New Zealand’s North Island’s best 1-day hikes
The Land of the Long White Cloud has many, many great attributes, but public transport is not one of them. That’s why, if you want to experience the best of the country, you need some wheels.
Whether you’re renting a JUCY car to visit the sights, your family or that weird roadside statue you saw on Instagram, we encourage you to include some time to see New Zealand’s best side.
We’re all about the outdoors so getting ‘among it’, as we say, is how you connect to the land. To tramp (as we call a hike) is an inherent part of Kiwi culture.
While the Department of Conservation (DOC) offers nine Great Walks – multiday hikes – to really immerse yourself, we know that not everyone has the time, fitness, or inclination to tramp for 3-5 days at a time.
That’s why we’ve pulled together our favourite one-day hikes for the North Island (read here for the South Island), accessible from our JUCY branches. Whether you’re a couch potato or a fitness freak, these trails can be managed if you do them at your own pace and in the right gear.
While you’re exploring our outdoor wonders, we encourage you to take the Tiaki promise, to care and protect our land. Read it here.
The North Island’s best cultural day hike: Te Whara Track
First up, we share the type of day trip that may see you crash into bed at the end of the day. But, it’s worth it for this cultural significant Northland hike.
The 7.5km Te Whara Track follows in the footsteps of the Maori ancestors that called Northland home. It’s an inspiring journey with rewarding panoramic views of this coastal stunner.
The hike starts on this ancient path where the Maori chief, Manaia, walked 700 years ago. After tramping through the heritage native forest – the finest in the region - you’ll rise above it to Mt Lion and the summit of Te Whara. It’s here that you cash in your hiking cheques and get rewarded with some of the best landscape throughout the Northland. Spend time on the summit absorbing the panoramas out to Cape Brett, Cape Rodney, and the islands that dot the horizon. It’s truly stunning.
As you pass through Bream Head before reaching the easy (and welcome) conclusion of the hike down to the expansive Ocean Beach. Keep an eye out here for the remains of the WWII naval radar station.
Although only 7.5km, the track is relatively steep going so allow 5-6 hours to complete it. Add more time for lingering over the 360 views and historic Maori connection to this land, if you so wish. The track can be slippery (this is NZ, after all), so wear sturdy shoes and pack a raincoat and layers. A moderate-to-high level of fitness is recommended.
To make this day trek of epic proportions work from Auckland, you’ll need to rise early to make the 2.5-hour(ish) drive. The Te Whara Track is on the stunning 6,000-hectare Whangarei Heads Peninsula.
Unless you want to backtrack or walk the road back, coordinate transportation with Trail Drop Whangarei, Make sure you arrive at the Ocean Beach car park by 9.45am, to take the $20 shuttle to Urquharts Bay. It’s a great feeling to have your car waiting for you at the end of this strenuous day hike. Especially if you decide to have a dip in the ocean as a reward for all your efforts!
New Zealand’s most outstanding day trail: Tongariro Alpine Crossing
It would be remiss to exclude the Tongariro Alpine Crossing from our ‘best of’ list. It’s possibly New Zealand’s greatest day hike and has even been lauded as one of the world’s best by National Geographic. Right here, in our little country!
To tackle the Tongariro Crossing, you’ll need some grit; it’s classed as a medium-level hike due to its two challenging inclines. The Tongariro Crossing is nearly 20km long, and most people complete it in 7-8 hours. If that sounds like your idea of hell, skip the walk, as you can’t opt-out if you change your mind halfway through. But, if you’re up for the challenge, the rewards are incredible. At times, it’ll feel like you’re passing through planets, the volcanic landscape casting an ethereal glow to everything you see.
The glacial valleys, lava channels, crater lakes and alpine meadows all contribute to this steep but undulating trek through the Mangatepopo Valley. The 360-degree central plateau views, best seen from the Red Crater at 1,886m, offsets whatever you’re feeling in your butt cheeks and knees. Trust us on this one; it’s worth it, particularly when you catch that first glimpse of the turquoise crater lakes that probably drew your attention to this hike in the first place.
The Tongariro Crossing is New Zealand’s oldest national park and starts at Mangetepopo Road. As it’s one-way, you need to coordinate a shuttle from the end of the track, the Ketetahi car park where you’ll leave your JUCY rental. It’s a 30-minute shuttle ride from there to the start of the Tongariro Crossing while you make sure your sturdy hiking shoes are tied tight, and that you’ve not forgotten the essentials like water, food, and layers, including a waterproof jacket. Poles are often handy, too.
