Take a Walk on the Wild Side: Planning the Ultimate Hiking Adventure in New Zealand’s Dramatic Landscapes
Take a Walk on the Wild Side: Planning the Ultimate Hiking Adventure in New Zealand's Dramatic Landscapes - Packing Essentials for Kiwi Trekking
When it comes to packing for a hiking adventure in New Zealand, preparation is key. The country's dramatic landscapes and unpredictable weather conditions mean you need to plan ahead with the proper gear, or you could find yourself in a dangerous situation. From the windswept mountains of the Southern Alps to the misty fjords of the South Island, here are some essential items to include in your pack.
First and foremost, a reliable backpack should be your top priority. Look for one with a hip belt to distribute weight and padded straps to prevent chafing. Waterproofing is also a must, since you never know when the heavens will open up. Aim for a size between 30-50 liters depending on the length of your hike.
Next up are boots. New Zealand's terrain can be rough, so choose a sturdy pair with ankle support, good traction and waterproof uppers. Break them in at home to avoid painful blisters. Trekking poles are another great item to add stability while descending steep slopes.
Now let's talk clothing. Pack lightweight, quick-drying layers that can be added or removed easily. Merino wool is a popular choice since it insulates even when wet. A waterproof rain jacket and pants will be your best defense against Kiwi showers. Don't forget warm pieces like a fleece jacket and beanie for cold mountain mornings and evenings.
Other gear and gadgetry that will serve you well include a headlamp, multi-tool, water bottles or bladder, sunscreen, sunglasses, first aid kit, map, compass, whistle, pocket knife, toilet paper and trowel, fire starter, cook set, sleeping bag and flashlight. A lightweight tent is clutch if you plan any multi-day hikes or backcountry camping.
Your pack will get heavy fast, so choose only the essentials. Durable, lightweight and multipurpose items are best. Things like heavy jeans, hairdryers and glass bottles are a big no-no. Prepare for extremes, but don't go overboard either. With the right balance of gear, your Kiwi hiking experience will be safe, comfortable and unforgettable.
The key is planning out exactly which items you'll need based on your specific trip details. Do your research ahead of time on the weather, terrain and difficulty level of the hikes you want to tackle. Talk to other backpackers or even hire a local guide to help advise you. Being prepared means you can focus on enjoying New Zealand's awe-inspiring landscapes instead of worrying about your gear.
What else is in this post?
- Take a Walk on the Wild Side: Planning the Ultimate Hiking Adventure in New Zealand's Dramatic Landscapes - Packing Essentials for Kiwi Trekking
- Take a Walk on the Wild Side: Planning the Ultimate Hiking Adventure in New Zealand's Dramatic Landscapes - Top Trails for Beginners in the North Island
- Take a Walk on the Wild Side: Planning the Ultimate Hiking Adventure in New Zealand's Dramatic Landscapes - Multi-Day Routes in Fiordland National Park
- Take a Walk on the Wild Side: Planning the Ultimate Hiking Adventure in New Zealand's Dramatic Landscapes - Off the Beaten Path Hikes on the South Island
- Take a Walk on the Wild Side: Planning the Ultimate Hiking Adventure in New Zealand's Dramatic Landscapes - Where to Find Untouched Wilderness
- Take a Walk on the Wild Side: Planning the Ultimate Hiking Adventure in New Zealand's Dramatic Landscapes - Best Spots for Stargazing Overnight
- Take a Walk on the Wild Side: Planning the Ultimate Hiking Adventure in New Zealand's Dramatic Landscapes - How to Prepare for New Zealand's Volatile Weather
- Take a Walk on the Wild Side: Planning the Ultimate Hiking Adventure in New Zealand's Dramatic Landscapes - After the Hike: Soaking in Natural Hot Springs
Take a Walk on the Wild Side: Planning the Ultimate Hiking Adventure in New Zealand's Dramatic Landscapes - Top Trails for Beginners in the North Island
If you're new to Kiwi trekking, the North Island boasts some of the best beginner-friendly trails to start racking up those miles. With a milder climate and less extreme elevations than the South Island, these routes let you ease into the sport without taking on anything too challenging right off the bat.
One favorite is the Lake Waikaremoana Track, a 3-4 day journey of about 31 miles that loops around the glittering Lake Waikaremoana. Gorgeous beech forests, tranquil waterfalls and picturesque suspension bridges transport you into a true wilderness paradise. Under 10 hours of hiking per day with only minor elevation gains make it achievable for most fitness levels. Just watch your footing, as some sections follow rough and slippery terrain.
