Off the Beaten Track: Hiking New Zealand’s Less Known Routes ⋆ Tredwell Travel

Off the Beaten Track: Hiking New Zealand’s Less Known Routes

Aotearoa in New Zealand is known as the Land of the Long White Cloud, and holds hiking and nature at the core of its well-developed tourist industry. Headline hikes, namely the Milford, Kepler and Routeburn Tracks, are located in the Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Parks of the South Island, and offer incredible access to untamed wilderness. Due to conservation-driven visitor number regulations, hut tickets or camp site pitches are much coveted and are booked up months in advance.

The most popular day hikes, such as climbing Mount Taranaki or overnighting at Mueller Hut do fill up quickly and you may be frustrated by the number of people of the trails, or lack of availability for hut bookings. But don’t hang up your hiking boots just yet, as there are many equally amazing routes that don’t require you to book six months before you travel.

So, whether you’re looking for a single day off in the mountains or hoping to carry your sleeping bag and instant noodles for four days (or more!), this guide will highlight some of best ways to go for a walk on the wild side in Aotearoa.

The Kauaeranga Kauri Trail (Pinnacles Hike), Waikato, North Island (1 day/overnight)

1. A view out across the Coromandel Peninsula from the top of The Pinnacles

This trail takes you to the summit of the Pinnacles with views across the thickly forested Coromandel peninsula. The hike can be done either as a day or overnight walk, with accommodation at the Pinnacles Hut or Dancing Camp Campsite just below the summit (both require booking, but spaces are usually available). The route begins in thick forest with a number of freshwater pools before rising out to spectacular views of the mountains (photo 1) and, on a clear day, the coastlines of both western and eastern Coromandel peninsula are visible.

Note: The final section to the summit includes some ladders. Bookings for Pinnacle Hut or Dancing Camp Campsite are required if you wish to stay overnight.

The Tongariro Northern Circuit, Manawatu-Whanganui, North Island (3 – 4 days)

2. The towering Mt Ngauruhoe dominates the moonscape of the Tongariro Northern Circuit

Tongariro National Park is home to one of New Zealand’s most famous day hikes, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. For those looking to enjoy all the perks of the day hike and add in further exploration of the Tongariro NP, the Tongariro Northern Circuit is for you. Still one of the country’s Great Walks, it is noticeably less busy than others with bookings usually available much closer to the days of the hike. A circuit from Whakapapa Village, the hike can be done in either direction, and transports you through an unearthly landscape shaped by glaciers and lava. Mounts Tongariro and Ngauruhoe (the filming site for Mount Doom in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films) dominate the views throughout a spectacular second day (if walking clockwise, (photo 2) which also include the red crater (photo 3) and emerald lakes after a challenging climb. If time, energy, and snack reserves allow it, a detour to the Lower and Upper Tama Lakes on the final day offer further stunning views.

3. The otherworldly Red Crater of the Tongariro Northern Circuit

Note: Bookings for Mangatepopo, Oturere and Waihohonu Huts/Campsites are required (there is no need to book Oturere if you plan to complete the hike in 3 days).

Travers-Sabine Circuit, Nelson, South Island (4 – 7 days)

The Nelson Lakes National Park is home to one of the most iconic photo spots in New Zealand, the Lake Rotoiti Jetty, the starting point for this hike. With many huts dotted throughout the national park it is a fantastic option for a multi-day hike. To cut down on walking times, a boat ride up Lake Rotoiti cuts three hours from your first day of walking and might be the energy saver you need in order to make it up the Sabine Valley to Blue Lake Hut on day 2 or 3, located next to Rotomairewhenua (Blue Lake) thought to be the clearest natural freshwater lake in the world (photos 4 and 5). The path from Upper Travers to West Sabine Hut is a challenging climb followed by a lengthy descent, but the valley views and the opportunity to get up close to the charismatic Kea (the only alpine parrot species) make the effort worth your while.

4. A view down to Rotomairewhenua (Blue Lake) in the Nelson Lakes NP

Swimming and cleaning in Blue Lake is prohibited to preserve the clarity of the water. There are opportunities to swim along the path to Sabine Hut on the shores of Lake Rotoroa. The best of these as you cross the final swing bridge about 20 minutes walking before you reach Sabine Hut. Water taxis can again be arranged from Sabine Hut, but further transport back to St Arnaud will be required if you have left a vehicle. The hike from Sabine Hut back to St Arnaud takes you through beautiful forest emerging back into the “real” world at the Mount Roberts car park.

5. The clearest natural freshwater lake in the world, Nelson Lakes NP

Note: Booking is required for Angelus Hut, but this is a detour rather than an essential stop for the route. All other huts are serviced and require tokens (purchased from Department of Conservation offices across the country) equivalent to 20 NZD (£10) per person per night.

