With one-third of the country considered protected national parks, New Zealand is a hiker’s paradise. With mountain ranges so ruggedly beautiful that they have inspired the career paths of some of the world’s most esteemed mountaineers, rivers so blue that they will have you questioning if someone has run amok with a paintball gun, and landscapes so vast that you will wonder if you’ve stepped through a portal to a whole other universe, the country of New Zealand will take you up and up and bring to life the daydreams of simpler times that dance around in your imagination.
With the Earth’s changing climate causing a dramatic retreat of New Zealand’s glaciers and threatening the country’s biodiversity, I beg of you to get on that plane to New Zealand ASAP and take in all of the natural beauty on offer – let it make you feel small; let it overwhelm you to a dizzying point; and most importantly let it remind you how important it is to do your part to mitigate this changing climate and protect this Earth that we are lucky enough to call home.
1. The Hooker Valley Track in Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park
Situated within the rugged land of ice and rock that is the Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand’s popular Hooker Valley hiking trail will have you stepping to the beat of rushing rivers and breaking glaciers as you wander through 13 kilometres of fog-filled valleys surrounded by snow-capped mountains to the picturesque Hooker lake and its unbeatable views of the mightiest of all of New Zealand’s mountains – Mount Cook.
Difficulty: Easy (Mostly flat; marked track and boardwalk)
Distance: 13 kilometres (4 hours return from the Hermitage Hotel)
2. The Waimangu Thermal Valley Track in Rotorua
If you’re looking for a Jurassic Park-esque adventure, cancel that trip to Hawaii and instead book a trip to Rotorua on New Zealand’s North Island! Just a 20-minute drive from the Rotorua CBD sits the Waimangu Volcanic Rift valley. This volcanic wonderland stands bright and tall as the world’s youngest geothermal system, and the only geothermal system in the world created within written history; with its creation stemming entirely from the 1886 eruption of the volcanic Mt Terawera. The park offers visitors the opportunity to be enchanted by Mother Nature on an 8 kilometre (return) self-guided eco-walk through the thermal valley. On your way back be sure to follow the 1 kilometre Mt Haszard hiking trail side route for some breathtaking views of the valley from above.
Difficulty: Easy (Mostly flat; marked track)
Distance: 8 kilometres (4 hours return to the Waimangu Visitors Centre)
3. The Roy’s Peak Track in Wanaka
Cue your most empowering gym track as you’re going to need it for this one! That said this walk has by far the highest amazing views-to-effort ratio of any walk I’ve forced my legs to take me on. The track begins at the Roys Peak Track carpark, 6 km from the Wanaka township, before winding up through farmland and perpetual steep slope switchbacks to the 1,578-metre summit and its all-encompassing panorama that features most of Lake Wanaka, the surrounding peaks and Mount Aspiring. This hike is a story that will forever change the way that you view this Earth.
Difficulty: Moderate (steep slope; wide marked path through farmland)
Distance: 16 kilometres (6 hours return to the Roy’s Peak Track carpark)
4. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing in Tongariro National Park
Comprised of 19.4 kilometers of old lava flows, beautiful water-filled explosion craters, steaming vents, hot springs, and stunning views of the iconic Mt Ngauruhoe (aka Mt. Doom for my Lord of the Rings fans out there) – I can safely say that the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the toughest yet most rewarding hikes that my body has traversed to date. I will be the first to admit that I am not the fittest person, with the longest hike before this being at most 10km. I will also be the first to admit that I am not very good friends with heights, so the idea of trekking across a very rocky, very windy and just wide enough to fit my body on trail along a volcano rim with a drop further than my brain will allow me to comprehend is definitely not my cup of tea. That said, I completed the hike in the average time (6 hours), managed to not get any sore muscles from the experience AND most importantly smiled (at least on the inside) the entire way. So let curiosity be your compass and give it a go yourself!
Distance: 19.2 kilometres of steep and rocky climbs
5. The Rob Roy Glacier Track in Mt Aspiring National Park
Fittingly located within Mt Aspiring National Park, this half-day hike will have you aspiring towards a better future for Earth. The 10-kilometre track leads across farmland, suspension bridges, crystal clear mountain streams and through an alpine rainforest to remind you of the interconnectedness of the ecosystems before finally arriving at a lookout below the massive Rob Roy Glacier. Sitting here, witnessing first-hand avalanches and the power of gravity through the impressive waterfalls, you’ll feel so small that you’ll wonder if you are in an episode of ‘Honey I shrunk the kids’.
Difficulty: Easy (Gentle slope; marked track)
Distance: 10 kilometres (4 hours return to the Raspberry Flat carpark)
Every minute that I am not in New Zealand, I spend planning my next trip to New Zealand, so help me out and let me know what trails I should head out on next in the comments below!
Elle is a world-wanderer, star-gazer, dog-lover and meteorologist in the making. When she’s not busy studying the Earth’s climate, she’s off experiencing it first hand all around the world. Over the past 3 years, Elle has travelled to 31 countries across Europe, Asia, Oceania and the United States and has no plans of stopping anytime soon. You can follow her colourful adventures on her Instagram, Facebook and blog.