The 6 Best Day Hikes in New Zealand
New Zealand is packed with outstanding hiking trails, and choosing the best day hikes in the country is no mean feat. We’ve picked six of our favourites to call New Zealand’s best day hikes, but there are so many others that could have easily made this list.
Ben Lomond, Queenstown
Lace up your hiking boots, this beautiful trail is only a short 5-minute walk from the centre of town. It’s the ultimate day hike, right in Queenstown’s backyard! The great thing about this hike is that you have a few different options; for a more challenging day head up right from the bottom of the Skyline Gondola starting at the Tiki Trail, right in Queenstown’s centre for a 6-8 hour (8 kilometres/5 miles) return trip with elevation gains of 1437m.
Alternatively ease into it by riding the gondola up to gain a head start of around 459 metres (1506 feet) in vertical elevation. From there it’s anywhere from 4-6 hours return with a 978m elevation gain.
Finally, the third, and gentlest option is to walk to the Ben Lomond Saddle after riding the gondola up, which means an elevation gain (of the hike) of around 530 metres (1739 feet). You’ll still experience amazing views whilst avoiding the tougher hike to the summit. This track is well maintained (thanks to the Department of Conservation) but does get challenging after the Saddle, from which you’ll climb around, up and over rocks and boulders, which litter the steep ridgeline to the summit.
The effort to reach Ben Lomond’s summit is rewarded with breath-taking 360-degree views of the famous Remarkables Mountains, and the south facing Walter and Cecil Peaks across Lake Wakatipu. To the west you’ll spot Moke Lake and numerous peaks and valleys over towards the boundary of Fiordland National Park – a photographer’s dream!
If you’re still full of energy you have the option to head from the Ben Lomond Saddle to another summit, Bowen Peak.
The various trails around Ben Lomond and the Skyline Gondola combine to become undoubtedly Queenstown’s most versatile day hike – however you choose to put them together! You’ll be looking down on Queenstown from the same perspective as the Kea, one of the world’s most intelligent birds. Ben Lomond is a great place to spot these alpine parrots in their element.
Click the button below to check out the ‘Tui’ Adventure with Active Adventures, which includes the Ben Lomond hike.
Roys Peak, Wanaka
Located just 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) from the small lakeside town of Wanaka, Roy’s Peak is another popular day hike with stunning views of the Southern Alps.
The hike itself is reasonably easy, passing through alpine meadows and tussock grasslands to the exposed tops. Between 5 and 7 hours, typically, will get you to the peak and back again – with an elevation gain of 1228 metres (4029 feet) – definitely worthy of a day excursion!
The track begins at the Roys Peak track car park on the Mount Aspiring Road and there are toilets at the beginning and end of the track. The walk itself, gives you breath taking, uninterrupted views of the eastern side of the mountain, with beautiful Wanaka as the backdrop. We’re above the bushline here so there are no trees to block view or the elements! You’ll want sunscreen, wind proof clothes and plenty of water with you. If you can tick this hike off your list during the New Zealand off-season you’ll avoid the queue for your own photo on the iconic ridgeline.
The spectacular views of the surrounding islands, bays, and snow-capped Southern Alps, like Mt. Aspiring/Tititea, it’s no wonder this track has become a canvas for professional and amateur photographers alike.
Queen Charlotte Track, Marlborough Sounds
The Queen Charlotte track stretches between Keneperu Sound and Queen Charlotte Sound in the beautiful and under-rated region of Marlborough Sounds at the northern tip of the South Island.
The track itself is a multi-use trail, meaning both hikers and mountain bikers can enjoy some of New Zealand’s most beautiful terrain – and allowing for excursions of a few hours up to five days.
Hikers and bikers on the Queen Charlotte Track can be inserted or extracted via water taxi to some of the more remote stretches of the trail, and the same water taxi services offer luggage transfers too, so you don’t need to carry significant weight in your pack on this trail. You can also find a handful of beautiful resorts and lodges serving delicious local food and wine, right down to basic Department of Conservation backcountry huts.
This track is truly one of a kind with its gorgeous coastal views, native bush, and stunning Sounds, there’s always plenty of opportunities to spot native wildlife too!
If you’re walking the track, it’s suitable for those with moderate fitness (though some parts are more challenging) – the total track distance is 71km. There are several beautiful day walk options that aren’t too difficult to access, and we’d recommend these for your first foray onto the Queen Charlotte Track. Punga Cove to Furneaux Lodge is a 10.7 kilometre section (6.6 miles), and arriving at this beautiful lodge so far from civilisation is an experience you won’t soon forget. We’ve woven this particular stretch of the track into our ‘Elegant South’ trip.
If you’re a keen mountain biker then this track should definitely be on your to-do-list! Biking is permitted year-round except for the section between Ship Cove and Keneperu Saddle, which closes to bikers over the busy summer season (December 1st – February 28th).
