Two years ago, I was lucky enough to be able to spend five months in New Zealand studying at the University of Auckland. However, I must admit, my school studies were definitely not what I was focusing on while I was over there! My heart was drawn to the breathtaking landscape — the amazing mountains, fiords, lakes, oceans, cliffs, beaches and rivers. My friends and I would rent a car and travel for days, hiking (or, as it is called over there, “tramping”), swimming, running, and climbing through the North and South Island. 

New Zealand is truly an adventure-lovers dream. Here are nine adventures off the beaten path in New Zealand that are sure to enchant and mesmerize.

1. Kauaeranga Kauri Trail (Pinnacles Walk)

The Pinnacles Walk was one of the hardest hikes that I have ever experienced — but it was well worth it in the end! This hike ascends at a steady, steep incline for 759 metres through rainforest-like terrain up to the summit. I went on a rainy day, so the hundreds of stone steps that are unevenly placed along the route were extremely slippery! We used the Webb Creek Track and the Billygoat Track, so the entire route (up and down) took us about 8 hours.

Along the route, you are surrounded by a lush forest, and the sound of nearby streams trickling down follow you all the way up. About 200m from the summit is the Pinnacles Hut, which you can book and choose to stay in if you wish to make this a two-day excursion. With the summit in sight, we kept on trekking through the mist. My favourite part of the hike was the rock climbing needed on the last 100m. There were ruggedly placed metal bars jutting out of the rocks that you had to climb to reach parts of the rock that were not able to be climbed without the make-shift ladders. Once you got through that, there were hundreds of steps to the top — a bit of a quad burner, but worth it once you reach the summit!

The summit has beautiful views of the Coromandel Peninsula, but, unfortunately, it was a bit too misty for us to see much of anything! If you’re looking for an amazing hike that tests your endurance and give you some great scenery along the way, this is it!

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For more information, visit New Zealand’s Department of Conservation.

2. Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Tongariro National Park is New Zealand’s oldest national park and a World Heritage Site. One of the most iconic tracks in the country lies in this park — the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The track is 19.4 km long, traversing steep inclines, loose rock and unpredictable terrain. But, the incredible views and landmarks are well worth it. Not to mention, one of the mountains on the track, Mount Ngauruhoe, is Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings Series — enough to make a fan go wild!

You begin on the main track that follows Mangatepopo Stream and around the edge of an old lava flow. You will then hike over layers of ancient and modern lava flows and volcanic deposits as you ascend the “Devil’s Staircase,” which is a steep climb of about 1,400 metres. But, it is well worth it, because, on a clear day, you can see the perfectly formed volcanic cone of Mount Taranaki.

The next sections will take you to the Red Crater, the North Crater (which was once filled with molten lava and then cooled and solidified to give a level surface more than 1000m wide), and the Emerald Lakes, which are dyed blue from the minerals in the surrounding rocks which have seeped into the water. A truly brilliant sight!

New Zealand Adventures

For more information, visit New Zealand’s Department of Conservation.

3. Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island is one of the most popular islands off the coast of Auckland, New Zealand. It is home to dozens of vineyards and beautiful walking trails. Hop on a ferry at the Auckland docks and take a beautiful ride out to the island, which is only 20 minutes away!

This was my first walking trip in New Zealand, and it turned out to be one of my favourite places to go to get away from the hustle and bustle of Auckland city. I was stunned by the way that Waiheke made you feel miles and miles away from any type of concrete jungle, even though it was only a hop, skip and a jump away! The first time I went over to the island, I was not expecting a hike — so, unfortunately, I wore a sweater, jeans, and a pair of flats. Little did I know, the coastal track along the perimeter of the island was a proper hike! So, what did I do? I took off my shoes and continued to hike along the coast (luckily, the path was soft with mud and grass!)

The coastal path (the Te Ara Hura Track) along the island is breathtaking and unexpected. Waves crash against stunning cliffs that jut down next to you while sheep and cows grass on the greenest grass you will ever see. Beaches also dot the landscape, but they’re more rocky than sandy! The best part? Almost no one is on the track. Most people travel to this island to take vineyard and wine tours, so many spend the whole day on the properties of the companies! My suggestion? Take the coastal path and travel to the left first (on the Te Ara Hura Track) — you will enjoy the peace and serenity of this amazing landscape without worrying about heavy foot traffic.

New Zealand Adventures
Image: Bri Doherty

4. Roys Peak

The beautiful town of Wanaka lies right below this peak, and you’ll have incredible views of Lake Wanaka, its islands, bays, and the snow-capped mountains of the Southern Alps/Kā Tiritiri o te Moana, including Mount Aspiring/Tititea. It is a 1578m hike to the summit, and the gradient is fairly steep — definitely enough to break a sweat! Take a picture on the remarkable peak with the brilliant lakes below you.

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For more information, visit New Zealand’s Department of Conservation.

5. Abel Tasman

Abel Tasman was my first multi-day hike in New Zealand, and it granted me memories that will last me a lifetime. The Abel Tasman National Park is a conservation area on the northern part of New Zealand’s South Island. The Abel Tasman Coast Track is a 60km track that follows the country’s west coast. The hike along the track takes about 3 to 5 days, depending on whether or not you wish to hike only some of the track or the track in its entirety. If you wish to only hike part of the track, there are water taxis on designated beaches that are able to bring you back to your starting location!

