Walking routes in New Zealand

Set in the southwest Pacific, New Zealand is made up of two main islands: the North Island and the South Island. South Island is home to expansive glaciers and the snow covered Southern Alps, while the North Island has an impressive mountainous spine, thick swathes of forest and geothermal activity aplenty, including active volcanoes Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. You can get between the islands via a ferry crossing or short flight. Longer walking vacations take in the highlights of both islands, with some long road transfers involved. Our shorter walking trips take place purely on foot, usually in one particular national park or route. Read on for further detail on walking routes in New Zealand.
1. Abel Tasman National Park
2. Fiordland National Park
3. Heaphy Track
4. Mount Aspiring National Park
5. Paparoa National Park
6. Tongariro Crossing
7. Westland Tai Poutini National Park
8. Whirinaki Forest Park
Abel Tasman National Park

1. Abel Tasman National Park

New Zealand’s smallest national park is still a decent size with lesser walked inland tracks leading through forested valleys to the coast where sheltered coves, golden beaches and views over the Tasman Bay stretch all the way from Marahau to Nelson. Its jewel in the crown is the Abel Tasman Coast Track, a five-day hike that’s the most popular of all of the country’s ‘Great Walks’.
Fiordland National Park

2. Fiordland National Park

Soaring mountains, ice-carved fiords and sweeping valleys jostle for space in this enthralling corner of South Island. New Zealand’s largest national park, it’s home to one of the country’s most famous natural attractions, Milford Sound. It’s also where you’ll find some of New Zealand’s hardiest multi-day walks: the Milford, Kepler and Routeburn Tracks, which can all be walked in their entirety or in smaller sections.
Heaphy Track

3. Heaphy Track

Set in Kahurangi National Park, on the South Island, this 80km walking trail showcases New Zealand’s incredible biodiversity, with ancient beech forests, limestone cliffs and alpine plateaux providing inspiring backdrops. Cuckoos, kingfishers, kiwis, kakas and Swedish blue ducks all making their home in these surrounds. What’s more, thanks to its even gradients, broad river bridges and well maintained, heated huts you can walk here all year round.
Mount Aspiring National Park

4. Mount Aspiring National Park

Sitting at the southern end of the Southern Alps, alongside Fiordland National Park, this 3,500 sq km wilderness is pure Lord of the Rings country, with a landscape scattered with snow-tipped mountains, glaciers, river valleys and alpine lakes. It’s also a fabulous hiking spot, offering everything from short, half day walks to hardy overnight treks.
Paparoa National Park

5. Paparoa National Park

Set along South Island’s west coast, near the town of Punakaiki, is Paparoa National Park. Its spectacular shoreline is lined with pebble beaches and backed by ancient coastal forest, vast canyons and twisted boulders. It’s most famous for the Pancake Rocks – thin layers of hard limestone that look like wafer-thin crepes, where the sea bursts through a handful of vertical blowholes.
Tongariro Crossing

6. Tongariro Crossing

One of the most famous day walks in the world, the Tongariro Crossing takes you through North Island’s most spectacular volcanic terrain: lava flows, steam vents and an active crater, with emerald lakes and mountains in the background. Stretching along 19.4km of track just south of Taupo, it's not for the faint hearted. You’ll need to be fit and in possession of proper walking gear.
Westland Tai Poutini National Park

7. Westland Tai Poutini National Park

Wedged between the lofty peaks of the Southern Alps and the wild beaches of the West Coast, this park’s primeval landscape includes forests, lakes, grasslands, snowcapped mountains and – the main attraction for most travelers – the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers. Sitting 23km apart, these impressive hulks move up to four metres a day. Unfortunately, they are also slowly retreating, due to climate change.
Whirinaki Forest Park

8. Whirinaki Forest Park

A hike through ecological icon Whirinaki, on North Island, is like stepping back into the Jurassic era (indeed, this is where the BBC filmed its Walking with Dinosaurs series). Its forests are renowned for their waterfalls, massive ferns and towering ancient trees, including podocarps and giant kahikatea. It’s also home to a rich and diverse bird population; and a number of rare endemic species are found here.

