I have met many wonderful people on my travels who want to come to NZ, and have asked for my top tips on where to hike. Apologies for the tardiness, but here are my favourite places to run and hike in the worlds best hiking country
The Great Walks
There are nine great walks in NZ, and they are justly named as they are some beautiful tracks (what we call trails in NZ) – including the Routeburn, Kepler, Milford, Abel Tasman and Tongariro. I would no longer do any of these walks as hikes, as there are too many people on them and you have to prebook the huts. However, if you are new to hiking, and/or want to be sure of company, then you will be happy walking any of these Great Walks.
If you are a trail runner, I can highly recommend running some of the Great Walks as the trails are all beautifully groomed, my fave runs are:
- Routeburn from the Glenorchy carpark end up to the Harris Saddle or onward to Conical Hill, and back down to the carpark
- Abel Tasman from Awaroa back to Marahau or vice versa using the water taxis to transport you one way – about 4-5 hours (tide dependent and with some paddling stops), 30k and pretty easy
- Heaphy as a two day run, with an ultra light pack as you only need a bit of food and a sleeping bag
- Rakiura is an easy 4-5 hour day run around Stewart Island
Terrific multi day hikes which are not ‘great walks’
New Zealand is a land blessed with wonderful hikes, and ones I would highly recommend are (* means trails are extremely runnable)
- Hilary trail which is a lovely stroll along the west coast of Auckland
Near Nelson/St Arnaud
- Travers Sabine circuit in the Nelson Lakes area with optional detour up to Lake Angeles Hut
- Mt Richmond Traverse through the Pelorus bridge down to St Arnaud
- Wilkins Gillespie Circuit near Makarora with a side trip up to Lake Crucible
- Matukituki valley tracks near Wanaka with some wonderful shorter walks based out of Aspiring Hut
- Rees Dart circuit * – one of my absolute favourites, simply a stunning run/hike up the rees valley and down the dart. This can be joined up with the Matukituki valley tracks in good weather with a traverse over the Cascade Saddle into the Aspiring national park. Note the Dart part of the track is currently closed
- Greenstone/Caples track *- two good day runs, or a nice 2-3 day round trip, much less crowded than its popular neighbour the Routeburn
If you are feeling super energetic you can join up the Wanaka/Glenorchy trails in a big long loop – hiking from Arrowtown to Wanaka on the Motatapu Trail, hitching a ride from Wanaka to Makarora to walk the Wilkins Gillespie, and if you have alpine experience traversing the Rabbit pass directly from the Wilkins to the Aspiring Hut (near Wanaka), and then taking the Cascade Saddle over to the Rees track to come out at Glenorchy. This is a pretty epic route and I am looking forward to seeing if I can make it work this summer
Near Te Anau
- Hollyford track – a wonderful walk and you get to see the seals at Martins Bay. This can be a bit tricky, as the ‘demon trail’ is aptly named. If you want to go a bit upmarket and take a boat around the tough bits you can pay for a guided tour and they also chopper you out from the end
- Tuatapere Humpridge* – a very good track, privately run, which means you can upgrade to a private room if you don’t want a dorm. You can also buy food in the hut, so you really don’t need to carry anything. And they have hot showers!!!
If you are looking for somewhere to base yourself for these hikes, I would recommend the quieter bases of St Arnaud, Motueka, Wanaka and Glenorchy. I tend to avoid Queenstown these days as it is too busy!
There are hundreds of other hiking opportunities in NZ, including considering embarking to Te Araroa – the long pathway which runs for 3000km from the top of the country to the very bottom, I have only picked my favourites, and I am sure others would prioritise different hikes
- If hiking, you can get a great value pass from Doc for $122 which will allow you unlimited nights in back country huts for a year (excluding Great Walk Huts)
- There is lots of good free camping in NZ, and I use the camping NZ app to find free campsites – many of these are pretty basic and administered by DOC.
- I highly recommend that you DO NOT rent an RV and drive around the south island – our roads are not terrifically well designed for big slow vehicles and it is much more sensible (cheaper and easier) to rent a small car and stay in hostels or camp
- Doc – the department of conservation is a wonderful source of info with track maps and the local office can advise you of trail conditions
- Good too maps are free to download from http://www.topomap.co.nz