There are two telling signs that New Zealand's landscape is next-level beautiful — its claim to fame as the filmset for The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, and its endless array of hiking trails. In fact, according to recent data from Tourism New Zealand, hundreds of thousands of hikers from around the globe make their way to NZ every year (almost half of which are under the age of 34), to get amongst the country's underrated beaches and mountain vistas, lush forests and epic volcanoes. So which one do you do? We've collated seven of the best right here for your daydreaming pleasure, but be aware that these beauties aren't any old walk in the park, often requiring serious prep and camping gear.
Distance: 6.2 miles (10 kilometers)
Estimated time: 3.5 hours
Best for: Ocean lovers and animal enthusiasts
Located in the north of the Coromandel Peninsula, the Coromandel Walkway is definitely one of the prettiest coastal walks that the North Island has to offer. Starting at Stony Bay and finishing up at Fletchers Bay, the path takes you through native forests, passes over farmland and spoils you with insane views of the Pinnacles, Great Barrier Island and Cuvier Island. The track is part of an old bridle path formed by early pioneers linking the two bays, and more interestingly, it's pretty likely you'll spot dolphins, orcas and native birds whilst walking it. You can hike back the way you came, or follow the more difficult and slippery mountain biking track back (beware of flying bikes – Kiwis are mountain biking mad). There's also regular shuttles for the less athletic among us who only wanna walk one way (*sheepishly raises hands*), plus a bunch of cute organic cafes to recover at back in Coromandel Town (check out Driving Creek Cafe). The whole Coromandel region is known for its kooky eco-friendly lodges, and although there's a ton of them, you should definitely check out Manawa Ridge, an eco retreat with amazing views of the Pacific Ocean from its stylishly minimalist rooms.
Sealy Tarns Track
Distance: 3.2 miles (5.2 kilometers)
Estimated time: 4 hours
Best for: Impatient hikers who love Snapchatting mountain vistas
Wrap up warm, because this stunning trail takes you right through the heart of alpine country. Situated in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, the Sealy Tarns Track is short but sweet (and by sweet, we mean steep). It begins on an easygoing path in Aoraki Village, before following a zig-zagging route up to Sealy Tarns itself, a flat area on the Mueller Ridge. This all takes about two hours, but it’s worth trekking on for another hard two to reach the famous Mueller Hut. This alpine hut is pretty special, as it sits 5905 feet up in the Sealy Tarns mountain range, offering epic glacier views (note: you need to book a stay through the Department of Conservation). All in all, it's a tough but worthwhile walk where buns of steel and wicked alpine photos will be your reward. Plus, once you've tackled it you can try try hike nearby Mount Cook, the highest mountain in NZ. When you're done check out teeny-tiny Aoraki Village – there's no shop for supplies as it's purely a base for perusing the local walking tracks, but all the nearby hotels are pretty gorgeous. Check out the very chic Hermitage Hotel, then grab the best buffet of your life (trust us) at its gorgeous Alpine Restaurant.
Length: 33.2 miles (53km)
Estimated time: 3 - 4 days
Best for: Hikers that like a bit of everything
Type "the finest walk in the world" into Google, and you'll be greeted a ton of results about Milford Track. Located in Fiordland National Park on the South Island (a world heritage area, mind you), this spectacular track is sure to blow your thermal socks off. However, you won't be the only sock-less hiker – it's one of New Zealand's most popular walks. The well-loved trail can only be walked in one direction, Glade Wharf to Milford Sound, and during walking season (October to April) hiker numbers are limited. Though this sounds kinda annoying it's actually a great shout, as the huge valleys you pass are full of glaciers vulnerable to environmental damage. But it's not just glaciers you'll see on this hike – starting in Lake Te Anau (a cute town with lots of pubs and restaurants), you'll trek through forests in the lower Arthur Valley, and finish up with the world-famous fjord views of Milford Sound. Insider's tip: bring some anti-sandfly spray or be doomed to itch like crazy for days afterwards.
