Wherever you are in New Zealand, chances are you aren't far from a hiking trail – there are literally thousands! We have 14 National Parks and countless other wildlife reserves, so if you’re looking to do some hiking or walking, whether it’s just to stretch the legs quickly or for the better part of the day, your hiking options are wide-ranging and usually close at hand. You can stop in at the nearest Department of Conservation (DOC) office for a map or take a look at our trip itineraries for ideas. Or join us for a hiking vacation – our guides would love to personally show you the best day hikes in New Zealand!
The ‘winterless’ North Island of New Zealand is most famous for its temperate climate, beautiful Bay of Islands, and volcanic activity. You can enjoy all of these hikes year-round, although the Tongariro Crossing will get snowy in winter so ice axes, crampons and local guides are required. But don’t let that slow your sense of adventure!
So, without more suspense, here are, in our humble opinion, New Zealand's North Island best day hikes:
1. Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Keen hikers travel from all corners of the globe to hike what’s regarded as ‘the best one day hike in the world’. Located in Tongariro National Park on the Central Plateau of the North Island, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is an epic traverse that encompasses barren volcanic lava fields, beautiful Emerald Lakes, and lush rainforest.
Most hikers begin their journey at the Mangatepopo Road end, at an elevation of 1,120m (3,675 ft). The 19.4km (12 mile) hike is often steep and uneven as it ascends to a maximum elevation of 1,886m (6,188 ft), before making its way down to the trail end at the Ketetahi Road end.
Hike the Tonariro Crossing in any month of the year, on board our 5 or 11 day Ultimate North island Adventure - ‘Kauri’ trip.
2. Cape Brett day hike
New Zealand is most famous for its rugged granite peaks on the South Island, but few people realise it’s also a tropical paradise. The Cape Brett day hike immerses you in coastal tropical rainforests, with incredible ocean views, scattered with sacred islands.
Start the day by catching a water taxi from Paihia out to Deep Water Cove. The trail begins with a short and sharp climb to the ridgeline (perfect for warming up those legs), and the trail meanders its way through Manawahuna Scenic Reserve, until you reach the lighthouse on the peninsular. On route, you’ll experience the Bay of Islands from the ridge tops and get a magnificent view of an iconic rock formation, Hole in the Rock.
This is a 3-4 hour hike with rewarding views of the Bay of Islands the entire way - you may even see dolphins and seals from your vantage point high up on the cliffs. The mountains you’ll cross are very important to the local Iwi (Maori tribe) as they’re considered one of the three sacred mountains of Polynesia. At the end of the day, you’ll be picked up at Cape Brett, again by water taxi for the scenic cruise back to Paihia.
The Cape Brett day hike can be taken in any month of the year, by yourself or on board our 5 or 11 day Ultimate North island Adventure - ‘Kauri’ trip.
3. Rainbow Mountain day hike
Located 26km (16 miles) from the City of Rotorua, Rainbow Mountain is aptly named due to the unusual colour of the soil. From the carpark you’ll follow the signs along the Crate Lake trail. After 20 minutes, you’ll come across two beautiful lakes, set on a back drop of red, brown and orange steamy volcanic cliffs – have your camera ready!
From the crater lakes, continue north through young native forest for approximately 1.5 hours, until you reach the summit road. A short 10 minute hike up the road will get you to the summit, where you’ll be rewarded with front row seats to Mt Tongariro (Mt Doom), as well as Lake Taupo (the second largest lake in the world!) and a multitude of other beautiful lakes, peaks and forest parks.
The hike up Rainbow Mountain can be taken in any month of the year, by yourself or on board our 5 or 11 day Ultimate North island Adventure - ‘Kauri’ trip.
4. Tama Lakes Track
A less popular, but equally stunning hike, the Tama Lakes Track is the perfect fit for a full-day adventure. The track is an out-and-back type hike, although you can connect with the Taranaki Falls Loop track for some added scenery.
You can expect the hike to take between 5 to 7 hours, and while the main portion of the trail is well marked and relatively easy with only a gradual incline, don't be fooled! After a couple of hours, you'll reach the Lower Tama Lake which boasts stunning backdrop views of Mt Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. From here, you have the option to continue up to Upper Tama Lake, and we recommend you do!
The track does become steeper, with loose rocks and tussock plants to compete with - and with no lake in view, it's tempting to turn around. Keep on trekking though as once you get up and over a barren ridge, you'll finally see the stunning and hidden gem of Upper Tama Lake - an old eruption crater!
5. Mangawhai Heads
If a gentler hike with a variety of views is calling your name, Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway is a great option to check out. One of the shorter hikes on this list, taking 2 to 3 hours return, it's perfect for families, those new to hiking and anyone keen to enjoy the sunshine while getting some exercise in.
The trail combines rugged and raw coastlines with breath-taking and sweeping ocean views, and around every turn, you'll fall in love with New Zealand's natural beauty. Plus, you may even get lucky and spot a dolphin or whale swimming along!
As part of this hike can be walked along the beach, it is recommend to be walked at low tide.
6. Pouakai Crossing
Egmont National Park is textbook beautiful - with a perfectly shaped dormant volcano, an accessible summit climb, stunning waterfalls and lush rainforest. There's no wonder this is one of New Zealand's most loved National Parks. Our favourite hike in the region is the Pouakai Crossing, which combines many of the landscapes on offer. A full day hike, taking 8 to 10 hours (19km), you will need to organise transport from one end to the other.
We recommend starting from the North Egmont Visitor Centre, where you'll then head through the Goblin Forest before popping out above the bush on Mt Taranaki. The views from here seem endless, and on a clear sunny day, you can see well out into the Tasman Sea. About a third of the way in, you'll come to the Holly Hut which is a perfect spot to enjoy a short break and snack.
After a jaunt across a wetland, the track becomes steeper and after a bit of effort, you'll reach a plateau where you'll have the best views across Egmont National Park. You'll then journey back down into the native forest (very welcomed on a hot summer day!) and finish your adventure at Mangorei Road.