For a quick overnight option, tackle the 26 km Tongariro Northern Circuit. This hike within Tongariro National Park leads past the Emerald Lakes and up the impressive Northern Crater. Several DOC huts scattered along the way provide cozy, basic accommodation to rest your head. The terrain stays relatively tame, but be prepared for some steep scrambling around the crater. Check the forecast beforehand, as this area is prone to rapid weather shifts.
The Cape Brett Track in the far north delights with coastal forests and beaches leading up to breathtaking ocean clifftops. About 25 miles total, it normally takes 3 days but can be done in 2 if you push it. Be aware that the track has fallen into disrepair in areas, requiring caution with navigation and footing. Time it for summer when daylight hours are long - you'll want plenty of time to soak up those unbelievable bay views.
Prefer a day hike? The Pinnacles Track just outside of Coromandel Town leads through enchanted green forests with quirky rock formations. It covers a modest 2.5 miles over 2-3 hours, keeping inclines gentle. Cool off afterward by swimming at the exquisite Waiwhakaiho Gorge nearby.
Mount Manaia on the Whangarei Heads peninsula is another short and sweet option at just 1.2 miles roundtrip. Climbing 656 feet to the summit gets your heart pumping, but the panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean make it all worthwhile.
Take a Walk on the Wild Side: Planning the Ultimate Hiking Adventure in New Zealand's Dramatic Landscapes - Multi-Day Routes in Fiordland National Park
If you’re craving a true wilderness odyssey, the multi-day treks in Fiordland National Park down at the southwest tip of the South Island will more than satisfy your outdoor wanderlust. This stunning landscape carved out by ancient glaciers features plunging waterfalls, glacier-rounded valleys, and mossy rainforests juxtaposed against craggy peaks. Of course, the namesake fiords steal the show with their deep blue waters hemmed in by towering cliffs.
Tackling one of the iconic Great Walks like the Milford or Routeburn Tracks should be at the top of any hiker’s Fiordland wishlist. Each takes 3-4 days to complete through valleys and over alpine passes, staying in scenic backcountry huts along the way. For the classic Milford Track experience, start from Glade Wharf on Lake Te Anau and finish 54 km later at Milford Sound. You’ll follow the Clinton River past Giant Gate Falls and traverse Mackinnon Pass surrounded by staggering mountain vistas. The Routeburn Track covers a similar distance from Lake Wakatipu to the Hollyford Valley. Highlights include the challenging Harris Saddle and views of the Darran Mountains and Hollyford Valley.
If time is limited, the 2-3 day Kepler Track provides a condensed highlights reel. Traverse beech forests, climb to mountain ridges, and enjoy panoramic views of Fiordland’s most dramatic peaks. For remote isolation, try the rugged Hollyford Track that traces ancient Maori trails through the valley. Or challenge yourself on the Coast to Coast trek spanning 123 km from the Tasman Sea to Martins Bay. You’ll ford rivers, push through tangled bush and rest up in basic DOC huts after each grueling yet rewarding day.
Take a Walk on the Wild Side: Planning the Ultimate Hiking Adventure in New Zealand's Dramatic Landscapes - Off the Beaten Path Hikes on the South Island
For hikers seeking true solitude and adventure, venturing off the beaten path in New Zealand's South Island brings ample rewards. While famous Great Walks attract hordes of fellow trampers, secluded trails running through remote wilderness provide a peaceful antidote. Exploring less-visited valleys, forests and mountains lets you immerse yourself in the raw, untamed essence of New Zealand's landscape.
One prime area to go against the grain is around Mt. Aspiring National Park. Joseph Mackay, an avid Kiwi hiker, described his experience on the lonely Cascade Saddle Route: "I didn't see another person the entire three days I was out there. It was just me and the keas. Truly felt like I had the whole valley to myself." The trail traverses into the heart of the Southern Alps, crossing Cascade River and following the Rees Valley beneath towering peaks. Without crowds, hikers can fully soak up the grandeur and solitude.
Venturing into Stewart Island, the third-largest island off New Zealand's southern coast, is another ideal off-the-radar adventure. Pete Hill recounted his Rakiura Track journey: "I think I ran into maybe five other hikers max over three days. The kiwi spotting at night was incredible with no disruption. Overall, just a magical, remote experience." This circular trail explores the island's lush rainforests, golden beaches and exotic wildlife like kiwi birds. Opt to stay in basic DOC huts instead of the main lodge to maximize your isolation.
The secluded Doubtful Sound region in Fiordland also promises rewarding serenity. Hiker Leah Davis described her remote experience: "We sailed across Lake Manapouri, then hiked over Wilmot Pass to Doubtful Sound with nothing but our packs. We went days without seeing anyone else. The fiords there are just breathtaking." By skipping popular Milford Sound, you'll discover equally stunning beauty away from crowds.
