Hiking New Zealand Guide 2020/21
In this article:1. All you need to know about hiking in New Zealand 2. Hiking in New Zealand post COVID-19 3. The best time to hike 4. The best New Zealand day hikes and short walks 5. The best multi-day hikes in New Zealand 6. What else you’ll do and see while hiking in New Zealand 7. Tips for planning your New Zealand hiking trip 8. Why book a guided New Zealand hiking tour?
All you need to know about hiking in New Zealand
New Zealand Trails super-guide Miki explains everything you need to know about New Zealand travel. She has some great tips on New Zealand hiking like the best time of year for hiking, our favourite day hikes and multi-day adventures.
New Zealand is a land of striking contrasts in its incredible scenery, from white sand beaches and sleeping volcanoes, to temperate rainforest and snow-capped mountain peaks; around each bend, there’s a view guaranteed to impress even the most hard-to-please traveller. What better way to experience this phenomenal nature than on foot? With thousands of kilometres of walking trails stretching to the furthest corners of each island, hiking New Zealand has got to be one of the best ways to discover the country’s outstanding natural beauty.
If you’re planning a hiking trip, then you’ve come to the right place. With varied terrain and somewhat temperamental weather system, it pays to be clued up about what to expect from your New Zealand hiking experience. So, with that in mind, we’ve collated a wealth of research and resources to compile an up-to-date hiking guide filled with everything you could ever want to know about New Zealand hiking trails.
We’ve pulled together the collective knowledge from our team of outdoors experts who’ve grown up in New Zealand and spent many years exploring their backyard on foot. By the end of this guide, you should have all of your questions answered (but if not, then get in touch and we’ll be happy to help!) and be ready to lace up your boots for your own New Zealand hiking adventure!
Vocabulary: Do you hike, backpack or trek?
Depending on whereabouts in the world you hail from, you’ve likely encountered a few different terms to describe ‘hiking’. Here in New Zealand, we have our own unique hiking vocabulary which you’ll probably encounter on your travels. Before we get too much further into the exciting information, we wanted to outline the different terms and what they mean.
- Hiking – a universally recognised term to describe something more than a stroll around the park. A hike is typically off-road on a purpose-built or naturally-occurring trail and can vary in length from an hour or two to a multi-day hike.
- Backpacking – commonly used in North America to describe an overnight hike where you carry your gear on your back. Here though, a ‘backpacker’ is typically considered a tourist travelling on a tight budget and carrying all their worldly possessions with them in their very large backpack.
- Rambling – an expression used in the UK to mean a walk or hike in the countryside. People who join ‘rambling clubs’ are charmingly referred to as ‘ramblers’.
- Bushwalking – heralding from Australia, the term ‘bushwalking’ describes the act of walking in natural areas. It sounds best when spoken with an Aussie twang!
- Trekking in New Zealand – trekking is a term used widely to refer to a long hike, perhaps several days or even weeks long. It’s often used to describe iconic hikes such as the trek to Everest Base Camp in the Himalayas, or the famed Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru.
- Tramping – a term that broadly covers all the above. In New Zealand, a ‘tramp’ is referring to a hike, not a homeless person.
Hiking in New Zealand post COVID-19
What will hiking in New Zealand look like post COVID-19? The world is set to enter a ‘new normal’ which will inevitably take some time to adjust to. We’re excited to see that outdoor recreation and a more sustainable approach to tourism are at its core. With the reopening of New Zealand and all its incredible outdoor amenities, Kiwis (and soon travellers) will be able to resume their outdoor adventures.
As one of the first countries in the world to reach zero cases and to lift restrictions, New Zealand really is the place to be for your hiking adventure. Our land has enjoyed a well-deserved break from mass tourism these past few months. This means when you come and visit post COVID-19, you’ll see the country as it hasn’t been seen in years; quieter, less congested and with friendly locals out enjoying their backyard.
Here at New Zealand Trails, we run small group tours, which means you’ll have no more than 14 people on your trip. We are locals, and with that comes the knowledge to see the country’s most popular spots without the crowds. Our Kiwi guides are fully trained and briefed on how to navigate this post pandemic world, armed with the knowledge (and the hand sanitiser!) to keep you safe as you explore our picturesque backyard.
We are very much looking forward to welcoming you back here to Aotearoa!
The best time to hike
The good news is that there’s no such thing as a bad time to visit New Zealand! We have four distinct seasons, each bringing something unique to the landscape, so no matter what time of year you visit, the views will be equally impressive. Whether you enjoy the changing colours of autumn, the snow-capped peaks of winter, the abundance of spring, or the long idyllic summer days, New Zealand delivers.