I, along with nine other girls, grabbed our backpacks, stuffed them with food and layers, and laced up our hiking boots to travel along this iconic path. We began at Marahau causeway, a beautiful valley of packed, sandy, open land that stretches for miles. The openness of the land gives you a remarkable the outline of mountains in the background — I was immediately stunned. If this gorgeous view was the first scene of the entire hike, I was eager to see what was next!

We hiked along the winding path for about six hours that day, all the way to the first hut/campsite of the trail, Anchorage Bay. There are four huts and 19 campsites along the entire track, and each must be booked in advance. The huts are simple rooms with matted bunk beds — very comfortable after a long day of tramping! The campsites are an excellent place to meet new people and have a beer. Pitch your tent and put your feet up under the stars for the night!

I will never forget Anchorage Bay. We arrived at our hut, which was situated in the centre of a tiny beach cove, at about 7 p.m., ate some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and unfurled our sleeping bags on to the mats of the bunk beds. Wrapped in blankets, we headed out to the beach to check out the scene. What I saw took my breath away. With no civilization around for miles, there was no sign of artificial light. Standing on the beach, I could see the curvature of the earth in the stars. The Milky Way Galaxy shot down the centre of the sky, and I have never seen so many stars in my entire life.

Each day, we would hike about six to seven hours to the next hut, depending on how many detours we took to see different landscapes, such as Cleopatra’s Pool or Cascade Falls. This track, although very flat at first, can become steep, rocky, and muddy, and the detours take you into heavily wooded areas that require climbing rocks, crawling under trees, and trekking through streams, so, be prepared!

New Zealand Adventures
Image: Bri Doherty

Check out the Abel Tasman website to find out all the information on huts/campsites/routes, and more.

6. Te Paki Sand Dunes

I had a ton of adventures in New Zealand, but, the weekend that I spent on Cape Reinga was my favourite. The most fun part? The Te Paki Sand Dunes.

If you’re looking for a thrill, try boogie-boarding down a 70-degree incline on massive sand dunes. While you’re driving up to the dunes, keep an eye out for any houses along the route that have signs for renting the boogie-boards that you will use to cruise down the dunes — renting from the houses along the road will be much cheaper (only about 8 NZD for the whole day) than renting them when you are at the dunes! And riding the dunes is completely free of charge.

The dunes go on for miles, so, when you get to the dunes, all you have to do is tramp through the park to find the one you wish to slide down!  These dunes reach about 100 to 150 metres, so the trek up the dunes is a hard one (I had to stop to catch my breath a few times!) But the ride down is so worth it. Hop on your belly or your butt and slide down the dunes, but be careful not to fall off, because it’s a long tumble down!

New Zealand Adventures
Image: Carson Nicodemus

7. Cathedral Cove

Ever seen the Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? Well, the scene when the children first enter Narnia on a remarkable beach in the middle of a cave was shot in this very cove! The beach is situated down a path that takes about 20 minutes to walk on. The crystal clear, turquoise water will take your breath away, and the rock formations out in the water are just dying to be climbed.

The iconic cave that connects the beach is only accessible during low tide — unless you’re a little bit daring! You can walk through the cave to the other side of the beach, or, if it is high tide, maybe try to swim on over!

For more information, visit the Coromandel website.

8. Routeburn Track

The Routeburn Track is a 32km track spanning across the gorgeous South Island Fiordlands. The walk usual takes two to four days, and there are huts and campsites along the way which must be booked in advance during the Great Walks season. Along the way, you will witness superb views of Hollyford Valley, Lake McKerrow, Martins Bay, Tasman Sea, Earland Falls, The Divide (the lowest crossing of the Southern Alps in New Zealand), and Routeburn Falls cascade.

This hike is great for intermediate hikers. The entire hike will leave you speechless, just from the mere beauty that is the Fiordlands. From waterfalls to mountains to glaciers, this Fiordlands are one of the most magical places in New Zealand. So, soak up every minute!

For more information, visit New Zealand’s Department of Conservation.

9. Mount Cook

Aoraki, or Mount Cook (3,724 metres), is one of the most incredible places in New Zealand, not just for its stunning views and challenging climb, but also for the sacred history of the mountain.

The Ngai Tahu, the primary Maori iwi tribe of the South Island, consider Aoraki to be their most sacred ancestor, from which all Ngai Tahu descend. Legend has it, that the Sky Father and his wife bore four children, who decided to visit Earth. The children, Aoraki, Raki-ora, Raki-rua, and Raraki-roa, descended to earth in a canoe and explored the seas. But, when they wanted to return home, their magic failed and their canoe fell back to the earth, tipping over in the process and turning to stone. This canoe became the South Island. Aoraki and his brothers clambered to the high side of the canoe, but also turned to stone in the process, forming four mountains. Aoraki, being the tallest brother, formed the largest mountain — Aoraki, or, Mount Cook. This makes this mountain one of the Ngai Tahu’s most sacred landforms on the island.

Climb the Sealy Tarns Track for a six to eight hour round trip excursion, or walk the Ball Hut Route for a shorter (3 to 4 hour) route. Each route gives spectacular views of the glacier and surrounding peaks.

New Zealand Adventures

For more information, visit New Zealand’s Department of Conservation.

By Bri Doherty

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