New Zealand is a country of stunning natural beauty! If you’re like me, it’s been on your bucket list ever since it appeared as Middle Earth in Sir Peter’s interpretation of The Lord of the Rings. The best way to experience New Zealand’s beauty is to follow the lead of that famous Fellowship. In other words, you need to walk through Middle Earth to truly experience it’s splendour.
Because we’ve lived in New Zealand for the past 10 months and have basically had no income, my wife and I have done A LOT of hiking. It’s free, it’s good exercise, and it’s a blast! Below I’ve listed my favorite day hikes in New Zealand from easiest to hardest.
If you want to skip ahead to any of the hikes, just click the name below:
1. Taranaki Falls – Tongariro National Park
AKA – The Best Short Hike on the North Island!
If you’re in the Tongariro area and only have a short time, I would HIGHLY recommend this hike! Taranaki Falls is the shortest hike on this list, but this hike provides a lot of bang for your buck.
Starting near Whakapapa village in Tongariro national park, this hike winds through beech forests, barren scrub lands, and rocky streams before arriving at the stunning Taranaki Falls. The walk only takes 2 hours and is relatively easy, so this is a great hike for families and anyone looking for a nice short hike. Check out this DOC page for more info.
This hike is a loop, so you can either do the lower track or the upper track first. I think the best way to do the hike is to start with the upper track, and then finish with the lower track. This way you start the hike going through the strangely beautiful scrublands. After an hour, you’ll reach the stunning Taranaki Falls as the Wairere River shoots through a rock channel. Finally, you’ll follow the winding Wairere River back to where you started.
If you want to see what this hike is really like, or if you want see some of our crazy shenanigans, check out the video below:
2. Hooker Valley Track – Mount Cook National Park
AKA – The Best Day Hike in New Zealand!!!
In my opinion, the Hooker Valley Track is the best day hike in New Zealand! For real. If I could only do one hike in New Zealand, this would be the one I’d pick. Here’s just a sample of what you get with the Hooker Valley Track:
- Stunning views of Aoraki/Mt. Cook (NZ’s highest peak)
- Incredible 360 views of glaciers and snow-capped peaks
- 3 scenic swing-bridges
- Two milky, glacial lakes (Mueller and Hooker Lakes)
- Icebergs floating around in Hooker Lake
- Well-maintained trail
- Picnic tables and viewpoints to stop for lunch
Seriously, You. Must. Do. This. Hike. I can’t say it enough. The Hooker Valley Track is amazing!
The Hooker Valley Track is located in Mount Cook National park, about 45 minutes past Twizel and Lake Pukaki. The road out to the hike is excellent and paved the entire way. This hike is 10 kilometres round trip and takes roughly 3 hours. Even though it’s fairly long, the hike is almost entirely flat so it’s a great hike for just about everyone! Check out the DOC page for more info.
*One important side note: This hike is amazing because of its soaring alpine views! It wouldn’t be nearly as impressive on a cloudy day, so make sure to go when there’s good visibility.
3. Rob Roy Glacier – Mount Aspiring National Park
AKA – The Best Glacier Hike in New Zealand!
The track to Rob Roy Glacier is a New Zealand classic complete with farmland, grazing sheep, beautiful forests, majestic peaks, and amazing glacier views. If you’re in the Otago lakes region on a clear day, don’t miss this hike!
The only downside to the Rob Roy track is the road to get out there. The national park is located about an hour outside of Wanaka, but the final 32 kilometres are on a washboard, gravel road. This road is really obnoxious, but trust me the scenery at the end makes it all worth it!
In my opinion, the views of Rob Roy glacier are way more impressive than the views of the West Coast glaciers (Fox and Franz Josef)! Plus, the hike to get there is really fun as it winds through untouched farmland and beautiful forests.
The track starts in the Matukituki valley and is approximately 10 kilometres for a return trip. It took us 3.5 hours to do the track, but we were taking our sweet time and taking tons of pictures! How could we not? This place is beautiful! Check out the DOC page for more info.
Check out our video below to see more of this beautiful hike:
4. Key Summit – Fiordland National Park
AKA – The Best Views of Fiordland Peaks!