That said though, most people like to hike when the weather is at its best which is fair enough. Whilst we don’t have a wet and dry season, our maritime climate means that the weather patterns can be somewhat unpredictable. A rainy day or two during your time here is inevitable.
However, that same maritime climate also means that we never really experience extreme weather conditions – it doesn’t ever get too hot, or too cold here. Which means that hiking and walking year-round is doable, depending on whereabouts you’re looking to hit the trail.
As a broad rule of thumb, if you like hiking in mild conditions with limited amounts of the wet stuff, we recommend that you plan your hiking trip for some time between October and April –spring through autumn. There are pros (and the odd con) to each season, as well as hikes that are better suited to certain times of the year. For a detailed look at when to plan your visit, check out this post on the best time for hiking in New Zealand.
It’s important to mention that the weather can change very quickly, particularly in alpine areas, so if you’re planning on heading out for a hike, be sure to keep an eye on weather conditions. The MetService is a reliable source of accurate forecasts and any weather warnings to be aware of.
The best New Zealand day hikes and short walks
With such incredible scenery right on our doorstep, you can bet on the fact that if there’s an awesome view to be had or an amazing sight to be seen, some New Zealander (or Kiwi, as we’re known) has cut a track to it. Often the best vistas are reachable only on foot, which means you get to enjoy not only the view but the trip to and from it as well. And the journey doesn’t have to be a long or arduous one either, some of our most iconic scenery and awe-inspiring natural wonders can be reached in as little as 30 minutes hiking or even less.
On your travels, you’ll notice there are hundreds of short day hikes and short walks scattered throughout the country. Some are signposted but many aren’t, so it pays to do your research. Chat to the locals and ask for their recommendations on the best day hikes in the area. If you’re tight on time, or you want to experience as many different landscapes as you can in this natural playground, then short walks and day hikes are the best way to go.
A lot of these walks can be found in our 13 National Parks and for the most part, they’re well-established and maintained. You’ll notice that they’re graded from easy to expert, so you know what to expect from the trail ahead. Easy tracks are typically wide and smooth, often accessible for those in wheelchairs or even very young children.
On the other hand, expert tracks are often steep and rugged, traversing challenging backcountry environments. And of course, there’s all the different tracks and trails in between as well, so there’s a walk to suit everyone no matter your fitness level or hiking experience. Take a look at our fitness guides for the Masterpiece New Zealand hiking tour, you’ll get an idea of what sort of fitness you’ll need.
To choose the right track for you, consider how energetic you’re feeling, how much time you have and what the weather’s looking like. From there you can check out individual day hikes on the Department of Conservation website which will give you a track overview, including the distance, elevation gain and approximate hiking time. You can also chat with the staff at local i-SITE visitor centres which can be found in most towns.
Another option is to book on a multi-day New Zealand walking tour with a company that operates guided trips. The benefits include all the nitty-gritty details being taken care of for you – you only need to make one booking and everything else is sorted out – a truly stress-free travel experience!
Choose a local company and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions about the group sizes, the guides and the activity levels. You want to be sure that you find the right hiking trip for you and that you’ll have the chance to experience a wide variety of tracks and trails, both well-known and further off the beaten track. If your budget permits, then joining a small-group tour can be one of the best ways to experience New Zealand.
Best day hikes in New Zealand and our favourite short walks
As long-term locals and hiking enthusiasts, we wanted to share a few of our favourite New Zealand day hikes (and short walks) with you in the hope that you can include them in your plans. They’re among the more well-known tracks, but that doesn’t detract from their beauty, so we reckon it’s well worth factoring them into your dream hiking trip.
If you’re hiking New Zealand’s North Island then we recommend the Tongariro Crossing hike in the Tongariro National Park.
Known as one of the finest day walk, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing leads walkers through a strange but beautiful volcanic landscape. Set in a UNESCO dual World Heritage area, the walk is 19.4km (12 miles) in total and will take most hikers a full day, so it’s worth setting off early. It’s one of the more challenging hikes, but the views of emerald mountain lakes and smoking steam vents make every drop of sweat worth it! As the hike crosses an alpine environment with some unique hazards, there are seasonal restrictions in place and occasionally the track will be shut for safety reasons.
We recommend hiking New Zealand’s North Island Tongariro Crossing track with a guide who will make you aware of any hazards, as well as keep you entertained with fascinating Maori legends, and the natural and cultural history of the area. The largest town nearby is Taupo, which is about a 1.5 hr drive away and has the widest selection of places to stay and eat, as well as being home to our largest lake, Lake Taupo, which, according to Maori legend, is the beating heart of the North Island.
