Although New Zealand’s scenery captivates tourists regardless of the season, summer is an ideal time to explore the many walking and hiking trails spread out across the country’s vast nature reserves. Boasting 13 national parks spanning over 30,000km² and plenty more craggy mountains, mist-shrouded forests and jagged glacial peaks to explore, the country offers something for everyone: whether you prefer to take an easy stroll or embark on a challenging multi-day climb.
While New Zealand’s border remains closed to all but citizens and residents for the time being, we’ve spotlighted a few walks to add to your travel bucket list in anticipation of your next trip to the Land of the Long White Cloud.
1. Milford Track
Part of the Fiordland National Park, the Milford Track is one of the world’s most spectacular hikes, offering the chance to trundle through ancient rainforests and misty valleys, across staggering alpine peaks and suspension bridges and past cascading waterfalls. At a one-way length of 53.5km, the hike takes roughly four days to complete, with overnight stops. Highlights include the stunning Pompolona Ice Field; views of Clinton Valley from MacKinnon Pass; and Sutherland Falls, New Zealand’s highest waterfall. While the hike can be undertaken throughout the year, is advisable to go between November and April, during the Great Walks season, when the terrain is safer and more facilities are up and running.
2. Franz Josef Glacier
Situated in the South Island, the Franz Josef Glacier is a unique 12km-long temperate maritime glacier descending less than 300m above sea level. If you simply want to get a glimpse of the glacier face, you can embark on a 1.5-hour-long self-guided walk from the carpark to the base of the glacier that meanders through lush forests and rocky riverbeds. Many tour companies also offer guided walks along the same stretch. For a closer look and the ability to trek on the actual glacier itself, you’ll need to book a tour that involves a helicopter ride, followed by a couple of hours spent hiking on the ice. Consider visiting soon: based on current warming patterns, one climate modelling study predicts that the glacier will lose an average of 38% of its mass by 2100.
3. Arthur’s Pass National Park
Situated in the heart of the Southern Alps, this rugged national park offers a range of multi-day hikes for those with moderate to extensive hiking experience, with most trips requiring route-finding and river-crossing skills. If you have a moderate level of experience, there’s the Casey Saddle – Binser Saddle Route, a two-day hike along well-defined tracks that ventures through open-mountain beech forest, grassy avenues and various river terraces. Hikers with a high experience level can consider the Harper Pass Route, which once functioned as the main pathway to and from the west coast for the Māori people to trade for pounamu (greenstone). The trek takes four to five days to complete and includes multiple river crossings – be sure to stop by the hot springs along the way.
4. Tongariro National Park
This North Island gem is New Zealand’s oldest national park and was the sixth national park established in the world. Besides multiple active volcanos in the form of Mount Ruapehu, Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe, the park also boasts ancient forests, deep canyons, cascading waterfalls and striking emerald-hued lakes. For something relatively easy, visitors can hike along a 6km loop to the Taranaki Falls from Whakapapa Village or take a 4km trek from the Ohakune Mountain Road to the Waitonga Falls, the park’s highest waterfall. For experienced and well-equipped hikers looking for something more challenging, there’s the 10km climb from Iwikau Village to the crater of Mount Ruapehu, which takes roughly 7 hours.
5. Rakiura Track
Stewart Island, located at the southernmost end of New Zealand, is the country’s third-largest island. The rare flora and fauna – which has flourished here given the island’s remoteness – and natural beauty is best viewed through a traipse along the Rakiura Track. The 32-kilometre-long circuit route can be completed in roughly three days and has an intermediate difficulty level, so it’s best undertaken by those with some previous hiking experience. Alternative longer hikes on the island – which requires good fitness and backcountry experience – include the challenging 72-kilometre-long Southern Circuit, which you should allocate around five days for; and the North West Circuit, which spans 125km and takes roughly 10 days to complete. If you’re lucky, you may spot the kiwi bird in its natural habitat.
6. Mount Cook National Park
Home to New Zealand’s tallest mountain, this national park offers a bevy of treks to suit different experience levels, with each providing views of the stunning, snow-covered peaks in all their glory. For a shorter walk, begin at Mount Cook Village, where you can choose between 10 possible routes. The Kea Point option is a two-hour round trip that offers great views of Mount Cook, particularly during the summer months; while the shorter Glencoe Walk – which includes a steep climb – takes under an hour to complete and will take you through native New Zealand bush to a lookout point. Advanced alpine trekkers can choose to embark on one of the three mountain pass routes – Mueller, Ball and Copland.
As some of the more challenging hikes should only be undertaken by experienced climbers, do read up on the each of the hikes before embarking on them, and be sure to follow safety advisories from the respective park and government agencies.
The information is accurate as of press time. For updated information, please refer to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website.
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