routeburn walking track

Best Walks in New Zealand

June 2014 | By New Zealand Trails

7 minute read

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Looking for the best walks in New Zealand? Here's our pick of the best walking tracks in the country - a compelling range of experiences and environments, all of which are featured in most of our range of trips.

These are some of the locals’ favourite tracks. They combine spectacular scenery and surroundings with unique wildlife encounters, first class facilities and ease of access, creating memorable hiking experiences that will be the icing on the cake of your New Zealand vacation.

The best walks in New Zealand:

Routeburn Track

One of New Zealand's 'Great Walks' and a real notch in any global hiker's belt, the Routeburn has a rich history. It started life as an early Maori trail from Lake Wakatipu to Fiordland. Fast forward to the mid nineteenth century and it was a planned route to transport gold from Queenstown to Martins Bay for export. Today, it’s an important part of Te Wahipounamu, Southwest New Zealand’s World Heritage Area. The Routeburn offers a thrilling mix of alpine and forest hiking unrivalled by any other major New Zealand walk.

Routeburn Valley, Otago

We'd call this gorgeous view of the Routeburn Valley unrivalled, but there is plenty of competition throughout New Zealand.

The Routeburn Track with New Zealand Trails

A stunning drive from the popular resort of Queenstown, the Glenorchy end of the Routeburn Track offers one of the best day walks you'll find anywhere. There’s everything from stunning Red Beech forest to the azure blue Routeburn River and a moody, dramatic gorge as well as the natural amphitheatre that is the Routeburn Flats, which looks positively Tolkien-esque. If you're up for a challenge, a climb to Routeburn Falls will reward you with views which arguably surpass those on any other day walk in New Zealand. 

Routeburn River, Otago

The crystal clear waters of the Routeburn River will bring a smile to any face.

Three reasons to love the Routeburn Track

  • Easy access and short journey time from Queenstown
  • Glenorchy, Paradise and the 'Top of the Lake' are not to be missed
  • One of the few places to see one of our rarest native birds, the Mohua / Yellowhead

Milford Track

The Milford Track has been described as the ‘finest walk in the world’ and is on every hiker’s bucket list. Pioneered by Scottish explorer Quintin Mackinnon in 1888, the Milford Track is New Zealand's oldest and most famous recreational walking track. It’s an epic journey that begins at the northern end of Lake Te Anau before moving across the Southern Alps at the Mackinnon Pass. Walkers encounter Sutherland Falls, New Zealand's highest waterfall, before walking out to Milford Sound. If you had to choose one walking track that epitomises New Zealand, it would be the Milford Track.

milford track view new zealand

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more iconic or breathtaking view than this absolute stunner along the Milford track.

The Milford Track with New Zealand Trails

On all of our trips we understand time is our most precious of commodities! A day walk on the Milford Track from the Milford Sound end allows you to experience all three Milfords (the road, track and sound) in 24 hours. Travel the stunning Milford Road in the beautiful afternoon light and stay overnight in Milford before a short cruise across the sound to the track the following morning. Our half day walk begins in the pristine Fiordland rainforest, with the lower altitude podocarp forest and myriad of ferns, moss and lichens surrounding us in a lush green world. Glimpses of the Fiordland mountains and waterfalls cascading down sheer rock faces are everywhere, and the dramatically powerful Giant’s Gate Falls – our turnaround point for the walk – are a sight to behold.

milford track walking rainforest

The Milford Track forest is a living, breathing wonder of lush native flora and enchanting bird calls.

Three reasons to love the Milford Track from Milford Sound

  • Milford Sound and the Milford Track in the same day
  • Beat the crowds by staying the night in Milford and walking in the morning
  • Depart Queenstown and experience all this in just two memorable days

Hollyford Track

Located right alongside its more famous cousins, the Hollyford Valley is rich in history and is considered one of the most authentic, untouched corners of New Zealand. The Hollyford has a truly Kiwi story; it was visited by early Maori in their searches for Greenstone and later was the site of some over-ambitious and eventually doomed development plans by European settlers. In 1926, the valley was opened up to tourism by the one and only Davey Gunn. Davey Gunn was a bit of a character to say the least! Following a plane crash in 1936, Gunn made a remarkable journey for help, travelling from Martins Bay to Marian Corner in 21 hours. Incredible when you find out the journey usually took four days!

Gunn loved what he referred to as ‘The land of doing without’ and there are few other places that are as serene as the Hollyford valley. When you're in the heart of the valley, there's really something about the place which slows you down and helps you breathe. We call this the Hollyford magic.

hollyford track rainforest fiordland

Natural wonders abound in this untouched paradise. The Hollyford Track feels a world away from everything.

