New Zealand features numerous truly-amazing hiking trails. You could spend months in New Zealand and still not have the time to see it all. If you don’t have the time to embark on multi-day, overnight hikes, don’t worry: you can still see plenty of fantastic sites with shorter, more manageable day hikes.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is generally agreed to be New Zealand’s best day hike. You’ll trek 18.5 kilometers through a rugged, volcanic landscape. You start in a grassy field and make a deceptively-easy hike along a wooden boardwalk until you reach the hike’s first real challenge: the devil’s staircase. You’ll be rewarded for your efforts when you reach the top and get to cross the massive southern crater. Here you’ll have the chance to add a few kilometers to your hike with option sidetrips to the summits of Mt. Ngauruhoe and Mt. Tongariro. Eventually you’ll see the aptly-named emerald lakes and crater lakes, and begin your long and winding decent with beautiful views of Lake Taupo in the distance. You can also hike the trail in the winter, although you’ll need to go on a guided hike to endure the harsh, snowy conditions.
Franz Josef Glacier
You have a few options when you decide to hike the south island’s Franz Josef glacier. You can take a half day, full day or helicopter tour of the glacier. I went with (and would recommend) the full day tour. Taking the helicopter tour gets you a little higher on the glacier, but I’d reckon the feeling of accomplishment isn’t the same. On the full day tour, you’ll be in the capable hands of an experienced guide in a group of about eight to ten other hikers. Your guide will use his pick axe to carve out “steps” in the ice and make the going a little easier-but don’t think it will be a walk in the park. You’ll still have to leap across narrow gaps, use a rope to climb steep, icy walls and squeeze through neon-blue ice tunnels.
Abel Tasman Coastal Walk
The Abel Tasman Coastal Walk is one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks, the most well-maintained and highly-regarded trails in the country. Really, the Abel Tasman Coastal Walk is a three to five day hike, but since it’s located along the coast you can arrange to be picked up by water taxis from several locations. If you only have a day to experience the Abel Tasman Coastal Walk, arrange to be picked up from Anchorage and start your hike in the town of Marahau to experience some of the track’s most pristine beaches. If you reach Anchorage during low tide, you could push on to Torrent Bay for a truly-awesome tidal crossing.