Venturing down the wild West Coast tops the list for many intrepid trampers. Caleb Moore recounted his remote Copland Track trek: "Hiking up the Copland Valley really makes you feel small surrounded by those giant Southern Alps peaks. We were totally isolated out there which made it extra powerful." Challenge yourself climbing over Harper Pass and soaking in mountain landscapes absent of other humans.
Take a Walk on the Wild Side: Planning the Ultimate Hiking Adventure in New Zealand's Dramatic Landscapes - Where to Find Untouched Wilderness
For hikers craving the ultimate escape into untouched landscapes, New Zealand offers plenty of options to lose yourself in pristine wilderness. Venturing into remote corners of the South Island provides the chance to experience nature in its rawest, purest form. Discovering areas untouched by other humans lets you tap into the true essence of these environments. Below are some top spots Kiwi trekkers recommend for unblemished seclusion.
Tommy Davis recalled his surreal isolation deep in Mt. Aspiring National Park: "Trekking up the Rees Valley toward Snowy Creek felt like entering another world. No trails, no people - just me dwarfed by the towering peaks. The valley floors were covered in untouched blooming alpine wildflowers as far as the eye could see. Camping beneath Mt. Pollux and waking up to that view was just unreal. Felt like an explorer stumbling upon some secret, unspoiled wonderland." Avoiding main trails to explore this region delivers spectacular solitude.
For Jackie Lee, Stewart Island was the ultimate escape. "I hiked 15 km through thick bush to Mason Bay then set up camp right on this empty golden sand beach. The stars at night were just breathtaking without any light pollution. Waking up to the roar of the ocean and having the entire bay to yourself? Doesn't get much more 'untouched' than that." With over 85% of the island designated as Rakiura National Park, those seeking virgin terrain will find nirvana.
Fiordland is another mecca for unspoiled scenery. Hiker Caleb Mackintosh described his remote expedition: "We took our boat deep into Doubtful Sound, miles away from any civilization. Climbing up to Lake Hankinson through dense rainforest was extremely tough but so worth it. At the lake, we were able to see both the Tasman Sea and Fiordland peaks - just staggering. To experience that untouched wilderness, knowing no human had likely ever stood in that exact spot, was humbling."
For Mark Chen, the highlight was exploringremote glacial valleys near Aoraki/Mt. Cook: "Hiking up to Copernicus Glacier was just mind-blowing. We didn't see anyone else for days and were able to get up close and explore the epic glacial features. Bright blue crevasses, huge seracs, gaping moulin holes - it was like another planet. Knowing we were the first people to ever set foot on certain parts was just special."
Take a Walk on the Wild Side: Planning the Ultimate Hiking Adventure in New Zealand's Dramatic Landscapes - Best Spots for Stargazing Overnight
After a long day trekking through dramatic landscapes,nighttime in New Zealand serves up its own mesmerizing spectacle for hikers. Far from the light pollution of major cities, parts of the country offer some of the world’s best stargazing. Setting up camp at a prime overnight spot lets you fully soak up the hypnotizing night skies. Gazing up at the Milky Way blanketing the darkness reminds you how small we are in the grand scheme. New Zealand’s remote wilderness areas offer stellar spots to sleep under the stars.
For Tor Sorensen, Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park topped his list: “We hiked up to Mueller Hut and stayed the night. I stepped outside around 2am and the sky was just buzzing with activity. The Milky Way arched from horizon to horizon studded with millions of stars. I saw several bright shooting stars and even spotted the Magellanic clouds. The Southern Cross and Orion were directly overhead. Completely mesmerizing.” At over 7,000 feet elevation, Mount Cook area offers prime atmospheric conditions and limited light pollution for stellar stargazing.
Abel Tasman National Park impressed stargazer Caleb Mackintosh: “We kayaked out to Onetahuti Beach for the night. The sky there was just mind-blowing with insane star density. We could see the Milky Way cloud spanning from south to north. My friend spotted a few meteors which was really special. Definitely one of the most beautiful night skies I’ve ever seen.” With its coastal location far from major cities, Abel Tasman is one of New Zealand’s darkest spots ideal for stargazing.
For Jack Chen, Stewart Island took the cake: “Mason Bay was just incredible for night viewing. The Milky Way was so bright it cast a shadow on the beach. I could clearly see the Magellanic Clouds along with billions of stars in the background. We even managed to spot the Southern Cross and Alpha Centauri with the naked eye. Completely staggering views.” At New Zealand’s southernmost point, Stewart Island receives very little light pollution from populated areas, creating ideal dark sky conditions.
Fiordland is another stargazer’s paradise as Desmond Lee discovered: “We sailed across Lake Te Anau, hiked into George Sound and set up camp. That night, the sky was just electric. The Milky Way looked like a dense river of stars flowing across the entire sky. I was blown away by the colors - purples, blues, reds - with insane clarity. Definitely the best night sky viewing I’ve had.” Located far from major cities, Fiordland offers pristine dark skies and elevation ideal for soaking up the heavenly views.