Oparara Basin Arches, Kahurangi National Park, South Island (1 day)

6. Moria Gate Arch in all its early morning glory

Less of a day hike and more of a portal to another world, the Oparara Basin Arches, are some of the most spectacular scenery in Aotearoa. Lose yourself in non-stop bird chatter and the tranquillity of Mirror Tarn before Moria Gate Arch (photo 6) takes you into a scene even J.R.R. Tolkien might have struggled to describe. Having completed the Moria Gate Loop, take the out-and-back path to Oparara Arch for access to the 200-metre-long, 80-metre-wide and 40-metre-tall arch that will leave you spellbound. If you are looking to explore further into the park a permit is required as there are a number of globally significant fossil sites.

Note: You have to access the area via a 14km gravel road which is narrow and steep in some places, a 4WD vehicle certainly makes access easier and more comfortable, although the drive is possible to a patient 2WD driver.

Gillespie Pass Circuit, Mount Aspiring National Park, South Island (3-4 days)

7. Looking up to Mount Alba and Lake Crucible that sits at its base, Mt Aspiring NP

Probably the toughest hike on this list, the Gillespie Pass Circuit offers views of beautiful mountain peaks and stunning hanging valleys whilst demanding river crossing experience or prearranged jet boat transport. You can skip one of the two crossings of the Makarora river by walking from the Blue Pools Car Park to access the Young Valley. The true highlights of the hike come on the second (and third) day as you cross the Gillespie Pass (1600m), drop down into Siberia Valley and, optionally but highly recommended, take the side trip to Lake Crucible – a lake located beneath Mount Alba (photo 7). You could complete this side trip as part of a large hiking day from Young to Siberia Hut or is an excellent day trip from Siberia Hut.

Note: Only attempt this hike if you are an advanced hiker with experience of river crossings. Siberia Hut requires booking in advance, Kerin Forks Hut is located about 2 hours walk from Siberia Hut, in the Wilkin Valley, but requires a river crossing to access.

Isthmus Peak (1 day)

8. From Isthmus Peak looking down to Lake Wanaka and the snowy peaks of Mt Aspiring NP

Roy’s Peak is the most common day hike from Wanaka, however the Isthmus Peak track offers views across both Lakes Wanaka (photo 8) and Hawea as well as the towering Ka Tiritiri o te Moana (The Southern Alps). A steep track winds up towards the ridgeline, from here signs direct you to the summit of Isthmus peak (1385m) or to the Glen Dene Ridge track which carries you to a number of unnamed peaks along the ridge. Take care for occasional mountain bikers.

Rees-Dart Track, Mount Aspiring National Park, South Island (4-5 days)

9. The source of the Rees River at the top of the Rees Valley, Mt Aspiring NP

The scenery does not take a day off on this 4–5-day hike through the southern edge of Mount Aspiring NP.  On day one, the Rees valley culminates in a dramatic bowl, with a short but steep climb to the saddle point in order to continue the hike on day two, all set beneath a dramatic ridgeline (photo 9). From Dart Hut either rest for the afternoon or carry straight on up to Cascade Saddle, with views of Dart Glacier on the way and Mount Aspiring and the Matukituki river valley from the top (photo 10), returning to Dart Hut for the night. The final two days of the hike are characterised by beautiful valley walking, snowy views of Mount Earnslaw and several Lord of the Rings-esque landscapes – some of which were actually used in Peter Jackson’s films.

10. Panoramic view from Cascade Saddle with Mt Aspiring in the distance, Mt Aspiring NP

Note: Be aware that the start and end points of the track are roughly 35km drive away. There are car relocation services available or shuttle busses to/from the trail heads running from Queenstown. For those without a vehicle, a through hike alternative exists from the Matukituki river valley (accessed from Wanaka), over Cascade Saddle and out via either river valley.

Gertrude Saddle, Fiordland National Park, South Island (1 day)

11. A distant view of Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) from Gertrude Saddle, Fiordland NP

Starting from the Te Anau to Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) road, a scenic overload in itself, this hike immediately leaves behind the tarmac with rewarding views over Piopiotahi (photo 11), hidden mountain lakes and some scrambling elements. Gertrude Saddle is a challenging, adventurous day hike, classified by the Department of Conservation (DOC) as a “route” rather than a “track”. There is no maintained path, so only attempt this route if you are an experienced hiker. Passing waterfalls, a steep climbing section on rock slabs brings you to the saddle. Descend, carefully, by the same route.

Note: Only attempt this hike under suitable conditions. Water, snow and ice can make the rocks incredibly slippery to walk on and high winds can make conditions on the saddle very dangerous.

Further Notes

For the latest updates and further information on any of the hikes mentioned in this article, consult the DOC website ( I have highlighted backcountry huts that require bookings and any huts that are not bookable operate on a first-come, first-served basis. DOC offices are located across the country and there you can find knowledgeable staff able to assist with deciding on suitable routes and answer any questions you may have.

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