another favorite hike in New Zealand or somewhere else in the world? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Read all our other blogs about New Zealand here!

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2 comments

Maru August 24, 2020 - 2:19 pm

I also did the Tongariro crossing! It was amazing!
A great article! =)

Reply
Flip Flop Wanderers September 2, 2020 - 2:02 am

Thanks for the compliment Maru! We also loved the Tongariro Crossing, such a beautiful hike!

Reply

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