The North Island’s high-rise 1-day trek: The Pinnacles
In the beach-haven of the Coromandel Peninsula, there’s an often-overlooked hiking goldmine – The Pinnacles.
Also known as the Kauaeranga Kauri Trail, this is a 6-8-hour trek to the Pinnacles Lookout. At the summit, the platform offers staggering Eastern Coromandel Peninsula views, plus an outlook across the Bay of Plenty and Hauraki Plains. While the vistas are impressive, it’s the jagged spires of the Pinnacles themselves that are unforgettable.
The Pinnacles Trail follows an old packhorse route from the early 1900s. Where nature’s finest resources – kauri, gum, and gold - were once transported along this route. Now, it’s a trail of hikers with one thing in mind, overcoming the ladders that gain you the accolade of having made it to the summit.
About 40 minutes before the summit, you’ll find the Pinnacles Hut. This 80-bed DOC hut is available if you’re into sunrise hikes (it needs to be pre-booked), but overall, the trek is doable without the need for a sleepover.
From the hut, it’s a 1km steady climb until you reach the steel ladders. If you’ve a fear of heights, you’ll want to turn around here. It’s where your mettle is tested as you monkey-climb to the top. Once you’ve got your heart rate back to normal, you’ll be able to soak in the broad views across the whole peninsula. Consider yourself a hiking hero for making to the top.
The total track is 16km long, following an easy path. Leave from the car park at the Kauaeranga Valley Visitor’s Centre and follow the Webb Creek signs for the most direct route. For a little variety (if you’ve the stamina), take the longer Billy Goat Track back down. It’ll add at least an hour, but you’ll pass through a saddle with beautiful Kauaeranga Valley views out to the Hauraki Plains.
It’s possible to tackle the Pinnacles in a day from Auckland: it’s a two-hour ride each way. Choose to soak your weary limbs in the thermal waters at Miranda Hot Springs on the drive back to Auckland. It’s not fancy, but your feet won’t care!
Hike the North Island’s contender trail: Pouakai Crossing
While summiting Taranaki is a thing, we save our hiking energy for The Pouakai Crossing. It’s an all-dayer, for sure, at 19km long, but if you love hiking as much as we love green and purple, then you’re in for a corker of a day.
Kick-off with an early start at the Egmont National Park Visitor Centre. The track will journey you along an impressive ridge through montane forest, subalpine bush, and towering lava columns. Later in the day, it’s neat to know that the Ahukawakawa Swamp is home to plants that only grow in this bizarre microclimate.
A highlight of the day is reaching the scenic lookout at Pouakai Tarns where Mt Taranaki is reflected in the pools. After passing the Pouakai Hut, it’s downhill until you reach Mangorei Rd. Pre-organise a shuttle with Top Guides to bridge the gap between you and your JUCY rental; they’ll drop you at either point.
Although the Pouakai Crossing traverses the lower slopes of Mt Taranaki, don’t think it’s not a challenging hike. DOC grades it as advanced so, if you’ve just picked up your first pair of Macpac boots, test them out on one of the other cool walks on our list.
If you’d prefer a shorter day, hike to Razorback Ridge before returning to your car. It’ll be a 3-hour round trip tramp.
Tramp the movie-star-famous trail: Putangirua Pinnacles
If you’re looking for the best day hike to tackle from Wellington, then look no further than the Putangirua Pinnacles.
Less than two hours in your JUCY hire car, New Zealand’s other ‘The Pinnacles’ are located in Wairarapa in the Aorangi Forest Park. Badlands erosion - a geographical phenomenon where soft rock erodes to leave the hard pillars – has created these towering gravel stalagmites. They look like they formed just so it could be a backdrop for the Lord of the Rings franchise. Seriously!
Also known as hoodoos, fairy chimneys, or goblins, these eerie pillars spark the imagination. To set yours off fully, head to the Putangirua Pinnacles early, to have the best chance of experiencing the place to yourself. Perhaps it’s just us, but when there is no one around to make a sound, the witches-finger-like formations at times seem to shift or shimmer. You’ll need to see for yourself.
The walk is on the easy-to-medium difficulty scale so, as long as you have some sturdy shoes for the rocky ground, you’ll be good to go. Allow approximately 2-3 hours for the return trip. You can stay walking the streambed, but it’s the upper lookout where the magic lays. It’s a dreamlike vista out to Cape Palliser, Palliser Bay, and Lake Onoke towards the South Island.