New Zealand’s North Island is covered in absolutely stunning landscapes and well-maintained tracks, so it’s an absolute dream destination for hikers and explorers. The hardest part of hiking New Zealand is sometimes choosing a track to begin with! To make life a little easier, we’ve put together this list of our absolute favourite hiking tracks on the North Island that we think you should check out.
From short trips up mountain-sides to endurance-testing multi-day adventures camping around the edge of lakes — there’s sure to be something on this list for you to enjoy. So tighten your shoelaces, make sure that day bag is zipped up, and keep on reading to see what we think are the very best hiking trails on the North Island.
Let’s get straight to the point: this is one of the best hikes in New Zealand and you should do it if you get the chance. It’s pretty cliché to say this about anything in NZ, but this hike will make you feel like you’re travelling across Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings — specifically, the Return of the King, when they’re lighting the Beacons of Gondor (trust us, just look it up).
This alpine crossing will take you the better part of a full day to complete, but it’s well worth the time and effort. You’ll see active volcanoes, the three Emerald Lakes, cross epic craters and lakes, and scramble up the ominous-sounding Devil’s Staircase. The path can be busy in summer and very difficult in winter, so the spring and autumn months are often best for enjoying the views.
DIFFICULTY: Moderate (Spring, Summer), Hard (Winter)
BEST TIME: Spring to autumn months are most comfortable; winter can be very cold.
2. Taranaki Falls
Ruapehu, North Island
This walk is a nice, easy looping track for a relaxing day. A rocky track meanders alongside a trickling stream, surrounded by the lush greenery of the alpine landscape. In the distance, the looming volcanic ranges attract rain and snow in the colder months. It’s one of the most picturesque and diverse landscapes anywhere on the North Island.
There are actually two paths to choose from on this hike — the Upper track rewards you with amazing views of the mountains and open moor landscape, ending at the top of the waterfall; the Lower track takes you along the river and among the trees, ending at the bottom of the falls. We highly recommend trying both tracks as each is unique and beautiful enough to justify it.
BEST TIME: All year, but the summer months are best for taking a dip in the pools at the bottom of the waterfall.
3. Coromandel Coastal Walk
Port Charles, North Island
Packed with stunning landscapes, beaches, lookouts, mountains, and rivers, the Coromandel Peninsula is worth spending at least a few days exploring. If you’re looking for a moderately-challenging hike to take in as much of the area as possible, allow a full day to take the Coromandel Coastal Walk between Stony and Fletcher Bays.
You’ll cross bridges over running rivers, see tree-covered mountains, see geothermal vents, walk through lush forest, and get stunning views of the rugged coastline. It’s an absolute treat to hike through this ancient trail on foot — but somehow even better on a mountain bike (if you’re an experienced rider).
Located on the sparsely-populated eastern side of North Island, Lake Waikaremoana is a beautiful, rugged, remote part of New Zealand to slow down and explore at your own pace. You can spend a few hours peacefully exploring the tracks…or, you can take the Great Walk around the entire circumference of the Lake. It will take you several days and isn’t a path to be taken without preparation as it is quite remote.
The Lake is surrounded by richly-forested mountains, rocky outcrops, pebble beaches, and sheer cliffs formed from millenia of landslides and storms. This is about as wild as any landscape in New Zealand gets, and is a surprisingly quiet part of the country for tourism. You can either camp in the designated campsites, or retreat inside from the weather in one of several huts along the way.
DISTANCE:Anywhere from half a day and up to 4 days
BEST TIME: All year, but treacherous in wild weather.
5. Pinnacles Track
Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve, North Island
Jutting out from the rocky tundra below, these massive pillars of stone are unlike anywhere else in New Zealand. Carved out of the earth by the stream below over thousands of years, the ominous-looking rock formations cannot be missed if you want to explore the hiking trails of the North Island. There are three routes you can take through the Reserve and we’d recommend trying all three.
Oh and more Lord of the Rings trivia? Don’t mind if we do. The Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve is an iconic filming location from the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. The Army of the Dead might have called them home in that movie, but we promise these spooky looking granite pinnacles aren’t haunted.
BEST TIME: All year, but the crushed gravel paths can be slippery in wet weather.
6. Mount Maunganui (Mauao) Summit
Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve, North Island
Fancy a climb up an extinct volcano? This short hike up the summit of Mount Maunganui (also known as Mamau) is well worth the effort if you’re in the Bay of Plenty. We highly recommend starting the climb at the base of the mountain before sunrise so you can watch the sun come up over the town and coastline below — extra points if it’s been a foggy night or there are low-hanging clouds in the morning.
There are actually two tracks for you to choose from: the steep and winding stone steps of the Waikorire track; and the (also steep, but somewhat easier) Oruahine track, which is on the ocean-facing side of the mountain. Either way, the views at the top are absolutely stunning and easily worth the effort.
BEST TIME: Any time, but foggy sunrises are most common in cooler months.
So there you have it — our favourite hiking tracks on the North Island. We love each of the trails on this list because they show off how diverse and special the landscapes of New Zealand really are. There are lush forests, barren rocky areas, rich volcanic plains, shimmering lakes, and rugged coastlines: all within a few hours of one another!
If you’re interested in exploring all of what New Zealand’s North Island has to offer, then road tripping in a campervan is one of the best ways to do it. Explore our campervan hire options for more information.
Eager to discover other routes? Check out the best hikes in New Zealand for an even larger, but equally exciting, set of tracks and trails.
Bastian is the Sales & Marketing Manager here at Travellers Autobarn. He holds a Master of Commerce in Marketing and International Business Management, and 20+ years experience in campervan hire, road trips and travel.