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5 of the Best Short Walking Trails in New Zealand

Published 03 May 2016

Emma Brisdion

New Zealand is renowned in equal measure for both the sheer jaw-dropping ability of its stunning natural beauty and for the diversity of beautiful landscapes that it can boast. Pretty much wherever you wake up in the Land of the Long White Cloud, you won’t find an irresistible vista far from your doorstep. And one of the best ways to explore them is to lace up a pair of sturdy walking boots and set off on a hike, following a trail through the national parks.

It’s not all about three or four-day jaunts either. Indeed, there are several shorter, more manageable, treks that will still immerse you in some of the greatest pristine natural environments that this country has to offer. Without further ado, here are five of the best short walking trails in New Zealand:

Abel Tasman

Abel Tasman Coast Track

LEVEL:  Easy / Moderate
DURATION: 1 hour to one day (or many more)
LOCATION: Abel Tasman National Park, South Island

The reputation of Abel Tasman’s astounding natural beauty precedes it, attracting visitors from far and wide to its golden coastal stretches. 30 miles of sandy bays and beaches are fringed by green subtropical forest and stoic granite cliffs that offer an exhaustive variety of walking or hiking options. Though you can craft routes through the forests and along the shorelines that last up to five days, you can also just as easily enjoy a single day or morning exploring a segment of the coast. Schedule in time to relax on a beach or take a dip, or try kayaking through the clear waters while keeping an eye out for playful fur seals.

Milford Track, Mackinnon Pass

Milford Track (one day)

LEVEL: Easy
DURATION: One day (or up to four)
LOCATION: Fiordland National Park, South Island

The Milford Track in New Zealand’s biggest national park, Fiordland, is one of the country’s most famous routes. While it’s known for being a fantastic four-day hike that traverses untouched nature and the ancient history of the Māori culture, you can also choose to do just the first, shorter section. All that requires is a single day of your time. Tramp through ancient beech forest-covered valleys and navigate clear rivers flowing into steep fjords. Be sure to book this trek early due to its popularity.

Tongariro, sunset at Mt Nguaruho

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing

LEVEL: Challenging
DURATION: 7-9 hours
LOCATION: Tongariro National Park, North Island

This 12-mile track through the dramatic volcanic landscapes of Tongariro National Park may be a slightly tougher choice for a day hike with some steep and challenging sections, but the astounding panoramas make this route one of New Zealand’s most popular short treks. A must-do for Lord of the Rings fans, watch as the barren and rugged terrain changes around you, following the trail around mountainous peaks, along the shores of startlingly blue volcanic lakes and past bubbling geothermal hot springs. Pack sensibly, though, as this UNESCO World Heritage site is known for its changeable weather and waterproof, outdoor clothing is essential.

Bay of Islands, Russell

Bay of Islands Coastal Walkway

LEVEL: Easy
DURATION: 8 hours
LOCATION: Auckland, North Island

Head a little north from Auckland and you’ll escape city life in the Bay of Islands. Here you can spend a day exploring, well, a bay dotted with over 144 tiny islands. This five-mile circular walking route can be joined at any point along its path and makes the most of the short ferry links connecting Russell, Okiato, Opua, and Paihia. The coastal walkway guides you leisurely along the Bay of Island’s beaches for sweeping panoramas, pops into waterfront towns to visit historic sites and navigates through mangroves and bush in search of native flora and fauna – including the rare weka and kiwi birds.

Earland Falls on the Routeburn Track

Routeburn Track (one day)

LEVEL:  Moderate
DURATION: 3-5 hours (or up to three days)
LOCATION:  Queenstown, South Island

Another of New Zealand’s most famous multi-day hikes, the Routeburn Track sends shivers of excitement down the spine of any keen hiker. Taking up to three days for the whole route, you can instead set your compass for just a small section, where you’ll ramble along moss-lined trails through bird-filled ancient beech trees and past leafy ferns as the Routeburn River rolls past. Available as a guided walk, take a drive from your base in Queenstown to the shores of Lake Wakatipu to meet the trailhead and set off through National Parks, aiming to reach the picturesque Routeburn Falls where the river cascades over dark boulders.


Explore New Zealand on foot with one of our tailor-made holidays called Journeys, which offer itineraries that incorporate both islands.


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