Key Summit almost didn’t make the cut for us. We only had a couple days in Fiordland, and we weren’t sure what we should do with our limited time. Luckily, we picked this hike, because it offers stunning views of Fiordland’s peaks and amazing photo opportunities at the top thanks to a picturesque alpine tarn.
The hike to Key Summit is relatively short at only 3.4 kilometres. However, this hike takes about the same amount of time as some other longer hikes on this list (Rob Roy and Hooker Valley) because it’s steeper. This hike is definitely tougher than the first 3 on this list, but it’s still pretty achievable for most people with a decent level of fitness.
The Key Summit track starts at the Divide carpark in Fiordland National Park (this is also the ending carpark for the Routeburn Track). This hike follows the Routeburn Track route for about an hour before climbing to Key Summit for stunning views. Check out the DOC page for more info.
One of my favorite things about this hike is the alpine tarn at the top! On a calm day, this tarn provides a beautiful reflection pool that makes for some stunning photos.
Another nice thing about this track is that the beginning climbs through dense forest. Thus, even on a warm, sunny day you won’t have to deal with the heat for the majority of the climb.
Check out our video of Milford Sound and Key Summit below:
5. Tongariro Alpine Crossing – Tongariro National Park
AKA – The Best Day Hike on the North Island!
Tongariro is widely touted as the Best Day Hike in the World, and for good reason! In just over 19 kilometres, this hike travels through forest, scrubland, and eery Mars-like landscapes. Plus, it passes by multiple majestic peaks, beautiful emerald lakes, and provides stunning views of Lake Taupo. To top it all off, you get to hike around the base of Mt Ngauruhoe (otherwise known as Mt. Doom). So apparently, Boromir is wrong. “One CAN simply walk into Mordor.”
All I will add is a few tips to make your experience as enjoyable as possible:
- Go on a clear day! This hike is all about views. So if you can’t see very far, you’ll just be doing a really long walk through fog.
- There are many shuttle services, but if you can try to park at the ending carpark (Ketetahi) in the morning and then catch a shuttle to the start (Mangatepopo). This is a nice option because it allows you to do the hike at your own pace and not have to worry about catching a shuttle at the other end.
- Use sunscreen, hats, and clothing to shield yourself from the sun. New Zealand sun is brutal! Make sure to protect yourself.
- Bring lots of water!!!
My wife and I did this hike with her parents and had an amazing time! Check out our video below to see more:
6. Roy’s Peak – Wanaka
AKA – The Most Photogenic Viewpoint in New Zealand!
I first saw Roy’s Peak on Instagram and immediately wanted to get to that viewpoint! Roy’s Peak became Instagram famous over the past few years, and is now one of the most recognizable viewpoints in New Zealand (possible the world).
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. The hike to Roy’s Peak is hard! It’s 8 kilometres uphill to the viewpoint. Over those 8 kilometres, you climb roughly 1300m. However, if you give yourself enough time, this hike is doable for people who are in decent shape.
And the views from the top are truly incredible! Roy’s Peak offers panoramic views of Lake Wanaka and Mt Aspring. On a clear day, it really doesn’t get any better.
The carpark and start of the track are just 6 kilometres outside of Wanaka. However, during the summer the carpark gets super crowded so get there early (like before the sun is up) or expect to park pretty far away. I would actually recommend starting the hike at sunrise anyway, because it makes for beautiful lighting and less heat during the intense climb.
Definitely pack a lunch, because the view at the top is worth hanging around for a while. If you’re lucky, you might see some paragliders taking the easy way down.
If you aren’t an avid paraglider, then you’ll eventually have to hike back down to your car. The descent is possibly even harder than the ascent, because it’s really steep and tough on your knees. If you’ve got a trekking pole, I would suggest bringing it along. Here’s a link to the DOC page if you’d like more info.
If you’re in the Wanaka area on a clear day and up for a challenge, Roy’s Peak offers an incredible view and some Instagram-worthy photo-ops. Check out our video below to see more:
That completes the list of my favorite day hikes in New Zealand. If you’ve got a favorite hike that I missed, please let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading and I hope you get a chance to experience some of these incredible hikes!