If you’re hiking New Zealand’s South Island then we recommend the Hooker Valley Track in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.
Under the imposing gaze of our highest peak, this 10km (6.3 miles) return journey is a relatively easy walk through some of our most impressive alpine scenery. You’ll follow the trail through the Hooker Valley towards Aoraki/Mount Cook, crossing swing bridges and enjoying superlative views of the surrounding lakes and glaciers, as well as a pretty smattering of alpine wildflowers dotted along the track. The return walk to Hooker Lake takes about three hours in total. Hooker Lake itself is a glacial body of water dotted with icebergs, and the ideal spot to capture some stunning images of your surrounds.
We recommend spending a day or two in the Mount Cook area and thoroughly exploring all there is on offer. Home to the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, Mount Cook Village is a good place to base yourself and make the most of views typically reserved for only the most serious of mountaineers!
Key Summit Track, Fiordland National Park, South Island
An offshoot of the famous Routeburn Track, Key Summit is a 7.4km (4.6 miles) return journey which can be done in a morning or afternoon. Beginning at The Divide along the Milford Road, you’ll see signposts for the Routeburn Track. You’ll walk for about an hour on the Routeburn Track before a marker indicates the turnoff to Key Summit.
Offering stunning views across Fiordland and the Humboldt and Darran Mountain ranges, it’s a 20-minute climb up to reach the best vistas, but you won’t regret it. This day hike isn’t too difficult and is suitable for families with children, but you’ll need to be prepared for the 393m (1289ft) elevation gain.
The lakeside town of Te Anau is a good place to stay if you’d like to include Key Summit in your plans. It’s about 82km (50 miles) from the start of the Routeburn Track and is generally considered as the gateway to the Fiordland region, so it’s an excellent base for your hiking adventures.
The best multi-day hikes in New Zealand
If you’ve got a little more time up your sleeve, or you like the idea of spending a night or two in the wilderness, then a multi-day hike in our great outdoors could be just what you’re looking for. Up and down the country you’ll find a variety of longer New Zealand hiking trails that lead walkers further into the diverse landscape over multiple days. Camp on secluded beaches, cool your feet in glacial streams, picnic in alpine meadows and marvel at the night sky from your comfortable vantage point in a natural hot spring!
As with our shorter walks and day hikes, there are multi-day hikes to suit most abilities, although you do need to be comfortable hiking for consecutive days across varying terrain and in any weather conditions. Unless you choose to take a fully-guided hike, you’ll also need to carry all your own gear and supplies with you, including your sleeping bag and cooking utensils.
New Zealand’s Great Walks
Of all New Zealand’s multi-day hikes, our nine (soon to be 10) Great Walks are widely viewed as our best hiking and the most spectacular. They are our premier walking tracks and included in their number is the world-renowned Milford Track, dubbed ‘the finest walk in the world’.
From the top of the North Island to the far South, these incredible tracks will lead hikers through the most beautiful backcountry, following coastal trails, through lush green valleys and over rugged alpine passes. On many a traveller’s bucket-list, New Zealand’s Great Walks are sure to delight in terms of both scenery and experience, so you can enjoy the best hiking in New Zealand while you’re here.
Managed by the Department of Conservation, Great Walks tracks are well-maintained and signposted, so despite their somewhat remote locations, hikers are not likely to get lost. That said though, please stay on the clearly-marked trail and don’t be tempted to wander off into the bush.
You can opt to walk the full length of these tracks over the course of a few days, or you can choose a section and enjoy a day hike –a popular way to experience our Great Walks if your time is limited.
DOC huts along the Great Walks hiking trails are some of the most comfortable (although you’ll still need to pack most of your own gear) and there’s usually a hut warden in residence who will be able to tell you a bit about the area, as well as keep you updated on the weather forecast.
Some of the Great Walks have a specific season for hiking and for the best all-around experience, we recommend you plan your trip during that time frame. Outside of the Great Walks season, the tracks aren’t maintained and the huts aren’t serviced either. Due to the adverse weather conditions during the winter months, multiple very real hazards exist. Only the most experienced and well-prepared hikers' venture on the tracks outside of the Great Walks season, typically between late October and early April depending on the track.
