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New Zealand is home to some of the most incredible views in the world, making this beautiful country the perfect place to go hiking when you visit.
While there are endless multi-day hikes, there are also incredible day hikes in New Zealand that provide travelers with incredible views for relatively small effort.
So… If you don’t want to carry a tent or sleeping bag, here are the best day hikes in New Zealand, covering both the North and South Islands.
Before you go hiking in New Zealand
Before undertaking any outdoor activity it’s important to do your research and be prepared. Hiking is no exception to this.
While most day hikes in New Zealand are relatively low-risk, an increasing number of hikers need rescuing every year in New Zealand.
So before you set out on your New Zealand day hike: dress appropriately, do your research, and check-in with the DOC (Department of Conservation) for updated track conditions.
Important note: many hikes in New Zealand (including many listed here) involve hiking to exposed alpine environments. Always bring plenty of water and dress warmly for when you’re at the top of those peaks!
Things to pack for your New Zealand day hike
It’s easy to assume for day hikes all you need is a water bottle. And while water is super important, I cannot emphasize how important it is to be prepared (but don’t pack the kitchen sink, ya’ know?)
Here are some suggested New Zealand day hike essentials:
- Water bottle/water bladder
- Sun hat (this hat is great for my high-ponytailed friends)
- Waterproof jacket
- Dry bag to keep your camera equipment dry
- Warm layers
Had enough preparation talk? Let’s talk about the best day hikes in New Zealand:
Best day hikes in New Zealand South Island
New Zealand’s South Island is filled with incredible jaw-dropping mountain views. The day walks listed here reflect that, so make sure you get ready to include the following day hikes on your New Zealand bucket list!
1. Roy’s Peak, Wanaka
Roy’s Peak in Wanaka is one of New Zealand’s most popular day hikes – and for good reason. The views from Roy’s Peak over Wanaka are incredible (yep that was underlined and bolded for a reason!)
This iconic 16 km return hike gives you breathtaking views over Lake Wanaka and Mount Aspiring/Tititea.
The trail includes a stop at one of New Zealand’s most Instagrammable spots (pictured above) with views over the golden hills overlooking Lake Wanaka. On busy days, there’s a long line of keen photographers. But if you continue on to Roy’s Peak you will find a quieter spot where you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world.
Psst: The Roy’s Peak track crosses private farmland, so this hike is closed between 1 October – 10 November every year for lambing season. During this time, the Isthmus Peak track is a great alternative.
Duration: 5 – 6hr return | Distance: 16km return | Elevation gain: 1,228m
2. Hooker Valley Track, Mt Cook / Aoraki National Park
The Hooker Valley Track, in Mt Cook National Park, is one of the most popular walks in New Zealand. There are two main aspects which make it, in my opinion, the best day walk in New Zealand.
First – it’s easy. A lot of the popular hikes in New Zealand are gruelling uphill slogs up mountains. Not the Hooker Valley Track! It’s mostly flat and only takes around three hours to finish. Even if you’re not a regular hiker you shouldn’t find it too difficult.
The other aspect is, of course, the scenery. There is a nice variety of views on the Hooker Valley Track, from viewpoints above glacier lakes to scenic swing bridges and the final spot on the track, where you’ll see Mt Cook looming over an iceberg-filled lake. New Zealand scenery doesn’t get much better than this!
Duration: 3hr return | Distance: 10km return | Elevation gain: 124m
Submission and photo from Jon Algie of See the South Island
3. Mueller Hut Route, Mt Cook / Aoraki National Park
Mueller Hut is one of New Zealand’s most popular huts that hikers can spend the night in. But if carrying your sleeping bag uphill is not really your style, you can actually hike this route as a day walk.
This hike is a long and grueling alternative to the Hooker Valley Track (mentioned above) in Mt Cook National Park.
Here, you’ll continuously hike uphill, with snow-capped mountain views before finishing at Mueller Hut. You can rest your legs here (even as a day hiker) and on a clear day, you can see the ever-so-elusive Mt Cook (known as Aoraki in Maori).
Important note: The Mueller Hut route is considered an advanced track by the Department of Conservation, and the steep track and rock scrambling don’t make it easy. During poor weather, the track can close so it’s best to check the Mt Cook DOC visitors center before departing.
Duration: 4hrs one way to Mueller Hut | Distance: 5.2km one way | Elevation gain: 1,000m
4. Ben Lomond Summit, Queenstown
The Ben Lomond Summit is one of the best day hikes in Queenstown. Accessible from Queenstown (you don’t need a car to get here if you’re staying in Queenstown) this 11 km return hike provides you with views over Queenstown.
If you want to rest your legs, you can take the Skyline Gondola up which takes you to Bob’s Peak and saves you from hiking 1 hr each way. From here you can continue up to the Ben Lomond Summit, or you can stop at the Ben Lomond Saddle before the summit.
