New Zealand’s landscapes are Instagram-perfect at every turn, and there’s no better way to appreciate them than with a hike and a picnic. We get it, though – you’re on holiday, not in boot camp. So we’ve rounded up our top five scenic hikes in New Zealand that will get you up close to nature without busting a lung, along with the best seasons to attempt them. All these hikes can be completed in a day or less, including lots of time for selfies and panoramas. Now get trekking!
1. Hooker Valley Track
Difficulty level: 2/5
We’ll admit it – this one’s our favourite. The Hooker Valley Track, which winds through the stunning peaks of Mount Cook National Park, is punctuated by icebergs, glaciers and rugged peaks.
You’ll also cross three swing bridges, which overlook massive boulders and crystal clear streams below.
The well-marked trail, on gravel and boardwalk, takes about four hours at a steady clip. We recommend giving yourself at least a couple more hours, because you’ll be reaching for your camera at every turn.
You’ll get your first views of Mount Cook early on, but during the first half of the trek it’s the Hooker River rushing impressively underfoot that will get your shutters clicking. After the third swing bridge, the Hooker Valley comes into view, along with chunks of ice floating in a massive glacial lake. Leave yourself enough time to explore the banks of the lake at the end.
Spring and summer are good times to hike this trail, with Mount Cook lilies flowering in November and December. Autumn is also a good time, as long as you come prepared with warm clothing. Snow, ice and gales make the trail much more challenging (though not impossible) in winter.
*Pro-tip: Department of Conservation (DOC) visitor centres are located across the country, so check in with staff for up-to-date information on weather conditions. The DOC centre at Mt Cook Village is an attraction in itself, featuring a collection of artwork, exhibits, and a memorial to climbers who lost their lives attempting the surrounding peaks.
2. Blue Pools Track
Difficulty level: 3/5
Long drives can get tiring, especially if you’re on the road every day. Stretch your legs along the Blue Pools Track, located along the Haast Pass and 20 minutes from Makarora Township. The hour-long round trip through verdant forest takes you to a swing bridge over the vibrant turquoise pools that give the track their name. The striking blue hues are a result of light refraction hitting the clear and icy water, although the exact shade may vary at different times of the year. The swing bridge overlooks an intersection where the Blue River meets the Makarora River, and you can follow a short trail down to the water’s edge. See if you can spot the large rainbow and brown trout, which migrate up the Makarora River in autumn and winter. Meanwhile, in summer you might see people making the 14m leap from the bridge into the water below. Take the plunge if you dare!
3. Franz Josef Glacier
Difficulty level: 3/5
Glacier-trekking is probably one of the most unique hikes you can do in NZ, and it’s well worth every penny. Join a tour with Franz Josef Glacier Guides, which provides all necessary equipment including warm clothing, a trekking pole and crampons. A short but impressive helicopter ride flies you into the Franz Josef Glacier, where guides will lead a three-hour trek that introduces some of the glacier’s natural features. These include squeezing through tiny crevices, crawling through ice caves and drinking glacial water fresh from the source. Want a souvenir? You can even fill your bottle with glacial water.
Cost: NZD$449 (SGD 440.87)
Opening Hours: 8:30am to 5:30pm. Flights are available throughout the day, weather permitting. Bookings are highly recommended.
Address: Glacier base, 63 Cron Street, Franz Josef Glacier *Pro-tip: If this is a must-do on your itinerary, budget an extra day or two in Franz Josef as flights don’t take off unless the weather is clear.
4. Roy’s Peak Track
Difficulty level: 5/5
The most challenging hike on our list makes up for it with the view at the top. Roy’s Peak Track takes about six hours to conquer, and overlooks multiple peaks rising dramatically from Lake Wanaka. With a total height gain of 1300m, the ascent is challenging in both summer and winter. The former is challenging because of the heat and lack of shade, while the latter brings alpine conditions and freezing temperatures. If the trail sounds too daunting, hop on a scenic flight to the top of Roy’s Peak to enjoy the view without breaking a sweat. Send an inquiry to Wanaka Helicopters for prices and more details.
5. Queenstown Hill
Difficulty level: 4/5
Queenstown is the country’s adventure capital, but that also makes it one of the more expensive and touristy parts of peaceful NZ. Want a break? Take a hike up Queenstown Hill for a free and peaceful afternoon activity. It’s a relatively short but steep climb that takes about two to three hours return.
Views at the top overlook the Remarkables mountain range, Lake Wakatipu, and other mountains surrounding Queenstown. The trek is manageable in spring, summer and autumn, while winter brings snow and some tricky descents — come prepared with good trekking shoes or snowshoes.
After working up an appetite from all that trekking, give your body a break and refuel with a good meal. We like the touristy but reliable Fergburger in Central Queenstown for its hefty servings of New Zealand beef, before grabbing a scoop of gelato at Mrs Ferg Gelateria next door (try the pistachio flavour!) There’s never been a better time to indulge.