After an extremely painful 5 day trek to Machu Picchu a couple of months ago we were still off hiking when we arrived in New Zealand. That didn’t last long however, once we realised just how stunning the country is and how many awesome hiking opportunities there are.
I’d argue it’s more or less impossible to see New Zealand properly without enjoying any of the hikes on offer.
Whilst it tends to be South Island that gets the lion’s share of rave reviews from travellers, it has to be said that the landscapes are incredible throughout the North Island. From rugged coastline, sandy beaches and some of the bluest oceans you’ll see in the north, to geothermal lakes, steaming craters and volcanic mountains as you head down further south, there are stunning sights at every turn. Hiking offers some of the best ways to see these landscapes, and there are many trails for walkers at all ability levels.
Whilst there’s plenty out there for those who are looking for some more challenging treks, we stuck to easy hikes for the most part. Travelling from Auckland down to Wellington over the course of a couple of weeks, we tried to enjoy at least one decent walk on most of our stops.
The tracks on our top easy hikes are clearly marked out and signposted, well maintained and easily accessible. Most involve some kind of summit but each and every one presents some amazing views as well as incredible scenery along the way so the uphill is worth the effort!
All of these are suitable hikes for beginners and should be manageable for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness – e.g no injuries, don’t get too out of breath after a bit of light exercise etc. Some also have shorter routes available on the same trail, or options to park and start further along if you do want something simpler.
Our favourite easy hikes that we enjoyed the most on our North Island journey are as follows…
Hahei Beach to Cathedral Cove – Coromandel Area:
This one is a pretty easy starter hike – beginning at the Hahei beach car park, crossing the beach and following a tarmac track through forest along the coast. If you’re feeling adventurous you can kayak along the coast to the cove, or if you’re feeling lazy there’s even a water taxi.
We chose the hiking option, which takes around 45 minutes and is a straightforward walk with mild up and downhill gradients. It’s fairly busy due to the popularity of Cathedral Cove, but a wide path makes it easy for everyone to go at their own pace.
Highlights along the way include spectacular sea views with some of the bluest water I’ve ever seen, and the opportunity to walk through the WW1 Memorial Forest. Cathedral Cove itself is stunning with natural rock formations and a white sandy beach for some relaxation before the walk back. There are a couple of other coves you can walk down to on the way if you want to extend the route.
This one isn’t as well known or popular as the last, but is a nice trail through some scenic forests in the reserve that offers good opportunities to see New Zealand’s native Kauri trees. It’s around 10km north west of Hamilton itself which is a great place to base yourself for a day or so, and the reserve is home to 1,850ha of forest.
There are a couple of route options from the 30 minute walk up to the reservoir which is a simple uphill hike through the forest, and should be suitable for most people, to the 1.5 hr extended trek to a higher viewing point. We took the easy option here as we only had time for a short hike, but others were jogging and walking the extended route.
Be careful to help stop the spread of Kauri Dieback disease and ensure you clean off your boots and don’t carry any loose soil away with you when you leave.
Mount Maunganui – Tauranga
We were introduced to this hike by our Kiwi friend who was helping us explore the area, and it boasts some amazing views over the Tauranga coastline – including the town of Tauranga itself, its marina and local beaches. Another one where the water is unbelievably blue on a sunny day and you can see for miles. The mountain is a lava dome and was formed around 2-3 million years ago – standing out high above the surrounding town.
It’s a fairly easy hike at only 30-40 minutes to the summit but it is a constant and fairly steep uphill gradient. There’s a harder but quicker option up some steps, or a more winding route on a gravel track. Adventure seekers can enjoy paragliding from the top of the mount and the views are brilliant.
Wairere Falls Summit – Matamata
We stayed in this area a couple of days visiting a friend and touring hobbiton, and this hike was a real highlight of the area. It takes around 40 minutes to reach an initial viewing point for the waterfall with another 30 minutes or so after this to the summit where you have amazing views of the local countryside.