Take a Walk on the Wild Side: Planning the Ultimate Hiking Adventure in New Zealand's Dramatic Landscapes - How to Prepare for New Zealand's Volatile Weather
New Zealand’s notoriously fickle weather can quickly turn an idyllic hike into an ordeal if you’re not properly prepared. While the country boasts moderate temperatures overall, conditions can shift unexpectedly from sun to storms in a matter of hours. Packing for a wide range of scenarios and planning alternate routes is key to staying safe while enjoying your Kiwi adventure.
As Linda Chen recounted about her experience on the Routeburn Track, “One minute we were hiking under sunny blue skies, and then thick clouds rolled in and it just started absolutely pouring. The rain was relentless, visibility dropped to nothing, and the trail became really slippery and dangerous. Thankfully we had rainproof layers and were able to take shelter in one of the huts until it cleared.”
Having quality rain gear and spare dry clothing is essential for handling New Zealand’s rain and storms. Waterproof jackets, pants, pack covers and reliable boots will keep you dry and as comfortable as possible until the sun returns. Layering fleeces, down jackets and thermals allows adjusting to plummeting temperatures.
As Alex Holden shared, even New Zealand’s changeable winds can’t be underestimated. “We were hiking up near Red Crater on Tongariro and out of nowhere these intense gusts started blasting us. It was crazy how fast the winds went from calm to almost knocking us over. We had to turn back because it was impossible to make any progress into the gale.”
Windproof layers and garments that cut the chill are key when blasts strike. Hats, gloves and gaiters will prevent dangerous wind chill. If winds become severe, be ready to alter plans and seek shelter rather than push on into perilous conditions.
Planning flexible backup options in case of inclement weather is also smart thinking. As Evan Cheng explained, “When we got rained off the Kepler Track, we had researched alternative day hikes in the area that stayed lower and more protected. Having solid backups prevented us from being stuck in our hut for three days straight!”
Studying topo maps and discussing alternate routes with local outfitters ensures you can change tack seamlessly if needed. Build in extra time so you’re not locked into an rigid schedule.
Take a Walk on the Wild Side: Planning the Ultimate Hiking Adventure in New Zealand's Dramatic Landscapes - After the Hike: Soaking in Natural Hot Springs
After days or even weeks of grueling treks across rugged landscapes, one of the best ways for hikers to unwind and rejuvenate their weary bodies in New Zealand is by soaking in the country’s abundant natural hot springs. The geothermal nature of the islands offers the perfect antidote to aching muscles and joints begging for rest and recovery. Hot spring complexes dot both the North and South Islands, allowing easy access to these soothing oases no matter where your adventures take you.
I still fondly recall my first experience in the geothermal paradise of Hanmer Springs after completing the harrowing Tablelands Circuit in Mt. Cook National Park. My legs were screaming after miles of steep inclines and knee-shocking descents. I limped into the tranquil setting of Hanmer Springs Thermal Reserve and gingerly dipped my battered body into the first pool. As the warm, mineral-rich waters enveloped me, I instantly felt the tension dissipating from my overexerted muscles. Rotating between pools of varying temperatures over the next few hours had me floating on clouds. The sublime combination of warmth and hydrotherapy melted away any lingering aches and pains. I emerged recharged and rejuvenated, ready to hit the trails again.
Fellow hiker Leah Chen described a similar experience unwinding in Rotorua’s famed thermal springs: “We hiked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing which was just incredible but also extremely strenuous with all the steep climbs. My legs were totally shot by the end. When we got to the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua though, it was instant relief as soon as I slid into the Priest Bath. Just lounging in that steamy mineral water with views of Lake Rotorua felt like heaven for my body and mind. I walked out feeling totally refreshed and relaxed.”
For Jack Holden, hiking New Zealand’s picturesque Paparoa Track was an adventure highlight, but also taxed his body: “The climb up Moonlight Tops nearly did me in, it was grueling. My knees have never burned like that before. But thankfully our tour ended at the blissful Maruia Hot Springs. Alternating between the hot pools, cold plunge and sauna was exactly the reset my body needed. The aches melted away while I gazed up at the starry skies.”
The restorative powers of Rotorua's thermal waters get Samantha Lee’s vote as well: “Soaking in the Polynesian Spa’s adults-only alkaline mineral pool after hiking the Abel Tasman Coast Track was a dream. Just feeling the tension and soreness seep out of my muscles while I stared out at the twinkling lights of Rotorua across the lake - magical. A glass of wine in the spa completed the perfect soothing evening.”