New Zealand is a hikers paradise! There are countless amazing hikes and tracks, ranging from week-long trails to 20-minute circuits, leading along beaches, through a forest, or to beautiful waterfalls. You could spend a lifetime hiking in New Zealand and still, you wouldn’t have seen it all.
In this post you can read about the best short hikes in New Zealand, both on the North as well as on the South Island.
19 awesome and easy short hikes in New Zealand
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Short walks in New Zealand: map
I love hiking and during my 6 week New Zealand road trip I did many short hikes in NZ, both on the North and South Island. The hikes in this post are all short and easy hikes (between 20 minutes and 3 hours), except the Tongariro Crossing, which takes a full day and is a moderate hike.
Of the 19 hikes in this post, there are 14 hikes on the South Island and 5 hikes on the North Island. Check the map to see where to find these short NZ hikes.
Best New Zealand short hiking trails South Island + how long they take
- Peel Forest
- Big Tree walk ⇒ 20 minutes
- Acland Falls track ⇒ 45 minutes
- ‘Kahikatea walk’ ⇒ 1,5 hours
- Mt. John track via lakeshore ⇒ 3 hours
- Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier track ⇒ 40 minutes
- Sandfly Bay trail ⇒ 45 minutes
- Jack’s Blowhole hike ⇒ 40 minutes
- Purakaunui Falls Walk ⇒ 15 minutes
- McLean Falls hike ⇒ 40 minutes
- Moke Lake loop ⇒ 1,5 hours
- Fox Glacier ⇒ 40 minutes
- Lake Matheson loop ⇒ 1 hour
- Franz Josef Glacier ⇒ 1,5 hours
- Kaikoura Peninsula walkway ⇒ 3 hours
- Farewell Spit ⇒ 3 hours
- Pupu Springs circuit ⇒ 20 minutes
Best New Zealand short hiking trails North Island + how long they take
- Huka Falls hike ⇒ 1 hour
- The Tongariro Crossing ⇒ 6-8 hours
- Cathedral Cove trail ⇒ 45 minutes
- Mount Manaia ascent ⇒ 1,5 hours
- Mangawhai Clifftop Walk ⇒ 2,5 hours
Short and easy hikes on the South Island of New Zealand
This was my first day hiking in New Zealand! What immediately surprised me is how quiet it was… In Peel Forest I did three tracks:
• The ‘Big Tree walk’, about 20 minutes return.
• The ‘Acland Falls track’, about 45 minutes return.
• The ‘Kahikatea walk’, about 1,5 hours but that’s because I got lost… Shameful to admit since pretty much every track in New Zealand is clearly signposted.
Check this page of DOC site for more info about the Peel Forest hikes.
Mt John Track via lakeshore
I loved this 3-hour hike because of the phenomenal views over Lake Tekapo, one of my favorite lakes (check out more beautiful lakes in New Zealand).
We started the hike at Tekapo Springs and climbed up to Mount John observatory in about 45 minutes. This part of the trail goes through the forest, meaning you don’t have much of a view. Until you reach the top…
From the top, you have a spectacular view of Lake Tekapo and its surroundings! After spending just two days in New Zealand I had already lost my heart to the country…
The trail goes down from Mount John and runs along the lakeshore. Hiking down from Mount John observatory via the track along the lakeshore takes about 2 hours and you’ll mostly be hiking in open terrain.
That means breathtaking views but also lots of sunshine when it’s hot. Be sure to bring enough water with you and protect yourself from the sun.
Check this page of the DOC site for more info about the hikes around Lake Tekapo.
Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View track
As we already hiked the Mount John track in the morning, this steep hike was a bit of a challenge. Luckily, it was rather short and definitely worth the effort.
Though I have a confession to make: I laughed so hard during this hike… You see, in the New Zealand Lonely Planet, it says you can check out the Blue Lakes on the way to the Tasman Glacier viewpoint.
Well, that sounded rather pretty, so yes, please. Halfway through the hike, we saw a green murky pool, so I was thinking: this can’t be it. A little further up the trails, there was a sign:
Ah, so there are no blue lakes. Just these dirty green ones… Okay, moving on…
We arrived at the Tasman Glacier and from my sister, who had been to New Zealand in 2013, I had heard about the icebergs floating in this lake. I looked around and strained my eyes to locate the icebergs. NO ICEBERGS… In fact, barely any glacier. Then I notice another sign, this one said:
Ah, that’s why! We humans $%^&* everything up and now the glacier has melted. That really sucks… Still, it was a worthwhile walk, but mainly because it makes you aware of the shocking pace at which the glacier is retreating because of climate change.
As said, it’s a steep climb, but it’s not a long hike, about 40 minutes return. Check this page of the DOC site for more info about hikes around the Tasman Glacier.
Tip: cool your feet in the icy stream near the parking lot after the hike. It’s nice, but cold. Very cold!
A nice walk starting at the end of Seal Point Road. I was a little afraid this hike was going to involve a lot of annoying sandflies, but luckily the bay is named after the fine sand being blown into the air by the hard wind instead of those pesky insects. Together the sand and wind have formed impressive dunes!