For a more detailed look at the 10 tracks, check out our Great Walks of New Zealand post, and in the meantime here’s an overview to whet your appetite: -
1. Lake Waikaremoana, North Island
46 km (28.6 miles) one way | 3-4 days hiking | Intermediate track
Following the shores of the glistening Lake Waikaremoana on the East Coast, explore a lush area rich in cultural significance and history.
2. Tongariro Northern Circuit, North Island
43.1 km (26.8 miles) loop | 3-4 days hiking | Intermediate track | Seasonal restrictions
Experience an otherworldly volcanic landscape as you hike through this UNESCO dual World Heritage area.
3. Whanganui Journey, North Island
87 or 145km (54 or 90 miles) one way | 3 or 5 days paddling | River journey | Seasonal restrictions
Not actually a walk, you’ll need to go with the flow on this incredible water journey along the spectacular Whanganui River.
4. Abel Tasman Coast Track, South Island
60km (37.3 miles) | 3-5 days hiking | Intermediate track
Discover idyllic beaches and beautiful native forest as you hike the coastline of New Zealand's smallest National Park, Abel Tasman.
5. Heaphy Track, South Island
78.4km (48.7 miles) | 4-6 days hiking | Intermediate track | Seasonal restrictions
Experience a diverse array of scenery and wildlife as you hike through tussock country and dense forest toward the wild West Coast.
6. Routeburn Track, South Island
32km (20 miles) one way | 2-4 days hiking | Intermediate track | Seasonal restrictions
Traverse two of our National Parks as you hike between Mount Aspiring and Fiordland for outstanding alpine views.
7. Kepler Track, South Island
60km (37.3 miles) loop track | 3-4 days hiking | Intermediate track | Seasonal restrictions
Experience a Great Walk that was custom-built to make the most of the renowned Fiordland landscape.
8. Milford Track, South Island
53.5km (33.2 miles) one way | 4 days hiking | Intermediate track | Seasonal restrictions
Arguably New Zealand’s most famous hike, the Milford Track weaves its way through spectacular Fiordland backcountry and over impressive mountain passes. Discover why hiking the Milford Track should be on your bucket list.
9. Rakiura Track, Stewart Island
32km (19.9 miles) loop track | 3 days hiking | Intermediate track
Get completely off the beaten track as you explore the wild outreaches of the beautifully isolated Stewart Island.
10. Paparoa Track and Pike29 Memorial Track, South Island (Opening in 2019)
55km (34.2 miles) one way | 2-3 days hiking | Intermediate track
Due to open later this year, this track was commissioned as a memorial to the men who lost their lives in the 2010 Pike River mining disaster. It winds its way through the lush Paparoa National Park, offering views across both the Tasman Sea and the Southern Alps.
All these ultimate hikes have earnt their position as official 'Great Walks'. They offer world-class hiking and we highly recommend that you make time for them.
Most people don’t have time to hike more than one or two of the tracks while they’re here, so a good way to fit more in is to choose a section and do a day hike, either independently or on a guided trip. For more details on the guided New Zealand hiking tours New Zealand Trails offer, you can request a free copy of our brochure here.
The best hiking in New Zealand that you won’t hear about
It’s not just the official Great Walks that are worth exploring; there are hundreds of other tracks and trails that can more than hold their own in comparison. Some you might read about in guidebooks like our favourite day walks listed above, while others fly a little more under the radar.
The best way to find out about these walks is to chat with a local and ask them what their favourite hike in the area is. It may be a hill climb up to an incredible lookout, a bush walk that follows a babbling stream or a headland coastal track that provides a healthy dose of fresh air. It may be a day hike, a morning walk, or a short stroll but chances are you’ll thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to experience a local’s favourite!
We’ve compiled a list of our top ten favourite walks and hikes that are a bit further off the beaten track and we hope you can include them in your plans. We reckon they combine the perfect blend of outstanding scenery, fascinating history and the chance to stretch your legs on a variety of terrain. You can read more about the top 10 lesser known walks of New Zealand here.
Is trekking in New Zealand a thing?
The short answer is, sort of. People often use the terms ‘hiking’ and ‘trekking’ interchangeably, but here the term ‘trekking’ is not commonly in use. As mentioned in the glossary above, we Kiwis tend to talk about ‘hiking’ or ‘tramping’ when referencing our outdoor adventures on foot. A trek to us is a longer journey, perhaps two or three weeks along an iconic route through a rugged environment. They're usually very limited transport options available, aside from your own two feet, and perhaps the odd obliging donkey or yak. You might also need to camp in isolated areas where there are no shelters, huts, tea houses or refugios.