The Hollyford Track with New Zealand Trails

There's so much to see in the remote corners of New Zealand that we sometimes need a little help. In the case of the Hollyford Valley, a helicopter ride allows fast access to the heart of this special place – Martins Bay – bypassing the three day walk. Prepare yourself for a short hike along the exquisitely wild Fiordland coast to Long Reef, where we'll see the New Zealand Fur Seal and, if we’re lucky, the Fiordland Crested Penguin.

After our walk we’re due a little luxury; one of the real treats of staying at Martins Bay Lodge is a hot shower, comfortable bed and being looked after by our wonderful hosts… who says you need to rough it in the outdoors! The following day we start with the freshest of air and begin our walk on the Hollyford Track. It's difficult to describe the tranquility of the Hollyford. Being surrounded by the friendly forest giants (trees!) sets the mood for the day. Our trip in the Hollyford is punctuated by enchanting waterfalls and crystal clear pools, while the omnipresent Darran mountain range gazes down on us from above.

hollyford track bridge fiordland

The track intersects the meandering Hollyford River in true Kiwi style - with a swing bridge!

Three reasons to love the Hollyford Track

  • Less people; most days we hardly see anyone out here
  • Wildlife in nature, NZ fur seals, penguins and even dolphins
  • Combine your walk with iconic adventure activities like a helicopter flight and backcountry jet boat

Aoraki Mt Cook National Park

No walking itinerary of New Zealand is complete without visiting our most famous of national parks and the home of our highest peak. Aoraki/Mt Cook is interwoven with the human history of New Zealand, from the legend of Maui and his brothers to the mountaineering feats of the most famous of all Kiwis, Sir Edmund Hillary. Vastly different from the wide expanses of National Parks like Fiordland, Aoraki/Mt Cook is much more compact and provides a real alpine walking environment, even on shorter day walks.

hooker valley to aoraki mt cook

Aoraki / Mt Cook, New Zealand's tallest peak, stands proud above the Hooker Valley.

Aoraki / Mt Cook with New Zealand Trails

We enjoy some time in the National Park to make the most of the walking and photographic opportunities this alpine wonderland offers. Our favourite walk here is the Hooker Valley, a day walk full of scenic highlights at every turn. Nowhere else in New Zealand offers such easy access into a truly alpine environment, and you’ll never tire of the views of New Zealand’s highest peaks and glaciers. Lunch by the Hooker Glacier lake is the perfect place to enjoy a hot beverage and take it all in. An added bonus for flower lovers, the Hooker Valley has abundant native flora and is a sublime spot to see the Mt Cook buttercup in season (usually late October to mid December).

hooker valley track bridge

Exceptional sights in the Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park keep the effort-to-reward factor sky-high.

Three more reasons to love Mt Cook

  • Incredible night skies in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve
  • Relax after your walk in the iconic Hermitage Hotel bar
  • Two of the best visitor centres / museums in the country are located the village

Tongariro National Park

Made famous by the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Tongariro National Park’s history goes back to before J.R.R Tolkien was born! It was the first National Park to be established in New Zealand way back in 1887 at which time it was only the fourth National Park in the world. There are several volcanic peaks within the park, including Mount Ngauruhoe, Mount Ruapehu and the Park’s namesake, Mount Tongariro. It has an other-worldly landscape in some parts and is definitely worth a visit whilst you’re in New Zealand!

Walking Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand

The mighty Mt Ngaurohoe looming in the distance while conquering the Tongariro Crossing. This otherworldly landscape is food for the imagination and soul alike.

Tongariro National Park with New Zealand Trails

We spend a day in the National Park on our Sweet North trip to make the most of the walking and photographic opportunities this alpine wonderland offers. Our favourite hike here is the Tongariro Crossing – a trek that is often referred to as the best day hike in the world. There are jewel coloured lakes galore amidst a Mars-esque landscape. Watch out for the omnipresent red craters! Wherever you look whilst walking the Tongariro, the views are astounding.

Three more reasons to love Tongariro National Park

  • It was the first National Park to be gifted by a country’s indigenous people

  • It’s a Dual World Heritage site in recognition of its outstanding natural characteristics and its cultural significance

  • It’s the home of Mount Doom in Tolkien’s legendary stories

The brilliant walks on the South Island are all included in our World Heritage Walking Tour, our Kiwi Classic Hiking Tour, our Masterpiece Adventure Tour, and our Pure South Tour alongside some once-in-a-lifetime adventure activities, comfortable accommodation and the best local restaurants. A visit to the Tongariro National Park is included in our Sweet North Tour. Small, friendly groups led by expert Kiwi guides will make your New Zealand Trails tour a favourite travel memory for life. All of our guides are Kiwi born and bred. Find out more about our amazing team here.

See more about our New Zealand Trails trips here or for more information on our trips order our free brochure!

Updated 20/12/2018

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