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New Zealand

10 Best Short Walks in New Zealand

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New Zealand is known around the world as a hiker’s haven, as this Pacific country has more tracks than one could ever explore during a lifetime. The tramps range from the monstrous 3000-kilometre Te Araroa Trail to multi-day Great Walks and gentle strolls in hidden pockets of nature.

Do you want to revel in New Zealand’s magnificent walking routes, without carrying around camping gear and food for days? We give you a list of 10 of the best short walks that are no longer than 10 kilometres and still provide you with some of the country’s finest scenery.

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1. Hooker Valley Track – Canterbury

The Hooker Valley Track is one of the most popular routes to get a glimpse of majestic Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest summit at 3724 metres. Along this 10-kilometre tramp (return), you’ll see low shrub and sediment left by ancient glaciers that once cut through the Hooker Valley.

Before you get face to face with Mount Cook, you’ll cross a spectacular suspension bridge over the Hooker River, with incredible views of Lake Müller and Mount Sefton. At the end of the trail you’ll arrive at the shores of Lake Hooker, where Mount Cook shines bright in the background. This walk is the most straight-forward way to see the mighty Southern Alps up-close, including glacier and mountain views, floating icebergs, and alpine flowers.

Distance: 10km
More info: doc.govt.nz/hooker-valley-track

Hooker Valley Track, New Zealand
Photo 167289651 © Martin Valigursky | Dreamstime.com

2. Hahei to Cathedral Cove – Waikato

On the Pacific side of the Coromandel Peninsula are heaps of sandy beaches and bizarre rock formations which dominate the coastline. One of the most brilliant short walks in this area is the one that leads from the settlement Hahei to the iconic Cathedral Cove. After a start at Hahei’s scenic beach, you’ll be tramping through the bush, accompanied by vocals from New Zealand’s native birds. With the varied songs of the tui and the loud wingbeat of the kereru or New Zealand wood pigeon in the background, this is an even more enjoyable walk. At the parts with open terrain, the views of offshore rock formations and the bright blue ocean are merely breathtaking. You’ll be rewarded for your exercise at the Cathedral Cove, a stunning complex of natural arches and limestone cliffs.

Distance: 5km
More info: doc.govt.nz/…/cathedral-cove-walk

Cathedral Cove, New Zealand
Photo 139424488 © Cbork7 | Dreamstime.com
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3. Waimangu Volcanic Valley – Bay of Plenty

The Waimangu Volcanic Valley and nearby Rotorua can be considered as the geothermal heart of New Zealand. Hot lakes, mud pools, and vivid minerals here show the incredible forces and beauty of tectonic movements. The Frying Pan Lake – the largest geothermal lake in the world – is one of the most wondrous sights along this volcanic trail. Follow the creek and the hissing thermal pools to the Black Crater, a stunning crater with milky blue water. Further along the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, mineral terraces and deep blue pools are evidence of the volcanic activity in this region.

Keep in mind that you’ll have to pay an admission fee fort this 4-kilometre walk. The fare includes a free shuttle bus that you can take from the end of the track to the entrance or vice versa. Tickets can be purchased at the shop or online.

Distance: 4km
More details: www.waimangu.co.nz

Frying Pan Lake - Waimangu Volcanic Valley
Photo 134776430 © Roussien | Dreamstime.com

4. Devil’s Punchbowl Walking Track – Canterbury

The Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall is a thundering 131-metre drop near Arthur’s Pass in the mountainous centre of the South Island. To get here, you can follow a short but steep track through pine forests, over numerous staircases. The path is only 1 kilometre long, but it’s not wise to underestimate the steepness of this climb. Halfway, the picturesque waterfall shows itself when you’re standing on a suspension bridge. At the end of the walking track, a lookout point offers uninterrupted vistas of the impressive Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall.

If you’re going here just before sunset, there’s a small chance to spot the rare and elusive kiwi.

Distance: 2km
More details: doc.govt.nz/…/devils-punchbowl-walking-track

Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall, NZ
Photo 82032559 © Thomaswong1990 | Dreamstime.com
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5. Nugget Point Lighthouse – Otago

Often depicted on postcards in the region, the Nugget Point Lighthouse truly is a symbol of the charm of the Pacific coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The lighthouse sits at the end of a narrow rocky cape that towers above the gushing waves of the ocean in the deep. The viewing platform offers a jaw-dropping outlook of the Pacific, as well as rock formations that rise up from the bottom of the sea like pyramids. On the right side, a black beach is often the resting place for fur seals.

The Nugget Point Lighthouse is one of the most photographed landmarks in Southeast Otago, and it would be a shame not to bring a camera to capture this remarkable site.

The walk to the lighthouse is less than 2 kilometres for the round-trip, making it one of the shortest on this list.

