You really can’t go to New Zealand without doing at least a few day hikes. While the country is known for it’s multi day “great walks”, you can still easily submerse yourself in incredible natural beauty with a 1/2 day hike. Need more reasons to do a short hike in New Zealand? You get a workout (did I mention that many of the short hikes in New Zealand are hilly which means even a quick hike can get your legs burning) and almost all of the parks in New Zealand are free. So if your bank account or your soul needs a break from costly high adrenaline activities, pick a hike from any of the trails listed below…
The Best Short Hikes in New Zealand
Bridal Veil Falls (Raglan, North Island)
One of the prettiest waterfalls we encountered in New Zealand, which is saying a lot in a country that has 249 named waterfalls. And it’s only a ten minute walk from the car! A twenty minute drive from the remote surf community of Raglan you certainly won’t have the falls to yourself, but you also won’t be swarmed with tourists as you would be in many New Zealand tourist hotspots.
Trail Description: forested, wide gravel path with a long set of steep stairs leading to the base of the falls.
Trail Length: 10 minute walk to the top of the falls, 20 minutes to the base of the falls.
Getting to the trailhead: Driving away from Raglan on Highway 23 you will see signs for Bridal Veil Falls. After you turn off Highway 23 it’s about another 5-10 minutes of driving to reach the parking lot for the falls.
Ngarunui Track (Raglan, North Island)
Big sweeping views of the coastline are the main attraction of the Ngarunui Track. This short but steep hike takes you up the bluff, with a nice vista spot midway up, and through a pretty section of forest. When you get to the top you can cross the road and continue on the Water Race track to or you can head back down the hill for an afternoon at the beach. Just a heads up, if you’re planning on hiking along the Water Race track it is a much narrower trail than the Ngarunui Track and can be muddy.
Trail description: Hilly, partially forested, ocean views.
Trail Length: 1/2 mile one way. About 20 minutes one-way if you’re walking at a leisurely pace and stopping to enjoy the views.
Getting to the Trailhead: There are a few different spots that you can park to access the Wainui Reserve. I recommend parking in the main lot at Ngarunui Beach. Getting to the beach is really easy and it lets you end your hike with the possibility of a relaxing beach session, win-win.
From the parking lot walk south ( take a left if you’re looking at the ocean) and the start of the trail is less than five minutes down the beach.
Window Walk in Karangahake Gorge (The Coromandel, North Island)
Need a hike for kids who are burnt out on hiking? This is the hike for you! The “Windows Walk” track was one of the most kid friendly short hikes in New Zealand that we did. A little taste of the best aspects of New Zealand in an easy 2.5km loop. You’ll cross suspension bridges, go through old mining tunnels, have some big views, and get to walk alongside a river.
Trail Description: Mostly flat with a short section of uphill/stairs. You will want a flashlight or a cellphone with a flashlight for the long tunnel section.
Trail Length: 2.5Km loop with possibility of doing other trails for more distance
Getting to the Trailhead: There are several parking lots in the Karangahake Gorge area. The one across from the Tailsman Cafe is the closest to the start of the Window Walk. To get to the start of the trail walk across the narrow suspension bridge and you will see the trail on your right.
Queenstown Hill (Queenstown, South Island)
Sweat out all the fish and chips with a hike up Queenstown Hill. The trail starts in a neighborhood just outside the downtown area. The steep trail will quickly take you above all the jet boat, luge, ice bar madness that is Queenstown. After walking through dense forest you will emerge in a clearing at the top of the mountain. Take a sip of water, catch your breath and go just a little further to the very top. The views are breaktaking and you will get that giddy “I’m in New Zealand!” feeling when you look at the towering mountains.
Trail Description: Steep, forested. Bring a snack and water to enjoy at the top.
Trail Length: About 1.5 miles one way, 3 miles roundtrip
Getting to the Trailhead: If you get started early you should be able to get a spot in the small lot on Belfast Terrace. Otherwise look for street parking.
Lake Marion (Milford Sound, South Island)
Don’t let the low milage of this hike fool you, it’s a rocky, steep booty kicker! If you don’t feel like doing the hike up what at times feels like a rocky creekbed, just do the ten minute walk to the “waterfall” (be more prepared for picturesque river rapids than a bonafide waterfall). For those wanting to make it to the lake be prepared to get a little muddy and know that it’s going to take longer than you think. Also, if you have hiking boots/poles, bring em’.
Trail Description: Gradual climb on wide gravel path for first ten minutes. then steep rocky climb in many sections as you proceed to the lake. Can be buggy.
Trail Length: About 4.5 miles round trip.
Getting to the Trailhead: Turn off onto Hollyford road before you get to Milford Sound. The parking lot for the Lake Marian trail is well-marked. If you’re continuing on to Milford Sound it’s approximately another 25-35 minutes from the Lake Marian trailhead.