If you’re relatively fit and experienced the track is very rideable (and nicely challenging in certain sections). We’d recommend allowing two to three days to ride the entire track. Keep in mind that Ship Cove has no road access, and so you’ll need to organise a water taxi transfer if it’s your desired starting point.
The Queen Charlotte Track is also a part of Te Araroa – a 3000km walking trail from Cape Reinga in the north to Bluff in the south. The Te Araroa is the ultimate tramping experience, with this portion of the track being arguably one of the most scenic – be sure to add some or all of it to your bucket-list.
Click the button below to check out our ‘Elegant South’ trip, which includes day walks on the Queen Charlotte Track, and a stay at the beautiful and remote Furneaux Lodge.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is undoubtedly New Zealand’s best day hike. This 19.4 kilometre (12 mile) hike across the volcanic, lunar landscapes of the Tongariro National Park is considered by many to be the best day hike in the world.
The track is weaved over and around two volcanoes, Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom from Lord of the Rings movie trilogy!), and beyond these two mammoth volcanoes is Mount Ruapehu, the highest point on New Zealand’s North Island.
Most hikers will start the famous crossing from the Mangatepopo car park side, as it means less elevation gain over the course of the long day’s hiking. Regardless of which end you choose to start at, you’ll likely need to use one of the shuttle services from Taupo or Turangi to get to/from the track as it’s an A to B route.
The route offers spectacular views of the barren geothermal landscape, and passes by the iconic Emerald Lakes. There are also several side-trips including a challenging hike to the peak of Mount Ngauruhoe. On our ‘Timeless North’ trip we won’t tackle the Crossing itself, but we do explore much of the Tongariro National Park, including a beautiful walk around Lake Rotopounamu, as well as a short walk to Silica Rapids.
This day hike over the Tongariro Crossing is not to be missed if you’re fit enough to take it on, it’s a challenge, and the weather conditions must be watched carefully before and during your hike, but the vistas are absolutely worth the effort.
Click the button below to check out the ‘Kauri’ trip with Active Adventures, which includes the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
Martins Bay Lodge to Long Reef Point Seal Colony, Fiordland National Park
On our ‘Elegant South’ trip we’ll take a short but dramatic helicopter flight from Milford Sound, over the Fiordland mountains and out to the West Coast, before swooping in to land close by Martins Bay Lodge. The lodge is a true slice of paradise in the New Zealand wilderness; your lodge hosts for the evening will cook and serve you a three course meal in secluded luxury, you can even purchase a glass of wine or beer to go with it.
Before we settle in to the beautifully appointed wilderness lodge though, we’ll take a short walk out to the peninsula at Long Reef Point:
At first we’ll wind our way through dense, jungle-like cover (remember, this area of the West Coast gets more rainfall than anywhere else in New Zealand), before long though, the thick growth gives way to more resilient, but lower growing coastal bush. The harsh winds driving into this land from across the Tasman Sea mean nothing grows tall this close to the beach unless it is protected from the elements by the shape of the land.
Our walk is around 8 kilometres (5 miles), and will take us past Martins Bay Hut, a Department of Conservation maintained backcountry hut. Beyond the hut is Long Reef Point, a long-time home to a large colony of New Zealand fur seals, as well as, at the right times of year, the Fiordland crested penguin. If we’re quiet, and keep our distance, this is usually a perfect opportunity to test our skills as wildlife photographers.
Afterwards we’ll retrace our steps to Martins Bay Lodge, clamber out of our hiking boots, and enjoy some cheese, crackers, wine and beer whilst the log fire warms our bones and we melt into the caress of the couches and watch the sunset.
Click the button below to check out our ‘Elegant South’ trip, which includes the Martins Bay Lodge experience.
Spa Park to Huka Falls, Lake Taupo
Short but sweet, the Spa Park to Huka Falls Walk near Taupo on the North Island is not to be missed! At just 3 kilometres long (1.9 miles) it packs great bang for very low buck – one of the reasons we love it so much.
The trail winds along the banks of the Waikato River in the central North Island and culminates in the dramatic and powerful cataract of Huka Falls. The narrow gorge was naturally formed over time as the river sought the easiest route downhill, but its flow rate is controlled mechanically. The Control Gates Bridge upstream, installed in 1941 and regulated today by Mercury Energy, allows the hydro-electric damn system to produce electricity for Kiwi households.
The volume of water pummelling through the 15m wide, 10m deep channel of hard rock can be increased or decreased depending on the power demands at any given time.
You can begin this walk from the car park, which is 5 minutes from the river’s edge where you’ll cross the Otumuheke Stream, a natural hot stream which flows into the Waikato. There are shorter and longer options for this track too but the water feature, Huka Falls, is the reason to visit, and one of our favourites.
Click the button below to check out our ‘Pristine New Zealand’ trip, which includes the Huka Falls walk.