When it comes to the outdoors, on a spectrum from “about to climb Mount Everest” to “Shelley Long in Troop Beverly Hills,” I reckon I fall somewhere in the middle.
My family actually used to do a fair amount of camping and hiking all over the United States when I was a kid, and though I didn’t always enjoy it, I’ve probably retained at least a few skills (I can pitch a tent, and maybe start a fire on a good day, if someone else chops the wood and it’s not raining too much and YOU JUST LEAVE ME ALONE FOR A SECOND). That said, I still spent more of my summer vacations in front of the television than my mother would have liked.
After traveling extensively through New Zealand, I realized two things: one, as an adult, I’ve cultivated a much greater appreciation for the outdoors than I once had; and two, you don’t necessarily have to be Bear Grylls to go on a walk.
If you absolutely hate hiking (or simply can’t do it), this isn’t the post for you. If you absolutely love hiking and pushing your physical limits, ditto.
But if you fall somewhere in between, and you’re wondering if New Zealand is still worth visiting, you’re in exactly the right place. Here are five of my favorite hikes in New Zealand — all of them great options for not-quite-hikers like us.
Queenstown Hill, Queenstown
That said, I’m including it for the following reasons: one, it’s fairly short — 1.5 to 3 hours, depending on how far and fast you go; two, I found it difficult, but not insurmountable (quite literally, har har); and three, you don’t actually have to go the whole way to get a great view (welcome to Queenstown, where every view is basically amazing).
In fact, I never made it to the top of Queenstown Hill myself. I chose to stop at the Basket of Dreams and forego the extra 500 meter climb to the summit — and hey, the views I got were still pretty damn good.
I recommend driving or catching a ride to the beginning of the trail if possible. Honestly, one of the hardest bits of this hike for me was climbing the hill to the start.
Psst: more tips for Queenstown can be found in this post.
Peninsula Walkway, Kaikoura
Highlights of the walkway include views of the gorgeous rugged coastline, rocky cliffs, and nearby mountain ranges; the famous colony of fur seals at Point Kean; Fyffe House, the last remaining building of the old 19th-century whaling station; colorful sculptures depicting Maori stories of Kaikoura’s beginnings; and heaps of different wildlife — including birds, dolphins, and maybe even a whale or two.
The full walk spans about 11 kilometers, starting and ending in the town center, but it’s easily broken up into smaller pieces if you wish. Car parks are available along the way, at both Point Kean and South Bay.
Huka Falls Walkway, Taupo
This walk begins at the Spa Park, three kilometers from Taupo’s town center. Start with a relaxing swim in the pools of Otumuheke Stream, a piping hot spring that pours into the much cooler river. Then follow the flat and well-marked trail along the bright turquoise Waikato River to Huka Falls — a rushing, foaming, crashing water spectacle like no other I’ve seen before or since. (Basically, if it’s water and it does something interesting, you’ll find it on this hike.)
The walk is about 3 kilometers one way. Parking is available at both the Spa Park and Huka Falls.
For more about the Huka Falls Walkway, see this post.
Pororari River Track, Punakaiki
But Punakaiki is also home to the lush and vibrant sub-tropical rainforest of Paparoa National Park, and the Pororari River Track will take you right through it.
Everyone always references Lord of the Rings when it comes to New Zealand; but if you ask me, the dense greenery and epic limestone cliffs near Punakaiki are more like something out of Jurassic Park.
This track is not a loop, but it can be combined with part of the Inland Pack Track to make one (11 kilometers long in total). On its own, the Porarari River Track is 3.5 kilometers one-way — but obviously, you can turn around anytime.
Abel Tasman Coastal Track, Abel Tasman National Park
Well, if you haven’t noticed, there’s kind of a pattern here: you don’t have to do the whole thing.
A little piece of the Coastal Track is a great option for a day or half-day hike in Abel Tasman National Park, and you can pretty much just “DIY” as you see fit. Even a short hike along the track will give you ample opportunity to explore the beautiful forestry and see the stunning coastline from high above the sea.
This walk is, quite simply, however long you want it to be. If you’re staying in nearby Marahau, it’s about 3 kilometers from there to Tinline Bay, and another 1.5 to Apple Tree Bay.
Note: Obviously, all of these recommendations are based on my own experiences. Just because a hike was easy or difficult for me does not mean it will be the same for you!
For the most up-to-date information on these and other hikes in New Zealand — including any current alerts — check NZ’s Department of Conservation website. Also, wear sunscreen. I don’t care if it’s raining, do it anyway.