It’s a nice hike, down through the sand and over the beach to a point where a colony of seals is resting. It was pretty amazing to see these creatures in the wild…
The way back up is steep and the loose sand makes it a good workout:-). It’s about 45 minutes’ return, depending on how far along the beach you walk. At the end of the beach, you are not allowed to go any further because it’s a conservation area.
Check this page of the DOC site for more info about hikes on the Otago Peninsula.
This hike goes through farmland and up a hill, offering great bay views. At one point I was hiking through very tall grass and couldn’t even see what was around the corner!
Jack’s Blowhole is a strange phenomenon: in the middle of farmland, you suddenly see a 55-meter deep hole. The blowhole is located about 200 meters away from the sea but seawater flows to the blow hole through an underground tunnel and pounds against the sides with deep thundering sounds. I had never seen something like it before and found it really cool!
It’s an easy hike (slightly sloping terrain but no serious climbing), about 40 minutes return. Check this page of the DOC site for more info about the hike to Jack’s Blowhole.
Purakaunui Falls Walk
I have to be honest, you can barely call this a hike. It’s really short (15 minutes return) but I included it anyway because the short track leads to the most photographed waterfalls in New Zealand, the Purakaunui Falls!
Check this page of the DOC site for more info about the walk to the Purakaunui Falls.
A great hike to one of my favorite falls in New Zealand. I don’t even really know why I loved this hike and waterfall so much… I was just so happy that day. The sun was shining, there was no one around, nature was beautiful, the waterfall was very pretty, and life, in general, was good!
The hike goes through the forest and is about 40 minutes return, depending on how long you spend at the waterfall taking pretty pictures.
Check this page of the DOC site for more info about the hike to McLean Falls.
This was such an awesome hike… Definitely one of my favorites, there was nobody on the track except us! We timed our hike perfectly: it had been raining the entire afternoon, but just after we had dinner the sky cleared up and we headed out for a nice evening walk.
The plan was to do a short hike, but the surroundings were so stunning and the skies so blue we just kept walking. And well, it’s a loop around Moke Lake, so once you are halfway there is no point in turning back;-).
We continued the track and hiked around the lake back to our campervan on the Moke Lake DOC campsite. The minute we got back to our van it started raining again. As I said, perfect timing!
The hike took us 1,5 hours and if not for the rain, I could have hiked for hours because it was so beautiful and peaceful…
I go skiing every year and have seen several glaciers in the Swiss Alps. But that’s totally different from hiking to a glacier (in a t-shirt instead of my skiing outfit) and standing in front of a massive wall of ice!
The hike takes around 40 minutes (return) and leads through the valley that has been gauged out by the glacier, back when the glacier was much bigger than it is today… The steep walls and hanging valleys are very impressive!
Check this page of the DOC site for more info about the hike to the Fox Glacier.
Lake Matheson is famous for the mirroring views of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. On days with very little wind you can take a perfect mirror picture at the lake.
There was some wind but by putting the camera almost in the water, we managed to get an okay shot. Too bad the mountains were in the clouds…
The hike leads through the forest and around lake Matheson, with several nice viewpoints at the lakeshore. It’s a nice and easy circuit of about 1 hour. Check this page of the DOC site for more info about the hike around Lake Matheson.
Franz Josef Glacier
The hike to the Franz Josef Glacier is a bit longer than the one to the Fox Glacier, about 40 minutes to get to the glacier (and 40 minutes to get back).
Though we could not get as close to the Franz Josef glacier as to the Fox glacier, we constantly heard rocks falling and saw ice chunks breaking off. Definitely impressive!
Check this page of the DOC site for more info about the hike to the Fox Glacier.
Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway
The first hour of the walk is a bit boring because you walk next to, or even on, the road. But once you get to the Seal Colony at Point Kean viewpoint, the asphalt road ends and the fun part of the walk begins.
The trail goes over the rocky beach and through tall grass and eventually leads up a steep cliff, offering beautiful views over the ocean and the bay. New Zealand is stunning… The hike is three hours in total.
Check this page of the DOC site for more info about the hike at the Kaikoura Peninsula.
The plan was to do a different hike than the one I ended up doing. But I missed a signpost and ended up doing a 12-kilometer loop around Farewell Spit. Well, not around, Farewell Spit is a 35-kilometer long land tongue so hiking entirely around it would take a lot longer.
A large part of Farewell Spit cannot be accessed, only as part of a tour, because it is a bird sanctuary and thousands of birds are nesting there during summer.
The hike we did started on the beach on the Southside of Farewell Spit, where we hiked 4 km over the beach and saw many different birds!
After 4km we crossed to the Northern side of Farewell Spit and walked back over the beach. A nice hike with lots of dunes, birds, beautiful skies, and nobody around…
Check this page of the DOC site for more info about hiking trails at Farewell Spit.
As with the Purakaunui Falls, this isn’t really a hike but more of a short 20 minutes circuit walk. But I put it on the list because the Pupu Springs (short for Te Waikoropupu Springs) are one of the prettiest things I have seen in my life! The water is said to be some of the clearest water ever measured and it really is crystal clear… Very, very pretty!
