Before going to New Zealand I’d often hear stories about how beautiful it is, I’d seen countless documentaries and films showcasing what the landscape has to offer, not to mention the LOTR trilogy.
I spent 2 months travelling throughout the North and South Islands undertaking hikes from as short as 1 hour all the way up to 8 hours. The great thing is, that whatever your fitness level, there are always options and that doesn’t include the multi-day hikes.
Here is my list of the best day hikes in New Zealand.
My first hike would take me to the breathtaking area some will know as Mount Doom. (Yep, the giant volcano from Lord of the Rings)
Voted the best day hike in New Zealand and I can certainly see why. This hike is simply breathtaking, trekking over surreal volcanic landscape, I felt like I was walking on Mars, or deep in Middle Earth about to meet a horde of hungry orcs.
It takes several hours to complete the 19.4km hike, starting at the car park in Mangatepopo, from here you’ll walk up the Devils Staircase passing the soda springs to the southern crater where you can take one of the side trips to the summit of Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom). Alternatively, you can continue to the Red Crater (1800m) where you have the option to follow the poled route to the summit of Mt Tongariro which will take an additional 1-2 hours. From here you go down to the magical emerald lakes where we stopped to eat before the final descent past the lava fields and meadows to the Ketetahi trailhead where you’ll be able to catch your bus back to the start.
With the weather being so unpredictable make sure you pack a few layers. It was fairly warm when we first started the walk but I was pretty damn cold once I reached the south crater. I’d recommend wearing light layers that offer a lot of warmth such as base layers or light windproof jackets.
To get here I’d recommend booking with your hostel/hotel a few days before as the shuttles do get booked out. There are a few different companies that provide transport so just ask the reception of your hostel/hostel to find out which one is the cheapest. I paid $65 for the return.
Location: Tongariro National Park
Duration: 6-8 hours
Located in one of my favourite places in the world, Isthmus Peak is a long steady climb offering amazing views overlooking Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountains.
I’m quite lucky as I actually ended up in Wanaka to hike Roys Peak but due to the lambing season, it was closed for the month so we picked this one instead. With a steady climb up to 1385m following a poled route that eventually turns into a 4wd track, the views along the way are truly remarkable. Offering panoramic views of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea as well as the Southern Alps, you’re eyes are certainly spoilt for choice. At the top, I got talking to a crazy Scottish guy who seems to run up Isthmus or Roys twice every Sunday… I couldn’t even walk it twice…
If you don’t have a car then it’s still relatively easy to hitchhike to the starting point, so just make sure you pack a good amount of water, food and don’t forget your hiking boots!
Duration: 5-7 hours
If you’re driving to Milford Sounds and want to do a 3-hour return hike on the way be sure to check this place out. I actually misread somewhere saying it would only take 30 minutes. It was forecast heavy rain and we thought we wouldn’t need any water for the short walk, so just went without. After walking for over 45 minutes in heavy rain, our search for Lake Marian came to no avail.. An hour and a half later we finally came across what turned out to be my favourite lake in New Zealand. I felt like I was dreaming and if some giant monster came flying out the water, I probably wouldn’t have been surprised. Even if you don’t do the hike it’s worth coming here just to see the Lake Marian falls which are 10 minutes beyond the swing bridge which crosses the Hollyford river.
Location: Fiordland National Park
Duration: 2-3 hours
The track is 8km of constant uphill walking until you reach the summit at 1578m.
I did Roy’s Peak twice, once for sunset and once for sunrise. The second hike was definitely the most eventful as we camped half way up to make sure we had enough time to get to the top for sunrise. With it only being a short 10-minute drive and being quite late at night with fewer cars on the road, we thought we’d be able to reach the base of the Peak in 30-40 minutes, however, it ended up taking nearly 2 hours….so do catch a ride or drive if you can.
We ended up hiking for another 2 hours before we found a reasonably flat spot to pitch the tent. We got up at 4 am and managed to get to the “viewing point” in good time. Due to not many people being here, I got plenty of time to find a good place to take some photos of the amazing scenery. Although the hike isn’t as interesting as some of the others, the views certainly make up for it.
If you go during the day it’s generally too crowded to take the photo that has been plastered on the internet, so for those people who enjoy photography a bit more make sure you either go for sunrise, sunset….or…both!
Duration: 5-6 hours
Probably the hardest hike that I did, especially as I started from the bottom of the gondola. If you want to make it a bit easier and avoid having to trek through the forest (where you can see the mountain bikers) you can cut out about 1-2 hours by taking the gondola up to the Luge track. Due to this being a fairly long walk if you’re trying to reach the summit, make sure you plan the trip beforehand and get up early to make a start. If you’re going to the saddle, it should take around 3-5 hours and the summit 6-8 hours. I’d definitely recommend getting to the summit as the views are amazing! You’ll also find some local entertainment at the top from the Kea, a rare native mountain parrot; these little fellows will steal your stuff so watch your bags!
The summit offers a 360-degree view over Lake Wakatipu and the Queenstown moorland which you can’t get if only tackling the saddle. Overall the terrain is quite forgiving until you start the track to the summit which more or less consists of lots of huge boulders and rocks so make sure you take some footwear with a good level of grip.
Duration: 3-8 hours. Depends on whether you take the Gondola up.
Just a short drive from Fox Glacier is a wonderful hike around the stunning Lake Matheson. Formed over 14,000 years ago, Lake Matheson displays some of the finest reflections you’ll ever see. With an amazing backdrop of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman, it’s easy to see why it’s the most photographed lake in New Zealand.
I was determined to capture the reflection so I got up at 5:00am the next day to walk around the lake and make sure I found the perfect place to capture some photos.
A visit to Lake Matheson is an absolute must for anyone making their journey on towards Queenstown.
Location: Fox Glacier
The Best Day Hikes In New Zealand
All the hikes listed above are just the ones I managed to do whilst travelling through New Zealand. If you’ve been and have any other favourites I’d love to know for the next time I head over that way!