For some of the best hiking in New Zealand, I highly recommend these four trails after spending a few months hiking in the country on both north and south islands.
New Zealand 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.
The four hikes mentioned here are part of the New Zealand great walks category. Basically meaning they’re awesome.
These New Zealand hiking trails are some of the best multi-day hikes in the country.
One thing you should know about tramping in New Zealand is that you must reserve ahead to book a place in designated campsites or huts along the trail.
You can do this at the official doc camping website here.
I didn’t know this before going but luckily it was towards the end of Autumn and going into low season. That way I was able to get space.
There’s one notable exception which those familiar with tramping in New Zealand and will no doubt wonder why it’s not on the list, and that’s the Milford Sound.
This is the most popular hike in New Zealand and so many people want to do it that there was no space available.
So I didn’t hike it, simple as that!
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 did, however, manage to get away with some free camping in New Zealand when there.
But the four hikes I did manage to do were epically beautiful, and perfectly showed the diversity of the nature in New Zealand.
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.
Best Hikes in New Zealand
Hiking New Zealand North Island
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) although it’s very hard going.
In fact, I didn’t make it as I left it too 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 three days to complete.
I had a lift into the national park and hitched out. It should be easy to hitch in and out to starting and endpoints if you don’t have your own transport.
Otherwise, organise some transport:
More about the Tongariro Crossing hike in this detailed trip report.
Hiking New Zealand South Island
Queenstown makes an excellent gateway to the south island’s hikes.
The Routeburn Track
I loved the Routeburn Track hike, partially because it was the first one I did in NZ and introduced me to NZ nature.
You begin along a trail through dense forest with a fast-flowing river running through it, and waterfalls, before ascending up into the mountains.
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.
Tramping 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 three 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.
A post about hiking the Routeburn Track here
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 view across snow-covered mountains and down into the valley with its lakes appeared.
The beautiful Kepler Track.
Like the Routeburn, it starts out in dense forest until high mountains appear 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 not too far from Queenstown. Again it was a three-day hike.
This one I hitched a ride to the beginning and walked all the way out back to the closest town.
I free camped for one night there and woke up to the view in the photo above. A more detailed report on the Kepler Track hike.
The Abel Tasman Coastal Walk
This made a brilliant change from the other hikes as it was at sea level tramping 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 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 myself 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 two days but I was enjoying running along the beaches, so that sped things up a bit.
Hitch-hiked in and out like the others. More on the Abel Tasman hike.
A video summing up 4 of the best hikes in New Zealand:
Free Camping When Tramping 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 as it keeps the number of hikers down and makes you feel more away from it all as a result.
But if you come last minute and one 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 and you’re not in a group. Just 1-2 people so as not to get in the way or noticed.
Hiking in New Zealand
New Zealand lives up to its hype. Nature really is some of the best I’ve seen anywhere (competing with Iceland and Alaska), and I’ve explored (as of writing this) around 90 countries.
I hear the same from many other travellers that have been there.
If you love hiking put New Zealand on the top of your list as a place to go.
There are so many great hikes to do in New Zealand and in particular the next time I visit I would love to see New Zealand’s famous Blue Lake.
Be sure to get travel insurance in case something goes wrong. Medical treatment can be expensive. I use World Nomads for my travels and outdoor adventures:
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And while we’re at it PeakWilderness have reviewed the best compass for survival which can be very handy when heading out into the wilderness, just in case.