Home » The Best Hikes in New Zealand – A 21 day Self Drive Itinerary.

The Best Hikes in New Zealand – A 21 day Self Drive Itinerary.

  • by

Are you looking for a vacation that includes all of the best hikes in New Zealand? If you came to New Zealand to be outdoors as much as possible and want to mix some soft adventure with some hiking and unique activities then this is the itinerary for you. This is certainly the itinerary that will show you New Zealand in a different way!

Highlights Include:

  • An afternoon hiking Aucklands Rangitoto Island;
  • Surfing in Raglan;
  • Trekking Mount Tarawera;
  • A 3 day hike along the Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds;
  • Blackwater rafting in Punakaiki;
  • The Franz Josef Heli-hike;
  • Hiking in Wanaka;
  • Hiking the Milford Track;

Top Tip: If you want more information on each particular region/destination that we mention then do click on the hyperlinks within this article as it will link you through to our much more in-depth articles on that particular region/destination.

Please Note: All views are our own, this is not a sponsored post and as we have done the majority of these activities that is why we can confidently recommend the suppliers and the activities to you!

Not got 21 days? Or don’t want to hike? That is okay, we got you covered – check out our other itineraries here.

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland

When you arrive organise a transfer you to the accommodation of your choice for a one night stay. In the afternoon embark on a two – three-hour trip to Rangitoto Island. It will get your legs working again and it has the best views of Auckland.

Rangitoto Island will wake those legs up!

Day 2: Drive to Raglan

In the morning pick up your hire car in downtown Auckland and travel to Raglan (2.5 Hours Drive). A beautiful beachside town where the kiwis holiday. Hire a surfboard locally and ride the waves! 

Day 3: Travel to Lake Tarawera (2.5 Hours drive)

Make a detour to Rotorua if you wish to experience the geothermal activity that the region is renowned for.  Here we suggest you hire a holiday home on the lake we stayed in this one once (Bookabach is like AirBnB but better!) for a two-night stay enjoying the peace and quiet right on the lake.

Beautiful Lake Tarawera

Day 4: Hike Mount Tarawera

Mount Tarawera is tipped to be NZ’s next best day walk. To start the Tarawera Trail jump on a water taxi to the starting point. A 5-6 hour recently completed trail will get you to the top of Mount Tarawera. On the way back make sure you explore NZ’s best-kept secret ‘Hot Water Beach’ for a free dip in the thermal spa. This is truly off the beaten track and we love it! If you wish to do this trip guided then we suggest this tour instead.

Day 5: Visit Tongariro National Park

Travel to Tongariro National Park (2-hour drive) to explore what the volcanic region of NZ has to offer. There are walks ranging from 1-8 hours in this park, visit the visitor center for maps and advice. We suggest arriving early and embarking on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This 7-8 hour walk passes some of the most stunning scenery the North Island has to offer. Make sure you take a guided walk if you are visiting in the winter though!

Tongariro National Park
Us starting the hike at The Tongariro National Park

Day 6: Onto Wellington 

Travel to Wellington (4-hour drive) and explore the city at your own pace. 

Our top picks for Wellington are:

Day 7: Ferry to the South Island

Catch the 8 am sailing to the South Island arriving into picturesque Picton around 12:30 pm, stay overnight in Picton ready to embark on the 71 kilometre 4-day freedom Queen Charlotte Track the following day.

Day 8 – 11: The Queen Charlotte Track

The best hikes in New Zealand in our opinion isn’t always the great walks of New Zealand and this track certainly highlights this fact! The accommodation for this multi-day hike can be camping or three really lovely unique lodges that are dotted along the track where dinner can be purchased each night. To find out more about this hike check out the official Department of Conservation website or the official tourism website for the Queen Charlotte Track. On day 11 after reaching the finishing point, you can organise a transfer back to your accommodation in Picton.

Me & the family at the start of the Queen Charlotte Track

Day 12: Head west to Punakaiki

After a recharge of all the batteries (your own and the cameras!), we suggest heading west and travel to Punakaiki (3 hours drive) to explore the best caves in the South Island. Embark on blackwater caving adventure or visit the glow worm caves.

Day 13: Travel to Franz Josef Glacier

The west coast highway will lead you to Franz Josef Glacier (3 hours drive), make sure you visit Fox Glacier and Lake Matheson along the way. In the afternoon, embark on a helicopter trip of a lifetime. Heli Hike the Franz Josef glacier – finishing in their hot pools to wind down after an exhilarating day.

Day 14: Travel south to Wanaka

Continue South to Wanaka (3 Hour drive) in the afternoon freedom hike up Mount Iron, the best views in the Otago region. If the other hikes haven’t got you fit enough yet for the rest of your trip, this one certainly will!

Day 15: Head to Queenstown

Drive a further hour south to Queenstown, use this as your base for the remainder of your vacation to explore Fiordland National Park, the home of the best hikes in New Zealand. If you need to hire any gear for your next multi-day hike then this will be the time to do it!  

Day 16 – 20: Hike the best hike in New Zealand – The Milford Track

The Milford Track hike is a 5 day 4-night hike departing from Queenstown, it is more often than not voted the best hike in New Zealand let alone the world! You can stay in the huts (no camping allowed) along the track but you will have to book a long time in advance (check out the live online booking system here) There is a company that offer all the accommodation, transfers, and food into one easy package but again you need to book a long time in advance. But it really is worth it! The overland route takes in lakes, mountains & coastlines ensuring you see the best that NZ has to offer.

Day 21: Depart New Zealand

Today your road trip ends, return your car hire at Queenstown Airport in time for your departing flight home – and that is what we think are indeed the best hikes in New Zealand rolled into one easy 21 day self-drive itinerary – just make sure you send us a postcard!