Perhaps the closest thing to a trek would be one of our lesser-known multi-day hikes in one of our more isolated National Parks such as Nelson Lakes. Nelson Lakes National Park, located at the top of the South Island, was established in 1956 and covers some 102,000 hectares of pristine wilderness. Centred around two glistening lakes, the landscape is made up of native beech forest, clear mountain streams, rugged peaks and rocky ridgelines. It’s the picture-perfect place for hikers keen to experience New Zealand’s natural tranquillity.
There are a variety of different tracks and trails that criss-cross the National Park with various routes offering something to suit most abilities. While there are a few DOC huts to stay in overnight, you’ll need to be entirely self-sufficient as you’ll be off the grid for at least three days while hiking here.
One of our favourite ‘treks’ in the area is the Angelus Hut Circuit, an awesome hike that takes three days and two nights in total. The hike traces the shores of Lake Rotoiti, before crossing river valleys and weaving through thick forest, leading to a steep climb up to Lake Angelus, perched atop a mountain range at 1,650 metres (5,413ft). You’ll then hike along the exposed Robert Ridge before cutting back down the mountainside to the lake where you set out from three days previously.
This is wilderness at its finest and you’ll get a real sense of the grandeur of nature, as well as peaceful isolation. On a clear night, the stars are incredible, and during the day the views over the surrounding mountains, lakes and distant ocean are as impressive as any you’d get on a trek anywhere elsewhere in the world!
For more information on this hike, you can check out the Department of Conservation information pages, or give Jodi here at New Zealand Trails a call. She’s done this hike a few times and will be able to point you in the right direction.
What else you’ll do and see while hiking in New Zealand
Long before the first human settlers arrived on our shores, a vast array of unique birds ruled the land, making their homes in the tangled forest floors and thick treetops. From the very largest, such as the now-extinct moa and Haast's eagle, to the tiniest such as wax-eyes and tomtits, it was probably a very noisy place back in the day!
Today, large parts of New Zealand remain untouched which means you’re still likely to encounter an abundance of birdlife warbling in the treetops. Hiking is one of the best ways to observe these fascinating creatures in their natural habitat. Depending on whereabouts in the country you are, you’ll probably enjoy the tunes of the tui bird accompanying you as you walk, while friendly fantails dart from branch to branch around you. Cumbersome wood pigeons might give you a start as they noisily take flight above you, while the curious South Island robin will keep you company as you walk through lower woodland areas.
Higher up in more mountainous regions, the world’s only alpine parrot, the kea will probably pay you a visit. Keep an eye on this guy though, he’s seriously cheeky! If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the iconic kiwi bird on night hikes in more secluded areas such as Stewart Island. If you’re on a coastal hike, a whole host of endemic sea and shore birds live here. The magnificent albatross, the noisy oystercatcher, the endangered New Zealand dotterel and the rare fairy tern are just a few of the birds you might be fortunate enough to see during your travels.
Be on the watch for penguins too as there are more penguin species on our shores than any other country. The Fiordland crested penguin is one of our favourites (it’s hard to pick a favourite penguin, they’re all awesome!) and can be found in the south west of the South Island.
These little guys are highly susceptible to human interference though, so when we do spot them, we make sure to watch quietly from a distance so as not to disturb them. There are strict rules in place to protect all our vulnerable birdlife, so please follow instructions and don’t overstep any boundaries put in place.
Before humans arrived, the only mammals were a few different species of bat and marine mammals, including seals, dolphins and whales. If you’re hiking by the ocean, watch the water for pods of lively dolphins practising their tricks in the surf. New Zealand is home to one of the world’s smallest dolphins, the easily-recognisable Hector’s dolphin which can be found in the waters around the South Island.
Kaikoura, on the upper east coast of the South Island, is one of the best spots for whale watching and it’s also one of the only places in the world where sperm whales can be seen year-round and so close to shore. There are lots of fur seal colonies up and down the coastline too –take a moment to watch them basking on the sun-baked rocks and playing in the pools, it’s a very enjoyable way to spend a few minutes! Again, be sure to keep a good distance back as they can get a little tetchy if their sun worshipping is disturbed.
We’ve only just scratched the surface of the wildlife you’ll encounter while hiking. Bring your camera and some spare batteries to capture all the unusual and delightful creatures you’ll meet. And as we’re fond of saying here, ‘take only pictures, leave only footprints’ to ensure that their unique habitat is protected for the years to come.
Other experiences you can have on your hikes
Hiking will get you into some amazing parts of the country, but it’s not just tracks and trails you came for, are we right? If like us, you like to mix up the activities you do on your holidays, then there’s no end of options here in New Zealand.
