Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Ruapehu, photo by Graeme Murray

The best New Zealand towns to base yourself from for hiking in New Zealand

2 Nov 2017

New Zealand is not short of wild paths to tread. Navigation is easy – relatively – but to choose which track to hike and where to be based can sometimes be overwhelming.

We’ve put together a guide on the best trails for intrepid feet and the New Zealand towns that provide easy access to these trails.

New Zealand Towns

Te Anau

Start with one of the most beautiful towns in the country – and we’re not at all biased when we say this! Te Anau is the gateway to Fiordland National Park, "the walking capital of the world", a bucket list item in itself when it comes to hiking in New Zealand. Being the only ‘large’ town in the area, you’ll need to stop here to refuel or restock before heading into the wilderness, so why not stay a night or two as well?  Add in delicious meat pies, a good craft beer or local wine, world-class scenery on your doorstep and encounters with rare native birds and you’ve got the perfect outdoor destination.

Among the choice of walks near Te Anau are the famous Milford, Routeburn and Kepler Tracks (all three are New Zealand greats). The Hollyford Track, a low altitude track that can be walked any time of the year, is another stunner. If you’re after shorter walks, our favourites are the Lake Gunn Nature Walk, Lake Marian Track, Gertrude Saddle, Mirror Lakes, Humpbolt Falls and Key Summit (this is actually the first part of Routeburn Track from the Milford side).

Explore Te Anau the gateway to Milford Sound


Just 40 minutes from Taupo, Turangi is an uncrowded township that is an ideal base for adventures into the Tongariro National Park and surrounding forests. The most famous of this region’s walk is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing; your chance to get up, close and personal with Mount Doom from The Lord of the Rings. If you have 3-4 days up your sleeve, complete the whole Tongariro Northern Circuit with its volcanic landscapes. Mt Urchin, a steep climb, is also worth the effort while Craters of the Moon walk is perfect to remind you of the raw force of nature.

You’ll find plenty of hot pools to soak your feet in after a day exploring – Tokaanu Thermal Pools doesn’t figure on many tourists’ itineraries, but is brilliant. If you’re an angler, you’re in trout haven. If you’re not, just enjoy the fresh catch at one of the local eateries.

Marvel at New Zealand's volcanic landscapes


While most visitors treat it as a thoroughfare to the West Coast, Wanaka is a destination in itself and as a gateway to Mt Aspiring National Park, it is a hiking heaven. If you’re moderately fit, head to Roy’s Peak, Wanaka’s very own social media star. Mount Iron Track, very close to the town centre, also boasts 360 views. A hidden gem (at least until it became a poster walk to promote hiking in New Zealand), Rob Roy Glacier Track also features epic scenery.

Mount Cook Village

In the centre of South Island is Mackenzie Country – the big skies country. Along with the world’s clearest night skies, it is home to New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki Mount Cook and the practice ground for Sir Edmund Hilary before he climbed Mount Everest. Not many visitors would be planning to go mountaineering on Aoraki Mt Cook any time soon, so we’ll just stick to the must-do hikes around this epic mountain. Hooker Valley Track (also a poster walk for the country) is the most popular hike in the area. Other short walks are the Governers Bush Track, Tasman Glacier View Track (the floating icebergs here give you lots to think about), Red Tarns Track (a little testing for those not used to hiking) and the walk to Mt John Lookout.

The quaint village has plenty of accommodation and little cafes; a great base for the plethora of activities in the region – all very accessible.

Visit the Sir Edmond Hillary Statue


This is a sleepy seaside town, rich in history and lovely forest and beach walks. For accommodation, base yourself in the grand old Duke of Malborough, New Zealand’s first licensed hotel, smack on the water’s edge.

The coastal walkway (Russell to Okiato an Opua to Paihia), linked by ferry is great to get a feel of the coastal landscapes here. There are also a fair few smaller walks that could easily fit into your day as you go about exploring the historic landmarks of Russell and Paihia, including Flagstaff Hill Loop and Long Beach (great spot for swimming). Cape Brett Walk, about 30km from Russell, requires a high level of fitness. But, for those who do end of treading this path, you’ll be rewarded with fantastic views of the Bay and its bluffs. 

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