The Land of the Long White Cloud is heaven for outdoor types – the ultimate trekking destination whether you’re a beginner or onto your fifth pair of trail boots. New Zealand’s majestic mountains, glaciers, lakes, forests and coastlines are dotted with unique native wildlife (hello kiwis) and you can barely take a few steps without discovering another awe-inspiring vista. We’ve put together a list of the top five unmissable trails to take your breath away.
1. Southern Alps
One of the best ways to experience the mountainous splendour of New Zealand is to hike through the Southern Alps. This South Island adventure offers a truly immersive wilderness experience, from the rocky outcrops of Mt Somers, through beech forest and tussock slopes to pristine Lake Tekapo, then past canyons and ice cliffs up the Hooker Valley. Take in the astounding topography from the summits of Aoraki, Sefton and Footstool, and marvel at Hooker, Mueller and Rob Roy Glaciers. Serious hikers will adore the gruelling 1800 steps to the freshwater lakes of the Sealy Tarns (also known as the Stairway to Heaven), and as you’d expect, the epic views from the top are unforgettable.
2. Tongariro Crossing
There’s a reason this trail on the North Island is known as ‘the world’s greatest day hike’. The Tongariro Crossing packs in every type of terrain possible, from ancient volcanic landscapes to alpine scenery, sulphuric lakes and lush greenery. This world-renowned hike through heritage-listed Tongariro National Park is open year-round.
It’s possible for experienced hikers to do the trail as a day trip, but consider overnighting in one or more of the cosy huts along the way – it’s worth spending more time in this majestic wonderland. Many hikers choose to explore the surrounding area more thoroughly, including visiting Lake Taupo, the historic Old Coach Road, and the rocky slopes of Mt Ngauruhoe – recognisable to Lord of the Rings fans as the location for Mt Doom!
3. Abel Tasman National Park
Looking for a slightly more easygoing adventure? Rated as the easiest of New Zealand’s Great Walks, this exceptional 55-kilometre coastal trail through Abel Tasman National Park is still a challenge but very achievable.
Departing from the Nelson area, the route to Takaka in Golden Bay, once favoured by gold miners and prospectors, will reward you with stunning views throughout Kahurangi National Park and from the top of Flora Saddle.
The journey offers marble limestone landscapes and majestic headlands overlooking golden sandy beaches, where you can swim and perhaps encounter orcas, dolphins, seals and penguins. Not only that, the region is wonderful for birding – keep your ears pricked along the way for the call of the ruru, New Zealand’s native owl.
4. Queen Charlotte Track
The spectacular Queen Charlotte Track takes you from Meretoto to Anakiwa by way of the Marlborough Sounds, known as the jewel of the South Island. You’ll take in undisturbed native bushland, picturesque coastal views around Resolution Bay and the old bridle path to Endeavour Inlet, as well as plenty of important points in Maori and European history. Along the way, you may well be visited by a weka – New Zealand’s Maori woodhen with a famously feisty personality! The terrain is satisfyingly diverse and most of the way is an easy hike, but those seeking a challenge will relish the third day, which has steep sections approaching the town of Portage.
5. Lake Waikaremoana
We may sound like a broken record, but that’s because New Zealand has so many Great Walks, including this one – Lake Waikaremoana. Setting off from Rotorua and navigating ethereal valleys of mist around Panekire Bluffs. Tree lovers will rejoice on this impressive journey circumnavigating most of Lake Waikaremoana in the middle of the lush Te Urewera National Park. You’ll encounter towering giants in Whirinaki Forest, known as a dinosaur forest for its tract of ancient podocarp trees up to 1000 years old. The red and silver beech old growth forest is not the only highlight: take in the enchanting wetlands, rivers, waterfalls and crystal-clear lake waters free of introduced aquatic life. Along the way, you’ll catch some unforgettable views out to the Pacific Coast and even Mt Ruapehu depending on the weather. What’s more, bird lovers will have the chance to spot almost every species of North Island native forest bird, from the tui and kiwi, to the kākā and kākāriki (yellow-crowned rainforest parakeet), the cheeky toutouwai (North Island robin) and lively little titipounamu (riflemen).