If you’re a wildlife or bird enthusiast then break up your hikes with a dolphin swim experience, a whale watching cruise or a trip to a wildlife sanctuary, such as Mou Waho Island on Lake Wanaka. If you’d appreciate an aerial view on things, take a scenic flight into the New Zealand wilderness or helicopter up to a glacier for an ice hike. If you fancy getting off your feet for a day, explore sandy coves and coastal lagoons in a sea kayaking adventure. Or don a wetsuit and head underground to discover a subterranean wonderland lit by myriad glow-worms.
And when you’re ready for a change of pace, relax with a picnic lunch in a sunny vineyard while you sample our excellent local wines, soak in a hot tub under the stars, or enjoy New Zealand’s coffee culture as you sip a barista-made flat white in a boutique coffee shop!
The beauty of hiking in New Zealand is that you can be walking in a remote valley in the morning, get zipped around in a jet boat in the afternoon and then be enjoying a three-course meal in a world-class restaurant that night. Plan your trip carefully (or let us do it for you) and you’ll be able to fit all this and more into your vacation – you really can have it all!
Glacier hikes New Zealand
If you’re after a fresh experience, you can hike a glacier. There are more than 2,500 glaciers on New Zealand’s South Island. While the walking is similar to a normal New Zealand hiking trail, the gear and experience are very different. If you’re keen to do a glacier hike find out about the best options here.
Tips for planning your New Zealand hiking trip
Prepare early for your hikes
The adage ‘the early bird catches the worm’ really does apply when it comes to planning your hiking trip. The more time you allow to organise your trip, the chances are the better it will be, particularly if you’re going it alone as opposed to booking on a guided trip.
The further in advance you book things like flights and accommodation, the more chance you’ll have of getting a better price and the exact times you want. Look for early bird deals and plan to travel outside of the busy season. We reckon the off-season months are still a great time to visit, so aim for October/November or March/April if you want to enjoy good weather but avoid peak season prices.
As far as hiking goes, if you’re looking to experience one of our Great Walks, BOOK EARLY! Spots on the Milford Track can book up as far in advance as a year, which is why it helps to set your travel dates as early as possible.
If you’re not accustomed to hiking or your fitness isn’t what you’d like it to be, do some practice walks beforehand to improve your stamina. The more hiking fitness you have, the more you’ll enjoy the trails. For more information check out these 5 tips to get you trail-ready from New Zealand Trails’ own Shona, a true Kiwi lass and highly experienced outdoors guide.
Consult New Zealand hiking experts
When planning a trip to a new destination, nothing really beats chatting to a local. And even more so when it comes to the best hiking. Hiking is an awesome experience that inherently includes unique challenges and conditions that need to be anticipated if you’re going to make the most of your time here.
There are lots of New Zealand travel blogs and articles online that can help you plan your hikes, but if you have friends that have visited the country before, then pick their brains for information about the hikes they enjoyed and the places they visited. Look at their photos and ask them what they would do differently if they were planning another trip. First-hand experience from a trusted person is one of the best ways to ensure that your New Zealand hiking trip is everything you want it to be.
You can also chat with us here at New Zealand Trails – Jodi is our resident hiking expert and has been walking and running the tracks and trails since she was a wee girl. Jodi can help you plan your dream trip and work out which of our tours might suit you best.
DIY hiking in New Zealand?
If you’re thinking of planning an independent hiking trip, then the best place to start is the Department of Conservation website. DOC is a government department that looks after all our hiking tracks and trails. Their website is packed to the brim with useful information and you’ll find lots of specific track details, such as the distance and terrain covered, as well as track highlights. They also publish up-to-date track warnings and notifications. It’s best to check the website or with staff at the local DOC office just before you set out on your hike as conditions can change in no time at all.
Getting to New Zealand hiking trails
Plan which hikes you want to do in advance and plot them out on a map. See how long each hike will take you and how far between each place you want to travel to. New Zealand public transport is not great, so lots of people opt to hire a car or a motor home. Other options include inter-city buses or hop-on-hop-off tours. All these options need to be booked in advance, particularly during the summer months.
Think about how you’re going to get to the start of the track and what you’re going to do at the end of the hike. You can book track transport to get you to and from most of the more well-known hikes. Companies such as Tracknet offer reliable track transport for hikers both to and from the start of some of our Great Walks. If you’ve hired a car there are usually carparks to leave your vehicle while you’re hiking, but of course, don’t leave any valuables behind.