Psst: the Queenstown Hill walk is a great alternative for those who want a shorter walk with similar-ish views.
Duration: 6 – 8hrs return to summit (3 – 4 hrs saddle) | Distance: 11km return | Elevation gain: 1,438m
5. Moke Lake Loop Track, Queenstown
Moke Lake is one of Queenstown’s most beautiful lakes. The best way to experience this beautiful lake is to hike the Moke Lake Loop Track. This is a 2 – 3 hrs return trail surrounded by mountains which takes you through grassland around Moke Lake.
The trail is about 6 km, but you can make it longer by hiking up to the mountains to see the interesting shape of the Moke Lake. The trail is only a 15 minutes’ drive from the Queenstown downtown area, which makes it one of the best things to do in Queenstown.
Psst: for campers, you can also camp at the Moke Lake Campsite, a DOC managed campsite.
Duration: 2 – 3hrs return | Distance: 6 km return
Submission and photo from Adriana Plotzerová of Czech the World
6. Lake Marian, Milford Sound
Lake Marian is an awesome hike in Fiordland National Park and receives fewer visitors than its popular sister in the opposite valley: Key Summit.
This is with good reason because it’s not an easy hike. The track is quite undulating in some areas and not for the inexperienced hiker.
The first part of the hike is rather easy up until the waterfalls. From here, the trail becomes steep and slippery. It’s about a 1.5 hr tramp up through the valley and eventually, you’ll get to the clear blue Lake Marian.
This alpine lake is super cold, but a great place to cool down on hot days. Make sure to pack lunch as it is the perfect picnic spot. The way back is on the same track, it’ll usually take you less time as it’s all downhill, but be careful at the slippery parts.
Duration: 3hr return to lake | Distance: 3.1km one-way | Elevation gain: 421m
Submission and photo from Antonette Spaan of We12travel
7. Peak Hill, Canterbury
Peak Hill is one of the most picturesque Canterbury hikes and I would even say that it is a rival to Roys Peak (listed above and so famous there are lines of people waiting to take “the picture”) But you won’t have that problem when you hike up Peak Hill.
The track is located well off the beaten track in rural Canterbury and overlooks Lake Coleridge. The summit of this tramping track will give you 360-degree views of the mountains, the braided lengths of the Rakaia River, the lake from above, and the abundant farmland and hills.
Like many hikes in this guide, the Peak Hill track is completely exposed and there is no shade or shelter.
Duration: 3-4hrs return | Distance: 16.6km return | Elevation gain: 1,844m
Submission and photo from Jennifer of Backyard Travel Family: Active Family Travel Specialists in New Zealand
8. Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway, Kaikoura
The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway is a fantastic half-day hike. The full loop takes about 3 hours to complete, but there are several shorter route options.
Since the hike is mostly flat, it is suitable for beginner hikers or families. Near the start of the walkway, you will likely encounter friendly members of Kaikoura’s seal colony (make sure you give them 10 m of space).
Further along, you will find yourself on the clifftop of the peninsula, with gorgeous views of the ocean, coastline, and Seaward Kaikoura Mountain Range.
Psst: Mikaela recommends doing the hike around sunrise or sunset for the beautiful lighting in this area!
Duration: 3hrs | Distance: 11.7km
Submission and photo from Mikaela Anne of Voyageur Tripper
9. Bealey Spur Track, Arthur’s Pass
Located on the west coast, the Bealey Spur track in Arthur’s Pass is a gently climbing track. If you’re not a seasoned hiker it is more than doable. The ratio of epic views to effort is 10:1!
The start begins with a walk up a steep drive but after that, the path through the beech forest gently rolls on up. It passes several tarns and rewards hikers with stunning views of Bruce Stream, the braids of the Waimakariri River, and surrounding mountains.
The end of the track comes to Bealey Spur Hut, an old musterers hut which is still used by overnight trampers today. If you’re looking for a challenge, another 45 minutes on an unmarked track takes you to a neighboring peak, for even more expansive views of the area.
Duration: 2.5hrs one way | Distance: 13.4km return | Elevation gain: 1,844m
Submission and photo from Lauren Korstrom of Pony Tail Pretty
10. Mount Robert Circuit, Nelson National Park
The Mount Robert Circuit is a circuit trail in Nelson National Park. What makes the Mount Robert Circuit an amazing hike are the glorious views of Lake Rotoiti and the historic KEA Hut. This historic hut was built by skiers of the Nelson Ski Club in 1931. You can’t go inside, but it’s a lovely foreground focus for any photos.
This trail is well made, but in parts the track is shale, so you’ll need to take care when it gets a little steeper. The route is rather exposed and gives great views of Lake Rotoiti.
You may find fresh drinking water at the Bushline Hut, but don’t rely on it. There are streams and if you’re carrying a filter water bottle you’ll be able to top up.
If you want to go further, you can take the track to the Angelus Hut.