Length: 37 miles (60 kilometers)
Estimated time: 3 - 4 days
Best for: Nature fans and hardcore hikers
One of New Zealand’s official 'Great Walks', the Kepler Track really is a tour of the South Island’s most stunning scenery. Most of New Zealand’s walks were carved out of necessity, but Kepler is rare in that the track was built purely for leisure (read: to show off Mother Nature's handiwork). Along the way you can expect grassy ridges, stunning alpine vistas, striking woodland and the eerie Luxmore Caves (bring a torch!). Prep well in advance because the tramping (local term for "hiking") trail is fairly difficult – you need to bring food and the accommodation huts can get booked up pretty quick during high season (December to February). You'll also be able to explore Iris Burn Falls, a pretty waterfall that's just a 15-minute walk from Iris Burn Hut, which one of the basic huts in Fiordland National Park. The track starts and ends in Te Anau, a two-hour drive from adventure capital of the world, Queenstown. If you leave the city without taking advantage of bungee jumping, jet-boating, white water rafting, or world class skiing, then you've done it all wrong.
Abel Tasman Coast Track
Length: 32 miles (51 kilometers)
Estimated time: 3 - 5 days
Best for: Beach babes and lovers of leisure
This seriously stunning track in Abel Tasman National Park can take up to five days if you're walking at a leisurely pace, but it's worth the time investment to see golden sand beaches, coastal forests, and the odd fur seal or two. Of all the South Island sights you'll see along the way, there are two that stand out in particular: Cleopatra's Pool (a natural rock pool with moss-lined water-slide) and Falls River bridge (a massive suspension bridge). But what's even cooler is that you don't actually have to hike the whole thing – you can book a cheeky kayak tour and explore deserted beaches or get up close to playful dolphins. Also worth noting is that the area is so blessed with a mild climate that you're good to embark on the track any time of year. Though most nearby accommodation comes in the form of a pretty basic hut (again), the campsite at Onetahuti Beach has to be one of the best in the world. It comes complete with beach-side views, glow worm caves, and a fresh water pool – what more could you want?
Tongariro Northern Circuit
Length: 25.5 miles (43 kilometers)
Estimated time: 3 - 4 days
Best for: Lord of the Rings fans
Okay, so this hike makes for quite the adventure. The Tongariro Northern Circuit twists its way between Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe, AKA Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings. It’s also an active volcano, but even if it’s not spewing its fiery guts out, the circuit showcases crazy lava flows, otherworldly emerald lakes, deserts, and forests. In summary, it's pretty hard to get bored here. Nearby North Island icons are also worth the trip, with Lake Taupo to the north and the rugged Kaimanawa ranges to the east. But back to the hike itself — if you're super fit you can get it done in two days (though you'd be walking eight hours per day), so we advise spending a bit longer to properly check out its surreal landscapes. Start and finish the circuit in Whakapapa Village, a sleepy little place filled with tons of trails and one rather upscale hotel, Chateau Tongariro.
Lake Waikaremoana Track
Length: 28.5 miles (46 kilometers)
Estimated time: 3 - 4 days
Best for: Culture vultures and fishing fans
Located within Te Urewera National Park on the North Island, the Lake Waikaremoana Track is both beautiful AND genuinely interesting, culturally. This is because it passes through ancient, sacred land and magnificent forests belonging to the Tuhoe and Ruapani Maori people. It’s a track of moderate difficulty (assuming you walk four to six hours per day), following the lake shore for most of its length. Just some of the stunning stop-off points include Panekire Bluff for awesome views, and Korokoro Falls, deep in the lush rainforest. At the end of each day, there’s plenty of opportunities to go for a swim or even do a spot of fishing. Take note, though, the weather at Lake Waikaremoana is always changing, so pack for every season.
Note: Check out conditions on the Department of Conservation website before you head off.