Around 4.5 million people live in New Zealand. To put that into perspective, in the UK around 8 million people live in London alone. Which means New Zealand has a lot of empty, open space. And, luckily for the more active travellers among us, that open space is really quite beautiful.
I already gave New Zealand’s spectacular beaches a High Five; this time I’m moving off the sand and onto the hiking path. A simple equation tells us that not-many-people + beautiful open space = perfect hiking opportunities. Throw the fact that Kiwi land is peppered with breathtaking lakes, out-of-this-world mountains and some wonderful coastlines, and there’s really no reason why you’d want to explore any other way than on foot.
New Zealand and its hikes deserve a big High Five – so, I’m giving it one, and counting down five of the country’s best treks.
Follow the yellow brick road to New Zealand's best hikes | Image by chris.murphy
Five of New Zealand’s best hikes
1. Feel the (Route)burn
Pushed for time? Take a look at the Routeburn Track. With treks ranging in length, from half-day to 3 days, it won’t put a big dent in your trip, and what it lacks in duration it makes up for in size. Gigantic mountains, huge valleys, gushing waterfalls and glistening lakes are the order of the day on this route, which spans two of New Zealand’s national parks in the South Island. Climb to the top of the Harris Saddle, the highest point of the trek, for some 360 degree panoramic views. Surely views like this are the reason that hikes were invented.
2. What’s that Sound?
It’s billed as New Zealand’s most famous walk, and it’s easy to see why the travellers have been walking the Milford Track for decades.This 5-day trek through the South Island’s Fiordland National Park will have you ambling over suspension bridges and zig-zagging along mountain passes, past New Zealand’s tallest waterfall, Sutherland Falls.
The hills are alive with the Sound of Milford | Image by wanderstruck
Happily, the destination is just as rewarding as the journey – you’ll finish your trek at the almighty Milford Sound, the country’s famous fiord. It’s allegedly the wettest place in New Zealand, but don’t let that put you off; many claim that when it rains and the water creates temporary waterfalls cascading down the mountains, the Milford Track is at its best. If you’re pushed for time, check out of full day tour of Milford Sound itself.
3. Cool as ice
Had your fill of greenery? Then it’s time to hit the ice. Easily accessible from Christchurch, the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers will take your breath away. Grab your ice pick and crampons (those spiky things that slip onto the bottom of your hiking boots), and join a tour that will have you scaling ice walls and sliding through ice tunnels.
Not a woolly mammoth in sight
Our features editor Francoise took on the trek last year, and to say she enjoyed it would be an understatement: “Hiking Franz Josef was by far one of the best experiences of my life. Words can’t describe how incredible glaciers are – it made me want to go back and do geography A-Level all over again!”. Round it all off by chilling out (or warming up) in the Hot Pools. You can take on the glaciers on loads of our tours, including the Scenic Southern.
4. The long way round
In it for the long haul? Then take on the ultimate challenge and hike the entire length of New Zealand. Te Araroa (literally “the long path”) is the route that will take you from Cape Reinga in the north, along the coast, through forests, over volcanoes, past national parks and mountain passes right down to the South Island. If you tackle 25km a day, then the walk will take you around 4 months. If you’re not up for pushing your feet to the limit, you can stick to short sections of Te Araroa – like the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, for example. Which leads us nicely on to our next hike…
5. A sense of impending doom
It’s known as the best one day trek in New Zealand, and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in the North Island definitely lives up to the hype. This hike will take you across a remarkable volcanic landscape.
Emerald Lakes at the Tongariro Alpine Crossing | Image by Rosino
It’s not for the feint hearted, but the steep climb to Mangatepopo Saddle will all be worth it when you’re rewarded with some stunning panoramic views. The stench of sulphur reminds you that the volcano is still very much active, but the sight of the Emerald Lakes should take your mind off the smell. These water-filled craters are a mystical green colour, and will take your breath away. You can take on this hike as part of our 9-day tour, All of the North Island. Still got some energy left? Then take on the 3-hour climb of Mount Ngauruhoe – aka Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films, Hobbit fans.