Distance: 2km
More details: doc.govt.nz/…/nugget-point-tokata-walks

Nugget Point Lighthouse
Photo 185636766 © Tonklaphoto | Dreamstime.com

6. Waitonga Falls Walk – Manawatū-Whanganui

The heart of the North Island is home to marvellous volcanic landscapes and untouched bush, and the Waitonga Falls Walk provides hikers with a bit of everything. Walkthrough the native shrubs teeming with charming birds like the fantail and the North Island robin, until you’ll arrive at a flat moorland with striking views of Mount Ruapehu, the highest summit of the North Island at 2797 metres. The final destination – Waitonga Falls – might not be the most splendid waterfall in the entire country, but the journey towards it is more than worth the walk. The return trip leads over the same path, and you’ll cover a total distance of 4 kilometres. If your travel schedule allows, visit Waitonga Falls in winter or spring when it produces a more powerful cascade.

Distances: 4km
More details: doc.govt.nz/…/waitonga-falls-track

Waitonga Falls
Photo 53684471 © Pstedrak | Dreamstime.com

7. Key Summit Track – Southland

The Key Summit Track is a section of the multi-day Routeburn Track, but can also be tackled as an individual route from the Routeburn Track Parking Area. From the parking space, you’ll go up into a mossy forest full of ferns and mushrooms, and the path will keep going up all the way to Key Summit. The Southern Alps reveal themselves on the alpine nature walk, from where you’ll have 360 views of Southland’s majestic peaks. On top of Key Summit, a swamp with mossy trees and small puddles make for an enchanting atmosphere.

Allow 2 hours to tackle the 3.4 kilometres from the car park to the peak, as you’ll gain 400 metres of elevation.

Distance: 6.8km
More details: doc.govt.nz/…/routeburn-track-key-summit-track

Landscape around the Key Summit Track
Photo 109259273 © Alyona Boiko | Dreamstime.com

8. Blue Pools Track – Otago

The Blue Pools Track in the Otago region is a short, but fantastic walking route through dense forest. The Blue Pools form a wide section of the Makarora River, with incredibly blue water and limestone rock formations that create a gorgeous contrast. Before you reach the pools after 1.5 kilometres, you’ll follow a gentle trail amidst the bush, with forest birds chirping all the way. Take a break at the suspension bridge, which offers you the first look of the amazingly turquoise water. On a hot day, you can dip into the icy river, or jump from the bridge further ahead if you brave the height.

Distance: 3km
More details: doc.govt.nz/…/blue-pools-track

Colourful water along the Blue Pools Track
Photo 90275697 © Helena Bilkova | Dreamstime.com
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9. Three Sisters Beach – Taranaki

Taranaki is home to the perfect cone of Mount Taranaki, but this region in the western part of the North Island also has several fascinating beaches to discover. At low tide, a coastal stroll to the Three Sisters and Elephant Rock certainly is one of the most scenic beach walks in the country. Similar to the world-famous Twelve Apostles in Australia, you’ll find colossal rock pillars rising from the Tasman Sea, plus the gigantic Elephant Rock that indeed looks like a resting mastodon. The shallow water on the black sand beach reflects the cliffs impeccably, and create excellent photo opportunities.

Account for a 40-minute walk from the parking lot to the last rock pillar, after which you return in the same way. Check the tides before you leave, as you might get trapped by the seawater if you don’t.

More details: newzealand.com/…/three-sisters-and-the-elephant

Three Sisters Beach and Mount Taranaki
Photo 198885918 © Andres Jacobi | Dreamstime.com

10. Te Waikoropupū Springs – Tasman

The Te Waikoropupū Springs belong to the most surreal natural phenomenons in New Zealand, due to the water clarity and abundance of colourful minerals in the pools. The walking trail begins in the thick native pine forests, and you cross little creeks and a river over a hanging bridge. After walking through the lovely woods, the extremely clear springs suddenly become visible. Admire the shade of the water and the underwater landscapes from the wooden viewing deck, where the sheer size of New Zealand’s largest freshwater spring is apparent. If you follow the route back to the parking area, different angles of the springs give visitors the chance to capture the magic of this place. The total length of the path is only 1 kilometre, and the difficulty level is easy.

Touching the water of the spring or filling your drinking bottle is strictly prohibited, as the springs are of great cultural and spiritual importance to the Maori.

Distance: 2km
More details: doc.govt.nz/…/te-waikoropupu-springs-walk

Te Waikoropupu Springs
Photo 80525850 © Thomaswong1990 | Dreamstime.com

Summary

Even if you’re on a tight schedule, the allure of New Zealand’s nature can easily be explored through its many walking tracks. Whether you’re aiming to visit geothermal wonderlands, striking beaches, or the monumental mountain peaks, this country packs a great diversity of short walks.

You may also want to read: A Guide to the 10 Great Walks of New Zealand.

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Huub Lakerveld

Writer and Traveller
Huub travels around the world as a digital nomad since early 2018, while working as a travel writer. His passion for travel is driven by connecting with locals and searching for different landscapes. Always joined by his favourite travel companions: a camera and notebook. [Read full bio]
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