The track here is a little more challenging with plenty of rocky areas to scramble over as well as some flights of fairly steep steps. As you can imagine being that it reaches its peak at the top of the waterfall it’s up hill pretty much all the way. It’s still suitable for beginners with reasonable fitness though. The trail itself passes some beautiful river and valley views, as well as jungle-esque forest landscapes. As with hike 2 the majority is in the shade but we found it quite humid so take plenty of water. Allow 2-2.5 hours for the round trip as there’s great photo opportunities at the summit and along the way.
This hike can be found on the geo thermal highway route popular with tourists in the Rotorua area. There are a couple of similar valleys with walks available – we chose this one after reading some great reviews, and it’s also the most newly formed volcanic area in the region following an eruption in 1886.
Sadly this hike isn’t free of charge – and costs $36 for access to the park which hosts it. We felt it was worth while though, with a guide including notes on all view points and areas of interest, advice on a couple of different routes and a shuttle bus back to the visitor centre available at various points along the trail.
We chose the extended hike to the final bus stop which takes around 2.5 hours at a reasonable leisurely pace. It’s an easy hike on the whole, with the option to add a bit of a challenge by hiking up to Mount Haszard midway through to enjoy some great panoramic views of the craters and lakes.
As you’d imagine in this area, the landscapes along the track are fantastic – steaming craters and geo thermal lakes in different colours, alongside steaming streams and volcanic peaks. The bright blue ‘Inferno Crater’ was a real highlight for us and is best enjoyed on a sunny day. Definitely worth the entry fee to see some completely unique views that you won’t find elsewhere on the island.
Another shorter hike, we enjoyed this one in the pouring rain which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend! Huka Falls and the surrounding rapids are a must see if you’re staying in this area, and there are a couple of trails along the river to enjoy while you’re there. The Falls themselves drain nearby Lake Taupo.
We hiked the riverside trail that takes around an hour one way through some beautiful forests and woodland. There are a few viewpoints on the way and just enjoying the river scenery on the easy walk is a great way to spend an hour or so. This area is home to some of the best white water rafting in the world.
Tongariro National Park – Taranaki Falls
We were hoping to do a tricker hike on our visit to the National Park and give the Tongariro Alpine Crossing a go, but sadly bad weather prevented this. Instead of our original plan, we spent an hour or so enjoying an easy hike to Taranaki Falls. This is one of the most popular short hikes in the park, especially on clear days, for its views of Mount Doom (officially Mt. Ngauruhoe).
It’s signposted to take 2 hours to complete the loop and starts near to the Whakapapa Visitor Centre. The route we took was to follow the upper trail to the Falls and the lower trail back to the village, and it took us around 1.5hrs. Taranaki Falls is an impressively picturesque waterfalls and the trail also offers some great views of the 3 active volcanoes in the park. For an easy hike with great views, we’d definitely recommend this one.
We fled the rain to enjoy some sunshine in Hawkes Bay and enjoyed plenty of walks in the area while we were there. Te Mata Peak is the most famous in the immediate area and well worth a visit. Whilst it’s uphill to the peak, it’s another hike that’s none to challenging on the whole.
We’d recommend parking at the first car park and walking on one of the trails through the countryside before reaching the peak itself. The views over the lush countryside and wineries are awesome enough, but you also have great ocean views across the bay as well. Allow 1-1.5 hours for this – there’s also a nice cafe restaurant along the road if you fancy a drink with a view.
This one is definitely worth waiting for a clear day to try – and be warned that the wind can be pretty fierce! It’s only 30-40 minutes to the summit where you get some fantastic views of Wellington and the bay. We started from the Oriental parade and headed up to the lookout before descending on the trail that makes its way through the woods and into the city centre.
The trail itself is fairly easy, although the last 10 minutes or so are pretty steep. If you prefer to take a slightly easier route it’s also possible to stick to the road that takes you to the top and avoid the rougher woodland tracks.