Duration: 2.5hrs (DOC recommends 5 hrs) | Distance: 9km | Elevation gain: 635m
Submission and photo from Sarah Carter of A Social Nomad
Best hikes in New Zealand North Island
When it comes to hiking, New Zealand’s North Island is often forgotten in favor of the flashier and more popular South Island.
The truth is, the day hikes on New Zealand’s north island are just as incredible, but instead of snow-capped mountains, you’re more likely to see beautiful beaches and active volcanoes.
1. Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Tongariro National Park
Located in Tongariro National Park, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (not to be confused with the Tongariro Northern Circuit) is one of New Zealand’s most famous day hikes.
This one-way, 7-9 hr journey takes you on a steep climb past 2 craters before reaching the vividly colored Emerald Lakes. You’ll also get to see Mount Ngauruhoe, which features in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy as Mt Doom.
You’ll need to organize a shuttle to do this hike, as it is a long one-way hike (can take anywhere between 7 – 9 hrs)
Psst: The Tongariro Alpine Crossing takes you through an alpine environment, so make sure you’re prepared for changes in temperature and bring plenty of snacks and water!
Duration: 7-9 hrs | Distance: 19.4km one way | Elevation gain: 1,196m
2. Mangorei Track to the Pouakai Tarns, Taranaki
Roughly halfway down the North Island, you will find Mount Taranaki, a 2,500m high mountain surrounded endless hikes.
While there are enough hikes in Taranaki that could keep you busy for weeks, there is one hike in specific that deserves a spot on your North Island itinerary: the Mangorei Track to the Pouakai Hut and Tarns.
This 5km long hike will take you up Mount Taranaki through green forestation until you reach the rewarding views over Mt Taranaki at the Pouakai Hut.
The highlight of this hike is just 10 minutes further down to the Pouakai Tarns. Here, you will find one of the most stunning spots of Mt Taranaki where on a non-windy day you will find a perfect reflection of Mt Taranaki in the Tarns.
Duration: 4 – 5hrs return | Distance: 5km to Pouakai Hut | Elevation gain: 806m
Submission and photo from Odette Haye of Omnivagant
3. Cathedral Cove Walk, Coromandel Peninsula
The Cathedral Cove Walk is a coastal walk located on the Coromandel Peninsula which is a 2.5hr drive from the city of Auckland. Here, you’ll find an easy-to-follow coastal walk, finishing at the iconic archway of Cathedral Cove.
This is a shorter walk than other hikes in this post, but I’ve included it because enjoying Cathedral Cove is more than just a stop on a hike – it’s also a great place to relax and enjoy the beach.
Psst: The car park at the start of the track is closed from 1 October to 30 April. There is free parking at Hahei village (you can walk from here), or alternatively, you can pay for a shuttle bus which takes you part way.
Duration: 1.5hr return | Distance: 2.5km return| Elevation gain: 80m
4. The Pinnacles Lookout, Coromandel
As New Zealanders, we’re spoilt for incredible rewarding hikes all over, but one of our favorite day hikes is the Pinnacles, Coromandel. That feeling you get once at the top of those remote, sharp peaks is like nothing else.
The trail is via an easy-to-follow track through NZ native bush and over swing bridges. The true reward is spotted when you reach the Pinnacles Hut which sits 40 minutes from the summit.
On a clear day, the views run to the eastern bays of the Coromandel Peninsula as well as up and down the central Kaimai Ranges.
Psst: Alissa and Mark recommend staying overnight at the Pinnacles Hut if you can (they were carrying a 10-month old baby when they visited so they didn’t have a chance to!) This will allow you to save the last 40 minutes for the next morning to watch the sunrise (headtorch + hut booking essential)
Duration: 7 – 8hrs | Distance: 14km return | Elevation gain: 973m
Submission and photo from Alissa & Mark from Mount Adventure Club
5. Rangitoto, Auckland
You might think you need to travel deep into rural New Zealand to find its best hikes – but in reality, you can hike Rangitoto Island with a short 30-minute bus trip from Auckland’s international airport followed by a ferry ride.
Rangitoto Island, is a 600-year-old volcano rising out of the Hauraki Harbour. Here, there are a variety of walks to chose from. From well-defined summit trail with boardwalks to routes that are little more than a scramble over jagged scoria.
You can explore isolated bays filled with hulking shipwrecks, spot native birds who thrive here – thanks to the islands predator-free status- and see colonization of new land by plant species in action.
While New Zealand undoubtedly has many fantastic day hikes, Rangitoto is perhaps the most accessible, and certainly one of the most unique.
Submission and photo from Jordan of Inspired by Maps
Despite your hiking experience, there are endless day hikes in New Zealand to choose from.
Whether you’re visiting New Zealand’s north or south island (or both!) you’ll find many day hikes, which you’re guaranteed to remember for years to come.
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