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If you'd like to chat about New Zealand walking or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

New Zealand travel advice

New Zealand Highlights

Advice from John Lightwood, from our supplier, Silver Fern Vacations:
“My favourite walking destinations are the Hooker Valley, which is a three to four hour return walk in Mount Cook National Park, and the Abel Tasman Coastal Path – an easy, beautiful walk along the stunning coastline of this national park, with plenty of opportunities for swimming or kayaking en route”

Chloe Oliver, from our supplier Exodus:
“Walking through the Abel Tasman National park along the coastal path. I loved the contrast of the forest and coastal views and the opportunity to go for a refreshing swim!”

Packing tips

John Lightwood, from Silver Fern Vacations:
“Travelers should always dress in layers with waterproofs (definitely needed for the West Coast) and a good pair of worn-in boots that must be cleaned prior to entering into New Zealand.”

Chloe Oliver from Exodus:
“My trekking essentials include a waterproof jacket, blister plasters, a first aid kit, a reusable drinking bottle, walking poles, and an extra layer (New Zealand can sometimes experience four seasons in one day so it is important to be prepared!)”

When to go

John Lightwood from Silver Fern Vacations:
“We suggest November (springtime) and March (late summer) when temperatures are suitable for walking (12-16 degrees) and there are not so many people on the different track walks.”

Chloe Oliver from Exodus:
“In general, New Zealand’s climate is well suited to trekking which means that there is never really a bad time to go! Spring months are September to November and giving you sunny, crisp days, wildflowers and waterfalls but you will need to pack an extra layer as the mornings and evenings can get chilly. Summer runs from December to February and generally offers longer daylight hours, settled conditions, warm sunshine and good temperatures. Autumn is another good time for trekking, running from March to May you can still experience sunshine but lower temperatures which you may find more pleasant for walking, along with beautiful autumnal colours and quieter trails.”

Fitness

John Lightwood from Silver Fern Vacations:
“Travelers need to be of reasonable fitness, so that they can happily manage two to three hours of walking. There is a huge variety of walks for all abilities within the national parks of New Zealand, so there should be no problem in meeting different walking abilities.”

Chloe Oliver from Exodus:
“How fit you need to be depends on how hard a trek you want to do. New Zealand has hikes to suit all levels of trekker. To do the more remote, higher altitudes you’ll require a better level of fitness.”

Tips from our travelers

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travelers are often... other travelers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful New Zealand walking vacation tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your vacation – and the space inside your daypack.
I was delighted to find that the guides were highly skilled in the interpretation of NZ plant communities, ecological interactions, and the relationships between flora and fauna (both native and exotic).
– Dr Barbara Radcliffe
“Pay attention to the information about what to bring before coming on the trip. Get what you need before the trip and have it with you. Good rain gear, broken in hiking boots, and lots of film (or extra batteries for digital) would be an excellent idea. Once you arrive in Motueka you may not have the time to sort out anything forgotten.” – Allan Justus, Heaphy Track hiking trip

“Travel light there is a lot of moving around between train stations and bus stations etc. Food is limiting enough if you don't eat meat/fish. Be prepared to eat a lot of rice and noodles.” – Roisin Courtney, New Zealand trekking vacation

“If you're on a driving vacation of 3 to 4 weeks duration avoid the small B&Bs that the tour operators offer .....the rooms are too small and you'll not have enough space. We cancelled a few rooms and booked into pretty good motels which were much more useful.” – Dermot Blastland, New Zealand self drive vacation

“I am particularly interested in botany and ecosystems. I was delighted to find that the guides were highly skilled in the interpretation of NZ plant communities, ecological interactions, and the relationships between flora and fauna (both native and exotic).” – Dr Barbara Radcliffe, Heaphy Track hiking trip
I would advise people doing this trip to pack lightly as advised by the operator because it is hard work carrying a heavy load up and down the hills.
– Wendy Grace
Written by Nana Luckham
Photo credits: [Page banner: Curioso] [Abel Tasman National Park: Pedro] [Fiordland National Park: Esmée Winnubst] [Heaphy Track: Steve Bittinger] [Mount Aspiring National Park: Andrea Schaffer] [Paparoa National Park: Tristan Schmurr] [Tongariro Crossing: Esmée Winnubst] [Westland Tai Poutini National Park : edwin.11] [Whirinaki Forest Park: Pseudopanax] [New Zealand Highlights: Andrea Schaffer] [Dr Barbara Radcliffe Quote: Andrea Schaffer] [Roisin Courtney Quote: Flying Kiwi Tours]
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