The South Island of New Zealand is one of the world’s most picturesque destinations, but if you’re looking for something more challenging, New Zealand boasts some of the world’s premier hiking trails.
Take on the challenge of these hikes for that ‘bucket list’ photo, sense of accomplishment and some bragging rights! However, bear in mind that these treks require serious physical fitness and strength to complete.
1. Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Travelling to New Zealand should definitely experience the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Dubbed “world’s greatest day hike,” this incredible trail winds its way around an active volcano and offers stunning views of natural splendor.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a strenuous 7-8 hour guided trek that requires some level of fitness and agility to successfully complete. Ideally, this trek should be done during summer months (December-February), when temperatures tend to be stable; however, if you have experience and equipment like crampons and an ice ax, then it can also be completed in wintertime with proper equipment.
This challenging track starts at Mangatepopo car park and ascends across a saddle between Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro. From there, you’ll begin an ascent up Devil’s Staircase for its steep ascent.
Along the way, you’ll encounter stunning volcanic landscapes that will surely astonish you. As you near Red Crater, be greeted by a strong aroma of sulphur – an indication that this active volcano still stands.
On your journey you’ll pass several stunning Emerald Lakes, formed from minerals leaching from volcanic terrain. After crossing Central Crater and Blue Lake vent, you’ll descend to Ketetahi Road’s end.
When hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, there are a number of side trails you can choose from. However, it’s best to stay on the main track as it is clearly marked and any deviation may lead you onto private land that isn’t part of the public trail system.
2. Kepler Track
The Kepler Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, but it’s certainly not for the faint-hearted. This 3- to 4-day loop starts off along the shores of lakes Te Anau and Manapouri before ascending through lush alpine tops to majestic Mt Luxmore.
On a clear day, the views along the ridge line are simply breathtaking. You’ll have stunning panoramas of Lake Te Anau, the Kepler Mountains and hanging valleys as far as the eye can see.
Make the most of your trip by booking accommodation ahead of time. Otherwise, all huts and campsites may be fully booked – potentially delaying your adventure!
If you want a stress-free way to experience the Kepler Track, guided tours are your ideal solution. These packages include everything from transport and logistics – so all that remains for you to do is enjoy your hike!
Hiking along the Kepler Track can be a strenuous adventure, but there is plenty to enjoy about it as well. From lush rainforest and expansive mountain views to secluded beaches and waterfalls, there are plenty of reasons why visitors should visit this remarkable part of Australia.
Enjoy an array of native New Zealand animals, including the iconic kiwi and blue duck. But there are plenty of other bird species to discover as well!
Unfortunately, stoats are a serious problem along this trail and pose an especially big threat to native kiwi. To combat this problem, DOC maintains an active trapping program.
Every 200 metres or so, you’ll spot traps for keeping the wildlife at bay while enjoying the views. Unfortunately, sand flies are another major nuisance and need to be treated accordingly; bring enough repellent for everyone in your family as these insects leave itchy welts where they bite.
3. Lake Waikaremoana Track
Lake Waikaremoana, situated in Te Urewera region, New Zealand’s stunning landscapes is home to one of New Zealand’s greatest walks – Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk which takes between three and four days to complete.
The track is also an ideal spot to view many native birds, including New Zealand’s national bird: the kiwi.
As you travel along this trail, you’ll pass through ancient rainforest, regenerating shrubland areas and rush and herb fields. Additionally, you’ll encounter magnificent rivers, waterfalls and misty valleys.
Accommodation options along the track vary, with Wairoa Holiday Park being one of the cheapest. This park features cabins and chalets as well as powered tent and campervan sites – perfect if you have limited funds and need to book ahead.
Another viable option is Tree Lodge, which offers cabins and chalets as well as unpowered tent and campervan sites. While this may be more costly than other options, it could be worth it if you’re after something more luxurious.
As you prepare for your trip, ensure you have all the usual New Zealand tramping gear such as a backpack, sleeping bag and pack liner. Don’t forget to also grab toilet paper, cooking utensils, extra food items and matches or lighter in an airtight container.
For a comprehensive gear list, consult the Department of Conservation website. Additionally, it’s wise to bring along a lightweight first aid kit and map of the trail for reference.
The most challenging section of the Lake Waikaremoana Track is the ridge above Panekire Bluff. At 600 metres in elevation, you should be prepared for some tough going. Although you can tackle this stretch from either end, starting at Hopuruahine Landing and walking over Panekire Bluff on day 1 will save a lot of carrying weight for subsequent days on your hike.
4. Kahurangi Track
Kahurangi National Park in the north-west of South Island, is renowned for its diverse flora and fauna – including more than 50 species of native birds. It boasts one of the world’s largest cave systems as well as limestone karst landscapes that date back 35 million years.
Kahurangi National Park has long been revered as a sacred area by Maori, meaning ‘treasured possession’. Situated near Motueka, Karamea and Takaka in New Zealand’s south-western corner, it boasts an abundant biodiversity.
This land of towering mountain ridges, ice-age glaciers, small waterfalls, tussock lands and an array of native vegetation has been carved by water over millions of years into limestone karst landscapes with intricate caves and stunning views.
New Zealand’s Great Walks have long been a magnet for those wanting to explore the country, and Kahurangi is no exception. The four- to six-day Heaphy Track is one of the country’s most popular treks, but there are also shorter tracks ideal for families.
For the more daring, there’s the thrilling Dragons Teeth Trail through the Anatoki range of mountains. This route may not be for everyone, but those willing to give it a shot will reap immense rewards.
Dragon’s Teeth trail is one of the toughest hikes in Australia and requires good fitness and mental fortitude to complete. If you’re interested in trying it, DOC has a website with an informative guide. Although not suitable for beginners, experienced trail adventurers who can handle the challenges will enjoy this route immensely.
5. Hollyford Track
The Hollyford Track offers an unforgettable wilderness journey through Fiordland forest to Martins Bay’s sandspit. Along the way you’ll pass rivers, waterfalls and lakes as you make your way through lowland rainforest and along wild coastline where dolphins and seals can be spotted in their natural habitat.
Along the track, enjoy the sound of birds singing and chattering in the bush as you take in an expansive view of the Darran Mountains. Listen for South Island robin/kakaruai, tomtit/miromiro, yellowhead/mohua and fantail/piwakawaka call to you from this serene environment.
On your walk you’ll pass beech forests, pine forests and fern gullies. It is also an excellent spot for birding with numerous species of bellbird, tomtit, tui, grey warbler and silvereye/tauhou spotted along the track.
Though the walk may be challenging, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular vistas and breathtaking views. It’s an excellent way to see a lot in a short amount of time, making it an excellent way to explore Fiordland National Park.
Hiking through Hollyford Valley and Martins Bay will allow you to hear the tales of those who came before you – from Davey Gunn who began tourism here to Harrison Ford, Helen Clark, and those who took our guided walk more recently. These captivating narratives will capture your imagination as you make your way through this stunning landscape.
The Hollyford Track is one of New Zealand’s premier wilderness experiences. Ngai Tahu Tourism have invested significantly to enhance the track and provide world class service and quality.