You most likely won’t want to haul all of your gear with you on the hike, unless you’re a very light packer indeed, so get in touch with hotels or hostels in advance to arrange luggage storage while you’re walking. For a small fee, they’re usually willing to securely store your belongings while you’re off adventuring.
New Zealand hiking accommodation
Speaking of accommodation, if you’re travelling independently then you’ll need to book your hiking accommodation for both before and after your hike. There are many options to suit all budgets, from campgrounds and backpacker hostels to boutique B&Bs and luxury lodges, the choice is yours! We recommend that you try and book accommodation close to where the track starts or finishes so that you don’t have far to travel on the day.
If you’re an independent hiker on a multi-day walk, you’ll most likely stay in a Department of Conservation backcountry hut, or DOC hut as they’re commonly called. Some people do choose to camp, and, in most places, you’re allowed to, but the huts are a great option if you’d rather not have the additional weight of a tent on your back.
DOC manages and maintains a network of over 950 huts dotted along tracks and trails for hikers to take shelter in and spend the night. Depending on which hut you’re staying in and the time of year you’re hiking, the price of a night’s accommodation in a hut can vary from $5 up to $70. All but the most basic of huts have bunk beds, mattresses, water supply and toilets. Some huts on our Great Walks have more luxurious facilities including wood burners and cooking facilities. You can book online or chat with the staff at local DOC offices to find out more.
Organise your gear and create a meal plan for your New Zealand hiking trip
If you’re going to be out on the hiking trail for several days, you’ll need to make sure all your gear is up to spec and your hiking boots are well worn-in before you get here. Ensure your pack is large enough to fit everything that you need, including your sleeping bag. We recommend a 60 or 70L pack for a multi-day hike. Try your pack on fully loaded at home and adjust the straps so it’s comfortable. Remember a pack liner and waterproof cover to keep your gear dry in a rain shower.
You’ll need to eat well to keep your strength up while you’re hiking. It helps to prepare a meal plan in advance, particularly if you’re going on a multi-day hike. You’ll need to plan for breakfast, lunch and dinner, making sure you have adequate protein and carbohydrates, as well as snacks and treats to keep you motivated. Think about food that will travel well and keep you fuller for longer. Nuts, apples, bananas, tuna pouches, instant oats, jerky, peanut butter filled bagels and flapjack bars will all stave off the hunger and keep you on track, literally and metaphorically!
You can purchase freeze dried ready meals from the supermarket if you’d like a proper dinner at night. Back Country Cuisine has some good options like beef and pasta hotpot or Thai chicken curry – all you need is some boiling water to heat it up and rehydrate. Check in advance that the hut you’re staying in has fuel supplies or bring your own gas cooker if necessary. You can survive off cold sandwiches and muesli bars for three days, but it’s nice to be able to make a cup of tea or heat something up for dinner, especially if the weather takes a turn for the worse.
Watch for New Zealand hiking weather
As we’ve mentioned, weather conditions can change rapidly and with little warning. We’ve been known to experience all four seasons in one day, so it pays to be prepared and listen to the experts. Before you leave for your hike, check the weather forecast using MetService and speak with staff at the DOC visitor centre.
Inform someone of your plans, where you’re going and when you’ll be back, so they can raise the alarm if you’re not back on time. Also, if you’re staying at a hut during your hike, please fill in the intentions book (log book) that you’ll find there. It helps DOC to know how many people are out on the trail and whereabouts they are.
In remote backcountry areas, you can be cut off by snowfall, avalanches and floods. Often there’s no cell phone coverage, so you will be entirely reliant on your own preparations if you’re hiking independently. Heavy rain can cause seemingly pleasant little streams to turn into raging torrents that will sweep you off your feet. Significant snowfall can blanket trails, making them impossible to follow. Avalanches and slips can cover bridges rendering them inaccessible.
It’s worth noting at this point that if you’re travelling during the Great Walks season, you’re far less likely to encounter adverse conditions than when hiking during the winter months, but nevertheless, it pays to be prepared.
Of course, the best advice we can give you is to follow the advice of the experts and if in doubt, do not proceed with your hike. Hiking with an experienced and professional guide also takes a lot of the pressure off. If you’re travelling with a small group of like-minded individuals and you’re in the company of a highly experienced and qualified outdoors guide or two, chances are you’re going to have a safer and more enjoyable experience.
Hiking guides are not only there to keep you safe no matter what the weather throws at you, but a good guide will also keep you entertained with stories and jokes while you hike and they might even whip you up a hot cup of tea and a biscuit when the 3pm munchies roll around!
Why book a guided New Zealand hiking tour?
