New Zealand day walks ranked

There’s a lot to be said for shorter walks. They may lack the sense of escape that a multi-day walk brings, but they can often match the scenery and carrying a day pack is much easier on the body. New Zealand has so many wonderful walks that can be done in less than a day, often in a few hours. I’ll cover walks close to Auckland separately but here’s how I’d rank ones elsewhere in New Zealand that I’ve done to date.

1. Kepler Track – Control Gate Car Park to Luxmore Hut return, June 2018
Being above the clouds, surrounded by snow capped mountains, was a very special day on the Kepler Track. Though it involved walking 28km up to Luxmore Hut for lunch and back, the Great Walk standard track made for generally easy walking, other than a few icy patches before reaching grippier snow.

2. Avalanche Peak, March 2018
A quite spectacular walk, involving a steep 1,300m climb from Arthur’s Pass Village to the 1,833m summit of Avalanche Peak. It’s best done as a loop, heading up the steeper Avalanche Peak Track, and done the less steep and more open Scotts Track, easier on the knees and eyes.

3. Tongariro Alpine Crossing, December 2010
The most famous one day walk in New Zealand, and deservedly so for packing in such spectacular and diverse scenery. The downside of it’s fame is how popular it has become, with thousands of people walking it every day. I enjoyed it hugely at the time but don’t know if I could face walking it again in a procession with so many other people.

4. Sugarloaf / Rockburn Track, June 2017
An absolute gem of a loop track from the Routeburn Shelter car park, which I had almost entirely to myself. It’s more challenging and technically interesting than the Routeburn Track, with a narrow tramping track, rather than the Great Walk standard small roads.

5. Mt McIntosh Track and Mt Judah Track, May 2019
A great loop track an hour north of Queenstown with beautiful scenery and plenty of historic mining remains. It’s a decent ~1,400m ascent and descent with one potentially dodgy river crossing but on a good day it is stunning.

6. Routeburn Track – Routeburn Shelter to Conical Hill return, June 2017
My second time on the Routeburn, covering most of it (other than Key Summit and the Divide) in a single day walk out and back from the Routeburn Shelter car park. It is an easier and more popular track than I prefer, but the scenery is quite spectacular.

7. Pouakai Crossing, February 2017
Billed as the new Tongariro Alpine Crossing and therefore becoming vastly more popular, this is an enjoyable walk with spectacular views back toward Mt Taranaki if the weather is good, which is very much a hit and miss affair at any time of the year.

8. Roys Peak, May 2015 and February 2017
Almost overwhelming busy at times now, Roys Peak is technically easy but a decent workout, with a nonstop switchbacks to the 1,578m high summit. Since they added a toilet the top has become a popular camping spot for people wanting to catch the sunset and sunrise.

9. Mt Taranaki Summit Track, February 2017
One of the most dangerous day walks in New Zealand, many people have been caught out by the rapidly changeable weather, and exposure on the 2,518m high volcano that dominates the Taranaki region. I learnt how quickly things can change from bright blue skies to thick cold cloud, thankful that I went prepared for all weather, unlike many people I saw walking it that day.

10. Moonlight Track and Ben Lomond Track, June 2016
An incredibly scenic combination starting from Arthur’s Point, walking around the back of the mountain before heading up to the snowy summit of Ben Lomond. The track returns to Queenstown past the gondola.

11. Bealey Spur Track & Triangle Peak, April 2018
One of the most straightforward but scenic walks on this list, with the best views from an unmarked but fairly obvious track beyond Bealey Top Hut up to 1,545m high Triangle Peak. Watching paragliders over the Waimakariri River, with the mountains surrounding Arthur’s Pass behind, was the perfect lunchtime entertainment.

12. Big Hill Track, May 2010, June 2015, April 2018
An incredibly scenic walk from Arrowtown, near Queenstown, which I’ve done three times, walking increasingly further along the track each time, finally walking the whole track from Macetown after finishing the Motatapu Track, though found the best of it to be from the saddle back to Arrowtown.

13. Lake Marian Track, June 2018
A lovely walk accessed 1km up the Hollyford Road off Milford Road in Fjordland, out to an alpine lake in a hanging valley formed by glaciers.

14. Invincible Gold Mine Track, June 2016
The shortest walk here, only 3km return, though it is basically straight up the side of the Rees Valley. From here the views are rather lovely, and there are extensive historic mining remains to explore.

15. Carroll Hut, April 2018
A decent workout straight up a steep tramping track near Arthur’s Pass to Carroll Hut at 1,120m. The views above the bush line are wonderfully expansive and the hut did look inviting, though I needed to get back down the hill before losing the light.

16. Temple Basin skifield, March 2018
Not a great walk, mostly up a rocky 4WD track, but the views from the old school ski field, and particularly of the old hut, make it a lovely spot to visit.

17. Mt Crichton Loop Track, June 2018
An unexpectedly scenic and varied short walk near Queenstown, taking in the historic Sam Summer Hut and reflective Lake Dispute.

18. Arthur’s Pass Walking Track – Devil’s Punch Bowl, Bridal Veil Creek, Jack’s Hut, Bealey, Valley Track and back, March 2018
The easiest walk here, which was pleasant if not spectacular, though the grey weather probably didn’t help.

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