Day Walks on New Zealand’s Great Walks – North Island

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By Kim Mackay-Wallace

5 minute read

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New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks are a selection of the best hiking tracks in the country, showcasing a range of different landscapes, geological wonders, and a vast variety of flora and fauna. The Great Walks typically take between 3 to 5 days to walk in their entirety, but if multi-day tramping isn’t your cup of tea, or you’re a bit short on time, there are plenty of great options to explore New Zealand’s premier tracks in smaller bite sized pieces. Each of the tracks can be experienced as day hikes, which is a great way to enjoy the best snippets of each track without having to hike the whole thing (or carry a tramping pack or sleep in huts and tents!).  

Of New Zealand's 10 Great Walks, 3 are found in the North Island, 6 are in the South Island, and 1 on Stewart Island. Below are our top picks of day walks on the New Zealand Great Walks located in the North Island. Our Day Walks on New Zealand’s Great Walks – South Island blog is full of ideas and helpful information on the other 7 of New Zealand’s Great Walks.

Tongariro Northern Circuit Day Walks

1. Tongariro Alpine Crossing: 7-8 hours | 19.4km/12mi | One-way track

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the most famous day walks in the world. Many people don’t know that this is in fact only a portion of the Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk, which take 4 days to complete. The Tongariro Crossing’s reputation is well-deserved, and the track traverses one of the most unique and diverse landscapes in the country. The walk takes a full day, with a total elevation change of 1196m/3924ft, and requires a moderate-high level of fitness. The track is well-maintained and well-marked and very easy to follow. It is a big day out, but well worth every ounce of effort for the spectacular other-worldly views you will be rewarded with. Check out our Tongariro Crossing blog for more information about this track.

Tongariro Crossing2

The Tongariro Crossing is part of our Sweet North trip, on day four you’ll explore this extra-terrestrial landscape!

2. Taranaki Falls: 2 hours | 6km/3.7mi | Loop track

There are several day walks that all begin at Whakapapa Village, making it a great place to visit for a day or two to explore the National Park. If you’re short on time, or interested in just doing a short walk, a trip to the Taranaki Falls is a must-do. 

The track passes through tussock, shrublands and beech forest, and sidles alongside picturesque streams. Remnants of eruptions of the symmetrical cone-shaped volcanic mountains that define the area cover the ground, and old lava flows and layers of pumice and ash can be seen throughout the walk. The Taranaki Falls tumble 20 metres over the edge of one of these ancient lava flows, which resulted from the eruption of Mt Ruapehu roughly 15,000 years ago.

3. Tama Lakes: 5-6 hours return | 17.6km/10.9mi | Return via same track

Starting from Whakapapa, follow the Taranaki Falls track to the falls, before continuing on the Tama Lakes Track. After climbing through alpine tussock fields to a viewpoint above the lakes you will be rewarded with stunning views of Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu. This track is a great option for those wanting a longer walk that offers spectacular views of the Tongariro National Park, but one less strenuous and with less elevation change than the Tongariro Crossing.

Lake Waikaremoana Day Walks

 1. Panekire Bluffs: 2 hours return | 4.4km/2.7mi | Return via same track

For the best bang-for-buck day walk on the Waikaremoana Great Walk Track, start the track from the Onepoto end (closest to Waikaremoana township) and head up to the first trig above the Panekire Bluffs. The track ascends steady uphill from the carpark to the trig, but only takes roughly an hour to get to the lookout where you will have magnificent views of Lake Waikaremoana and the surrounding mountains.

 2. Bald Knob: 6 hours return | 11.6km/7.2mi | Return via same track

If you’re still feeling energetic after the climb up to Panekire Bluffs, continue about 2 hours further along the track which follows the ridgeline. The gradient is much mellower from the trig onwards, and there are several great lookouts along the way. Bald Knob gets its name due to the lack of vegetation here as a result of a fire. This has cleared the foliage to create a perfect viewpoint, and a great spot to stop for lunch before heading back down the hill.

Whanganui River Journey Day Walks and Day Trips

Bridge to Nowhere Whanganui River

 1. Bridge to Nowhere Walk: 1.5 hours return | 3km/1.9mi | Return via same track

The Whanganui River Journey is the only of the Great Walks that is in fact not a walk at all but a paddle. It traverses the Whanganui River and is most commonly paddled in canoes. One of the highlights of the journey, however, is a short side trip to the Bridge to Nowhere. This can be explored as a day walk and is accessible by jet boat. After a short jet boat ride up the river to Mangapurua Landing, it is a gentle 40-minute walk to the abandoned road bridge, nestled deep in the Whanganui National Park. Built in the mid-1930s to provide road access to nearby farms, the construction of the road through the Mangapurua Valley was later abandoned and the nearby settlements deserted. The bridge remains, looking out of place in its wild natural environment perched high above the Mangapurua Stream. A half day trip up the river by jet boat followed by a walk to the Bridge to Nowhere makes for an exciting way to experience the Whanganui National Park.

 2. Bridge to Nowhere Walk & Paddle Day Trip | Full day - 1.5 hour walk, 2-4 hour paddle

The Whanganui River and National Park are best experienced from the water, and various small sections of the river can be paddled as a day trip. The most popular day trip involves a combination of walking and paddling. You will be dropped by jet boat to the Mangapurua Landing with your canoes or kayaks. After walking to the bridge and back, jump in your canoe or kayak for a pleasant paddle back down the river to Pipiriki.

 3. Whanganui River Paddling Day Trip | 3-5 hours | 22km/13.7mi | One-way

For a more adventurous day’s paddling, take on the upper section of river from Taumaranui to Ohinepane. Step back in time and enjoy the tranquility of the river, the rugged terrain and lush native forest of the Whanganui National Park as you float downstream, and get the heart racing with a few rapids along the way. There are several local providers in Taumaranui who rent canoes and kayaks, offer guided tours, and arrange transport to and from the river.

Join us on our Sweet North Tour to explore the Tongariro Crossing and many of our other favourite North Island spots with our passionate and knowledgable guides. For more information on the trips we offer, request a FREE COPY OF OUR BROCHURE here!

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