Mountains have long held a kind of magic over many of us, both enthralled and appalled by their wild irregularity and the glimpse of danger deep in their embrace. Many peaks have great significance to different faiths and cultures, a rich folklore to explain their origin, or are places of pilgrimage for locals and visitors alike.
You are not in the mountains. The mountains are in you.
The most spectacular mountains in the world have captivated the imagination of those that have laid eyes on them. The endless play of light and weather creates views that melt and shift in moments. Dynamic landscapes that are at once intimate and vastly unknowable. Peaks that rake the sky and alter the perspective of those that attain the lofty heights. There is no getting accustomed to them.
To aim for the highest point is not the only way to climb a mountain.
Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain
Whether you’re a seasoned mountaineer, passionate orographer or geologist, a photographer, or merely an inquiring traveller, there’s going to be a mountain on this list that will leave you spellbound.
The most outstanding long-distance tramping routes you’ll find in New Zealand.
I love hiking when I travel. It’s an affordable way to see some of the most magnificent places in a country, and a great way to meet like-minded people when you’re travelling solo. In New Zealand, multi-day hiking is referred to as tramping, and is popular with both Kiwis and visitors from further afield.
From seemingly endless beaches and surf-crashed coastlines, through rolling farmland and forested ranges of hills, to lunar volcanic landscapes, soaring peaks and high mountain passes, the country is spectacularly diverse for such a small area. New Zealand has thousands of kilometres of tramping trails, including ten that are known as the Great Walks and journey through some of the most iconic Kiwi landscapes.
Tramping allows you to get outdoors and explore the country in a way that no other travel experience can match. Not only that, but you’ll also be treated to incredible nature encounters, the freshest air, and the freedom that comes with being wild and remote. But which route should you choose? I’ve compiled a list of what I think are some of the most outstanding hiking trails in New Zealand, some I’ve walked for myself, and others which remain firmly on my to-do list for when I next return.
The routes vary greatly in character, from waymarked hut-to-hut trails like the ever-popular Queen Charlotte Track and Tongariro Northern Circuit to epic challenges aimed at experienced backpackers with plenty of time on their hands, like the Te Araroa Trail.
These routes all take multiple days to complete, and due to the remote nature of the country they cross, there’s usually little opportunity to break them down into single days or weekends trips. Once you start a route, you’re often committed to seeing it through. However, most of the routes have excellent facilities, and there’s plenty of advice and information available from the Department of Conservation (DOC) to help you prepare.
If you aren’t quite ready for the challenge of a multi-day walk, or just fancy a taster of what New Zealand tramping is all about, have a look at my list of the best day hikes for inspiration.
A selection of some of the best one day tramping tracks in New Zealand, plus a couple of options for overnight hikes.
Few places in the world can top New Zealand for stunning, dramatic scenery. A little bit of everything, from rolling hills and lush forests, to majestic rivers, raw volcanic landscapes, sweeping coastlines and soaring mountains tempt hikers from around the world to pull on their boots and explore the great Kiwi outdoors.
Known as tramping by New Zealanders, hiking is the best way to explore the country in a way no other experience can really match, and available whatever your travel budget. Routes are generally well waymarked, the quality of mapping is excellent, and people are welcoming and glad to provide advice. And the best part is that wild land is easily accessible in New Zealand, and it’s possible to feel a sense of remoteness just a couple hours from cities and towns.
Whichever routes you chose, you’ll be treated to fresh air life outdoors, spectacular views, and that feeling of freedom that comes with hiking in wild places. My experience of hiking in New Zealand is you never quite know exactly what to expect, or where the trail might eventually lead you.
It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.
The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien
But which tramping trails are right for you? I’ve compiled a list of what I think are some of the best short hiking trails in New Zealand, for whichever part of the country you’re visiting. Or add them to your plans for an epic New Zealand road trip. Some I’ve walked for myself, and others I’ve added to the list for when I return next. My suggestions for multi-day tramping routes can be found here.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing lays claim to the title of the best single day hike in New Zealand, and perhaps even the most awe-inspiring anywhere in the world. Winding through New Zealand’s oldest National Park, a dual World Heritage Site for natural and cultural significance, this atmospheric hike is a classic Kiwi experience.
The route traverses glaciated valleys, cinder-filled deserts, and meadows of unique alpine vegetation to enter an otherworldly landscape of steaming geothermal vents, ancient lava flows, jewel-coloured crater lakes in the fiery heart of a volcanic caldera.
Known just as the Tongariro Crossing until 2007, the name was changed to more accurately reflect the mountain conditions hikers encounter, but it remains a firm fixture on many New Zealand bucket lists. The huge popularity of the route means it can get busy on the trail, but also that there’s a great support infrastructure for hikers keen to take on the challenge.
After completing the hike for myself, I’ve compiled a guide to hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing with all you need to know to plan your hike.
Known to Māori as Te Kahui Tupua, the sacred peaks, this wild volcanic plateau in the centre of New Zealand’s North Island has a deep significance. According to legend, the volcanoes of North Island were once a band of great warriors who gathered on the shores of Lake Taupo. The male volcanoes were all deeply in love with the beautiful Pihanga, stunning in her cloak of forest green.
One night they all fought for her love in a mighty battle, belching forth their smoking anger and turning the sky dark. The earth shook for days, and fire and ash and ballistics rained from the sky. When the skies finally cleared, Tongariro was revealed as the victor, with the lovely Pihanga standing close by his side. Ngāuruhoe and Ruapehu acknowledged Pihanga’s choice of Tongariro, and retreated back a respectable distance.
Taranaki took defeat particularly badly, and wild with grief and jealous rage ripped up his roots to follow the setting sun to the west, gouging the deep scar of the Whanganui River on his way. He sits to this day on the coast, brooding in splendid isolation. Though who knows if one day in the future he may return to claim the heart of Pihanga?