Hiking New Zealand's North Island: 7 of the Best Tramps

From moon-like landscapes to coastal paths and alpine crossings, our insider Elen shares her pick for the best hikes on the North Island of New Zealand.


Tongariro Alpine Crossing Photo © iStock/filo

Even though the North Island is the more densely populated of New Zealand’s two main islands, towns are still few and far between once you leave Auckland and Wellington.

It’s an island of volcanic peaks, dense bush, stunning coastline, high plateaus, rolling farmland – pretty much, this is perfect hiking territory, or ‘tramping’, as the Kiwis say.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Often classed as one of the best day hikes in the world, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing will challenge you with the ‘devil’s staircase’ and slippery scree slopes, but reward you with incredible turquoise sulphur lakes and a volcanic moonscape.

Weather can be very temperamental, so come prepared with waterproofs and layers.

  • Distance: 12.5mi (20km)
  • Time needed: one full day
  • Difficulty: moderate
Snow on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand.
Snow on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Photo credit: iStock

Rangitoto Summit

Rangitoto is an unmissable sight from Auckland — it’s the volcanic island that rises out of the harbor. Hiking to the summit is an easy amble through native pohutukawa forest. 

At the top you’re treated to stunning panoramic views of the harbor and Auckland city, where you’ll understand why it’s called the ‘city of sails’.

  • Distance: 1.8mi (3 km)
  • Time needed: three–four hours/half a day
  • Difficulty: easy 
 Hikers on their way to the summit of Rangitoto.
Hikers on their way to the summit of Rangitoto. Photo credit: iStock

Cape Brett Walkway

Located in beautiful Northland, the Cape Brett Walkway follows a cliff-side path and passes through native bush. The coastal views are amazing, and you’ll also get the chance to stop at Deep Water Cove for some swimming, snorkeling, and beach time.

It’s recommended to stay at the Cape Brett Hut overnight (bookings required).

  • Distance: 9.9mi (16km) each way
  • Time needed: two days
  • Difficulty: moderate

Coromandel Coastal Walk

The Coromandel Peninsula is a gorgeous area of beaches, thermal activity, native forests, and rugged coastline. Experience all of these on the quiet and remote Coromandel Coastal Walk. It’s also possible to mountain bike this one.

  • Distance: 6.2mi (10km)
  • Time needed: seven hours/a full day
  • Difficulty: easy
A suspension bridge crossing in Coromandel.
A suspension bridge crossing in Coromandel. Photo credit: Elen Turner

Putangirua Pinnacles

Located near Wellington are these enormous gravel pillars, which are unlike anything else in the country and are a wonder to walk among. Like many places in New Zealand, they appeared in The Lord of the Rings films.

Various walks can be done to and around the pinnacles along a streambed. They’re located in the Aorangi Forest Park.

  • Distance: 4.4mi (7km)
  • Time needed: three hours/half a day
  • Difficulty: easy
Putangirua Pinnacles, near Cape Palliser Bay.
Putangirua Pinnacles, near Cape Palliser Bay. Photo credit: iStock

Lake Waikaremoana

The eastern part of the North Island is sparsely populated and rarely visited by tourists, which makes this the perfect wilderness destination.

Lake Waikaremoana is a particularly beautiful spot, surrounded by bush-covered hills and inlets. Hikers can trek the entire perimeter in three-four days, or embark on much shorter trips of half a day or less, to points of interest like waterfalls, cliffs, and lookout points.

  • Distance: various
  • Time needed: one hour–four days
  • Difficulty: easy-moderate

Te Araroa

The Te Araroa trail will appeal if you want to string a whole heap of day-hikes together for one mega-adventure. This 1,864mi (3,000km) trail starts at Cape Reinga in the Far North, and extends all the way down to Bluff at the bottom of the South Island.

It’s possible to just trek the North Island parts of Te Araroa. The landscape of the North Island is extremely diverse, from the semi-sub-tropical beaches of Northland to the plains of Waikato, the dense forest of the King Country, and the volcanic plateau of the Central North Island – tackling the top half of Te Araroa allows you to see it all.

  • Distance: 683.5mi (1,100km) for the North Island section
  • Time needed: several months
  • Difficulty: challenging

Responsible tramping taips

  • Carry your rubbish out with you.
  • Strictly follow ‘no dogs allowed’ rules if they exist, to avoid endangering native and rare wildlife.
  • Only light fires where you’re permitted to do so.
  • Don’t free-camp unless it’s allowed; huts provide accommodation in many national park areas.

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