Check this page of the DOC site for more info about the hike at the Pupu Springs.
Short and easy hikes on the North Island of New Zealand
Our plan was not to do anything too exhausting that day, because we were planning to hike the Tongariro Crossing the following day. But we couldn’t resist doing this nice hike to the Huka Falls.
I forgot to take my bikini, a real shame because the trail comes across hot water springs that are suitable for bathing.
Anyway, the hike was nice and ran across the banks of the Waikato River. I thought the Huka Falls resembled a giant rapid more than a waterfall, but it’s a spectacular sight regardless of how you call them.
The hike takes a little over an hour (return). That is if you start at Spa Park. You can also drive straight up to the Huka Falls if you don’t like hiking. I recommend hiking there though, it’s a nice track. Check this page of the DOC site for more info about hiking to Huka Falls.
Tongariro Crossing (the only not so easy and short hike on this list)
Hiking the Tongariro Crossing was one of the coolest hikes I have done in my life, the scenery is absolutely breathtaking! The hike took us all day, but we included a climb to the top of Mount Ngauruhoe, also known as Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings movies.
Mind you, this is not an easy hike, it involves a lot of steep sections and you should prepare well before setting out on this hike. People have died hiking the Tongariro Crossing so don’t go out wearing just a t-shirt and flip-flops.
Tips for hiking the Tongariro Crossing
- There is no food or drinking water available on the trail so bring enough with you.
- Wear proper clothing (bring enough layers) and sturdy hiking boots!
- Start your hike early. On a nice sunny day there can be lots of people on the track and parking can be a bit of a problem. We arrived at the parking lot around 8am and managed to secure the last available official spot. When we got back there were cars parked along the road for almost two kilometers, so don’t be late!
- My most important recommendation is to only hike the Tongariro Crossing in good weather. Not only is it a lot less fun hiking in the rain, it can be dangerous since parts of the track are very steep and can become slippery.
- Arrange your transport on time. We turned around at the Emerald Lakes and hiked back the same way because we had not booked a ticket on the shuttle bus (30NZD per person). There are several companies providing transportation, you can book them in Taupo.
Check this page of the DOC site for more info about hiking the Tongariro Crossing.
Another wonderful 45-minute hike, leading over white cliffs to the famous Cathedral Cove, an impressive natural bridge. The constant pounding of the ocean against the white rocks illustrates perfectly how this bridge was formed.
When we start the hike the sky was grey but the closer we got to Cathedral Cove, the bluer the sky. On the way back (same path) I took off a couple of layers of clothing because it had gotten quite warm!
Check this page of the DOC site for more info about the hike to Cathedral Cove.
While Mount Manaia is not a difficult hike, it does require a moderate level of fitness. The trail starts at sea level, from there it’s a 400 meter ascend to the top of Mount Manaia.
We climbed a seemingly endless flight of stairs but ultimately reached the top with beautiful bay views (too bad about the huge refinery across the water).
It took us about an hour to reach to the top and around 30 minutes to get back down, but the DOC says the track takes 2-3 hours.
Mangawhai Clifftop Walk
The Mangawhai Clifftop Walk was the perfect hike to end our 6 week trip around New Zealand with, the landscape was so varied! The hike starts on the beach and goes up a steep cliff (with awesome views on the way up).
It then goes through the tropical-looking forest and eventually loops back to the beach, where you circle back to the starting point of the hike via the beach. When we did this hike it was low tide and there were many pools on the beach, in one of them I spotted a little octopus! So cool…
The hike was about 2,5 hours and the part up to the cliffs is definitely a good workout. The rest of the track is easy, though once you arrive at the beach there are some parts where you have to hop from stone to stone.
Check this page of the DOC site for more info about the Mangawhai Clifftop Walk.
Tips when going hiking in New Zealand
- In this post I wrote down the time it took me and my husband to hike the tracks. On the DOC site you can also find an indication how long the trails take. Obviously everybody has a different hiking pace, so make sure you have enough time for a hike and don’t have to rush to get back before darkness falls.
- When you are going hiking in New Zealand, or tramping as the Kiwi’s call it, always be prepared for every kind of weather. Wear layers, bring a hat against the sun and a rain coat. Also make sure to take some water and food with you.
- Wear proper footwear! You don’t need hiking boots for most of these trails but I don’t recommend wearing flip-flops either.
- Kind of obvious but never ever leave any trash! New Zealand nature is well-conserved compared to many other countries in the world and it should stay that way.
- Stay on the trail! Not only because you may get lost otherwise, but also to prevent damage to the flowers and plants growing along the tracks.
Beautiful short trails in New Zealand: in conclusion
You can download the map with these 19 awesome hikes below. If you want to learn more about traveling NZ, check my other New Zealand posts where you can read about hiking trails in New Zealand, campervan tips, traveling New Zealand on a budget, essential driving tips for New Zealand, and where (and how) to find great free and budget campsites.
What is your favorite short hike in New Zealand?
This post was updated in October 2020.