Iron Mountain (Wanaka, South Island)
A great option if you don’t feel like driving far or just need a quick workout. The Iron Mountain hike climbs a large grassy mountain with views of Wanaka almost immediately. The first section of the trail feels like walking on a fire road, which isn’t particularly inspiring, but eventually the trail narrows and begins to feel like a proper hike. At the top it’s a 360 degree view with a few benches to rest on before heading down the mountain and completing the loop.
Trail Description: Fairly steep in the beginning and then a more gradual climb to the top. Sections of packed dirt/ gravel. Not much shade.
Trail Length: Just under 3 mile loop
Getting to the Trailhead: Take highway 84 out of Wanaka. The parking lot is the left hand side just before you get to Puzzling World.
Diamond Lake/Rocky Mountain Trail ( Wanaka, South Island)
Quite possibly my favorite hike in New Zealand, this hike is bursting with scenic vistas, and will take you 1/2 the time it would take to climb nearby Roy’s Peak. Be prepared for lots of stairs and uphill climbing but the views are worth it. The bottom section is mellow and flat, however after passing the lake the trail morphs into an uphill, stair climbing beast. Note: some sections of the trail near the top are extremely narrow, steep, and slippery!
Trail Description: Lot’s of elevation change (we guessed it was about 1,500 vertical feel)
Trail Length: About 4.5 miles to go to the Rocky Mountain Summit. Shorter if you go to one of the lower lookout points rather than climb to the top.
Getting to the Trailhead: An easy 20-25 minute drive from Wanaka on Wanaka-Mount Aspiring Road. There is a large dirt parking lot on the right had side of the road. The sign for the trailhead isn’t obvious from the road but you will see it once you park.
Hooker Valley Track (Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, South Island)
Disclaimer: you most likely won’t have this trail to yourself. And at times it might feel like you’re walking on a busy New York sidewalk instead of hiking. But this holy grail of “short” hikes on the South Island is incredible. And even though it’s six-miles roundtrip to the glacier lake and back, which doesn’t necessarily seem like it should be categorized as a “short”hike, by enthusiast kiwi trekking standards, this is a short hike.
Or perhaps “short” is referring to the amount of time you feel like you’re hiking because with the three suspension bridges, glacier lakes, snowcapped peaks, and endless photo opportunities, your time on the trail will fly by.
Trail Description: Mostly flat, narrow trail trail with a mixture of gravel, sand and a section of raised boardwalk.
Trail Length: 6 miles roundtrip
Getting to the Trailhead: As you’re driving towards Mount Cook Village you will see Hooker Valley Road. Take Hooker Valley road and it’s only a few more minutes to the parking lot. There are several trails that start from this parking lot as well as a bathroom/faucet to fill water bottles.
Homestead Trail (Lake Tekapo, South Island)
This is a must do if you are visiting Lake Tekapo while the lupin are blooming! So many people just hop out of their cars for a quick wildflower photo shoot before continuing on but taking the time to stroll amongst the flowers is pure nature magic. From the Lake Tekapo Regional Park it’s an easy, flat walk along the lake to the Church of Good Shepard. A great trail for photographers, this hike showcases the beauty of the lake, the brilliant wildflowers, and of course the popular Church of Good Shepard. If you feel like hiking a little longer there are plenty of trails in Lake Tekapo Regional Park.
Trail Description: Flat, minimal shade. Lots of lake views!
Trail Length: about a twenty minute walk to the Church of Good Shepard
Getting to the Trailhead: A few minutes outside of downtown Lake Tekapo you will see a sign for Lake Tekapo Regional Park. Turn onto Lilybank Road from the highway and drive to through the park until you reach the second parking lot. It’s free to park, there’s a bathroom, and a sign with a trail map for the park.
Tips for Hiking in New Zealand
- Bring layers. Always. The one time we left our jackets in the car because we thought that is was a sunny day, the weather changed abruptly and we ended up windblown and chilled.
- Wear a hat and sunscreen. Always. The sun is deceptively strong, even when it’s overcast.
- Shoes that can handle a little mud. All those green mountains are green for a reason, it rains a lot in New Zealand! This means that many of the trails can be slick/muddy. I didn’t need hiking boots for any of these trails but I did appreciate my all terrain sneakers.
- Utilize your hiking poles if you have them. I left mine behind thinking that since we would only be doing short hikes I wouldn’t need them. However, on a few of the steeper descents I found myself wishing I had brought them. These trekking poles by Trailbuddy are inexpensive and easy to pack if you’re considering investing in a set.
- Use a comfy backpack. When you’re packing layers and a water bottle your backpack gets heavy fast. Make sure you pick one that’s well made and fits well. Something like this Cataylst waterproof backpack would be perfect.
The Bottom Line: Even the short hikes in New Zealand are incredible! Doing a short hike is a relatively easy and affordable way for people traveling with children or non-hikers to get a feel for New Zealand’s spectacular scenery.