Hiking in New Zealand, or as the locals call it “tramping”, is one of the best things to do in the country.
Well it is known as one of the most beautiful countries in the world. After all they filmed the Lord of the Rings there for a reason.
From chilled out coastal walks to more strenuous mountain/volcano hikes, it’s beyond breathtaking.
I personally didn’t have as much time New Zealand as I would have liked, but that’s a good excuse to go back.
One thing you should know about hiking in New Zealand is that you must reserve ahead to book a place in designated campsites or huts along the trail. I didn’t know this before going but luckily it was towards the end of Autumn and going into low season, so I was able to get space.
There’s one notable exception which those familiar with hiking in NZ (I’m going to abbreviate to NZ to make it easier from now on) will no doubt wonder why is not on the list, and that’s the Milford Sound, the most popular hike in NZ. So many people wanted to do it that there was no space available.
That’s something to bare in mind if you visit and plan to hike. You can try free camping, although it’s technically not allowed on the trails. I managed to get away with that in some places.
But the 4 hikes I did manage to do were epically beautiful, and perfectly showed the diversity of nature in NZ.
Be sure to pick up a guide for New Zealand to help plan your trip in more detail. I used the Lonely Planet New Zealand (Travel Guide) for my trip and recommend it.
They’re in no particular order.
Hiking in New Zealand
1. The Tongariro Crossing
Maybe this one should be called the “Mordor” hike, as this is where they filmed Mordor in the Lord of the Rings. In fact I had the fun thought of dressing up as an ork and jumping out from the rocks to scare other hikers.
But alas lugging around an ork costume while hiking is not the best idea.
This was one of the best hikes imaginable, combining a volcano, volcanic lakes, and a jagged barren landscape the higher up you get.
At the end of Autumn it was cutting it fine on being able to do it, as the highest crossing point was beginning to get iced up and very hard to traverse.
You can also climb the famous volcano, also known as Mount Doom (again the Lord of the Rings). It’s very hard going. In fact I didn’t make it as I left it to late in the day to have enough daylight. Just don’t forget a cheap ring to throw in if you want to enact your own Lord of the Rings fantasy.
The Tongariro Crossing is in the centre/south of the north island. It took 3 days to complete. I had a lift with a friend into the national park and hitched out.
2. The Routeburn Track
I loved this hike, partially because it was the first one I did in NZ and introduced me to NZ nature.
You begin along a trail though dense forest with a fast flowing river running through it and waterfalls, before ascending up into the mountains.
Once up at the highest point you will be kept company by some local birds as you descend from the clouds to a lake below. The whole lake area was shrouded in mist when I was there and had a very ethereal effect.
Hiking out was along a mountain path and down into more forest and past waterfalls I was alone for pretty much this entire stretch and easily hitch-hiked out at the end by the main road.
The whole hike can take around 3 days, although when visiting they had a mountain marathon on where they ran it all in one day. Yeah I didn’t join that one.
I free camped for the first night there.
This hike is on the south island near Queenstown.
3. The Kepler Track
Up in the clouds. Really. There were times when I had trouble seeing ahead due to the cloud cover.
But once the clouds dispersed a little a view across snow covered mountains and down into the valley with it’s lakes appeared.
Like the Routeburn it starts out in dense forest with a lake and then high mountains on each side, before going up a very, (I will repeat for those thinking of doing this hike), very steep climb, that took around 2 hours.
You will be left breathless not just from that climb, but for the view that awaits you.
The Kepler Track is on the south island also not to far from Queenstown. Again it was a 3 day hike. This one I hitched a ride to the beginning and walked all the way out back to the closest town. My legs were rather shattered arriving at my favourite pie place in town to stuff myself!
I free camped 1 night here and woke up to the view in the photo above.
4. The Abel Tasman Coastal Walk
This made a brilliant change from the other hikes as it was at sea level walking along beaches and through lush forest.
It doesn’t sound the most exciting if compared to feeling remote high in the mountains with the views that go along with that, but surprisingly this is one of the best hikes I ever did.
Hiking along peaceful beaches, relaxing with a swim in the sea, enjoying being with nature, going to sleep next to a campfire by oneself was the perfect escape.
The Abel Tasman is also located on the south island but at the very northern part. This one took me only 2 days but I was enjoying running along the beaches, so that sped things up a bit.
Hitch-hiked in and out.
Free Camping in New Zealand
As far as free camping while hiking in New Zealand goes, in some places it can easily be done, while others such as high up on the Kepler Track it becomes more tricky.
The problem is it’s not allowed on the trails and there are sometimes rangers stationed at the camp places where you sleep.
It’s understandable why they do this, it keeps the amount of hikers down and makes you feel more away from it all as a result. But if you come last minute and 1 of the nights on a trail campsite isn’t available and therefore messing up your plans, like happened to me twice, then I say just go for it. As long as you’re discreet and camp away from view.
Get Into Nature Hiking in New Zealand
New Zealand lives up to its hype. The nature really is some of the best seen anywhere, and I’ve explored (as of writing this) around 85 countries, and I hear the same from many other travellers that have been there.
If you love hiking put NZ on the top of your list as a place to go.
And while were at it PeakWilderness have reviewed the best compass for survival which can be very handy when heading out into the wilderness, just in case.