Here at New Zealand Trails, we’re all for hiking – whether you’re keen to go it alone on an independent adventure, or you want the peace of mind that joining a guided hike brings, we know that you’ll have a great time whichever way you go.
But if you’re currently sitting on the fence about what to do, we want to give you a little more information about the benefits of joining a guided hiking tour.
We’ve worked hard to find the very best Kiwi guides in the business to lead our multi-day trips. Not only are they quintessential professionals with vast outdoors knowledge, but they’re also very lovely people. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone you’d rather have show you around.
An excellent hiking guide will enrich your experience with their historical, cultural and natural world knowledge and offer you a local’s perspective on the places you’re visiting and exploring. They’ll keep you safe in our wilderness environments and they’ll do all the heavy lifting, carrying essential items like first aid kits and morning tea supplies.
They’ll navigate New Zealand’s winding roads while you relax in comfort and take in the views as you travel from one spectacular location to the next. They’ll show you the hidden gems and out of the way views that other visitors don’t get to see.
They’ll prepare delicious meals and gourmet packed lunches and they’ll let you know their restaurant recommendations when eating out. And all the while they’ll become your friend, forming genuine and meaningful connections with visitors from around the globe. Many of our travellers tell us getting to know their guides was the highlight of their time in New Zealand and we don’t doubt them for a second!
Choosing a guided hiking tour is never going to be the cheapest way to see New Zealand, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Despite it being a little more expensive, if you choose a reputable company then you’ll more than get what you pay for. Here at New Zealand Trails, our trip fares include delightful accommodation, delicious meals, tasty snacks, comfortable transport, all guiding services (we have two Kiwi guides on every trip!), as well as any track permits and concessions required.
We take care of all the little (but important) details, like booking accommodation and planning routes, so you get to relax and enjoy a safe journey –we think that’s money well spent!
You might notice that if you book a Great Walk experience with a guided tour company, it can be very expensive for the three, four, or five days you’re hiking. If you’re set on experiencing the entirety of a Great Walk track in relative luxury, then it’s probably worth it, but you should weigh it up against the cost of a longer guided tour that will allow you to experience more of the country, rather than just one area or hike.
For the cost of a multi-day guided trip, you’ll enjoy walking and hiking in a wide variety of incredible locations, and you’ll have the chance to experience the best of what New Zealand has to offer. Our trips range in length and price so there should be something to suit.
There are lots of operators out there so it might be a little overwhelming trying to decide who to travel with, even after you’ve done your homework. What makes us different here at New Zealand Trails is the fact that we’re Kiwi through and through – we’re not owned by a vast overseas corporation and we’re not looking to take over the world – we only operate in our own backyard.
We’re a small company but we have a wealth of industry experience and we’re incredibly passionate about what we do. In fact, we’ve recently been awarded the Gold Standard Qualmark, which is a testament to the quality of the experience we provide.
Kiwi values such as hospitality, inclusivity and caring for our environment are at the heart of everything we do and we want our guests to have a memorable New Zealand vacation, doing full justice to the time that they have here in our beautiful country. You can read more about the differences that NZ Trails will make to your trip in our Kiwi hospitality blog post.
Hiking gear list – what to pack
Here’s our recommended packing list for your hiking trip.
Safety while hiking
Whether you’re hiking independently or joining a guided tour, safety is paramount when hiking in New Zealand. An excellent resource for independent travellers particularly can be found on the New Zealand Mountain Safety webpages.
Hiking New Zealand tours with local experts
So that just about wraps up our guide to hiking. Hopefully, it’s set you off on the right foot to begin planning your own adventure.
Of course, we’d love for you to join us on one of our multi-day guided trips and discover the real New Zealand with the locals. With many years hiking and outdoors experience under our belts, we’re positive we can help you make the most of your time here.
Whether you’re hiking New Zealand’s North Island, or hiking New Zealand’s South Island, or you’re keen to experience both the North and South Islands, we’ve got you covered. We run five different guided hiking and walking tours right around New Zealand, getting you out and about exploring the very best of our landscape. If you’d like to know more, grab a copy of our brochure, give Jodi a call or send her a quick email. There’s no such thing as a silly question and we’d love to hear from you.
We can’t wait to welcome you to New Zealand and get out there hiking with you!
Other articles you may like:
- What's the best time for hiking in New Zealand?
- Hiking preparation –5 tips for getting trail-ready
- The Great Walks of New Zealand
- Small Group Tours –The Unbeatable Way To See New Zealand
- Get your free New Zealand Trails guided tour brochure